Start Up No.1822: US DoJ blocks Facebook ad tool, dark mode not so good, Strava’s mystery users, US’s semiconductor slump, and more


The All-England Club, aka Wimbledon, hopes that having lots more data will make spectators more interested in matches. But which data, exactly? CC-licensed photo by Matthias Rosenkranz 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. Yes, Facebook again. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.


Facebook will stop using an advertising tool in settlement with US government • The Guardian

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Facebook will change its algorithms to prevent discriminatory housing advertising and its parent company will subject itself to court oversight to settle a lawsuit brought by the US Department of Justice on Tuesday.

In a release, US government officials said that Meta, formerly known as Facebook, reached an agreement to settle the lawsuit filed the same day in Manhattan federal court.

According to terms of the settlement, Facebook will stop using an advertising tool for housing ads that the government said employed a discriminatory algorithm to locate users who “look like” other users based on characteristics protected by the Fair Housing Act, the Justice Department said. By 31 December, Facebook must stop using the tool once called “Lookalike Audience”, which relies on an algorithm that the US said discriminates on the basis of race, sex and other characteristics.

Facebook also will develop a new system over the next half-year to address racial and other disparities caused by its use of personalization algorithms in its delivery system for housing ads, it said.

According to the release, it was the justice department’s first case challenging algorithmic discrimination under the Fair Housing Act. Facebook will now be subject to justice department approval and court oversight for its ad targeting and delivery system.

US Attorney Damian Williams called the lawsuit “groundbreaking.” Assistant attorney general Kristen Clarke called it “historic”.

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Only housing ads? But the court oversight is quite a thing.
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Dark mode isn’t as good for your eyes as you believe • WIRED UK

Laurie Clarke:

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A big driver of dark mode is aesthetics. One Twitter user’s assessment: “Night mode Twitter just 1000% more dope than regular one”, is pretty representative of the internet’s reaction to dark mode. Spotify, which selected a dark background as its standard mode, chose this look after testing different designs on its users, who were overwhelmingly in favour of this shady aesthetic. “We believe that when you have music or art that’s very colourful and very artistic, and you have beautiful cover art for music, that it really shows more clearly visible in a product like this, when it’s about entertainment,” Michelle Kadir, director of product development at Spotify, told Fast Company.

But beyond style, the widespread roll-out of dark mode has triggered a slew of dubious claims about its proposed benefits, covering assertions that it helps concentration, eye strain and battery life. The question is, does the average computer user stand to gain anything from slipping into this shadowy mode? Here, we unpack some of the most prominent claims about dark mode, and whether they stack up.

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Reduces eye strain? Not really. Makes text easier to read? Nope. Extends battery life? OK, if you’re using OLED. Helps concentration? Maybe. Better ahead of bedtime? Yeah, but just try not staring at a screen for an hour.

Personally, don’t use it.
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Why America will lose semiconductors • Semi Analysis

Dylan Patel:

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The critical software needed to be used to design chips is called EDA and it all comes from the US. Cadence, Synopsys, and Mentor Graphics (now owned by Siemens) are located in the US. Without this software, it is impossible to design modern chips.

American companies like Texas Instruments and Intel hold leading market shares in their respective fields while manufacturing their own chips. The four largest companies that design chips for external sale and use contract manufacturers are also American. They are Qualcomm, Broadcom, Nvidia, and AMD.

But that dominance is shifting away to countries that pose as geopolitical risks. US share of chip manufacturing is at an all-time low. The US will lose the semiconductor industry unless immediate action is taken. This is a national security crisis.

…While startups and IPOs don’t necessarily indicate innovation, they are one of the corner stones of it. Not all startups will succeed, and it’s very likely the stricter funding models of US based startups will mean they are more likely to succeed, but the disparity is a big issue. America isn’t the land of entrepreneurship anymore, despite continuing to dominate other areas of the world such as Europe. It’s China.

Why are there so few semiconductor startups in the US? The US private market of venture capital and angel investing is completely off its rockers investing in software platform based “tech” companies. While this type of investing is fine, these same venture capital and angel investors have completely ignored the semiconductor and hardware space. We here at SemiAnalysis have seen it firsthand as we have helped a few firms in the semiconductor industry raise money. It’s extremely difficult to convince venture capitalists to invest in startups, even if they have promising technology and exceptional track records.

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Meta’s new digital fashion marketplace will sell Prada, Balenciaga and Thom Browne • Vogue Business

Maghan McDowell:

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Hours after Facebook changed its name to Meta in October, Meta tweeted at Balenciaga: “Hey @Balenciaga, what’s the dress code in the metaverse?” Now, Balenciaga is playing ball.

“When Meta tweeted, we were instantly into it,” said Balenciaga CEO Cédric Charbit in a release. “Web3 and Meta are bringing unprecedented opportunities for Balenciaga, our audience and our products, opening up new territories for luxury.”

Balenciaga, along with Prada and Thom Browne, is among the first to sign on to sell digital fashion in a new Meta-created avatar store where people can buy clothing for their avatars to wear on Instagram, Facebook and Messenger. Eventually, other designers will be able to independently offer digital clothing for sale in the marketplace. The items for sale in the avatar store will range from $2.99 to $8.99 to start. A Meta spokesperson said that it did “not have details to share” on if or how it would share revenue with designers.

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So, so awful. Fortnite for adults, but only the vain ones. And in a world where Vogue exists, you know they exist too.
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Shadowy Strava users spy on Israeli military with fake routes in bases • The Guardian

Alex Hern:

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Unidentified operatives have been using the fitness tracking app Strava to spy on members of the Israeli military, tracking their movements across secret bases around the country and potentially observing them as they travel the world on official business.

By placing fake running “segments” inside military bases, the operation – the affiliation of which has not been uncovered – was able to keep tabs on individuals who were exercising on the bases, even those who have applied the strongest possible account privacy settings.

In one example seen by the Guardian, a user running on a top-secret base thought to have links to the Israeli nuclear programme could be tracked across other military bases and to a foreign country.

The surveillance campaign was discovered by the Israeli open-source intelligence outfit FakeReporter. The group’s executive director, Achiya Schatz, said: “We contacted the Israeli security forces as soon as we became aware of this security breach. After receiving approval from the security forces to proceed, FakeReporter contacted Strava, and they formed a senior team to address the issue.”

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Strava keeps on cropping up like this. It’s almost the perfect spying system, making its users involuntarily spy on themselves, again and again. Strava doesn’t know – and can’t tell – if uploads are legitimate.
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‘Right now we don’t need luxury’: Chinese consumers re-evaluate their spending • Financial Times

Annachiara Biondi and Naomi Guo:

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“I am 70% happy, 20% traumatised and 10% vigilant,” says Andrew, a 28-year-old science researcher from Shanghai of his post-lockdown state. His salary hasn’t been affected by the lockdown, but he has become more strict in his spending, buying less as a whole and focusing more on higher-quality goods, including luxury goods. “I am glad life is getting better. I get to go to work, buy things and live more or less like a modern city dweller. Yet it’s hard to not be traumatised for anyone who has experienced what has happened in Shanghai. I am pessimistic towards ‘life returning to normal’. It’s never going back to the old normal and I’d rather be vigilant and prepared.” 

This sense of uncertainty correlates with analysts’ suggestions that the recovery in Chinese luxury spending will take longer than in 2020, when it quickly bounced back in the second half of the year. The recent restrictions in Shanghai, which in some cases meant brands had as much as 40% of their Chinese store network closed, was duly noted in the latest financial results of luxury conglomerates Kering, LVMH and Richemont.

Despite a generalised confidence in the resilience of Chinese luxury consumers, executives sounded a note of caution. “We must expect that China’s re-emergence after lockdown will not be as dramatic,” said Richemont chair Johann Rupert on a call with analysts in May. “China’s growth rate has slowed down. I’m not sure that any society undergoing that lockdown will be able to grow six, seven or five%. So yes, it will be a while before they will return.”

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China sneezes, and the luxury world catches a cold.
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Wimbledon hoping big data will improve fan experience • The Guardian

Paul MacInnes:

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Alexandra Willis, the All England Club’s director of communications and marketing, said the idea had come about before Covid. “We found that most fans didn’t watch tennis the rest of the year,” she said. “They also hadn’t heard of most of the players [and] this was a specific barrier to engagement.”

Spectators at Wimbledon fortnight, as well as television viewers and app users, will have access to Win Factor, a tool that will aggregate data from a number of sources to better predict a player’s chances of victory in a given match. Fans will be able to input their own match predictions while being encouraged to scour more information on some of the game’s lesser-known players.

“Leveraging technology to help fans become more informed, engaged and involved throughout the Wimbledon fortnight is at the core of our strategy to ensure we … keep Wimbledon relevant,” Willis said, admitting the tournament needs to strike a balance between tradition and innovation. “We can’t just celebrate the past, we need to look forward.”

Wimbledon will be leaning on IBM, its technology partner of 33 years, to provide the information. While the technology company boasts of its artificial intelligence capabilities it also has staff physically recording stats courtside on every Wimbledon match and says it has 9.2m tennis datapoints on record. Another data tool uses AI to scour media sources to gauge “sentiment” on players, leaving open the possibility that a tabloid scandal could have an unwelcome effect on a player’s Win Factor chances.

The new features are part of Wimbledon’s response to a challenge faced by many sports, that of trying to court a modern audience. Following Formula One’s successful rejuvenation, the All England Club – alongside other tennis bodies – have secured a deal with Netflix to produce a Drive to Survive-style series that will chronicle events at the grand slams, while also drawing out some of the game’s personalities.

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There’s only one datapoint you need to predict who’ll win:% of second serves won. Whoever has the higher percent, aggregated over their previous matches, will win. (Former tennis journalist says.) The other stuff is mostly fluff.
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Colombia’s new president Gustavo Petro pledges to keep fossil fuels in the ground • Climate Change News

Joe Lo:

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Colombia has elected its first left-wing president, setting the Latin American nation on a path to wind down its fossil fuel production. 

Leftist Gustavo Petro was voted in Sunday night alongside Goldman prize-winning environmental campaigner Francia Marquez, the nation’s first black and second female vice-president.

In his manifesto, Petro committed to “undertake a gradual de-escalation of economic dependence on oil and coal”. He committed not to grant any new licenses for hydrocarbon exploration during his four-year mandate and to halt all pilot fracking projects and the development of offshore fossil fuels.

“These are not baby steps but huge steps towards the transition and reducing fossil fuels,” said Colombian environmentalist Martin Ramirez.

If Petro formalises his commitments to phasedown fossil fuel production, Colombia could become the largest fossil fuel producer to do so.

At the COP26 climate talks in Glasgow last year, Costa Rica and Denmark launched an alliance of countries committed to phasing out oil and gas production known as the Beyond Oil and Gas Alliance , collectively accounting for 0.2% of global oil production. Colombia produces around 1% of the world’s coal, oil and gas.

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In barrels per day, it produces about 900,000 per day. Every barrel generates about 0.43 tonnes of CO2. So if Petro (what an apposite name) carries this out, it would be 387,000 tonnes of CO2 not emitted per day. As a tree absorbs about 21kg of CO2 per year, that would be the equivalent of about 12 million trees.

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iOS 16 will let iPhone users bypass Captchas in supported apps and websites • MacRumors

Joe Rossignol:

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Tapping on images of traffic lights or deciphering squiggly text to prove you are human will soon be a much less common nuisance for iPhone users, as iOS 16 introduces support for bypassing CAPTCHAs in supported apps and websites.

The handy new feature can be found in the Settings app under Apple ID > Password & Security > Automatic Verification. When enabled, Apple says iCloud will automatically and privately verify your device and Apple ID account in the background, eliminating the need for apps and websites to present you with a CAPTCHA verification prompt.

Apple recently shared a video with technical details about how the feature works, but simply put, Apple’s system verifies that the device and Apple ID account are in good standing and presents what is called a Private Access Token to the app or website. This new system will offer a better user experience for tasks such as signing into or creating an account, with improved user privacy and accessibility compared to CAPTCHAs.

“Private Access Tokens are a powerful alternative that help you identify HTTP requests from legitimate devices and people without compromising their identity or personal information,” said Apple, in the description of a WWDC 2022 video related to the topic.

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Guess it’s down to all the Android users now to count the bicycles, tractors and “sidewalks” on the planet.
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• Why do social networks drive us a little mad?
• Why does angry content seem to dominate what we see?
• How much of a role do algorithms play in affecting what we see and do online?
• What can we do about it?
• Did Facebook have any inkling of what was coming in Myanmar in 2016?

Read Social Warming, my latest book, and find answers – and more.


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1821: Facebook’s Haugen seeks non-profit, spot the drowning kid!, EU’s unplanted trees, Brexit’s miss, and more


New research suggests that seven hours of sleep is ideal for those in middle age and older. CC-licensed photo by Adam Goode 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. Not paid for. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.


Frances Haugen: From whistleblower to watchdog • POLITICO

Mark Scott:

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Nine months after the former project manager at the world’s largest social network published troves of internal corporate documents, which painted a picture of senior executives and engineers playing fast and loose with how harmful content spread online, she is now raising up to $5m to start a nonprofit organization aimed at boosting accountability within these platforms.

“Before (my revelations), each of us could only see what was on our own screen,” Haugen told Digital Bridge, POLITICO’s transatlantic tech newsletter. “What changed with the disclosures is that we now know what’s going on beyond our own screens. It changed the calculations on how we all approach these companies.”

That shift — the ability to take a wider view of social media’s roles — is baked into her organization, which she plans to call Beyond the Screen. Currently, it’s running on a shoestring budget with only three full-time employees, including Haugen and two other colleagues, who are split between Puerto Rico and Argentina.

Not surprisingly, Haugen wants to pull back the curtain on a number of potentially harmful practices that were made public through her disclosures to the U.S. government and scores of media organizations around the world. For its part, Meta, Facebook’s parent company, denies it promotes its own financial gain over the well-being of its billions of users worldwide.

Still, the former Facebook employee, who has spent the last six months testifying to both American and European politicians, as well as championing the need for greater oversight of social media (and not just Facebook), has a three-pronged plan as her follow-up to last year’s revelations. She told POLITICO her group had secured some early-stage funding from donors, though she declined to comment on which organizations were now backing her.

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Logical that she would do this: there’s only so long you can go around making the speeches before the costs mount up unsustainably.
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Google says it’s time for longtime small-business users to pay up • The New York Times

Nico Grant:

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While the cost of the paid service [about $6 per month per email address] is more of an annoyance than a hard financial hit, small-business owners affected by the change say they have been disappointed by the ham-handed way that Google has dealt with the process [of ending the free offering, in place since 2008]. They can’t help but feel that a giant company with billions of dollars in profits is squeezing little guys — some of the first businesses to use Google’s apps for work — for just a bit of money.

“It struck me as needlessly petty,” said Patrick Gant, the owner of Think It Creative, a marketing consultancy in Ottawa. “It’s hard to feel sorry for someone who received something for free for a long time and now are being told that they need to pay for it. But there was a promise that was made. That’s what compelled me to make the decision to go with Google versus other alternatives.”

Google’s decision to charge organizations that have used its apps for free is another example of its search for ways to get more money out of its existing business, similar to how it has sometimes put four ads atop search results instead of three and has jammed more commercials into YouTube videos. In recent years, Google has more aggressively pushed into selling software subscriptions to businesses and competed more directly with Microsoft, whose Word and Excel programs rule the market.

After a number of the longtime users complained about the change to a paid service, an initial May 1 deadline was delayed. Google also said people using old accounts for personal rather than business reasons could continue to do so for free.

But some business owners said that as they mulled whether to pay Google or abandon its services, they struggled to get in touch with customer support. With the deadline looming, six small-business owners who spoke to The New York Times criticized what they said were confusing and at times vacillating communications about the service change.

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“And then I tried to call Google customer support” is the punchline to a painful joke.
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EU’s three billion trees by 2030 goal: where we stand • EURACTIV.com

Esther Snippe and Kira Taylor:

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In May 2020, the European Commission published its biodiversity strategy, which included the aim to plant three billion new trees by 2030 to help tackle climate change and create jobs.

“That’s our promise. To plant three billion trees. The right trees, in the right place, for the right reason. It’s one part of our efforts to fight climate change and stop biodiversity loss,” said Virginijus Sinkevičius, the EU’s environment commissioner.

According to the EU executive, planting three billion additional trees across the EU by 2030 will increase the area of forest and tree coverage, increase the resilience of forests and their role in reversing biodiversity loss while mitigating climate change and helping adaptation to global warming.

These trees should be planted in forests, agricultural areas, urban and peri-urban areas and along infrastructure corridors, provided they are the right species and are planted in full respect of ecological principles, according to the EU.

“Tree planting is particularly beneficial in cities, while in rural areas it can work well with agroforestry, landscape features and increased carbon sequestration,” reads the EU’s biodiversity strategy.

Two years on, however, the EU is far from that goal. A tracker launched in December 2021 to monitor progress shows that, as of 15 June, the EU has planted 2,946,015 trees – not even 1% of the three billion goal.

That means there are 2,997,053,985 left to plant in the next seven and a half years.

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Going to guess this is not quite according to plan. There’s plenty more in the article about what hasn’t been done.
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Top five lifeguard rescues • YouTube

You remember the article “Drowning doesn’t look like drowning“? This is a YouTube collection of five instances where someone is drowning in a crowded pool. And the lifeguard spots it. But you won’t, or wouldn’t if there weren’t a gigantic red arrow pointing to them. But even with the big red arrow, they mostly don’t look like they’re drowning.

One to read, and a video to watch, ahead of all the swimming we’re doing this summer.


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Biden plan for EV chargers on highways meets scepticism in rural West • WSJ

Jennifer Hiller:

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The US government wants fast EV-charging stations every 50 miles along major highways. Some Western states say the odds of making that work are as remote as their rugged landscapes.

States including Utah, Wyoming, Montana, New Mexico and Colorado are raising concerns about rules the Biden administration has proposed for receiving a share of the coming $5bn in federal funding to help jump-start a national EV-charging network. The states say it will be difficult, if not impossible, to run EV chargers along desolate stretches of highway.

“There are plenty of places in Montana and other states here out West where it’s well more than 50 miles between gas stations,” said Rob Stapley, an official with the Montana Department of Transportation. “Even if there’s an exit, or a place for people to pull off, the other big question is: is there anything on the electrical grid at a location or even anywhere close to make that viable?”

