Start Up No.1217: Sonos sues Google, Facebook’s internal 2020 memo, firefighting disinformation about Australia, Travelex held to ransom, and more


Monitor cutting out? These could be to blame. Honestly. CC-licensed photo by Daniel Foster on Flickr.

A selection of 11 links for you. Not still out of office? I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Lord of the Rings, 2020 and stuffed Oreos: read the Andrew Bosworth memo • The New York Times

Kevin Roose, Sheera Frenkel and Mike Isaac got their hands on an internal Facebook memo written by Andrew Bosworth, effectively the alternative mind of Zuckerberg:

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The focus on filter bubbles causes people to miss the real disaster which is polarization. What happens when you see 26% more content from people you don’t agree with? Does it help you empathize with them as everyone has been suggesting? Nope. It makes you dislike them even more. This is also easy to prove with a thought experiment: whatever your political leaning, think of a publication from the other side that you despise. When you read an article from that outlet, perhaps shared by an uncle or nephew, does it make you rethink your values? Or does it make you retreat further into the conviction of your own correctness? If you answered the former, congratulations you are a better person than I am. Every time I read something from Breitbart I get 10% more liberal.

What does all of this say about the nature of the algorithmic rewards? Everyone points to top 0.1% content as being acutely polarized but how steep are the curves? What does the top 1% or 5% look like? And what is the real reach across those curves when compared to other content? I think the call for algorithmic transparency can sometimes be overblown but being more transparent about this type of data would likely be healthy.

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There’s lots to chew on here: he says that Cambridge Analytica was complete nonsense, and blames the media (somewhat) for getting Facebook’s intentions wrong, but then admits that’s not surprising given how little Facebook reveals.

The US presidential election is going to be uglier than ever, one feels.
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Twitter bots and trolls promote conspiracy theories about Australian bushfires • ZDNet

Stilgherrian :

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As Australia continues to battle bushfires of unprecedented size and ferocity, a social media disinformation campaign is pushing false conspiracy theories about their cause.

Tweets with the hashtag #ArsonEmergency are coming from a “much higher” proportion of bot-like or troll-like accounts than those with more general bushfire-related hashtags such as #BushfireAustralia or #AustraliaFire, according to initial analysis by Dr Timothy Graham from the Queensland University of Technology (QUT).

Graham came to look at #ArsonEmergency because it was being used by some of the more suspicious-looking individual Twitter accounts he’d been tracking.

“They were really focused in particular on climate denial, and The Greens being responsible for the bushfires, and arson attacks being responsible for the bushfires as well,” he told ZDNet on Tuesday.

Those last two are conspiracy theories, he said.

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As the journalist Jason Wilson observed, “When we say Australia now is a vision of the planetary future it means this, also: the use of disinformation to scapegoat and misdirect, and further delay action on climate change.”

(By the way, the bloke’s name really does appear to be “Stilgherrian”.)
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Display intermittently blanking, flickering or losing video signal • DisplayLink Support

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If you find one or more of the DisplayLink connected screens are going blank for about one second, then coming back on, and the windows on the DisplayLink display have not moved to another display, it is probably caused by the monitor losing sync with the video output from the DisplayLink video output. This can be caused by long, or poor quality video cables. Video cables are no different to any other cables in terms of quality. Poor quality cables can cause:
• Signal degradation
• Video flicker
• Video distortion

If you are seeing such an issue please check if swapping your video cable for another resolves the issue. 

Surprisingly, we have also seen this issue connected to gas lift office chairs. When people stand or sit on gas lift chairs, they can generate an EMI [electromagnetic interference] spike which is picked up on the video cables, causing a loss of sync.

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Don’t believe it? There’s a white paper dating from 1993 about it. And a Twitter video.
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Travelex being held to ransom by hackers • BBC News

Joe Tidy:

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Hackers are holding foreign exchange company Travelex to ransom after a cyber-attack forced the firm to turn off all computer systems and resort to using pen and paper.
On New Year’s Eve, hackers launched their attack on the Travelex network.

As a result, the company took down its websites across 30 countries to contain “the virus and protect data”.

A ransomware gang called Sodinokibi has told the BBC it is behind the hack and wants Travelex to pay $6m (£4.6m). The gang, also known as REvil, claims to have gained access to the company’s computer network six months ago and to have downloaded 5GB of sensitive customer data.

Dates of birth, credit card information and national insurance numbers are all in their possession, they say. The hackers said: “In the case of payment, we will delete and will not use that [data]base and restore them the entire network.

“The deadline for doubling the payment is two days. Then another seven days and the sale of the entire base.”

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There is a certain karma about this. Travelex’s extortionate exchange rates and its use of captive markets – it’s all over airports – mean it effectively holds travellers to ransom all the time.
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Sonos, squeezed by the tech giants, sues Google • The New York Times

Jack Nicas and Daisuke Wakabayashi:

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In 2013, Sonos scored a coup when Google agreed to design its music service to work easily with Sonos’s home speakers. For the project, Sonos handed over the effective blueprints to its speakers.

It felt like a harmless move, Sonos executives said. Google was an internet company and didn’t make speakers.

The executives now say they were naïve.

On Tuesday, Sonos sued Google in two federal court systems, seeking financial damages and a ban on the sale of Google’s speakers, smartphones and laptops in the United States. Sonos accused Google of infringing on five of its patents, including technology that lets wireless speakers connect and synchronize with one another.

Sonos’s complaints go beyond patents and Google. Its legal action is the culmination of years of growing dependence on both Google and Amazon, which then used their leverage to squeeze the smaller company, Sonos executives said.

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Google is “disappointed” that Sonos isn’t “continuing negotiations in good faith”. It disputes the claims. Sonos might sue Amazon next over the Echo line. New year, new lawsuits.
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How Trump’s trade war is making lobbyists rich and slamming small businesses • ProPublica

Lydia DePillis:

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Mike Elrod voted for Donald Trump in 2016, hoping for a break from tight government oversight that his business had endured for years, which he often found unreasonable.

“There was a time when every day I dreaded opening the mail,” said Elrod, who founded a small firm in South Carolina called Eccotemp that makes energy-efficient, tankless water heaters. “The Department of Energy would put in an arbitrary rule and then come back the next day and say, ‘You’re not in compliance.’ We had no input into what was changing and when the change was taking place.”

Elrod also thought that big businesses had long been able to buy their way out of problems, either by spending lots of money on compliance or on lobbyists to look for loopholes and apply political pressure. Trump, of course, had promised to address that — to “drain the swamp.”

Elrod is in his mid-60s, tall with a white beard and deliberative drawl. He trusted the president even as Trump started a trade war with China, where Elrod manufactures his heaters. The administration said US companies that could prove they had no other source for their imports and whose business would be gravely injured could be spared the punishing tariffs that Trump was imposing. They would simply have to file for an exemption.

“I had every reason to believe they were talking about us,” Elrod said. Eccotemp had spent 15 years developing different models of tankless heaters with manufacturers in China. Simply finding new factories in other countries seemed impossible.

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Guess what: Mike was totally wrong about the exemption. Now see if you can figure out whether he’s going to vote for Trump again.
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It’s 2020 and PCs are alive and kicking • TechSpot

Bob O’Donnell:

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It’s getting to be a familiar theme. Some of the most interesting announcements from CES 2020 in Las Vegas are focused around PCs. In fact, this year, there are probably more PC developments from a wider variety of vendors than we’ve seen in quite some time. From foldable displays, to 5G, to AI silicon, to sustainable manufacturing, the latest crop of PCs highlights that the category isn’t just far from dead, it’s actually at the cutting edge of everything that’s expected to be a hot topic for this new decade.

On top of that, some of the most important advancements in PC-focused CPUs in a long time have also been announced at the show, promising big leaps in bread-and-butter performance metrics for the coming year as well. In short, it’s a real PC renaissance.

Probably the flashiest new PC from CES is technically one that’s already been hinted at before, but whose final details were just released at the show: Lenovo’s ThinkPad X1 Fold. Leveraging a plastic OLED display from LG Display (similar in concept to what’s used on foldable phones like the Samsung Galaxy Fold and Motorola Razr), the X1 Fold shrinks a 13.3” screen down to a small leather-wrapped portfolio size when it’s folded in half. Unlike the phone displays, however, the X1 Fold supports pen input from the included active stylus.

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*Narrator’s voice* “There was no PC renaissance; in the following years they sold just as before.”

The Lenovo foldable looks horrible; is the idea that it’s a portable monitor that folds out? In which case you need a stand. As a laptop, it doesn’t make sense. Lenovo keeps throwing stuff against the wall, and it keeps sliding off. And even if this stuff did work, the sales would be tiny, and then you’d have the joy of no support when something went wrong.
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Bible lobbyist: we can’t print Bibles in America anymore • Substack

Matt Stoller, in his BIG newsletter:

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These publishers wanted to avoid bibles being subjected to tariffs [imposed by Trump’s administration on imports from China]. Here’s Jantz:

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Chinese printers have developed the technology and the artistry to produce the kinds of bibles people want which is why over 50% of the bibles published by ECPA members are printed in China. In fact, more bibles are printed in China than any other country on earth.

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This isn’t some high tech industry, it’s printing books. It is literally the oldest mass production industry in history, with bible printing dating from the 15th century. And yet, here’s more of what Jantz had to say:

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While there are some domestic printing options available, the U.S. printers, as has been remarked already, that are comparable to China on price and quality do not have the capacity to meet current demand….

The people who buy and read the bible would potentially have to pay a much higher price, perhaps higher than they could justify. Christians depend on the bible for their daily input of spiritual nourishment… Some publishers believe such a tariff would place a practical limitation on religious freedom.

A dramatic increase in the price of the bible, not to mention books that help people better understand the bible, would deter average Americans from getting the guidance and spiritual connectivity they depend on.

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Now of course, the Chinese government is cracking down on the 60 million Christians inside China, with party plans of “retranslating and annotating” the Bible to establish a “correct understanding” of the text. It’s not as well-known as the concentration camps set up for Muslim Uighurs, but it’s quite likely that Chinese Christians are not getting what Jantz calls their “daily input of spiritual nourishment.”

But the point here is not about religious freedom, but about whether we as a society value the ability to produce things. We certainly used to. We could make fantastic airplanes and invent a host of wonderful technologically sophisticated products to improve our lives. And yet today, our book distributors tell us we can’t even print books. There are a lot of reason for that, but the main one is that we have elevated the rights of financiers over the rights of workers, engineers, farmers, artists and businesspeople.

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The 100 worst ed-tech (education technology) debacles of the decade • Hack Education

Audrey Watters:

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For the past ten years, I have written a lengthy year-end series, documenting some of the dominant narratives and trends in education technology. I think it is worthwhile, as the decade draws to a close, to review those stories and to see how much (or how little) things have changed.

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There are ever so many (well, 100 actually..) so I thought I’d just pick one at random:

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93. 3D Printing
3D printing, The Economist pronounced in 2012, was poised to bring about the third industrial revolution. (I know, I know. It’s hard to tell if we’re on the third, the fourth, or the eighteenth industrial revolution at this stage.) And like so many products on this list, 3D printing was hailed as a revolution in education, and schools were encouraged to reorient libraries and shop classes towards “maker spaces” which would give students opportunities to print their plastic designs. In 2013, 3D printer manufacturer MakerBot launchedits MakerBot Academy with a goal “to put a MakerBot Desktop 3D Printer in every school in America.” But, as Wired noted just a few years later, 3D printing was already another revolution that wasn’t. Despite all sorts of wild promises, plastic gizmos failed to revolutionize either education or manufacturing (and they’re not necessarily so great for the environment either). Go figure.

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High performance government, ‘cognitive technologies’, Michael Nielsen, Bret Victor, and ‘Seeing Rooms’

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Fields make huge progress when they move from stories (e.g Icarus)  and authority (e.g ‘witch doctor’) to evidence/experiment (e.g physics, wind tunnels) and quantitative models (e.g design of modern aircraft).

Political ‘debate’ and the processes of government are largely what they have always been — largely conflict over stories and authorities where almost nobody even tries to keep track of the facts/arguments/models they’re supposedly arguing about, or tries to learn from evidence, or tries to infer useful principles from examples of extreme success/failure. We can see much better than people could in the past how to shift towards processes of government being ‘partially rational discussion over facts and models and learning from the best examples of organisational success‘. But one of the most fundamental and striking aspects of government is that practically nobody involved in it has the faintest interest in or knowledge of how to create high performance teams to make decisions amid uncertainty and complexity.

This blindness is connected to another fundamental fact: critical institutions (including the senior civil service and the parties) are programmed to fight to stay dysfunctional, they fight to stay closed and avoid learning about high performance, they fight to exclude the most able people.

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I’ve intentionally left off the name of the person and their blog; I think this deserves to be considered on its face. I can’t see anything to disagree with in the whole post, but a lot of people have a reflexive reaction that it must be wrong because of who wrote it. (You’ll be able to figure it out.) Try reading it with an open mind.
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Front-end web development on iPad (2019) • Medium

Craig Morey returns to a question he examined in 2018 – can you do FEWD on an iPad, and why would you if there are Windows/Mac/Chromebooks around, or Surfaces:

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with all these alternative options already available, the question remains. Why bother trying to stretch the envelope of iOS to do web development when even Apple seem to be actively discouraging it?

It’s not an easy one to logically explain away. But I find it a pleasure to use an iPad. It’s genuinely light, connected and increasingly capable of most tasks, plus Windows and ChromeOS (and their app ecosystems) suck at being tablets. So if the iPad is my preferred device to grab and go – whether to the Coffee shop or Columbia – why would I want to also take another computer on the off-chance I need to fix a bug and re-deploy, or even build that project from scratch that I’ve been itching to try? My iPad is definitely powerful enough, so why not?

The truth is that most good ideas in tech were just fanboys playing around with what were considered “bad” ideas, until they reached a tipping point and suddenly everyone was doing it. So who’s to say we don’t discover a “new norm” here? God knows we could do with rethinking web-dev tooling and abstracting some of it away. That’s exactly what play.js has done.

This could still be an evolutionary dead-end – but we don’t know that until we push and see how far we get.

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Personally I’ll always pick up an iPad rather than my heavier MacBook Pro if I’m going somewhere. My workflows are duplicated, or mirrored; it’s lighter, and it’s just the screen is smaller.
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Start Up No.1216: YouTube tries to get kid-friendly, the trouble with Goodreads, ToTok’s spying scheme, and more


This isn’t quite what Carlos Ghosn would have looked like – if his flight case had been X-rayed. CC-licensed photo by keepps on Flickr.

A selection of 10 links for you. And there you are. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

YouTube officially rolls out changes to children’s content following FTC settlement • The Verge

Julia Alexander:

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YouTube still can’t describe what content is “made for kids” and what isn’t, because ultimately it’s up to the FTC to enforce the rules. The FTC defines the category as being intended for kids, taking into factor what the subject matter of a video is, including if it emphasizes kids’ characters, themes, toys, games, and more. Whether that includes Minecraft videos or other games content remains a major open question. YouTube has recommended creators team up with their own legal counsel outside of YouTube if they’re concerned.

“We also use machine learning to help us identify this content, and creators can update a designation made by our systems if they believe it is incorrect,” the blog post reads, noting that YouTube may label a video as made for kids if a creator doesn’t. “We will only override a creator designation if abuse or error is detected.”

YouTube’s lack of guidance over the changes has creators concerned. Toy channels, for example, have a large adult audience and are ostensibly targeted at collectors, not just kids who want to play with them. These creators have already discussed changing their channels, and preparing for major monetization problems, in the coming weeks and months.

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Of course YouTube isn’t going to help creators. It knows that if one lot vanishes, then another group will come along in their place.
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Lax security and moderation at Goodreads allows trolls to spoof people, harass authors • Patreon

Jason Sanford:

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The coordinated attacks on Tomlinson arose out of his work helping to shut down a controversial Reddit community (see interview with Tomlinson below for more details). Since being banned by Reddit the attackers now coordinate through a website in Russia. Messages on this new site show they are using Goodreads for their harassment campaign because of the book review site’s lax security and moderation policies.

“The only policy (Goodreads) might change, and I say might is email verification and even that is a stretch,” said one poster on this site. “Thst (sic) would slow the trolls down by maybe.”

 This poster was talking about the fact that Goodreads doesn’t currently use true email verification prior to users setting up a new account. While Goodreads requires new accounts to provide an email address and sends a “verification” email to that account, new users are immediately able to review books and have their reviews and ratings appear on the site without actually verifying the email Goodreads sends them.

Goodreads also allows multiple accounts to be set up under already existing member and user names, as happened with many of the authors mentioned here. And while Goodreads allows authors and users to flag suspicious reviews, the site has no way for users and authors to report or flag individual user accounts. This allows a fake user to repeatedly post fake reviews before their account is shut down.

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Will this be the decade – even the year – when sites which allow people to create accounts and leave reviews actually start doing this right? It’s comparatively simple to force email authorisation, and to limit which sites can be used to create accounts.
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Our neophobic, conservative AI overlords want everything to stay the same • Blog of the Los Angeles Review of Books

Cory Doctorow:

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of all these wonderful, smart, sharp analyses, none has left as enduring an impression as Molly Sauter’s odd and lyrical 2017 essay “Instant Recall,” published in the online magazine Real Life.

Sauter’s insight in that essay: machine learning is fundamentally conservative, and it hates change. If you start a text message to your partner with “Hey darling,” the next time you start typing a message to them, “Hey” will beget an autosuggestion of “darling” as the next word, even if this time you are announcing a break-up. If you type a word or phrase you’ve never typed before, autosuggest will prompt you with the statistically most common next phrase from all users (I made a small internet storm in July 2018 when I documented autocomplete’s suggestion in my message to the family babysitter, which paired “Can you sit” with “on my face and”).

This conservativeness permeates every system of algorithmic inference: search for a refrigerator or a pair of shoes and they will follow you around the web as machine learning systems “re-target” you while you move from place to place, even after you’ve bought the fridge or the shoes. Spend some time researching white nationalism or flat earth conspiracies and all your YouTube recommendations will try to reinforce your “interest.” Follow a person on Twitter and you will be inundated with similar people to follow. Machine learning can produce very good accounts of correlation (“this person has that person’s address in their address-book and most of the time that means these people are friends”) but not causation (which is why Facebook constantly suggests that survivors of stalking follow their tormentors who, naturally, have their targets’ addresses in their address books).

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In Carlos Ghosn’s escape, plotters exploited an airport security hole • WSJ

Nick Kostov, Mark Maremont and Rory Jones:

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About three months before former auto titan Carlos Ghosn’s escape last week from Japan to Lebanon, an operative helping plan his extraction visited Kansai International Airport in Osaka, Japan, and realized there was a huge security hole, according to a person familiar with the matter.

The terminal for private jets was quieter than those at most other airports and essentially empty, unless there was a flight coming in, this person said. What’s more, oversize luggage was too big to fit in the airport scanners.

The security hole proved crucial in Mr. Ghosn’s cinema-worthy escape from Japan, where he was out on bail facing charges of financial crimes. He has denied the charges and has previously said he would fight them in court.

The escape involved a 300-mile sprint across Japan, from Mr. Ghosn’s court-monitored home in Tokyo to the Osaka airport. He was then smuggled inside a large black box, generally used for concert equipment, with breathing holes drilled in the bottom, into a waiting private jet, as previously reported by The Wall Street Journal.

…work on a detailed plan to extract Mr. Ghosn started months beforehand, according to people familiar with the matter. The planning involved a team of between 10 and 15 people of different nationalities, one of these people said.

In all, the team took more than 20 trips to Japan and visited at least 10 Japanese airports before selecting the Osaka airport as a weak link, this person said.

A spokesman for the airport’s operator said its security is no different from other airports in Japan. He said all luggage too large for X-ray scanning is supposed to be opened by security staff, but an airport-security expert said they don’t necessarily do so for private-jet travelers as they are considered a lower terrorism risk.

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Surely going to be a great film.
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China tech start-ups go bust in 2019 ‘capital winter’ • Financial Times

Ryan McMorrow:

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Hundreds of Chinese tech start-ups — including several unicorns — failed in 2019, with many more limping into the new year, as companies burned through cash in the face of growing financial headwinds.

According to new data from business information provider ITjuzi, 336 start-ups in the country were forced to cease operations over the course of last year, having collectively raised Rmb17.4bn ($2.5bn) from investors. Among them were companies valued individually at more than $1bn.

Of the 20 costliest failures of “new economy” start-ups — those that have sprung up alongside the internet and private industry over the past two decades — about half occurred in 2019.

The closures come as tech companies in China face an advancing “capital winter”, a funding shortage that began last year as investors grappled with a slowing economy and the end of a venture capital boom. Meanwhile, tech start-ups’ penchant for employing expensive and risky strategies such as large subsidies intended to woo new customers has added to their problems. 

…Analysts say customer acquisition costs in the country are also some of the highest in the world, with William Bao Bean, a partner at SOSV Investments in Shanghai, estimating a single user app download cost $10 to $100.

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It seemed like a popular chat app. It’s secretly a spy tool • The New York Times

Mark Mazzetti, Nicole Perlroth and Ronen Bergman:

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It is billed as an easy and secure way to chat by video or text message with friends and family, even in a country that has restricted popular messaging services like WhatsApp and Skype.

But the service, ToTok, is actually a spying tool, according to American officials familiar with a classified intelligence assessment and a New York Times investigation into the app and its developers. It is used by the government of the United Arab Emirates to try to track every conversation, movement, relationship, appointment, sound and image of those who install it on their phones.

ToTok, introduced only months ago, was downloaded millions of times from the Apple and Google app stores by users throughout the Middle East, Europe, Asia, Africa and North America. While the majority of its users are in the Emirates, ToTok surged to become one of the most downloaded social apps in the United States last week, according to app rankings and App Annie, a research firm.

ToTok amounts to the latest escalation in a digital arms race among wealthy authoritarian governments, interviews with current and former American foreign officials and a forensic investigation showed. The governments are pursuing more effective and convenient methods to spy on foreign adversaries, criminal and terrorist networks, journalists and critics — efforts that have ensnared people all over the world in their surveillance nets.

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Apple and Google both banned ToTok from their app stores – and then Google reinstated it on Monday. ToTok meanwhile has been trying to encourage “influencers” to say nice things about it.
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Remembering the robotics companies we lost in 2019 • The Robot Report

Steve Crowe:

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There are many reasons robotics companies fail. From an ill-conceived idea to burn rate and poor execution, building and running a sustainable robotics company is challenging. Robotics development requires a combination of technology expertise, team building and business acumen. And managing customer expectations might be the toughest task of all.

If you think 2018 was a tough year for robotics companies, 2019 wasn’t any better. And that’s especially true for consumer robotics companies, which have the misfortune of dominating the following list. Here are robotics companies we’ll remember losing, and in one case potentially re-gaining, in 2019.

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This list implies that pretty much all the failures were in the consumer space – though I wonder if that’s just because they’re the ones we hear the most about. The “robots for consumers” space seems to be as cramped as the “drones for consumers” space – there’s only room for a couple of successful players (iRobot and maybe Dyson?).
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HP refreshes Spectre x360 15, announces Elite Dragonfly G2 at CES 2020 • Android Authority

Adamya Sharma:

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…HP calls out the new Elite Dragonfly G2 as the world’s first business convertible with 5G connectivity. It gets a Qualcomm X55 4G/5G modem to support the next-gen network technology. It also comes with smart signal technology to boost antenna performance.

HP has updated the specs on the laptop to feature up to a 10th Gen Intel Core i7 processor (up from 8th-gen last year). Other specs include a 13.3in display with 4K and Full-HD options, up to 16GB RAM, and up to 2TB PCIe Gen3 NVMe SSD storage.

The highlight of the Elite Dragonfly G2 is Tile support. It is the first laptop in the world to come with Tile’s built-in location tracking service. You’ll be able to tap into Tile’s network of connected trackers to, hopefully, locate your lost laptop.

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The Tile tracker is a neat deal for Tile. Maybe you’re asking: why doesn’t Apple do it? Because it quietly introduced its own “find lost devices” system last year. But that relies on an ecosystem of Apple devices, especially handheld ones. HP once had aspirations there – but they died nearly a decade ago, and HP lost a lot of money on that. So while its PCs are widely used, there isn’t the ecosystem to help them find themselves.
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Samsung ships over 6.7 million Galaxy 5G devices in 2019 • Digitimes

Rodney Chan:

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Samsung Electronics has disclosed that in 2019 it shipped more than 6.7 million Galaxy 5G smartphones globally. As of November 2019, Samsung accounted for 53.9% of the global 5G smartphone market and offered five Galaxy 5G devices, according to the vendor.

…”5G smartphones contributed to 1% of global smartphone sales in 2019. However, 2020 will be the breakout year, with 5G smartphones poised to grow 1,687% with contribution rising to 18% of the total global smartphone sales volumes,” said, Neil Shah, VP of research at Counterpoint Research.

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That 6.7m (sorry, “over” 6.7m) doesn’t sound like a big number to me. Perhaps unsurprising, though, because what’s the use case? 5G isn’t really going to be transformative for a few years yet. This really is just like the 3G-4G transition.
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GoPro Karma drones grounded worldwide, apparently due to GPS glitch • The Verge

Sean O’Kane:

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Owners of the GoPro Karma have been unable to fly their drones since the new year began, according to dozens of forum posts and tweets. The problem is affecting owners all around the globe, and it seems to be related to the recent so-called clock “rollovers” in the GPS and GLONASS satellite systems. While most tech companies tried to avert problems with the rollovers by issuing software updates over the last few months, GoPro has not updated the Karma since September 2018, nine months after it discontinued the drone.

Multiple owners say their Karma controllers are flashing errors about not receiving a GPS signal, and that they can’t calibrate the compass. They’re not able to fly the drones at all, even after disabling GPS, though one claims to have sidestepped the issue by factory resetting the controller and turning GPS off. A GoPro spokesperson tells The Verge that the company’s engineering team is “actively troubleshooting” the issue, but didn’t offer any more information.

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They haven’t been on sale since January 2018, but some drones last. Quite the new year headache for GoPro’s support department: what’s the betting all their drone people departed some time ago?
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

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Start Up No.1215: Google’s culture change, ChromeOS is stuck, you are HERE in history, TikTok to infinity, and more


Put it in “Recycle” mode, and it’s good for nothing except, well, recycling. Is that really good? CC-licensed photo by BestAI Assistant 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, we’re back! And so are you! I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Google veterans: the company has become ‘unrecognizable’ • CNBC

Jennifer Elias:

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Nine-year veteran Colin McMillen told CNBC that he left Google early this year without another job because he felt couldn’t be a part of the organization anymore, citing Dragonfly, transparency and Google leadership’s “poor handling” of crises over the last year.

Employees last month staged a rally amid the suspension of employees who were later fired. That rally’s purpose was to “save Google’s open culture,” according to the event details. Protesters demanded transparency on policies that Google said led to their decision to fire four employees. In December, the National Labor Relations Board began investigating the company for the firings.

“Google is built on trust,” said Zora Tung, an engineer at Google who spoke at the rally. “If the company wants to succeed, it needs to regain that trust through transparency and accountability.”

Long-tenured Google employees also said the company culture changed as it scaled to more than 100,000 workers, many of whom are contractors instead of full-time employees.

Graham Neray is CEO of a New York start-up called Oso. He told CNBC that longtime Googlers who interviewed for roles at Oso said the company had become “too big” and bureaucratic to make a difference for workers. Major organizational changes and uncertainty in some divisions like the Google Cloud Platform were also mentioned by candidates, he said.

Bureaucracy was the reason for a former engineering director who left the company in August after seven years. This engineer, who asked to remain anonymous because he’s not authorized to talk about his time there, said upper management began placing extra emphasis on head count in recent years. Because of that, the company has become reluctant to eliminate weaker team members, which affected his and others’ organizations, he said.

Some employees said they were recruited on the notion they’d be able to change the world with a free and open-thinking channel to management and products. But over the last year, those ideals no longer seem tenable, workers said.

«

It certainly feels like something has changed at Google over the past five years particularly. Page and Brin becoming disengaged but not handing over control; the tension, visible from outside, between Ruth Porat on finance and the spending of the “moonshot” groups. So over the next ten years, does it decline into sclerosis or somehow rediscover its vision?
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Chrome OS has stalled out • Android Police

David Ruddock:

»

Getting Android apps to run on Chrome OS was simultaneously one of the Chrome team’s greatest achievements and one of its worst mistakes. In 2019, two things are more obvious than ever about the Android app situation on Chrome. The first is that the “build it and they will come” mantra never panned out. Developers never created an appreciable number of Android app experiences designed for Chrome (just as they never did for Android tablets). The second is that, quite frankly, Android apps are very bad on Chrome OS. Performance is highly variable, and interface bugs are basically unending because most of those apps were never designed for a point-and-click operating system. Sure, they crash less often than they did in the early days, but anyone saying that Android apps on Chrome OS are a good experience is delusional.

Those apps are also a crutch that Chrome leans on to this day. Chrome OS doesn’t have a robust photo editor? Don’t worry, you can download an [Android] app! Chrome doesn’t have native integration with cloud file services like Box, Dropbox, or OneDrive? Just download the [Android] app! Chrome doesn’t have Microsoft Office? App! But this “solution” has basically become an insult to Chrome’s users, forcing them to live inside a half-baked Android environment using apps that were almost exclusively designed for 6″ touchscreens, and which exist in a containerized state that effectively firewalls them from much of the Chrome operating system.

As a result, file handling is a nightmare, with only a very limited number of folders accessible to those applications, and the task of finding them from inside those apps a labyrinthine exercise no one should have to endure in 2019. This isn’t a tenable state of affairs—it’s computing barbarism as far as I’m concerned.

«

I always thought the point of ChromeOS was to be a low-end disruptor – cheaper and simpler than Windows/macOS, so it could do simpler tasks (in call centres?) that could run through a browser.
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It’s 2020 and you’re in the future • Wait But Why

Tim Urban:

»

We’re now in charge of making this a cool decade so when people 100 years from now are thinking about how incredibly old-timey the 2020s were, it’s old-timey in a cool appealing way and not a boring shitty way.

It’s also weird that to us, the 2020s sounds like such a rad futuristic decade—and that’s how the 1920s seemed to people 100 years ago today. They were all used to the 19-teens, and suddenly they were like, “whoa cool we’re in the twenties!” Then they got upset thinking about how much farther along in life their 1910 self thought they’d be by 1920.

In any case, it’s a perfect time for one of those “shit we’re old” posts.

So here are some New Years 2020 time facts:

When World War 2 started, the Civil War felt as far away to Americans as WW2 feels to us now.

Speaking of World War 2, the world wars were pretty close together. If World War 2 were starting today, World War 1 would feel about as far back to us as 9/11.

The Soviet Union break up is now as distant a memory as JFK’s assassination was when the Soviet Union broke up.

«

The post is a few days old, so that “If World War 2 were starting today” comment has more bite now than it did when written.
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Sonos in bricked speaker ‘recycling’ row • BBC News

»

Sonos is facing a backlash for encouraging customers to get rid of their old speakers when there may be nothing wrong with them.

The US speaker giant offers customers a 30% discount on new products if they follow steps to recycle their old ones. Following these puts the device in Recycle Mode, which means it will then be permanently deactivated.

Sonos said it wanted to encourage responsible disposal of electrical equipment. But many took to Twitter saying it would be far better to allow people to resell them.

“Sonos’s ‘recycle mode’ intentionally bricks good devices so they can’t be reused,” wrote Twitter user AtomicThumbs. He posted photos of five Sonos speakers which had been recycled through his company, Renew Computers. “Someone recycled five of these Sonos Play:5 speakers. They’re worth $250 each, used, and these are in good condition. They could easily be reused.”

A Sonos spokeswoman told the BBC: “To participate in the Trade Up program and receive the 30% discount, a customer has to tell us in the app that they plan to recycle their old device.

Customers can then redeem their discount at sonos.com or at a participating dealer. Once they have their new device, the customer will then be able to wipe their old device and deactivate it. Then it’s up to them either to recycle it locally, or they can return it to Sonos and we’ll recycle it.

«

It’s a really bad scheme: if the speakers could be reused, that could potentially increase the number of Sonos users. Sure, some people might resell them and take advantage of the 30% discount and in effect get a speaker for free. But Sonos would have a new user – which it needs, badly.
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TikTok and the coming of infinite media • ROUGH TYPE

Nick Carr:

»

Infinite media sucks in all media, from news to entertainment to communication. Witness what’s going on in pop. Each TikTok has a soundtrack, a looping clip spinning on a wee turntable in the corner of the screen. The music business, seeing TikTok’s ability to turn songs into memes, has already developed a craving for the app’s yee yee juice. As Jia Tolentini explains in the New Yorker:

»

Certain musical elements serve as TikTok catnip: bass-heavy transitions that can be used as punch lines; rap songs that are easy to lip-synch or include a narrative-friendly call and response. A twenty-six-year-old Australian producer named Adam Friedman, half of the duo Cookie Cutters, told me that he was now concentrating on lyrics that you could act out with your hands. “I write hooks, and I try it in the mirror—how many hand movements can I fit into fifteen seconds?” he said. “You know, goodbye, call me back, peace out, F you.”

«

The aural hooks amplify the visual hooks, and vice versa, to saturate the sensorium. When it comes to the infinite, more is always better.

Boomers may struggle to make sense of TikTok, but they’ll appreciate its most obvious antecedent: the Ed Sullivan Show. Squeeze old Ed through a wormhole and give him a spin in a Vitamix, and you get TikTok. There’s Liza Minnelli singing “MacArthur Park,” then there’s a guy spinning plates on the ends of sticks, then there’s Señor Wences ventriloquizing through a hand puppet. Except it’s all us. We’re Liza, we’re the plate-spinning guy, we’re Señor Wences, we’re the puppet. We’re even Ed, flicking acts on and off the stage with the capriciousness of a pagan god.

Every Sunday night during the sixties the nation found itself glued to the set, engrossed in a variety show. It was an omen.

«

It’s great that Carr is blogging regularly again. (Implies to me he’s between book projects.) Impressed that he managed to resist “in the future, everyone will be famous for 15 seconds”. I couldn’t. Speaking of TikTok…
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Hype House and the Los Angeles TikTok mansion gold rush • The New York Times

Taylor Lorenz:

»

Alex, Thomas, Daisy Keech, 20, and Kouvr Annon, 19, live at the house full time. As the oldest, Thomas acts as a default den mother. Though Chase helped put money down for the house, Thomas manages schedules, handles the house issues and resolves the inevitable conflicts. Unlike Team 10 and other groups, Hype House doesn’t take a cut of anyone’s revenue.

The house does have strict rules, however. Creators can have friends over, but it is not a party house. If you break something, you have 15 days to replace it. And if you want to be a part of the group, you need to churn out content daily.

“If someone slips up constantly, they’ll not be a part of this team anymore,” Thomas said. “You can’t come and stay with us for a week and not make any videos, it’s not going to work. This whole house is designed for productivity. If you want to party, there’s hundreds of houses that throw parties in L.A. every weekend. We don’t want to be that. It’s not in line with anyone in this house’s brand. This house is about creating something big, and you can’t do that if you’re going out on the weekends.”

In order to make a splash on the internet, you need the right people and so Chase acts as Hype House’s unofficial talent scout and a behind-the-scenes operator. He has a knack for spotting influencers early and knows what qualities it takes to get big online.

You have to be young, you have to “have a lot of energy and personality and honestly a little weird. The weird people get the furthest on the internet,” Chase said. “You either have to be talented at something, or a weird funny mix, or extremely good looking.”

«

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Cities struggle to boost ridership with ‘Uber for transit’ schemes • WIRED

Flavie Halais:

»

According to the tech companies pushing this solution, making on-demand busing work is a matter of crunching vast amounts of transit data, now made available by location tracking, and using algorithms to create custom shared routes. Data will help agencies reroute buses in real time based on factors like user demand and congestion, says Amos Haggiag, CEO of Optibus, whose software helps cities plan and manage bus routes, both on-demand and fixed. “I do see mass transit, even the large buses, as much more dynamic.” Many of those companies, including Uber, think all buses, not just those in low-ridership areas, should run on demand.

Reality, though, adds complications. Not everyone who needs to get around has access to an app. Smartphone ownership remains vastly unequal among countries, and between income and age groups. The cost of data is still cited as a major barrier to smartphone use around the world. And even those who do have phones may not want to rely on them to get to work. When I point out that my smartphone shuts down when the weather gets too cold in winter, Haggiag says my situation is “extreme.” I live in Montreal, along with 1.75 million other people.

Tech companies and planners often make decisions without considering the needs of people who are not like them. A pilot project in St. Petersburg, Florida, that let residents use Uber to connect to bus stops faced low adoption rates. The local transit authority realized residents, many of whom were low-income, didn’t know how to use Uber. They needed help on how to use the app, a planner told WIRED in 2017.

«

Fixing things that don’t need fixing; what’s really needed is just regular buses, which can be funded by a mix of fares and tax incentives.
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Trade war dents China’s attendance at world’s biggest electronics show • WSJ

Raffaele Huang and Stu Woo:

»

The expanding U.S.-China rivalry in the world of technology is set to be put on full display this week, with a smaller Chinese presence expected in Las Vegas for CES, the world’s biggest consumer-electronics exhibition.

Chinese exhibit space at the annual show is projected to be down 5% to 6% compared with last year, event organizers said. The event on Jan. 7 to Jan. 10 could also see a downtick in overall Chinese exhibitors, since 1,120 attended last year, but only 1,097 Chinese companies were listed on the 2020 directory as of Saturday.

One of those companies listed on the directory said it wouldn’t show up. A spokesman for Suning, a major Chinese electronics and appliance retailer akin to Best Buy Co. , said neither its Chinese nor its U.S. team would attend, even if it had already booked the space. Suning last year had a big booth that showcased shopping technology. The spokesman declined to elaborate on why the company is skipping the event.

The drop-off in Chinese participation at CES is a reversal from years past. In 2018, the exhibition had 15,383 attendees from China, the country’s highest reported attendance ever. At the time, some attendees jokingly referred to CES, formerly known as the Consumer Electronics Show, as the “Chinese Electronics Show.” But attendance from China dropped to 12,839 in 2019, according to the official show audit.

«

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Analyst, analyze yourself • Asymco

Horace Dediu points out that we can – and so we should – examine sell-side analyst (ie share price forecaster) predictions, especially about the present from the past:

»

The green line in the graph represents the closing share price at weekly intervals (from about October 2016 until last week.) The blue dots represent various estimates. Note that they are 12 months since their issuance and that since estimates can come at any time the are not easily clustered.

That is except last year and the “big reset” when the estimates all were issued on the same day. I highlighted the range with a vertical line. Note that the closing price last week was well above the highest estimate and that the lowest estimate ($140 is less than 50% of the current price).

This is quite a big fail. Errors of 50 for a 12 month time frame are egregious.

«

The graph is a little hard to read, but essentially it says: they’re often wrong. For completeness I guess you’d want a random walk generator to compare them against for the same period.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1214: tracking your life in the US, Facebook’s hardware bet, ‘pink slime’ takes over news, internet v climate change, and more


Carol singers? It’s 2019 – now you can have a line from every carol, done by computer. Don’t expect to like it though. CC-licensed photo by byronv2 on Flickr.


Thank you for reading The Overspill during 2019!

We went from issue 980 to 1,214, which comes out to 235 posts.

It will be back in 2020 with issue 1,215.

If you need to fill the time while it’s not arriving in your inbox, you could make a charitable donation to the Internet Archive or Wikipedia; or to your local homeless charity. They’ll all appreciate it.


Though they won’t arrive until next year, you can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

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

Twelve million phones, one dataset, zero privacy • The New York Times

Stuart Thompson and Charlie Warzel:

»

Every minute of every day, everywhere on the planet, dozens of companies — largely unregulated, little scrutinized — are logging the movements of tens of millions of people with mobile phones and storing the information in gigantic data files. The Times Privacy Project obtained one such file, by far the largest and most sensitive ever to be reviewed by journalists. It holds more than 50 billion location pings from the phones of more than 12 million Americans as they moved through several major cities, including Washington, New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles.

Each piece of information in this file represents the precise location of a single smartphone over a period of several months in 2016 and 2017. The data was provided to Times Opinion by sources who asked to remain anonymous because they were not authorized to share it and could face severe penalties for doing so. The sources of the information said they had grown alarmed about how it might be abused and urgently wanted to inform the public and lawmakers.

After spending months sifting through the data, tracking the movements of people across the country and speaking with dozens of data companies, technologists, lawyers and academics who study this field, we feel the same sense of alarm. In the cities that the data file covers, it tracks people from nearly every neighborhood and block, whether they live in mobile homes in Alexandria, Va., or luxury towers in Manhattan.

…or giant tech company, nor did it come from a governmental surveillance operation. It originated from a location data company, one of dozens quietly collecting precise movements using software slipped onto mobile phone apps. You’ve probably never heard of most of the companies — and yet to anyone who has access to this data, your life is an open book.

… Our privacy is only as secure as the least secure app on our device.

«

Which isn’t very. Is America ever going to discover privacy?
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Endless Jingling • Josh Millard

»

Endless Jingling was written and recorded by Josh Millard. It selects a handful of Christmas songs at random from a collection of three dozen recordings, then jumps around randomly between them forever and ever and ever or until you reload for a new combination of songs.

«

They’re all tuned to the key of C, so no fretting about the key changes. Put it on in the background at your Christmas party and see how long it takes before someone kills you. No, you’re welcome.
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To control its destiny, Facebook bets big on hardware • The Information

Alex Heath:

»

Earlier this year, it held talks to acquire Cirrus Logic, a semiconductor company founded in 1981 that supplies chips to Apple and others, according to a person with knowledge of the discussions (no deal transpired). Facebook even has a team building its own operating system from scratch, led by a former star Microsoft engineer, which could help it wean its products off Android, the free operating system its rival Google makes. Large portions of Facebook’s hardware group will begin to move into the new campus when it opens late next year.   

The person overseeing the company’s far-ranging hardware efforts is Andrew Bosworth, a Facebook veteran who met the company’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg in 2004 at Harvard University, when Bosworth was a teaching assistant in an AI class Zuckerberg was taking. 

The Information recently spoke to Bosworth at Facebook’s Menlo Park, California, headquarters, as part of a series of interviews with key hardware leaders at the company. Bosworth—known as “Boz” to people who work with him—said the company is building so many of the underlying technologies for its future hardware products because it doesn’t want to rely on outsiders. 

«

The prospect of Facebook doing all this stuff is quite concerning, really. Though there’s no hope of it succeeding with an OS: the ecosystem won’t be there.
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Hundreds of ‘pink slime’ local news outlets are distributing algorithmic stories and conservative talking points • Columbia Journalism Review

Priyanjana Bengani:

»

An increasingly popular tactic challenges conventional wisdom on the spread of electoral disinformation: the creation of partisan outlets masquerading as local news organizations. An investigation by the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia Journalism School has discovered at least 450 websites in a network of local and business news organizations, each distributing thousands of algorithmically generated articles and a smaller number of reported stories. Of the 450 sites we discovered, at least 189 were set up as local news networks across ten states within the last twelve months by an organization called Metric Media.

Titles like the East Michigan News, Hickory Sun, and Grand Canyon Times have appeared on the web ahead of the 2020 election. These networks of sites can be used in a variety of ways: as ‘stage setting’ for events, focusing attention on issues such as voter fraud and energy pricing, providing the appearance of neutrality for partisan issues, or to gather data from users that can then be used for political targeting.

On October 20, the Lansing State Journal first broke the story of the network’s existence. About three dozen local news sites, owned by Metric Media, had appeared in Michigan. Further reporting by the Michigan Daily, the Guardian and the New York Times identified yet more sites. Ultimately, previous reporting has identified around 200 of these sites. Our analysis suggests that there are at least twice that number of publications across a number of related networks, of which Metric Media is just one component.

«

“Pink slime” is quite the phrase for this stuff.
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Sale of second-hand e-books infringes copyright, rules CJEU • World IP Review

Rory O’Neill:

»

When a book is sold in physical form, the copyright for the work is said to have been ‘exhausted’, in other words, the purchaser is free to sell it on without violating the author or publisher’s IP.

Tom Kabinet argued that the exact same principle should hold for digital copies.

The CJEU, following the AG’s opinion, ruled that rights exhaustion in the case of e-books would damage rights owners much more than in the case of physical copies.

This is because e-books do not deteriorate with use and are therefore a perfect substitute for new physical copies of the work.

The Dutch copyright groups argued that Tom Kabinet’s resale of the e-books constituted an unauthorised “communication to the public” of the copyright-protected material under Directive 2001/29/EC (commonly known as the InfoSoc Directive).

Under EU law, exhaustion of copyright only applies to the right of distribution. In today’s judgment, the CJEU found that downloading an e-book is not covered by the right of distribution, but rather the right of communication to the public, which cannot be exhausted.

The court referred to the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) Copyright Treaty, which underpins the InfoSoc Directive. According to the court, that treaty holds that rights exhaustion should be “reserved for the distribution of tangible objects,” such as physical books.

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Prime power: how Amazon squeezes the businesses behind its store • The New York Times

Karen Weise:

»

Amazon has pushed to keep prices low since the day it opened. That has become trickier as more sales came from outside sellers. According to antitrust law, each seller of goods should determine what to charge on its own. To avoid problems, an in-house lawyer is typically present when internal Amazon teams discuss pricing, according to two former employees.

In 2017, Amazon began reducing prices to match competitors; if the new price was lower than the one requested by the sellers, Amazon paid the difference. The company also alerted companies if their products were cheaper elsewhere.

Still concerned about news reports that prices on Amazon weren’t always the lowest, the company tried another approach, the one that hit VitaCup: removing the Buy Now and Add to Cart buttons when its software detected lower prices. When those buttons disappear, sales tumble as much as 75 percent, sellers say.
Executives at Amazon intended this as a tool to lower prices. The company has told Congress that the buttons amount to an endorsement, saying it only displays them on “offers that it is confident will present a great experience for its customers.”

But many brands raise their prices elsewhere to avoid losing the buttons. Or they decide to list their product only on Amazon. That is what happened to a health care supply company that worked with Jason Boyce, who advises online sellers.

“My client cut off Walmart — Walmart! — because it was hurting their Amazon business,” Mr. Boyce said. “If that’s not monopoly power, I don’t know what is.”

«

A long read, but worth it – though as with many of these portmanteau pieces, you’re left reeling at the many ways in which Amazon’s power is imposed.
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A data leak exposed the personal information of over 3,000 Ring users • Buzzfeed News

Caroline Haskins:

»

The log-in credentials for 3,672 Ring camera owners were compromised this week, exposing log-in emails, passwords, time zones, and the names people give to specific Ring cameras, which are often the same as camera locations, such as “bedroom” or “front door.”

Using the log-in email and password, an intruder could access a Ring customer’s home address, telephone number, and payment information, including the kind of card they have, and its last four digits and security code. An intruder could also access live camera footage from all active Ring cameras associated with an account, as well as a 30- to 60-day video history, depending on the user’s cloud storage plan.

We don’t know how this tranche of customer information was leaked. Ring denies any claims that the data was compromised as a part of a breach of Ring’s systems. A Ring spokesperson declined to tell BuzzFeed News when it became aware of the leak or whether it affected a third party that Ring uses to provide its services.

“Ring has not had a data breach. Our security team has investigated these incidents and we have no evidence of an unauthorized intrusion or compromise of Ring’s systems or network,” the spokesperson said. “It is not uncommon for bad actors to harvest data from other companies’ data breaches and create lists like this so that other bad actors can attempt to gain access to other services.”

It is not clear what “other companies’ data breaches” the spokesperson was referring to.

«

Come on, there are tons of them – and if you use the same password as on Ring (lots of people do; password overload is everywhere) then you’re vulnerable. Side note: Wirecutter, which recommends stuff, has suspended its recommendation of Ring.
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Can the internet survive climate change? • The New Republic

Kevin Lozano:

»

How the internet adapts to the pressures of the climate crisis will change daily life as we know it, from high-speed trading to shit-posting, from email to aircraft control. It’s an open question whether the internet of the future will be as reliable as it is today. In fact, it’s likely that internet access will be among the many scarce resources that future generations will fight over, and that this unequal distribution could create two different internets: one for the poor and another for the rich. 

Everything is going to change, and quickly. Sites like Low-Tech offer one possible future, but generally speaking, the internet is likely to face changes to its basic infrastructure that will be both sweeping and hard to predict. In the last few months, I’ve talked to dozens of people—web designers and futurists, computer scientists and activists—who are all increasingly concerned about the internet’s own climate impact and its operational vulnerability in a fast-warming planet. What follows, pieced together from their observations, is a provisional picture of the internet’s future in the age of global warming.

The internet is inextricably tied to the coming horrors of the climate crisis. It is both a major force behind that crisis and one of its likely casualties.

It is the largest coal-fired machine on the entire planet, accounting for 10% of global electricity demand. And the internet’s climate impact is only going to get worse: Around half of the world has yet to log on—a presently disconnected population of more than three billion people eager to begin streaming videos and updating Facebook accounts. The internet’s cut of the world’s electricity demand will likely rise to 20% or more by 2030, at which point it will produce more carbon than any country except China, India, and the United States.

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Giant solar park in the desert jump starts Egypt’s renewables push • Reuters

Aidan Lewis:

»

Near the southern Egyptian city of Aswan, a swathe of photovoltaic solar panels spreads over an area of desert so large it is clearly visible from space.

They are part of the Benban plant, one of the world’s largest solar parks following completion last month of a second phase of the estimated $2.1bn project.

Designed to anchor a renewable energy sector by attracting foreign and domestic private-sector developers and financial backers, the plant now provides nearly 1.5GW to Egypt’s national grid and has brought down the price of solar energy at a time when the government is phasing out electricity subsidies.

In 2013, Egypt was suffering rolling blackouts due to power shortages at aging power stations. Three gigantic gas-powered stations with a capacity of 14.4GW procured from Siemens in 2015 turned the deficit into a surplus.

National installed electricity capacity is now around 50GW and Egypt aims to increase the share of electricity provided by renewables from a fraction currently to 20% by 2022 and 42% by 2035.

…Last year a report from the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) suggested Egypt could be more ambitious in its green energy goals and aim to supply 53% of its electricity from renewables by 2030.

«

So: good, but could be better.
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India’s internet curbs are part of growing global trend • The Guardian

Michael Safi:

»

On Thursday, internet shutdowns came to the capital city of the world’s largest democracy.

The suspension of data services, phone calls and texting to curb protests in parts of Delhi was an inauspicious milestone for a tactic that is becoming an increasingly common tool for authoritarian governments – but practised most often by India.

As internet penetration has surged this past decade, especially in the developing world, so have attempts to switch off the flow of information. The internet-freedom group Access Now recorded 75 internet outages around the world in 2016; the figure more than doubled to 196 last year.

With protest movements convulsing dozens of countries this year, the figure is likely to be “much, much higher”, said Berhan Taye, a senior policy analyst at Access Now.

Iraq has periodically curbed the internet as violent protests have spread throughout the country. In Ethiopia, enforced outages have become so frequent that they are damaging the economy, costing an estimated US$4.5m a day, according to figures from a digital rights group. Reports of outages from Venezuela are so frequent that they can barely be counted, Taye said. “It’s like a child is at the switch, turning it on and off whenever they fear something is happening,” she said.

«

We saw it at the beginning of the decade – it was a common tactic during the Arab Spring – and now it has come back into vogue.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1213: smartphone life 2010-style, Ring’s security holes, 2019’s top stories, part-time fact-checking?, bitcoin mansplaining, and more


Tory MPs are switching away from Signal to WhatsApp – claiming it’s because there are too many of them for a single group. CC-licensed photo by Tim Reckmann 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. Nearly there. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

First, the smartphone changed. Then, over a decade, it changed us • WSJ

Joanna Stern:

»

The modern-day smartphone in all its rectangular touch screen beauty wasn’t invented in 2010. (The iPhone arrived in 2007.) But it was the year that so many of us began to ditch those aforementioned gadgets, and trade our phones—made for calls and the occasional text or email—for that single computer now in our pocket. It was also the year the biggest apps currently lining our homescreens began to arrive.

What we got was a device that changed what it means to be human. A gadget that as it gained functionality, fundamentally altered the way we navigate the world, our relationships, ourselves. But it also began to navigate us—in ways we sometimes didn’t even realize and probably shouldn’t have welcomed.

To see just how much the smartphone has changed the way we function in the world, I challenged myself to go on a trip to the past for 24 hours—using just 2010 technology, including my old BlackBerry. (Watch my video to see how well I survived my day in Hell, Michigan.)

At times I felt totally and completely lost—probably because, with a malfunctioning GPS, I actually was. I missed not being able to do so many things I now take for granted. And yet it was also strangely exhilarating. I felt more in control, more present and, maybe, more like myself.

«

Stern always has such fantastic setups for her pieces; choosing to do it in Hell is just the icing on the cake.
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We tested Ring’s security. It’s awful • VICE

Joseph Cox:

»

It’s not so much being watched. It’s that I don’t really know if I’m being watched or not.

From across the other side of the world, a colleague has just accessed my Ring account, and in turn, a live-feed of a Ring camera in my apartment. He sent a screenshot of me stretching, getting ready for work. Then a second colleague accessed the camera from another country, and started talking to me through the Ring device.

“Joe can you tell I’m watching you type,” they added in a Slack message. The blue light which signals someone is watching the camera feed faded away. But I still couldn’t shake the feeling of someone may be tuning in. I went into another room.

My colleagues were only able to access my Ring camera because they had the relevant email address and password, but Amazon-owned home security company Ring is not doing enough to stop hackers breaking into customer accounts, and in turn, their cameras, according to multiple cybersecurity experts, people who write tools to break into accounts, and Motherboard’s own analysis with a Ring camera it bought to test the company’s security protections.

…Ring is not offering basic security precautions, such as double-checking whether someone logging in from an unknown IP address is the legitimate user, or providing a way to see how many users are currently logged in—entirely common security measures across a wealth of online services.

«

Email addresses and cracked passwords for various services are available all over the net; Amazon isn’t taking this seriously enough.
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Chartbeat: 2019’s top stories

Chartbeat:

»

How we compiled the 2019 list.

We evaluated more than 54 million pieces of content, totalling 294 billion minutes of Engaged Time, which is the total amount of time visitors spent actively reading pages across our network. Stories are tagged by topics, reflecting the variety of coverage and ultimately favouring original narratives.

«

The top story turns out to be one that I didn’t link to, so you might need to go and visit to find out. Though as to Chartbeat’s claim that it’s “ultimately favouring original content”, there are a couple of rewrites of other articles in the list in there. And the Yahoo Japan content, in Japanese: who knows?
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Exclusive: Facebook adding part-time fact-checkers to root out misinformation • Axios

Sara Fischer:

»

The reviewers are meant to be representative of everyday Facebook users, so they don’t have any sort of particular expertise in fact-checking.

This is done intentionally by Facebook because it wants the sources that they pass over to third-party fact-checkers to be unbiased, and akin to what an average Facebook user would find if they searched for news articles to assess the validity of a piece of information they found on Facebook.

Facebook wouldn’t say how many part-time contractors are being hired, but it says the number will vary as the pilot is evaluated and that Appen will be responsible for making staffing adjustments based on scaling needs.

As an additional safeguard, Facebook says it’s partnering with YouGov, a global public opinion and data company, to ensure that the pool of community reviewers represent the diversity of people on Facebook.

Facebook says that ahead of the pilot’s launch, YouGov has determined that the requirements Appen has used to select community reviewers will lead to a pool of people that is representative of the Facebook community in the U.S., and that it should reflect the diverse viewpoints on Facebook, including political ideology.

«

This has so much potential to go so, so wrong. Part-time non-expert fact-checkers. Like part-time non-expert airline pilots, maybe: responsible for a lot of people’s direction.
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Tories switch to messaging app Signal after WhatsApp leaks • The Guardian

Jim Waterson:

»

The Conservative party has started using the secure messaging service Signal for its internal communications with Tory MPs, following years of leaks from WhatsApp groups.

Signal, which is an alternative to Facebook-owned WhatsApp, prides itself on its ultra-secure privacy features and has an option to make messages automatically disappear after a set period of time, making it harder to retrospectively leak conversations.

The nonprofit open source service, which is endorsed by the likes of Edward Snowden, promises highly encrypted ad-free communications and pledges to ensure no one can read user messages or see their calls. Earlier this year the co-founder of WhatsApp gave $50m (£38m) to Signal to help improve the service.

Jim Killock of the Open Rights Group, which campaigns on internet freedoms, suggested the Tories’ switch to using Signal for party communications is ironic given the party’s longstanding campaign to introduce a backdoor on such messaging services for the benefit of the authorities.

…A Conservative spokesperson said the real justification for their MPs to use Signal was operational, rather than for security reasons. With so many Tory MPs elected at the last election, it had become impossible to fit them all in a single WhatsApp group, because they are currently capped at 256 members.

…[Killock said:] “I guess Priti Patel must be quite confused and alarmed as her party votes with its feet for secure messaging platforms, while she’s campaigning to stop them from protecting these very same users.”

«

Yes, but for Priti Patel to have to worry about cognitive dissonance, she’d need to be able to hold two thoughts in her head. Also, there were more than 256 Tory MPs in the last Parliament; so that’s another lie.
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Apple, Google, Amazon, Zigbee partner on smart home • CNBC

Todd Haselton:

»

Today, you might walk into a store and buy a smart lock for your home. But you’d have to figure out if you need to buy a lock that works with Amazon Echo (which uses various standards including Zigbee), Google Home or Apple HomeKit.

This same headache extends to the companies that build smart devices. They need to decide from the outset if they want to support various connectivity methods used by Amazon, Apple or Google and, if they do, they need to continue updating the device throughout its life so it’s secure across all platforms.

The new standard aims to fix those problems.

It’s called “Project Connected Home over IP” and it will work to create a new standard for the smart home so that people can buy products knowing that they’ll work with the systems they have at home, and that they’re secure. A logo on gadget boxes will let customers know if it’s built and supported by Project Connected Home over IP or not.

“The project is built around a shared belief that smart home devices should be secure, reliable, and seamless to use,” the companies said in a press release.

«

Alliances are nice, but tend to achieve little because the temptation to break away is so great for whoever is the market leader, no matter what stage the market is at.
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InLink Limited limited: firm that puts up UK’s ad-supported phone booths enters administration • The Register

Matthew Hughes:

»

Phonebooth sprawl wasn’t the only problem. Many local authorities refused permission for the InLink booths due to their association with criminality — specifically the drug trade.

InLink kiosks allowed users to place phone calls to UK landline and mobile numbers. Because they did not require any prior registration, they were ideally suited for those wishing to make drug deals, for example.

According to a Metropolitan Police report from 2018, five InLink kiosks facilitated 20,000 drug-related calls over a 15-week period. This forced BT to disable calls on certain kiosks, including those located in deprived areas of London’s Whitechapel, Bethnal Green, and Commercial Road.

Across the sprawling borough of Tower Hamlets, which has a population of over 300,000, InLink briefly suspended calls to mobile numbers, while allowing calls to landlines.

Separately, InLinkUK started work earlier this year rolling out on an algorithm that would identify and block drug-related calls (PDF). This used a combination of police intelligence, alongside a consideration of the frequency of attempted and connected calls, as well as their length.

Despite these efforts, InLink Kiosks developed a bad name. This reputation stymied the rollout of InLink kiosks around the UK.

«

Kudos to Adrian Short, a privacy activist who demonstrated early on what a blight these things – essentially big advertising hoardings – would be. So much for the smart city ideas too. Google/Alphabet is somewhere back there in the ownership, too.
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PlusToken scammers didn’t just steal $2+ billion worth of cryptocurrency. They may also be driving down the price of bitcoin • Chainalysis Blog

»

Scams are all too common in the cryptocurrency world, with our internal research suggesting bad actors bilked billions of dollars’ worth of funds from millions of victims in 2019. In addition to the monetary losses sustained by affected individuals, scams paint a negative picture of the industry and may scare off potential participants.

But in the case of one notable 2019 scam, the consequences may go beyond the direct victims. We believe that the criminals behind the PlusToken Ponzi scheme could be driving down the price of Bitcoin when they liquidate their stolen funds via OTC brokers.

Based in China, PlusToken presented itself as a cryptocurrency wallet that would reward users with high rates of return if they purchased the wallet’s associated PLUS cryptocurrency tokens with Bitcoin or Ethereum. The scammers claimed those returns would be generated by “exchange profit, mining income, and referral benefits.” PlusToken would go on to be listed on several Chinese exchanges and hit a peak price of $350 USD, raking in “investments” from millions of people. 

Chinese media reports that the scam attracted over $3 billion worth of cryptocurrency. We tracked a total of 180,000 BTC, 6,400,000 ETH, 111,000 USDT, and 53 OMG (OmiseGo) that went from scam victims to PlusToken wallets, equating to roughly $2bn. Either figure would make PlusToken one of the largest Ponzi schemes ever. 

«

And now they’re trying to cash out, in amounts so large it’s pushing down the price. But look again at that opening sentence: “Scams are all too common in the cryptocurrency world”. Mm. Avoid.
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What do women want? Some crypto flavoured mansplaining, apparently • FT Alphaville

Jemima Kelly:

»

we were just thrilled to come across an article published on crypto news site Coindesk on Monday night under the headline “What Do Women Want? More Educational Materials Before Investing in Bitcoin”. Our attention was drawn to it via the medium of Twitter — specifically this truly eye-catching tweet:

(Just look at those poor, helpless, beautiful women! All they want is some educational materials to help them join the cause!)

The article, it turns out, was based on a survey of 1,100 people carried out earlier this year, some unknown proportion of whom were women. And that survey, it turns out, was carried out by Grayscale, a crypto and blockchain asset management firm owned by Digital Currency Group which, it turns out, owns… Coindesk. 

Coindesk mansplains explains (emphasis ours):

»

The survey found women were just as likely as men to see bitcoin’s high growth potential (56.2% of women, compared to 56.4% of men). They also understood bitcoin’s finite supply could drive future price increases (49.8% of women, 49.9% of men).

«

You see women aren’t silly. They understand something that is totally not grounded in any fact or evidence. They understand that even though we all know exactly how many bitcoins there will ever be in circulation (21 million, if you’re talking about the original bitcoin AKA BTC), that limit will nonetheless “drive future price increases”. Crypto markets — they’re so rational! And women, it turns out, can be the same kind of rational! 

«

Kelly wields the flamethrower of murder-that-crap just as you would expect her to, especially on the followup offering an “unbiased introduction” from “crypto enthusiasts”.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1212: how Finns beat fake news, Apple’s decade in retrospect, Google’s cloud deadline, and more


DeepMind’s AlphaZero has found that changing a single rule in chess can make games more interesting – and reduce draws. CC-licensed photo by Megan Wong 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. Well-decorated. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Kramnik and AlphaZero: how to rethink chess • Chess.com

Vladimir Kramnik is a former world chess champion who asked DeepMind to get AlphaZero to test new variations – because it can run through millennia of games in a few days:

»

My aim was to find a chess variant that would not only have the potential to bring the excitement and decisive victories back to chess, but is also aesthetically pleasing. The goal was to reignite interest and introduce players and audiences to the immense complexity and creativity of the original game of chess.

To begin, we tasked AlphaZero with exploring a variant that prevented either side from castling, trying different opening moves from both sides. The outcome was beyond our expectations!

We let AlphaZero learn how to play “no-castling chess” from scratch, allowing the program to incrementally learn how to master the game through a process of trial and error, similar to how it taught itself to play classical chess. After playing millions of games, AlphaZero became a no-castling expert, allowing us to analyze how it plays and assess the overall game balance.

The win/loss percentages for both White and Black are similar to classical chess, suggesting that the no-castling variant should be quite playable without favoring a particular player. Preventing the king from retreating to a safe distance means that all of the pieces have to engage in the melee, making the play more dynamic and entertaining, with a number of original patterns.

«

Certainly much simpler, and easy to test. (He considered, and rejected, FischerRandom – where you place the back row pieces randomly but mirror-image before the game. Too difficult for amateurs, and too variable.)
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Finland is winning the war on fake news. Other nations want the blueprint

Eliza Mackintosh:

»

Finland has faced down Kremlin-backed propaganda campaigns ever since it declared independence from Russia 101 years ago. But in 2014, after Moscow annexed Crimea and backed rebels in eastern Ukraine, it became obvious that the battlefield had shifted: information warfare was moving online.

Toivanen, the chief communications specialist for the prime minister’s office, said it is difficult to pinpoint the exact number of misinformation operations to have targeted the country in recent years, but most play on issues like immigration, the European Union, or whether Finland should become a full member of NATO (Russia is not a fan).

As the trolling ramped up in 2015, President Sauli Niinisto called on every Finn to take responsibility for the fight against false information. A year later, Finland brought in American experts to advise officials on how to recognize fake news, understand why it goes viral and develop strategies to fight it. The education system was also reformed to emphasize critical thinking.

Although it’s difficult to measure the results in real-time, the approach appears to be working, and now other countries are looking to Finland as an example of how to win the war on misinformation.

“It’s not just a government problem, the whole society has been targeted. We are doing our part, but it’s everyone’s task to protect the Finnish democracy,” Toivanen said, before adding: “The first line of defense is the kindergarten teacher.”

«

Government-funded, which seems wise.
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Exclusive: Facebook funding Reuters deepfakes course for newsrooms • Axios

Sara Fischer:

»

The free e-learning course, called “Identifying and Tackling Manipulated Media,” seeks to help journalists globally learn how to identify photos or videos that have been altered to present inaccurate information.

It’s available online only, and takes about 45 minutes to complete. Reuters and Facebook will do events and panels in 2020 together around the course.

Much of the course isn’t focused on deepfakes specifically, but rather on the way manipulated media can be used to distort the facts. Deepfakes involve the use of artificial intelligence to create media that is doctored to look real; they are a subset of the much broader category of manipulated media, which is any media altered to change the factual record.

What they’re saying: Hazel Baker, Reuters’ head of user-generated content news-gathering, who created the course, says that the goal was to help newsrooms understand what they should be looking for.

“Ninety per cent of manipulated media we see online is real video taken out of context used to feed a different narrative,” says Baker, whose unit of 13 at Reuters specializes in verifying visual media. “Sometimes it’s edited, but often it’s not. I think that’s quite an important starting point.”

«

So is Facebook going to take down content like this? *Hilarious laughter* Ok then.
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Facebook’s unhealthy obsession with growth persists after years of scandal • Buzzfeed News

Alex Kantrowitz:

»

Facebook’s growth at any cost mentality has birthed innumerable scandals over the past decade — election meddling, political discord, privacy invasion. Yet today, after repeated apologies and promises to do better, that mentality remains largely unchanged. BuzzFeed News has learned the company continues to evaluate and compensate product managers based mostly on their ability to grow its products, with little regard to the impact of those products on the world. In fact, for Facebook, the very word “impact” is often defined by internal growth rather than external consequences and it uses growth metrics as a key criteria for evaluating performance and determining compensation changes.

This emphasis on growth, particularly as it’s tied to performance evaluation, encourages Facebook’s employees to focus on growth above all else, sources close to the company told BuzzFeed News.

“Working at Facebook made me aware of how you can reprogram humans,” one ex–product manager who recently left the company said. “It’s hard to believe that you could get humans to override all of their values that they came in with. But with a system like this, you can. I found that a bit terrifying.”

“When you’re building something at this scale, solutions take a good amount of time” 
The system this product manager described — a source of concern among others who have worked for the company — has two main components: Facebook’s data science team and its performance evaluation system. The company’s data science team has years of data at its disposal, which it uses to pinpoint how much a team should grow a product it’s working on. Facebook’s product teams use that information to set goals every six months as part of a “roadmap planning” process. The criterion is typically growth, though there are sometimes other goals as well, like reducing harmful behavior on its service.

«

A microcosm of ourselves.
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Introducing MusicBot: the all-in-one Apple Music assistant, powered by Shortcuts • MacStories

Federico Viticci:

»

For the past several months, I’ve been working on a shortcut designed to be the ultimate assistant for Apple Music. Called MusicBot, the shortcut encompasses dozens of different features and aims to be an all-in-one assistant that helps you listen to music more quickly, generate intelligent mixes based on your tastes, rediscover music from your library, control playback on AirPlay 2 speakers, and much more. I poured hundreds of hours of work into MusicBot, which has gained a permanent spot on my Home screen. Best of all, MusicBot is available to everyone for free.

I’m a happy Apple Music subscriber, and I love the direction Apple has taken with the service: fewer exclusive deals, more human curation, artist spotlights, and playlists updated daily. However, I believe the Music app for iPhone and iPad leaves much to be desired in terms of navigation and fast access to your favorite music. While Music gets the job done as a gateway to a streaming catalog, I find its interactions somewhat slow when it comes to playing my favorite playlists on shuffle or getting to albums I frequently listen to. Some of Music’s most interesting mixes are only available by asking Siri; additionally, getting to certain sections of the app or tweaking specific settings often takes far too many taps for my taste.

«

That it’s written in Shortcuts is, in its own right, incredible: the interface for working in Shortcuts is terrible, and this has more than 750 Shortcut actions in it. Proof, of a sort, that you can program on an iPad. But unless Viticci was able to use a second screen (which he might have, with an iPad), this was the sort of masochism that would have left the Marquis De Sade raising his eyebrows and asking if that wasn’t a bit much.
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Walt Mossberg: Tim Cook’s Apple had a great decade but no new blockbusters • The Verge

Mossberg came out of retirement to write about Apple’s decade:

»

Cook does bear the responsibility for a series of actions that screwed up the Macintosh for years. The beloved mainstream MacBook Air was ignored for five years. At the other end of the scale, the Mac Pro, the mainstay of professional audio, graphics, and video producers, was first neglected then reissued in 2013 in a way that put form so far ahead of function that it enraged its customer base.

Some insiders think Cook allowed Ive’s design team far too much power and that the balance Jobs was able to strike between the designers and the engineers was gone, at least until Ive left the company earlier this year.

The design-first culture that took root under Cook struck again with the MacBook Pro, yielding new laptops so thin their keyboards were awful and featuring USB-C ports that required sleek Macs to be used with ugly dongles. Apple has only recently retreated back to decent keyboards on the latest MacBook Pro, and it issued a much more promising Mac Pro. But dongles are still a part of the Apple experience across its product lines.

Cook’s other success this decade was to nurture the iPhone along as smartphone sales first plateaued and then began to decline. The biggest change he made came in 2014, before the dip, when Apple introduced two new iPhone 6 models, which belatedly adopted big screens that Android phones had pioneered. Sales took off like a rocket, and there’s been a big iPhone option every year since.

«

I’d definitely agree with the “some insiders”. USB-C perhaps could have waited a year or two, or three, but dongles are hardly the end of the world. The keyboards, though, and the overemphasis on “thin” and “featureless” over functional, are points that maybe were impossible to hear above the noise of everything else happening inside the company – particularly with the shift to services and TV.
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Google brass set 2023 as deadline to beat Amazon, Microsoft in cloud • The Information

Nick Bastone, Kevin McLaughlin and Amir Efrati:

»

The clock is ticking for Google Cloud.

The Google unit, which sells computing services to big companies, is under pressure from top management to pass Microsoft or Amazon—currently first and second, respectively, in cloud market share—or risk losing funding. While the company has invested heavily in the business since last year, Google wants its cloud group to outrank those of one or both of its two main rivals by 2023, said people with knowledge of the matter.

That timeline was devised early last year, after an intense monthslong debate among senior leaders at Google and its parent company Alphabet over the future of the cloud business, a person with direct knowledge of the matter told The Information. The group, which included Google CEO Sundar Pichai, Alphabet chief financial officer Ruth Porat and then-CEO of Alphabet Larry Page, discussed whether Google could “win” in the business, who would be best to lead the effort and the difficulties of competing on things other than technology, such as sales and marketing. The group even talked about—and eventually dismissed—the idea of leaving the market entirely, this person said.

…Becoming No. 1 or 2 in the cloud market will be a stretch for Google. In the third quarter, Amazon Web Services accounted for almost 33% of global cloud spending, while Microsoft had nearly 17% and Google had just under 7%, according to research firm Canalys.

At the same time, there are some signs of progress. On Alphabet’s fiscal second quarter earnings call in July, Pichai revealed that Google Cloud generated $2bn in revenue during the quarter, giving it an $8bn annualized sales rate—double the $1bn a quarter in cloud revenue it disclosed for the last quarter of 2017

«

But Google’s ad business is about 20 times bigger. Business Insider also mentioned 2023. This is the sort of revelation that won’t help Google’s Cloud business at all.

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Match the classic book to its not-so-classic sequel • Mental Floss

Personally I didn’t even know there was a sequel to Forrest Gump. Or quite a few of the others. Difficult!
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List of best-selling mobile phones • Wikipedia

Everyone on the internet:

»

With over 4 decades on the market, mobile phones have become the most used electronic device in the world. Below is a list of best-selling mobile phones, released between 1992 and 2018. The best-selling mobile devices are the Nokia 1100 and 1110, two bar phones released in 2003 and 2005, respectively. Both have sold over 250 million units.

The best-selling touchscreen phones are the Apple iPhone 6 and 6 Plus, both released in 2014. Together, they have sold over 220 million units. The best-selling flip phone is the Motorola RAZR V3, released in 2004. It sold over 130 million units. The best-selling slider phone is the Samsung E250, released in 2006. It has sold over 30 million units.

«

Some amazing stats in here, and surprises too. Apple leads on the individual best-selling phones because its portfolio was, for so long, so small: rather than releasing a different phone every day of the week (as Samsung sometimes seems to), its focus until recently on one or two helps bump it up.

Even so, the numbers for this year may surprise you. (Thanks stormyparis for the link.)
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1211: Google/YouTube moderators speak out, the adaptive UI, Facebook goes DeepText, on Corbyn in 2015, and more


Guess what, Marissa Mayer’s back – and she wants to save you some time. CC-licensed photo by TechCrunch 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. Never garbage in, only out. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Google and YouTube moderators speak out on the work that’s giving them PTSD • The Verge

Casey Newton:

»

Peter is one of hundreds of moderators at the Austin site. YouTube sorts the work for him and his colleagues into various queues, which the company says allows moderators to build expertise around its policies. There’s a copyright queue, a hate and harassment queue, and an “adult” queue for porn.

Peter works what is known internally as the “VE queue,” which stands for violent extremism. It is some of the grimmest work to be done at Alphabet. And like all content moderation jobs that involve daily exposure to violence and abuse, it has had serious and long-lasting consequences for the people doing the work.

In the past year, Peter has seen one of his co-workers collapse at work in distress, so burdened by the videos he had seen that he took two months of unpaid leave from work. Another co-worker, wracked with anxiety and depression caused by the job, neglected his diet so badly that he had to be hospitalized for an acute vitamin deficiency.

Peter, who has done this job for nearly two years, worries about the toll that the job is taking on his mental health. His family has repeatedly urged him to quit. But he worries that he will not be able to find another job that pays as well as this one does: $18.50 an hour, or about $37,000 a year.

«

People paying the price of all the other people.
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Marissa Mayer is launching a new project: Lumi Labs • Fast Company

Harry McCracken:

»

Mayer remains cryptic about the specific types of apps Lumi has under development, and the time frame for their launch. But she will say that Lumi stands to benefit from the kinds of AI breakthroughs that Silicon Valley researchers are making in areas such as teaching cars to drive themselves. This kind of work, she says, is immediately useful for the tools Lumi is devising to automate activities “so mundane and so time-consuming that a lot of people [choose not to] do them.” For instance, the company is applying machine learning to certain photo-related tasks such as figuring out whether a particular image “is blurry, whether it’s well lit, whether it’s one that someone is likely to want to share based on the history of photos they shared in the past.”

If Lumi’s apps take off, it won’t be through the company’s use of AI alone. “We want our products to be thoughtful, to feel nice when they’re used,” explains Mayer, who was once famous for zealously guarding Google’s search engine against complication and clutter. She admits that she misses the days when the products she launched reached hundreds of millions of people. But with Lumi, “the hope is to be able to have that kind of impact and scale at some point,” she says. “That’s certainly what we will be building for.”

«

Whether my photo is too blurry. Really. Too blurry. From the woman who once oversaw Google Mail.

Let’s check back in two years.
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How AI will eat UI

Artyom Avanesov:

»

When AR wearables hit the market, our apps will start tracking both our conscious and subconscious behavior. By measuring our heart rate, respiration, pupil size, and eye movement, our AI’s will be able to map our psychology in high resolution. And armed with this information, our interfaces will morph and adapt to our mood as we go about our day.

Future interfaces will not be curated, but tailored to fulfill our subconscious needs. Maybe the best way to navigate a digital ecosystem isn’t through buttons and sliders. Maybe the solution is something more organic and abstract.

Autodesk is developing a system that uses Generative Design to create 3D models. You enter your requirements, and the system spits out a solution. The method has already produced drones, airplane parts, and hot rods. So it’s only a matter of time before we start seeing AI-generated interfaces.

This may all sounds far out, but the future tends to arrive sooner than we expect. One day, in a brave new world, we will look at contemporary interfaces the same way we look at an old typewriter; gawking at its crudeness and appreciating how far we’ve come.

«

Now that’s something to think about. What if the UI is different for each of us because the AI picks up different things? Nobody’s phone would look the same, nobody’s phone would act the same. You wouldn’t be able to make sense of your best friend’s device. And yet it might happen.
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Google Turkey suspends services for upcoming phones over fine • Daily Sabah

:

»

Tech giant Google has suspended its services for new Android smartphones in Turkey unless the country backtracks from its decision to fine the company for violating competition law, the company announced Sunday.

The decision will not affect current users or current phone models already existing on the market. The move will only suspend Google services for Android devices yet to be released.

Turkey’s Competition Authority last September announced it had fined Google some TL 93 million for violating competition laws with its mobile software sales. The watchdog said in March this year that it was launching a broader investigation into Google based on preliminary findings.

Google told Turkish business partners, phone manufacturers and telecom carriers selling smartphones that it would not grant licenses to Android phones set to be launched on the Turkish market for the use of its services, including Google Play Store, Gmail, YouTube and other Google applications. Accordingly, Google said it would also suspend operating system updates.

…The initial probe aimed to determine whether Google’s contracts with equipment producers – in addition to its mobile communications systems, applications and provision of services – found the tech giant had violated the law.

«

That’s quite the reaction, Google. Most of the 10m smartphones sold in Turkey annually run Android. Wonder how this is going to pan out if neither side backs down.
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Introducing DeepText: Facebook’s text understanding engine • Facebook Engineering

Ahmad Abdulkader, Aparna Lakshmiratan, and Joy Zhang:

»

DeepText is already being tested on some Facebook experiences. In the case of Messenger, for example, DeepText is used by the AML Conversation Understanding team to get a better understanding of when someone might want to go somewhere. It’s used for intent detection, which helps realize that a person is not looking for a taxi when he or she says something like, “I just came out of the taxi,” as opposed to “I need a ride.”

We’re also beginning to use high-accuracy, multi-language DeepText models to help people find the right tools for their purpose. For example, someone could write a post that says, “I would like to sell my old bike for $200, anyone interested?” DeepText would be able to detect that the post is about selling something, extract the meaningful information such as the object being sold and its price, and prompt the seller to use existing tools that make these transactions easier through Facebook.

DeepText has the potential to further improve Facebook experiences by understanding posts better to extract intent, sentiment, and entities (e.g., people, places, events), using mixed content signals like text and images, and automating the removal of objectionable content like spam. Many celebrities and public figures use Facebook to start conversations with the public. These conversations often draw hundreds or even thousands of comments. Finding the most relevant comments in multiple languages while maintaining comment quality is currently a challenge. One additional challenge that DeepText may be able to address is surfacing the most relevant or high-quality comments.

«

But fake news? Perish the thought.
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September 2015: Last house on the Left: following Jeremy Corbyn’s campaign trail • The Quietus

Taylor Parkes, back in September 2015, when it looked as though Corbyn was going to be elected leader of the Labour Party:

»

The fact is, unless a lot of things change deeply and most unexpectedly over the next four years, Jeremy Corbyn is not going to win a general election. This is not to suggest that there’s some kind of objective, immovable “centre ground”, nor that if there were, it would be occupied by the Labour Right – still less the modern Conservative Party. In truth, Corbyn’s domestic policies are not very extreme, and would in many cases prove quite popular. Yes, they’re “radical” in the sense that there’s a chasmal distance out to there from where we are today, but really, Corbynism is just about hauling Britain back towards the social-democratic Centre. There will be no pogroms, no fifteen-hour queues for stale bread. This is not the problem.

I think we all know what the problems are. For instance, I’m not what you’d call a hawk, but please: out there in grainy, hard-bollocked reality, Corbyn’s foreign policy would not just leave Britain naked in the conference chamber, but fastened into a gimp mask with a horse-tail dangling out of its arse. Whether we like it or not, there is at least one confrontation coming; you can be sure of that. There are some nasty people in the world, you know. Some of them – get this! – are even nastier than Tony Blair. And even if you leave them all alone, they will not stop. Not for all the tea in Islington North.

What’s more, there are certain… issues with Corbyn and the company he keeps. He doesn’t just have skeletons in his closet, he hangs up his shirts in an ossuary. This is not a trivial matter. Those who underestimate the problems this will cause are fooling themselves (and in some cases, losing sight of their own moral compass).

«

It’s amazing: Parkes gets every single thing correct about Corbyn, about his outriders, and his past, about how he would fare against Boris Johnson. Four. Years. Ago.

It’s a fantastic piece; I highly recommend all of it.
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Post Office coughs £57.75m to settle wonky Horizon IT system case • The Register

John Oates:

»

The UK’s Post Office has finally agreed to settle a long-running case brought by postmasters the company accused of theft based on evidence from the Horizon IT system.

Claimants (and their lawyers, of course) will split £57.75m in order to settle Bates and others v the Post Office.

The biz said in a statement: “The Post Office would like to express its gratitude to claimants, and particularly those who attended the mediation in person to share their experiences with us, for holding us to account in circumstances where, in the past, we have fallen short and we apologise to those affected.”

It said the new chief executive was committed to learning lessons and that the company would be “undertaking an ambitious and sustained programme of changes to the Post Office’s relationship with postmasters”.

Freelance journalist Nick Wallis, who has been reporting on the case since 2010, pointed out that litigants would have spent about £22m, assuming their legal bills were similar to the Post Office’s. Wallis noted the case was backed by litigation funder Therium and by his rough maths on what they would expect to be paid, he estimated payments for each of the 550 litigants would be between £47,000 and £78,000.

«

Astonishing that something like this has to go on for so long, and yet the consequences for those who behaved wrongly will, one fears, be minimal.
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FixMyStreet for TfL — now live • mySociety

Myfanwy Nixon:

»

Back in November, we announced our new partnership with Transport for London. We’re now pleased to say that the new Street Care service is live.

If you’re a seasoned user of FixMyStreet, there’s no learning curve required: you can proceed exactly as normal. If you prefer, you can carry on making reports through the national website at FixMyStreet.com or via the FixMyStreet app.

The only difference is that now, if the issue is the responsibility of TfL, that’s where your report will be routed, and that’s where updates will come from to let you know when the fix is in progress or completed.

The new service covers potholes, roadworks, bus shelters and traffic lights on the capital’s busiest roads — the ‘red routes’, which make up only 5% of the city’s highways, but account for a whopping 30% of traffic. Users can also report graffiti and flyposting, problems with hoardings, scaffolding and mobile cranes, street lights and damaged trees.

As ever, the underlying FixMyStreet platform means that you don’t need to think about who is responsible for your issue. If a problem is reported and it’s nothing to do with TfL, it’ll be automatically routed to the relevant borough or authority.

«

Amazingly, FixMyStreet dates back to 2007 – it’s one of the earliest web projects built for the community in the UK. Only slightly concerning that it has taken 12 years for the capital’s transport authority to integrate it.
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Netflix’s Napster moment • Tech-Thoughts

Sameer Singh:

»

All of a sudden, Netflix finds itself in a world where must-watch content is fragmented across streaming services with individual subscriptions. Not that different from the pre-cord cutting world. The content economics are largely similar and all that has changed is that it is now delivered over the internet. In this world, does Netflix have the freedom to cut down on original content investments? The subscribers they have acquired have their own niche tastes. If they no longer get new content  they are interested in, they have enough options available from competitors.

Even if Netflix continues to invest in content, is that enough to keep subscribers around in this world? Users are unlikely to sign up AND stick to every streaming service that has a “must watch” show. A fan of Stranger Things, His Dark Materials and The Mandalorian is unlikely to pay for Netflix, HBO Max and Disney+ every month. A more likely outcome is that users “hop” between streaming subscriptions based on what they want to watch. There is already evidence of this, as HBO NOW subscriptions in the past few years experienced a dramatic peak during every new season of Game of Thrones. Subscriptions then dropped back down as soon as the season was complete. This pattern will dramatically increase user churn and, consequently, customer acquisition costs. Of course, the other eventuality is an increase in piracy, which will also hurt economics.

…The upside is that Netflix isn’t the only company facing these challenges. The entire video streaming industry is on an unsustainable path. High content costs, subscriber churn and piracy will affect everyone in the industry. This, in turn, is likely to create the conditions necessary for a new industry structure. Take yourself back to the music industry in the early 2000s. Revenue losses caused by piracy, and Napster in particular, forced industry players to co-operate and created the conditions necessary for Apple to unbundle music albums via iTunes. Video streaming is on a very similar path (a combination of unbundling and re-aggregation onto a single platform).

«

Singh is always worth listening to – though I think it’s no secret that this splurge on video content can’t last.
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Prime leverage: how Amazon wields power in the technology world • The New York Times

Daisuke Wakabayashi:

»

The A.W.S. [Amazon Web Services] database service, an instant hit with customers, did not run software that Amazon created. Instead, the company plucked from a freely shared option known as open source.

…open source is a tried and true model nurtured by the software industry to get technology to customers quickly. A community of enthusiasts often springs up around the shareable technology, contributing improvements and spreading the word about its benefits. Traditionally, open-source companies later earn money for customer support or from paid add-ons.

Technologists initially paid little attention to what Amazon had done with database software. Then in 2015, Amazon repeated the maneuver by copying Elasticsearch and offering its competing service.

This time, heads turned.

“There was a company that built a business around an open-source product that people like using and, suddenly, they have a competitor using their own stuff against them,” said Todd Persen, who started a non-open-source software company this year so there was “zero chance” that Amazon could lift his creations. His previous start-up, InfluxDB, was open source.

Again and again, the open-source software industry became a well that Amazon turned to. When it copied and integrated that software into A.W.S., it didn’t need permission or have to pay the start-ups for their work, creating a deterrent for people to innovate.

That left little recourse for many of these companies, which could not suddenly start charging money for what was free software. Some instead changed the rules around how their wares could be used, restricting Amazon and others who want to turn what they have created into a paid service.

«

This piece begins promisingly – OMG Amazon totes ripped off Elasticsearch! – but you gradually realise that the complaints are nothingburgers. Open source companies are whining because Amazon is using the combination of its size and software that is provided as open source to produce big services they can’t compete with because they’re small.

Clue for you, people: don’t make it open source. Do it the hard way: closed source, and find customers. It worked for Microsoft and for Amazon and a gazillion companies up and down the chain. (Thanks Nic for the link.)
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1210: the decade’s puzzled economists, Foxconn wriggles in Wisconsin, Samsung’s smaller fold, and more


Biopharma companies aren’t working on new antibiotics – because of a quirk of the US health care system. CC-licensed photo by NIAID on Flickr.

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

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

Biopharma has abandoned antibiotic development. Here’s why we did, too • Endpoints News

Isaac Stoner is president and COO of Octagon Therapeutics:

»

Patients who contract, or succumb to, a resistant infection are severely undercounted. Under the Affordable Care Act, hospitals must pay a penalty for each hospital-acquired-infection (HAI) occurring with in their in-patient population. As a result, if a patient dies from a superbug contracted during a procedure such as surgery, the official cause of death may be instead listed as “Complications from Surgery.” Consistent and systemic undercounting of illnesses and deaths from resistant infections further discourages the development of new antibiotics as the number of patients who need these medicines may appear to be very small.

The failure of the market for new antibiotics has al so been caused by several economic and commercial factors. Approval incentives were not the only policy included in the GAIN Act. There were also measures designed to promote stewardship, or appropriate use, of new antibiotics. In short, when a new antibiotic be comes available, it should only be used as a last resort to prevent new resistance from arising. This kind of responsible use is a good thing! But stewardship severely limits the number of patients who will receive a new antibiotic and, correspondingly, the potential sales volume.

Insurers pay for in-patient antibiotics as part of a lump sum to hospitals known as a Diagnosis Related Group (DRG). Using a cheap antibiotic increases hospital profit margins, while using an expensive new drug could mean that a hospital might lose money by treating a given patient. As a result, hospitals are incentivized to use cheaper antibiotics when ever possible.

«

So in short we’re at risk of antibiotic collapse because of perverse incentives in the utterly broken American healthcare system. So much for which America is to blame.
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Economists got the decade all wrong. They’re trying to figure out why • WSJ

Greg Ip, on how economists’ forecasts for interest rates and inflation and GDP kept being wrong:

»

in 2013 Larry Summers, a former top adviser to Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama and now an economist at Harvard University, advanced an alternative explanation: “secular stagnation.” He borrowed the phrase from an earlier Harvard economist, Alvin Hansen who used it in 1938 to describe the Great Depression’s persistently weak growth and high unemployment. Mr. Hansen tied it to weak investment due to slow population growth: Businesses had less need to invest when there were fewer new workers and customers and when aging households bought fewer big-ticket products like houses.

Slow population growth is once again weighing on growth and interest rates, Mr. Summers noted, and he added several other factors: the fastest-growing businesses, such as social-media platforms, invest little of their rich profits. Higher inequality meant more income flows to the high-saving, low-spending rich.

Though initially skeptical of Mr. Summers’s thesis, many economists have since warmed to it, at least for other parts of the world, if not the U.S. In some countries like Germany a persistent excess of savings manifests itself as a trade surplus which flows into other countries’ bonds, holding down interest rates around the world.

Secular stagnation has several profound implications. First, with interest rates closer to zero, central banks are less able to combat future recessions. Second, a structural shortage of private borrowing means governments can run big deficits without pushing up interest rates.

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Samsung denies selling 1 mln Galaxy Fold smartphones • Yonhap News Agency

주경돈:

»

Samsung Electronics on Friday denied media reports that the company has sold one million Galaxy Fold smartphones globally since the device’s launch in September.

Samsung Electronics President Sohn Young-kwon said at a conference organized by US tech media TechCrunch that the South Korean tech giant has sold 1 million Galaxy Folds so far, double the industry’s earlier estimate.

But a Samsung spokesman said Sohn may have confused the figure with the company’s initial sales target for the year, emphasizing that sales of the tech firm’s first foldable handset have not reached 1 million units.

Earlier, Samsung said it expected to sell 500,000 Galaxy Fold globally this year.

Many analysts previously expected that Samsung would sell about 400,000 to 500,000 units of the foldable phone this year.

«

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100 best memes of the decade • Buzzfeed News

Katie Notopoulos, Julia Reinstein and Ryan Broderick:

»

This decade, memes became something not just for a handful of internet nerds who lurked on message boards; memes are now for everyone. The online culture of this decade hasn’t just changed the words we use, it’s changed how we express ourselves. Huge technological shifts of the 2010s led to this: widespread smartphone adoption and the rise of newfangled social media platforms like Vine. Memes also became a business — brands used meme-speak and accounts like @fuckjerry made big bucks by reposting memes.

«

I learnt “deep fried” from this. Side note: how classic that Buzzfeed News’s roundup of the decade should be memes.
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Exclusive: documents show Foxconn refuses to renegotiate Wisconsin deal • The Verge

Josh Dzieza:

»

given that Foxconn is building something completely different than that Gen 10.5 LCD facility specified in its original contract with Wisconsin, is it still going to get the record-breaking $4.5bn in taxpayer subsidies?

Documents obtained by The Verge show that Wisconsin officials have repeatedly — and with growing urgency — warned Foxconn that its current project has veered far from what was described in the original deal and that the contract must be amended if the company is to receive subsidies. Foxconn, however, has declined to amend the contract, and it indicated that it nevertheless intends to apply for tax credits.

Foxconn has “refused by inaction” to amend the deal, says Wisconsin Department of Administration Secretary Joel Brennan. “They were continuously encouraged. It’s a relatively recent development, where they have said, ‘No, we don’t want to do anything with the contract.’ Our expectation has been, and continues to be, that they should want to come back and have discussions about this.”

The documents show it was Foxconn that first proposed amending the contract in a meeting on March 11th, 2019. Over the following months, various officials from the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) and Gov. Tony Evers’ administration urged Foxconn to formally apply to revise its contract to reflect whatever it is actually building, a process that would involve describing Foxconn’s current plans, its expected costs, employment, and other basic details.

Foxconn never did.

«

The Verge has done great work exposing this gigantic screwup. Since July 2017, when it was first boosted by Trump and (now-defeated) Wisconsin governor Scott Walker, the ambition of this scheme has gone down and down, but its demand for subsidies – which in its original form wouldn’t have paid off until 2042; going to be much smaller now – hasn’t wavered.
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Google’s shopping comparison draws US Justice Department scrutiny • Bloomberg

Ben Brody and Naomi Nix:

»

US antitrust enforcers are examining Google’s conduct in the online shopping comparison market as they continue their probe of the search giant.

Richard Stables, chief executive officer of the shopping comparison site Kelkoo Group, said he spent more than an hour with Justice Department officials on Thursday to discuss how Alphabet allegedly hurt his European-based business.

The meetings show that the Justice Department, which opened its investigation of Google with a document seeking a wide swath of information on the company, has an interest in at least one of three landmark European antitrust cases.

A Justice Department spokesman said the department has had numerous productive meetings with third parties, but declined to comment on specific discussions.

Stables said he also met with congressional staff members for lawmakers on antitrust committees in the House and Senate earlier this week.

In 2017, the European Union fined Google €2.4bn ($2.8bn) and ordered the company to stop promoting its own shopping search results over those of competitors. Stables, who has been trying to convince the EU to toughen its remedy, outlined to the US antitrust enforcers what he said was harm to consumers stemming from Google’s practices.

«

The US Congress had a series of hearings about Google Shopping back in 2011. Eric Schmidt defended it. Is eight years too long a timeframe for anyone to remember this sort of stuff?
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Dominic Cummings thinks Brexit can end British nativism • Foreign Policy

Sahil Handa:

»

In laying out his own vision for a post-Brexit Britain, [senior government adviser Dominic] Cummings barely mentions national identity. His concerns are structural, not cultural—he is preoccupied with free trade, not ethnic replacement.

In laying out his own vision for a post-Brexit Britain, Cummings barely mentions national identity. His concerns are structural, not cultural—he is preoccupied with free trade, not ethnic replacement. He wants to increase skilled immigration and turn the UK into a magnet for young scientists from across the world, using the comparative advantages of the country’s National Health Service to take a lead in the controversial field of genomic medicine (the technology that allows doctors to detect disease risk and cognitive problems in embryos). He even proposes providing open borders to math and computer science PhD.s — not out of generosity, but out of an absolutist belief in scientific talent—an idea that Johnson has already taken up. Indeed, Cummings uses the word “talent” repeatedly in his writings. The Chinese Communist Party attracts talent, he contends; the EU and UK do not.

If liberal democratic values are to survive, the institutions that defend them require an overhaul. They must be streamlined, democratized, and updated at the same rate as the technology sector. Otherwise, the decisive policymaking of China’s authoritarian model—better suited to tackling climate change and other long-term challenges—could make it a serious rival to the West’s staid, stagnant bureaucracies.

«

Given that the Tories and Cummings are now firmly ensconced, it helps to know what they’re thinking. Cummings has quite an odd worldview, in my opinion, but that’s something we’re going to have to deal with.
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Chinese netizens slam Huawei’s legal bullying of former employee with a series of codes • Global Voices

Oiwan Lam:

»

Li Hongyuan, a former Huawei employee, was arrested by Shenzhen police on 16 December 2018 after Huawei accused him of extortion. He was detained for 251 days.

The court dismissed the charges due to “unclear criminal facts and insufficient evidence”. Li had negotiated with the company secretary for an employment termination compensation of about 300,000 yuan (US$42,430 dollars) and he had recorded his negotiation with the company secretary on tape. As the charge was acquitted Li received 100,000 yuan (US$14,100 dollars) compensation for his illegitimate detention.

Li later revealed to local media outlets that he had met a number of former Huawei employees in the Shenzhen detention center facing similar charges. One widely reported case was Zheng Meng. Zheng was arrested by Shenzhen police during his touristic visit in Thailand on 30 December 2018 and detained in Shenzhen for 90 days on extortion. He was in the process of negotiating with the corporation over his unpaid leave compensation.

Apart from employees, a number of netizens who criticized Huawei’s products were arrested for spreading rumors by Shenzhen police. For example, Wang Hao, who worked for a tech media outlet, was arrested in early November 2018 and detained for 252 days for criticizing Huawei mobile phone Mate 20. His charge was acquitted eventually but he had not received any compensation for his illegitimate detention.

As netizen uproar continued, the web censor stepped in to block the discussion on Chinese social media platforms. Prominent tech blogger William Long’s post on Weibo was blocked on 30 November and the blogger expressed his frustration on Twitter

«

There’s a lot in the story; Huawei getting dinged up and down social media. Though of course it’s difficult to know whether that has any broader relevance. (Thanks Nic for the pointer.)
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Twenty tech trends for 2020 • The Guardian

Alex Hern:

»

From new gaming consoles to activism at Apple, we predict the things you will – or won’t – see in tech in 2020

«

Pretty hard to argue with any of these: no Google Duplex in Europe (GDPR), more ads on smart speakers (has happened already), Facebook to kill Portal, and plenty more. Reliable.

From having done this game in the past, the difficulty in compiling them is always whether you go for the obvious back-of-the-net ones, or the out-there ones which, if they come off, will make you look like a fabulous guru. This is a good mixture.
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Look how easy it is to fool facial recognition—even at the airport • Fortune

Jeff John Roberts:

»

Masks and simple photographs are enough to fool some facial recognition technology, highlighting a major shortcoming in what is billed as a more effective security tool.

The test, by artificial intelligence company Kneron, involved visiting public locations and tricking facial recognition terminals into allowing payment or access. For example, in stores in Asia—where facial recognition technology is deployed widely—the Kneron team used high quality 3-D masks to deceive AliPay and WeChat payment systems in order to make purchases.

Those systems, which resemble the ones seen in airports, use a person’s face rather than a PIN or a fingerprint to validate user’s identity. Such masks, in theory, could allow fraudsters to use another person’s face—and bank account—to go shopping.

More alarming were the tests deployed at transportation hubs. At the self-boarding terminal in Schiphol Airport, the Netherlands’ largest airport, the Kneron team tricked the sensor with just a photo on a phone screen. The team also says it was able to gain access in this way to rail stations in China where commuters use facial recognition to pay their fare and board trains.

The transportation experiments raise concerns about terrorism at a time when security agencies are exploring facial recognition as a means of saving money and improving efficiency. In the case of the payment tablets, the ability to fool WeChat and AliPay with masks raises the spectre of fraud and identity theft.

«

Couldn’t beat the iPhone’s face recognition, but that’s hardly widely deployed. Quick-and-dirty facial recognition systems are going to have wide-and-dire flaws, one suspects.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1209: the podcasters hacking Ring cameras, Strava drives London’s cyclists, Apple’s influential journalists, the Apple non-tax, and more


Do you like this stuff? Then you’re probably the sort of person who picks politicians nobody cares for. Marketers love you. CC-licensed photo by Mike Mozart on Flickr.

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

A selection of 10 links for you. A minority view. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Inside the podcast that hacks Ring camera owners live on air • VICE

Joseph Cox and Jason Koebler:

»

“Sit back and relax to over 45 minutes of entertainment,” an advertisement for the podcast posted to a hacking forum called Nulled reads. “Join us as we go on completely random tangents such as; Ring & Nest Trolling, telling shelter owners we killed a kitten, Nulled drama, and more ridiculous topics. Be sure to join our Discord to watch the shows live.”

Software to hack Ring cameras has recently become popular on the forum. The software churns through previously compromised email addresses and passwords to break into Ring cameras at scale. This has led to a recent spate of hacks that have occurred both during the podcast and at other times, several of which have been covered by local media outlets. In Brookhaven a hacker shouted at a sleeping woman through her hacked Ring camera to wake-up. In Texas, a hacker demanded a couple pay a bitcoin ransom. Hackers targeted a family in DeSoto County, Mississippi, and spoke through the device to one of the young children.

Ring cameras are the wildly popular home surveillance devices owned and heavily marketed by Amazon. The company has signed partnership agreements with hundreds of police departments around the country; many of these police departments have marketed and sold Ring devices on the company’s behalf. These internet-connected cameras have invaded much of America’s suburbs, as Gizmodo showed using data that Ring left exposed. These hacks, and this podcast, have turned devices nominally designed to protect people’s homes into surveillance devices that have been turned back on their owners.

After the recent media attention about Ring hacks, Nulled members are scrambling to remove evidence of the Ring hacks and distance themselves from the practice.

«

Inviting devices into your home and not having simple ways to make them secure seems suboptimal. And so it proves.
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City planners zero in on cyclists through exercise app • Financial Times

Bethan Staton:

»

When the UK capital built a “cycle superhighway” in 2016, Strava indicated where people had changed their route and showed that the number of cyclists increased by 60% when a bike-only lane was built along the Victoria Embankment on the Thames. Planners can observe changes, such as many cyclists avoiding a direct route, to see where roads may be dangerous.

Granular data from Strava also show where cyclists have to stop and wait, information Ms Hall used to review traffic light patterns so more cyclists could get a clear run on their commute.

While recognising its potential, however, researchers warned that Strava and other crowdsourced data sets should be treated with caution. Giulio Ferrini, from cycling charity Sustrans, said the average Strava user was probably “not representative” of the average cyclist.

Strava says it has 5.5m users in the UK. But researchers fear they are a self-selecting group, filtered by an affinity for exercise apps that may make them more competitive than others. According to Ms Hall at TfL, they “tend to be more gung-ho”.

Relying on crowdsourced data, Mr Ferrini said, could lead to cities being designed for “white men in Lycra” who usually travel speedily from A to B and neglecting groups such as parents who cycle with their children to school.

«

Data-powered policy decisions: enormously difficult, because how do you collect the best data without forcing people to participate in the collection? This is a good enough compromise, I suppose.
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A better internet is waiting for us • The New York Times

Annalee Newitz:

»

Social media is broken. It has poisoned the way we communicate with each other and undermined the democratic process. Many of us just want to get away from it, but we can’t imagine a world without it. Though we talk about reforming and regulating it, “fixing” it, those of us who grew up on the internet know there’s no such thing as a social network that lasts forever. Facebook and Twitter are slowly imploding. And before they’re finally dead, we need to think about what the future will be like after social media so we can prepare for what comes next.

I don’t mean brainstorming new apps that could replace outdated ones, the way Facebook did Myspace. I mean what will replace social media the way the internet replaced television, transforming our entire culture?

To find out what comes next, I went on a quest. I was looking for a deeper future than the latest gadget cycle, so I spoke to experts in media history, tech designers, science fiction writers and activists for social justice. I even talked to an entity that is not a person at all.

Collectively, they gave me a glimpse of a future where the greatest tragedy is not the loss of our privacy. It is the loss of an open public sphere. There are many paths beyond the social media hellscape, and all of them begin with reimagining what it means to build public spaces where people seek common ground.

«

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The “harbinger customers” who buy unpopular products and back losing politicians • Kottke

Jason Kottke:

»

This paper, about the curious phenomenon of “harbinger customers” and “harbinger zip codes”, is really interesting. These harbinger customers tend to buy unpopular products like Crystal Pepsi or Colgate Kitchen Entrees and support losing political candidates.

»

First, the findings document the existence of “harbinger zip codes.” If households in these zip codes adopt a new product, this is a signal that the new product will fail. Second, a series of comparisons reveal that households in harbinger zip codes make other decisions that differ from other households. The first comparison identifies harbinger zip codes using purchases from one retailer and then evaluates purchases at a different retailer. Households in harbinger zip codes purchase products from the second retailer that other households are less likely to purchase. The analysis next compares donations to congressional election candidates; households in harbinger zip codes donate to different candidates than households in neighboring zip codes, and they donate to candidates who are less likely to win. House prices in harbinger zip codes also increase at slower rates than in neighboring zip codes.

«

It’s fascinating that these people’s preferences persist across all sorts of categories — it’s like they’re generally out of sync with the rest of society.

«

They’re a strange group: everything they touch (or pick up in the supermarket) sells like crap.
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Magic Leap is renaming its AR headset to attract business customers • The Verge

Adi Robertson:

»

The new headset will ship on Magic Leap’s own site and through AT&T, just like the old one. But it’s cast as a commercial product rather than a kit for developers or artists. Magic Leap is using this new device to launch an operating system update and a software suite that appeals to professional customers, including a virtual collaboration application called Jump, which is rolling out in beta over the coming months. Magic Leap is also selling an “Enterprise Suite” at a higher price of $2,995, offering buyers access to dedicated support, device management software, and a “rapid replace” program if a headset malfunctions.

«

Oh look, the pivot to business. Only, what, two or three years late.
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How Apple News UK editors quietly influence UK’s election reading • The Guardian

Jim Waterson:

»

Rasmus Nielsen, of the University of Oxford’s Reuters Institute for Journalism, believes the power of the service – and equivalents such as Samsung’s Upday – is under-appreciated. “Our data suggests that more than a quarter of online news users in the UK rely on one or more aggregators for online news, and Apple News and Google News have higher reach among people aged 18-24 than established brands like ITV and Sky or the Sun and the Mirror,” Nielsen said. “Their editorial processes, however, remains opaque, whether reliant on human editors, algorithms, or some combination.”

[The five UK-based] journalists who work for Apple News have scrubbed the company’s name from their social media accounts, a move that reduces the risk of them being accused of bias but adds to the lack of transparency around their decisions.

People at British media organisations who deal with Apple News say the editors have a welcome reputation for promoting exclusives and high-quality news featuring original reporting in their “top stories” section. If the Apple News editors like what they see, their backing can deliver enormous numbers of readers – which gives these editors a power akin to an old-school newspaper boss choosing a front-page story.

“You could get a million views in the UK alone if they pick one of your stories,” said one social media manager at a British news site, who suggested outlets were hooked on traffic from the service. Although news websites struggle to make money from Apple News traffic, they are often loth to give up a source of traffic that can refer more readers than Facebook.

«

Being a default helps, I suppose.
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“Link In Bio” is a slow knife • Anil Dash

Anil Dash:

»

Links on the web are incredibly powerful. There are decades of theory behind the role of hyperlinks in hypertext — did you know in most early versions, links were originally designed to be two-way?  You’d be able to see every page on the web that links to this one. But even in the very simple form that we’ve ended up with on the World Wide Web for the last 30 years, links are incredibly powerful, opening up valuable connections between unexpected things.

For a closed system, those kinds of open connections are deeply dangerous. If anyone on Instagram can just link to any old store on the web, how can Instagram — meaning Facebook, Instagram’s increasingly-overbearing owner — tightly control commerce on its platform? If Instagram users could post links willy-nilly, they might even be able to connect directly to their users, getting their email addresses or finding other ways to communicate with them. Links represent a threat to closed systems.

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I remember quite a while back when Deja News was a standalone company (it archived Usenet newsgroups – a bit like archiving all of Twitter) that it was advertising-run, but none of the links worked. You literally couldn’t get out of it: it was an internet black hole, and the walls were covered in ads. Dash’s point is that Instagram is trying to do the same. (Google eventually bought Deja in February 2001. It had no idea what to do with it either.)
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52 things I learned in 2019 • Medium

Tom Whitwell:

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This year I edited another book, worked on fascinating projects at Fluxx, and learned many learnings.

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Whitwell’s lists are always one of the most wonderful things about the end of the year. A couple of favourites: emojis in court cases, harbinger customers (included today), the 10,000 steps source, how the US is like Mongolia, Japan’s love of CDs, and that asking ‘What questions do you have for me?’ can be dramatically more effective than ‘Any questions?’ at the end of a talk.
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The “Apple Tax” died years ago • Above Avalon

Neil Cybart:

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The theory of there being an Apple Tax has been around for more than a decade. The term was coined during the mid-2000s to refer primarily to Apple laptops (iBooks and then MacBooks). A MacBook was said to cost more money than a Windows laptop with similar specifications because of there being a premium built into the MacBook’s price. Said another way, the MacBook was more expensive than other products since it included an Apple logo.

The “Apple Tax’ phrase became a way to poke fun at MacBook users for their apparent cluelessness in paying more for a product despite cheaper alternatives being available. In recent years, the Apple Tax definition has morphed to merely refer to higher-priced Apple products like the iMac Pro and new Mac Pro.

There has always been a glaring hole in the Apple Tax narrative: Since Apple does not license its Mac operating system to OEMs, a MacBook running Apple software ends up being very different than a Windows laptop said to have similar specs. In addition, while Apple made a number of content creation applications available for free on the Mac, Windows laptops positioned as direct competitors lacked such free applications. It may be more correct to say that the Apple Tax reflected the price of Mac software instead of some kind of premium created out of thin air.

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Welllllll, Windows OEMs had to pay a licence fee for Windows to Microsoft. But Apple included lots of other pieces of software – Garageband (which has been used by professionals), iMovie (Bill Gates complained bitterly to Microsoft’s engineers that Windows Movie Maker wasn’t anything like as good) and iPhoto (…). But there was also build quality.
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When China and other big countries launch cryptocurrencies, it will kick off a global revolution • The Conversation

Liang Zhao is a doctoral researcher at Lund University:

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There has been a massive rise in the number of bilateral agreements between central banks that allow two countries to swap currencies directly, a large number involving China. Meanwhile, a number of countries, including Germany and the Netherlands, have been repatriating their gold reserves from vaults in the US where they had long been stored.

Yet by comparison, major sovereign digital currencies based on blockchain technology would be revolutionary. Blockchains are encrypted ledgers for storing information that are decentralised rather than being under any country’s or company’s control. When applied to international payments, this offers the prospect of much more transparent and cheaper transactions than SWIFT.

It could cut the payments time lag from a couple of days to one second, and the cost from 0.01% to almost nothing. It will have the capacity to handle far higher volumes of payments, partly since they won’t require bank accounts or even internet access.

Cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin and XRP have been a good experiment in using blockchains for international payments. Yet when countries issue equivalents of their own, these will have even more advantages. They will be backed by states, and completely decentralised cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin will not be able to compete with this.

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I’d certainly agree on that latter point – bitcoin will get squashed by any national cryptocurrency, because it won’t be able to compete in exchange terms; governments could make it really difficult to exchange bitcoin for any useful currency (which bitcoin still isn’t). The suggestion is that a flip to national cryptocurrencies could happen in the same manner as going bankrupt: gradually, and then suddenly.
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Start Up No.1208: YouTube tweaks ‘hate speech’ policy, Trump fined and barred from NY charity work, Apple Pro Display XDR Cloth©, the 201x’s 100 gadgets, and more


TIME’s Person of The Year – but is one year enough? (Mural: Jody Thomas, in Bristol) CC-licensed photo by Andrew Gustar on Flickr.

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

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

Greta Thunberg: TIME’s Person of the Year 2019 • Time

Charlotte Alter, Suyin Haynes and Justin Worland:

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For a moment, it’s as if Thunberg were the eye of a hurricane, a pool of resolve at the center of swirling chaos. In here, she speaks quietly. Out there, the entire natural world seems to amplify her small voice, screaming along with her.

“We can’t just continue living as if there was no tomorrow, because there is a tomorrow,” she says, tugging on the sleeve of her blue sweatshirt. “That is all we are saying.”

It’s a simple truth, delivered by a teenage girl in a fateful moment. The sailboat, La Vagabonde, will shepherd Thunberg to the Port of Lisbon, and from there she will travel to Madrid, where the United Nations is hosting this year’s climate conference. It is the last such summit before nations commit to new plans to meet a major deadline set by the Paris Agreement. Unless they agree on transformative action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the world’s temperature rise since the Industrial Revolution will hit the 1.5°C mark—an eventuality that scientists warn will expose some 350 million additional people to drought and push roughly 120 million people into extreme poverty by 2030. For every fraction of a degree that temperatures increase, these problems will worsen. This is not fearmongering; this is science. For decades, researchers and activists have struggled to get world leaders to take the climate threat seriously. But this year, an unlikely teenager somehow got the world’s attention.

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This is well deserved; the only downside is that 11 months from now, they’ll be casting around for someone else to name as the person around whom the year is deemed to have revolved. (Quick test: can you recall who it was last year?) By its nature, there’s an implication that the Person only mattered this year; and then we can move on to other things. The climate crisis is here for the rest of our lives.
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YouTube will ban videos that ‘maliciously insult’ people based on race, gender, or sexual orientation • Buzzfeed News

Mark Di Stefano:

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“Beyond threatening someone, there is also demeaning language that goes too far,” reads the statement by YouTube’s vice president, Matt Halprin. “To establish a consistent criteria for what type of content is not allowed on YouTube, we’re building upon the framework we use for our hate speech policy.

“We will no longer allow content that maliciously insults someone based on protected attributes such as their race, gender expression, or sexual orientation. This applies to everyone, from private individuals, to YouTube creators, to public officials.”

…The company also said YouTubers who “repeatedly brush up” against the harassment policy will also be removed from the platform’s partner program and will lose the ability to make ad revenue from advertising on videos.

But the new update also raises questions about how YouTube would deal with “malicious insults” made by “public officials”. President Donald Trump, who has made numerous disparaging remarks about individuals based on their race, uploads videos to his YouTube channel and livestreams all his rallies to the platform.

During a rally in Pennsylvania last night, Trump revived the use of “Pocahontas” as an insult, referring to Democratic presidential nominee Elizabeth Warren’s Native American heritage. He even bragged that the slurs had hurt Warren in the polls: “She’s starting to crash again. I thought I knocked her down. I did that heavy, heavy Pocahontas deal.”

YouTube has looked specifically at Trump’s use of the “Pocahontas” insult. According to the platform’s policy team, it’s not a violation of the new policy because it is directed at Warren in a political manner, in an apparent effort to ridicule her for allegedly exploiting her heritage with voters.

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There’s always an exception for Trump, isn’t there? And how is “malicious” defined? It’s the usual cottonwool.
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Trump pays $2m in damages ordered by judge over misuse of charity funds, according to NY attorney general • The Washington Post

David Fahrentold:

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President Trump has paid $2 million in court-ordered damages for misusing funds in a tax-exempt charity he controlled, the New York attorney general said Tuesday…

In the 2000s, Trump began to use the charity in ways that benefited himself or his businesses, according to the attorney general’s lawsuit. He used the charity’s cash to buy paintings of himself and sports memorabilia and to pay $258,000 in legal settlements for his for-profit clubs.

Charity leaders are barred from using their nonprofits’ money for personal benefit.

Trump also used the charity to boost political campaigns — first, Pamela Bondi’s Florida attorney general campaign, and then his own 2016 campaign. Trump gave away Trump Foundation checks onstage at rallies, despite strict rules barring nonprofit charities from participating in political campaigns.

The New York attorney general’s suit drew heavily on reporting by The Washington Post during the 2016 election.

Now, the foundation will be shuttered. The consequences of this case will linger for Trump. Under the terms of the settlement, he has agreed to special supervision if he ever returns to charity work in New York.

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The lawsuit only began in 2018, so that’s quite a rapid result. I hope nobody’s surprised that Trump corruptly used a charity for personal gain and broke every rule surrounding it; it’s entirely in character. The Trump organisation wouldn’t say whether it’s going to count the $2m fine as a “charitable donation” because it went to charities. What’s the betting…
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49% of workers, when forced to update their password, reuse the same one with just a minor change • Graham Cluley

The aforementioned Cluley:

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A survey of 200 people conducted by security outfit HYPR has some alarming findings.

For instance, not only did 72% of users admit that they reused the same passwords in their personal life, but also 49% admitted that when forced to update their passwords in the workplace they reused the same one with a minor change.

Furthermore, many users were clearly relying upon their puny human memory to remember passwords (42% in the office, 35% in their personal lives) rather than something more reliable. This, no doubt, feeds users’ tendency to choose weak, easy-to-crack passwords as well as reusing old passwords or making minor changes to existing ones.

According to the survey, forgetting passwords is a big problem – with 78% of respondents saying that they had had to reset a password in their personal life within the last 90 days (57% said the same for the workplace). HYPR said that this was due to users’ forgetting their passwords, so I presume they are not including figures for users who have had password resets forced upon them due to a security incident.

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Not surprising; we’ve gone in the past 20 years from a situation where you might need one password (for your email) to one where they’re needed in scores of situations – smartphone, social media sites, apps, email – and that has happened far faster than people have been able to adapt their tool use (eg password managers), with all the cognitive overload, and hence bad security, that implies.
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India proposes new rules to access its citizens’ data – TechCrunch

Manish Singh:

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India has proposed groundbreaking rules, akin to Europe’s GDPR, that would require technology companies to garner consent from citizens before collecting and processing their personal data.

But at the same time, the new rules also state that companies would have to hand over “non-personal” data of their users to the government, and New Delhi would also hold the power to collect any data of its citizens without consent to serve sovereignty and larger public interest.

The new rules, proposed in nation’s first major data protection law dubbed “Personal Data Protection Bill 2019,” a copy of which leaked on Tuesday, would permit New Delhi to “exempt any agency of government from application of Act in the interest of sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the state, friendly relations with foreign states, public order.”

If the bill passes — and it is expected to be discussed in the Parliament in the coming weeks — select controversial laws drafted more than a decade ago would remain unchanged. The bill might also change how global technology companies that have invested billions of dollars in India, thanks in part to the lax laws, see the nation of more than 600 million internet users.

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Give with one hand, take with the other. India’s government shows worrying signs of really overt authoritarianism.
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How to clean your Apple Pro Display XDR • Apple Support

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How to clean your Apple Pro Display XDR

Your Pro Display XDR has either standard or nano-texture glass. To prevent damage to your display, follow these important guidelines for cleaning the display panel and enclosure.

Clean the nano-texture glass:
Use only the dry polishing cloth that comes with your display to wipe dust or smudges off the screen. Don’t add water or use other liquids to clean the nano-texture glass.

Never use any other cloths to clean the nano-texture glass. If you lose the included polishing cloth, you can contact Apple to order a replacement polishing cloth.

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Though with the standard glass, you can “Use the polishing cloth that came with your display or another clean, dry, micro-fiber cloth”. Nano-structures, maxi-care, it seems.
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Scoop: China tried to get World Bank to fund surveillance in Xinjiang – Axios

Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian:

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Chinese recipients of World Bank loans tried to secure funding for the purchase of facial recognition technology for use in China’s northwest region of Xinjiang, according to documents obtained by Axios.

The World Bank’s loan program in Xinjiang demonstrates the extreme moral hazard that is now facing any organization with operations in the region, where China has constructed a surveillance state and detained more than a million ethnic minorities.

In more than 8,000 pages of official World Bank Chinese-language procurement documents dated June 2017 and reviewed by Axios, Chinese recipients of the loan program requested tens of thousands of dollars for the purchase of facial recognition cameras and software, night-vision cameras, and other surveillance technology for use in Xinjiang schools.

The World Bank told Axios those funds were not disbursed. A World Bank spokesperson said, “As an institution focused on ending poverty, the World Bank knows that inclusive societies are key to sustainable development, and we take a strong line against discrimination of any kind. We promote equal access to opportunities, including education and training, so that everyone can seek to realize his or her full potential. We are fully committed to the integrity of our projects. We respond immediately when issues are raised, and we act based on facts.”

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Well done, World Bank.
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My paper reported the story of the boy on a hospital floor. Then online lies took over • The Guardian

James Mitchinson edits the Yorkshire Evening Post, which broke a story about a mother whose child with suspected pneumonia had to rest on coats because no emergency beds were available:

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On Monday night, one of our readers, a woman called Margaret, wrote to tell me that despite being a regular buyer of the Yorkshire Post (sister paper of the Yorkshire Evening Post), she had been let down by us. She’d seen a post on Facebook that showed we had not checked our facts. That social media post was from a nice, respectable, family-oriented lady who had a “good friend” working as a nurse at LGI [Leeds General Infirmary] who explained that our news story was in fact fake. This is despite all of the facts in front of Margaret – and all readers – on our part: including an explanation from the chief medical officer at Leeds Teaching Hospitals General Trust and an apology – a sincere and heartfelt one – from its chief executive.

I faced losing a loyal reader because Margaret was taken in by the seeming warmth and sincerity of the manipulatively crafted words of a complete stranger. Someone who she did not know, could not contact, could not hold to account. This digital disease of our time was killing my business, imperilling the livelihoods of those employed on the titles I’m charged with looking after.

I wrote to Margaret to politely and sympathetically explain she had been the victim of a con. The source she cited had been tracked down by lunchtime on Tuesday: the woman whose Facebook post claimed the Jack Williment-Barr story was a hoax said that her account had been hacked and she had nothing to do with the allegations.

Unlike most cons, Margaret had lost no money. But she – like all of us – is in danger of losing something more valuable: the ability to discern between truth and lies in the news we consume, wherever we consume it.

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The deeper question: who writes the misinformation, and what is their purpose? Just for the lulz?
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Smart lock has a security vulnerability that leaves homes open for attacks • CNET

Alfred Ng:

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Smart locks are sold as devices that can make getting in your home more convenient, but security researchers found a vulnerability that makes it easy for hackers and thieves to do the same. 

On Wednesday, Finland-based security company F-Secure disclosed flaws with the “KeyWe Smart Lock,” which marketed itself as the “Smartest Lock Ever!” The lock sells for about $155 on Amazon and allows for unlocking doors through a mobile app. 

F-Secure’s researchers found that potential hackers could intercept network traffic between the mobile app and the smart lock, essentially stealing the keys to someone’s home out of thin air. 

“Unfortunately, the lock’s design makes bypassing these mechanisms to eavesdrop on messages exchanged by the lock and app fairly easy for attackers, leaving it open to a relatively simple attack,” Krzysztof Marciniak, an F-Secure consultant, said in a statement. “There’s no way to mitigate this, so accessing homes protected by the lock is a safe bet for burglars able to replicate the hack.”

The security researcher noted that this attack could be performed through network-sniffing devices, some of which can be bought for as little as $10. 

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I get a daily email from Indiegogo, and every item seems obliged to call itself “Smart” and “The Most… Ever” and often “AI”. Very often you can tell it’s none of those, though in this case “The Most Terrible Implementation Ever” might work.
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iPhones, Samsung Galaxy, and more: the 100 gadgets that defined this decade • The Verge

Nilay Patel:

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Gadgets in the 2010s were shaped first by the furious race to win the smartphone wars and then a furious race to create new kinds of hardware once it was clear that Apple, Google, and Samsung would dominate phones. And that hardware was tied to software and services like never before — every light bulb the endpoint of a cloud service, every speaker imbued with the voice of the data center’s soul.

USB-C was inflicted upon an unsuspecting public; our headphone jacks were taken away.

My favorite thing about gadgets is that they are intensely revealing: each one is a semipermanent encapsulation of a company’s trade-offs and priorities, and once they’re shipped, there’s no more PR spin or influencer marketing to hide behind. The processors are fast or they’re slow. The keyboards are reliable or they break. The battery lasts a long time or it dies.

Sometimes, the batteries explode.

And when gadgets work — when they really work — people do fantastic and unexpected things with them.

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Patel didn’t choose all of the gadgets, and there’s sure to be lots of discussion about the things left in and out; by calling them “gadgets” it avoids looking at devices that have made other real impacts (solar panels? wind turbines?), even while it includes the Toyota Camry and other not-very-gadgety things. A long read; maybe save it for Boxing Day. It’ll wait.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified