Start Up No.1,039: Facebook’s biased algorithm, Apple cuts HomePod price, US forces out Chinese investors, Trump whistleblowers abound, and more

You think you’re sending the army to the right place – but what if the reconnaissance photo is a deepfake? CC-licensed photo by Enough Project on Flickr.

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

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

Facebook ad algorithm is a race and gender stereotyping machine • The Intercept

Sam Biddle:


Rather than targeting a demographic niche, the researchers requested only that their ads reach Facebook users in the United States, leaving matters of ethnicity and gender entirely up to Facebook’s black box. As Facebook itself tells potential advertisers, “We try to show people the ads that are most pertinent to them.” What exactly does the company’s ad-targeting black box, left to its own devices, consider pertinent? Are Facebook’s ad-serving algorithms as prone to bias like so many others? The answer will not surprise you.

For one portion of the study, researchers ran ads for a wide variety of job listings in North Carolina, from janitors to nurses to lawyers, without any further demographic targeting options. With all other things being equal, the study found that “Facebook delivered our ads for jobs in the lumber industry to an audience that was 72% white and 90% men, supermarket cashier positions to an audience of 85% women, and jobs with taxi companies to a 75% black audience even though the target audience we specified was identical for all ads.” Ad displays for “artificial intelligence developer” listings also skewed white, while listings for secretarial work overwhelmingly found their way to female Facebook users.

Although Facebook doesn’t permit advertisers to view the racial composition of an ad’s viewers, the researchers said they were able to confidently infer these numbers by cross-referencing the indicators Facebook does provide, particularly regions where users live, which in some states can be cross-referenced with race data held in voter registration records.

In the case of housing ads — an area Facebook has already shown in the past has potential for discriminatory abuse — the results were also heavily skewed along racial lines.


Machine learning specialists have observed that ML picks out little differences and emphasises them. That’s what this does – and magnifies the existing differences. So it amplifies existing discrimination.
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The newest AI-enabled weapon: ‘deep-faking’ photos of the Earth • Nextgov

Patrick Tucker:


Worries about deep fakes—machine-manipulated videos of celebrities and world leaders purportedly saying or doing things that they really didn’t—are quaint compared to a new threat: doctored images of the Earth itself.

China is the acknowledged leader in using an emerging technique called generative adversarial networks to trick computers into seeing objects in landscapes or in satellite images that aren’t there, says Todd Myers, automation lead and Chief Information Officer in the Office of the Director of Technology at the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency.

“The Chinese are well ahead of us. This is not classified info,” Myers said Thursday at the second annual Genius Machines summit, hosted by Defense One and Nextgov. “The Chinese have already designed; they’re already doing it right now, using GANs—which are generative adversarial networks—to manipulate scenes and pixels to create things for nefarious reasons.”

For example, Myers said, an adversary might fool your computer-assisted imagery analysts into reporting that a bridge crosses an important river at a given point.  

“So from a tactical perspective or mission planning, you train your forces to go a certain route, toward a bridge, but it’s not there. Then there’s a big surprise waiting for you,” he said.


The concern seems a little overblown, but you have to worry about malicious actors, especially with open source.
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Social media bosses could be liable for harmful content, leaked UK plan reveals • The Guardian

Heather Stewart and Alex Hern:


Under plans expected to be published on Monday, the government will legislate for a new statutory duty of care, to be policed by an independent regulator and likely to be funded through a levy on media companies.

The regulator – likely initially to be Ofcom, but in the longer term a new body – will have the power to impose substantial fines against companies that breach their duty of care and to hold individual executives personally liable.

The debate has been sharpened in recent months by the case of the British teenager Molly Russell and issues raised by the Christchurch shootings. Molly’s parents said she killed herself partly because of self-harm images viewed on social media.

The scope of the recommendations is broad. As well as social media platforms such as Facebook and search engines such as Google they take in online messaging services and file hosting sites.

Other proposals in the online harm white paper include:
• Government powers to direct the regulator on specific issues such as terrorist activity or child sexual exploitation
• Annual “transparency reports” from social media companies, disclosing the prevalence of harmful content on their platforms and what they are doing to combat it
• Co-operation with police and other enforcement agencies on illegal harms, such as incitement of violence and the sale of illegal weapons.


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Apple cuts price of HomePod worldwide, now $299 at the US Apple Store • 9to5Mac

Benjamin Mayo:


Apple has officially lowered the price of the HomePod worldwide. In the price has fallen from $349 to $299, breaking the $300 level. HomePod has seen promotional discounts at many third party retailers (eg: it’s $279 right now at Best Buy) over its lifespan, but now Apple has dropped the smart speaker’s standard list price.

This price cut represents a roughly 15% drop and seemingly applies to every region, not just the US. For example, the UK price has fallen from £319 to £279.

It is rare for Apple to reduce the price of any of its products mid-cycle, but not unprecedented. Apple dropped the price of the third-generation Apple TV from $99 to $69 in March 2015; the tvOS successor did not debut until six months later.


It’s not featured on the front of the site. The next thing it needs is a software update to play other services. What would be impressive – and sort of what you’d expect from a hardware company – would be if it got that before the annual iOS update in autumn.
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CFIUS forces PatientsLikeMe into fire sale, booting Chinese investor • CNBC

Christina Farr and Ari Levy:


[US startup] PatientsLikeMe is being forced to find a buyer after the U.S. government has ordered its majority owner, a Chinese firm, to divest its stake.

PatientsLikeMe provides an online service that helps patients find people with similar health conditions. In 2017, the start-up raised $100m and sold a majority stake to Shenzhen-based iCarbonX, which was started by genomic scientist Jun Wang and is backed by Chinese giant Tencent.

That deal has recently drawn the attention of the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS), which is aggressively cracking down on Chinese investments in American companies, particularly when national security and trade secrets are at risk.

CFIUS is now forcing a divestiture by iCarbonX, meaning PatientsLikeMe has to find a buyer, according to several people with knowledge of the matter. PatientsLikeMe started receiving notifications from CFIUS late last year, said the people, who asked not to be named because the details are confidential.

The move could have dire implications for the start-up community, as Chinese investors are scared away or forbidden from participating in deals that can help emerging businesses.


Also means CFIUS thinks that personal data is worth treating as a valuable national asset. That has big, big implications.
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Prince Harry calls for ‘addictive’ Fortnite to be BANNED – ‘It shouldn’t be allowed’ •

Abbie Llewelyn:


The Duke of Sussex urged parents to protect their children from these “irresponsible” games during a visit to a YMCA in West London. He added that social media is “more addictive than drugs and alcohol”. Harry was speaking to mental health experts about the effects of social media and violent video games.

He said parents don’t know what to do about their children’s addiction to Fortnite.

The Duke said: “The game shouldn’t be allowed. Where is the benefit of having it in your household? It’s created to addict, an addiction to keep you in front of a computer for as long as possible. It’s so irresponsible.”

“Parents have got their hands up – they don’t know what to do about it. It’s like waiting for the damage to be done.”

Fortnite, which has millions of fans across the globe, is a game where players hunt for weapons to kill each other.


A brief note: the Daily Express, the newspaper which will surely run this story BIG in print, is notorious as a wildly right-wing paper catering to pensioners whose principal concern is whether it will be cold tonight, whether the value of their house is going to keep up, and the latest gossip about Princess Di, who died more than 20 years ago.

Anyhoooo, maybe Harry’s offspring will be explaining the attraction to him in 15 years or so. Or his father will explain that your young years are better spent playing strip billiards in Vegas. (Hard to argue with that, actually.)
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‘Dozens’ of whistleblowers are secretly cooperating with House Democrats • The Atlantic

Russell Berman:


[Executive Oversight] Committee veterans told me, however, that the number of whistleblowers who’ve come forward since Trump became president is far higher than the number who cooperated with the panel during previous administrations. “The biggest difference wasn’t necessarily us switching to the majority; the biggest difference was Donald Trump being elected president,” said the Democratic aide, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the committee’s investigative work. Democrats began hearing from whistle-blowers almost immediately after Trump was sworn in, the aide said, beginning with a report that then–National Security Adviser Michael Flynn had been exchanging text messages with his business partner during the inauguration.

Of the dozens of whistleblowers Democrats said they are working with, they have publicly confirmed that a handful work in the White House. All but Newbold, however, have come forward on the condition that they remain anonymous. Newbold spoke to the committee as part of its investigation of White House security clearances, and she’s not the only whistleblower involved in that matter, the panel confirmed in a memo describing her testimony. “Committee staff have spoken with other whistleblowers who corroborated Ms. Newbold’s account, but they were too afraid about the risk to their careers to come forward publicly,” the memo reads. The White House did not respond to a request for comment on this story.

Members from both parties interact privately with whistleblowers, but under a longstanding agreement within the committee, those who want to make on-the-record testimony must agree to be questioned by Democrats and Republicans alike.


The thing that puzzles me is that there are no sanctions when people are shown to have bent the law. The current outrage is that Jared Kushner was given a security clearance against the clear advice of the security clearance vetting agency. If you can’t properly sanction someone, all the “Oversight” and “Ethics Offices” are pointless. That, above all, is the lesson of Trump’s presidency: the checks and balances need to have some big sticks – such as jail time – they can wield.
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Big Tech’s original sin • The New York Times

Charlie Warzel:


Facebook’s rapid rise to two billion-plus users, numerous privacy debacles and a steady stream of reported negative revelations suggest that, like its counterparts, the company’s quest for expansion trumped pressing concerns of privacy and transparency. A New York Times investigation last year reported that, “bent on growth,” Facebook executives “ignored warning signs” that Facebook could “disrupt elections, broadcast viral propaganda and inspire deadly campaigns of hate around the globe.”

Scale is also seductive at an engineering level, bottom line aside. Adding users and engagement, in one interpretation, might signal that you’re giving people what they want. In 2017, I asked a former senior Facebook employee if staff members had felt a sense of blame for Facebook’s inability to stop the spread of misinformation that plagued the platform during the 2016 election. Not exactly, the employee explained:

“They believe that to the extent that something flourishes or goes viral on Facebook — it’s not a reflection of the company’s role, but a reflection of what people want. And that deeply rational engineer’s view tends to absolve them of some of the responsibility, probably.”

We can see this sensibility today in the way the platforms tend to obfuscate and deflect responsibility. Just last week, a YouTube executive argued that its recommendation algorithms weren’t designed to nudge users toward more extreme videos. Similarly, Twitter has and will continue to argue it was not designed specifically to be disproportionately hostile to women and people of color. And Facebook will argue that it was certainly not designed to help foreign countries interfere in our elections.

But this defensive posture seems only concerned with intent. Even if we take the platforms at their word that they did not intend to profit from extremism or to become hubs for radicalization online, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen. Intent is far less important than the actual outcomes.


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The whisper room: moderates on Twitter are losing their voice • Missouri University News Bureau


Michael Kearney, an assistant professor at the Missouri School of Journalism, found that while partisan users form highly partisan social networks on Twitter, moderate users – or those less politically engaged – continue to avoid politics, potentially creating an important void on social media.

“We are not necessarily getting farther and farther apart – it’s just the people in the middle are becoming more quiet and withdrawn,” Kearney said. “If you fail to consider all the people in the middle who do not care about politics as much, it seems like there is a more clear division when there is not, so social media might be artificially creating this sense that we are becoming more polarized.”

Kearney found that rather than increasing exposure to diverse viewpoints or sheltering users with self-reinforcing filter bubbles, social media simply amplifies and reflects the trends found in broader media environments. This was the first study of its kind to examine change in real-time behaviors of political polarization by looking at who Twitter users choose to follow during a general election.

Using software that he created himself, Kearney examined the user networks of 3,000 random followers of well-known partisan and entertainment-oriented accounts. Data was collected over six months leading up the 2016 general election, beginning shortly after Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump became the two major party nominees. Kearney found that as the election drew nearer, Democrats followed more Democrats, Republicans followed more Republicans, and moderates did not greatly expand who they followed on either political side.


Seriously, it’s taken him nearly three years to get this published? ArXiv is just over there, Prof Kearney, and it lets everyone take a gander at your possibly relevant work which would have been good to hear about a couple of years back. Not that it isn’t true now.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: yesterday’s calculation that today’s 40-year-olds would be tomorrow’s 65-year-olds in 15 years’ time attracted the notice of many people capable of maths. Yes, it should have said 25 years.

Start Up No.1,038: the lost internet, editing amid outrage, Facebook redux, the end of the desktop?, Mac keyboards (again), and more

Warning: old folks online. CC-licensed photo by Valeri Pizhanski on Flickr.

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

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

What an ageing population means for the future of the internet • Buzzfeed News

Craig Silverman:


Four recent studies found that older Americans are more likely to consume and share false online news than those in other age groups, even when controlling for factors such as partisanship. Other research has found that older Americans have a poor or inaccurate grasp of how algorithms play a role in selecting what information is shown to them on social media, are worse than younger people at differentiating between reported news and opinion, and are less likely to register the brand of a news site they consume information from.

Those digital and news consumption habits intersect with key characteristics of older Americans, such as being more likely to live in rural and isolated areas, and, perhaps in part as a result, to experience a high degree of loneliness. A survey conducted by AARP of Americans found that 36% of people ages 60–69 were lonely, while 24% of those ages 70 and older registered as lonely. (The survey focused on adults over 45.)

As a result, it’s now essential to better understand the effects of social media, loneliness, and a lack of digital literacy on older people, according to Vijeth Iyengar, a psychologist focused on aging at the US Department of Health and Human Services, and Dipayan Ghosh, a fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School.

“With recent evidence that older adults are much more likely to disseminate fake news compared with their younger counterparts, coupled with the projected growth for this population segment in the decades to come, it is crucial to advance our understanding of the factors affecting the ways in which older adults engage with these platforms and how in turn these platforms are affecting how they function in society,” they wrote in a recent article for Scientific American.


Although.. in 15 years, those 65-year-olds are going to be the people who are 40 now. Are they going to be as gullible as this current crop? Also, why is this current crop of 65yos so liable to get this stuff wrong?
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Why there’s so little left of the early internet • BBC Future

Stephen Dowling:


Around a decade ago, I spent two years working on a rock music blog and on the music section of AOL, the sprawling internet pioneer now owned by US phone company Verizon. I edited or wrote hundreds of live reviews, music news stories, artists interviews and listicles. Facebook and Twitter were already massive audience drivers, and smartphones were connecting us to the Web between work and home; surfing the Web had become a round-the-clock activity.

You could, quite reasonably, assume that if I ever needed to show proof of my time there it would only be a Google search away. But you’d be wrong. In April 2013, AOL abruptly closed down all its music sites – and the collective work of dozens of editors and hundreds of contributors over many years. Little of it remains, aside from a handful of articles saved by the Internet Archive, a San Francisco-based non-profit foundation set up in the late 1990s by computer engineer Brewster Kahle.

It is the most prominent of a clutch of organisations around the world trying to rescue some of the last vestiges of the first decade of humanity’s internet presence before it disappears completely.
Dame Wendy Hall, the executive director of the Web Science Institute at the University of Southampton, is unequivocal about the archive’s work: “If it wasn’t for them we wouldn’t have any” of the early material, she says. “If Brewster Kahle hadn’t set up the Internet Archive and started saving things – without waiting for anyone’s permission – we’d have lost everything.”


(So donate, people!)
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Editing in an age of outrage • Financial Times

Ian Buruma, reflecting on his decision to commission an article by a man who had been accused (but not convicted in court) of sexual assault and choking:


free speech can never be absolute. Too much depends on who says what, when and to whom. Common courtesy also puts limits on what we say and under what circumstances. Members of a minority can make jokes about themselves more readily than outsiders can. A novelist or film-maker can express the darker side of human behaviour in ways that a diplomat, say, or a university president cannot, at least not in public. A stand-up comedian can be more outrageous than a politician.

One thing that makes our times so disturbing is that the usual rules in public life no longer apply. The US president can voice or tweet insults as much as he likes, whereas stand-up comedians are held to such rigid standards, that offence, let alone insult, can derail a career.

So where does that leave a magazine editor? And what lesson should we draw from the storm over Ghomeshi’s article? An editor of a serious publication is not as bound to the normal rules of propriety as a politician, but has to be a bit more cautious than a stand-up comedian. I came of age in the late 1960s when a certain amount of provocation was not only more permissible than it is now but actually considered a virtue (this was the time when the NYRB published instructions on how to construct a Molotov cocktail; a lapse of judgment, however, that was quickly recognised even then)…

…Like all serious publications, editors would filter out gratuitous malice and utter nonsense. This is not true of the Twittersphere, which is often ad-hominem, intimidating and unhinged. As a result, debate can be stifled, because people fear the wrath of the mob.


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‘Grassroots’ Facebook Brexit ads secretly run by staff of Lynton Crosby firm • The Guardian

Jim Waterson:


A series of hugely influential Facebook advertising campaigns that appear to be separate grassroots movements for a no-deal Brexit are secretly overseen by employees of Sir Lynton Crosby’s lobbying company and a former adviser to Boris Johnson, documents seen by the Guardian reveal.

The mysterious groups, which have names such as Mainstream Network and Britain’s Future, appear to be run independently by members of the public and give no hint that they are connected. But in reality they share an administrator who works for Crosby’s CTF Partners and have spent as much as £1m promoting sophisticated targeted adverts aimed at heaping pressure on individual MPs to vote for a hard Brexit.

Repeated questions have been raised about who is backing at least a dozen high-spending groups that have flooded MPs’ inboxes with calls to reject Theresa May’s deal. Until now they were thought to be independent entities.

But according to the documents, almost all the major pro-Brexit Facebook “grassroots” advertising campaigns in the UK share the same page admins or advertisers. These individuals include employees of CTF Partners and the political director of Boris Johnson’s campaigns to be mayor of London, who has worked closely with Crosby in the past.

Their collective Facebook expenditure swamps the amount spent in the last six months by all the UK’s major political parties and the UK government combined.


The UK doesn’t allow political advertising on TV. Print media is too fragmented to reach a large targeted group. Facebook has made the equivalent of political TV advertising feasible in the UK. The effect isn’t good.
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The end of the desktop? • Computerworld

Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols:


Of course, [Windows] Virtual Desktop is a play for business users — for now. I expect Virtual Desktop to be offered to consumers in 2020. By 2025, Windows as an actual desktop operating system will be a niche product.

Sound crazy? Uh, you do know that Microsoft already really, really wants you to “rent” Office 365 rather than buy Office 2019, don’t you?

But what about games, you say? We’ll always have Windows for games! Will we? Google, with its Google Stadia gaming cloud service, is betting we’re ready to move our games to the cloud as well. It’s no pipe dream. Valve has been doing pretty well for years now with its Steam variation on this theme.

So where is all this taking us?

I see a world where the PC desktop disappears for all but a few. Most of us will be writing our documents, filling out our spreadsheets and doing whatever else we now do on our PCs via cloud-based applications on smart terminals running Chrome OS or Windows Lite.

If you want a “real” PC, your choices are going to be Linux or macOS.

Well, maybe we’ll still have Linux and macOS. None of the major Linux companies — Canonical, Red Hat, SUSE — makes the desktop a priority anymore. The Linux desktop will continue on, but it will keep going in the same way it is now: a platform only for power-using enthusiasts.

MacOS, which also has Unix as its root, is essential in some fields. But Mac sales make up a smaller and smaller percentage of Apple’s bottom line. I know Computerworld’s own Jonny Evans hopes 2019 will be the year Macs make serious inroads into the PC market. I can’t see it.


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Hacker Eva Galperin has a plan to eradicate stalkerware • WIRED

Andy Greenberg:


“Full access to someone’s phone is essentially full access to someone’s mind,” says Galperin, a security researcher who leads the Threat Lab of the digital civil liberties group the Electronic Frontier Foundation. “The people who end up with this software on their phones can become victims of physical abuse, of physical stalking. They get beaten. They can be killed. Their children can be kidnapped. It’s the small end of a very large, terrifying wedge.”

Now Galperin has a plan to end that scourge for good—or at least take a serious bite out of the industry. In a talk she is scheduled to give next week at the Kaspersky Security Analyst Summit in Singapore, Galperin will lay out a list of demands: First, she’s calling on the antivirus industry to finally take the threat of stalkerware seriously, after years of negligence and inaction. She’ll also ask Apple to take measures to protect iPhone users from stalkerware, given that the company doesn’t allow antivirus apps into its App Store. Finally, and perhaps most drastically, she says she’ll call on state and federal officials to use their prosecutorial powers to indict executives of stalkerware-selling companies on hacking charges. “It would be nice to see some of these companies shut down,” she says. “It would be nice to see some people go to jail.”

Ahead of her talk, Galperin has notched her first win: Russian security firm Kaspersky announced today that it will make a significant change to how its antivirus software treats stalkerware on Android phones, where it’s far more common than on iPhones. Rather than merely flag those spy apps as suspect but label them with a confusing “not a virus” message, as it has for most breeds of stalkerware in the past, Kaspersky’s software will now show its users an unmistakeable “privacy alert” for any of dozens of blacklisted apps, and then offer options to delete or quarantine them to cut off their access to sensitive information.


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You may hate metrics. But they’re making journalism better • Columbia Journalism Review

Chris Moran:


At 7am on Tuesday, March 18, Nick Dastoor, a member of The Guardian’s audience team, started working on the daily staff email that details how our audience responded to our stories the day before, and what we might learn from that.

He opened Ophan, the analytics tool that allows us to track stories in minute detail. He noticed a sustained spike in page views to an article about a church bombing in Pakistan.

He could tell that the 51,000 pageviews had come almost entirely from Facebook, that the audience was mainly viewing the story on their mobile phones, that the audience was global and mostly new to us, that we weren’t promoting the story ourselves, and that it was likely driven by niche Facebook pages. Many readers were spending just seconds on the 942-word story. It was clear to Dastoor that whatever was happening wasn’t about the journalism itself.  

He navigated, within Ophan, to see which tweets had sent people to the story: “Nothing on mainstream media,” “Just saying. . .,” “The news isn’t really talking about this, and many more like it. . .”

Apart from the fact that the authors of the tweets were condemning the mainstream media for not covering an event while linking to a mainstream media site covering the event, there was one other significant problem. The article was from 2013 and none of them seemed to know it.


This drove the Guardian to add very visible year tags to images from old stories, so that nobody (in alt-right and extremist sites – as in this case) could misuse stories like this. Here’s the Before and After.

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Microsoft removes the Books category from the Microsoft Store • ZDNet

Mary Jo Foley:


Microsoft is removing the Books category from the Microsoft Store as of today, April 2. This means users will no longer be able to buy, rent or pre-order books via the Store beginning now.

Previously purchased books and rentals will be accessible until early July, but after this, books will no longer be accessible, officials said in a customer-support article today. The company is promising full refunds for all content purchased from the Books category; anyone who bought books via the Store will receive further details on how to get refunds via email from Microsoft. 

Microsoft’s official reason for the move is it’s attempting to streamline the strategic focus of the Microsoft Store, I hear. GIven the timing of this announcement, I’m thinking the decision may have something to do with Microsoft’s next Windows 10 feature release (known as 1903, a k a the April 2019 Update) and/or the new Chromium-based Edge browser.


You don’t think the decision might have been about nobody buying books on Microsoft’s Books category of its bookstore that pretty much nobody has heard of? At least there’s a refund.
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‘Beyond sketchy’: Facebook demanding some new users’ email passwords • Daily Beast

Kevin Poulsen:


Facebook users are being interrupted by an interstitial demanding they provide the password for the email account they gave to Facebook when signing up. “To continue using Facebook, you’ll need to confirm your email,” the message demands. “Since you signed up with [email address], you can do that automatically …”

A form below the message asked for the users’ “email password.”

“That’s beyond sketchy,” security consultant Jake Williams told the Daily Beast. “They should not be taking your password or handling your password in the background. If that’s what’s required to sign up with Facebook, you’re better off not being on Facebook.”

In a statement emailed to The Daily Beast after this story published, Facebook reiterated its claim it doesn’t store the email passwords. But the company also announced it will end the practice altogether.  

“We understand the password verification option isn’t the best way to go about this, so we are going to stop offering it,” Facebook wrote.

It’s not clear how widely the new measure was deployed, but in its statement Facebook said users retain the option of bypassing the password demand and activating their account through more conventional means, such as “a code sent to their phone or a link sent to their email.” Those options are presented to users who click on the words “Need help?” in one corner of the page.


Not stored, but fosters insecurity – if people are used to that on Facebook, they’ll do it on a phishing page disguised as Facebook too. And at the same time, third-party apps integrated to Facebook left a whole lot of stuff exposed on some Amazon cloud servers.
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Tesla boom lifts Norway’s electric car sales to record market share • Reuters

Lefteris Karagiannopoulos and Terje Solsvik:


Almost 60% of all new cars sold in Norway in March were fully electric, the Norwegian Road Federation (NRF) said on Monday, a global record as the country seeks to end fossil-fueled vehicles sales by 2025.

Exempting battery engines from taxes imposed on diesel and petrol cars has upended Norway’s auto market, elevating brands like Tesla and Nissan, with its Leaf model, while hurting sales of Toyota, Daimler and others.

In 2018, Norway’s fully electric car sales rose to a record 31.2% market share from 20.8% in 2017, far ahead of any other nation, and buyers had to wait as producers struggled to keep up with demand.

The surge of electric cars to a 58.4% market share in March came as Tesla ramped up delivery of its mid-sized Model 3, which retails from 442,000 crowns ($51,400), while Audi began deliveries of its 652,000-crowns e-tron sports utility vehicle.


So government action can make a difference. Though we did see that in the UK when the government made diesel vehicles effectively cheaper than petrol-fuelled ones in 2001: that has had the knock-on effect, years later, of far worse air quality in cities due to particulate emissions. Still, it would be hard for a shift to electric to make fossil fuel emissions worse, and it must make air quality better.
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The MacBook keyboard fiasco is way worse than Apple thinks • Signal v. Noise

David Hansson:


Apple keep insisting that only a “small number of customers have problems” with the MacBook keyboards. That’s bollocks. This is a huge issue, it’s getting worse not better, and Apple is missing the forest for the trees.

The fact is that many people simply do not contact Apple when their MacBook keyboards fail. They just live with an S key that stutters or a spacebar that intermittently gives double. Or they just start using (1) an (2) external (3) keyboard (4). Apple never sees these cases, so it never counts in their statistics.

So here’s some anecdata for Apple. I sampled the people at Basecamp. Out of the 47 people using MacBooks at the company, a staggering 30% are dealing with keyboard issues right now!! And that’s just the people dealing with current keyboard issues. If you include all the people who used to have issues, but went through a repair or replacement process, the number would be even higher.


As John Gruber notes, Apple must know this; it uses its laptops internally. As a thought experiment: if Apple were to offer scissor-style keys as a build-to-order option on its laptops, what proportion of buyers do you think would take it up?

There are only two ways to fix this, because the “naked butterfly” mechanism (as in laptops; used in its iPad Pro keyboards, which have a synthetic cover, it’s delightful) is fundamentally flawed. Return to the scissor mechanism, or introduce “force touch” keys. I wouldn’t entirely put the latter past Jony Ive’s team.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1,037: handset makers’ hard choices, China’s India app insurgency, solving the videogame meltdown, Ebola v fake news, and more

A child watches YouTube: is it in the hands of responsible adults? CC-licensed photo by Steve Schroeder on Flickr.

A selection of 10 links for you. Hacking your attention. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

YouTube executives ignored warnings, let toxic videos run rampant • Bloomberg

Mark Bergen:


YouTube doesn’t give an exact recipe for virality. But in the race to one billion hours, a formula emerged: Outrage equals attention. It’s one that people on the political fringes have easily exploited, said Brittan Heller, a fellow at Harvard University’s Carr Center. “They don’t know how the algorithm works,” she said. “But they do know that the more outrageous the content is, the more views.”

People inside YouTube knew about this dynamic. Over the years, there were many tortured debates about what to do with troublesome videos—those that don’t violate its content policies and so remain on the site. Some software engineers have nicknamed the problem “bad virality.” 

Yonatan Zunger, a privacy engineer at Google, recalled a suggestion he made to YouTube staff before he left the company in 2016. He proposed a third tier: Videos that were allowed to stay on YouTube, but, because they were “close to the line” of the takedown policy, would be removed from recommendations. “Bad actors quickly get very good at understanding where the bright lines are and skating as close to those lines as possible,” Zunger said.

His proposal, which went to the head of YouTube policy, was turned down. “I can say with a lot of confidence that they were deeply wrong,” he said. 

Rather than revamp its recommendation engine, YouTube doubled down.


Stunning piece of work by Bergen. There have been plenty of disaffected ex-YouTube staffers visible on Twitter, but he has pulled together the story of how money was allowed to trump safety.
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The Chinese takeover of Indian app ecosystem • FactorDaily

Shadma Shaikh:


2018 is likely to be remembered as the year when the Chinese took over Indian smartphones. In December 2017, the top 10 mobile apps on Google Playstore looked a lot different than what they look from a year later. The Playstore rankings for India in 2018 have China written all over it. Five out of the top 10 mobile apps in India are Chinese — versus two at the end of 2017.

That’s not all. As of December 2017, there were 18 Chinese apps among the top 100 across various categories on Google Playstore. These included popular ones such as UCBrowser, SHAREit, and NewsDog. Fast forward to the end of 2018. The number of Chinese apps in the top 100 Playstore apps has reached 44. Beyond the top 100, there are others like Rozbuzz, a social entertainment content platform, and YouStar, a video chat room platform, that enjoy a more than one million downloads in India – a threshold that evokes grudging respect in this app community.

The growth of many of these global apps has a new hotspot: India. The message is clear for the Chinese — if you want growth, conquer India.

Several Chinese apps have become significantly popular over the last year in India: social content platforms such as Helo and SHAREit; entertainment and engagement apps such as TikTok, LIKE, and Kwai; video and live streaming ones such as LiveMe, Bigo Live, and Vigo Video; utility apps such as BeautyPlus, Xender and Cam Scanner; gaming leaders such as PUBG, Clash of Kings, and Mobile Legends; not to forget popular e-commerce apps including ClubFactory, SHEIN, and ROMWE.

A starking similarity not missed by observers of this industry is the target group of most of these platforms is the new internet users in India, specifically those from smaller cities and towns. To be fair, this market was first recognised by Bengaluru-based ShareChat that was founded back in 2015.


Wonder how long it will take India to wrest this back with home-grown apps. You’d think they would have a cultural advantage. But many elements of successful apps – WhatsApp, Facebook, Instagram – are cross-cultural. (Thanks Stormyparis for the link.)
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Pipdig update: dishonest denials, erased evidence, and ongoing offenses • Wordfence

Mikey Veenstra:


In last week’s post, we reported on some concerning code identified in the Pipdig Power Pack (P3) plugin. The plugin, which is installed alongside WordPress themes sold by Pipdig, was found to contain a number of suspicious or malicious features. Among these features were a remote “killswitch” Pipdig could use to destroy sites, an obfuscated function used to change users’ passwords, and code which generated hourly requests with the apparent intent of DDoSing a competitor’s site.

In the days since we published that report, Pipdig has taken a series of increasingly questionable steps in their attempts to mitigate the fallout of their actions. Their team has issued baseless accusations that facts have been fabricated, collusion between their competitors had taken place, and that no wrongdoing of any sort had occurred.

These assertions stand in direct conflict with their actions. They’ve pulled down incriminating files from their sites, pushed undocumented updates to their plugins to remove additional malicious code, and have attempted to rewrite history by modifying dates of changelog entries. Then, perhaps most egregiously, Pipdig took down the Bitbucket repository containing a great deal of evidence of these actions. All of this had been done while an entire community of WordPress developers watched.


Quite the detective story. Transparency in code, especially through repositories, has changed things a lot in the past decade. (Thanks Richard for the link.)
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This is why we can’t have nice things • DIGITS to DOLLARS

Jay Goldberg:


A decade ago, we spoke with a small handset maker in Shenzhen who sold into China’s domestic market and a half dozen random emerging markets (Ukraine, El Salvador, Uruguay, etc.). His business was always cutthroat, shipping largely $25 feature phones and $100 smartphones. Unfortunately, he did not have enough resources to be able to build his own brand. (He tried; over the years we brought him a dozen marketing text books.) At one point, he tried offering his own software service – messaging, contacts, etc. But he knew that the only path to revenue for these was through selling customer data to ad brokers and others. He told us that his customers would not mind because many of them lived in markets where the government already intruded on users’ privacy in many ways. To his credit, he was very uncomfortable with this business model and did not pursue it. He went out of business five years ago.

Some companies have managed to thrive despite this. For instance, Xiaomi makes decent margins on their phones and is overall profitable (and to their credit still breaks out their unit shipments). Xiamoi had the funds to build their own brand, and to branch out into an ecosystem of related products (home networking, fitness bands, etc.). We do not know if Xiaomi sells its users’ data, but they do install a lot of their own software on phones, trying to build an Apple-like software ecosystem lock-in.

Another way to profit in this business is to bundle phone sales with other products. For example, they can sell base stations and networking products with phones thrown in as an adder, as in “would you like fries phones with that?”. That being said, we do not know if Huawei’s handset business is actually profitable. We are not convinced that Huawei itself knows the answer to this question. Our point is just that there are someways to stay in the business.

However, for the majority of the industry, the hard, cold reality is that handset profits are non-existent. And the only way for these companies to remain viable is to sell out their users.


The only exception, he notes, is Apple, which of course collects all the profits.
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Abigail Disney has more money than she’ll ever spend. What’s that like? • The Cut

Sarah McVeigh:


Q: In what ways did your dad change [as Disney’s stock took off], other than having a jet?
AD: Actually, having a jet is a really big deal. If I were queen of the world, I would pass a law against private jets, because they enable you to get around a certain reality. You don’t have to go through an airport terminal, you don’t have to interact, you don’t have to be patient, you don’t have to be uncomfortable. These are the things that remind us we’re human.

My dad’s plane was a 737, and it was insane to have a 737 as a private airplane. It had a queen-sized bed with one big long seatbelt across it, and a shower, and it was ridiculous. We would use the plane occasionally because I have four kids, so it was much easier, obviously, to ride on my dad’s plane with them. Then, at a certain point, I just said, “No, I think this is really bad for everybody.”

How did the jet change your dad?
It wasn’t just the plane, but it’s not a small thing when you don’t have to be patient or be around other people. It creates this notion that you’re a little bit better than they are. And for the past 40 years, everything in American culture has been reinforcing that belief. We say, “Job creators, entrepreneurs, these are the people who make America great.” So there are people walking around with substantial wealth who think that they have it because they’re better. It’s fundamental to remember that you’re just a member of the human race, like everybody else, and there’s nothing about your money that makes you better than anyone else. If you don’t know that and you have money, it’s the road to hell, no matter how much stuff you have around you.


Fascinating interview; she sounds like a really nice person.
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Google’s new external AI ethics council apparently already falling apart • Bloomberg

Mark Bergen, Jeremy Khan and Gerrit de Vynck:


In less than a week, the council is already falling apart, a development that may jeopardize Google’s chance of winning more military cloud-computing contracts.

On Saturday, Alessandro Acquisti, a behavioral economist and privacy researcher, said he won’t be serving on the council. “While I’m devoted to research grappling with key ethical issues of fairness, rights and inclusion in AI, I don’t believe this is the right forum for me to engage in this important work,” Acquisti said on Twitter. He didn’t respond to a request for comment.

On Monday, a group of employees started a petition asking the company to remove another member: Kay Cole James, president of a conservative think tank who has fought against equal-rights laws for gay and transgender people. In less than two hours after it went live, more than 300 staff signed the petition anonymously…

…Some AI experts and activists have also called on Google to remove from the board Dyan Gibbens, the CEO of Trumbull Unmanned, a drone technology company. Gibbens and her co-founders at Trumbull previously worked on U.S. military drones. Using AI for military uses is a major point of contention for some Google employees.

Joanna Bryson, a professor of computer science at the University of Bath, in England, who was appointed to the Google ethics council, said she also had reservations about some of her fellow council members. “Believe it or not, I know worse about one of the other people,” she said on Twitter in response to a post questioning James’ appointment. “I know I have pushed (Google) before on some of their associations and they say they need diversity in order to be convincing to society broadly, e.g. the GOP.”


Couldn’t they have had “board splinters” in the headline?
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Why videogames trigger the nightly meltdown—and how to help your child cope • WSJ

Julie Jargon:


Children and adolescents don’t yet have the capability to stop doing a rewarding activity and move on to something less fun, neurologists say. That doesn’t mean a child is addicted to videogames. Although experts say children with depression and anxiety are more prone to immerse themselves in games as a coping mechanism, it’s just generally hard for most kids to stop. There are ways for parents to hack this problem, but first they have to understand their kids’ minds.

“What’s happening in our brains is that there are systems that evolved to sustain our interest. It will lead you to seek food for days until you find it, and that’s followed by satiety,” said Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse at the National Institutes of Health, who has studied similarities between the effects of gaming and substance abuse.

Pulling the plug in the middle of a videogame—before a child has had the chance to feel satisfied by completing a level or mission—is a bit like yanking a half-eaten donut out of someone’s hand.

The anticipation of playing videogames results in a roughly 75% boost to baseline dopamine levels in the brain, according to Chris Ferguson, a psychology professor at Stetson University in DeLand, Fla., who has analyzed studies on gaming. That’s far less than the boost associated with doing hard drugs, according to data from the National Institute on Drug Abuse, but it’s not much higher than the boost that comes from that donut.

Eating the donut is a finite act, however. Videogame makers build in a stream of intermittent rewards to keep people playing. In some games, there’s no real end or it can take hours to achieve.


Have rules on time spent, stick to them, that’s about it.
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Facebook, Twitter sucked into India-Pakistan information war • Reuters

Drazen Jorgic and Alasdair Pal:


[Pakistan social media campaigner Hanzala] Tayyab, 24, spends his days on Facebook and encrypted WhatsApp chatrooms organizing members of his Pakistan Cyber Force group to promote anti-India content and make it go viral, including on Twitter where he has more than 50,000 followers.

That ranges from highlighting alleged Indian human rights abuses to lionizing insurgents battling Indian security forces in Kashmir, a disputed Himalayan region at the heart of historic tensions between Pakistan and India.

Tayyab’s job became harder on Monday when the Pakistan Cyber Force’s Facebook account was taken down, one of 103 Pakistani accounts the social media giant said it had deleted because of “inauthentic behavior” and spamming. Some Indian nationalist accounts have also been suspended in recent weeks.

Portraying himself as an online combatant defending Pakistan from India’s attempts to destabilize his country, Tayyab plans to continue playing his role in the broader information war being fought between the nuclear-armed foes.

“We are countering the Indian narrative through social media, we are countering the enemies of Pakistan,” Tayyab told Reuters in the capital Islamabad.


Lovely, delightful social media. Connecting the world.
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Fighting Ebola is hard. In Congo, fake news makes it harder • AAAS

Laura Spinney:


The Ebola epidemic in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is providing a natural experiment in fighting fake news. Occurring in a conflict zone, amid a controversial presidential election, the epidemic has proved to be fertile ground for conspiracy theories and political manipulation, which can hamper efforts to treat patients and fight the virus’s spread. Public health workers have mounted an unprecedented effort to counter misinformation, saying the success or failure of the Ebola response may pivot on who controls the narrative.

Tensions are expected to rise again in the wake of the 10 January declaration by the DRC’s election commission that opposition leader Felix Tshisekedi won the election, held on 30 December 2018. Foreign observers and the Roman Catholic Church’s monitors say Martin Fayulu, another opposition figure, garnered more votes, and his supporters are alleging fraud. Health workers know rumors thrive amid uncertainty.

“I usually tell my teams that we fight two outbreaks, Ebola and fear,” says Carlos Navarro Colorado of the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) in New York City. “It is all about information.”


Now that would be a truly scary thing to have to deal with.
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Google’s constant product shutdowns are damaging its brand • Ars Technica

Ron Amadeo:


It’s only April, and 2019 has already been an absolutely brutal year for Google’s product portfolio. The Chromecast Audio was discontinued January 11. YouTube annotations were removed and deleted January 15. Google Fiber packed up and left a Fiber city on February 8. Android Things dropped IoT support on February 13. Google’s laptop and tablet division was reportedly slashed on March 12. Google Allo shut down on March 13. The “Spotlight Stories” VR studio closed its doors on March 14. The URL shortener was cut off from new users on March 30. Gmail’s IFTTT support stopped working March 31.

And today, April 2, we’re having a Google Funeral double-header: both Google+ (for consumers) and Google Inbox are being laid to rest. Later this year, Google Hangouts “Classic” will start to wind down, and somehow also scheduled for 2019 is Google Music’s “migration” to YouTube Music, with the Google service being put on death row sometime afterward.

We are 91 days into the year, and so far, Google is racking up an unprecedented body count. If we just take the official shutdown dates that have already occurred in 2019, a Google-branded product, feature, or service has died, on average, about every nine days.

Some of these product shutdowns have transition plans, and some of them (like Google+) represent Google completely abandoning a user base. The specifics aren’t crucial, though. What matters is that every single one of these actions has a negative consequence for Google’s brand, and the near-constant stream of shutdown announcements makes Google seem more unstable and untrustworthy than it has ever been.


Wellll.. as someone who once tried to catalogue all the Google products and services that had opened, closed and/or survived (the mean lifespan was 1459 days, ie just under four years), I can’t say that many of these closures have harmed my opinion of the Google brand. Though I did think then that it would harm developers’ view of Google services’ reliability. Perhaps this is a trope. But is it true?
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

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Start Up No.1,036: the dinosaur proof, the birth control app, Google employees’ AI panel backlash, Apple News plus or minus?, and more

From this summer, you won’t have to put your laptop in here in a growing number of US airports. CC-licensed photo by Rakesh A on Flickr.

A selection of 10 links for you. Was your April Fool’s joke funny? I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

The day the dinosaurs died • The New Yorker

Douglas Preston on a find – in south west North Dakota (try saying it out loud) – of fossils from the day when the asteroid struck and wiped out the dinosaurs:


[Robert] DePalma returned to do a preliminary excavation of the site. “Almost right away, I saw it was unusual,” he told me. He began shovelling off the layers of soil above where he’d found the fish. This “overburden” is typically material that was deposited long after the specimen lived; there’s little in it to interest a paleontologist, and it is usually discarded. But as soon as DePalma started digging he noticed grayish-white specks in the layers which looked like grains of sand but which, under a hand lens, proved to be tiny spheres and elongated droplets. “I think, Holy shit, these look like microtektites!” DePalma recalled. Micro tektites are the blobs of glass that form when molten rock is blasted into the air by an asteroid impact and falls back to Earth in a solidifying drizzle. The site appeared to contain micro tektites by the million.

As DePalma carefully excavated the upper layers, he began uncovering an extraordinary array of fossils, exceedingly delicate but marvellously well preserved. “There’s amazing plant material in there, all interlaced and interlocked,” he recalled. “There are logjams of wood, fish pressed against cypress- tree root bundles, tree trunks smeared with amber.” Most fossils end up being squashed flat by the pressure of the overlying stone, but here everything was three-dimensional, including the fish, having been encased in sediment all at once, which acted as a support. “You see skin, you see dorsal fins literally sticking straight up in the sediments, species new to science,” he said. As he dug, the momentousness of what he had come across slowly dawned on him. If the site was what he hoped, he had made the most important paleontological discovery of the new century.


The thought at the back of one’s mind is always what struck one of the first people to realise what wiped out the dinosaurs: one day, this could easily happen to us. A 300-metre object would end world agriculture.
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Laptops to stay in bags as TSA brings new technology to airports • Bloomberg Government



Air passengers at a growing number of US airports will no longer need to remove electronics, liquids, and other items from their carry-on luggage at security checkpoints as the Transportation Security Administration rolls out new technology.

The TSA took a major step in a broader plan to revamp its overall screening process with faster, more advanced technology when it signed a contract Thursday for hundreds of new carry-on baggage screening machines, Administrator David Pekoske said on a press call Friday. The agency has tested the new technology at more than a dozen airports since 2017, along with the relaxed protocols that allow passengers to leave items such as laptops and toiletries inside their luggage.

The rollout of the computed tomography, or CT, machines will begin this summer, Pekoske said. The $97m contract will buy 300 machines, but the list of airports receiving them has yet to be made final, Pekoske said.

The technology creates 3-D images of bags’ contents and will eventually be able to detect items automatically that the TSA now asks passengers to remove, he said.

“It’s not a little bit better, it’s a lot better,” Pekoske said of the technology.


This is going to be introduced over the next eight years – so it’s going to be “do I need to..?” all over the place. By the time it’s everywhere, we’ll only notice the places where it’s slow.
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It’s tough being the first birth control app • Bloomberg

Esmé Deprez:


[Elina] Berglund won’t divulge many details about [period-tracking/pregnancy likelihood predictor] Natural Cycles’ technology, lest competitors seek to copy it. But she does say it reliably predicts ovulation by taking into account a user’s menstruation dates, fluctuations in her body temperature, and data on the cycles of hundreds of thousands of women. It also adapts to each user: The app will err on the side of caution by showing additional red days when it doesn’t have enough information. The more data a user inputs, the more precise its red day-green day predictions become.

Clinical studies show Natural Cycles is 93% effective at preventing pregnancy with typical use, meaning that after a year, seven women out of 100 users will become pregnant. (With perfect use, Natural Cycles is 99% effective, according to its research.) That puts it about on par with hormonal birth control pills (91%) and beats condoms (82%) and the rhythm method (76%). But it’s less effective than long-acting reversible contraceptives such as intrauterine devices (almost 100%). Even though Natural Cycles wasn’t developed with proponents of so-called natural family planning methods such as the Catholic Church in mind, it’s won praise from those quarters because it isn’t “artificial” birth control that divorces sex from procreation.


However, it then ran slap bang into a PR crisis. Side note: Berglund was on the team at CERN which discovered the Higgs Boson. Now she’s cofounded an app which has several hundred thousand users paying $99 per year. That’s serious money.
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Inside the Google employee backlash against the Heritage Foundation • The Verge

Colin Lecher:


“This group [of outside people chosen for Google’s external advisory board on AI] will consider some of Google’s most complex challenges that arise under our AI Principles, like facial recognition and fairness in machine learning, providing diverse perspectives to inform our work,” the company said in an announcement. The board, called the Advanced Technology External Advisory Council (ATEAC), included recognized experts in AI research who had worked in the field for years.

But some members of the new board drew immediate scrutiny, especially Kay Coles James, president of the conservative Heritage Foundation. On social media, some characterized the decision as an attempt to cater to conservatives at the expense of true expertise in the field. By Saturday, one AI expert who was invited to the board had dropped out, vaguely noting that it may not be “the right forum” for the work.

Privately, several Google employees were also livid about the decision to include James, according to sources familiar with the discussions. On internal message boards, employees described James as “intolerant” and the Heritage Foundation as “amazingly wrong” in their policies on topics like climate change, immigration, and, particularly, on issues of LGBTQ equality. A person with James’ views, the employees said, “doesn’t deserve a Google-legitimized platform, and certainly doesn’t belong in any conversation about how Google tech should be applied to the world.”


There’s also a Medium petition by Google employees. The Heritage Foundation is the sort of bonkers institution that could only grow up in the US. Why not ask a group that represents minorities or women, since they’ll be at far more risk from any inequity introduced by AI?
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Apple News+ could lead to a massive value destruction for the magazine industry • Monday Note

Frederic Filloux:


To assess the impact of a fully deployed AppleNews+ I did the following calculation.
• In the United States, the magazine industry generates annual revenue of $27B, a loss of more than 40% in ten years.
• Divided by 225 million readers of magazines (according to the trade association), the Average Revenue per User (ARPU) amounts to $120 per reader and per year, all sources included.
• The revenue promised by Apple News+ is $9.9 a month => $119 a year. Minus Apple’s 50% cut, it gives a net income per reader of $59.
➜ By joining Apple News+, the US magazine industry will lose 50% of its revenue per reader.

Of course, we are talking of transfer here: magazine readers who will join Apple News+ will inevitably cancel their subscription to its preferred publication. (I will carefully review my personal subscription portfolio that amounts to $1500/year, although my most expensive subs — digital newspapers — won’t be in Apple News+, for a good reason)…

To put it differently, for each magazine reader switching to Apple News+, the platform would need to recruit one additional subscriber, only to preserve the size of the sector. The real uncertainty here is the ability of Apple to nearly double the number of people paying for a magazine in the United States where most subscriptions are already dirt cheap (only 13% of the magazines’ circulation revenue come from digital).


These are pretty brutal numbers, though I think there’s a counter-argument that each subscriber *is* a new subscriber; that most Apple News+ users will be those who haven’t previously subscribed, rather than “churners”.
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“Are we at a party, or a wake?”: journalists wonder if Apple News+ is a trojan horse • Vanity Fair

Joe Pompeo:


[Rafat Ali commented of News+:] “They’ll just cherry pick what they want via News+, and Apple will shave off a few cents for the publisher while owning all the data, customer relationship and power.”

That would appear to be the primary concern of the two major News+ holdouts: The New York Times and The Washington Post. Apple badly wanted to lock down at least one of them, and it began a vigorous courtship of the papers last spring, not long after the Texture deal closed and Apple’s plans for its content bundle were beginning to materialize, according to people familiar with the matter. “They put a tremendous amount of pressure on,” one source said. “Eddy Cue was in and out of their offices really trying to woo them.” Cue’s elevator pitch, according to people familiar with the discussions, was, “We’ll make you the most-read newspaper in the world.”

In multiple meetings with top brass at both newspapers, Apple made it clear that they wanted the whole shebang, as opposed to a pared down offering or a specialized sliver of stories. “They didn’t want to have limitations in terms of content,” according to a person with knowledge of the talks. But Apple dangled flexible terms governing the duration after which they could pull out, as well as exclusivity. “You’d be protected against a competitor coming in,” the same source said. “If this thing was really successful and everyone else came back to the table, there was a period where you’d have exclusivity.”

But the Times and the Post couldn’t be swayed. Over the past several years, both publications have developed substantial digital subscription businesses that are now vital moneymakers, helping to offset the industry’s advertising collapse. Those businesses continue to grow, and the Times and the Post, put simply, want their own subscribers, not Apple’s subscribers—and they certainly don’t want Apple subscribers if Apple is going to keep a 50% cut of the revenues.


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Huawei’s P30 Pro raises the bar for low-light photography • The Verge

Vlad Savov:


It will still be a few days before I can publish my full review of the P30 Pro, but I spent this past weekend comparing its camera against Google’s Pixel 3 and struggling to believe my eyes. The Pixel 3’s Night Sight mode is algorithmic magic, granting that camera something akin to superhuman night vision. It requires up to six seconds of exposure time, during which you have to hold the phone steady to obtain a sharp image. Huawei has a similar night mode, but I find that completely unnecessary with the P30 Pro: this camera shoots better low-light photos than Google Night Sight without the need for a long exposure.

Let’s dive into some examples. This first one includes the output from the default Google Pixel camera to give you an idea of what the human eye sees. It’s also an accurate representation of what you’ll be able to obtain using an iPhone without the help of either the flash or RAW image processing. Even adapted to the pre-sunrise darkness in the room, my eyes couldn’t discern any color. Google’s Night Sight image is the best, I’m confident in saying, that any smartphone before the P30 Pro could achieve in the circumstances. And the P30 Pro makes that shot look like a splotchy mess.


I’d love to know how Huawei is doing this; one would have thought that camera sensors were pretty much equal everywhere, and that Google was taking it further by its use of AI. But Huawei is pulling in photons that others lose. One for iFixit to answer, at least in part?

I was going to say that sometimes you want a night shot to look like a night shot, but of course you can just darken it in the edit.
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Great Escape: travel inspiration by price

Rather neat: finds cheap flights from nearby you to various points around the world. The sort of thing that could be enjoyable around the Easter break. Apologies to Australians and New Zealanders, though then again you’ve already got it good.
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Can we stop AI outsmarting humanity? • The Guardian

Mara Hvistendahl:


[Skype co-founder Jaan] Tallinn warns that any approach to AI safety will be hard to get right. If an AI is sufficiently smart, it might have a better understanding of the constraints than its creators do. Imagine, he said, “waking up in a prison built by a bunch of blind five-year-olds.” That is what it might be like for a super-intelligent AI that is confined by humans.

The theorist Yudkowsky found evidence this might be true when, starting in 2002, he conducted chat sessions in which he played the role of an AI enclosed in a box, while a rotation of other people played the gatekeeper tasked with keeping the AI in. Three out of five times, Yudkowsky – a mere mortal – says he convinced the gatekeeper to release him. His experiments have not discouraged researchers from trying to design a better box, however.

The researchers that Tallinn funds are pursuing a broad variety of strategies, from the practical to the seemingly far-fetched. Some theorise about boxing AI, either physically, by building an actual structure to contain it, or by programming in limits to what it can do. Others are trying to teach AI to adhere to human values. A few are working on a last-ditch off-switch. One researcher who is delving into all three is mathematician and philosopher Stuart Armstrong at Oxford University’s Future of Humanity Institute, which Tallinn calls “the most interesting place in the universe.” (Tallinn has given FHI more than $310,000.)

Armstrong is one of the few researchers in the world who focuses full-time on AI safety. When I met him for coffee in Oxford, he wore an unbuttoned rugby shirt and had the look of someone who spends his life behind a screen, with a pale face framed by a mess of sandy hair. He peppered his explanations with a disorienting mixture of popular-culture references and math. When I asked him what it might look like to succeed at AI safety, he said: “Have you seen the Lego movie? Everything is awesome.”


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Why do we watch terrorist videos and what effect do they have on us? • New Statesman

Sophie McBain:


The University of California study identified several traits that were associated with being more likely to view the video: being male, Christian and unemployed, watching a lot of TV, having a pre-existing heightened fear of terrorism and having previously being exposed to violence (such as having been the victim of assault or domestic violence, or having lost a loved one to suicide or murder).

Crucially, they found that even two years after the beheading videos went viral, those who watched them were more fearful of future events, including potential terrorist attacks. In this way then, when large numbers of people watch terrorist videos it helps further militants’ central aim: to spread terror.

Authoritarian regimes have long understood that public executions are an effective form of social control because they spread fear, terrorist groups such as Isis have learned that you don’t necessarily have to force people to witness such atrocities – many of us will seek them out.

Sarah Redmond, one of the authors of the report and a PhD student at the University of California, acknowledged that a different demographic might be attracted to graphic footage posted by far-right terrorists, and that we can’t confidently extrapolate much information from the Isis study about the types of people most likely to watch the mosque attacks online. But the study does underline why it’s crucial for internet companies to develop effective ways to block content posted by terrorist groups, or else risk aiding militants.

It also offers lessons for the media: the authors suggest that by publishing screen shots of the beheading and warning that the footage was too graphic to share, the media inadvertently stoked interest in the original footage, the horrifying images working in the manner of a film trailer


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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

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Start Up No.1,035: YouTube on radicalisation, is Trump a golf cheat?, AirPower crash-lands, Sandy Hook hoaxers, and more

Chimpanzees’ propensity for murderous violence is quite unlike humans’. CC-licensed photo by Aaron Logan 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 13 links for you. Contains no April Fool’s jokes, and by the end of today you’ll probably be glad of that. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

YouTube’s product chief on online radicalization and algorithmic rabbit holes • The New York Times

Kevin Roose talks to Neal Mohan:


KR: I hear a lot about the “rabbit hole” effect, where you start watching one video and you get nudged with recommendations toward a slightly more sort of extreme video, and so on, and all of a sudden you’re watching something really extreme. Is that a real phenomenon?

NM: Yeah, so I’ve heard this before, and I think that there are some myths that go into that description that I think it would be useful for me to debunk.

The first is this notion that it’s somehow in our interests for the recommendations to shift people in this direction because it boosts watch time or what have you. I can say categorically that’s not the way that our recommendation systems are designed. Watch time is one signal that they use, but they use a number of other engagement and satisfaction signals from the user. It is not the case that “extreme” content drives a higher version of engagement or watch time than content of other types.

I can also say that it’s not in our business interest to promote any of this sort of content. It’s not something that has a disproportionate effect in terms of watch time. Just as importantly, the watch time that it does generate doesn’t monetize, because advertisers many times don’t want to be associated with this sort of content.

And so the idea that it has anything to do with our business interests, I think it’s just purely a myth.

KR: So, why do people talk about this rabbit hole effect — you know, I went to watch one video about President Trump and now I’m just getting a stream of recommendations of increasingly more partisan content. Why do you think there’s this perception that this is what happens on YouTube?

This is one of the things that we looked at closely as we were developing the technology that went into that recommendation change that I described to you from a few weeks back.

We really looked at this to see what was happening on those “watch next” panels, in terms of the videos that were being recommended. And the first thing that I should say is that when we make recommendations after a video has been consumed, we don’t take into account any notion of whether that’s less or more extreme.


Well, duh. Mohan dances around this, unconvincingly. It’s clearly on his radar, but clearly also he doesn’t know how to solve it (yet?), and also doesn’t want to admit it.
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Trump is world’s worst cheater at golf: book • NY Post

Gavin Newsham:


“To say ‘Donald Trump cheats’ is like saying ‘Michael Phelps swims,’” writes Rick Reilly in the new book “Commander in Cheat: How Golf Explains Trump” (Hachette Book Group), out Tuesday. “He cheats at the highest level. He cheats when people are watching and he cheats when they aren’t. He cheats whether you like it or not. He cheats because that’s how he plays golf … if you’re playing golf with him, he’s going to cheat.”

Reilly, a former Sports Illustrated columnist who has played with Trump in the past, spoke to dozens of players — both amateur and professional — to recount some of the president’s worst cons on the course, starting with his declared handicap of 2.8.

In layman’s terms, the lower the handicap, the better the player. Jack Nicklaus, winner of a record 18 major golf titles and generally considered the greatest golfer in the history of the game, has a handicap of 3.4. Nicklaus’ handicap is listed on the same Golf Handicap and Information Network website used by Trump, where players post their scores.

“If Trump is a 2.8,” writes Reilly, “Queen Elizabeth is a pole vaulter.”

Shortly after he became president, Trump played with Tiger Woods, the current world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and the veteran PGA Tour pro Brad Faxon. Given the quality and profile of his companions, you might have thought Trump would have been on his best behavior. Not so.

On one hole, Trump dunked a shot into the lake, but as his opponents weren’t looking he simply dropped another ball — and then hit that into the water, too.

“So he drives up and drops where he should’ve dropped the first time and hits it on the green,” recalls Faxon.


I guess we shouldn’t be surprised, but I had honestly thought this was one area where he had ability, and would respect the rul… OK, I see the mistake. And do read the piece for its last line.
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Portable TV and music • AVC

Fred Wilson:


That is an AppleTV and a Sonos Connect in between my “shaving kit” and my sneakers.

I brought these two devices out west and connected the AppleTV to the one TV in the Airbnb and I connected the Sonos to the receiver that powered the in ceiling speakers in the main living space in the house.

Even if the Airbnb had come with an AppleTV and a Sonos device, I would have swapped out theirs for ours for the length of our stay because these two devices have all of our services pre-confgured on them and we are logged into all of the services.

That is where the big difference is for me and the reason it is worth schlepping these devices cross country and back. The devices aren’t crazy expensive. The AppleTV is around $150 and the Sonos Connect is around $300. But setting these devices up, connecting them to all of the various services we subscribe to, and logging into each and every one can be an hour or more of work each time you do it.

All I had to do was power them up, connect to Wi-Fi, and connect to the TV and/or the receiver, and we were good to go.


Hadn’t thought about the logging-in nature of this, but it’s completely true. If, that is, you spend any time travelling. Might pack a HomePod in there too, for the sound quality.
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‘Those who obeyed the rules were favoured by evolution’ • SPIEGEL ONLINE

SPIEGEL ONLINE, Hamburg, Germany:


DER SPIEGEL: If it wasn’t women, who tamed men?

Richard Wrangham [a British anthropologist who has worked with Jane Goodall]: Here we enter the terrain of speculation, because fossils don’t tell us exactly what happened. What we have to do instead is to see how today’s hunters and gatherers treat individuals that behave aggressively. There are, in fact, even in these generally peaceable peoples, some individuals who, like alpha chimpanzees, try to dominate the others by violence. How do the members of such a community react – without prisons, without military, without police? There is only one way for them to defend themselves against the determined perpetrator: He is executed. The killing is done by agreement among the other men in the society.

DER SPIEGEL: You argue that this is how aggressiveness was systematically eradicated from the gene pool of mankind?

Wrangham: Well yes, aggressiveness was reduced, even if it was not eradicated. Virtue seems to have evolved from something as violent as killing. But don’t misunderstand. I am not advocating executions in today’s world. Justice is fallible, so the death penalty inevitably leads to the killing of innocent people; furthermore, there is no evidence that it really effectively deters people from committing crimes.

DER SPIEGEL: It is quite a daring hypothesis to argue that the death penalty has made us what we are. How did you come up with it?

Wrangham: It was when I read a book by Christopher Boehm entitled “Hierarchy in the Forest”. In this book, he describes how aggression in communities of hunters and gatherers is controlled by executions. My goodness, I thought when I read this, maybe this mechanism has even shaped our evolution?


A really fascinating interview; you think humans are violent, but it turns out we really aren’t, compared to pretty much everything else. Or at least not actively so. Passively, we’re terrific at wiping out species.
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AirPower fail: The latest victim of Apple’s OCD • ZDNet

Jason Perlow:


Allegedly, based on conceptual patent filings, the AirPower was able to achieve this flexible orientation wireless charging by having many 3D coils in extremely close proximity to each other – which also required extremely complex power management in order to prevent the coils from generating excessive heat and to mitigate the generation of overlapping harmonic frequencies between the coils.

As it is, Apple’s own Qi implementation runs at a lower 7.5W rather than the maximum 10W and 15W of its Android competitors, reportedly because the newer generation iPhones with wireless charging capability got way too hot at those increased power levels.

Ultimately, I believe Apple did the right thing. Can you imagine the potential “PowerGate” of cooked iPhones, Watches and AirPods? It’s far less egg on Apple’s face to cancel the product outright than to release a dangerous dud.

Apple very rarely cancels products outright after announcing them. The last time it did this was in August of 1996, when it decided to cancel its Copland OS, which proved too difficult a project for the company. It eventually ended up migrating to Mac OS X, which is heavily based on NeXT’s (and Steve Jobs’) BSD UNIX OpenStep object-oriented graphical OS instead.

The public cancellation of AirPower is a huge embarrassment for Apple. But given the company’s obsession with bleeding edge engineering and its compulsion for thinner, lighter, faster, more densely packed and difficult-to-repair products, such an embarrassment was inevitable.


*mumbles something about cancelling butterfly keyboards before they get out of the gate*
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The death of Apple’s AirPower’ may be the best thing for you and your iPhone • CNet

Jessica Dolcourt:


we’d never seen AirPower in action beyond the video in Apple’s initial presentation. By postponing and then finally squashing it, Apple may have saved iPhone users – and its own reputation – from a poorly working product. Imagine your disappointment and anger if you bought AirPower and it never functioned smoothly.

AirPower could have also been costly. Apple never announced pricing, but an optional wireless charging case for the new generation of AirPods costs $80, and that’s to power up one device, not communicate with three. AirPower could have easily sold for $150. Meanwhile, plenty of other wireless charging pads sell for $30 or less.

Apple’s abdication of AirPower doesn’t mean it’s done with wireless charging. For all we know, it could have killed its darling to start work on a new wireless charging project for 2019 or 2020; maybe one – and this is pure speculation – that would also work with a foldable iPhone.

It’s not beyond the realm of possibility that Samsung’s Galaxy S10 phones and Huawei’s P30 Pro have inspired Apple to give its next iPhone or MacBook Air the ability to wirelessly charge other devices.

AirPower may have withered on the vine, but I’m confident that Apple isn’t done with wireless charging yet. That’s clear by the tech giant’s continued investment in the feature for its iPhone and accessories. Consider this: we know that the first smartphone is slated to get over-the-air wireless charging in the near future. There’s no way Apple would miss out on a groundbreaking development like that.


Nothing to do with foldable phones; and wirelessly charging other devices is not a functionality that I feel any need to have, ever. AirPower was just too difficult an engineering challenge: the risk was the thing would overheat something or other, because the batteries (AirPods, Watch, iPhone) are so different in their demands.
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Why bother with What Three Words? • Terence Eden’s Blog

The aforesaid Eden has some problems with the system that’s meant to make your life easier:


W3W splits the world into a grid, and gives every square a unique three-word phrase. So the location 51.50799,-0.12803 becomes ///mile.crazy.shade

Brilliant, right?

No. Here’s all the problems I have with W3W.

1) It isn’t open
The algorithm used to generate the words is proprietary. You are not allowed to see it. You cannot find out your location without asking W3W for permission. If you want permission, you have to agree to some pretty long terms and conditions. And understand their privacy policy. Oh, and an API agreement. And then make sure you don’t infringe their patents. You cannot store locations. You have to let them analyse the locations you look up. Want to use more than 10,000 addresses? Contact them for prices! It is the antithesis of open.

2) Cost
W3W refuses to publish their prices. You have to contact their sales team if you want to know what it will cost your organisation. Open standards are free to use.

3) Earthquakes
When an earthquake struck Japan, street addresses didn’t change but that their physical location did.

That is, a street address is still 42 Acacia Avenue – but the Longitude and Latitude has changed.
Perhaps you think this is an edge case? It isn’t. Australia is drifting so fast that GPS can’t keep up.
How does W3W deal with this? Their grid is static, so any tectonic activity means your W3W changes.


There’s also a few others – the internationalisation one is pretty big. I still don’t see it getting traction; we just send each other location blobs these days, and Google Maps is pretty much universal.
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The Sandy Hook hoax, and the parent who believed in conspiracy theories – until his child died there • NY Mag

Reeves Wiedeman:


Lenny [Pozner] may have been the first Newtown parent to discover that conspiracy theorists didn’t believe his son had been killed, because he used to be a serious conspiracy theorist himself. “I probably listened to an Alex Jones podcast after I dropped the kids off at school that morning,” Pozner said, referencing the fearmongering proprietor of InfoWars. Pozner had entertained everything from specific cover-ups (the moon landing was faked) to geopolitical intrigue (the “real” reasons why the price of gold sometimes shifted so dramatically) and saw value in skepticism. But for him, the appeal of conspiracy theories was the same as watching a good science-fiction movie. “I have an imaginative mind,” he said.

When he first discovered the theories about Noah, Lenny, who grew up in Brooklyn, made only a halfhearted attempt to respond. “I feel that your type of show created these hateful people,” Pozner wrote in an email to Alex Jones, to which one of Jones’s employees replied that Jones would love to speak to him if “we confirm that you are the real Lenny Pozner.” Pozner declined, in part because he found himself unable to do much of anything.

While Noah’s death had given [his wife] Veronique a mission [advocating gun control], Lenny “was just numb,” he said. Lenny had worked for two decades as an IT consultant but now found the crisis management that the job required to be too overwhelming. In the year after Noah’s death, Lenny’s mother died following a battle with Alzheimer’s, and he and Veronique separated. “People tell me it’s supposed to get easier,” Lenny said at the shooting’s first anniversary. “We’re waiting for that to happen.”

But by the spring of 2014, as he watched the hoaxer movement bloom, Pozner decided to try fighting back. He released Noah’s death certificate, to convince those who believed he had not been killed, and his report card — “Noah is a bright, inquisitive boy” — for those who believed he had never lived at all. One Friday night, a year and a half after the shooting, he joined a Facebook group called Sandy Hook Hoax, one of the more prominent hoaxer meeting grounds. (Its logo features a ghostly child holding an index finger to her mouth.) Pozner told the group he was there to answer questions, and he expressed empathy for their mind-set. “I used to argue with people about 9/11 being an inside job,” he wrote.


Eye-opening piece.
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Mistakes, we’ve drawn a few • The Economist

Sarah Leo:


At The Economist, we take data visualisation seriously. Every week we publish around 40 charts across print, the website and our apps. With every single one, we try our best to visualise the numbers accurately and in a way that best supports the story. But sometimes we get it wrong. We can do better in future if we learn from our mistakes — and other people may be able to learn from them, too.

After a deep dive into our archive, I found several instructive examples. I grouped our crimes against data visualisation into three categories: charts that are (1) misleading, (2) confusing and (3) failing to make a point. For each, I suggest an improved version that requires a similar amount of space — an important consideration when drawing charts to be published in print.


This is good to see being done. I like this one best:

And its advice: “aim for leaving at least 33% of the plot area free under a line chart that doesn’t start at zero.”
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Jeff Bezos’ investigator Gavin de Becker finds the Saudis obtained the Amazon chief’s private data • Daily Beast

De Becker points out that the Daily Beast wanted him and Bezos to sign a document saying there hadn’t been any electronic surveillance – before they’d suggested there had:


As has been reported elsewhere, my results have been turned over to federal officials. Since it is now out of my hands, I intend today’s writing to be my last public statement on the matter. Further, to respect officials pursuing this case, I won’t disclose details from our investigation. I am, however, comfortable confirming one key fact:

Our investigators and several experts concluded with high confidence that the Saudis had access to Bezos’ phone, and gained private information. As of today, it is unclear to what degree, if any, AMI was aware of the details.

We did not reach our conclusions lightly. The inquiry included a broad array of resources: investigative interviews with current and former AMI executives and sources, extensive discussions with top Middle East experts in the intelligence community, leading cyber security experts who have tracked Saudi spyware, discussions with current and former advisers to President Trump, Saudi whistleblowers, people who personally know the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman (also known as MBS), people who work with his close associate Saud al-Qahtani, Saudi dissidents, and other targets of Saudi action, including writer/activist Iyad el-Baghdadi.

Experts with whom we consulted confirmed New York Times reports on the Saudi capability to “collect vast amounts of previously inaccessible data from smartphones in the air without leaving a trace—including phone calls, texts, emails”—and confirmed that hacking was a key part of the Saudi’s “extensive surveillance efforts that ultimately led to the killing of [Washington Post] journalist Jamal Khashoggi.”


He doesn’t provide any of that evidence, though. Little tricky to put all one’s faith in that.
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Government delays controversial internet porn ‘block’ law • Sky News

Lucy Cotter:


The government’s much heralded porn “block” has been delayed once again.

Under the controversial plans, people will have to verify their age to access UK commercial pornographic websites in a bid to stop children accessing the content.

The legislation, which was passed as part of the 2017 Digital Economy Act, was initially expected to be in place by April 2018. After being delayed last year, the minister for the department of digital, culture, media and sport, Margot James, told MPs: “We expect it to be in force by Easter of next year”.

However, the department said a date has not been set for the roll-out of the policy. “This work is a world-leading step forward to protect our children from adult content which is currently far too easy to access online,” it said. “We are taking the time to get the implementation of this policy right and to ensure it is effective, and we will announce a commencement date shortly”.

Jim Killock from the Open Rights Group says the delays are due to serious concerns about privacy and data collection.


Yeaahh they’ve delayed it because they’re not going to get it through Parliament before the general election that without a doubt is coming as soon either as May’s Withdrawal Agreement gets Parliamentary approval, or the WA is finally drowned in a sack. (The latter would be worse, since it implies a no-deal exit.) It will then take at least another year before a new government gets round to implementing it – if it wants to follow on.
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Sony to slash smartphone workforce 50% by 2020 • Nikkei Asian Review

Akihide Anzai and Wataru Suzuki:


The decision to scale back its smartphone workforce, which could see up to 2,000 of the total 4,000 jobs cut by March 2020, is part of a move to reduce fixed costs in the business, and also includes procurement reform.

Some of the Japanese employees affected by the decision will be transferred to other divisions, but the company will offer voluntary retirement in its Europe and China operations.

Sony will limit smartphone sales in Southeast Asia and other areas to focus on Europe and East Asia.

The company’s smartphone sales for fiscal 2018 are projected to come in at a dismal 6.5m units, half the previous year’s figure and just one-sixth that of five years ago.

In fiscal 2014, Sony pulled 1,000 employees from its smartphone operations, but sales have plunged faster than expected, necessitating a further round of cuts.

Sony’s smartphone business generates annual revenue of about 500bn yen, but is expected to post an operating loss for the third straight year through fiscal 2019. By halving operating expenses from fiscal 2017, the company hopes the business will turn a profit by fiscal 2020.


So when I wondered about the magical thinking protecting jobs, I guess I wasn’t accounting for the senior management who can spot it where they see it.

The mobile division is going to be on a one-way ride to the mountains pretty soon.
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Asus was warned of hacking risks months ago, thanks to leaky passwords • TechCrunch

Zack Whittaker:


A security researcher warned Asus two months ago that employees were improperly publishing passwords in their GitHub repositories that could be used to access the company’s corporate network.

One password, found in an employee repo on the code sharing, allowed the researcher to access an email account used by internal developers and engineers to share nightly builds of apps, drivers and tools to computer owners. The repo in question was owned by an Asus engineer who left the email account’s passwords publicly exposed for at least a year. The repo has since been wiped clean, though the GitHub account still exists.

“It was a daily release mailbox where automated builds were sent,” said the researcher, who goes by the online handle SchizoDuckie, in a message to TechCrunch. Emails in the mailbox contained the exact internal network path where drivers and files were stored…

…The researcher’s findings would not have stopped the hackers who targeted Asus’ software update tool with a backdoor, revealed this week, but reveals a glaring security lapse that could have put the company at risk from similar or other attacks. Security firm Kaspersky warned Asus on January 31 — just a day before the researcher’s own disclosure on February 1 — that hackers had installed a backdoor in the company’s Asus Live Update app.


That’s two strikes against Asus; not looking good. Security is hard, especially when you do it badly.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1,034: the genes that null pain, EU bans single-use plastics, Huawei’s longrunning security failures, filter bubble or decision bubble?, and more

Credit cards: the next thing to get disrupted by Apple after smartphones and tablets? CC-licensed photo by Thomas Kohler 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 13 links for you. Meaningful? Vote! I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

How Apple Card works • TechCrunch

Matthew Panzarino, with some interesting detail:


Perhaps the biggest security feature of the offering is that Apple Card can generate virtual card numbers for online non-Apple Pay purchases. Though Apple said that the app would display your card info during the event, they weren’t specific on what that info would be so I got some more detail here.

• The physical Apple Card, of course, has no number. The app displays the last 4 digits of the card number that is on the mag stripe of the card only, you never see the full card number.
• Instead, Apple provides a virtual card number and virtual confirmation code (CVV) for the card in the app. You can use this for non-Apple Pay purchases online or over the phone. This number is semi-permanent, meaning that you can keep using it as long as you want.
• But you can hit a button to regenerate the PAN (primary account number), providing you with a new credit card number at any time. This is great for situations where you are forced to tell someone your credit card number but do not necessarily completely trust the recipient.
• Card numbers are manually regenerated only, and do not automatically rotate. There is, currently, no single-use number support or single-merchant number support.
• Each purchase requires a confirmation code, a fantastic additional security feature outlined by Zack Whittaker earlier in the week. This makes it even harder for someone to use your card, even if skimmed or copied, to make online purchases.


Credit cards are so prone to being copied and stolen. We’ve had widespread use of smartphones for nearly a decade. It’s about time this got changed.
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This woman doesn’t feel pain; two tiny mutations may be why • Live Science

Yasemin Saplakoglu:


Doctors first realized that there was something different about the woman when she had hand surgery and reported feeling no pain before or after the procedure. She later told doctors that a year earlier, she was diagnosed with osteoarthritis in her hip and scans showed she had severely degenerated joints — yet she felt no pain.

The revelations prompted a group of researchers at the University College London and the University of Oxford to carry out genetic tests to see what could be driving her pain insensitivity.

The team found two specific mutations in her genes.

One mutation was a tiny deletion in a not-well-documented “pseudogene” — a segment of DNA that is thought of as a nonfunctional copy of a parent gene — called FAAH-OUT. The second was a mutation in the original gene, called FAAH.

After being duplicated from the FAAH gene, the FAAH-OUT pseudogene accumulated a number of mutations that prevent it from coding for a protein like the FAAH gene does, said co-senior report author James Cox, a senior lecturer in pain genetics at University College London. As a result of these mutations, FAAH-OUT “has probably evolved a whole new function,” though it’s unclear what that function is.

(These FAAH-OUT mutations aren’t unique to the woman in Scotland, however. What is unique in her case is the tiny portion that’s deleted from the pseudogene.)


Geneticists love daft names for genes. But this protein discovery is amazing: is it a way towards an incredible painkiller? How much would it be worth?
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Mueller report exceeds 300 pages, raising questions about four-page summary • The New York Times

Nicholas Fandos, Adam Goldman and Katie Benner:


The still-secret report on Russian interference in the 2016 election submitted last week by the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, was more than 300 pages long, the Justice Department acknowledged on Thursday.

Mr. Barr wrote to Congress on Sunday offering what he called the “principal conclusions” of the report — including that Mr. Mueller had not found that the Trump campaign had taken part in a conspiracy to undermine the election. But he had notably declined to publicly disclose its length.

The total of 300-plus pages suggests that Mr. Mueller went well beyond the kind of bare-bones summary required by the Justice Department regulation governing his appointment and detailed his conclusions at length. And it raises questions about what Mr. Barr might have left out of the four dense pages he sent to Congress.

Answering those questions is likely to prove difficult for lawmakers and the public. Mr. Barr has indicated to two congressional chairmen that it will most likely take weeks to redact the report for classified and grand jury information the department deems unfit for public consumption.


I really don’t understand why it hasn’t been published already. The Starr Report was delivered to Congress on September 9, 1998, and published online on September 13. I remember downloading it, just because we could.
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EU bans single-use plastics in restaurants from 2021 • Bloomberg



The European Union decided to ban plastic consumer items including plates, cutlery and straws as of 2021 to help clean up oceans.

The prohibition on single-use plastics approved by the European Parliament on Wednesday in Strasbourg, France, also applies to beverage cups, food containers and cotton bud sticks. EU governments have already signaled support for the ban, making their final approval due on April 15 a formality.

With plastics accounting for around 80% of marine litter, the EU rushed through deliberations on the planned restrictions in less than a year. The European Commission, the bloc’s executive arm, proposed the curbs in May 2018 and representatives of EU governments and the 751-seat Parliament reached a negotiated deal in December.

“Plastics poison our seas,” said Frederique Ries, a Belgian member who steered the draft law through the 28-nation assembly. “If we do not take action, by 2050 there will be more plastic than fish in the oceans.”


Can’t wait for all the Bufton Tuftons to declare that this is the EU interfering too much and that the UK needs to be able to have single-use plastics killing off the fish that we now own the right to net.
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The FCC has fined robocallers $208m. It has collected $6,790 • WSJ

Sarah Krouse:


Since 2015, the Federal Communications Commission has ordered violators of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, a law governing telemarketing and robodialing, to pay $208.4m. That sum includes so-called forfeiture orders in cases involving robocalling, Do Not Call Registry and telephone solicitation violations.

So far, the government has collected $6,790 of that amount, according to records obtained by The Wall Street Journal through a Freedom of Information Act request.

The total amount of money secured by the Federal Trade Commission through court judgments in cases involving civil penalties for robocalls or National Do Not Call Registry-related violations, plus the sum requested for consumer redress in fraud-related cases, is $1.5bn since 2004. It has collected $121m of that total, said Ian Barlow, coordinator of the agency’s Do Not Call program, or about 8%. The agency operates the National Do Not Call Registry and regulates telemarketing.

“That number stands on its own. We’re proud of it; we think our enforcement program is pretty strong,” Mr. Barlow said.


Total of 26.3bn (unwanted) robocalls made to US mobile phones in 2018. That number stands on its own too.
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The filter bubble is actually a decision bubble • Baekdal Plus

Thomas Baekdal:


we don’t have a filter bubble, at least not for the younger generation. It’s a myth that is very easily debunked. What we do have, however, is a decision bubble. Something we see all the time is that there are many people who end up believing something that simply isn’t true, and it is quite painful to watch.

Let me give you a simple example. Take the flat-Earthers. I mean… they are clearly bonkers in their belief that the world is flat, and when you look at this you might think that this is because they are living in a filter bubble.

But it isn’t. You see, the problem with the flat-Earthers isn’t that they have never heard that the Earth is round. They are fully aware that this is what the rest of us believe in. They have seen all our articles and they have been presented with all the proof.

In fact, when you look at how flat-Earthers interact online, you will notice that they are often commenting or attacking scientists any time they post a video or an article about space.

So flat-Earthers do not live in a filter bubble. They are very aware that the rest of us know the Earth is actually round, because they spend every single day attacking us for it.

It’s the same with all the other examples where we think people are living in a filter bubble. Take the anti-vaccination lunatics. They too are fully aware that society as a whole, not to mention medical professionals, all recommend that you get vaccinated. And, they also know that the rest of us think about them as idiots.

They are not living in a filter bubble, but something has happened that has caused them to choose not to believe what is general knowledge.


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Damning Huawei security report: the top 10 key takeaways • Computer Business Review

Ed Targett:


These are Computer Business Review’s Top 10 takeaways from the Huawei security report [pdf].

1: Huawei’s build processes are dangerously poor
Huawei’s underlying build process provides “no end-to-end integrity, no good configuration management, no lifecycle management of software components across versions, use of deprecated and out of support tool chains (some of which are non-deterministic) and poor hygiene in the build environments” HCSEC said.

2: Security officials don’t blame Beijing
The National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) which oversees HCSEC, said it “does not believe that the defects identified are a result of Chinese state interference.”

3: Pledges of a $2bn overhaul mean nothing, yet…
Huawei promises to transform its software engineering process through the investment of $2bn over five years are “currently no more than a proposed initial budget for as yet unspecified activities.” Until there is “evidence of its impact on products being used in UK networks” HCSEC has no confidence it will drive change.

4: The vulnerabilities are bad…
Vulnerabilities identified in Huawei equipment include unprotected stack overflows in publicly accessible protocols, protocol robustness errors leading to denial of service, logic errors, cryptographic weaknesses, default credentials and many other basic vulnerability types, HCSEC reported.


Also there: old issues aren’t fixed, managing the risk will grow, UK operators may have to replace hardware because of the “significant risk”, it’s using outdated OSs, and the lack of progress is becoming critical. You wonder if this is new? Read on.
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Huawei bungled router security, leaving kit open to botnets, despite alert from ISP years prior • The Register

Gareth Corfield:


Huawei bungled its response to warnings from an ISP’s code review team about a security vulnerability common across its home routers – patching only a subset of the devices rather than all of its products that used the flawed firmware.

Years later, those unpatched Huawei gateways, still vulnerable and still in use by broadband subscribers around the world, were caught up in a Mirai-variant botnet that exploited the very same hole flagged up earlier by the ISP’s review team.

The Register has seen the ISP’s vulnerability assessment given to Huawei in 2013 that explained how a programming blunder in the firmware of its HG523a and HG533 broadband gateways could be exploited by hackers to hijack the devices, and recommended the remote-command execution hole be closed.

Our sources have requested anonymity.

After receiving the security assessment, which was commissioned by a well-known ISP, Huawei told the broadband provider it had fixed the vulnerability, and had rolled out a patch to HG523a and HG533 devices in 2014, our sources said. However, other Huawei gateways in the HG series, used by other internet providers, suffered from the same flaw because they used the same internal software, and remained vulnerable and at risk of attack for years because Huawei did not patch them.

One source described the bug as a “trivially exploitable remote code execution issue in the router.”


And exploited it was. Repeatedly. But Huawei would only patch as it was told about exploits, model by model, despite them all using the same firmware.
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YouTube’s child viewers may struggle to recognise adverts in videos from ‘virtual play dates’ • The Conversation

Rebecca Mardon:


Ryan’s channel has become a lucrative business, complete with 25 employees, including video editors, writers and production assistants. It achieved initial commercial success by allowing more traditional “pre-roll” adverts to appear before its videos, which mostly saw Ryan playing with toys – which his parents say they buy. The channel later began to embed advertising content for major brands, such as Walmart, within Ryan’s own videos. More recently, the business launched a range of Ryan’s World toys that often feature in his video content.

Ryan’s videos do include what seem like clear, child-friendly disclosures surrounding sponsored content. But the question is whether children actually recognise these disclosures and understand what advertising is, and whether all YouTube videos aimed at children adequately disclose marketing messages.

Research shows that children have lower advertising literacy than adult viewers. They struggle to recognise adverts when they are embedded in organic content, and may not recognise YouTube videos featuring paid advertising content, vloggers’ own-brand merchandise, or free products “gifted” by brands as marketing.

Children are particularly likely to struggle to identify advertising messages by their favourite vloggers. Viewers often come to feel personal attachments to YouTube stars. Fans of beauty vlogger Zoella, for instance, see her as a sister or best friend, and my own research has found that fans often defend and excuse vlogger actions that might otherwise be seen as problematic or unethical as a result of this relationship.


By the way, Ryan is aged seven and reckoned to have earned $22m between June 2017 and June 2018.
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What Facebook is getting wrong in the fight against fake news • VICE

David Uberti:


From her home in San Diego, [Brooke] Binkowski sees the stakes of the info war in nearby Tijuana, where the asylum seekers known as “The Caravan” remain in limbo after a journey across Central America that received a lot of publicity riddled with misinformation. The real-world implications don’t end there: Parents of Sandy Hook victims are pursuing a defamation suit against Infowars huckster Alex Jones—a case on which Binkowski is consulting as an expert witness—for claiming the school shooting was a hoax. “I love talking shit to people who lie on the internet,” she said. “I’m pretty much born for this.”

I caught up with Binkowski by phone to talk Facebook, fact-checking, and how fake news has changed since she joined Snopes in late 2015.

VICE: Did you have any sense of how big the problem was on Facebook or to what extent they were taking it seriously?
Brooke Binkowski: They didn’t share shit with us. I felt that we were crisis PR: They could point to us and say, Look, we’re doing something about it. We hired Snopes. They also [included] The Weekly Standard and [considered including] The Daily Caller in their fact-checking teams, because they didn’t want to be perceived as left-wing fact-checker friendly. I was like, You guys don’t know how this fucking works, do you? You should not be doing this. You need to hire people internally.

V: They’re reacting to conservative criticism the exact same way a legacy media company might react.
BB: Their reaction has been very telling. That’s another reason I’ve gone on this offensive. I’m broke as shit—always. I don’t have a lot of personal power. But what I really have right now is a megaphone. I have a voice. And they’re very sensitive to public opinion. So I’m just going to keep kicking them in the teeth publicly as long as I can, because they’re fucking up.

V: So you think the power lies with them?
BB: One hundred percent. For them, they’ve been in denial about being a media company, not just for legal reasons, but also because they can tell themselves media may be prone to being swayed one way or the other. Tech is morally neutral—it’s all in the way people use it. That’s obviously not true. It never was.


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UK opens up access to oil and gas data • Out-law


Terabytes of data on the UK’s oil and gas fields and infrastructure has been made freely available for use by industry.

The Oil and Gas Authority (OGA) said the release of the data can help industry recover the 20 billion barrels of oil and gas that are estimated to remain untapped in the UK’s Continental Shelf (UKCS).
The data is accessible via a new national data repository (NDR) established by the OGA, and includes “130 terabytes of well, geophysical, field and infrastructure data … covering more than 12,500 wellbores, 5,000 seismic surveys, and 3,000 pipelines”.

Bob Ruddiman, specialist in oil and gas at Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind, said: “This is a significant development in the evolution of the UKCS. The future prospectivity of the basin will be significantly enhanced by the free availability of data. Innovators will look differently at the many opportunities which undoubtedly exist and the future will undoubtedly include developments previously overlooked or discarded but which will be enhanced by application of new technology to existing data.”


Er, well, open data, so that’s good. But it would be better to leave these reserves buried.
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How the UK lost the Brexit battle • POLITICO

Tom McTague:


Had [Downing Street] been prepared for Brexit on June 24, 2016, the negotiations might have played out differently.

“The British government should have offered something very, very quickly,” said one high-ranking official of a large EU country. “If the UK had said: ‘Here’s the plan,’ we might have accepted it.”

“The British strength was being one member state, being able to define its national interest quickly and making its move quickly,” the official said. “It did not do that.”

Instead, in the aftermath of the referendum, Cameron resigned as prime minister; Labour MPs attempted to oust their party’s leader Jeremy Corbyn; Nicola Sturgeon, the Scottish first minister, vowed to hold a second independence referendum; and Martin McGuinness, then deputy first minister of Northern Ireland, called for a vote on whether the British territory should leave the UK and become part of the Republic of Ireland.

The seeds of the crisis Britain faced today were planted by Cameron, said Foreign Office Minister Alan Duncan. “He called the referendum too early, ran a crappy campaign and then walked out, leaving a vacuum.”

“It is a crisis caused by bad decisions on top of bad decisions, turning a short-term gambit into a long-term catastrophe,” he added. “You can trace the whole thing back to the start. The crash was always coming.”

…One adviser on European affairs to a prominent EU27 leader said Dublin had begun lobbying other EU countries in the months before the referendum to ensure Ireland was protected in the event of decision by the UK to leave…

Northern Irish peer Paul Bew, one of the chief architects of the Good Friday Agreement, said Dublin’s preparation was typical of the Irish in their long history of negotiations with Britain. “They are on top of the detail, and we [the British] are incurious. The people at the top of the UK government are also paralyzed by imperial guilt.”

The contrast with London was stark. While Cameron refused to allow officials to prepare for a Leave vote — barring officials from putting anything on paper — Ireland had produced a 130-page Contingency Plan with an hour-by-hour checklist.


Excellent in-depth piece which shows how many times the UK got this wrong – ie pretty much at every turn. So much for the EU being a sclerotic organisation that can’t tie its shoelaces.
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Sony to close smartphone plant in China, shift production to Thailand • Reuters

Pei Li and Miakiko Yamazaki:


Sony Corp will close its smartphone plant in Beijing in the next few days, a company spokesman said, as the Japanese electronics giant aims to cut costs in the loss-making business.

Sony will shift production to its plant in Thailand in a bid to halve costs and turn the smartphone business profitable in the year from April 2020, the spokesman said on Thursday. He said the decision was not related to Sino-U.S. trade frictions.

Sony’s smartphone business is one of its few weak spots and is bracing for a loss of 95 billion yen ($863m) for the financial year ending this month.

Some analysts say Sony should sell the business amid acute price competition with Asian rivals. The company has a global market share of less than 1%, shipping just 6.5 million units this financial year mainly for Japan and Europe.

But Sony has said it has no intention to sell as it expects smartphones to be central to technologies for fifth-generation wireless networks, where cars and various devices would be connected.


What is the magical thinking that leads Sony execs to think that 5G will make its smartphone business profitable? Competition then will come from more places than ever, and Sony isn’t in the 5G space to any appreciable extent. I suspect it comes from people whose jobs are at risk if they confess the division is never going to break even again. Which is, let’s be fair, understandable.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1,033: what pilots can tell drivers, what’s Medium for?, Sony hits 4.2m VR headsets, Apple’s kyboad poblm psists, buses v oil, and more

Online dating: it’s the way people hook up now. CC-licensed photo by %u2593%u2592%u2591 TORLEY %u2591%u2592%u2593 on Flickr.

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

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

The rise of online dating, and the company that dominates the market • Visual Capitalist

Frank Cardona:


Tinder globally popularized app-based matchmaking when it launched on iPhones in 2012, and later on Android in 2013. Unlike traditional dating websites, which required lengthy profiles and complicated profile searches, Tinder gamified online dating with quick account setups and its “swipe-right-to-like” approach. By 2017, Tinder had grown to 57 million active users across the globe and billions of swipes per day.

Since the launch of Tinder, hundreds of dating services have appeared on app stores worldwide. Investors are taking notice of this booming market, while analysts estimate the global online dating market could be worth $12bn by next year…

Today, nearly all major dating apps are owned by the Match Group, a publicly-traded pure play that was spun out of IAC, a conglomerate controlled by media mogul Barry Diller.

IAC saw the online dating trend early, purchasing early online dating pioneer way back in 1999. However, with online dating shifting into the mainstream over recent years, the strategy quickly shifted to aggressively buying up major players in the market.

In addition to its prized app Tinder – which doubled its revenue in 2018 to $805m – Match Group owns popular online dating services like OkCupid, Plenty of Fish, Hinge, and has even bought out international competitors like Meetic in Europe, and Eureka in Japan. The dating giant reported revenues of $1.73bn in 2018. According to reports, Match Group now owns more than 45 dating-related businesses, including 25 acquisitions.


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The long, complicated, and extremely frustrating history of Medium, 2012–present • Nieman Journalism Lab

Laura Hazard Owen:


I don’t blame people who go do something for Medium. Seriously, grab that money while it’s there. In 2015, after I was laid off, I talked to people at Medium about starting a parenting publication there. It was something that I might have received a few thousand dollars to do. I joined Nieman Lab instead, but that freedom (?) and potential money still float in and out of my mind. Some of the news stories I’ve written about Medium have been too credulous; I’ve taken too much of Williams’ startup speak at face value. I (and many others) devoted what now seems like way too much mental energy to the “Is Medium a platform or a publisher?” question. Sure, Williams’ frequently shifting stated vision didn’t help, but that angst still feels ridiculously quaint in 2019.

Why spend so much time worrying about what Medium is? Maybe because we wanted to know whether it was a friend or an enemy. The answer is that it’s neither. It’s a reflection of what the media industry has worried about, and hoped for, and not received. But Medium was never something that we would get to define. Instead, it’s turned out to be an endless thought experiment into what publishing on the internet could look like. That’s not much fun for people who got burned along the way, but Medium was never exactly ours to begin with.


Medium really is a puzzle. What’s its model now? What will its model be in a year? Without enough certainty, it’s impossible to know whether to write for it or not. But its sugar daddy means that it never has to think too hard about that.
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Sony has sold 4.2 million PlayStation VR headsets • Venturebeat

Jeff Grubb:


That sold-through designation [on the 4.2m number] is important because it’s not just “shipped.” Instead, 4.2 million people have actually purchased the device.

This means that PSVR likely still has a lead in the premium VR headset market. But Facebook and HTC don’t share exact sales numbers for their devices. Even without that data, however, industry intelligence firm IDC estimates that PSVR shipped 463,000 headsets in the fourth quarter of 2018. That put it ahead of 300,000 Oculus Rifts and 230,000 HTC Vives.

Sony has continued to use its advantages in the gaming space to pitch the PSVR to customers. Unlike Vive or Rift, you only need a PlayStation 4 instead of an expensive gaming PC. PlayStation is also a globally recognized gaming brand with numerous developer partnerships. The publisher has leveraged those relationships to bring big-name VR experiences to the PSVR first. That includes hits like Tetris Effect and Resident Evil 7. And that’s on top of its first-party efforts like Farpoint and Astro Bot: Rescue Mission.


Personally I’ve gone from being highly optimistic about VR to pessimistic – again. 4.2m is a good figure, but it’s entirely self-contained to games.
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Appl still hasn’t fixd its MacBook kyboad problm • WSJ

Joanna Stern (with Elliot Bentley):


Nop, I havn’t fogottn how to wit. No did my dito go on vacation.

You s, to sha th pain of using an Appl laptop kyboad that’s faild aft fou months, I could only think of on ida: tak all th bokn ltts out of my column. Thn I alizd that would mak th whol thing unadabl. So to…

Why is th baking of my MacBook Ai kyboad so insanly maddning? Lt’s tak a tip down Mmoy Lan…

Apil 2015: Appl Inc. lass th all-nw MacBook with a “buttfly” kyboad. In od to achiv xtm thinnss, th kys a much flatt than old gnations but th buttfly mchanism undnath, fo which th kyboad is namd, aims to plicat th bounc of a mo taditional kyboad.

Octob 2016: Th MacBook Po aivs with a scond-gnation buttfly kyboad. A fw months lat, som bgin to pot that ltts o chaacts don’t appa, that kys gt stuck o that ltts unxpctdly pat.

That’s why I’d lik to off you th oppotunity to…


Eugh. I wonder if Apple will finally, finally, finally listen to this. When you get stories like this in international papers from well-respected writers, it destroys your reputation. This has gone on for years now and it still isn’t fixed. I’ve never known Apple to be so indifferent to a serious problem that has gone on for so long across an entire product line.
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The Boeing 737 Max crash is a warning to drivers, too • Slate

Henry Grabar:


automation has not made pilots’ jobs easier, says Steve Casner, a pilot and research psychologist at NASA’s Ames Research Center: “You’d think it would dumb down the role of the pilot. Contrary to expectation, you have to know more than ever.”

Casner is one of a number of pilots and analysts who see a parallel between the introduction of automation in airplanes more than 30 years ago and its arrival in cars today, as drivers prepare to relinquish the burdens of navigating the blacktop.

“It’s like 1983 all over again,” Casner told me Monday. Where airlines by and large got it right, he thinks car-makers may be overeager in sticking humans in the car with unfamiliar technologies. “I’m very concerned that even though aviation has shown us how to do it, we’re about to make a big mistake with cars. Sitting there waiting like a potted plant for the lights to blink is not one of our fortes.”

Together with the cognitive psychologist Edwin Hutchins, Casner is the author of a new paper, “What Do We Tell the Drivers? Towards Minimum Driver Training Standards for Partially Automated Cars.” One of their main points is that automation would not have made commercial flight as safe as it is today without pilots who understood how the systems worked.


We’re already seeing crashes where the human driver doesn’t realise that the system isn’t functioning correctly. Disengaging it might get harder.
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Boeing 737 MAX software fix: easy to upload, harder to approve • Reuters

Eric Johnson, David Shepardson and Allison Lampert:


Boeing engineers armed with laptops and thumb drives will be able to upload a crucial software fix for the 737 MAX anti-stall system in about an hour. That’s the easy part.

Before Boeing’s workhorse of the future can resume flying, the upgrade must first be approved by the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and then by wary regulators around the globe who have grounded it in the wake of two deadly crashes.

Regulators in China, Europe and Canada have signaled they will not rubber stamp an FAA decision to allow the planes back into the air but conduct their own reviews.

With the FAA under pressure for its role in certifying the newest 737, and other regulators challenging its leadership of the airline safety system, Boeing’s money-spinning jet could remain parked for months.

“We are guessing this thing’s not going to be put to bed until the July or August time frame,” said Charlie Smith, chief investment officer at Fort Smith Capital Group, which holds shares in Boeing.

The world’s largest planemaker has been working on the upgrade for its MCAS stall-prevention system since October’s Lion Air crash, when pilots are believed to have lost a tug of war with software that repeatedly pushed the nose down.


The FAA now has the same problem as Boeing: persuading people that its decisions are safe. Just a part of Trump’s legacy (the FAA director position hasn’t been formally filled).
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Standing against hate • Facebook Newsroom


over the past three months our conversations with members of civil society and academics who are experts in race relations around the world have confirmed that white nationalism and separatism cannot be meaningfully separated from white supremacy and organized hate groups. Our own review of hate figures and organizations – as defined by our Dangerous Individuals & Organizations policy – further revealed the overlap between white nationalism and separatism and white supremacy. Going forward, while people will still be able to demonstrate pride in their ethnic heritage, we will not tolerate praise or support for white nationalism and separatism.

We also need to get better and faster at finding and removing hate from our platforms. Over the past few years we have improved our ability to use machine learning and artificial intelligence to find material from terrorist groups. Last fall, we started using similar tools to extend our efforts to a range of hate groups globally, including white supremacists. We’re making progress, but we know we have a lot more work to do.

Our efforts to combat hate don’t stop here. As part of today’s announcement, we’ll also start connecting people who search for terms associated with white supremacy to resources focused on helping people leave behind hate groups.


No name attached to it. But anyway, about time. A lot of people have been telling Facebook about this literally for years.
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Magic Leap heads to AT+T stores, along with AR Game of Thrones experience • CNet

Scott Stein:


AT+T was originally supposed to be a retail partner for Magic Leap at launch last fall, but that never ended up happening. This retail launch of the $2,295 AR headset will be pretty limited: It will arrive April 1 in Boston at one store (Boylston), April 3 in Chicago (on Michigan Avenue) and April 6 in San Francisco (at 1 Powell).

The hardware will be exactly the same as what’s already been available previously. The self-contained AR hardware runs off an Nvidia Tegra X2 processor and creates 3D effects meshed into reality through its tethered goggles. But it doesn’t have cellular onboard yet. Instead, it requires Wi-Fi.

AT+T is planning to make a move to 5G and bring Magic Leap along, but for now those developments will be limited to deploying 5G at Magic Leap’s Florida headquarters later this year for 5G AR testing.

As for these retail Magic Leap Game of Thrones experiences, it could be worth a drop-in. The “Dead Must Die” encounter, according to AT+T’s press release: “…challenges the bravest of fans to confront a White Walker and lead the fight for the living. Curious visitors will be fitted with a Magic Leap One and step into a physical representation of King’s Landing, which instantly transforms into an ominous, icy scene that begs investigation…


Nope. I just don’t see this making it. I think Magic Leap’s investors can kiss their money goodbye.
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More stunning falls in solar and battery storage costs put fossil fuels on notice • RenewEconomy

Giles Parkinson:


More speculator falls in the costs of solar PV and battery storage technologies is ensuring that renewables are not only vastly cheaper than coal and gas power plants on generation costs, but also competitive with fossil fuel generation when it comes to dispatchable generation.

The latest technology cost analysis released by research company BloombergNEF shows that battery storage costs have fallen by more than one third since the first half of 2018, and even wind and solar have also fallen by another 10-18% respectively over that time. Offshore wind is down 24% over the last year.

The big mover, and the most significant for the unfolding low carbon energy transition has been the cost of lithium-ion battery storage, which BNEF says has fallen by 35% to $US187/MWh. That means it is competing with, and in some cases, easily beating gas generation for tenders for peaking plants, including in the US where gas is supposed to be cheaper than elsewhere.


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Forget Tesla, it’s China’s E-buses that are denting oil demand • Bloomberg NEF

Alaric Nightingale:


The oil industry needn’t be too concerned, for now, about how Tesla’s electric cars are denting demand. China and its bus fleet could be more of a worry.

By the end of this year, a cumulative 270,000 barrels a day of diesel demand will have been displaced by electric buses, most of it in China, according to a report published last week by BloombergNEF. That’s more than three times the displacement by all the world’s passenger electric vehicles (a market where Tesla has a share of about 12%.).

Despite rapid growth, the impact on the oil market from electric vehicles remains relatively small. Collectively, buses and electric vehicles account for about 3% of oil demand growth since 2011, and 0.3% of current global consumption, according to BloombergNEF figures and data from the International Energy Agency.

Buses matter more because of their size and constant use. For every 1,000 electric buses on the road, 500 barrels of diesel are displaced each day, BloombergNEF estimates. By comparison, 1,000 battery electric vehicles remove just 15 barrels of oil demand.


So there’s an obvious policy open goal for politicians to aim at: replace every diesel bus. (In passing, I think “NEF” in this Bloomberg tag stands for “New Energy Futures”, but can’t be certain. Might be “Fundamentals”.)
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1,032: Qualcomm dings Apple, Brexit grinds on, can Nasa see women?, Article 13 passes, and more

Why is the BBC preventing Google from indexing its podcasts? CC-licensed photo by on Flickr.

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

A selection of 11 links for you. Very indicative. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Get set for Brexit: Indicative Day – the one where the Grand Wizards turn on each other • The Guardian

Marina Hyde is the Guardian’s best purveyor of side-eye in written form, and Brexit has given her tons of material. Now Parliament is about to try to decide – in a secret, prisoner’s dilemma-style vote – what sort of Brexit it might like:


By way of a reminder, Theresa May’s major intervention in the 2015 general election campaign – she was home secretary at the time – was to warn that a Labour government propped up by the SNP could be “the greatest constitutional crisis since the abdication”. Yes, well. Hold my sherry and all that. In fact, as many contemporary accounts show, almost everyone normal hugely enjoyed the abdication soap opera back in 1936, as is possible with the type of national drama that doesn’t end in the silence of 10 million lambs and economic holy war on the poor.

For some [Tory splinter group] ERG crusaders, though, Monday’s vote all too belatedly appeared to put things in perspective. This morning, [ERG sort-of leader] Jacob Rees-Mogg was suggesting he would now vote for May’s deal, which has infuriated many of those who have formed a personality cult around the personality of Jacob Rees-Mogg (surely the last people who should be risking medicine shortages).

Naturally, some are still fighting the mad idea that voting for Brexit might be the best way to get Brexit. Take the ERG vice-chair, Mark Francois, a sort of inflatable idiot who has spent the past few months bobbing around the broadcast studios like some remnant of the worst ever stag weekend. Can someone please deflate it? Otherwise we will continue to have situations like the one this morning, when Mark explained to Talkradio: “Europe is free because of us.” I mean … I don’t mean to come across as tolerably informed, but Mr Francois’ recent historical interjections have been of such staggering imbecility that they suggest not simply that he has failed to understand the contributions of the Soviet Union and the United States to the second world war – that is a given – but that the very existence of those powers would be news to him.


We get the politicians we deserve, but happily we also get the columnists we deserve. Nobody deserves the ERG, though, which is to politics what food poisoning is to dinner parties.
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Article 13: EU approves controversial copyright law • CNet

Katie Collins:


Years in the making, the EU Copyright Directive has been heavily debated and divisive among politicians, as well as a cause of concern for the tech industry. One part of the proposal in particular – Article 13, which will govern the way copyrighted content is uploaded to the internet – has many in the tech community throwing their hands up in despair.

Under the law, internet platforms will be liable for content that users upload, a burden that will fall heavily on some of the most popular online services.

“YouTube, Facebook and Google News are some of the internet household names that will be most directly affected by this legislation,” the European Parliament said in a statement.

The effects of the law may be felt well beyond Europe’s borders, given the global nature of the internet and the need for tech companies to come up with policies that can be broadly applied. That’s what happened after the EU enacted the privacy-focused General Data Protection Regulation, or GDPR, in May 2018.

Critics said legislators had turned a deaf ear to a wide range of experts and to the general population.

“In a stunning rejection of the will [of] five million online petitioners, and over 100,000 protestors this weekend, the European Parliament has abandoned common sense and the advice of academics, technologists, and UN human rights experts, and approved the Copyright in the Digital Single Market Directive in its entirety,” said rights group the Electronic Frontier Foundation in a blog post.

Before the text can be adopted in European law, it must next be approved by the Council of the European Union. It’s still possible that the directive may not be passed by the Council, but that would involve at least one key country changing its mind. A vote is expected to take place April 9.


A lot of this is about getting YouTube to actually pay artists for using their music, rather than giving them a cut of the advertising that goes around them. (It’s why Spotify needs premium users: ad-supported users are terrible for its economics.) I think the scare stories about memes are just that – scare stories, and won’t be vindicated.
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Teeny-tiny Bluetooth transmitter runs on less than 1 milliwatt • IEEE Spectrum

Samuel Moore:


Engineers at the University of Michigan have now built the first millimeter-scale stand-alone device that speaks BLE [Bluetooth Low Energy protocol]. Consuming just 0.6 milliwatts during transmission, it would broadcast for 11 years using a typical 5.8mm coin battery. Such a millimeter-scale BLE radio would allow these ant-sized sensors to communicate with ordinary equipment, even a smartphone.

The transmitter chip, which debuted last month at IEEE International Solid-State Circuits Conference, had to solve two problems, explains David Wentzloff, the Michigan associate professor who led the research. The first is power consumption, and the second is the size of the antenna. “The size of the antenna is typically physics-based, and you can’t cheat physics,” says Wentzloff. The group’s solution touched on both problems.

 An ordinary transmitter circuit requires a tunable RF oscillator to generate the frequency, a power amplifier to boost its amplitude, and an antenna to radiate the signal. The Michigan team combined the oscillator and the antenna in a way that made the amplifier unnecessary.


This is how the real internet of things gets started: devices you fit and pretty much forget.
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Apple violated Qualcomm patent, US trade judge rules • WSJ

Asa Fitch:


A US trade judge recommended that some iPhones be barred from import on Tuesday after finding that Apple violated a patent held by Qualcomm, handing the mobile-phone chip giant a victory in its long-running feud with its erstwhile business partner.

The decision from the US International Trade Commission judge means that Apple, which has its iPhones assembled overseas before sending them to the US and other markets, could be barred from selling iPhones that infringe on a Qualcomm patent covering strategies for conserving power and improving battery life. The judge’s two-page order didn’t specify which iPhone models it covered.

The decision by ITC administrative law judge MaryJoan McNamara, however, is subject to review by the full six-member ITC as well as by the Trump administration, either of which could change the findings and reverse the recommended ban. Presidents have vetoed ITC moves before, including in 2013 when the Obama administration prevented an ITC ban on the sale of some iPhones and iPads from taking effect after Samsung Electronics Co. won a case there.


Not so helpful to not specify the iPhones. But it won’t be the 2018 models, since Apple now uses Intel modems.
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The end of open: BBC blocks its podcasts on Google • Pod News

James Cridland (who as it happens is ex-BBC):


Talking to Podnews, a BBC spokesperson said that Google is required to sign a licence to link to their podcasts; and that the Distribution Policy also requires Google to supply user data to the BBC. There has been a “consultation with Google”, and the BBC “has no choice but to stop Google from making podcasts available via Google products.”

However, Ofcom, the UK media regulator, requires that “the BBC must offer the public services to third parties in response to reasonable requests for supply, except where the BBC has an objective justification for not doing so. In offering the public services for supply, and in supplying those services, the BBC must act on a fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory basis.” (¶3.3.2).

In recent months, the BBC have been removing some of its podcasts from third-party platforms, and placing them exclusively within their BBC Sounds app. BBC podcasts are supported by advertising outside the UK, though BBC Sounds remains unavailable to non-UK listeners.


I don’t think this is the BBC trying to shut down podcasts. The FAQ says it’s specifically about Google, and the licence seems to be aimed at commercial services. That certainly includes Google.

Certainly the BBC is getting a bit weird about its BBC Sounds app, but it wants listeners for its podcasts, so there must be quite a clash here. What’s really strange is that podcasts are just RSS elements. Indexing a feed isn’t “using” it.
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Nasa’s first all-female spacewalk scrapped over spacesuit sizes • BBC News


Plans for the first all-female spacewalk in history have been scrapped for lack of a second space suit, the US space agency Nasa says.

Christina Koch and Anne McClain had been scheduled to step outside the International Space Station (ISS) on Friday to install batteries.

But it turned out they both needed a medium-size spacesuit and only one was ready for use.
Koch will now exit the ISS with male colleague Nick Hague instead. She will wear the medium-size suit used by McClain on a spacewalk with Hague last week.

McClain trained in both medium- and large-size spacesuits but only realised after her actual spacewalk that the medium-size suit fitted her best, Nasa said.


A perfect example of what Caroline Criado-Perez was talking about: women are almost invisible in planning like this.
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Restaurant Megatrends 2019: Google’s domination of local discovery is almost complete • Skift

Jason Clampet:


In the late 1990s companies including Microsoft Sidewalk, AOL Digital Cities, and CitySearch duked it out digitally to be the place people discovered a new restaurant or bar online, while print outfits like Zagat, Time Out, and local newspapers did the same in print. There were multiple ways to find a place to go in print and online.

This isn’t really true anymore. Google, with its trifecta of Google Maps, Mobile search, and Desktop search fuels local discovery with a dominance that is daunting.

Sure, there are other ways to find a great taco: Apple Maps exists; Yelp is still important enough to worry restaurants; Foursquare hums along quietly; and reservation apps can point the way. Instagram has the power to inspire, but you can’t ask it where to get a burger near you.

Thanks to our reliance on smartphones and GPS, it’s become an indispensable tool for restaurants. At the same time, Google’s ad search business, allowing keywords to go to the highest bidder, change the way restaurants must market themselves.

The stats are daunting, whether they’re coming for Google itself or third parties. According to Think by Google, “people are at least twice as likely to use search than other online or offline sources … Not only is search the most used resource, it’s the resource 87% of people turn to first.”

Over the last year the frequency of the search term “restaurant near me” has grown by two to three times in markets around the world. In no place has this search grown less than 50%. Indeed, the growing popularity of “… near me” searches clearly illustrates the consumer shift to a reliance on digital for the most basic local discovery actions at an incredibly high frequency that will only continue to increase as long as search results satisfy.


Clampet argues that Google Maps is now a “mega app”, like Line in Japan or WeChat in China – absorbing other apps under its umbrella.
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The smoking gun: or, “whither Gareth?” • Post Office Trial blog

Nick Wallis has been covering a long-running series of trials about software that is suspected of leading to false accusations that people running little local post offices around the UK have been fiddling the books:


On a day of stunning drama at the High Court last week, we also had a series of startling admissions about bugs in the Post Office’s Horizon IT system.

Before the recusal hand-grenade was lobbed into proceedings, Torstein Godeseth, Horizon Chief Architect at Fujitsu, was being cross-examined by Patrick Green, QC for the claimants.

Mr Green’s cross-examination was the fruit of what looked like several months work by the claimants’ legal team. They had painstakingly put together a series of conclusions based on evidence disclosed, which they then put to Mr Godeseth. It delivered, to my mind, the first concrete evidence of a smoking gun – an error generated outside a branch blamed on a Subpostmaster – and it raised the question as to how many more have slipped through unnoticed.

The financial discrepancy was mistakenly generated in 2007 by a Fujitsu engineer who was trying to replace a missing line of code in a Subpostmaster’s terminal without the Subpostmaster’s knowledge or permission.

During a bungled attempt to fix the glitch, the engineer put in an incorrect manual entry, causing a $1000 discrepancy in a forex transaction. It wasn’t picked up by Fujitsu at the time, or rather the discrepancy was picked up, but the source of it wasn’t, so it was blamed on the Subpostmaster. The incorrect manual entry was only spotted during this litigation whilst the claimants’ legal team were preparing for the Horizon trial.


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Crypto mining giant Bitmain’s IPO application has officially expired • CoinDesk

Wolfie Zhao:


According to an update on the HKEX’s website, Bitmain’s case has been moved to a group of “inactive” applications and is now labeled as lapsed, six months after the company filed the prospectus on Sept 26.

If it still wishes to pursue a listing, Bitmain can re-file the application, but the company would be required to provide additional financial records beyond what was included in its initial filing.

According to a listing rule from the HKEX, “the latest financial period reported on by the reporting accountants for a new applicant must not have ended more than six months from the date of the listing documents.” However, the last public filing from Bitmain only covers the period ending June 30, 2018, nearly nine months ago.

The application drew wide attention last fall as Bitmain disclosed eye-popping profit growth over the past several years. For instance, just for the first half of 2018, the mining giant brought home a net profit of nearly $1bn, after having made over $1bn for all of 2017.

Despite such rapid growth in the bottom line, reflecting the surging cryptocurrency market of 2017, the HKEX was hesitant to approve applications from Bitmain and its mining rivals Canaan Creative and Ebang, due to the industry’s volatility.

Indeed, in line with the market slump of 2018, Bitmain suffered a loss of about $500m in the third quarter of last year.


Question is how much of that profit it has held on to if it needs to repay some – or all – of the $700m it’s down for. Bitcoin, meanwhile, is still under $4,000.
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Global energy and CO2 status report: the latest trends in energy and emissions in 2018 • IEA


Energy consumption worldwide grew by 2.3% in 2018, nearly twice the average rate of growth since 2010, driven by a robust global economy as well as higher heating and cooling needs in some parts of the world.

The biggest gains came from natural gas, which emerged as the fuel of choice last year, accounting for nearly 45% of the increase in total energy demand. Demand for all fuels rose, with fossil fuels meeting nearly 70% of the growth for the second year running. Renewables grew at double-digit pace, but still not fast enough to meet the increase in demand for electricity around the world.

As a result of higher energy consumption, global energy-related CO2 emissions increased to 33.1 Gt CO2, up 1.7%. Coal-fired power generation continues to be the single largest emitter, accounting for 30% of all energy-related carbon dioxide emissions.

Higher energy demand was propelled by a global economy that expanded by 3.7% in 2018, a higher pace than the average annual growth of 3.5% seen since 2010. China, the United States, and India together accounted for nearly 70% of the rise in energy demand.

The United States had the largest increase in oil and gas demand worldwide. Gas consumption jumped 10% from the previous year, the fastest increase since the beginning of IEA records in 1971. The annual increase in US demand last year was equivalent to the United Kingdom’s current gas consumption.


Here’s a depressing stat: half of the human global emissions have come in the past 30 years. Within the lifetimes of most people reading this.
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Cargo ships are the world’s worst polluters, so how can they be made to go green? • The i

Mark Piesing, in January 2018:


Every day the clothes, tech and toys that fill the shelves in our shopping centres seem to arrive there by magic. In fact, about nine out of 10 items are shipped halfway around the world on board some of the biggest and dirtiest machines on the planet.

It has been estimated that just one of these container ships, the length of around six football pitches, can produce the same amount of pollution as 50 million cars. The emissions from 15 of these mega-ships match those from all the cars in the world. And if the shipping industry were a country, it would be ranked between Germany and Japan as the sixth-largest contributor to global CO2 emissions.

Most of the pollution occurs far out at sea, out of the sight and minds of consumers – and out of the reach of any government. Now, an alliance of environmentalists, researchers and industry organisations, as well as ship owners and builders, fed up with the sluggishness of the industry’s response to its emissions problem, is attempting to do something about it.

Initially, their goals are to encourage ships to sail at slower speeds to reduce emissions, to persuade owners to share data with each other to encourage efficiency, and even to help shipping companies find new ways to make money in the low-carbon economy.


Not really improving, is it.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1,031: Apple sort-of launches video, Asus PCs hacked via updates, ONS on automation risks, and more

Got your mood lighting? Your mood music app will come up with appropriate sounds – for a price. CC-licensed photo by Araceli Arroyo 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 13 links for you. Taking back being out of control. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

I can’t use Rift S, and neither can you • The Blog of Palmer Luckey

Let Mr Virtual Reality tell you:


[Oculus] Rift S is very cool! It takes concepts that have been around for years and puts them into a fully functional product for the first time. Sure, sure, I see people complaining about how Rift S is worse than CV1 concerning audio quality, display characteristics, and ergonomics – some of the tradeoffs are real, some are imaginary, and people should really wait for it to come out before passing final judgement. All in all, it is going to be a great HMD.

For about 70% of the population.

My IPD (interpupillary distance, the distance between my eyes) is a hair under 70mm and slightly skewed to the right side of my face. One of my best friends has an IPD of 59mm. I don’t know what your IPD is, but both of us were perfectly served by the IPD adjustment mechanism on Rift CV1, a mechanism that was an important part of our goal to be compatible with male and female users from 5th to 95th percentile. Anyone within the supported range (about 58mm to 72mm) got a perfect optical experience – field curvature on the focal plane was matched, geometric distortion was properly corrected, world scale was at the right size, and pupil swim was more or less even. Sharp imagery from edge to edge of your field of view was the norm. The small handful of people with an IPD outside that range would not get a perfect experience, but at least they would be in the right ballpark. IPD skews in different directions by gender, race, and age, but we managed to cover almost everyone, and we were proud of that.

This is not the case with Rift S.


This all feels like the long slow death of VR to me. It just never gets that virtuous circle.
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Cryptocurrency miner Bitmain’s IPO plans at risk of being shelved • Financial Times

Louise Lucas:


Bitmain Technologies’ application for a blockbuster initial public offering will lapse this week, after the fall in the price of bitcoin spoiled the fortunes of the world’s biggest cryptocurrency miner.

Bitmain filed to list its shares in Hong Kong in September, setting the stage for what was expected to be world’s largest cryptocurrency IPO. The Beijing-based company, which makes and sells kit for cryptocurrency mining, had been planning to raise up to $3bn in the listing, according to bankers.

Bitmain’s prospectus detailed three years of phenomenal growth, with revenues surging ninefold, to $2.84bn, in the six months to the end of June 2018. But the plunge in the price of bitcoin — which is currently trading at less than one-quarter of the value of its December 2017 peak — has spooked investors. Bitcoin’s current price makes mining it virtually unprofitable.

A discrepancy between the numbers Bitmain showed private investors and those in the prospectus sparked further concerns.


That discrepancy was significantly smaller profits stated in the IPO prospectus than in documents it provided to get earlier funding rounds. Bitmain is looking like a stack of shaky claims piled high. It’s also rumoured to have cashflow problems.
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It sure looks like Google’s $599 Celeron Pixel Slate is dead • Android Police

David Ruddock:


The $599 and $699 versions of the Pixel Slate brought sub-iPad Pro pricing to Google’s prosumer tablet, even if it turned out that the tablet itself beat the iPad in pretty much no sense that mattered. Marques Brownlee, typically known for his easy-going takes and willingness to embrace misunderstood tech products, basically called the cheaper Celeron Slate a turd. This was not a good look for Google. Shortly after that, the Celeron Pixel Slate showed up as sold out on the Google Store, and that status hasn’t changed since.

Is it possible Google manufactured such a small quantity of them and demand was so high that the entire initial batch was snapped up? Sure, it’s possible. But given that entry-level SKUs for products like tablets and phones tend to be the most popular, it would have been foolish of Google to assume that demand for the Celeron models would have been lower than the Core m3 and i5 variants you can still buy right now, which cost $799 and $999, respectively. Even the m3 model, though, represents a $200 price hike over the basic Celeron version, which effectively has made the Pixel Slate an $800 tablet – not the $600 one it advertised at launch. That feels like kind of a bait and switch.

What did Google have to say about all this? Frankly, they may as well have said nothing at all – their statement to 9to5 was an embarrassing sidestep of the question.


Yup, sure looks like the low-end version has gone for a ride in the mountains with a shovel. It barely existed; the famous Marques Brownlee was very disparaging about it for being too low-powered. You want to make a tablet-laptop combo? Go ahead, but use a processor that can drive it.
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Apple unveils Apple Arcade subscription service for iOS, Mac, Apple TV games • Ars Technica

Samuel Axon:


Apple today announced a new subscription service called Apple Arcade for games on its platforms, including iPad, iPhone, Mac, and Apple TV. The service will debut “this fall.” Its exact price has not yet been confirmed.

The paid-subscription service will include games “unavailable on any other mobile service,” Apple confirmed, and it will launch with “over 100 new and exclusive games.” A sizzle reel of flashy games appeared at today’s Apple event, and it largely focused on indie games that haven’t yet launched on either traditional or mobile platforms yet. One notable exception: there was a brief shot of an apparently unannounced Sonic the Hedgehog game.

By paying the subscription fee, players will have access to all games for as long as they want with no limits or microtransactions attached. Shared family accounts will have access to the titles and parental controls for no additional charge. And the service’s multi-device support extends to letting iOS gamers suspend an Apple Arcade game on their phone, then resume playing it on another device, or vice versa.

As previously reported by Cheddar, Apple will publish games itself, but today’s event didn’t include news about specific first-party titles or efforts.


The offline element seems like a response to Google Stadia (though obviously it’s not; the two have been on separate tracks for months).
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What’s in Apple’s video service, how much will it cost, and why should we pay for it? • Recode



I have some questions about Apple’s new video service:

• What, exactly, is Apple going to have in its new video service?
• What, if anything, will Apple’s new video service cost?
• Why would someone pay anything for Apple’s new video service?

I’ve had these questions for a couple of years, but I figured I would have answers to them today because I just spent two hours watching Tim Cook and other Apple executives show off a new suite of Apple services, with Apple’s video offering as the showstopper.

Nope! Still haven’t found what I’m looking for. [Prize for best U2 joke. – CA]

In lieu of answers, Cook and his team did a high-gloss version of hand-waving at their Cupertino, California, HQ today: they brought out Very Big Stars like Steven Spielberg, Reese Witherspoon, and Oprah Winfrey to tell a worldwide audience that they were indeed working on projects that you might be able to see as soon as this fall. Musician Sara Bareilles played a song on an onstage piano.

Apple did promise that the subscription service would be ad-free and that it would be available in more than 100 countries. And it played the briefest of sizzle reels, which allowed the audience to see that Apple’s production team has indeed shot footage for some of its shows.

But that was it, and that was surprising.


Apple’s language was very vague – but I understand that it’s vague when talking to people about commissioning TV content too. I think it’s going to launch this stuff (not until autumn) and see what people want. And then it will start commissioning stuff with more clarity. But that’s going to mean a lacuna of a couple of years (it takes a long time to commission and produce worthwhile video). Don’t forget that Netflix took many years to become a powerhouse in original commissioning.
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Exclusive: first look at Apple’s new AirPods-like ‘Powerbeats Pro’ truly wireless sport headphones • 9to5Mac

Guilherme Rambo:


Last week, a report suggested that Apple is planning to release a “truly wireless” version of Beats Powerbeats headphones next month. Today’s release of iOS 12.2 includes imagery of the new headphones, which we now know will be called Powerbeats Pro.

Hidden in iOS 12.2 are animations and images that showcase Powerbeats without any sort of connecting wire. In terms of design, they’re nearly identical to Powerbeats3, but truly wireless much like AirPods. The glyphs show Powerbeats Pro in black and white color variations.

Furthermore, iOS 12.2 includes an image of the Powerbeats Pro charging case. This case looks similar to the AirPods case, and will theoretically charge your Powerbeats Pro buds when not in use. Powerbeats3 today offer battery life of up to 12 hours, but it’s unclear if the truly wireless version would be able to match that. The charging case, however, would make it easier for users to charge while on the go.

Powerbeats remain a popular alternative to AirPods due to their more workout-friendly design. There are clips to help each earbud stay in place, as well as different ear tip designs to accommodate different ear sizes and noise cancellation needs.


Maybe they should have announced these on Monday as the “one more thing”. Coming out next month, apparently. AirPods for people whose ears aren’t a fit for AirPods.
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Hackers hijacked ASUS software updates to install backdoors on thousands of computers • Motherboard



Researchers at cybersecurity firm Kaspersky Lab say that ASUS, one of the world’s largest computer makers, was used to unwittingly install a malicious backdoor on thousands of its customers’ computers last year after attackers compromised a server for the company’s live software update tool. The malicious file was signed with legitimate ASUS digital certificates to make it appear to be an authentic software update from the company, Kaspersky Lab says…

…The researchers estimate half a million Windows machines received the malicious backdoor through the ASUS update server, although the attackers appear to have been targeting only about 600 of those systems. The malware searched for targeted systems through their unique MAC addresses. Once on a system, if it found one of these targeted addresses, the malware reached out to a command-and-control server the attackers operated, which then installed additional malware on those machines.

Kaspersky Lab said it uncovered the attack in January after adding a new supply-chain detection technology to its scanning tool to catch anomalous code fragments hidden in legitimate code or catch code that is hijacking normal operations on a machine. The company plans to release a full technical paper and presentation about the ASUS attack, which it has dubbed ShadowHammer, next month at its Security Analyst Summit in Singapore. In the meantime, Kaspersky has published some of the technical details on its website.


Asus, you won’t be surprised to hear, hadn’t responded by publication time. What’s notable here is that it’s nation-state attack stuff: using a security certificate and targeting specific machines. Given that Asus is Taiwanese, I’d immediately suspect China trying to spy on Taiwanese government sources.
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Which occupations are at highest risk of being automated? • Office for National Statistics


The analysis looked at the tasks performed by people in jobs across the whole labour market, to assess the probability that some of these tasks could be replaced through automation.

It is not so much that robots are taking over, but that routine and repetitive tasks can be carried out more quickly and efficiently by an algorithm written by a human, or a machine designed for one specific function. The risk of automation tends to be higher for lower-skilled roles for this reason.

When considering the overall risk of automation, the three occupations with the highest probability of automation are waiters and waitresses, shelf fillers and elementary sales occupations, all of which are low skilled or routine.

The three occupations at the lowest risk of automation are medical practitioners, higher education teaching professionals, and senior professionals of educational establishments. These occupations are all considered high skilled.


The data also includes a breakdown of where the most likely areas are. London’s pricey Kensington + Chelsea and Wandsworth areas, stuffed with MPs in their second homes, is the least at risk. Boston in Lancashire and Mansfield in the midlands – which, as it happens, voted 76% and 70% in favour of leaving the EU – are at the highest risk of job automation.
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Warner enters into distribution partnership with a mood music algorithm • Pitchfork

Matthew Strauss:


Endel is an app that creates personalized music for you based on a mood that you can request. For example, if you would like to enter “Relax Mode,” the algorithm will create music that “calms your mind to create feelings of comfort and safety,” according to the app’s description. This week (March 21), Warner Music Group announced that it has partnered with Endel to distribute 20 albums this year through WMG’s Arts Division.

Endel has already released five albums this year, all part of its Sleep series: Clear Night, Rainy Night, Cloudy Afternoon, Cloudy Night, and Foggy Morning. The next 15 album will correspond with the app’s other modes: Relax, Focus, and On-the-Go.


And here’s an extract from a review on iTunes – note that the app requires a monthly or annual subscription:


Ok, I’ve had the free trial for a week now, and I feel I can safely say that this app isn’t some algorithmic genius, it’s simply a pleasing ambient album. For example, there are two distinct tracks on the sleep channel, and that’s it, no matter if sometimes a somewhat ancillary ticking clock is playing instead of a white noise filter sweep mimicking the ocean.

There’s no shame at all in making a good ambient album. They’ve done that. But the description of the app is truly misleading and tries to represent this app as something more. And on top of that, it charges an ongoing subscription fee that is not equivalent to the market price of an album, which, again, is what this is. Sorry, but I’m not gonna subscribe and have to renew $25 every year for the latest Carly Rae Jepsen album either.


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A tragedy that calls for more than words: the need for the tech sector to learn and act after events in New Zealand • Microsoft on the Issues

Brad Smith is Microsoft’s chief lawyer:


we need to develop an industrywide approach that will be principled, comprehensive and effective. The best way to pursue this is to take new and concrete steps quickly in ways that build upon what already exists.

There are in fact important recent steps on which we can build. Just over two years ago, thanks in part to the leadership and urging of the British and the European Commission, four companies – YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and Microsoft – came together to create the Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism (GIFCT). Among other things, the group’s members have created a shared hash database of terrorist content and developed photo and video matching and text-based machine learning techniques to identify and thwart the spread of violence on their platforms. These technologies were used more than a million times in 24 hours to stop the distribution of the video from Christchurch.

While these are vital steps, one of the lessons from New Zealand is that the industry rightly will be judged not only by what it prevented, but by what it failed to stop. And from this perspective, there is clearly much more that needs to be done. As Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern noted last week, gone are the days when tech companies can think of their platforms akin to a postal service without regard to the responsibilities embraced by other content publishers. Even if the law in some countries gives digital platforms an exemption from decency requirements, the public rightly expects tech companies to apply a higher standard.


Much easier for Microsoft to advocate this because it’s not as if it runs any gigantic social networks. (Well, Xbox Live, but is that known as a sinkhole of white supremacists?)
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Moral crumple zones: cautionary tales in human-robot interaction • Engaging Science, Technology, and Society

Madeleine Clare Elish:


Analyzing several high-profile accidents involving complex and automated socio-technical systems and the media coverage that surrounded them, I introduce the concept of a moral crumple zone to describe how responsibility for an action may be misattributed to a human actor who had limited control over the behavior of an automated or autonomous system. Just as the crumple zone in a car is designed to absorb the force of impact in a crash, the human in a highly complex and automated system may become simply a component—accidentally or intentionally—that bears the brunt of the moral and legal responsibilities when the overall system malfunctions. While the crumple zone in a car is meant to protect the human driver, the moral crumple zone protects the integrity of the technological system, at the expense of the nearest human operator. The concept is both a challenge to and an opportunity for the design and regulation of human-robot systems.


Neat idea. (The text is available under a Creative Commons licence.)
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Man pleads guilty in $100m scam of Facebook and Google • Bloomberg

Chris Dolmetsch:


Prosecutors alleged that Rimasauskas, along with some unidentified co-conspirators, helped orchestrate a scheme in which fake emails were sent to employees and agents of the two tech giants. The thieves pretended to represent Taiwanese hardware maker Quanta Computer. They told Facebook and Google workers that the companies owed Quanta money, and then directed payments be sent to bank accounts controlled by the scammers.

“Rimasauskas thought he could hide behind a computer screen halfway across the world while he conducted his fraudulent scheme, but as he has learned, the arms of American justice are long, and he now faces significant time in a U.S. prison,” U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman in Manhattan said in a statement.

Dressed in tan prison clothing and speaking in Russian through a translator, Rimasauskas told the judge he took part in the fraud scheme from October 2013 to October 2015, posing as a Quanta employee, creating fake bank accounts in Latvia and Cyprus to receive the scammed proceeds, and signing fake contracts and documents that were submitted to banks to support the wire transfers…

…The scheme netted about $23m from Google in 2013 and about $98m from Facebook in 2015, according to a person familiar with the case, who asked not to be named because the companies haven’t been publicly identified by prosecutors as the victims.


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YouTube cancels two originals but says it’ll keep making premium content (update) • Engadget

Saqib Shah:


As streaming giants dig deeper into their pockets for more video content, some projects often fall by the wayside. Following a report by Bloomberg, YouTube has confirmed it has canceled two of its high-profile shows: sci-fi thriller Origin and comedy Overthinking with Kat & June. Bloomberg also alleged that the video service is no longer accepting pitches for big-budget scripted content, but Google has denied that is the case.

Instead, YouTube has pointed to a slate of upcoming global productions that it says will be announced in the coming weeks. A new ad-supported model for its programming will also be in place by the end of the year.

YouTube’s chief business officer Robert Kyncl said in November that many of its originals, which are currently available to YouTube Premium subscribers, would soon be accessible for free. They include a mix of films (The Thinning, Viper Club), reality shows starring YouTubers (Scare PewDiePie, Prank Academy), series (Wayne, Impulse), and documentaries (BTS Burn the Stage, Ariana Grande: Dangerous Woman Diaries).


Some are spending, some are cutting back.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: OK, so on those “unique links”. It’s just possible that they will work even from the email now so that you can share them with your friends (and enemies). Knock yourselves out. I now realise, of course, that they don’t need to be MD5’d.

Start Up No.1,030: the content on Apple’s TV service, AirPods ahoy!, Brexit in perspective, bitcoin’s fake trading, big oil’s Facebook lobbying, and more

“Welcome to your room! Oh, ignore the camera, it’s not wired up. Unless they pay the fee.” CC-licensed photo by Mick Stanic 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 13 links for you. Not left yet. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

A data scientist designed a social media influencer account that’s 100% automated • Buzzfeed News

Katie Notopoulos:


Buetti, a data scientist by trade, decided to use his actual skills and automate the hard work of influencing by writing a program that recruited an audience of 25,000 (by autofollowing their accounts in hopes of getting a follow back), and reposted photographers’ eye-catching photos of New York City for his growing entourage to engage with (“😍🤗🤗🤗great shot💕,” one person commented). Poof: @beautiful.newyorkcity was born — an active, popular, and 100% artificial Instagram account. For Buetti, it’s the perfect solution if you don’t want to actually dedicate time to curating an online following, but still want to score free spaghetti from restaurants seeking publicity. His program even finds restaurant accounts in New York, and sends them direct messages offering to promote them to followers in exchange for a comped meal — and no, it does not disclose that @beautiful.newyorkcity is run by a robot.

Behold the latest chapter in the dark art of social media influencing, which despite being widely plagued with bots and fake engagement, continues to attract real interest from marketers and businesses. Buetti’s account has (at least some) real followers, but the influencing itself is being handled by some code rather than an eager personality. It’s a lifestyle brand generated by something that’s not alive.


It’s essentially the logical end state of influencer accounts.
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Opinion : Britain is drowning itself in nostalgia • The New York Times

Sam Byers:


when the United Nations special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights visited Britain last year, his verdict was damning, depicting not a nation “picking itself up when things get tough” and “quietly making history” but a society in which, as he put it, “British compassion for those who are suffering has been replaced by a punitive, meanspirited and often callous approach.” We are even, in point of fact, going off tea.

Our inability to state difficult truths without first offering some reassuring patriotism accounts, in some ways, for the failure of the Remain argument. In making a negative case against leaving the European Union — that it will cause irreparable harm to the economy, that vital flows of food and medicine may be disrupted, that we will consign ourselves to bit-part status on the global stage — Remainers’ concerns have been dismissed as traitorous fantasy, the manipulative catastrophizing of what Brexiteers call “Project Fear.”

And so, all too often, Remainers reach for the same dreamy jingoism as those who would have us violently depart the European Union with no terms in place. There is no patriotic argument for Remain because Brexit itself is a cautionary argument against blind national pride. It’s precisely this empty, hopeless paradox that in June 2016 led to Prime Minister David Cameron, in a last-ditch effort to persuade voters to side with the European Union, telling us, pathetically, that “Brits don’t quit.” It’s also, one assumes, why in January a group of German political leaders and prominent figures encouraging Britain to stay in the Union wrote an open letter not to make a case for Brussels but to appeal to our beverage-sipping sense of self, writing that if we left, they would miss “going to the pub after work hours to drink an ale” and “tea with milk and driving on the left-hand side of the road” — a gale of pure wind with all the meaninglessness of a British Airways ad.


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With the iPhone sputtering, Apple bets its future on TV and news • WSJ

Tripp Mickle:


The original series will be delivered in a new TV app that staff have been calling a Netflix killer. It will make it easier for people to subscribe with a single click to channels such as Starz, Showtime and HBO, with which Apple has been negotiating to offer their shows to users for $9.99 a month each, people familiar with the talks said.

Apple has been negotiating to bring its new TV app to multiple platforms, including Roku and smart TVs, according to people familiar with the talks—an unusual move for a company that has long preferred to limit its software and services to its own devices. Some of those distribution agreements are expected to be announced Monday.

At the same event, Apple plans to showcase a revamped News app that includes a premium tier with access to more than 200 magazines—including Bon Appétit, People and Glamour—as well as newspapers, including The Wall Street Journal. It plans to charge $9.99 for the service and believes the premium news content can lift engagement on its devices, people familiar with the plans said. The New York Times earlier reported on the Journal’s participation.

As part of the arrangement, much of the Journal’s content will be available through the service, although certain types of stories—particularly general news, politics and lifestyles news—will be showcased, while business and finance news won’t be displayed as prominently, according to people familiar with the situation. The deal will result in the Journal hiring more reporters focused on general news to help feed Apple’s product, one of the people said. The Journal sells its own subscriptions for $39 a month.


Tidy sum if people subscribe to news and TV. But will it be more compelling than Netflix?
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Why Netflix won’t be part of Apple TV • The New York Times

Edmund Lee:


From HBO’s perspective, allowing itself to become part of Apple’s streaming effort is not that different from selling its wares via Comcast or DirecTV. It’s just another sales outlet. Even HBO’s own streaming service, HBO Now, had a slow start until Amazon Prime started marketing it. With the push from Amazon, the number of HBO Now subscribers nearly doubled, to five million. (HBO currently has more than seven million online customers, with those who subscribed through Amazon counting for a smaller proportion.)

But that kind of indifference could cut against AT&T’s own plans to sell content directly to people. The wireless giant will have to weigh the value of the distribution muscle of Apple or Amazon or Hulu against its own needs. Why did AT&T buy Time Warner (which also included CNN, TNT and Warner Bros.) if not to jump-start its own streaming bundle?

It’s worth noting that Apple is hyping its new service at a time when sales of its most lucrative product, the iPhone, have started to lag. It stopped reporting how many devices it sold as of September. Now, it wants investors to look at another line item — its foray into the media business, which is stable and steadily growing. Apple hopes it will grow even faster with the help of Hollywood.

Interestingly, that line item (listed as “Services” on the Apple income statement) was once little more than a balance-sheet curiosity. Now, it’s a $40bn business. The forthcoming bundle could add more than $12bn to that, according to an estimate from Goldman Sachs.


Having HBO on board will be pretty enormous for Apple TV. For a lot of cord-cutters in the US, that’s going to be a reason enough on its own.
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Mike Lynch heads to London’s High Court in $5bn legal battle • Financial Times

Jane Croft and Aliya Ram:


seven years ago, the tech entrepreneur and investor became embroiled in one of the world’s longest-running accounting scandals, after he was accused by US tech giant Hewlett-Packard of participating in serious accounting irregularities before HP paid $11bn to buy his company, Autonomy.

Mr Lynch, who has long denied the allegations, is now gearing up to fight a blockbuster $5bn civil fraud trial in London’s High Court, which is set to begin on Monday.

The case may have wide-reaching implications for the UK tech sector, which has largely stood by Mr Lynch, despite hushed conversations about the future of his other businesses and concerns among his former business partners.

HP filed the lawsuit against Mr Lynch and former Autonomy chief financial officer Sushovan Hussain in 2015, alleging that the two men were behind the fraudulent manipulation of Autonomy’s accounting information on a massive scale, leading to HP paying an extra $5bn for the company.


Losing this would be calamitous for Lynch, obviously. But it’s hard to argue that HP did the due diligence.
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South Korea spycam: hundreds of motel guests secretly filmed and live-streamed online • CNN

Sophie Jeong and James Griffiths:


About 1,600 people have been secretly filmed in motel rooms in South Korea, with the footage live-streamed online for paying customers to watch, police said Wednesday.

Two men have been arrested and another pair investigated in connection with the scandal, which involved 42 rooms in 30 accommodations in 10 cities around the country. Police said there was no indication the businesses were complicit in the scheme.

In South Korea, small hotels of the type involved in this case are generally referred to as motels or inns.

Cameras were hidden inside digital TV boxes, wall sockets and hairdryer holders and the footage was streamed online, the Cyber Investigation Department at the National Police Agency said in a statement.

The site had more than 4,000 members, 97 of whom paid a $44.95 monthly fee to access extra features, such as the ability to replay certain live streams. Between November 2018 and this month, police said, the service brought in upward of $6,000.


I mean, in the context of video services that’s pretty pricey, isn’t it. Shouldn’t staying at the hotel have been free? That’s normally how these surveillance services work online?
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Why Apple AirPods came to be everywhere • GQ

Jon Wilde:


the one AirPods moment that provides my most consistent idiot-glee dopamine hit is the clicky magnetic case lid. I flick it open, closed, open, closed relentlessly in my coat pocket while I’m walking—a minor-key tactile addiction that’s reflexive at this point. Apple’s Jony Ive says a lot of man hours were spent to bring me this idiot-glee dopamine hit.

“When you are going to have objects that are inherently very mechanical, I think that it’s so important that you pay attention to all aspects of the design. There is color and form and the overall sort of architecture, but then those more difficult-to-define and concept behaviors, like the noise of a click and the force of a magnet that draws something closed,” says Ive. “I mean, for example, one of the things that we struggled with was the way that the case orients the AirPod as you put them in. I love those details, that you’ve had no idea how fabulously we got that wrong, for so long, as we were designing and developing it. When you get them right I think they don’t demand a lot from you but they contribute far more than people are necessarily aware for your sense of joy and using a product.

And this is, I think, the reason for the slow path to everywhereness that Apple’s AirPods have taken. They may be the best-selling product Apple makes right now, but they’re also the ones that most require word-of-mouth, or a leap of faith. With them, Apple fixed the annoying things about wireless headphones, which you didn’t realize could be fixed until you bought a pair. And Apple made the act of using those headphones tactile and satisfying and sometimes surprisingly delightful, but you wouldn’t know until you splurged on a pair.


Interviews with Ive tend towards the gnomic. I don’t think he’s trying to be obscure; it’s that he has feelings about what he wants to describe which he finds really hard to put into concise sentences.
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This spyware data leak is so bad we can’t even tell you about it • Motherboard

Lorenzo Franceschi-Bicchierai:


This breach is just the latest in a seemingly endless series of exposures or leaks of incredibly sensitive data collected by companies that promise to provide services for parents to keep children safe, monitor employees, or spy on spouses. In the last two years, there have been 12 stalkerware companies that have either been breached or left data exposed online: Retina-X (twice), FlexiSpy, Mobistealth, Spy Master Pro, SpyHuman, Spyfone, TheTruthSpy, Family Orbit, mSpy, Copy9, and Xnore.

We can’t tell you the name of the company that’s the latest—but certainly not the last—to join that list. That’s because despite our repeated efforts to alert the company to the leak, it has yet to fix the problem or acknowledge our request for comment. Because the leaked data violates the privacy of hundreds if not thousands of people, and because that data is still very easy for anyone to find and access, even naming the company publicly could lead bad actors to expose it.

The exposed database was found by security researcher Cian Heasley, who contacted us when he found it earlier this year. The database is still online, and has been online for at least six weeks. Pictures and audio recordings are still being uploaded to it nearly every day. We won’t name the company to protect the victims who may be getting spied on without their consent or knowledge, and—on top of that—are having their pictures and calls uploaded to a server open to anyone with an internet connection.


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Huawei CFO had a penchant for rival Apple products, it seems • Bloomberg

Natalie Obiko Pearson:


When Canadian police arrested Meng Wanzhou at the behest of the US on a Dec. 1 stopover at Vancouver International Airport, they seized her iPhone 7 Plus, a MacBook Air and an iPad Pro, according to a court filing Friday.

Her defence lawyers filed an application seeking a copy of the data stored on the equipment, and for those devices to be subsequently sealed. The crown prosecution consented and the devices will be transferred “to the British Columbia Supreme Court Registry pending an assessment of solicitor-client privilege,” Canada’s justice department said in an email.

Huawei has been known to get touchy when lesser employees have used iPhones — it demoted and cut the pay of two employees held responsible after the company’s official New Year’s greetings went out “via Twitter for iPhone.” China’s biggest telecoms gear maker, which supplanted Apple as the world’s No. 2 smartphone brand in 2018, is gunning for the top spot.


So.. not a Huawei phone, tablet or computer? This is like Tim Cook being found using a Surface Go and a Windows Phone.
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Most bitcoin trading faked by unregulated exchanges, study finds • WSJ

Paul Vigna:


Nearly 95% of all reported trading in bitcoin is artificially created by unregulated exchanges, a new study concludes, raising fresh doubts about the nascent market following a steep decline in prices over the past year.

Fraudulent trading volume has dogged cryptocurrency trading for years, but the extent of the market manipulation has been difficult to determine. Bitwise Asset Management said its analysis of trading activity at 81 exchanges over four days in March indicates that the actual market for bitcoin is far smaller than previously thought.

The San Francisco-based company submitted its research to the US Securities and Exchange Commission with an application to launch a bitcoin-based exchange-traded fund. The study, made public Thursday, is an attempt to alleviate the agency’s longstanding concerns that a bitcoin ETF would leave investors exposed to fraud and market manipulation.


Bitwise’s cunning plan is that it will have a fund based in 10 regulated exchanges that can verify their trading data. Which means that of an apparent $6bn of reported daily volume is actually $273m of real money; the rest is shuffled about between liquidity enablers such as Tether, into bitcoin, back out. That still seems like a lot of money.
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About incompatible media in Final Cut Pro X • Apple



As part of the upcoming transition from 32-bit to 64-bit technology in macOS, you may see an alert in Final Cut Pro or Motion about legacy media files that won’t be compatible with future versions of macOS, released after macOS Mojave.
These incompatible media files were most likely created using formats or codecs that rely on QuickTime 7—an older version of QuickTime that is included in macOS Mojave for compatibility purposes. However, because versions of macOS after macOS Mojave will no longer include the QuickTime 7 framework, you’ll first need to detect and convert legacy media files to continue to use those files in Final Cut Pro.1
Before you upgrade to the next major version of macOS after macOS Mojave, make sure to convert all incompatible media files. After you upgrade, the option to convert the incompatible files will no longer be available.


It’s a long list of formats, such as 3ivx MP4, VP9 (which is Google’s?), DivX, Flash Video, JPEG 2000, RealVideo (ah, memories of RealPlayer), and Windows Media Video (WMV) 7, 8 and 9. This is probably going to bite quite a lot of people.
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How Twitter’s algorithm is amplifying extreme political rhetoric • CNN

Oliver Darcy:


Over the last several months, Twitter has begun inserting what it believes to be relevant and popular tweets into the feeds of people who do not subscribe to the accounts that posted them. In other words, Twitter has started showing users tweets from accounts that are followed by those they follow. This practice is different from the promoted content paid for by advertisers, as Twitter is putting these posts into the feeds of users without being paid and without consent from users.

Twitter said its goal with the practice is to expose users to new accounts and content that they might be interested in. In some situations, the practice is innocuous and perhaps even beneficial. For instance, if someone is watching the Super Bowl, but doesn’t follow Tom Brady, it might be useful for them to see his post-game tweet.
Relying on an algorithm to insert politically-oriented tweets into the feed of users, however, appears to come with unintended consequences. Some tweets contain extreme political rhetoric and/or advance conspiracy theories. And they are regularly posted by media or internet personalities who hold fringe views (many are also verified, giving them an added sense of credibility to people who may not be familiar with them), exposing users on the platform to radical content they may otherwise have not encountered.

In effect, the practice means Twitter may at times end up amplifying inflammatory political rhetoric, misinformation, conspiracy theories, and flat out lies to its users. This comes at a time when other platforms, like YouTube, are facing intense criticism for using algorithms to suggest content to users.


The god of “engagement” defeats the god of “is this really a good idea?” once again.
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Top oil firms spending millions lobbying to block climate change policies, says report • The Guardian

Sandra Laville:


In the run-up to the US midterm elections last year $2m was spent on targeted Facebook and Instagram ads by global oil giants and their industry bodies, promoting the benefits of increased fossil fuel production, according to the report published on Friday by InfluenceMap.

Separately, BP donated $13m to a campaign, also supported by Chevron, that successfully stopped a carbon tax in Washington state – $1m of which was spent on social media ads, the research shows.

Edward Collins, the report’s author, analysed corporate spending on lobbying, briefing and advertising, and assessed what proportion was dedicated to climate issues.

He said: “Oil majors’ climate branding sounds increasingly hollow and their credibility is on the line. They publicly support climate action while lobbying against binding policy. They advocate low-carbon solutions but such investments are dwarfed by spending on expanding their fossil fuel business.”

After the Paris climate agreement in 2015 the large integrated oil and gas companies said they supported a price on carbon and formed groups like the Oil and Gas Climate Initiative which promote voluntary measures.

But, the report states, there is a glaring gap between their words and their actions.

The five publicly listed oil majors – ExxonMobil, Shell, Chevron, BP and Total – now spend about $195m a year on branding campaigns suggesting they support action against climate change.


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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: who knows, it’s possible that the “unique links” will actually work from email as well as the web, because they’re now absolute URLs. Try it and see!