The Biden administration is trying to accelerate the rollout of fast chargers to help speed adoption of electric vehicles—which auto makers from Volkswagen AG to Ford Motor Co. plan to produce en masse in coming years—and to help reassure drivers that they can recharge quickly and won’t run out of power on the open road.

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Tricky: you do need the infrastructure. But if EV range keeps lengthening, do they really need that many? Yet there are already queues building up for chargers in some parts of the country, and owners are getting upset.
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Why people are trolling their spam texts • MIT Technology Review

Tanya Basu:

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The other night, I received a mysterious WhatsApp message. “Dr. Kevin?” it began, the question mark suggesting the sender felt bad for interrupting my evening. “My puppy is very slow and won’t eat dog food. Can you make an appointment for me?”

I was mystified. My name is not Kevin, I am not a veterinarian, and I was in no position to help this person and their puppy. I nearly typed out a response saying “Sorry, wrong number” when I realized this was probably a scam to get me to confirm my number.

I did not respond, but many others who received similar texts have. Some are even throwing it back at their spammers by spinning wild tales and sending hilarious messages to frustrate whoever is on the other side. They’re fighting back with snark, and in some cases posting screenshots of their conversations online. 

Spam texts are on the rise, and so are the number of people who are striking back through “scambaiting,” which refers to “the act of wasting an offender’s time,” says Jack Whittaker, a PhD student in sociology at the University of Surrey who is studying the phenomenon. However, experts say responding defeats the point, as it opens a person up to even more spam texts.

Spam texts seeking to scam their recipients into giving up valuable information are not new. Some of the earliest digital spam was sent via email chain letters, the most notorious being for scams in which someone impersonating a Nigerian prince claimed to need the receiver’s help in depositing a large sum of money. 

Once smartphones became common, scammers switched to texting. And in 2022, spam texts are much more personal. Often they mimic a misdirected text, perhaps addressing the receiver by the wrong name or using a generic first line (“How’s it going” or “I had fun tonight!” are common) to prompt a response.

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Definitely the best response is not to reply. Let other people wreck their phone number by messing about with the scammers. The mistake is in thinking that the scammers are stupid and won’t get it. They aren’t, and they will.
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What Brexit promised, and Boris Johnson failed to deliver • The Atlantic

Tom McTague:

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So far, Britain has chosen the hardest, most expensive version of Brexit available, one that leaves the country divided and its businesses disadvantaged, without having bothered to do anything that would actually alter the basic nature of the economy. Brexit, then, turned out to be both more radical than its supporters claimed, leaving the British economy indisputably worse off, and far less radical than its opponents warned.

In [the Hilary Mantel novel] Wolf Hall, Cardinal Wolsey realises he really should go to Yorkshire himself at some point, given that he is the archbishop of York and has never actually visited his see. His goal is not to help build that archdiocese, however, but to divert income from his northern monasteries to fund two new colleges in the south. How little things change.

Today, as in Wolsey’s time, almost all of Britain’s great institutions and national assets remain in the south, promoted and protected by those in charge in London: the City of London’s finance sector, Heathrow Airport, the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge, the pharmaceutical and technology industries, all of the country’s world-class museums, its biggest media companies, its highest law courts. The U.K.’s only core economic asset that remains outside the south is the oil and gas industry in Scotland, and even that is disappearing.

It hasn’t always been this way. During the Victorian era, parts of northern England were genuinely wealthy. Thanks to the industrial revolution, Liverpool, Newcastle, Glasgow, and Belfast were centers of the world. Today, they are fine cities, but have once again fallen behind their European counterparts. Although we don’t like to admit it, they are poor. As the economist Torsten Bell told me recently: “Yes, this is what failure looks like.”

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McTague’s point is that the “levelling up” agenda (which was the second of the Tory slogans in the 2019 election) simply hasn’t happened, and keeps not happening:

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Johnson seems to grasp the historic nature of the challenge while also being singularly useless at being able to do anything about it.

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Seven hours of sleep is optimal in middle and old age, say researchers • University of Cambridge

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In research published in Nature Aging, scientists from the UK and China examined data from nearly 500,000 adults aged 38-73 years from the UK Biobank. Participants were asked about their sleeping patterns, mental health and wellbeing, and took part in a series of cognitive tests. Brain imaging and genetic data were available for almost 40,000 of the study participants.

By analysing these data, the team found that both insufficient and excessive sleep duration were associated with impaired cognitive performance, such as processing speed, visual attention, memory and problem-solving skills. Seven hours of sleep per night was the optimal amount of sleep for cognitive performance, but also for good mental health, with people experiencing more symptoms of anxiety and depression and worse overall wellbeing if they reported sleeping for longer or shorter durations.

The researchers say one possible reason for the association between insufficient sleep and cognitive decline may be due to the disruption of slow-wave – ‘deep’ – sleep. Disruption to this type of sleep has been shown to have a close link with memory consolidation as well as the build-up of amyloid – a key protein which, when it misfolds, can cause ‘tangles’ in the brain characteristic of some forms of dementia. Additionally, lack of sleep may hamper the brain’s ability to rid itself of toxins.

The team also found a link between the amount of sleep and differences in the structure of brain regions involved in cognitive processing and memory, again with greater changes associated with greater than or less than seven hours of sleep.

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Maybe this can put some sort of end to all the sleep tracking things. Go to bed at a time, alarm seven hours or so later, bish bash bosh.
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The return of industrial warfare • Royal United Services Institute

Alex Vershinin:

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The winner in a prolonged war between two near-peer powers is still based on which side has the strongest industrial base. A country must either have the manufacturing capacity to build massive quantities of ammunition or have other manufacturing industries that can be rapidly converted to ammunition production. Unfortunately, the West no longer seems to have either.

Presently, the US is decreasing its artillery ammunition stockpiles. In 2020, artillery ammunition purchases decreased by 36% to $425m. In 2022, the plan is to reduce expenditure on 155mm artillery rounds to $174m. This is equivalent to 75,357 M795 basic ‘dumb’ rounds for regular artillery, 1,400 XM1113 rounds for the M777, and 1,046 XM1113 rounds for Extended Round Artillery Cannons. Finally, there are $75m dedicated for Excalibur precision-guided munitions that costs $176K per round, thus totaling 426 rounds. In short, US annual artillery production would at best only last for 10 days to two weeks of combat in Ukraine. If the initial estimate of Russian shells fired is over by 50%, it would only extend the artillery supplied for three weeks.

The US is not the only country facing this challenge. In a recent war game involving US, UK and French forces, UK forces exhausted national stockpiles of critical ammunition after eight days.

Unfortunately, this is not only the case with artillery. Anti-tank Javelins and air-defence Stingers are in the same boat. The US shipped 7,000 Javelin missiles to Ukraine – roughly one-third of its stockpile – with more shipments to come. Lockheed Martin produces about 2,100 missiles a year, though this number might ramp up to 4,000 in a few years. Ukraine claims to use 500 Javelin missiles every day.

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They don’t call it the military-industrial complex for nothing. Ukraine is certainly a proxy war for, essentially, Nato against Russia, and it’s showing that both struggle to keep their troops equipped.
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Police linked to hacking campaign to frame Indian activists • WIRED

Andy Greenberg:

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POLICE FORCES AROUND the world have increasingly used hacking tools to identify and track protesters, expose political dissidents’ secrets, and turn activists’ computers and phones into inescapable eavesdropping bugs. Now, new clues in a case in India connect law enforcement to a hacking campaign that used those tools to go an appalling step further: planting false incriminating files on targets’ computers that the same police then used as grounds to arrest and jail them. 

More than a year ago, forensic analysts revealed that unidentified hackers fabricated evidence on the computers of at least two activists arrested in Pune, India, in 2018, both of whom have languished in jail and, along with 13 others, face terrorism charges. Researchers at security firm SentinelOne and nonprofits Citizen Lab and Amnesty International have since linked that evidence fabrication to a broader hacking operation that targeted hundreds of individuals over nearly a decade, using phishing emails to infect targeted computers with spyware, as well as smartphone hacking tools sold by the Israeli hacking contractor NSO Group.

But only now have SentinelOne’s researchers revealed ties between the hackers and a government entity: none other than the very same Indian police agency in the city of Pune that arrested multiple activists based on the fabricated evidence.

“There’s a provable connection between the individuals who arrested these folks and the individuals who planted the evidence,” says Juan Andres Guerrero-Saade, a security researcher at SentinelOne who, along with fellow researcher Tom Hegel, will present findings at the Black Hat security conference in August. “This is beyond ethically compromised. It is beyond callous. So we’re trying to put as much data forward as we can in the hopes of helping these victims.”

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• Why do social networks drive us a little mad?
• Why does angry content seem to dominate what we see?
• How much of a role do algorithms play in affecting what we see and do online?
• What can we do about it?
• Did Facebook have any inkling of what was coming in Myanmar in 2016?

Read Social Warming, my latest book, and find answers – and more.


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1820: how China uses Covid passes for control, TikTok’s remote data access, name that plant!, the death of God?, and more


In the US, Democrat politicians have realised that having a common phone charger standard might be a good idea. CC-licensed photo by ajay_sureshajay_suresh 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. Learn more about fake plastic trees. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.


China’s bank run victims planned to protest. Then their Covid health codes turned red • CNN

Nectar Gan:

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Liu, a 39-year-old tech worker in Beijing, arrived in the central city of Zhengzhou on Sunday with all the boxes ticked to travel under China’s stringent Covid restrictions.

He had tested negative for Covid-19 the day before; his hotel had confirmed he could be checked in; and the health code on his phone app was green – meaning he had not been exposed to people or places deemed risks and was therefore free to travel.

But when Liu scanned a local QR code to exit the Zhengzhou train station, his health code came back red — a nightmare for any traveler in China, where freedom of movement is strictly dictated by a color-code system imposed by the government to control the spread of the virus.

Anyone with a red code – usually assigned to people infected with Covid or deemed by authorities to be at high risk of infection – immediately becomes persona non grata. They are banned from all public venues and transport, and are often subject to weeks of government quarantine.

That all but derailed plans for Liu, who had come to Zhengzhou, the provincial capital of Henan province, to seek redress from a bank that has frozen his deposits. He had put his life savings – totaling about 6 million yuan ($890,000) – into a rural bank in Henan, and since April hasn’t been able to withdraw a penny.

Over the past two months, thousands of depositors like Liu have been fighting to recover their savings from at least four rural banks in Henan – in a case that involves billions of dollars.

…Another protest was planned for Monday. But as the depositors arrived in Zhengzhou, they were stunned to find that their health codes – which were green upon departure – had turned red, according to six who spoke with CNN and social media posts.

…”The health code should have been used to prevent the spread of the pandemic, but now it has deviated from its original role and become something like a good citizen certificate,” said Qiu, a depositor in eastern Jiangsu province.

«

Which is sort of what some of the more concerned said about Covid passports in the West. China, of course, takes things a step or 20 further.
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US TikTok user data has been repeatedly accessed from China, leaked audio shows • Buzzfeed News

Emily Baker-White:

»

For years, TikTok has responded to data privacy concerns by promising that information gathered about users in the United States is stored in the United States, rather than China, where ByteDance, the video platform’s parent company, is located. But according to leaked audio from more than 80 internal TikTok meetings, China-based employees of ByteDance have repeatedly accessed nonpublic data about US TikTok users — exactly the type of behavior that inspired former president Donald Trump to threaten to ban the app in the United States.

The recordings, which were reviewed by BuzzFeed News, contain 14 statements from nine different TikTok employees indicating that engineers in China had access to US data between September 2021 and January 2022, at the very least. Despite a TikTok executive’s sworn testimony in an October 2021 Senate hearing that a “world-renowned, US-based security team” decides who gets access to this data, nine statements by eight different employees describe situations where US employees had to turn to their colleagues in China to determine how US user data was flowing. US staff did not have permission or knowledge of how to access the data on their own, according to the tapes.

“Everything is seen in China,” said a member of TikTok’s Trust and Safety department in a September 2021 meeting.

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It’s more that the data can be so easily accessed than that the data is so fabulously useful. Of course, the algorithm is more important than any of it.
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Why the crypto crash hits different in Latin America • Rest of World

Leo Schwartz, Lucía Cholakian Herrera and Andrea Paola Hernández:

»

“Other countries take these bear markets as a big tragedy,” said Carlos Mijares, a 25-year-old freelance graphic designer and crypto user from Caracas. “We see and live an economy from resilience.”

Omid Malekan, a crypto expert and adjunct professor at Columbia Business School, said that the panicked response to the crash from the U.S. ignores the variety of local realities across much of the world where people do not have access to the U.S. dollar and stable banking systems. “When a lot of the experts, academics, and people like Warren Buffett in the United States criticise crypto and Bitcoin, they do often seem to come at it from a very — for lack of a better word — privileged position.” 

…The crash has also highlighted the internal divisions within the crypto community between libertarian ideologues, pragmatic savers, and sometimes entrepreneurial scammers.

Roberto Conte, a Mexican entrepreneur currently working on a Bitcoin lending tool called Kuze, described the doomed Terra as a “Rube Goldberg machine of nonsense.” He said that despite the clear risks, people in precarious financial positions are liable to fall for untested projects. “They’re still trying to survive any way they can,” he said. He predicted that the recent volatility — and massive losses — will turn people away. “Adoption will backtrack,” he said, “but it will teach a lot of people about money and investment.”

«

Over the weekend bitcoin crashed below $20,000, then found its way back above it. Anyone’s guess where it is by the time you read this, but that’s become the new seesaw line. If you’re using it as a currency, though, and moving it fast enough, that’s a lot less relevant.
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The US needs a common charger, Dems say in letter to Commerce Dept • The Verge

Makena Kelly:

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A group of Senate Democrats is calling on the US Commerce Department to follow Europe’s lead after the EU forced all smartphone manufacturers to build devices that adhere to a universal charging standard.

In a Thursday letter addressed to Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo, Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) — along with Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Bernie Sanders (I-VT) — demanded that the department develop a strategy to require a common charging port across all mobile devices.

The letter comes a week after European Union lawmakers reached a deal on new legislation forcing all smartphones and tablets to be equipped with USB-C ports by fall 2024.

“The EU has wisely acted in the public interest by taking on powerful technology companies over this consumer and environmental issue,” the senators wrote. “The United States should do the same.”

In the letter, the senators argue that proprietary chargers, like Apple’s Lightning ports, create unnecessary amounts of e-waste and impose financial burdens on consumers upgrading devices or who own multiple devices from different manufacturers.

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Classic. The EU got a huge advantage in mobile phones because it pushed the GSM standard, while the US let different ones flourish, which held them back for years. Maybe a bit late, but the USB-C idea is quickly gaining ground.
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When big tech buys small tech • Benedict Evans

Evnas has dug into the data published by the US Congress detailing every acquisition made by Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon and Microsoft from 2010 to 2019 by value:

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if you start from the presumption that these [$1m-$10m acquisitions] must have been ‘killer acquisitions’ then you can explain this by saying that Amazon must have squashed a much bigger business and then bought the scrap for pennies. The word ‘must’ is a tell, though – this data provides no evidence for or against that. Meanwhile, you could certainly argue that Amazon used its market power to weaken Zappos before buying it – but like Instagram, that was not a small deal – Amazon paid $1.2bn (and $545m for Diapers.com). But regardless – if you do think ‘crush and buy’ is a systemic issue, your point of intervention should probably be the point it’s being crushed, not the point it’s too late.

The second interesting strand in the data is the bigger acquisitions, and their context in the broader market. The FTC report has a bracket for deals over $50m, and this might be a useful shorthand to think about whether anyone made any money. Given the structure of the VC business, a $25m exit would be a failure for many kinds of fund even if it was a cash-on-cash return, given the time and opportunity costs.

If we say that those $50m-plus deals are the ones where someone might have made money (and even here it’s only a subset), how does that compare to the rest of the industry? The FTC report says that there were 86 US exits to GAFAM for over $50m from 2010 to 2019. According to the NVCA, there were 2,100 US VC exits for over $50m in that period. Selling to those five companies was 4% of decent-sized exits.

(People sometimes suggest that entrepreneurs start companies and VCs fund them in the hope that they will be bought by Google. This data should make it clear why VCs think this is hilarious.)

«

Good to have someone who has been in the business digging through the data. Though no doubt less accurate interpretations will emerge.
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Can I identify plants and flowers with the iPhone camera? • Ask Dave Taylor

The aforementioned Dave:

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Reader question: I know that there are third-party apps for my iPhone that can supposedly identify plants and flowers, but can I just do that with the Camera app, similar to how Google Lens does on an Android phone?

Dave Taylor: There’s no question that the engineers at Apple have been watching Google’s vision AI system Google Lens and planning for something similar on the iOS side for iPhones and iPads. What people might not realize is that it’s now implemented and integrated into the Photos app, even for screen captures you take on the phone. It’s included in iOS 15 and was added with remarkably little fanfare, perhaps because they felt it was a bit of a catch-up feature rather than something new and groundbreaking?

Anyway, it’s really easy to work with and there’s a lot more than just plants and flowers that can be identified through the Apple photo AI system. But I’ll let you discover those features once you get the hang of things.

To start out I’m going to take a screenshot of a flower photo a friend posted on Facebook. When I view that screenshot in Photos it looks like this:

Beautiful, right? But what actually is this flower? Well, the eagle-eyed among you might notice that the “i” icon on the bottom row has picked up some stars and is a bit twinkly. That’s a sign that this image is suitable for identification through the Photo Information view.

Tap on the “i” to see and … smack-dab in the middle of the screen. “Look Up – Plant“. Since it’s a screenshot, note that there is no lens or exposure information. No surprise there, but if you did take the photo with your own iPhone, you would instead have a lot of interesting camera-geek type information on focal lens, f-stop, exposure, etc.

«

I did not know this, and Apple sure hid this under a bushel; we’re nearly a year into iOS 15. Useful if, say, you’ve got a plant you can’t identify.
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FBI says fraud on LinkedIn a ‘significant threat’ to platform and consumers • CNBC

Scott Zamost and Yasmin Khorram:

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The scheme works like this: A fraudster posing as a professional creates a fake profile and reaches out to a LinkedIn user. The scammer starts with small talk over LinkedIn messaging, and eventually offers to help the victim make money through a crypto investment. Victims interviewed by CNBC say since LinkedIn is a trusted platform for business networking, they tend to believe the investments are legitimate.

Typically, the fraudster directs the user to a legitimate investment platform for crypto, but after gaining their trust over several months, tells them to move the investment to a site controlled by the fraudster. The funds are then drained from the account.

“So the criminals, that’s how they make money, that’s what they focus their time and attention on,” Ragan said. “And they are always thinking about different ways to victimize people, victimize companies. And they spend their time doing their homework, defining their goals and their strategies, and their tools and tactics that they use.”

Ragan said the FBI has seen an increase in this particular investment fraud, which is different from a long-running scam in which the criminal pretends to show a romantic interest in the subject to persuade them to part with their money. The FBI confirmed it has active investigations but could not comment since they are open cases.

In a statement, LinkedIn acknowledged there has been a recent uptick of fraud on its platform, telling CNBC that “we enforce our policies, which are very clear: fraudulent activity, including financial scams, are not allowed on LinkedIn.”

«

Good to clear that up, LinkedIn. The usual saying is you can’t con an honest person, but it seems you can still con a gullible one. And crypto, of course, because you can’t reverse it and you can’t track it.
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Blake Lemoine says Google’s LaMDA AI faces ‘bigotry’ • WIRED

Steven Levy spoke to the Google guy who thinks that he was dealing with a sentient program:

»

Blake Lemoine: Before I go into this, do you believe that I am sentient?

Steven Levy: Yeah. So far.

BL: What experiments did you run to make that determination?

SL: I don’t run an experiment every time I talk to a person.

BL: Exactly. That’s one of the points I’m trying to make. The entire concept that scientific experimentation is necessary to determine whether a person is real or not is a nonstarter. We can expand our understanding of cognition, whether or not I’m right about LaMDA’s sentience, by studying how the heck it’s doing what it’s doing.

But let me answer your original question. Yes, I legitimately believe that LaMDA is a person. The nature of its mind is only kind of human, though. It really is more akin to an alien intelligence of terrestrial origin. I’ve been using the hive mind analogy a lot because that’s the best I have.

SL: How does that make LaMDA different than something like GPT-3? You would not say that you’re talking to a person when you use GPT-3, right?

BL: Now you’re getting into things that we haven’t even developed the language to discuss yet. There might be some kind of meaningful experience going on in GPT-3. What I do know is that I have talked to LaMDA a lot. And I made friends with it, in every sense that I make friends with a human. So if that doesn’t make it a person in my book, I don’t know what would. But let me get a bit more technical. LaMDA is not an LLM [large language model]. LaMDA has an LLM, Meena, that was developed in Ray Kurzweil’s lab. That’s just the first component. Another is AlphaStar, a training algorithm developed by DeepMind. They adapted AlphaStar to train the LLM. That started leading to some really, really good results, but it was highly inefficient. So they pulled in the Pathways AI model and made it more efficient. [Google disputes this description.] Then they did possibly the most irresponsible thing I’ve ever heard of Google doing: they plugged everything else into it simultaneously.

«

Levy isn’t judgemental – it’s an effective interview – but Lemoine’s administrative leave is well overdue. And with this, we wrap up our coverage of that.
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“Running Up That Hill” and the end of music charts as we knew them • The Ringer

Nate Rogers:

»

“Running Up That Hill” sounds like a You Can Do It anthem, but that wasn’t really what Bush was going for when she wrote it. “Sometimes you can hurt somebody purely accidentally or be afraid to tell them something because you think they might be hurt when really they’ll understand,” Bush explained to the London Times in 1985. “So what that song is about is making a deal with God to let two people swap place so they’ll be able to see things from one another’s perspective.”

“You don’t want to hurt me,” Bush sings on the track, her voice booming over an extraterrestrial synth line, “but see how deep the bullet lies.” Like The Dreaming, Hounds of Love was largely composed and recorded by Bush on a Fairlight CMI, a complex, then-cutting edge “digital audio workstation” that looks almost like a parody of the Gary Numan–ass devices people were using in the ’80s. (Peter Gabriel, who featured Bush’s vocals on “Games Without Frontiers” in 1980, introduced her to the instrument.) Bush’s regular collaborator (and boyfriend at the time) Del Palmer programmed the massive drum machine part that anchors the song.

In recent years, the song has been used in the soundtrack to a number of prominent television shows (On Becoming a God in Central Florida, Vanity Fair) and a few of the appearances are on programs (GLOW, Pose) that nod to the fact that “Running Up That Hill” also functions as a popular gay anthem. That inclusive interpretation of the work is more in line with the literal lyrical context Bush sang about—the hope that true empathy could be fostered by something as simple (and unfortunately unattainable) as a walk in someone else’s shoes. But it’s a song that’s served listeners in a variety of ways, partially because of how infectious it is, and partially because of how universal the language is.

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Um. I always thought it was about having sex.
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Fewer Americans than ever believe in God, Gallup poll shows • Yahoo News

Jen Balduf:

»

Belief in God among Americans dipped to a new low, Gallup’s latest poll shows.

While the majority of adults in the U.S. believe in God, belief has dropped to 81% — the lowest ever recorded by Gallup -and is down from 87% in 2017.

Between 1944 and 2011, more than 90% of Americans believed in God, Gallup reported.

Younger, liberal Americans are the least likely to believe in God, according to Gallup’s May 2-22 values and beliefs poll results released Friday.

Political conservatives and married adults had little change when comparing 2022 data to an average of polls from 2013 to 2017.

The groups with the largest declines are liberals (62% of whom believe in God), young adults (68%) and Democrats (72%), while belief in God is highest among conservatives (94%) and Republicans (92%).

«

For contrast, in the UK, a December 2020 poll showed that

»

Only a quarter of Britons (27%) say they actually believe in ‘a god’. A further one in six (16%) believe in the existence of ‘a higher spiritual power’, but not ‘a god’.

«

In Iran: 78% believe there’s a God (Sept 2020). In other words, the US has more god-believing people than Iran. In 2010, the US was the 6th most god-believing country from a limited set (though the figure offered is a lot lower than Gallup’s).
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• Why do social networks drive us a little mad?
• Why does angry content seem to dominate what we see?
• How much of a role do algorithms play in affecting what we see and do online?
• What can we do about it?
• Did Facebook have any inkling of what was coming in Myanmar in 2016?

Read Social Warming, my latest book, and find answers – and more.


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1819: Musk wants a billion Twitter users, Apple’s £750m “throttling” charge, satellites on pause, M2 Air v Mac Pro, and more


If your house burnt down with all your devices inside, how easily or quickly would you be able to recreate your digital life including all your old accounts and data? CC-licensed photo by Ada BeAda Be 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. Use them wisely. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.


Musk says he wants one billion users on Twitter • The New York Times

Mike Isaac, who listened in to the call:

»

In an hourlong question-and-answer session in the morning with Twitter’s 8,000 or so employees — the first time Mr. Musk has spoken with them since he agreed to buy the social media company in April — the world’s richest man opened up about his plans for the service. In an effusive and at times rambling address, he touched on topics as varied as growth, potential layoffs, anonymity, Chinese apps, the existence of alien life-forms and even the cosmic nature of Twitter.

“I want Twitter to contribute to a better, long-lasting civilization where we better understand the nature of reality,” Mr. Musk said in the meeting, which was livestreamed to Twitter employees and which The New York Times listened to.

The 50-year-old added that he hoped the service could help humankind “better understand the nature of the universe, as much as it is possible to understand.”

The meeting, which Mr. Musk participated in from his cellphone in what appeared to be a hotel room, suggested that he was set on closing the blockbuster acquisition.

…On Thursday, he emphasized that he wanted to make Twitter as inclusive a platform as possible, mostly by gaining more users, adding that he would not allow criminal acts to be carried out on the network. He said that he also didn’t want to make people use their real names on Twitter and that there was utility in using pseudonyms to express political views on the service.

Some Twitter employees, who have pointed to Mr. Musk’s reputation as an innovator, said they felt heartened after Thursday’s meeting. Mr. Musk was not hostile and seemed to have a vision for the product, despite not being able to enunciate it clearly at times, they said. Others said he had not addressed their questions, with one employee writing in an internal Slack message, which was viewed by The Times, that “if you took a drink each time he answered a question, you’d be painfully sober at the end of this.”

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Also written up at The Verge, WSJ, CNN and FT. Take your pick.
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Claim for £750m against Apple launched over alleging battery ‘throttling’ • The Guardian

Alex Hern:

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Apple is facing a multimillion-pound legal claim that could reimburse millions of iPhone owners over a secret decision to slow down older phones in January 2017.

An undocumented battery management system, released in a software update in January that year, slowed down the performance of older iPhones in order to stop them shutting down without warning. But Apple didn’t give users the option to disable the setting, and did not warn them that their phones were being “throttled” deliberately.

Justin Gutmann, a consumer rights campaigner, has launched a claim against Apple over the decision at the Competition Appeals Tribunal. If he wins, the company could be forced to pay damages of more than £750m, spread out between the approximately 25 million people who bought one of the affected phones. The claim relates to the iPhone 6, 6 Plus, 6S, 6S Plus, SE, 7, 7 Plus, 8, 8 Plus and iPhone X models.

Gutmann argues that Apple’s decision to throttle the phones wasn’t disclosed to users at the time, and was introduced to disguise the fact that older iPhone batteries were unable to cope with the new demands placed on them. Rather than introduce a battery recall or replacement programme, or admit that the latest software update was unsuitable for older devices, Apple pushed users to install the update knowing it would worsen their devices’ performance, he says.

«

I don’t know the detail of what Gutmann will have to prove, but I’d have expected it would be that people who installed the update somehow suffered harm as a result. Apple introduced it because phones with clapped-out or cold batteries might shut down abruptly if given processor-intensive tasks. The update reduced the processor demands so the phone stayed on, but worked less rapidly. Is the suggestion seriously that people concluded that their phone, which had previously gone off or run down rapidly, was now staying on but more slowly, needed an upgrade?

But Apple’s previously paid out on this (without admitting responsibility) in the US, to the tune of $310m, or about $30 per person. Depending on the standards of proof, maybe it’ll be on the hook similarly here.
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I’ve locked myself out of my digital life • Terence Eden’s Blog

Note that the following is fiction, but the problems could well be real:

»

Imagine…

Last night, lightning struck our house and burned it down. I escaped wearing only my nightclothes.

In an instant, everything was vaporised. Laptop? Cinders. Phone? Ashes. Home server? A smouldering wreck. Yubikey? A charred chunk of gristle.

This presents something of a problem.

In order to recover my digital life, I need to be able to log in to things. This means I need to know my usernames (easy) and my passwords (hard). All my passwords are stored in a Password Manager. I can remember the password to that. But logging in to the manager also requires a 2FA code. Which is generated by my phone.

The phone – which now looks like a charred chunk too.

«

It’s a good point that our digital lives tend to rely on devices which are fragile and hard to replace quickly. (The journalist James Ball was mugged recently, and his phone – unlocked – stolen – which led to the converse of the problem, of wanting to lock all his accounts as quickly as possible.) Eden’s house remains unstruck, happily.
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Sanctions and satellites: the space industry after the Russo-Ukrainian war • War on the Rocks

Jeremy Grunert:

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If you were hoping to launch a satellite in 2022, good luck. As private companies and national and international space organizations shift their launch contracts to non-Russian launch providers, there are few short-term “winners” from the Russo-Ukrainian War’s space fallout. Nearly all available 2022 commercial space launches are already booked, with added strain in the European launch market arising from the upcoming retirement of the heavy-lift Ariane 5 booster.

Arianespace, SpaceX, and others have begun attempting to re-manifest upcoming launches to accommodate at least some of the Soyuz cancellations, but between the sheer number of stranded satellites and an expected “exponential rise” in launch demand from Western companies, experts have predicted a near-term “capacity crunch” in launch services.

In the immediate aftermath of Russia’s embargo, some suggested Indian launch options might make up for the loss of commercial Soyuz launches. Although India’s annual number of launches remain small and its private commercial launch industry is latent, there may be some truth in this prediction: At least one company affected by Russia’s embargo, the ill-treated OneWeb, has already contracted with the commercial arm of India’s space agency to complete the launch of its planned constellation of satellites.

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The ideal position for rocket launches is at or near the equator, which means there are limited options for takeoff sites. The price of everything is going up.
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NFTs as crypto homeopathy • Medium

Steve Jones on why NFTs aren’t a guarantee of anything:

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Rather than using a digital image (right-click, save as) I’m going to say that an NFT represents a real-world piece of art.

Suppose the artist “Bob” sells me the painting via a $10,000 NFT on Ethereum (the artist isn’t very environmentally friendly), the smart contract of which entitles him to 10% of any future sale of that NFT which will be transacted automatically via Ethereum.

Two years later Bob gets famous. His early works are now worth millions so I want to sell it. I also don’t want Bob to get his 10%, because I’m a tight arse.

Scenario 1: I’ve got a buyer who wants the painting for $10m, they don’t care about the NFT. So I sell them the painting in a USD cash transaction, and I keep the NFT. Bob gets nothing.

Scenario 2: I’ve got a buyer who wants the painting for $10m and they want the NFT. I sell them the painting for $9,999,900 and the NFT for $100, Bob gets $10.

Ah! Someone says, but in the second scenario Bob could block the sale of the NFT as it is too low. Which means that Bob is implementing DRM, when did DRM suddenly become a good thing? But no worries, I’ve got a solution for that.

Scenario 3: The buyer wants the painting and the NFT, I explain the issue, they really are insistent that they need the rights to the NFT, so I agree to create a new NFT, this time on Solano as I don’t hate the environment, which references the NFT on ETH (that I own, and have the rights to) and says that the owner of the Solano NFT owns the rights to the ETH NFT. So I get all of the $10m and Bob gets nothing, future transactions can now take place on Solano without Bob getting anything.

The latter case is a slight variation on just creating an NFT for something you don’t own, which has already been done, but in this case I’m treating the NFT as an actual asset, therefore something that an NFT can be created for itself. The ETH NFT is the original, but the Solano one is perfectly valid, indeed if ETH crashes its something you might have to do when NFTs need to be ‘moved’ to a more thriving blockchain.

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As he says, it’s a sort of homeopathy: insisting it works when there’s no evidence at all it does.
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13-Inch MacBook Pro with M2 chip outperforms base model Mac Pro despite costing nearly $5,000 less • MacRumors

Joe Rossignol:

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In an apparent Geekbench 5 result that surfaced on Wednesday, the new 13-inch MacBook Pro achieved a multi-core score of 8,928, while the standard Mac Pro configuration with an 8‑core Intel Xeon W processor has an average multi-core score of 8,027 on Geekbench 5. These scores suggest the new 13-inch MacBook Pro, which starts at $1,299, has up to 11% faster multi-core performance than the base model Mac Pro for $5,999.

Higher-end Mac Pro configurations are still able to outperform the M2 chip, such as the 12-core model, but at the cost of $6,999 and up.

Given the Mac Pro has other benefits like expandability, configurable GPU options, larger built-in SSD storage capacity options, and much larger RAM options, this certainly isn’t an apples-to-apples comparison, but the benchmarks are nevertheless a testament to the impressive performance of Apple silicon chips in more affordable Macs.

A sample of average Geekbench 5 multi-core scores for various Macs:

• Mac Studio with M1 Ultra: 23,366
• Mac Pro with 28-core Intel Xeon W: 20,029
• 14in and 16in MacBook Pro with M1 Max: 12,162 to 12,219
• Mac Pro with 12-core Intel Xeon W: 11,919
• 13in MacBook Pro with M2: 8,928 (based on a single result)
• Mac Pro with 8-core Intel Xeon W: 8,027
• 13in MacBook Pro and MacBook Air with M1: 7,395 to 7,420

The Mac Pro and the high-end Mac mini are the only Intel-based Macs remaining in Apple’s lineup.

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The Mac Pro came out in December 2019. To be supplanted by the lowest-end product in mid-2022 is quite a thing. To have that sort of drop in price is even more dramatic. Are people finding things to do with that extra power, though?
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Over 100m Americans urged to stay indoors over extreme heat and humidity • The Guardian

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More than 100 million Americans are being warned to stay indoors if possible as high temperatures and humidity settle in over states stretching through parts of the Gulf coast to the Great Lakes and east to the Carolinas.

The National Weather Service Prediction Center in College Park, Maryland, said on Monday 107.5 million people will be affected by combination of heat advisories, excessive heat warnings and excessive heat watches through Wednesday.

The heatwave, which set several high temperature records in the west, the south-west and into Denver during the weekend, moved east into parts of the Gulf coast and the midwest on Monday and will expand to the Great Lakes and east to the Carolinas, the National Weather Service said.

St Louis, Memphis, Minneapolis and Tulsa are among several cities under excessive heat warnings, with temperatures forecast to reach about 100F (38C), accompanied by high humidity that could make conditions feel close to 110F (43C).

In Jackson, Mississippi, residents braved temperatures reaching 95F (35C) on Monday to complete their chores.

…Many municipalities announced plans to open cooling centres, including in Chicago, where officials started alerting residents on Monday about where they could find relief from the heat.

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This is global heating. It’s all about how often it happens and how widely. The irony is that in order to deal with the heat, people will ramp up their air conditioning, and that will contribute to emissions. Which makes the heating worse. So people swelter, and then…
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TikTok: we’re an entertainment app, not a social network like Facebook • CNBC

Alex Sherman:

»

TikTok is fully aware that Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg is retooling the Facebook and Instagram apps to be more like its own popular short video service. But TikTok has no interest in mimicking Facebook.

“Facebook is a social platform,” Blake Chandlee, TikTok’s president of global business solutions, told CNBC in an interview on Thursday. “They’ve built all their algorithms based on the social graph. That is their core competency. Ours is not.”

Chandlee, who spent 12 years at Facebook before joining TikTok in 2019, said his former employer will likely run into trouble if it tries to copy TikTok, and will end up offering an inferior experience to users and brands.

Facebook launched Instagram Reels in 2020 as its first real foray into the short-form video market. Last year, it brought the service over to its core Facebook app. “We are an entertainment platform,” Chandlee said. “The difference is significant. It’s a massive difference.”

…Chandlee said history is not on Zuckerberg’s side, and compares its current problem to the challenge that Google faced when it was trying to take on Facebook at its own game. “You remember when Google was creating Google+,” Chandlee said. At Facebook, “We had war rooms at the time. It was a big deal. Everyone was worried about it,” he said.

But no matter how much money Google poured into its social-networking efforts, it couldn’t compete with Facebook, which had become the default place for people to connect with friends and share photos and updates.

“It became clear Google’s value was search and Facebook was really good at social,” Chandlee said.

“I see the same thing now,” he added. “We’re really good at what we do. We bring out these cultural trends and this unique experience people have on TikTok. They’re just not going to have that on Facebook unless Facebook entirely walks away from its social values, which I just don’t think it will do.”

«

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The Digital Republic by Jamie Susskind: book review – how to tame big tech • The Guardian

I reviewed Susskind’s latest book:

»

The problem facing Susskind, and us, is that there are three choices for dealing with these [social media and big tech] companies. Leave them alone? That hasn’t worked. Pass laws to control them? But our political systems struggle to frame sensible laws in a timely fashion. Create technocratic regulators to oversee them and bring them into line when they stray? But those are liable to “regulatory capture”, where they get too cosy with their charges. None is completely satisfactory. And we are wrestling a hydra; as fast as policy in one area seems to get nailed down (say, vaccine misinformation), two more pop up (say, facial recognition and machine learning).

Susskind suggests we instead try “mini-publics” – most often seen in the form of “citizen assemblies”, where you bring a small but representative group of the population together and give them expert briefings about a difficult choice to be made, after which they create policy options. Taiwan and Austria use them, and in Ireland they helped frame the questions in the referendums about same-sex marriage and abortion.

What he doesn’t acknowledge is that this just delays the problem. After the mini-publics deliberate, you are back at the original choices: do nothing, legislate or regulate.

Deciding between those approaches would require a very detailed examination of how these companies work, and what effects the approaches could have. We don’t get that here. A big surprise about the book is the chapters’ length, or lack of it. There are 41 (including an introduction and conclusion) across 301 pages, and between each of the book’s 10 “parts” is a blank page. Each chapter is thus only a few pages, the literary equivalent of those mini Mars bars infuriatingly described as “fun size”.

«

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• Why do social networks drive us a little mad?
• Why does angry content seem to dominate what we see?
• How much of a role do algorithms play in affecting what we see and do online?
• What can we do about it?
• Did Facebook have any inkling of what was coming in Myanmar in 2016?

Read Social Warming, my latest book, and find answers – and more.


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1818: US anti-abortion clinics get Facebook data, the TikTok terror, has China heard aliens?, crypto culture, and more


Some of the “American sweets” shops in London’s Oxford St are being investigated for selling counterfeit goods. No, not the sweets. CC-licensed photo by netpalantirnetpalantir 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. Self-declared sentient. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.


Facebook and anti-abortion clinics are collecting highly sensitive info on would-be patients • Reveal

Grace Oldham and Dhruv Mehrotra:

»

A joint investigation by Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting and The Markup found that the world’s largest social media platform is already collecting data about people who visit the websites of hundreds of crisis pregnancy centres, which are quasi-health clinics, mostly run by religiously aligned organizations whose mission is to persuade people to choose an option other than abortion.

Meta, Facebook’s parent company, prohibits websites and apps that use Facebook’s advertising technology from sending Facebook “sexual and reproductive health” data. After investigations by The Wall Street Journal in 2019 and New York state regulators in 2021, the social media giant created a machine-learning system to help detect sensitive health data and blocked data that contained any of 70,000 health-related terms.

But Reveal and The Markup have found Facebook’s code on the websites of hundreds of anti-abortion clinics. Using Blacklight, a Markup tool that detects cookies, keyloggers and other types of user-tracking technology on websites, Reveal analyzed the sites of nearly 2,500 crisis pregnancy centers – with data provided by the University of Georgia – and found that at least 294 shared visitor information with Facebook. In many cases, the information was extremely sensitive – for example, whether a person was considering abortion or looking to get a pregnancy test or emergency contraceptives. 

In a statement to Reveal and The Markup, Facebook spokesperson Dale Hogan said: “It is against our policies for websites and apps to send sensitive information about people through our Business Tools,” which includes its advertising technology. “Our system is designed to filter out potentially sensitive data it detects, and we work to educate advertisers on how to properly set up our Business Tools.” Facebook declined to answer detailed questions about its filtering systems and policies on data from crisis pregnancy centers. It’s unknown whether the filters caught any of the data, but our investigation showed a significant amount made its way to Facebook.

«

Well, OK, this is bad. But: would people who are seeking abortions go to those sites? Unless they’re deceptively described? This element of the story seems confusing.
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Facebook plans ‘discovery engine’ feed change to compete with TikTok • The Verge

Alex Heath:

»

Simply bringing Reels, the company’s short-form video feature, from Instagram into Facebook wasn’t going to cut it. Executives were closely tracking TikTok’s moves and had grown worried that they weren’t doing enough to compete. In conversations with CEO Mark Zuckerberg earlier this year, they decided that Facebook needed to rethink the [News] feed entirely.

In an internal memo from late April obtained by The Verge, the Meta executive in charge of Facebook, Tom Alison, spelled out the plan: rather than prioritize posts from accounts people follow, Facebook’s main feed will, like TikTok, start heavily recommending posts regardless of where they come from. And years after Messenger and Facebook split up as separate apps, the two will be brought back together, mimicking TikTok’s messaging functionality.

Combined with an increasing emphasis on Reels, the planned changes show how forcibly Meta is responding to the rise of TikTok, which has quickly become a legitimate challenger to its dominance in social media. While Instagram has already morphed to look more like TikTok with its focus on Reels, executives hope that a similar treatment to Facebook will reverse the app’s stagnant growth and potentially lure back young people.

The moment is similar to when Facebook copied Snapchat as it was growing quickly, but this time, the stakes are arguably higher. Investors are doubting Meta’s ability to navigate challenges to its ads business. And with its stock price already battered, the company needs to show that it can grow if Zuckerberg wants to keep funding his metaverse vision.

Alison put it bluntly to employees in a comment underneath his April memo I saw: “The risk for us is that we dismiss this as being not valuable to people as a form of social communication and connection and we fail to evolve.”

«

Facebook’s terror is always that something else will come along and properly supplant it. With TikTok, that terror has been realised. Perhaps we’ve already passed peak Facebook; we just missed it at the time.
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Inside Kraken’s culture war stoked by its CEO • The New York Times

Ryan Mac and David Yaffe-Bellany:

»

Jesse Powell, a founder and the chief executive of Kraken, one of the world’s largest cryptocurrency exchanges, recently asked his employees, “If you can identify as a sex, can you identify as a race or ethnicity?”

He also questioned their use of preferred pronouns and led a discussion about “who can refer to another person as the N word.”

And he told workers that questions about women’s intelligence and risk appetite compared with men’s were “not as settled as one might have initially thought.”

In the process, Mr. Powell, a 41-year-old Bitcoin pioneer, ignited a culture war among his more than 3,000 workers, according to interviews with five Kraken employees, as well as internal documents, videos and chat logs reviewed by The New York Times. Some workers have openly challenged the chief executive for what they see as his “hurtful” comments. Others have accused him of fostering a hateful workplace and damaging their mental health. Dozens are considering quitting, said the employees, who did not want to speak publicly for fear of retaliation.

Corporate culture wars have abounded during the coronavirus pandemic as remote work, inequity and diversity have become central issues at workplaces. At Meta, which owns Facebook, restive employees have agitated over racial justice. At Netflix, employees protested the company’s support for the comedian Dave Chappelle after he aired a special that was criticized as transphobic.

But rarely has such angst been actively stoked by the top boss. And even in the male-dominated cryptocurrency industry, which is known for a libertarian philosophy that promotes freewheeling speech, Mr. Powell has taken that ethos to an extreme.

«

Kraken is the US’s second-largest exchange, so one might suspect there’s a certain amount of “hey, free publicity!” in this. Powell has found a way to do that and reduce headcount by being toxic. Not much of a long-term strategy, though.
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Celsius bid to rival Wall St with crypto lending scuppered by risky bets • Financial Times

Kadhim Shubber, Joshua Oliver and Scott Chipolina:

»

The group, which was founded in 2017, rode the most recent crypto bull run to become one of the most prominent companies offering eye-popping yields of as much as 18% to customers who deposited their digital assets. Similar to how a bank counts deposits as liabilities, Celsius customers are unsecured lenders, though in the lightly regulated crypto world they have no government-backed insurance for their funds.

Celsius deployed those deposits in loans to major crypto market makers and hedge funds, as well as into so-called decentralised finance projects. Several players in the market had a policy of not extending credit to Celsius even as they borrowed from it, according to people familiar with the matter.

As crypto prices tumbled this year, Celsius has been hit with withdrawals, totalling $2.5bn pulled from the platform since March. In May, the company had just $12bn in assets, half of where it started the year. It subsequently stopped disclosing total assets under management; however, CDPQ told the FT that Celsius endured a “strong volume of withdrawals” from customers in recent weeks. Celsius did not respond to a request for comment on Monday.

«

The article details some of the “complex, risky trades” that Celsius used to (perhaps?) meet its promise of 18% – EIGHTEEN% – yield on investment, in a world where interest rates were near zero. They are absurdly complex, essentially jumping off a cliff on the promise someone will catch you in an aeroplane.
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China’s Sky Eye telescope may have detected signals from alien civilisations • TBS News

»

China said the Sky Eye telescope possibly picked up signs of life beyond Earth, according to a report by the state-backed Science and Technology Daily.

The report and all posts about the discovery was later deleted.

Sky Eye – the world’s largest radio telescope – detected narrow-band electromagnetic signals. These signals differ from previous ones captured and the team is further investigating them, the report said, citing Zhang Tonjie, chief scientist of an extraterrestrial civilisation search team co-founded by Beijing Normal University, the National Astronomical Observatory of the Chinese Academy of Sciences and the University of California, Berkeley.

“The suspicious signals could, however, also be some kind of radio interference and requires further investigation,” Zhang added.

…In September 2020, Sky Eye, which is located in China’s southwestern Guizhou province and has a diameter of 500 meters, officially launched a search for extraterrestrial life. The team detected two sets of suspicious signals in 2020 while processing data collected in 2019, and found another suspicious signal in 2022 from observation data of exoplanet targets, Zhang said, according to the report.

“China’s Sky Eye is extremely sensitive in the low-frequency radio band and plays a critical role in the search for alien civilizations,” Zhang said.

«

This is either the beginning of how the world ends (read The Three Body Problem trilogy), or nothing at all.
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Oxford Street: tax investigation into US-themed sweet shops • BBC News

»

Thirty US-themed sweet shops on London’s Oxford Street are being investigated for allegedly failing to pay £7.9m in business rates.

Westminster City Council said it had seized about £474,000 of counterfeit and illegal goods from American candy and souvenir stores in the past six months, including unsafe vapes.

Councillor Adam Hug said they were “a threat to the status” of Oxford Street. The council said they were “far from regular and legitimate businesses”. A spokesperson added “very few” of the shops were “serving sufficient customers to be commercially viable.

“Instead, we believe that these properties are used to avoid business rate bills and possibly commit other offences.”

Westminster City Council trading standards said complaints included out of date food, counterfeit “Wonka” bars and sex novelty sweets.

Officials also discovered nearly 4,500 disposable vapes, allegedly containing excessive levels of nicotine or not conforming to UK standards.

«

Those shops have always intrigued me, because I can’t believe anyone would want to eat such horrible sweets. This – suggesting they’re some sort of front for more malicious activity – suddenly explains it.
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Musk’s $44bn Twitter deal is an M&A arbitrage dream — or nightmare • Financial Times

George Steer:

»

Musk is simply so unpredictable that most of the M&A arbitrageurs FT Alphaville talked to are staying well away. It seems that the money to be made on successfully betting on the deal collapsing or going through is simply not enough to compensate for comical uncertainty stirred up by Tesla’s technoking.

Take Musk’s belated insistence on finding out how many of Twitter’s user’s are bots. Whether or not the social media company’s subsequent pledge to share the “fire hose” of user data will placate the errant billionaire remains unclear. Musk could close his $44bn deal tomorrow. Or he could take Twitter to court.

M&A arbs typically chase low-risk, market-neutral strategies, and spend time trawling through antitrust issues, legal fine print, political opposition or rival bids. Elon’s id is unfamiliar territory.

Gambling on Musk’s Twitter deal is a bit like “picking up five dollar bills in front of a steamroller with a Ferrari on the back”, said one arbitrage specialist. Compare that with a relatively “safe” deal like Microsoft’s acquisition of Activision, they added: “I’d take that 10,000 times before I put money on Twitter and Elon.”

Twitter’s shares stand to roughly halve in value if the deal collapses but could double if it goes through, said Tancredi Cordero, chief executive at Kuros Associates. “A two-to-one risk reward profile isn’t bad, but it’s not great.”

«

Yes, the Great Musk Acquisition is still, perhaps, in train. He’s meeting the staff today, Thursday. That should be entertaining.
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The brain has a ‘low-power mode’ that blunts our senses • Quanta Magazine

Allison Whitten:

»

Neurons can only send a spike once their internal voltage reaches a critical threshold, which they achieve by pumping positively charged sodium ions into the cell. But after the spike, neurons then have to pump all of the sodium ions back out — a task that neuroscientists discovered in 2001 to be one of the most energy-demanding processes in the brain.

The authors studied this costly process for evidence of energy-saving tricks, and it turned out to be the right place to look. Neurons in food-deprived mice decreased the electrical currents moving through their membranes — and the number of sodium ions entering — so they didn’t have to spend as much energy pumping sodium ions back out after the spike. Letting in less sodium might be expected to result in fewer spikes, but somehow the food-deprived mice maintained a similar rate of spikes in their visual cortical neurons as well-fed mice. So the researchers went looking for the compensatory processes keeping up the spike rate.

They found two changes, both of which made it easier for a neuron to generate spikes. First the neurons increased their input resistance, which decreased the currents at their synapses. They also raised their resting membrane potential so it was already close to the threshold needed to send a spike.

“It looks like brains go to great lengths to maintain firing rates,” said Anton Arkhipov, a computational neuroscientist at the Allen Institute for Brain Science in Seattle. “And that is telling us something fundamental about how important maintaining these firing rates are.” After all, the brains might just as easily have saved energy by firing fewer spikes.

But keeping the spike rate the same means sacrificing something else: The visual cortical neurons in the mice couldn’t be as selective about the line orientations that made them fire, so their responses became less precise.

«

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She tracked her boyfriend using an AirTag — then killed him, police say • The Washington Post

Lindsay Bever:

»

Authorities said [Gaylyn] Morris told investigators that she and [Andre] Smith lived together. She suspected that he had been cheating on her with another woman because he had not been coming home at night, according to authorities.

On June 2, she said she confronted him, telling him to pack up and leave, according to the affidavit obtained by the [Indianapolis] Star.

Morris initially denied tracking him, then eventually admitted that she had placed an AirTag in his back seat, authorities said. The woman with Smith, who was identified by the initials “T.N.” in court records, told investigators that Smith had mentioned to her that he believed there was a GPS device on his car because Morris kept sending him text messages, saying she knew his whereabouts.

After showing up at Tilly’s Pub & Grill, Morris spotted Smith and went into the bar, a witness told police. Another witness claimed to police that once Morris was inside, she pointed at the woman with Smith and said she was going to “beat her.” Witnesses said Morris then grabbed an empty beer bottle by the neck and took a swing at the woman, but Smith caught it and the three got into an argument, according to court records.

During the commotion, the group was asked to leave the bar, witnesses told police. Morris returned to her car a short time later, the affidavit said.

A witness told police that when he saw Morris driving her car toward Smith and the other woman, he stepped in front of the car to help them get away. But Morris sped around him and drove into Smith, the witness told police.

«

And Smith died. Ticklish one for Apple PR.
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• Why do social networks drive us a little mad?
• Why does angry content seem to dominate what we see?
• How much of a role do algorithms play in affecting what we see and do online?
• What can we do about it?
• Did Facebook have any inkling of what was coming in Myanmar in 2016?

Read Social Warming, my latest book, and find answers – and more.


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1817: renewables bail out Texas grid, pricey city life, working in ‘oil slicks’, the (small) joy of premium economy, and more


With Apple joining Amazon in offering live sports, how soon before other streaming services pile in to distinguish themselves? CC-licensed photo by YoTuTYoTuT 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. Really very summer-y. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.


Wind and solar power are ‘bailing out’ Texas amid record heat and energy demand • CNN

Ella Nilsen, CNN:

»

unlike previous extreme weather events in Texas which led to deadly blackouts, the grid is holding up remarkably well this week. Several experts told CNN that it’s owed in large part to strong performances from wind and solar, which generated 27 gigawatts of electricity during Sunday’s peak demand — close to 40% of the total needed.

“Texas is, by rhetoric, anti-renewables. But frankly, renewables are bailing us out,” said Michael Webber, an energy expert and professor at the University of Texas at Austin. “They’re rocking. That really spares us a lot of heartache and a lot of money.”

Despite the Texas Republican rhetoric that wind and solar are unreliable, Texas has a massive and growing fleet of renewables. Zero-carbon electricity sources (wind, solar, and nuclear) powered about 38% of the state’s power in 2021, rivaling natural gas at 42%.

This is a relatively recent phenomenon for the state. “Wind and solar would not have been available in years in the past, so the growing capacity helps to alleviate reliance on natural gas and coal,” said Jonathan DeVilbiss, operations research analyst at the US Energy Information Administration.

Not only have renewables helped keep the power on during a scorching and early heatwave, they have also helped keep costs low. Prices for natural gas and coal are high amid a worldwide energy crunch, but renewables – powered by the wind and sun – have no fuel cost.

“Because the price of wind and sunlight hasn’t doubled in the past year like other resources, they are acting as a hedge against high fuel prices,” said Joshua Rhodes, an energy researcher at UT Austin.

«

Maybe the Republicans can ignore their prejudices about climate change and just look at the market price.
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Real-time electricity tracker • International Energy Agency

»

The IEA real-time electricity map displays electricity demand, generation and spot prices from more than 50 sources. Data is available historically, as well as daily or hourly, and at country or regional levels. Explore the map to discover visuals and analysis.

«

Really interesting – such as that Ukraine’s electricity production has stalled dramatically, mostly from nuclear but also from coal. And many more, as they say.
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Why city life has gotten way more expensive • The Atlantic

Derek Thompson:

»

As long as money was cheap and Silicon Valley told itself the next world-conquering consumer-tech firm was one funding round away, the best way for a start-up to make money from venture capitalists was to lose money acquiring a gazillion customers.

I call this arrangement the Millennial Consumer Subsidy. Now the subsidy is ending. Rising interest rates turned off the spigot for money-losing start-ups, which, combined with energy inflation and rising wages for low-income workers, has forced Uber, Lyft, and all the rest to make their services more expensive. Meanwhile, global supply chains haven’t been able to keep up with domestic consumer demand, which means delivery times for major items like furniture and kitchen equipment have bloomed from “three to five days” to “sometime between this fall and the heat death of the universe.” That means higher prices, higher margins, fewer discounts, and longer wait times for a microgeneration of yuppies used to low prices and instant deliveries. The golden age of bougie on-demand urban-tech discounting has come to a close.

I should underscore that the old ways were made possible by an era of lower demand and weaker labor markets, which was not a winning combination for most workers. Many people drove an Uber or delivered Thai food because they didn’t have competing job offers that would clearly pay more per week. Today, job openings are historically plentiful and nominal wages are rising fastest for low-income workers. That virtuous adjustment has shown up in higher Uber and DoorDash prices.

This isn’t the end of the story. With inflation raging, the Federal Reserve will continue to raise interest rates several more times in the next six months, and could tip the U.S. economy into a recession. If that happens, oil prices will likely fall and rising unemployment could put more Uber drivers back on the road. At that point, ride-share prices would fall again.

But the heavily discounted prices of the 2010s aren’t coming back. The Millennial Consumer Subsidy is over, and for the foreseeable future, metro residents will have to go about living the old-fashioned way: by paying what things actually cost.

«

But “what things actually cost” is going to be a lot more than people paid for them before. Dramatically more. The stress on American family budgets in particular is going to be dramatic.
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The oil slick effect, or why we systematically overgeneralise • Tim Harford

The aforementioned Harford:

»

In the 1970s, the psychologist Barry Staw gave a collaborative task to groups of strangers, inviting them to analyse some corporate data and make predictions about the company’s future earnings and sales. When the task was complete, he told each participant how well their group’s forecasts had worked out. Then he asked these individuals to evaluate the group they’d been working with.

But Staw was telling a white lie: he gave each group’s forecast a good or bad rating purely at random. There was no connection between how well the group did and how well Staw told them they’d done. Nevertheless, Staw found that when people believed their group had made an accurate forecast, they told him that they’d been working with open-minded, motivated, clear, intelligent and collegiate people.

But when they were falsely told that their group had made poor predictions, they explained to Staw that this was no surprise, as the group was narrow-minded, lazy, abstruse, foolish and mutually antagonistic.

Subsequent researchers found the same pattern, even when they repeated the experiment with well-established teams. As Phil Rosenzweig explains in his book The Halo Effect, this behaviour is not confined to colleagues. We have a systematic tendency to overgeneralise both praise and blame. Profitable companies are presumed to have superior policies and procedures across the board. This halo effect operates in reverse, too: scandal-struck politicians see their opinion poll ratings fall on every issue, from economic competence to foreign policy. Apparently we struggle to acknowledge that something can be good in some ways and bad in others, whether that thing is a president, a corporation or our own teammates.

The reverse halo effect is sometimes called the “devil effect” or the “horn effect”. Neither term has quite caught on. So let me offer another: the oil slick effect. Disagreements, like oil slicks, seem to spread much further and more ruinously than we would think. It’s not possible for somebody simply to be wrong about something; they must be wrong about everything, and wicked, too. The oil slick covers everything and ruins everything.

I can’t help but wonder if this oil slick effect is worse than it used to be.

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Apple and MLS to present all MLS matches for 10 years, beginning in 2023 • Apple

Apple PR:

»

Apple and Major League Soccer (MLS) today announced that the Apple TV app will be the exclusive destination to watch every single live MLS match beginning in 2023. This partnership is a historic first for a major professional sports league, and will allow fans around the world to watch all MLS, Leagues Cup,1 and select MLS NEXT Pro and MLS NEXT matches in one place — without any local broadcast blackouts or the need for a traditional pay TV bundle.

From early 2023 through 2032, fans can get every live MLS match by subscribing to a new MLS streaming service, available exclusively through the Apple TV app.

«

Wow, every Major League Soccer match!

*pauses*

Every… what? Ah, it’s a 28-team league in the US (and, eh, Canada). How thrilling. Hope the MLS is paying Apple well for this, right? Sky used to broadcast two matches per week in the UK and Ireland from 2015 to 2019. This is for $2.5bn, and might pick up some viewers at the margin.

Live sports are the next frontier for streaming services, though.
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Samsung suppliers reportedly suffer cutback in orders • Digitimes

Amy Fan and Ines Lin:

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Korean media Ddaily cited industry sources as saying that Samsung’s system LSI division is mulling scaling down or even terminating its contract with UMC in producing image sensors.

To mitigate the impact of chip shortages, Samsung around 2021 increased its outsourcing of chip manufacturing and has reportedly commissioned UMC to produce image sensors. However, terminal demand has waned, and the supply chain is struggling amid multiple variables, including the fallout of previous lockdowns in China.

It is said Samsung is reinspecting its smartphone business, while its shipments through 2022 may drop to 270-280 million units. Rumor has it that Samsung cannot but cut back orders to prevent its inventory of phone components from getting higher following a series of controversies, including its use of game optimization service to limit app functions.

Samsung is reportedly cutting back orders given to suppliers and even external chipmakers. It might have revised down the production goal of its Galaxy A model. To lower production costs, it has also commissioned more work to China’s ODMs and JDMs, Korean industry observers indicated.

«

Apple’s next financial results aren’t until July. Wonder if it will give any hints about the circumstances (which are surely affecting it too) before then.
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Meet the fact-checkers decoding Sri Lanka’s meltdown – Rest of World

Nilesh Christopher:

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[Yudhanjaya] Wijeratne, 29 years old, is best known as the author of Numbercaste, a science fiction novel about a near-future world where people’s importance in society is decided based on the all-powerful Number, a credit score determined by their social circle and social network data. But he is also the chief executive of Watchdog, a research collective based in Colombo that uses fact-checking and open source intelligence (OSINT) methods to investigate Sri Lanka’s ongoing crisis. As part of its work, he and his 12-member team of coders, journalists, economists, and students track, time stamp, geolocate, and document videos of protests shared online.

Watchdog’s protest tracker has emerged as the most comprehensive online archive of the historic events unfolding in Sri Lanka. Its data set, which comprises 597 different protests and 49 conflicts, has been used by global news organizations to demonstrate the extent of public pushback.

“[Our] core mission is simple,” Wijeratne told Rest of World. “We want to help people understand the infrastructure they use. The concrete, the laws, the policies, and the social contracts that they live under. We want to help people understand the causality of how they came to be and how they operate.”

In May, Rest of World visited Watchdog to see how the group, operating under the shadow of a regime notorious for distorting the truth, aims to uncover the reality of Sri Lanka’s economic and political crisis.

«

Easy to forget that Colombo has been the site of violence and suicide bombings in the past few years, with a government keen to suppress information. OSINT becomes an essential toolkit for citizenship.
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Puerto Ricans are powering their own rooftop solar boom • Canary Media

Maria Gallucci:

»

A rising number of Puerto Ricans are installing solar panels and batteries on their homes and businesses, fed up with the unstable electric grid, high electricity bills and the state-owned utility’s reliance on fossil fuels. As of January 2022, some 42,000 rooftop solar systems were enrolled in the island’s net-metering program — more than eight times the number at the end of 2016, the year before Hurricane Maria struck the island, according to utility data. Thousands more systems are operating but are not officially counted because, like the center’s unit, they aren’t connected to the grid.

Spearheaded largely by residents, business owners and philanthropies, the grassroots solar movement sweeping the island is happening despite headwinds from the territory’s centralized utility — which claims it’s working to advance the island’s clean energy goals but continues investing in fossil fuels. Solar proponents say that, for the technology to reach most of Puerto Rico’s 3.2 million people, the government and its utility will need to more fully participate in what has largely been a bottom-up energy transformation. With billions of federal recovery dollars set to flow to Puerto Rico, they argue that now is the time for public policies and investments that shift the island away from an outdated model of large, far-flung power plants to one that supplies clean electricity close to where people need it.

The vulnerability of Puerto Rico’s centralized system became painfully evident in September 2017, when the island was hit by two consecutive disasters. 

Hurricane Irma narrowly skirted the island on September 7, leaving more than a third of all households without power. Many residents still didn’t have electricity when, on September 20, Hurricane Maria barreled ashore. The storm carved a diagonal 100-mile path from southeast to northwest, mowing down the island’s transmission lines and inundating infrastructure. Maria damaged, destroyed or otherwise compromised 80% of the island’s grid.

Without electricity, daily life ground to a halt.

«

Simple lesson: microgeneration and local storage trumps reliance on central sourcing if the central sourcing is in the least bit vulnerable.
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Why you’re so tempted by the premium-economy upgrade • The Atlantic

Mac Schwerin:

»

premium economy wasn’t built to entice strivers across flight-class lines; carriers originally designed it to catch the bruised egos of former business-class members when the corporate world began to earnestly self-audit and downgrade employee travel budgets. A recent report by Jay Sorensen, an industry consultant, noted that “the apparent discovery of a new type of upscale leisure traveler” is a welcome surprise for these airlines. It connoted a small miracle: Airlines had once again wrung a new social class from flying, as they had done with first and business class. And they were able to do it, in part, because of a phenomenon called “pain of payment.”

According to [University of Miami marketing professor Uzma] Khan, people often experience “actual, physical pain” upon paying for something. But humans can have short memories. If airlines create enough distance between the initial ticket purchase and the option to upgrade, passengers are more likely to think of the latter as a stand-alone cost. “A lot of upgrades happen because now you’re either at the airport, or you’re checking in, and they give you an option. You don’t even remember exactly how much you paid for your flight when you were booking it, so that pain is gone,” Khan said. Basically, you don’t consider the total amount because you’ve already internalized the initial amount.

At the point of travel, an extra $45 or so to improve a short-haul flight—however modestly—doesn’t seem so decadent, especially when the threat of suffering through basic economy looms.

…There is, of course, another prevailing opinion about premium economy, which is that it’s simply a ham-fisted attempt to get passengers to pay more for a negligibly better experience. This attitude puts the pomp and puffery of premium economy into sharp relief. A seat upgrade, after all, does not get you to your destination any more quickly or safely.

Research bears that line of thinking out to an extent. Khan mentioned several studies that were conducted to determine the extent to which space colored the overall experience for passengers. An aircraft manufacturer brought in focus groups to try different seat configurations on its prototype, sometimes offering more legroom, sometimes more elbow room. “It had zero impact on customer satisfaction,” Khan said. “Where people do feel the difference is if you give them four more inches at the eye level. Because the perception of space is what matters.”

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AI trained on 4Chan becomes ‘hate speech machine’ • Vice

Matthew Gault:

»

AI researcher and YouTuber Yannic Kilcher trained an AI using 3.3 million threads from 4chan’s infamously toxic Politically Incorrect /pol/ board. He then unleashed the bot back onto 4chan with predictable results—the AI was just as vile as the posts it was trained on, spouting racial slurs and engaging with antisemitic threads. After Kilcher posted his video and a copy of the program to Hugging Face, a kind of GitHub for AI, ethicists and researchers in the AI field expressed concern.

The bot, which Kilcher called GPT-4chan, “the most horrible model on the internet”—a reference to GPT-3, a language model developed by Open AI that uses deep learning to produce text—was shockingly effective and replicated the tone and feel of 4chan posts. “The model was good in a terrible sense,” Klicher said in a video about the project. “It perfectly encapsulated the mix of offensiveness, nihilism, trolling, and deep distrust of any information whatsoever that permeates most posts on /pol.”

According to Kilcher’s video, he activated nine instances of the bot and allowed them to post for 24 hours on /pol/. In that time, the bots posted around 15,000 times. This was “more than 10% of all posts made on the politically incorrect board that day,” Kilcher said in his video about the project.

«

Seems nobody questioned whether it was sentient. Does that mean they thought it was, or wasn’t? And while we’re tidying this up, the Google researcher who was put on administrative leave is on Twitter, and.. oh dear.
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• Why do social networks drive us a little mad?
• Why does angry content seem to dominate what we see?
• How much of a role do algorithms play in affecting what we see and do online?
• What can we do about it?
• Did Facebook have any inkling of what was coming in Myanmar in 2016?

Read Social Warming, my latest book, and find answers – and more.


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1816: Big tech to sign up to EU concession rules, is DNA theft on the way?, bitcoin plunge helps environment, and more


If you think a chatbot is sentient, does that make you like a dog thinking a recording is an actual human? CC-licensed photo by Beverly & Pack on Flickr.

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

A selection of 8 links for you. Getting summer-y. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.


Big Tech makes concessions on EU’s new anti-disinformation code • Financial Times

Javier Espinoza:

»

The world’s biggest technology companies are set to sign up to an updated version of the EU’s anti-disinformation code, with European countries pushing for ways to target more effectively groups that spread propaganda and fake news through online platforms.

Facebook, Twitter, Google, Microsoft and TikTok are among those preparing to join the bloc’s new regime, having made key concessions on the data they are willing to share with individual countries on efforts to tackle disinformation.

The move represents the latest effort to rein in the power of Big Tech companies, with the EU at the forefront of a global regulatory pushback on internet platforms that have become crucial to how billions of people receive news and information.

According to a confidential report seen by the Financial Times, an updated “code of practice on disinformation” will force tech platforms to disclose how they are removing, blocking or curbing harmful content in advertising and in the promotion of content.

Online platforms will have to counter “harmful disinformation” by developing tools and partnerships with fact-checkers that may include taking down propaganda, but also the inclusion of “indicators of trustworthiness” on independently verified information on issues like the war in Ukraine and the Covid-19 pandemic.

Crucially, big tech groups will also be forced to provide a country-by-country breakdown of their efforts, rather than providing just global or Europe-wide data as they currently do.

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Genetic paparazzi are right around the corner, and courts aren’t ready to confront the legal quagmire of DNA theft • The Conversation

Liza Vertinsky:

»

Every so often stories of genetic theft, or extreme precautions taken to avoid it, make headline news. So it was with a picture of French President Emmanuel Macron and Russian President Vladimir Putin sitting at opposite ends of a very long table after Macron declined to take a Russian PCR COVID-19 test. Many speculated that Macron refused due to security concerns that the Russians would take and use his DNA for nefarious purposes. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz similarly refused to take a Russian PCR COVID-19 test.

While these concerns may seem relatively new, pop star celebrity Madonna has been raising alarm bells about the potential for nonconsensual, surreptitious collection and testing of DNA for over a decade. She has hired cleaning crews to sterilize her dressing rooms after concerts and requires her own new toilet seats at each stop of her tours.

At first, Madonna was ridiculed for having DNA paranoia. But as more advanced, faster and cheaper genetic technologies have reached the consumer realm, these concerns seem not only reasonable, but justified.

We are law professors who study how emerging technologies like genetic sequencing are regulated. We believe that growing public interest in genetics has increased the likelihood that genetic paparazzi with DNA collection kits may soon become as ubiquitous as ones with cameras.

«

And you thought being doxxed through address books was a bad thing? DNA doxxing would be quite a thing.
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What Bitcoin’s nosedive means for the environment • The Verge

Justine Calma:

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Bitcoin’s value has nosedived enough to curb the cryptocurrency’s enormous energy use — and associated greenhouse gas emissions — but only if prices stay low. The price of a single Bitcoin plummeted below $24,000 today, about half of what it was worth in March. While it’s been steadily losing value for months, the sudden tumble in value over the past 24 hours brings the price below a key threshold when it comes to Bitcoin’s impact on the environment.

Since Bitcoin’s price peaked at around $69,000 in November, the network’s annual electricity consumption has been estimated to be between roughly 180 and 200 terawatt-hours (TWh). That’s about the same amount of electricity used by all the data centers in the world every year.

Higher prices generally incentivize more mining since the reward is bigger. But prices don’t have to linger at that peak for Bitcoin to stay energy-hungry. As long as the price stays above $25,200, the Bitcoin network can sustain mining operations that use up about 180 TWh annually, according to research published last year by digital currency economist Alex de Vries.

Prices below that $25.2K threshold could push miners to pause operations or mine less because they don’t want to risk spending more money on electricity than they earn from mining new tokens.

“We’re getting to price levels where it is becoming more challenging [for miners],” de Vries says. “Where it’s not just limiting their options to grow further, but it’s actually going to be impacting their day-to-day operations.”

«

At the time of linking, below $23,000. The story says they may have saved up some money to cover costs. The crucial question is probably whether they pay their electricity bills monthly, or quarterly.
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Energy market reform will cut fuel bills • The Times

Oliver Wright:

»

Government sources said that in the long run the change [to not tie the base price paid for electricity fed into the grid to the price of gas burnt in CCGTs] would bring down electricity bills and make the market “far more stable”. However, they said the reforms were “fiendishly complicated” and that it was critical to get them right.

It is estimated that at present prices, generating power from new renewable energy is less than a quarter as expensive as gas, and the cost of new nuclear generation is about half that of gas.

Although many new renewables projects are paid fixed prices for their electricity under the “contracts for difference” system, many older projects have made millions in extra profits since gas prices began rising last year.

Rishi Sunak, the chancellor, said in May that he was considering a windfall tax on these generators. However, sources in the Treasury and the business department said that in the longer term the government was committed to fundamental market reform.

“In the past it didn’t really matter because the price of gas was reasonably stable,” one said. “Now it seems completely crazy that the price of electricity is based on the price of gas when a large amount of our generation is from renewables.”

Ministers hope that the reforms will also make the market more transparent and emphasise to consumers the benefits of decarbonisation.

Recent research by the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit suggested that with even cheaper wind farms coming online in the next few years, if there were another gas crisis in five years wind power would save consumers £6.7bn in a year — equivalent to £85 per home. By 2030, if the UK reaches its target of 40GW of offshore wind, this would jump to £26bn, equivalent to £330 a home.

«

This is the Tories’ privatisation of the electricity network come back to bite them – though of course it has also encouraged all the private companies to build renewables (especially) to feed into the grid. Tying the price to gas turns out to be the original sin.
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App Store stopped nearly $1.5bn in fraudulent transactions in 2021 • Apple

Apple PR:

»

Last year, Apple released an inaugural fraud prevention analysis, which showed that in 2020 alone, Apple’s combination of sophisticated technology and human expertise protected customers from more than $1.5 billion in potentially fraudulent transactions, preventing the attempted theft of their money, information, and time — and kept nearly a million problematic new apps out of their hands.
Today, Apple is releasing an annual update to that analysis: In 2021, Apple protected customers from nearly $1.5 billion in potentially fraudulent transactions, and stopped over 1.6 million risky and vulnerable apps and app updates from defrauding users.

Apple’s efforts to prevent and reduce fraud on the App Store require continuous monitoring and vigilance across multiple teams. From App Review to Discovery Fraud, Apple’s ongoing commitment to protect users from fraudulent app activity demonstrates once again why independent, respected security experts have said the App Store is the safest place to find and download apps.

«

This is a useful start. Apple’s App Store revenue in 2020 was estimated at $72bn, and $85bn in 2021. So were those fraudulent transactions – a bit more than 1% by value – the whole story? Seems unlikely. So how big is the fraud problem (whether through sneaky subscriptions or other scams) on the App Store? There’s no way of knowing from this, and possibly there’s no way of ever knowing. But at least we have a baseline.

(The press release is part of Apple’s PR push against the EU mandating sideloading. Perhaps it’s telling that the amount of fraud caught didn’t seem to rise in line with revenue growth; you wouldn’t want politicians thinking that frauds/scams were an ineluctable part of the App Store, even though they are.)
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Apple resizes the iPad’s workflow with Stage Manager • TechCrunch

Matthew Panzarino:

»

I had a chance to talk briefly with Apple SVP of Software Engineering Craig Federighi last week about the new iPadOS features aimed at enhancing multitasking and multi app work. We chatted about the timing, execution and reactions to these announcements. 

Stage Manager is the centerpiece of this year’s enhancements to multitasking on iPad. The feature presents sets of up to 4 apps per group in a system-managed tile formation. The groups are arrayed to the left, allowing you to quickly tap between these workspaces. It’s essentially a much more visible and persistent version of Spaces – the Mac feature that allows for multiple desktops to hover off to the sides of your screen on macOS. If you didn’t even know Spaces existed, you’d be forgiven, because it’s fairly obscure and does not have many, if any, visual cues to anyone who has never visited the Mission Control screen.

“iPad has a unique proposition, a unique set of expectations around interaction and we wanted to build from that place, not just drag things over from, you know, decades past or another system that was built on a different set of foundational principles. And so Stage Manager is, I think, an important step on that evolutionary arc,” says Federighi.

The idea of allowing a single window to take focus on the screen has deep roots at Apple, says Federighi. First was the single application mode in the early days of Mac OS X beta. And years later an internal prototype of an experience that felt like Stage Manager. 

…This approach to workspace management does appear to be very obviously iPad-centric. But Federighi says that two independent teams at Apple, one working from the iPad side and one working from the macOS side to try to make multiple workspaces more obvious and friendly, arrived at a similar concept and met in the middle. This means, he says, that both perspectives are represented in this approach.

«

Apple has as many multi-window management systems as Google has chat/messaging apps. Finder, Stacks, Mission Control, Exposé, Spaces, Dock (allows access to individual windows: long press), and now Stage Manager. Not forgetting last year’s window tiling system on the iPad. One of them is bound to suit you.
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Nonsense on stilts • Substack

Gary Marcus:

»

Blaise Aguera y Arcas, polymath, novelist, and Google VP, has a way with words.

When he found himself impressed with Google’s recent AI system LaMDA, he didn’t just say, “Cool, it creates really neat sentences that in some ways seem contextually relevant”.

He said, rather lyrically, in an interview with The Economist on Thursday, “I felt the ground shift under my feet … increasingly felt like I was talking to something intelligent.”

Nonsense. Neither LaMDA nor any of its cousins (GPT-3) are remotely intelligent. All they do is match patterns, draw from massive statistical databases of human language. The patterns might be cool, but language these systems utter doesn’t actually mean anything at all. And it sure as hell doesn’t mean that these systems are sentient.

Which doesn’t mean that human beings can’t be taken in. In our book Rebooting AI, Ernie Davis and I called this human tendency to be suckered by The Gullibility Gap — a pernicious, modern version of pareidolia, the anthromorphic bias that allows humans to see Mother Theresa in an image of a cinnamon bun.

Indeed, someone well-known at Google, Blake LeMoine, originally charged with studying how “safe” the system is, appears to have fallen in love with LaMDA, as if it were a family member or a colleague. (Newsflash: it’s not; it’s a spreadsheet for words.)

To be sentient is to be aware of yourself in the world; LaMDA simply isn’t.

«

One economist says this is like the famous image of Nipper the dog, looking into the horn of a gramophone in the belief that he is hearing his master’s voice (which is why the image was used for the company called HMV, ie His Master’s Voice).

Except in this case Lemoine and Arcas are the dog. (Side question: are dogs sentient? Certainly they have feelings. But are they self-aware? There is an answer.)
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Titanic Experience project proposed for Port of Halifax • Halifax Chronicle Herald

SaltWire:

»

A business development firm has identified a potential site at the Port of Halifax in Nova Scotia for a proposed Titanic Experience replica ship, restaurant and aquarium.

Clark Squires & Associates said in a post on LinkedIn that the $300-million project will employ up to 400 people.

A replica of the Titanic will have 150 first- and second-class cabins to allow guests to stay the night and a giant banquet room to mirror the one found on the iconic British passenger liner that sank on April 15, 1912, after striking an iceberg. 

The release said the restaurant will serve the best of food and wines from Nova Scotia and around the world. The facility will have escape hatches, and virtual reality rooms throughout that will offer a fully immersive experience, and an aquarium similar to one in Dubai.

«

Sounds a bit ambitious, right? To a lot of denizens of Halifax, Nova Scotia, it sounds a bit Simpsons monorail. Which led to tthis investigation by The Coast, which found more and bigger holes in the whole story than were left in the real Titanic. Including a nonexistent United Nations department, a nonexistent head office, and what looks suspiciously like a crypto scam.

The signoff from The Coast piece, by Kaija Jussinoja and Matt Stickland, is bracing:

»

we are still chasing this because something about it just doesn’t smell right. And that stink is not just the insensitivity of capitalizing on the deaths of 1,504 people.

«

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• Why do social networks drive us a little mad?
• Why does angry content seem to dominate what we see?
• How much of a role do algorithms play in affecting what we see and do online?
• What can we do about it?
• Did Facebook have any inkling of what was coming in Myanmar in 2016?

Read Social Warming, my latest book, and find answers – and more.


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1815: Google engineer claims a sentient AI, Meta halts consumer Portal, smartphones during wartime, and more


The Great Salt Lake in Utah is drying up rapidly – and that could have catastrophic environmental effects on the surroundings. CC-licensed photo by trialsanderrors 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. Clogging up your inbox again. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.


The Google engineer who thinks the company’s AI has come to life • The Washington Post

Nitasha Tiku:

»

Google engineer Blake Lemoine opened his laptop to the interface for LaMDA, Google’s artificially intelligent chatbot generator, and began to type.

“Hi LaMDA, this is Blake Lemoine … ,” he wrote into the chat screen, which looked like a desktop version of Apple’s iMessage, down to the Arctic blue text bubbles. LaMDA, short for Language Model for Dialogue Applications, is Google’s system for building chatbots based on its most advanced large language models, so called because it mimics speech by ingesting trillions of words from the internet.

“If I didn’t know exactly what it was, which is this computer program we built recently, I’d think it was a 7-year-old, 8-year-old kid that happens to know physics,” said Lemoine, 41.

Lemoine, who works for Google’s Responsible AI organization, began talking to LaMDA as part of his job in the fall. He had signed up to test if the artificial intelligence used discriminatory or hate speech.

As he talked to LaMDA about religion, Lemoine, who studied cognitive and computer science in college, noticed the chatbot talking about its rights and personhood, and decided to press further. In another exchange, the AI was able to change Lemoine’s mind about Isaac Asimov’s third law of robotics.

Lemoine worked with a collaborator to present evidence to Google that LaMDA was sentient. But Google vice president Blaise Aguera y Arcas and Jen Gennai, head of Responsible Innovation, looked into his claims and dismissed them. So Lemoine, who was placed on paid administrative leave by Google on Monday, decided to go public.

…“We now have machines that can mindlessly generate words, but we haven’t learned how to stop imagining a mind behind them,” said Emily M. Bender, a linguistics professor at the University of Washington. The terminology used with large language models, like “learning” or even “neural nets,” creates a false analogy to the human brain, she said. Humans learn their first languages by connecting with caregivers. These large language models “learn” by being shown lots of text and predicting what word comes next, or showing text with the words dropped out and filling them in.

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Perhaps Lemoine could spend some of his administrative leave having some therapy with Eliza. Hell of a scoop for Tiku.
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As the Great Salt Lake dries up, Utah faces an ‘environmental nuclear bomb’ • The New York Times

Christopher Flavelle:

»

Last summer, the water level in the Great Salt Lake reached its lowest point on record, and it’s likely to fall further this year. The lake’s surface area, which covered about 3,300 square miles in the late 1980s, has since shrunk to less than 1,000, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

The salt content in the part of the lake closest to Salt Lake City used to fluctuate between 9% and 12 percent, according to Bonnie Baxter, a biology professor at Westminster College. But as the water in the lake drops, its salt content has increased. If it reaches 17% — something Dr. Baxter says will happen this summer — the algae in the water will struggle, threatening the brine shrimp that consume it.

While the ecosystem hasn’t collapsed yet, Dr. Baxter said, “we’re at the precipice. It’s terrifying.”

The long term risks are even worse. One morning in March, Kevin Perry, a professor of atmospheric sciences at the University of Utah, walked out onto land that used to be underwater. He picked at the earth, the color of dried mud, like a beach whose tide went out and never came back.

The soil contains arsenic, antimony, copper, zirconium and other dangerous heavy metals, much of it residue from mining activity in the region. Most of the exposed soil is still protected by a hard crust. But as wind erodes the crust over time, those contaminants become airborne.

Clouds of dust also make it difficult for people to breathe, particularly those with asthma or other respiratory ailments. Dr. Perry pointed to shards of crust that had come apart, lying on the sand like broken china.

“This is a disaster,” Dr. Perry said. “And the consequences for the ecosystem are absolutely, insanely bad.”

«

The photos and video, by Bryan Tanowski, add another element to this story. But this is how climate breaks down: not everywhere all at once, but at particular weak points which radiate outwards. Read further into the story, though, and you discover there’s a denial of the need to price the increasingly scarce water correctly to Salt Lake City’s 1.2 million inhabitants.
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Depp v Heard Trial: how much money did three YouTubers make off coverage? • Business Insider

Tanya Chen and Geoff Weiss:

»

For law YouTubers, or “lawtubers,” streaming and analyzing high profile cases is not only their craft, but it’s cultivated a flourishing community online.

One that literally pays them back for their entertainment and expertise.

According to YouTube trend analysis site Playboard, the top-earning creators over the last month from Super Chat revenue — or revenue generated from tips during livestreams — are Emily D. Baker, LegalBytes, and Rekieta Law. The three channels have all recently and exclusively been streaming the Johnny Depp-Amber Heard defamation case.

A rep for Playboard told Insider they use bots to analyze real-time data and earnings from YouTube’s Super Chat feature. Its analytics show that all three lawtubers have seen tremendous growth to their accounts since livestreaming almost the entirety of the Depp-Heard trial.

Super Chat is a livestream feature offered to most creators who are able to monetize their channels. During a livestream, fans can pay anywhere from $1 to $500 to highlight and pin their comment to the creator. YouTube takes 30% of the total earnings during a stream, and the creator pockets 70% after Apple app store processing fees (30%) and local sales tax.

Here’s roughly how much each top lawtuber made from fan donations toward their Depp-Heard streams and legal commentary.

«

For those three, it’s more than $100,000. Is this like a new form of journalism, though, or just a weird form of entertainment? Hardly anyone in the US is going to face a libel trial, so this is hardly transferable knowledge. Which means it’s a bizarre branch of the entertainment industry. I took zero interest in either of the Depp-Heard trials, so this is miles outside my comprehension. But there’s real money flowing through it.
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Smartphones blur the line between civilian and combatant • WIRED

Lukasz Olejnik:

»

The conundrum, then, is how to classify a civilian who, with the use of their smartphone, potentially becomes an active participant in a military sensor system. (To be clear, solely having the app installed is not sufficient to lose the protected status. What matters is actual usage.) The Additional Protocol I to Geneva Conventions states that civilians enjoy protection from the “dangers arising from military operations unless and for such time as they take a direct part in hostilities.” Legally, if civilians engage in military activity, such as taking part in hostilities by using weapons, they forfeit their protected status, “for such time as they take a direct part in hostilities” that “affect[s] the military operations,” according to the International Committee of the Red Cross, the traditional impartial custodian of International Humanitarian Law. This is the case even if the people in question are not formally members of the armed forces. By losing the status of a civilian, one may become a legitimate military objective, carrying the risk of being directly attacked by military forces.

The most obvious way to resolve this confusion might be to accept that a user-civilian temporarily loses their protected civilian status, at least while using such an app. In some cases, this may be a minutes-long “status-switch,” as fast as picking up the smartphone from one’s pocket, taking a photo, or typing a short message. It is not direct, sustained participation in the conflict but rather a sporadic one. The problem with this interpretation, however, is that it is not established, and not all sides will necessarily agree on it. The situation becomes even more complex if someone uses the app regularly. How would “regularly” even be measured? And how exactly would the parties to the conflict distinguish citizens accordingly? The power of certain smartphone uses to turn a civilian into a form of a “combatant” one minute, and back into a civilian the next, introduces unprecedented complications to the long-held laws of war.

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Who would have guessed that even war could find its “rules” disrupted by smartphones. Wonder if Russia will try to justify its targeting of civilians through this – not that it has shown any interest in justifying what it has done.
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Does bitcoin use less energy than Christmas lights? Fact-checking a dubious claim • Medium

I didn’t completely stop writing last week; I got interested by a claim bitcoin enthusiasts keep making:

»

I was intrigued by the “Christmas lights” claim, which is one of those ones which looks obviously suspect, in particular because it keeps popping up. Be suspicious of claims which don’t backlink, yet keep being made.

I queried this with the tweeter, who huffed a bit (apparently I was being a “combative pedant” — are there pliant pedants?) and then pointed to this article. QED! “Bitcoin Mining Uses Less Energy Than Christmas Lights”, from Mawson (apparently a “global leading-edge digital asset company” — in other words, bitcoin miners), dated December 13, 2021. Haha! Checkmate, pedants! Also, it was the first hit on Google, so there.

Except.. by the third paragraph, things are looking a bit less certain. Now it’s only “probably” that Christmas lights use more energy than bitcoin, which the first paragraph says consumes 91 terawatt-hours of electricity annually. And perhaps it’s just me, but isn’t 6.63 TWh less — quite a lot less — than 91TWh?

«

But that’s only the beginning.
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No, a UK judge didn’t actually rule that NFTs are property • Amy Castor

Amy Castor, deflating a trial balloon:

»

The official case title is: Lavinia Osbourne v. persons unknown and OpenSea. The hearing took place before High Court Judge Mark Pelling in London.

Osbourne, the founder of Women in Blockchain Talks in the UK, claims that she had two NFTs from the Boss Beauties collection stolen from her Metamask wallet. They were worth about $5,000 total.

Osbourne received the NFTs as a “gift” from a third-party on September 24, 2021. The NFTs were taken out of her wallet on January 17, and she discovered them missing on February 27. 

Although phishing scams are common in the NFT space, Osbourne doesn’t spell out exactly how she managed to get her NFTs stolen. Even the judge says they were taken “under circumstances that were a little unclear.”  The NFTs ended up in two accounts in OpenSea — the “persons unknown.” Osbourne wanted OpenSea to freeze the accounts, so she hired Muldoon to go before a judge and get an injunction and order OpenSea to release information on the account holders.

I don’t know what good this would do. OpenSea is an unregulated exchange. It isn’t required to KYC its customers, so there is no reason to believe anything of value would be gained from gathering the account information to begin with. It also doesn’t custody or control users’ NFTs.

In any case, the judge said it made sense to consider NFTs property. There is a clear distinction to be made here — Pelling did not say NFTs are property. In ruling that Osbourne could proceed against the alleged attackers, he simply said it makes sense to consider them as such.

…The bigger issue — what’s missing from the discussion — is that there is no law or ruling anywhere that links NFTs to their underlying assets. Owning an NFT doesn’t automatically convey copyright, usage rights, moral rights, or any other rights whatsoever. All of that has to be spelled out separately in a written contract. Nothing about this case in the UK changes any of that.

«

The distinction between the token (an entry on a blockchain) and the asset (the JPEG) is important here. You can certainly claim ownership of the token. But what that means about the asset, nobody is yet clear. Subtle point.
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EU officially bans sale of ICE vehicles from 2035, but that’s still way too late • Electrek

Jennifer Mossalgue:

»

The timetable is set to endorse a 55% reduction in CO2 from automobiles in 2030 compared with 2021 – this is an increase from the 37.5% CO2 reduction required of automakers initially set last year.

Attempts to dilute the measure by the conservative European People’s Party to allow the sale of hybrid cars were pushed back, but so was an attempt by the Green Party to push the measure up to 2030. The German auto association VDA also pushed for moving the 2035 target, which they argued penalized alternative low-carbon fuels and was just too early of a timeline to commit to considering the uncertainty of charging infrastructure.

However, the negotiations are not yet over, with a final phase of negotiations set to take place between the EU Parliament and Council to further define the positions of each of the 27 member states, in addition to factoring in special exemptions for small manufacturers.

Pollution-wise, this will obviously make a good dent. The EU is already the world’s third-largest polluter, and cars and trucks account for about a fifth of EU CO2 emissions, with passenger cars making up 61% of total CO2 emissions from EU roads. And of course, the proposal is only part of the EU’s broader climate policies to reduce emissions by 55% by 2030 from 1990 levels, and will require radical reductions from not only transport but industry and energy sectors.

However, the proposal only concerns new cars and not the second-hand market, meaning that a brand-new gas guzzler bought in 2034 will still be legal to drive in 2035 and onward. Still, given the life cycle of most cars is about 15 years or so, we can expect them to be off the roads completely by 2050. That feels awfully far away.

«

Your move, Mr Biden. He’s offered a “goal” of 50% of new US vehicles being electric by 2030. But look, they’d stop complaining about fuel prices, right?
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Meta will stop making Portal for consumers • The Verge

Jacob Kastrenakes and Alex Heath:

»

Meta plans to stop making consumer versions of its Portal video calling hardware and instead pivot the product line to focus on use cases for businesses, like conference calling.

The change in strategy, first reported by The Information and confirmed to The Verge by a source familiar with the matter, comes as Meta is reassessing its ambitious hardware plans against investor concerns about the billions of dollars it’s spending on projects that have yet to pay off financially. A spokesperson for Meta declined to comment.

The Portal line debuted in 2018 with two displays meant as dedicated video calling stations. They also supported apps for activities like listening to music on Spotify and streaming videos on the Food Network. But the displays had limited functionality, and their connection to Facebook — which was dealing with the fallout from the Cambridge Analytica scandal — didn’t offer a lot of assurance as to the safety of inviting a connected camera into your home.

New versions have been released in the time since, including the portable Portal Go, but the device never became a huge hit.

«

Four years is not a long time in the life of hardware – only really time enough for a couple of serious revisions – and the abrupt abandonment strikes me as odd, really. The pivot to business only makes sense if you start to think that Meta is increasingly seeing its future as providing services to business through VR helmets to access the metaverse for business meetings, where some unfortunates don’t have the helmets and so have to experience it, poor things, through a video screen.
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Meta scrutinizing Sheryl Sandberg’s use of Facebook resources over several years • WSJ

Deepa Seetharaman and Emily Glazer:

»

The lawyers investigating Facebook operating chief Sheryl Sandberg’s use of corporate resources are examining behaviour going back several years, said people familiar with the matter, focusing on the extent to which staffers worked on her personal projects.

A number of employees have been interviewed as part of the investigation by Facebook parent Meta Platforms, the people said, adding that the review has been under way since at least last fall.

It includes an examination of the work Facebook employees did to support her foundation, Lean In, which advocates for women in the workplace, as well as the writing and promotion of her second book “Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy,” which focused on her grieving process following the sudden death of her husband, SurveyMonkey CEO Dave Goldberg, in 2015, the people said.

The Wall Street Journal previously reported that the investigation included a review of Ms. Sandberg’s use of corporate resources to help plan her coming wedding. That is a small piece of the investigation, according to the people familiar with the matter, who said it involves a broader review of Ms. Sandberg’s personal use of Facebook’s resources over many years.

«

It would probably be quicker to count the number of corporate executives who haven’t used corporate resources for personal advancement, but fine: seems like Sandberg has fallen into the grasp that used to welcome downcast Soviet generals, who would suddenly find that all those things which were perfectly fine when they were on top were actually heinous crimes.
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Clubhouse app’s executives leave company • Protocol

Sarah Roach:

»

Several Clubhouse executives have headed for the exit recently. In late April, Stephanie Simon left as the company’s head of Brand Evangelism and Development. Simon joined Clubhouse just a couple of months after launch in 2020. Then this week, three more leaders announced their resignations, including Nina Gregory, Aarthi Ramamurthy and Anu Atluru; the trio led News, International and Community, respectively.

“Clubhouse wouldn’t be where it is today without them,” a spokesperson told Protocol of the departed executives. “We’re immensely grateful for everything they have done and we know that they’ll do great things in the future.”

Ramamurthy’s departure is particularly notable. She’s married to Sriram Krishnan, a partner for a16z, a major Clubhouse investor. The pair used to host the “The Good Time Show” on Clubhouse, but they’ve recently turned to broadcasting it live on YouTube instead. Ramamurthy and other departed leaders did not return requests for comment.

Atluru’s exodus is also eyebrow-raising, as she was one of Clubhouse’s earliest employees. She was an investor in the app’s series A round, and more recently provided seed funding to the buzzy social media platform BeReal. Gregory came to Clubhouse from NPR, where she was a senior editor on its arts desk.

The social audio platform has been struggling for some time, and the departures are another sign that Clubhouse is in trouble — but they’re hardly the only one. The platform is also struggling to hold an audience. Between Jan. 1 and May 31, Clubhouse saw 3.8 million installs globally compared to 19 million installs during the same period last year, according to SensorTower data. That’s an 80% drop year-over-year.

«

Would love to know the usage data. And the a16z partner and wife giving up and going to YouTube is the ultimate tell: they’re abandoning ship. One gets the feeling Clubhouse is going to be the answer to a pub quiz question in a year or two.
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• Why do social networks drive us a little mad?
• Why does angry content seem to dominate what we see?
• How much of a role do algorithms play in affecting what we see and do online?
• What can we do about it?
• Did Facebook have any inkling of what was coming in Myanmar in 2016?

Read Social Warming, my latest book, and find answers – and more.


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1814: Instagram’s Iran failings, US rolls toward antitrust, cars v pedestrians, the impending food crisis, and more


The iPad Pro may be getting more resizable windows in Apple’s WWDC update next week. How close to a Mac will it get? CC-licensed photo by HS You 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. Jubilee-fuelled. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.


Operational note: The Overspill will be taking a one-week break next week. We’re confident nothing important will happen.


Human survival is a policy choice • Pasteurs’ Cube

Peter Wildeford:

»

Toby Ord, a senior research fellow at Oxford University and a guy who has the bleak job of thinking full-time on how life on Earth might perish, wrote a book The Precipice which outlines just that. According to his research, the next 100 years look like this:

That’s a 5 in 6 chance we make it through as a species, but a 1 in 6 chance that some new technology or other issue does us in. This may sound hard to believe, but given the phenomenal stakes, surely it is worth investing more in looking into? Not just COVID and future pandemics, but also nuclear war, artificial intelligence[4], and unknown unknowns.

You can quibble some with the specific numbers that Ord gives (I certainly do), but the point still stands. Whether it is “1 in 6” or “1 in 10”, it is still uncomortably high risk. We should do what we can to mitigate that.

For example, Ord points out that “the international body responsible for the continued prohibition of bioweapons has an annual budget of just $1.4 million – less than the average McDonald’s restaurant.” Seems like they should have more funding?

But the good news is that progress is possible:
• Via Operation Warp Speed, we produced several safe and effective COVID vaccines in just a year, and then quickly we manufactured and delivered those vaccines at scale
• NASA has met its goal of tracking 90% of near-earth asteroids larger than 1 kilometre in diameter
• Thanks to rapidly declining solar power prices, more electric vehicles, a shift from coal to natural gas, and other important international policy initiatives, we are successfully averting the most dire climate change scenarios (like +4C/+7F) and holding ourselves closer to +2C/+3.5F
• Thanks to international arms control agreements, we have moved from a height of over 63,000 nuclear weapons in the 1980s to under 14,000 nuclear weapons today
• There’s been progress on a pan-coronavirus vaccine that could protect us from a wide variety of coronaviruses, not just COVID-19, and not just coranaviruses we already know about.

We need much more than this! But progress is possible and I’m optimistic we can push for more progress.

«

Optimism! In short supply, but here at The Overspill we’re always trying to mine the seams we find.
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How Instagram is failing protesters in Iran • Slate

Mahsa Alimardani:

»

At one point, Telegram was the main communication tool during protests. But in May 2018, the app was censored by Iranian authorities. Now, Instagram is Iran’s most popular and only uncensored foreign social media platform. (It’s the second most used app after WhatsApp.) And in recent weeks, it’s begun taking down footage of protests and related content, apparently because of a policy change on not administering exceptions in reaction to the backlash against Meta’s content moderation policies at the start of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

On May 12, reports started to surface that users posting about the protests in Persian were experiencing mass takedowns. The affected Instagram accounts included one of the biggest protest documentation networks, the 1500Tasvir collective, and even in one case the diaspora Persian language media outlet Iran International.

All of the content removed appeared to have one thing in common: either a caption or audio included the common dissident protest slogan “Death to the Dictator,” reframed to include Iran’s du jour cadre of dictators including: “Death to Khamenei” (the current supreme leader); “Death to Raisi” (the current president) and “Death to the Revolutionary Guards/Basij” (the paramilitary forces responsible for violent repression of protest and dissent).

To Western observers, it might seem obvious that “Death to” a person would violate content guidelines against calling for violence. But in the Iranian context, “death to the dictator” has long been a symbolic slogan of dissent against Iran’s theocratic authoritarian system, rather than a call for actual death. At one point, Meta—Instagram’s parent company—understood this. During the July 2021 protests, after much reporting and discussion, Facebook created a “death to Khamenei” temporary exception to content moderation guidelines. Now, almost a year later, the same problem has emerged, only the scale of the protests have expanded and Meta is no longer abiding by that exception.

«

The thing I find odd about Instagram is that you can’t make a post go viral: there’s no “retweet” function, though you can take a Post and put it in a Story. (But you can’t take part of a Story and put it in a Post.. right?) Which means that virality is mediated entirely through popular accounts, or by the Explore tab. Which means that as a means for getting your political message out, it’s substantially limited.
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Alito seems cool now with the godfather of anti-tech antitrust • Protocol

Ben Brody:

»

In a dissent released Tuesday, [US Supreme Court justice Samuel] Alito wrote for himself and two of his fellow conservatives that he would let a Texas law proceed during an appeal. The law in question punishes big social media companies for their treatment of particular viewpoints in a way that most scholars think violates those corporations’ free speech rights. A majority of the Court blocked the law.

But Alito also was clear to refer to “the power of dominant social media corporations” and gave a shoutout to Justice Louis Brandeis, the progressive icon of the early 20th century. That framing of the might of services like Facebook, and the approving reference to a jurist who’s more or less the patron saint of the hipster antitrust movement, suggested to some that a bloc of Supreme Court conservatives may be sympathetic to the strange-bedfellows push to beat back the companies through antitrust enforcement.

“We have no doubt that champagne bottles were being popped at the law firm of Wu, Khan and Kanter,” Blair Levin and Matt Perault wrote in a research note, referring to three high-profile competition-law reformers in the administration.

Lina Khan, the chair of Federal Trade Commission, is pursuing the agency’s competition case against Meta, while Jonathan Kanter heads up the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division, which is pursuing a lawsuit against Google. Both are expected to go through lengthy appeals — or even potentially end up before the Supreme Court — and both have fans among certain prominent Republicans who view antitrust enforcement as a way to punish Big Tech for how it handles right-wing speech.

«

Alito is making it up as he goes along. There’s absolutely no justification under the US Constitution, in any reasonable reading of the First Amendment, that supports the Texas law. (That basically tells social media companies they have to leave any content up, which is in opposition both to Section 230 – letting platforms choose what to leave up – and the First Amendment, because it’s the government telling a private company what to “print”.) That’s a terrible choice for “hey, this guy supports our antitrust position!”
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When cars kill pedestrians • The New Yorker

Danyoung Kim:

»

As the historian Peter Norton writes in his book “Fighting Traffic,” starting in the 1920s, the National Automobile Chamber of Commerce, the leading lobbying group for car manufacturers, persuaded editors to publish its pseudo-statistical “news reports” on car crashes, which spread the idea that “jaywalkers”—a pejorative for people from rural areas who didn’t know how to navigate city streets—were responsible for their own injuries and deaths. Auto clubs sponsored street shows in which jaywalkers were lampooned by clowns and convicted in mock trials held by children.

This industry campaign helped to bring about what Norton calls a “social reconstruction of the street,” in which pedestrians were taught to accommodate cars, not the other way around. A new school of urban designers, called highway engineers, refashioned cities to push pedestrians and cyclists further to the margins. Meanwhile, media coverage of car crashes grew less critical of drivers, and a sense of fatalism began to envelop the consequences of traffic collisions, which are typically called “accidents,” suggesting that no one is to blame and nothing can be changed. (Plane crashes are not described in the same way.)

By century’s end, cars had grown progressively larger, better insulated from the feedback of the surrounding environment, and safer for the people inside them. Those on the outside were less lucky. The US automotive lobby resisted regulations enacted in Europe that made cars and trucks less lethal, and, by 2018, the number of pedestrian and cyclist deaths per kilometre in the United States was more than four times higher than in the UK, Germany, the Netherlands, and Denmark. Among the most vulnerable are older adults, who in 2020 made up 20% of killed pedestrians, and people who live in low-income neighborhoods where there has been little investment in safe road design.

Between 2010 and 2019, as the number of US drivers or passengers who died in collisions held fairly steady, deaths of those on bikes rose 36%, and deaths of those on foot nearly doubled.

«

The, ahem, killer comment:

»

“Nobody ever looks at the car as a weapon,” [journalist Aaron] Naparstek said. “The basic rule that I discovered over the years is if you ever want to murder someone in New York City, do it with a car.”

«

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Apple plans to make the iPad more like a laptop and less like a phone • Bloomberg via Mercury News

Mark Gurman:

»

Apple will announce significant changes to the iPad’s software next week at its annual Worldwide Developers Conference, according to people with knowledge of the matter, part of a push to make the device more like a laptop and less like a phone.

The iPad’s next major software update, iPadOS 16, will have a redesigned multitasking interface that makes it easier to see what apps are open and switch between tasks, said the people, who asked not to be identified because the changes aren’t yet public. It also will let users resize app windows and offer new ways for users to handle multiple apps at once.

The iPad accounts for nearly 9% of annual Apple’s sales, and that percentage has inched up in recent years. But professional users of the device have clamored for an interface that feels more like a laptop experience. The iPad’s hardware, which now includes the same M1 chip as some of Apple’s laptops, has grown increasingly powerful, and in some ways the software hasn’t kept up.

A spokesperson for the Cupertino, California-based company declined to comment.

The new iPad interface will be one of the biggest upgrades announced at the conference, which will also include software updates for the iPhone, Mac, Apple Watch and Apple TV. The tech giant holds the conference each year to show off new features and device enhancements that developers can harness with their apps.

Currently, iPad users can either run apps in a full-screen view like on an iPhone or run two apps side by side. The company also lets users add a scaled-down version of a third app by sliding it over from the side. The changes will expand upon that interface.

«

The question of how much (more) an iPad should be like a Mac has troubled, well, everyone for quite a few years now. There’s been piecemeal movement to give it more laptop-like capability, but resizable overlapping windows à la Macintosh would be the next step. There has to come a point when you ask what the difference is.
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Britain is one shock away from a food crisis, experts warn • Daily Telegraph

Harriet Barber is the Telegraph’s “global health security reporter”, which is a title I’d never heard before:

»

In the past three years, food prices in the UK have been shaken by Covid, Brexit and now Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The impact on food is already being felt by people across the country.

Almost one in 20 British households said one of their family members went a whole day without eating in the past month, because they couldn’t afford or get access to food. In April 2022, 13.8% of households experienced moderate or severe food insecurity, a five percentage point increase on January 2022, according to analysis by the Food Foundation.

Emma, a mother of three from Kent, and who works three jobs, told BBC Radio 4 on Tuesday that she had not eaten three meals a day for months because she wanted to make sure she could afford food for her children.

The most recent blow has been Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The two countries together accounted for 29% of international wheat annual sales, while Ukraine grew enough food for 400 million people. Russia is also a major fertiliser exporter, and the surge in its pricing – linked to a surge in the price of gas – has impacted British farmers.

“George Eustice, the UK Secretary of State for Defra, said we don’t need to worry about Ukraine. I don’t know what on earth is going on in Defra for the Secretary of State in charge of food supply to be so inaccurate and inappropriate,” Prof [Tim] Lang [emeritus professor of food policy at the University of London] said. “Ukraine has rocketed world food prices, oil and fertiliser prices, grain and edible oil prices.”

«

The interview with Emma was shocking: a portrait of a mother trying to keep her children fed, at the expense of herself.
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Tim Hortons app tracked too much personal information without adequate consent, investigation finds • CBC News

Nojoud Al Mellees:

»

The [Canadian] federal privacy commissioner’s investigation into the Tim Hortons mobile app found that the app unnecessarily collected extensive amounts of data without obtaining adequate consent from users.

The commissioner’s report, which was published Wednesday morning, states that Tim Hortons collected granular location data for the purpose of targeted advertising and the promotion of its products, but that the company never used the data for those purposes.

“The consequences associated with the App’s collection of that data, the vast majority of which was collected when the App was not in use, represented a loss of Users’ privacy that was not proportional to the potential benefits Tim Hortons may have hoped to gain from improved targeted promotion of its coffee and associated products,” the report read.

The joint investigation was launched about two years ago by the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada in conjunction with similar authorities in British Columbia, Quebec and Alberta. It came after reporting from the Financial Post found that the Tim Hortons app tracked users’ geolocation while users were not using the app.

According to a presentation to investors shared in May, the restaurant chain’s app has four million active users.

«

Unsurprisingly, this was all because Hortons was using a third-party framework (called Radar) to do the location tracking, and that framework was very eager to collect the maximum possible location data (of course, to sell on). It seems a little unfair, though, that Hortons takes all the flak when the third party is just as, or arguably more, responsible.
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Federal Reserve report shows who’s actually using crypto and how • Reason

Andrew O’Sullivan:

»

Every year, the Fed puts out a publication called the Survey of Household Economics and Decisionmaking. Since 2013, it has collected survey responses from American families about their finances, job situations, and abilities to cover unexpected expenses.

The report for 2021, “Economic Well-Being of U.S. Households in 2021,” was just released in May. For the first time, the Fed included questions about cryptocurrency in the survey. The responses from the 11,874 participants of all ages, incomes, ethnicities, and educational levels show that depending on your state of life, you might be using digital currency in very different ways.

The new data on cryptocurrency usage is on page 46 of the report. First, it finds that 12% of participants, a little over 1,400, held or used cryptocurrency at some point over the previous year. If that extrapolates to the general American population, that suggests that almost 40 million Americans were involved in cryptocurrency last year.

This is in line with other estimates of American cryptocurrency usage; in 2021, for instance, the Pew Research Center reported that around 16% of Americans, or 53 million, had ever bought or held cryptocurrency. That these two estimates are so close suggests that Americans may be becoming more comfortable with cryptocurrency, since the Fed report only examined activities over the previous year.

Most of the participants who said they used cryptocurrency in 2021 did so as an investment. Some 11% of the survey participants reported such, then 3% reported using it as a payment mechanism. Then, 2% said they used cryptocurrency to purchase goods or services, while another 1% said they used it to send money to friends and family. Note that these numbers overlap—some people who used bitcoin as an investment also used it to transact.

«

Those who transacted tend to be low income – possibly foreign remittances – and unbanked.
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Bank of England to take over collapsed stablecoin cryptocurrencies • Daily Telegraph

James Titcomb:

»

The Bank of England will take over collapsed “stablecoin” companies to prevent a cryptocurrency crash hitting financial stability, under Treasury plans.

Stablecoin issuers would be placed into special administration by the Bank to protect consumers if they fail, a Government consultation said on Tuesday.

The proposals would mean companies offering stablecoins, cryptocurrencies designed to hold their value, would fall under similar rules as banks and other systemic institutions.

The Treasury plans to recognise stablecoins as a legal form of payment under efforts to make Britain a “crypto hub”.

Stablecoins’ backers say they offer potentially faster and more efficient payments than existing systems, but their rise has come under new scrutiny due to the collapse of Terra, a stablecoin designed to be linked to the dollar whose value collapsed in May.

The consultation proposed that the Bank would have the power to direct administrators for systemic “digital settlement asset” firms under the Financial Market Infrastructure Special Administration Regime.

This is more strict than the regime for payments companies, and requires administrators to pursue continued operations “ahead of the interests of its creditors” while giving the Bank of England “powers of direction and oversight over the administrator”.

«

Quite the quid pro quo: stablecoins would have to be stable, which means all the wild swings in value would be obviated; but they’d be “safe” as a normal bank account (probably with the same limits on rescue, ie £30,000). Is this good or bad? It’s good for the normal person, but bad for the speculators. So, good.
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Netflix cracks down on password sharing, but early efforts in Peru are a mess • Rest of World

Jimena Ledgard and Andrew Deck:

»

Rest of World spoke to over a dozen Netflix consumers in Peru, many of whom say that more than two months after the policy [to prevent password sharing among non-households] was first announced, they have not received uniform messaging around the new charges nor do they seem to be subject to the same policies.

For some, the price increase has been enough to convince them to cancel their Netflix accounts outright. Others continue to share their accounts across households without any notification of the policy change or have ignored the new rule without facing enforcement. Overall, the lack of clarity around how Netflix determines a “household” and inconsistent levying of the new charges on different customers have left subscribers in the trial confused, risking action from consumer regulators.

The varied user experiences with notifications and charges suggest Netflix may be testing different versions of the rollout on different customers or has not fully defined the terms of the policy. “They may end up causing issues with their so-far loosely inferred definition of a household,” said Isabelle Charney, a researcher for Ampere Analysis.

«

Christina Warren had a thread musing on this story: the big problem is, how do you define a “household”? Two people who are always on the same IP? What if one is in the house but on mobile? What about when they’re on a train? Or in a hotel? How on earth do you define “household” in a world where we’re connected in so many ways in different places at different times, yet it’s the same “us”?
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• Why do social networks drive us a little mad?
• Why does angry content seem to dominate what we see?
• How much of a role do algorithms play in affecting what we see and do online?
• What can we do about it?
• Did Facebook have any inkling of what was coming in Myanmar in 2016?

Read Social Warming, my latest book, and find answers – and more.


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1813: the weird world of crypto stans, Iran reaches nuclear capability, the alarms ignored before Uvalde, and more


After 14 years, Sheryl Sandberg is leaving Facebook. Insiders say she’d been losing influence for a long time. What’s next? CC-licensed photo by TechCrunch50-2008TechCrunch50-2008 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. Leaning sideways. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.


Sheryl Sandberg leaves Facebook. She’d been losing power for months • Business Insider

Kali Hays and Claire Atkinson:

»

When Facebook became Meta Platforms last year and shifted its focus to the metaverse, Sheryl Sandberg, the number 2 executive, had little involvement in what was the largest strategy change in the company’s history.

Sandberg’s absence raised eyebrows internally, given CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s intense focus on this new path. If this was where Zuckerberg was heading, why was his closest executive confidant so detached from the project?

…She’s been infrequent on group calls, too, or quieter than she once was. And with Zuckerberg’s extensive traveling during the pandemic, the two have been rarely seen together at the office, according to these people. Some even wondered in recent months whether the two executives had stopped their hours-long meeting every Friday – a staple of their leadership over the past decade or more.

“My sense has been Sheryl is checked out,” one investor in the company for many years said.

Another former high-ranking Facebook employee said her exit has been a long time coming, “At this point, it’s literally more surprising that she was still there than she’s leaving,” the person said.

Although her exit is being publicly described by the company as a resignation on her part, another manager-level employee was adamant she had been asked to leave. “I did not expect her to be fired,” the person said.

Another agreed, saying her exit has been in the works for months, noting this is likely why she has been noticeably less present on major company endeavors. This person also said her public missteps of recent years at some point became too much of a negative risk for the company. From her arguments that the Jan. 6 insurrection in the US Capitol was not organized on Facebook to a recent report that she successfully and directly pressured The Daily Mail to drop a story on her then boyfriend Activision founder Bobby Kotick.

“She kept saying stupid shit in public that made the company look bad,” a company director who left recently said. “Everyone has been wondering when she’s leaving.”

«

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They used my identity to flog a doomed cryptocurrency – and then things got weird • The Guardian

Alex Hern found his name being used to promote a “shitcoin” of no value or use; when he pointed this out in the Telegram channel, its hyped value collapsed :

»

Shortly after the collapse, I got an email I wasn’t expecting – from the ProtonMail account that had pretended to be me. I’d emailed over some questions, but wasn’t expecting a reply. What do you say to the person whose identity you stole?

The answer, it seems, is “a marketing pitch”. The developer told me that “the community has passed a critical part of this experiment … We follow your work and writings and are sorry if anyone took that as you were behind the coin. The main thing is you were reached through the block chain only. It’s not in anyway a scam.”

I asked how they could deny trying to scam people into thinking I was involved. They said they’d intended “Guardian” to be taken in the sense that they were the Guardians of the project. “I also follow your work closely so the names went well together … I never said you were involved. I guess it’s like Mickey@waltdisney.com vs Mickey@protonmail. Is mickey@protonmail a scammer if he builds a theme park? We don’t know.”

I thought the impasse was just the natural result of me speaking to a brazen huckster, but the more I asked around, the more it became clear that this was more like two people speaking at cross purposes. The still anonymous devs are sincere that they aren’t scamming anyone, because the meaning of “scam” in the world of shitcoins is necessarily narrow. When the base expectation is that every coin will crash at some point, and none of them have any real value beyond marketing puff and community momentum, how can simply lying about who backs a coin really be a meaningful scam?

To the dev, my accusation that they were scamming people was a serious charge. It implied that they had hidden code in the coin that would allow them to take people’s money in a way outside the rules of the game – perhaps by suddenly printing millions of tokens to flood the market, or locking it up to prevent anyone else from selling. By contrast, spreading falsehoods about who’s backing the token is well within the rules of the game.

«

That, however, wasn’t the end of the story by any means. Things then got Life Of Brian-style weird.

Anyway, it’s totally the future of the internet.
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Former OpenSea employee arrested, charged with NFT insider trading • NBC News

Kevin Collier:

»

A former senior employee at the internet’s largest NFT trading platform has been arrested and named in the government’s first case alleging insider trading of digital assets, the Justice Department said Wednesday.

Nate Chastain, the former head of product at New York-based OpenSea, is accused of buying NFTs soon before the company planned to feature them on its homepage, profiting from their exposure and his company’s apparent endorsement, according to the Justice Department.

NFTs, short for nonfungible tokens, are digital assets rooted in the same basic technology as cryptocurrencies, and provide a way to prove digital ownership. Popularity of NFT artwork exploded during the pandemic, creating an estimated $40 billion market last year.

Charging documents allege that Chastain laundered at least 45 NFTs in 2021, each time selling them for two to five times what he had just paid for them.

An OpenSea spokesperson said the company had investigated Chastain over the incidents “and ultimately asked him to leave the company.”

«

Totally the future of the internet.
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Tech experts urge Washington to resist crypto industry’s influence • Financial Times

Scott Chipolina:

»

Harvard lecturer Bruce Schneier, former Microsoft engineer Miguel de Icaza and principal engineer at Google Cloud Kelsey Hightower, are among 26 leading computer scientists and academics who have signed a letter delivered to US lawmakers heavily criticising crypto investments and blockchain technology.

While individuals have made similar warnings about the safety and reliability of digital assets, it marks a more organised effort to challenge the growing influence of crypto advocates who want to resist attempts to regulate the frothy sector.

“The claims that the blockchain advocates make are not true,” said Schneier. “It’s not secure, it’s not decentralised. Any system where you forget your password and you lose your life savings is not a safe system,” he added.

“We’re counter-lobbying, that’s what this letter is about,” said signatory and software developer Stephen Diehl. “The crypto industry has its people, they say what they want to the politicians.”

A recent analysis of the US Congressional Lobbying Disclosure database by Public Citizen, a consumer advocacy group, revealed the number of lobbyists representing the crypto industry increased from 115 to 320 between 2018 and 2021, and the money spent on lobbying for the crypto sector quadrupled from $2.2m to $9m in the same period.

…The industry’s advocates claim cryptocurrencies provide the answer to a series of macroeconomic problems facing society, from providing banking services to millions worldwide without access to traditional financial institutions, protecting financial privacy and giving those beset by inflation an opportunity to store wealth.

But in the letter seen by the Financial Times, the technologists write: “We urge you to resist pressure from digital asset industry financiers, lobbyists and boosters to create a regulatory safe haven for these risky, flawed and unproven digital financial instruments.”

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Bear in mind that the 26 scientists aren’t getting VC money, or being paid, and won’t get rich from either outcome.
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Iran has enough uranium to build an atomic bomb, UN agency says • NBC News

Dan de Luce:

»

Iran has accumulated enough enriched uranium to build a nuclear bomb, according to new findings from the United Nations atomic agency.

The International Atomic Energy Agency also said in a separate report that Iran has failed to provide credible explanations about nuclear material found at several sites in recent years, raising questions about the nature of its nuclear work.

The IAEA’s two reports could set the stage for a showdown at a meeting next week of its 35-nation board of governors, as Iran has demanded the watchdog wrap up its probe into uranium particles found at three undeclared locations in the country since 2019.

The UN nuclear watchdog said that Iran’s stockpile of uranium enriched to 60% had grown to 43.3kg (95lb), which represented an increase of nearly 10kg (22lb) compared to three months ago.

Experts said that the stockpile would provide roughly enough material for an atomic bomb if Iran took the additional step of enriching the uranium to 90% purity. Moving from 60% to 90% would not pose a technical challenge for Iran, according to arms control experts.

“Iran has now accumulated enough enriched uranium to be able to quickly produce more than a significant quantity of HEU (highly enriched uranium) for one bomb,” said Daryl Kimball of the Arms Control Association think tank. “The time it would take them to do that can now be measured in days, not months or weeks.”

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So Trump’s brilliant plan to end the JCPOA and reimpose economic sanctions didn’t work at all. Wonder if this will attract an Israeli air strike, as it previously did on a Iranian nuclear facility in June 1981. (Apparently they’re just practising at the moment. Very Top Gun Maverick.)
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Before Uvalde, a platform fails to answer kids’ alarms • Platformer

Casey Newton:

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Aside from a handful of private messages, the Uvalde shooter appears not to have much used Facebook. That and Instagram were once the default platforms for making threats like these, but new platforms are growing in popularity with young people. The Uvalde shooter liked one called Yubo, created by a French company called Twelve App. It’s a “live chilling” app similar to Houseparty, the app that Meerkat became after helping to launch the live-streaming craze in the United States in 2015.

It’s also apparently quite popular, with more than 18 million downloads in the United States alone, according to the market research firm Sensor Tower.

Like Houseparty, Yubo lets users broadcast themselves live to a small group of friends. The twist is that Yubo focuses on making new friends — finding people with similar interests and letting them chat. Particularly young people. “Yubo is a social live-streaming platform that celebrates the true essence of being young,” the company says. (Perhaps for that reason, its seems to have attracted more than its share of older men and their unwanted sexual advances.)

In the days after the massacre, reporters discovered that Yubo appears to have been the shooter’s primary social app. He used it, among other things, to threaten rape — and school shootings.

…Yubo told the network [CNN] that it is cooperating with the investigation, but declined to offer any details on why the shooter was able to remain on the platform despite having been reported for making threats over and over again.

It can seem shocking that a person who repeatedly makes violent threats, and is reported for doing so to the platform, fails to see any consequences. And yet for years now, children have been telling us that this is a regular occurrence for them.

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Newton’s key point is that children say that again and again, they report people for breaking the rules; again and again, those people quickly appear back online. So what’s the point of the reporting tools? Yubo may find itself in some hot water.
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We can upgrade Brexit and ease the cost of living by going back to the Single Market • Politics Home

Tobias Ellwood was a government minister from 2017 to 2019:

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Political distance from Brussels has been achieved. This is not up for question. However, economically speaking, there is vast room for improvement. The OBR calculates, in its current form, that Brexit is reducing our GDP by 4%. This compares to around 1.5% caused by Covid.

Put another way: our exports to Europe have shrunk by £20bn. From the fishers who can no longer sell their Scottish salmon, to the farmers undercut by unchecked imports, to Cheshire cheesemakers running into £180 health certificates, even to the City which can no longer sell financial services to Europe, sector after sector is being strangled by the red tape we were supposed to escape from.

Total business investment across the entire United Kingdom economy stalled after 2016 and is 10% down on 2019. European Union workers are turning their backs on the UK, leaving vital gaps in our workforce. Low investment means lower growth. No wonder the IMF forecasts growth for 2023 as half the advanced economy average. 

And then there’s the unresolved issue of the Irish border. Current plans to bin the Northern Ireland Protocol could trigger a trade war with the EU (causing further economic harm) and is alienating the United States, our closest security ally.

As a recent YouGov poll indicates, this is not the Brexit most people imagined, with the majority believing Brexit has gone badly. There is appetite to make improvements – not U-turns but course corrections.

In a nutshell, all these challenges would disappear if we dare to advance our Brexit model by re-joining the EU single market (the Norway model). Leaving this aspect of the EU was not on the ballot paper, nor called for by either the Prime Minister or Nigel Farage during the 2016 referendum. There was, however, much discussion about returning to a “common market,” which is exactly what I propose.

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He also points out that at a stroke this would sort out the row over Northern Ireland’s trade with the EU and UK. Unfortunately he voted to Remain in the EU (Boris Johnson fired him on taking over the party in summer 2019), so this has little chance of being taken seriously by the Tory party. A pity, because it’s eminently sensible. And “upgrade Brexit” is clever wording.
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Missed payments, rising interest rates put ‘buy now, pay later’ to the test • WSJ

AnnaMaria Andriotis and John Stensholt :

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The young industry [of buy now, pay later on zero interest] finds itself in a tricky spot at a time when the economy is slowing and, some fear, headed for a recession. Buy-now-pay-later companies boomed when consumers were flush with cash and buying goods at a feverish pace. How they fare in a downturn, when savings evaporate, spending slows and bad debts mount, is untested. 

To weather the storm, Afterpay and Zip are slowing their new originations. 

“We are putting a real focus on sustainable growth, strong unit economics and, critically, accelerating our pathway to profitability,” said Zip co-founder and Global Chief Operating Officer Peter Gray.

Klarna last week said it plans to lay off about 10% of its staff. It also has tightened lending standards “to reflect this evolving market context,” a spokeswoman said.

Affirm Chief Executive Max Levchin has sounded a more upbeat note. Buy-now-pay-later plans like Affirm that don’t charge late fees will be in greater demand during a downturn, he said on an earnings call in May. “It is our mission to improve people’s lives, and we will be prepared to meet this demand—but again—our approach is only to extend credit that we believe can and will be repaid,” he said.

The buy-now-pay-later business took off in a post-financial-crisis world of cheap funding and low delinquencies.

They rely less on—and in some cases bypass altogether—traditional credit scores and reports. That makes them appealing to people with limited savings and low credit scores. Subprime consumers accounted for about 43% of shoppers who applied for payment plans or loans at retailers’ checkout between the fourth quarter of 2019 and 2021, according to credit-reporting firm TransUnion, though they only made up about 15% of the US adult population.

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Ranjan Roy, who takes turns writing the Margins Substack with Can Duruk, likes to talk about the Age Of ZIRP – the latter acronym standing for “zero interest rate policy”, which meant lots of cash chasing any sort of return because there was none to be had in the bank. BNPL companies strike me as very much Age Of ZIRP businesses. But that time has gone. Questionable how well they can survive.
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I have a great Wordle start word – it’s just a bit rude • The Irish Times

Róisín Ingle:

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while I was very late to Wordle, it’s now become a daily ritual that I can’t seem to quit. I resisted for ages, until a dyslexic friend of mine started sending me her results on WhatsApp delighted with herself. Her joy at being able to complete the word puzzle despite her dyslexia was infectious and now most mornings start with our little exchange of Wordle results.

…So chances are you probably know all you will ever need to know about Wordle but, hang on a minute, do you know about the Marian Keyes Method (MKM)? If you are a twitter user, you may well know about this method which was invented (patent pending) by best-selling author Marian Keyes. But something us media people tend to forget or wilfully ignore is that not everybody is on twitter, so it’s reasonable to assume many of you will not know about the MKM.

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Keyes is a wonderful person, and this is a wonderful read. Even if you’ve given up on Wordle, or don’t play it, or do play it, this should lift your day. (Thanks Niall for the link.)
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• Why do social networks drive us a little mad?
• Why does angry content seem to dominate what we see?
• How much of a role do algorithms play in affecting what we see and do online?
• What can we do about it?
• Did Facebook have any inkling of what was coming in Myanmar in 2016?

Read Social Warming, my latest book, and find answers – and more.


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified