Start Up: Zuck’s part 2, adblocking politics, how YouTube creates human clickbait, China’s AR challenge, and more

Dots: Netflix can’t see them in email, Gmail can. Bad news. Photo by Leon Lee on Flickr.

A selection of 10 links for you. Augment that reality. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Zuckerberg denies knowledge of Facebook shadow profiles • TechCrunch

Taylor Hatmaker:


Commerce Committee, New Mexico Representative Ben Lujan cornered Mark Zuckerberg with a question about so-called “shadow profiles” — the term often used to refer to the data that Facebook collects on non-users and other hidden data that Facebook holds but does not offer openly on the site for users to see.

In one of the handful of slightly candid moments of the past few days, Rep. Lujan pressed Zuckerberg on the practice today:

Lujan: Facebook has detailed profiles on people who have never signed up for Facebook, yes or no?

Zuckerberg: Congressman, in general we collect data on people who have not signed up for Facebook for security purposes to prevent the kind of scraping you were just referring to [reverse searches based on public info like phone numbers].

Lujan: So these are called shadow profiles, is that what they’ve been referred to by some?

Zuckerberg: Congressman, I’m not, I’m not familiar with that.


Lujan really takes Zuckerberg to task. It’s quite a thing to see. The House of Representatives, despite the funding they get from Facebook, were much tougher than the Senate; partly because they’re younger, but also had wider experience – including one with a computer science degree (which is more than Zuck has).
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Bitcoin would be a calamity, not an economy • MIT Technology Review

James Surowiecki:


The problem with a world in which there are lots of different private currencies is that it massively increases transaction costs. With a single, government-issued currency that’s legal tender, you don’t have to think about whether or not to accept it in exchange for goods and services. You accept dollars because you know that you will be able to use them to buy whatever you want. Commerce flows more smoothly because everyone has implicitly agreed to use the dollar.

In an economy with lots of competing currencies (particularly cryptocurrencies unbacked by any commodity), it would work very differently. If someone wants to pay you in Litecoin, you have to figure out whether you think Litecoin is a real cryptocurrency or just a scam that could shut down any day now. You have to consider who else might accept Litecoin if you want to spend it, or who would trade you dollars for it (and at what exchange rate and transaction fee). Basically, a proliferation of currencies tosses sand into the gears of commerce, making transactions less efficient and more costly. And any currency that is hard to use is less valuable as a medium of exchange.

This isn’t speculative. we actually have a historical example of how this works. In the United States in the decades before the Civil War, there was no national currency. Instead, it was an era of what was called “free banking.” Individual banks issued bank notes, theoretically backed by gold, that people used as money. The problem was that the farther away from a bank you got, the less recognizable (and therefore the less trustworthy) a bank’s note was to people. And every time you did a deal, you had to vet the note to make sure it was worth what your trading partner said it was worth. So-called wildcat banks sprang up, took people’s money, issued a host of notes, and then shut down, making their notes worthless. To be sure, people came up with workarounds—there were volumes that were a kind of Yelp for banking, displaying the panoply of bank notes and rating them for reliability and value. But the broader consequence was that doing business was simply more complicated and slower than it otherwise would have been. The same will be true in a world where some people use Ethereum, others use Litecoin, and others use Ripple.


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Tesla issues strongest statement yet blaming driver for deadly crash •

Dan Noyes on the latest regarding Walter Huang, who died when his Tesla, on Autopilot, drove into a crash barrier:


Tesla sent [ABC News] a statement Tuesday night that reads in part, “Autopilot requires the driver to be alert and have hands on the wheel… the crash happened on a clear day with several hundred feet of visibility ahead, which means that the only way for this accident to have occurred is if Mr. Huang was not paying attention to the road.”

“We know that he’s not the type who would not have his hands on the steering wheel, he’s always been (a) really careful driver,” said [Walter Huang’s brother] Will.

The family’s lawyer believes Tesla is blaming Huang to distract from the family’s concern about the car’s Autopilot.

“Its sensors misread the painted lane lines on the road and its braking system failed to detect a stationary object ahead,” said lawyer Mike Fong.

You can already see the arguments forming for the lawsuit.


If Huang had driven down the road before in the same car in the same way, Tesla will have records. If this happened after a software update, it’s Tesla’s fault: Huang would have had a reasonable expectation that the car would (as previously) avoid the obstacle. (Recall the videos of how this could happen from a few days ago.)
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Your Facebook data is only worth $5.20 on the dark web – MarketWatch

Maria LaMagna:


Whether or not you were impacted by the Cambridge Analytica incident, there’s a depressing aspect of many recent privacy violations: The most important parts of your identity can be sold online for just a few dollars.

Consumers have to spend hours of their time — and, sometimes, their own money — when they find out their driver’s license, Facebook “likes” or Social Security number have been exposed to hackers. But those who sell them are making only petty cash.

That’s according to a new report from the content marketing agency Fractl, which analyzed all the fraud-related listings on three large “dark web” marketplaces — Dream, Point and Wall Street Market — over several days last month.

The “dark web” is part of the internet that people can only access by using special software. To create this report, Fractl accessed the dark web through the browser Tor. People buy other risky or illegal substances on the dark web, including drugs, pirated content like movies or music and materials that help with scams, including credit-card “skimmers.”

Facebook logins can be sold for $5.20 each because they allow criminals to have access to personal data that could potentially let them hack into more of an individual’s accounts. The credentials to a PayPal account with a relatively high balance can be sold on the dark web for $247 on average, the report found.


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The dots do matter: how to scam a Gmail user • James Fisher

Fisher got a valid email from Netflix saying it was having trouble with his credit card payment. He was going to update it – but the credit card it had didn’t match his own. What gives?


I finally realized that this email is to I normally use, with no dots. You might think this email should have bounced, but instead it reached my inbox, because “dots don’t matter in Gmail addresses”:

If someone accidentally adds dots to your address when emailing you, you’ll still get that email. For example, if your email is, you own all dotted versions of your address:

Netflix does not know about this Gmail “feature”. Externally, and are different identities, and should have their own Netflix accounts. I signed up for Netflix account N1 backed by in 2013. But in September 2017, someone, let’s call her “Eve”, created a new Netflix account N2, backed by

Eve has access to account N2 because she set its password when signing up, but I also have access to the account because I own, and so I can follow the password reset process for this account. I did so.

Eve loves her TV! She’s watched 587 titles in six months, all from her “Android Device” in Alabama. She watched three seasons of Trailer Park Boys over a single day in October. She consumed nearly every day until 22nd March, when Netflix put her account “on hold” due to payment failure. Eve had paid for these shows. She paid $13.99 every month for her Premium plan, until February when her card **** 2745 (also billed to Huntsville, Alabama) was declined.

Perhaps this was all a mistake? Perhaps Eve is actually one of the twelve James Fishers in Huntsville, AL, and perhaps he typed his email address in wrong when he signed up months ago. Netflix doesn’t do any email address verification when you sign up; you can start watching shows straight away.

But perhaps this was not a mistake but a scam. I was almost fooled into perpetually paying for Eve’s Netflix access, and only paused because I didn’t recognize the declined card.


Google is proud of this “feature”, but like Fisher, I think it’s a bug. I get tons of scam emails like this.
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Trump’s company is suing towns across the country to get breaks on taxes • ProPublica

Katherine Sullivan:


Since becoming president, Trump’s companies have filed at least nine new lawsuits against municipalities in Florida, New York and Illinois, arguing for lower tax bills, ProPublica has found. Some of those lawsuits have been previously reported. At stake is millions of dollars that communities use to fund roads, schools and police departments.

Real estate owners dispute property taxes frequently, and some even sue. The president has a long track record of doing so himself. But experts are troubled that he’s doing so while in office.

No president in modern times has owned a business involved in legal battles with local governments. “The idea that the president would have these interests and then those companies would sue localities is really a dangerous precedent,” says Larry Noble, of the nonpartisan Campaign Legal Center. The dynamic between local and federal governments is impossible to ignore in these cases, says Noble. Municipalities “rely on resources from the federal government and the federal government can make your life easier or much more difficult.” The concern arises because the president did not fully separate from his businesses, he says.

A spokesman for the Trump Organization said, “Like any other business or property owner when property taxes become inflated it is not uncommon to challenge the process to ensure fair treatment. This is a routine practice and any suggestion otherwise is simply ridiculous.”


And also obvious. What happens when the president doesn’t disentangle himself from his companies.
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One woman got Facebook to police opioid sales on Instagram • WIRED

Nitasha Tiku:


Eileen Carey says she has regularly reported Instagram accounts selling opioids to the company for three years, with few results. Last week, Carey confronted two executives of Facebook, which owns Instagram, about the issue on Twitter. Since then, Instagram removed some accounts, banned one opioid-related hashtag and restricted the results for others.

Searches for the hashtag #oxycontin on Instagram now show no results. Other opioid-related hashtags, such as #opiates, #fentanyl, and #narcos, surface a limited number of results along with a message stating, “Recent posts from [the hashtag] are currently hidden because the community has reported some content that may not meet Instagram’s community guidelines.” Some accounts that appeared to be selling opioids on Instagram also were removed.

The moves come amid increased government concern about the role of tech platforms in opioid abuse, and follow years of media reports about the illegal sale of opioids on Instagram and Facebook, from the BBC, Venturebeat, CNBC, Sky News and others. Following the BBC probe in 2013, Instagram blocked searches of terms associated with the sale of illegal drugs.


Zuckerberg was asked about opioid adverts on Facebook by the House of Representatives committee; he said (paraphrased) they couldn’t do much and that they’d have to wait for better AI.
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Ad blocking as a radical political act • Terence Eden’s Blog

Terence Eden:


Aside from unavoidable billboards and the occasional magazine, I just don’t see advertising any more. I’m not sure why any sane person would want to.

Even when I worked in the mobile ad industry, I blocked ads. Everyone did. The first thing that the IT helpdesk said to people who complained that they couldn’t log into their work email was “yeah mate, you need to turn your ad-blocker off…”

I’ve been blocking Facebook adverts since before it was fashionable. As a result, I’m bemused by the claims that my information has been microtargetted and used to manipulate me.

I thought it was common knowledge that you could set your Facebook preferences to block creepy use of your data for advertising purposes. Even if you didn’t want to block adverts, why wouldn’t you do that?

Perhaps Facebook themselves have been subtly manipulating what stories they choose to show me. Perhaps my friends are activated Manchurian Candidates swamping me with fake news. Or perhaps I just block the obviously dodgy news sources and unfriend anyone daft enough to share them.
Perhaps we need a word to describe the people who willingly watch adverts? The technology to block them is simple to use, and information about blocking is widely disseminated.

People who watch adverts are like anti-vaxxers – blissfully unaware of the benefits of herd-immunity.


Advertisers (and a lot of publishers) see it quite the other way round, of course.
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China is catching up to Apple in AR, says KGI Securities’ Ming-Chi Kuo • Business Insider

Kif Leswing:


The most-closely followed Apple analyst warned in a Wednesday note that Chinese smartphone companies are rapidly catching up to Apple in augmented reality technology, which CEO Tim Cook has called “profound” and a “core technology” for the company going forward. 

The example Ming-Chi Kuo provides is a Tencent game called Honour of Kings, which will release an augmented reality version in May. It’s a big game, with over 200 million players worldwide.

It’s also a much more advanced augmented reality experience than Pokemon Go, he writes, and uses algorithms from $3bn artificial intelligence startup SenseTime.

“Apple’s first-mover lead in AR eroded by OPPO,” reliable Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo at KGI Securities wrote.

Apple launched ARKit last summer, which easily allows developers to make rich experiences where computer models interact with surfaces in the real world. Apple was the first major technology company to announce software like that, and had a chance to capture the entire development market. 

“However, since the debut of the ARKit nearly a year ago, there has been no heavyweight AR application on iOS,” Kuo wrote. 

Which is why he believes Apple should be concerned that it’s launching on Oppo phones running Android at the same time as iOS, on less-advanced hardware.


SenseTime again. However, I think that AR’s struggles (Pokemon Go aside) are going to remain the same: is it as engaging to have a virtual object in the real world as it is to have a virtual object in a virtual world that you control more precisely?
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Your pretty face is going to sell • Open Space at SF MOMA

Joe Veix on the peculiar phenomenon of “YouTube Face” (YTF) – the strange, overplayed expressions that you see people adopting on videos in order to make arresting preview frames for the time when they’re in the “up next” lineup and want to be chosen, oh please choose me, for the next click:


Getting attention on social media platforms requires creating content designed to perform well within their ecosystems. Everything must contort to please the almighty Algorithmic Gods. It requires some guesswork, as these algorithms exist at such an ever-increasing scale and complexity that even their creators don’t — can’t — understand them. The Algorithm Gods work in mysterious ways.

This has odd and often unexpected effects on the physical world. Restaurants attempt to create Instagram-friendly environments with nauseatingly kitschy interior designs. Hamburger buns are glazed to make them more aesthetically appealing. Extremist political campaigns are won partially on the strength of their shitposting. Perhaps the emergence of YTF hints at one of the many ways these algorithmic forces might begin to shape our physical appearances.

We’re also witnessing tactics common to the advertising industry, especially those of late-night infomercials, being utilized autonomously by individuals. People simulate the behavior of corporate brands, while corporate brands simulate people, hiring teams of flacks to help make something like, I don’t know, fracking seem “authentic” and “cool.”

So begins the Great Brand Singularity. Corporations, humans, and machines merging in a banal orgy of commerce. The tech is currently primitive, but it’s easy to imagine scrolling through some future feed and seeing the faces of long-deceased relatives digitally grafted onto advertisements for #FappuccinoHappyHour; close friends suddenly revealed to be replicants working for foam mattress startups; augmented reality Pillsbury Doughboys stalking us on late night walks home, their soft footsteps squishing confidently along.


Or as he also says, “YouTube Face is clickbait made human”.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

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

Start Up: Mr Zuckerberg goes to Washington, Theranos circles the drain, the bitcoin infection, and more

It’s not true, at least in the US, and the FTC says so. Photo by Eirik Solheim on Flickr.

A selection of 12 links for you. Do not sell separately. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

FTC says ‘Warranty Void If Removed’ stickers are bullshit, warns manufacturers they’re breaking the law • Motherboard

Matthew Gault:


As we’ve reported before, it is bullshit and illegal under federal law for electronics manufacturers to put “Warranty Void if Removed” stickers on their gadgets, and it’s also illegal for companies to void your warranty if you fix your device yourself or via a third party.

The Federal Trade Commission put six companies on notice today, telling them in a warning letter that their warranty practices violate federal law. If you buy a car with a warranty, take it a repair shop to fix it, then have to return the car to the manufacturer, the car company isn’t legally allowed to deny the return because you took your car to another shop. The same is true of any consumer device that costs more than $15, though many manufacturers want you to think otherwise.

Companies such as Sony and Microsoft pepper the edges of their game consoles with warning labels telling customers that breaking the seal voids the warranty. That’s illegal. Thanks to the 1975 Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act, no manufacturer is allowed to put repair restrictions on a device it offers a warranty on. Dozens of companies do it anyway, and the FTC has put them on notice. Apple, meanwhile, routinely tells customers not to use third party repair companies, and aftermarket parts regularly break iPhones due to software updates.


I’d like to know what the UK position is on this. Now, just on that last point…
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The new iOS update killed touch functionality on iPhone 8s repaired with aftermarket screens • Motherboard

Matthew Gault:


“This has caused my company over 2,000 reshipments,” Aakshay Kripalani, CEO of Injured Gadgets, a Georgia-based retailer and repair shop, told me in a Facebook message. “Customers are annoyed and it seems like Apple is doing this to prevent customers from doing 3rd party repair.”

According to [Michael] Oberdick [owner and occupier of iOutlet, based in Ohio, which fixes iPhones etc], every iPhone screen is powered by a small microchip, and that chip is what the repair community believes to be causing the issue. For the past six months, shops have been able to replace busted iPhone 8 screens with no problem, but something in the update killed touch functionality. According to several people I spoke to, third-party screen suppliers have already worked out the issue, but fixing the busted phones means re-opening up the phone and upgrading the chip.

It remains to be seen whether Apple will issue a new software update that will suddenly fix these screens, but that is part of the problem: Many phones repaired by third parties are ticking timebombs; it’s impossible for anyone to know if or when Apple will do something that breaks devices fixed with aftermarket parts.


It’s the Error 53 thing, which goes back to February 2016 (though that was about replacing the TouchID button).

One point is that Apple won’t be trying to hobble legitimate third-party screen repairs; people break their phones so much that it can’t be that grasping. Just as with Error 53, there will be some subtle reason around this. The fact to me that the problem can be ended by “upgrading the chip” suggests to me that someone at Apple overlooked that update, and so it hasn’t been applied, but the rest of the system needs it. Hanlon’s Law at work. (If this applied to the iPhone 7 or others too, then it would be a conspiracy against third-party repairs; the fact it’s only the iPhone 8 – not 8 Plus? Not earlier? – suggests to me that’s the problem.)
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Zuckerberg faces day of reckoning as Congress threatens Facebook with regulation • The Guardian

David Smith:


Looking pale and tense, the 33-year-old billionaire, who has enjoyed a career of unalloyed success, sat humbled and silent as senator after senator expressed deep concerns about the company’s mishandling of users’ personal information.

“Let me just cut to the chase,” said Senator Bill Nelson, a Democrat, before Zuckerberg started giving evidence. “If you and other social media companies do not get your act in order, none of us are going to have any privacy any more. If Facebook and other online companies will not or cannot fix the privacy invasions, then we are going to have to. We, the Congress.”

Senator John Thune, a Republican and the chairman of the Senate commerce committee, noted that Facebook’s business model offers free service in exchange for personal data. “For this model to persist, both sides of the bargain need to know what’s involved,” he said. “I’m not convinced Facebook’s users have the information they need to make decisions.”

He told Zuckerberg that to many he embodies the American dream, but that could become “a privacy nightmare for the scores of people who used Facebook”.

In a calm and steady voice, Zuckerberg read from a prepared statement first released on Monday. “We didn’t take a broad enough view of our responsibility, and that was a big mistake,” he said. “It was my mistake, and I’m sorry. I started Facebook, I run it, and I’m responsible for what happens here.”

Then, under questioning, he promised that Facebook is conducting a “full investigation” into every app that has access to users’ information, numbering tens of thousands. “If we find they’re doing anything improper, we’ll ban them from Facebook,” he said.


Not sure that we expected much from Zuckerberg; it’s the politicians who have to act now.

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Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg to testify before House and Senate panels that got Facebook money • USA Today

Herb Jackson:


The congressional panel that got the most Facebook contributions is the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which announced Wednesday morning it would question Zuckerberg on April 11.

Members of the committee, whose jurisdiction gives it regulatory power over Internet companies, received nearly $381,000 in contributions tied to Facebook since 2007, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. The center is a non-partisan, non-profit group that compiles and analyzes disclosures made to the Federal Election Commission.

The second-highest total, $369,000, went to members of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, which announced later that it would have a joint hearing with the Senate Judiciary Committee to question Zuckerberg on Tuesday. Judiciary Committee members have received $235,000 in Facebook contributions.

On the House committee, Republicans got roughly twice as much as Democrats, counter to the broader trend in Facebook campaign gifts. Of the $7m in contributions to all federal candidates tied to the Menlo Park, Calif.-based social network, Democrats got 65% to Republicans’ 33%.


American politics.
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Facebook may stop the data leaks, but it’s too late: Cambridge Analytica’s models live on • MIT Technology Review

Jacob Metcalf:


There has been plenty of skeptical analysis of just how useful SCL’s psychographic tools were. In contrast to Nix’s flamboyant salesmanship of the method, critics have routinely responded by calling it snake oil. Where Cambridge Analytica was hired to run digital campaigns, it bungled some basic operations (especially for Ted Cruz, whose website it failed to launch on time). And SCL staff often rubbed others working on Trump’s digital campaign the wrong way.

The models may have helped in constructing Trump’s lose-the-electorate, win-the-electoral-college strategy.

However, none of Cambridge Analytica’s many Republican critics has yet said its models were not useful. Moreover, some reporting indicates that the models were used primarily to target voters in swing states and to hone Trump’s stump speeches in those states. That shows that the campaign understood that these models are most useful when applied in a focused manner. They may have helped in constructing Trump’s lose-the-electorate, win-the-electoral-college strategy.

And while they have their limitations, behavioral profiles are very good at estimating demographics, including political leanings, gender, location, and ethnicity. A behavioral profile of seemingly innocuous “likes” paired with other data sets is both a good-enough map to far more information about a potential voter, and a way to predict what types of content they might find engaging.

Ultimately, then, if we strip out the context of the 2016 election and the odd correlations that these algorithms find in Facebook behavioral data, the role that psychometrics plays is actually fairly straightforward: it is another criterion among many by which to create tranches of voters and learn from iterative feedback about how those tranches respond to ads.


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Theranos lays off most of its remaining workforce • WSJ

John Carreyrou (who wrote the original blockbuster story that began Theranos’s downfall):


Blood-testing firm Theranos Inc. laid off most of its remaining workforce in a last-ditch effort to preserve cash and avert or at least delay bankruptcy for a few more months, according to people familiar with the matter.

The layoffs take the company’s head count from about 125 employees to two dozen or fewer, according to people familiar with the matter. As recently as late 2015, Theranos had about 800 employees.

Elizabeth Holmes, the Silicon Valley firm’s founder and chief executive officer, announced the layoffs at an all-employee a meeting at Theranos’s offices in Newark, Calif. on Tuesday, less than a month after settling civil fraud charges with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

Under the SEC settlement, Ms. Holmes was forced to relinquish her voting control over the company she founded 15 years ago as a 19-year-old Stanford dropout, give back a big chunk of her stock, and pay a $500,000 penalty. She also agreed to be barred from being an officer or director in a public company for 10 years.


So close, so close, to its final status as a footnote in VC history.
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Alibaba invests in Chinese facial-recognition startup • WSJ

Liza Lin:


Alibaba’s share in the $600m Series C funding round wasn’t disclosed. Other investors include Singapore state investment company Temasek Holdings Pte. Ltd. and Chinese electronics retailer Co.

Founded in 2014, SenseTime is among a handful of Chinese AI startups that got their start selling facial-recognition systems to local police agencies. With a vast network of surveillance cameras, China is using facial recognition to identify criminal suspects as well as to influence behavior, such as discouraging jaywalking.

The technology also has commercial applications, with some companies now using it instead of badges to grant employees access to their workplaces. Mr. Xu said SenseTime would use the new funding to focus on expanding the technology’s commercial applications and AI capabilities.

SenseTime is also developing algorithms for autonomous driving, as a partner with Honda Motor Co. , and is working with Shanghai’s government to use AI to ease traffic congestion.


SenseTime is quite creepy: the way the Chinese government is using it to monitor people in real time is really freaky.
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YouTube fake news rampant in Korea • Korea Times

Jung Min-ho:


“Samsung is behind the recent #MeToo allegations brought up against comedian Kim Saeng-min,” is one of many fake stories ― or “news” ― on YouTube, but the video-sharing website has taken no action to resolve the issue here.

From political conspiracies to false scientific knowledge, YouTube is becoming home to fake news and wrong information about almost everything. And naive teenagers are not the only consumers of such information.

After An Hee-jung offered to resign as South Chungcheong Province governor over rape accusations a month ago, Hong Joon-pyo, leader of the main opposition Liberty Korea Party, said he heard that presidential chief of staff Im Jong-seok “plotted” to remove his political rival ― fake news that was then being widely shared among conservative voters.

Video clips about the fake plot can still be found on YouTube.

So far, neither the Korean government nor the American company has tackled the problem properly. Given that more people here use YouTube as a search engine for everything, this could seriously hinder them from getting the right information ― a precondition for a healthy democracy.


Just in case you thought it was a western-only thing.
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Bitcoin’s soaring value was down to ‘infected’ buyers, economists say • The Guardian

Richard Partington:


Analysts at Barclays said the soaring value of the digital currency last year, when prices rose by more than 900%, was helped by new buyers being “infected” by the euphoria surrounding bitcoin. The price has since crashed from almost $20,000 before Christmas to less than $7,000.

Using studies from the world of epidemiology – the branch of medicine concerned with the occurrence, distribution and control of epidemic diseases – the bank’s economists built a model for bitcoin prices that assumed more people were now “immune” to the lure of making money on the new financial asset.

They said prices tend to rise when “infections” spread from one buyer to another, transmitted by word-of-mouth between friends – especially to those with a “fear of missing out” on a chance to get rich quick. The rate of new entrants to the market helps to set prices, while more people losing money will lead to immunity.

Arguing that the “susceptible” population for the bitcoin bug has now fallen, the economists said the peak reached just before Christmas was probably the ultimate price that could ever be achieved for the digital currency.

“This occurs with infectious diseases when the immunity threshold is reached; ie, the point at which a sufficient portion of the population becomes immune such that there are no more secondary infections,” the economists said.

Using that logic and applying it to the plethora of other digital currencies, including the peers of bitcoin such as ethereum and ripple, Barclays said the overall value for all crypto assets may never surpass $780bn – roughly equivalent to the peak sum of all cryptocurrencies in early January.


Makes sense. Though that’s a lot of spare change that people found to put into cryptojunk. I wonder how all the “hodlers” (cryptocurrency fans) will feel about being represented essentially as extras in The Walking Dead? Hmm, I’m sure they’ll be just fine with it.
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Apple now runs on 100% green energy, and here’s how it got there • Fast Company

Mark Sullivan:


The closer Apple got to its 100% goal, the more the effort centered on some of its smallest, most remote offices and retail stores around the world to 100%. Over the past year, the company has been busy locating and signing power purchase agreements (PPAs) with renewable energy projects in places like Brazil, India, Israel, Mexico, and Turkey. The hardest part was finding renewable energy projects small enough to serve the limited power needs of operations such as tiny sales offices.

Earlier on, however, the company was able to get most of the way to 100% in big chunks. It did so by locating or creating renewable energy sources for the power-hungry data centers it was building as services such as Siri, iCloud, and Apple Music became increasingly key to its future. Apple now has data centers in Maiden, North Carolina; Reno, Nevada; Mesa, Arizona; Newark, California, and Prineville, Oregon. The company has announced plans for another data center in Waukee, Iowa, as well as one in Ireland, two in Denmark, and two in China.

These sprawling facilities require a lot of power to keep their thousands of servers humming along in their quiet corridors, and more power to keep them all cool. Before it began building any data centers, Apple made the decision that it would run them on renewable energy.

With its $285bn in cash reserves, Apple certainly has enough money to simply buy up existing green power to get to the 100% goal. But one of the strict standards which Jackson says Apple follows is something called “additionality,” or a preference for sponsoring the creation of new renewable power sources. “We want to put new, clean power on the grid so that we’re not sucking up all the clean energy that’s there,” she says.


It’s actually complicated: solar farms don’t work at night, so you need a green power source for that time. That means you need a renewable energy certificate (REC), which you buy. You can see how that can get messy.
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Touchless Control and the lessons of history • Ken Segall

Segall (an ex-Appler, some time back) notes that Apple doesn’t always progress perfectly:


It was in the third-generation iPod that Apple “improved” itself into a bit of a mess. What better way to streamline this thing, went Apple’s thinking, than by making the Control buttons (menu, play, next, previous) work by touch also?

It sounded good on paper and it demo’ed nicely, but it also made this super-lovable device less significantly less lovable. Touch on the Click Wheel required one to slide a finger. Touch on the control buttons required only a touch—even if that touch was ever so slight and unintentional.

It could be infuriating, especially if you reached for the iPod while driving and kept your eyes on the road. You’d end up skipping songs by accident.

It was one of those steps forward that was quickly seen as a step backward—even by Apple. One year later, new iPods eliminated the separate touch controls, re-integrating them into the Scroll Wheel and requiring a push instead of a touch. Apple would never deviate from this design again.

Which brings me to last week’s iPhone rumors [of a curved screen and “touchless” control]. On the surface, the idea of Touchless Control sounds intriguing. For certain functions, there would be no need to even touch the screen—simply bringing one’s finger close to the screen would be enough to initiate an action.

You can see why this idea brought back memories of the touch-control iPod. Making devices easier to use is and should be the never-ending quest, but Apple must never lose perspective.


When slickness trumps functionality, the natives get restless.
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AI will cut huge chunks out of banking compliance workforce and London high streets might die • Computer Weekly

Karl Flinders:


behind the scenes AI is increasingly being used to carry out important work in the background helping banks comply with regulations. When AI replaces people in compliance we could really see huge job cuts and cost savings for banks.

This takes me to an article I wrote yesterday about HSBC using software from a big data startup, which includes AI, to help it automate the monitoring of transactions to flush out money laundering. An example of how AI can replace compliance resources.

Lowering costs is becoming more and more important amid the fintech revolution.

At the recent Innovate Finance Global Summit in London Anne Boden, CEO at challenger bank Starling said the big battle in banking involves the cost base rather than innovation. All traditional banks can innovate. They have huge budgets so there is nothing stopping them creating the same fintech services as challengers. They are already doing it. But rather than having hundreds of staff they have tens of thousands. As a result the new players have a huge advantage in terms of cost base.

When John Cryan, who was sacked as CEO at Deutsche bank, said last year that AI will take over a large number of jobs at Deutsche Bank he was probably thinking about all those compliance bods.


Flinders argues that those compliance bods are the ones who keep the high street going, because they buy coffee and so on. I’m not convinced about that; and I think that compliance will find a way to grow, even with AI – or especially with AI. Just because you think you’ve identified money laundering doesn’t mean you have.
link to this extract

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Start Up: the Tory hacker, the fake Facebook BLMer, the ARM Mac puzzle, Pandora’s (quiz) Box, and more

How would you get this lot to encourage a child to have an X-ray? Photo by Ken Lee on Flickr.

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

A selection of 11 links for you. Not privileged communication. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Bafflement over Tory MP’s admission she hacked Harriet Harman’s website • The Guardian

Alex Hern, after Conservative MP Kemi Badenoch said she “hacked” Harriet Harman’s site in 2008:


“Considering others have been prosecuted for similar, juvenile attacks on websites, I’ll be curious to see if the law will be applied equally in this case,” said Mustafa Al-Bassam, a former member of the hacking collective LulzSec. When he was 16, Bassam was given a 20-month suspended sentence for breaching the CMA [UK Computer Misuse Act] as part of the group’s campaign.

“This is a situation where someone has straight-up admitted to a crime on TV, the police have an easy job. If a Conservative MP can admit to a computer crime on television and get away with it, then that says the law is not being enforced equally in the UK,” he said. Bassam, who is now a computer scientist at UCL, filed a crime report to the national cyber crime reporting centre on Sunday.

Others expressed hope that Badenoch’s ability to shrug off the incident might herald a change in the enforcement of the CMA, which covers hacking offences. “I’m hoping this results in useful discussions around updating the Computer Misuse Act to more accurately and fairly deal with hackers of all levels,” said Jake Davis, another former LulzSec member.

Badenoch gained access to Harman’s website by guessing the credentials (she later gave an anonymous interview revealing that Harman’s username and password were “harriet” and “harman”), and posted a hoax blogpost claiming the then Labour minister for women and equality was supporting Boris Johnson in the London mayoral race.


Eh, LulzSec went just a bit further than Badenoch. Personally, I think it’s good that there are at least two MPs now – Badenoch and Harman – who know how easy “hacking” can be. And this was akin to very mild trespass, which police tend not to prosecute. Badenoch might get a caution at worst.
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Disney: X-Ray Story • Adeevee


To help make kids less afraid of getting an X-ray, we put the entire cast of Toy Story through the process – and put the results all over the walls of the waiting areas.

(A collaboration between BBDO Dublin, Disney Ireland and the National Children’s Hospital.)


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The biggest Black Lives Matter page on Facebook is fake • CNN

Donie O’Sullivan:


For at least a year, the biggest page on Facebook purporting to be part of the Black Lives Matter movement was a scam with ties to a middle-aged white man in Australia, a review of the page and associated accounts and websites conducted by CNN shows.

The page, titled simply “Black Lives Matter,” had almost 700,000 followers on Facebook, more than twice as many as the official Black Lives Matter page. It was tied to online fundraisers that brought in at least $100,000 that supposedly went to Black Lives Matter causes in the U.S. At least some of the money, however, was transferred to Australian bank accounts, CNN has learned.

Fundraising campaigns associated with the Facebook page were suspended by PayPal, Donorbox, Classy, and Patreon after CNN contacted each of the companies for comment.
The discovery raises new questions about the integrity of Facebook’s platform and the content hosted there. In the run-up to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s testimony before Congress this week, Facebook has announced plans to make the people running large pages verify their identity and location. But it’s not clear that the change would affect this page: Facebook has not said what information about page owners it will disclose to the public – and, presented with CNN’s findings, Facebook initially said the page didn’t violate its “Community Standards.”


It’s that last sentence that’s the killer. Hope Mark Zuckerberg’s prep for his Congressional hearing is going well.
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ARM Mac: piece of cake or gas refinery? • Monday Note

Joean-Louis Gassée:


For Mac app developers, this isn’t a great picture. A new processor, better battery life, lower weight perhaps, might not make a huge difference. Instead, with an iOS-compatible processor running inside new-generation Macs, why not build a new world where the same app would run on both Mac and iOS devices?

This is a dangerous topic. We know what happened with previous attempts to build environments where one app would run on different operating systems. Often referred to as Write Once Run Everywhere (WORE), these superficially pleasing constructs didn’t please the people who actually use and pay for the products. In reality, for an app to be competitive on a given platform, details, details and details need to be attended to under the surface. Such very OS-specific optimizations do not translate to the other platform and thus defeat the WORE theory. Speaking of translations and looking more specifically at Mac OS X versus iOS, one would be facing two languages where words in one have no equivalent in the other. Consider the trouble with wabi-sabi, dépaysement, fingerspitzengefühl or, if you’re really in the mood, Donaudampfschifffahrtsgesellschaftskapitänsmützennadel: the feather on the hat of the captain of a Danube steamship, obviously. You might get the translation by googling segments of the word one at time… Back to bits and bytes, consider iOS having no notion of a cursor, or the Mac not having a touch-screen, or a stylus, to name but a few transaltion challenges.

Recently, we’ve heard rumors of a Marzipan project, an Apple effort to get iOS apps to run on a Mac. As the saying goes, It’s A Mere Matter Of Software. Still, with Apple in control of both OS X and iOS anything’s possible  —  in theory…

… Speaking of strong words, various Apple execs spoke ill of styli or toaster-fridges, and we know what happened.

Thinking of future Macs would be simpler if its putative new processors weren’t iOS-compatible, but here we are. That being said, setting aside inopportune claims of courage, Apple is a cautious company, well aware of the risks in trading a relatively simple life of separate Mac and iOS product lines for a complicated hybrid platform. This coming transition will be interesting to watch.


That last point – people would be less nervous if the processors weren’t iOS-compatible – is a subtle but good one.
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Police use Experian marketing data for AI custody decisions • Big Brother Watch


A register of contracts obtained by Big Brother Watch reveals that Durham Police paid £45,913 to Experian, including £25,913 for the ‘Mosaic’ system.

Experian’s ‘Mosaic’ links names to stereotypes: for example, people called ‘Stacey’ are likely to fall under ‘Families with Needs’ who receive ‘a range of benefits’; ‘Abdi’ and ‘Asha’ are ‘Crowded Kaleidoscope’ described as ‘multi-cultural’ families likely to live in ‘cramped’ and ‘overcrowded flats’; whilst ‘Terrence’ and ‘Denise’ are ‘Low Income Workers’ who have ‘few qualifications’ and are ‘heavy TV viewers’.

Silkie Carlo, Director of Big Brother Watch, said: “For a credit checking company to collect millions of pieces of information about us and sell profiles to the highest bidder is chilling. But for police to feed these crude and offensive profiles through artificial intelligence to make decisions on freedom and justice in the UK is truly dystopian.

“We wouldn’t accept people going through our bins to collect information about us. Nor should we accept multi-billion pound companies like Experian scavenging for information about us online or offline, whether for profit or policing.

Parliament should urgently consider what place this big data and artificial intelligence has in our policing.”

Sheena Urwin, Head of Criminal Justice at Durham Constabulary, said: “The force entered into a contract with Experian using Mosaic Public Sector to better understand our communities and to improve our engagement – the data they provided helped us do that. Our aim is to reduce harm to the communities we serve and improve life chances for the people we come into contact with.”


A reminder that courts in the US used a similar method to determine sentences; also a bad idea.
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Platforms, privacy and Pandora’s Box • Adweek

Kim-Mai Cutler:


What’s interesting at this moment is that there is an open question in Washington D.C. as to how legally liable platforms are for the behavior of third-party developers.

The overwhelming majority of developers produce immense value for consumers, but let’s take an extreme hypothetical example. If an unscrupulous app developer launches a “Sexual Purity Test” or “How Mentally Stable Are You?” Quiz (yes, the latter is real), gets millions of users and secretly sells that data to pharmaceutical or insurance companies, how much liability does the platform bear?

Technology companies are hoping more of that responsibility will fall to an empowered Federal Trade Commission. Momentum is also building for the Department of Commerce to create a federal office for guiding online privacy regulation.

But if the platform companies can’t entirely control their ecosystems, I sincerely doubt the FTC or any privacy czar can.

Consumer education is far from where it needs to be. On sign-up prompts, platform providers could force developers to excerpt key parts of their privacy policy and explicitly list third parties they share data with. They could also make it a lot clearer to users about who developers are (since violators often just go and set up shop under a different name if caught).


Oh, yeah, by the way – she wrote this in December 2010. That’s just over seven years ago.
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Don’t give away historic details about yourself • Krebs on Security

Brian Krebs:


Social media sites are littered with seemingly innocuous little quizzes, games and surveys urging people to reminisce about specific topics, such as “What was your first job,” or “What was your first car?” The problem with participating in these informal surveys is that in doing so you may be inadvertently giving away the answers to “secret questions” that can be used to unlock access to a host of your online identities and accounts.

I’m willing to bet that a good percentage of regular readers here would never respond — honestly or otherwise — to such questionnaires (except perhaps to chide others for responding). But I thought it was worth mentioning because certain social networks — particularly Facebook — seem positively overrun with these data-harvesting schemes. What’s more, I’m constantly asking friends and family members to stop participating in these quizzes and to stop urging their contacts to do the same.

On the surface, these simple questions may be little more than an attempt at online engagement by otherwise well-meaning companies and individuals. Nevertheless, your answers to these questions may live in perpetuity online, giving identity thieves and scammers ample ammunition to start gaining backdoor access to your various online accounts.

Consider, for example, the following quiz posted to Facebook by San Benito Tire Pros, a tire and auto repair shop in California. It asks Facebook users, “What car did you learn to drive stick shift on?”

I hope this is painfully obvious, but for many people the answer will be the same as to the question, “What was the make and model of your first car?”, which is one of several “secret questions” most commonly used by banks and other companies to let customers reset their passwords or gain access to the account without knowing the password.


In many cases, probably too late.
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Facebook Building 8 explored data sharing agreement with hospitals • CNBC

Chrissy Farr:


Facebook has asked several major U.S. hospitals to share anonymized data about their patients, such as illnesses and prescription info, for a proposed research project. Facebook was intending to match it up with user data it had collected, and help the hospitals figure out which patients might need special care or treatment.

The proposal never went past the planning phases and has been put on pause after the Cambridge Analytica data leak scandal raised public concerns over how Facebook and others collect and use detailed information about Facebook users.

“This work has not progressed past the planning phase, and we have not received, shared, or analyzed anyone’s data,” a Facebook spokesperson told CNBC.

But as recently as last month, the company was talking to several health organizations, including Stanford Medical School and American College of Cardiology, about signing the data-sharing agreement.

While the data shared would obscure personally identifiable information, such as the patient’s name, Facebook proposed using a common computer science technique called “hashing” to match individuals who existed in both sets. Facebook says the data would have been used only for research conducted by the medical community.

The project could have raised new concerns about the massive amount of data Facebook collects about its users, and how this data can be used in ways users never expected.


When Google’s DeepMind did this with some records in the UK, the row went on for months. This one’s dead already.
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Subprime carmageddon: specialized lenders begin to collapse • Wolf Street

Wolf Richter:


The subprime auto lending business is highly cyclical. For example, according to Bloomberg, citing Moody’s data, 41 subprime lenders filed for bankruptcy during the subprime auto loan bust between 1997 and 1999.

But unlike subprime home mortgages, subprime auto loans won’t take down the financial system. About 25% of the auto loans written are subprime. For new cars, it’s about 20%. Of the $1.11trn in total auto loans outstanding at the end of 2017, about $280bn were subprime – less than a quarter of the $1.3trn subprime mortgages before the financial crisis. Even if the total subprime portfolio produced a net loss of 50%, the losses would amount to only about $140bn.

And there are other differences: Vehicles are quickly repossessed, usually after three months of missed payments. Even in bad times, there is a liquid market for the collateral at auctions around the country, and vehicles can be shipped to auctions with the greatest demand. The results are that lenders don’t end up holding these vehicles and loans on their balance sheet for years, as mortgage lenders did with defaulted home mortgages and homes.

But subprime will take down many more of the specialized lenders. And the survivors will tighten lending standards. This will prevent more car buyers from buying a new vehicles.


Been coming for some time; it’s the effect on new vehicle sales that could have broader knock-on effects.
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Publishers haven’t realized just how big a deal GDPR is • Baekdal Plus

THomas Baekdal:


With this box, Google is explicitly and openly asking you for consent to how Google is tracking you.

This also extends beyond Google’s own sites.

For instance, when publishers are using Google Adsense, it used to be that this interaction would track people across the web. But now, because of GDPR, Google has announced that it will no longer be based on any personally identifying data.

The reason is, again, that Google can’t be sure that publishers have obtained the correct level of consent before the ads are shown. So, Google is trying to get ahead of this by just getting rid of the problem altogether.

It’s the same with Facebook. They too are moving to a consent based baseline for how they do everything. And, they are also stopping their practice of buying personal data from data brokers.

As someone living in Europe, this has always been a huge violation of privacy. But what Facebook has now realized is that, with GDPR, doing something like this would be in direct violation of the law. Specifically, it’s a violation because people have not given their consent for their data to be used this way. And on top of this, the rule that you can only collect data relevant to the service you offer is incompatible with the practice of buying up vast amounts of random data about people from data brokers.

So Facebook is ending this instead of trying to fight it (which would only result in more negative press, loss of trust by its users, and penalties from the EU).

My point here is that the tech companies have decided to rethink the way they are doing privacy. Obviously there are a ton of things that still need to be done, neither Facebook or Google is in the clear. But when we combine what Google and Facebook are now saying with the overall trend of what the public demands, it’s pretty clear to see where this is heading.

And this brings us back to publishers.

I have yet to see any publisher who is actually changing what they are doing. Every single media site that I visit is still loading tons of 3rd party trackers. They are still not asking people for consent, in fact most seem to think they already have people’s consent, and when questioned about trackers, they can just say: “We use 3rd party services, and we refer to their privacy statements.”

This doesn’t work under GDPR, because, as a publisher you are a data-controller, whereas all the 3rd party tools you use are the data-processors.


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In letter to EPA, top ethics officer questions Pruitt’s actions • The New York Times

Eric Lipton:


The federal government’s top ethics official has taken the unusual step of sending a letter to the Environmental Protection Agency questioning a series of actions by Administrator Scott Pruitt and asking the agency to take “appropriate actions to address any violations.”

The letter, sent to Kevin Minoli, the EPA official designated as the agency’s top ethics official, addresses questions about Mr. Pruitt’s rental for $50 a night of a condominium linked to an energy lobbyist, as well as his government-funded flights to his home state of Oklahoma. The letter also cites reporting last week in The New York Times that agency staff members who raised concerns about these and other actions found themselves transferred or demoted.

“The success of our government depends on maintaining the trust of the people we serve,” said David J. Apol, acting director of the Office of Government Ethics, in the letter sent Monday morning to the EPA. “The American public needs to have confidence that ethics violations, as well as the appearance of ethics violations, are investigated and appropriately addressed.”

The letter walks through the three areas of concern. The first is related to the Capitol Hill condo Mr. Pruitt rented early last year from the wife of an energy lobbyist whose firm had business matters before the EPA.


And there are more. I remain fascinated by how long Pruitt can survive this; he’s clearly going to fall into something else, because he can’t help himself. A FOI request for records of the “death threats” made against (which required him to fly first class) to the EPA turned up zilch. That means unjustified costs of first-class flights. In a normal government, he’d be gone.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up: a new Twitterpocalypse?, what Scott Pruitt hasn’t done, oh woe Windows Phone, Zuck’s 14-year apology your, and more

You can measure it using just two buttons. And pretty well, too. Photo by agaumont on Flickr.

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

A selection of 11 links for you. Non-polluting (mostly). I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Apps of a Feather

The makers of Tweetbot, Twitteriffic, Talon and Tweetings have got together to explain how coming changes to Twitter’s API will affect them:


Who’s Affected?
This change affects people who use third-party Twitter apps. All software platforms are affected, but it’s worse on iOS and Android where users rely on push notifications to know when something happens on Twitter.

What’s Changing?
Third-party apps open a network connection to Twitter and receive a continuous stream of updates (hence the name). For push notifications, this connection is done on the developer’s server and used to generate messages that are sent to your devices. For timeline updates, the stream is opened directly on your mobile device or desktop computer.

This streaming connection is being replaced by an Account Activity API. This new infrastructure is based on “webhooks” that Twitter uses to contact your server when there’s activity for an account. But there are problems for app developers…

Why Can’t You Fix It?
The new Account Activity API is currently in beta testing, but third-party developers have not been given access and time is running out.

With access we might be able to implement some push notifications, but they would be limited at the standard level to 35 Twitter accounts – our products must deliver notifications to hundreds of thousands of customers. No pricing has been given for Enterprise level service with unlimited accounts – we have no idea if this will be an affordable option for us and our users.


Soon after this appeared, and annoyed tweets (I did one myself) began appearing aimed at Twitter’s developer account, the company announced that it would “delay” the June 19th deprecation. But that’s not clarity on what happens afterwards.

Twitter began open; it’s becoming closed. There’s a clear tendency among modern companies to shift from open beginnings to closed continuance.
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Flamingo, one of the best Twitter clients on Android, is dead • Android Central

Joe Maring:


Flamingo’s developer Sam Ruston broke the news on Twitter when answering a user’s question as to why the app wasn’t showing up in the Play Store, saying “Very close to the token limit so it has been unpublished. You can still download it if you have purchased it previously by looking in the My Apps section of Google Play”.

That “token limit” that Ruston mentions has been the bane of existence for a number of Twitter clients over the years. Twitter essentially creates x amount of tokens for third-party developers, with each new download of the app resulting in one token. Once a certain limit is reached, the app won’t work for new users. It’s a terrible system, and it’s now caused one of the most customizable and polished clients to be put to rest.


Twitter might have extended its deadline, but the token system is still terrible. If the problem is that third-party clients don’t show ads (and one would have to ask: why is your API on this so poor, Twitter?) then why not fix that, rather than screwing up others?
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The myth of Scott Pruitt’s EPA rollback • POLITICO Magazine

Michael Grunwald:


EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt’s spiraling ethics scandals and perilous job status were big news this week, but he also made headlines with his latest assault on President Barack Obama’s environmental legacy. “Pruitt Announces Rollback of Obama-Era Auto Fuel Efficiency Rule,” ABC News reported. “EPA’s Pruitt Kills Obama’s Auto Rules,” the Washington Examiner put it. The New York Times analyzed how the furor over Pruitt’s behavior has overshadowed his triumphs over regulation: “For Scott Pruitt, a Spotlight Shines on His Ethics, Not His EPA Rollbacks.”

But Pruitt did not kill or roll back Obama’s strict fuel-efficiency standards; he merely announced his intention to launch a process that could eventually weaken them. In fact, Pruitt has not yet killed or rolled back any significant regulations that were in place when President Donald Trump took office. While Pruitt is often hailed (or attacked) as Trump’s most effective (or destructive) deregulatory warrior, the recent spotlight on his ethics—allegations of a sweetheart housing deal; pay raises for favored aides; lavish spending on travel, furniture and security; and retaliation against underlings who questioned him—has arguably overshadowed his lack of regulatory rollbacks during his first 15 months in Washington. The truth is that Scott Pruitt has done a lot less to dismantle the EPA than he—or his critics—would have you believe.

It’s not for lack of trying. Pruitt has taken aim at just about every major Obama-era EPA rule, which has made him a pariah on the left, a hero on the right and the bureaucratic face of Trump’s vocal advocacy for fossil-fuel interests and other industrial polluters. But so far he’s only managed to delay a few rules that hadn’t yet taken effect. His supporters, critics and boss have all promoted the perception that he’s repealed Obama’s environmental legacy and shredded America’s environmental rulebook—and no one has promoted that perception more energetically than Pruitt, who frequently sued Obama’s EPA when he was Oklahoma’s attorney general. Nevertheless, that perception is wrong.


Interesting. Perception counts for so much in media.
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Customer satisfaction at the push of a button • The New Yorker

David Owen with a fascinating look at a super-simple system developed by a Finnish company for monitoring customer satisfaction:


A single HappyOrNot terminal can register thousands of impressions in a day, from people who buy and people who don’t. The terminals are self-explanatory, and customers can use them without breaking stride. In the jargon of tech, giving feedback through HappyOrNot is “frictionless.” And, although the responses are anonymous, they are time-stamped. One client discovered that customer satisfaction in a particular store plummeted at ten o’clock every morning. Video from a closed-circuit security camera revealed that the drop was caused by an employee who began work at that hour and took a long time to get going. She was retrained, and the frowns went away.

Last year, a Swedish sofa retailer hired HappyOrNot to help it understand a sales problem in its stores. Revenues were high during the late afternoon and evening but low during the morning and early afternoon, and the retailer’s executives hadn’t been able to figure out what their daytime employees were doing wrong. The data from HappyOrNot’s terminals surprised them: customers felt the most satisfied during the hours when sales were low, and the least satisfied during the hours when sales were high. The executives realized that, for years, they’d looked at the problem the wrong way. Because late-day revenues had always been relatively high, the executives hadn’t considered the possibility that they should have been even higher. The company added more salespeople in the afternoon and evening, and earnings improved.

HappyOrNot was founded just eight years ago, but its terminals have already been installed in more than a hundred countries and have registered more than six hundred million responses—more than the number of online customer ratings ever posted on Amazon, Yelp, or TripAdvisor. HappyOrNot is profitable, and its revenues have doubled each year for the past several years; its clients have a habit of inquiring whether, by chance, the company is for sale—significant accomplishments for a still tiny enterprise whose leaders say that their ultimate goal is to change not just the way people think about customer satisfaction but also the way they think about happiness itself.


They got their big break at Heathrow in 2012 ahead of the Olympics.
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Hey, Alexa, what can you hear? And what will you do with it? • The New York Times

Sapna Maheshwari:


Amazon and Google, the leading sellers of such devices, say the assistants record and process audio only after users trigger them by pushing a button or uttering a phrase like “Hey, Alexa” or “O.K., Google.” But each company has filed patent applications, many of them still under consideration, that outline an array of possibilities for how devices like these could monitor more of what users say and do. That information could then be used to identify a person’s desires or interests, which could be mined for ads and product recommendations.

In one set of patent applications, Amazon describes how a “voice sniffer algorithm” could be used on an array of devices, like tablets and e-book readers, to analyze audio almost in real time when it hears words like “love,” bought” or “dislike.” A diagram included with the application illustrated how a phone call between two friends could result in one receiving an offer for the San Diego Zoo and the other seeing an ad for a Wine of the Month Club membership.

Some patent applications from Google, which also owns the smart home product maker Nest Labs, describe how audio and visual signals could be used in the context of elaborate smart home setups… Google said it did not “use raw audio to extrapolate moods, medical conditions or demographic information.” The company added, “All devices that come with the Google Assistant, including Google Home, are designed with user privacy in mind.”

…Jamie Court, the president of Consumer Watchdog, a nonprofit advocacy group in Santa Monica, Calif., which published a study of some of the patent applications in December, said, “When you read parts of the applications, it’s really clear that this is spyware and a surveillance system meant to serve you up to advertisers.”


And now here’s something from Dave Farber’s IP list related to this, by an ex-Googler:


I know from working at Google that at least back in 2008 some of the advertising folks were trying to figure out if they put a microphone in a store and pick up the same voice print of someone who had asked for directions to that store using the Goog-411 service. The goal being to create the equivalent of a ‘click’ in the online world that they could bill the company for sending that customer their way. I worked for about a month using some 20% time to sketch out what would have to be true for something like that to work, for example a microphone near the entrance to the store and a greater who would say hello to people, encouraging them to say hello back so that a voice sample could be collected.

That project didn’t really go anywhere as far as I could tell, Google was still leery about building hardware that had to live outside of data centers.


But that was 2008. Who knows where we are now. Still feeling good about your smart speaker? Want Facebook’s one?
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Europe’s tough new data-protection law: the joys of data hygiene • The Economist

The EU’s GDPR, for data protection, comes into force across the EU on May 25th:


there are many complaints from companies about the law’s complexities and the bureaucratic burden it will impose. Critics also argue that the GDPR will stymie innovation in Europe: for instance, by making it more difficult for firms to develop artificial-intelligence services, for which data are the main input. When firms launch a new offering, they may have to ask people again whether they can use their information even if they have already stored it (although the GDPR allows for use of data for scientific and statistical purposes without further consent in some cases).

Yet amid the gripes, there are also positive noises. “The text is actually quite easy to read and it makes organisations like ours aware of the data they hold,” says Mr Cecconi of Datakind. “It has helped us to put our data house in order,” agrees Daniel Ross, a lawyer at Allscripts, an American firm that helps hospitals and doctors manage electronic health records. The unexpected welcome stems from the fact that the GDPR is “two-faced”, in the words of Viktor Mayer-Schönberger of Oxford University. It imposes costs but also structure.

The new law was mostly written by privacy-conscious Germans. Consent to collect and process personal data now has to be “unambiguous” and for “specific” purposes, meaning that catch-all clauses hidden in seldom-read terms and conditions, such as “your data will be used to improve our services”, will no longer be sufficient. “Data subjects” can demand a copy of the data held on them (“data portability”), ask for information to be corrected (“right to rectification”), and also request it to be deleted (“right to be forgotten”).

The GDPR is prescriptive about what organisations have to do to comply. They have to appoint a “data-protection officer” (DPO), an ombudsman who reports directly to top management and cannot be penalised for doing his job. They also have to draw up detailed “data-protection impact assessments”, describing how personal data are processed. And they have to put well-defined processes in place to govern the protection of personal data and to notify authorities within 72 hours if there is a breach. Companies that persistently ignore these rules face stiff fines of up to €20m ($25m) or 4% of global annual sales, whichever is greater.


An Economist leader argues that the US should adopt at least a version of GDPR before people completely lose trust in US companies’ treatment of their data among the abuses and hacks going on.
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Why Mark Zuckerberg’s 14-year apology tour hasn’t fixed Facebook • WIRED

Zeynep Tufekci:


I don’t doubt that the company has, on occasion, held itself back from bad behavior. That doesn’t make Facebook that exceptional, nor does it excuse its existing choices, nor does it alter the fact that its business model is fundamentally driving its actions.

At a minimum, Facebook has long needed an ombudsman’s office with real teeth and power: an institution within the company that can act as a check on its worst impulses and to protect its users. And it needs a lot more employees whose task is to keep the platform healthier. But what would truly be disruptive and innovative would be for Facebook to alter its business model. Such a change could come from within, or it could be driven by regulations on data retention and opaque, surveillance-based targeting—regulations that would make such practices less profitable or even forbidden.

Facebook will respond to the latest crisis by keeping more of its data within its own walls (of course, that fits well with the business of charging third parties for access to users based on extensive profiling with data held by Facebook, so this is no sacrifice). Sure, it’s good that Facebook is now promising not to leak user data to unscrupulous third parties; but it should finally allow truly independent researchers better (and secure, not reckless) access to the company’s data in order to investigate the true effects of the platform. Thus far, Facebook has not cooperated with independent researchers who want to study it. Such investigation would be essential to informing the kind of political discussion we need to have about the trade-offs inherent in how Facebook, and indeed all of social media, operate.

Even without that independent investigation, one thing is clear: Facebook’s sole sovereign is neither equipped to, nor should he be in a position to, make all these decisions by himself, and Facebook’s long reign of unaccountability should end.


And that really is the key point. You’re all serfs in Zuckerberg’s kingdom, whose every keystroke – and even deletion – is noted.
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I miss Windows Phone • The Verge

Tom Warren revived a Windows Phone he had for an April Fool’s joke, and then realised he quite like what he had given up in 2014:


Live Tiles were one of Windows Phone’s most unique features. They enabled apps to show information on the home screen, similar to the widgets found on Android and iOS. You could almost pin anything useful to the home screen, and Live Tiles animated beautifully to flip over and provide tiny nuggets of information that made your phone feel far more personal and alive. I’m hopeful that Apple will eventually take the Live Tiles concept, or even one that was designed for iOS 8, and bring it to the iPhone. Widgets just aren’t enough. Rumors suggest Apple is planning to refresh the iOS home screen soon, so there’s hope that iOS might move away from its static and dull home screen.

Outside of the design features, there was plenty more that showed how Microsoft was truly innovative with Windows Phone. The software keyboard is still far better than the defaults on iOS and Android, and Microsoft even added a tracing option that let you swipe to write words like many Android keyboards do now. The Windows Phone keyboard always felt accurate, at a time when Apple was struggling with its iOS autocorrect.


Trouble is that Windows Phone’s principal role was to provide a triangulation against iOS and Android: it wasn’t either of them and it did things neither of them did. It was also the most colossal money pit, which burnt through Nokia’s mobile division (cost: $1.3bn in losses) and then Microsoft (way past $5bn, probably much more, in losses and writeoffs).

See also ex-Microsoftie Charlie Kindel’s writeup in 2011 of why it wasn’t going to work. (Kindel, who has long since moved to Amazon, said on Twitter this weekend that he stands by his analysis.)
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The germs that love diet soda • NY Times

Moises Velasquez-Manoff:


By one estimate, deaths linked to [the bacterium Clostridium difficile, aka C. diff] increased fivefold between 1999 and 2007.

One reason the bug has become more virulent is that it has evolved antibiotic resistance and is not as easily treatable. But some years ago, Robert Britton, a microbiologist at Baylor College of Medicine, discovered something else about C. diff: more virulent strains were outcompeting less virulent strains in the gut.

Dr. Britton and his colleagues wanted to know what gave these strains their edge, so they combed through over 200 sugars and amino acids present in the gut to see if these microbes better utilized some food source compared with others. The results of their investigation, recently published in the journal Nature, suggest a deceptively banal adaptation: two of the most problematic C. diff strains have a unique ability to utilize a sugar called trehalose.

Trehalose occurs naturally in mushrooms, yeasts and shellfish, among other things. It has historically been expensive to use, but in the late 1990s a new manufacturing process made the sugar cheap. That was good news for companies that manufactured prepackaged foods, because trehalose works great for stabilizing processed foods, keeping them moist on the shelf and improving texture. Since about 2001, we’ve added loads of it to everything from cookies to ground beef.

What Dr. Britton and his colleagues contend is that, in doing so, we’ve inadvertently cultivated the most toxic C. diff strains, driving what has become a scourge of hospitals.

As evidence, he points to the timing of recent C. diff epidemics. The virulent strains existed before 2000, but they didn’t cause as many outbreaks. Only after large quantities of trehalose entered the food supply did they become this deadly.


To the European palate, American processed food tends to taste unbearable sweet. There’s so much added sweetener. Which turns out to have knock-on effects.
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Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it’s a terrible breach of drone buyers’ data • The Register

Gareth Corfield:


A popular drone dealership website left its entire transaction database exposed online with no encryption at all, revealing a host of purchases by thousands of police, military, government and private customers.

The site was left wide open by its operators, who failed to protect critical parts of its web infrastructure from curious people, as spotted by Alan at, who told The Register.

We discovered more than 10,000 online purchase receipts had been saved to its web servers without any encryption or even password protection whatsoever – and the sensitive customer details in those receipts were exceptionally easy to access. Even your grandparents could have found it using Internet Explorer.

Details available for world+dog to browse through included names, addresses, phone numbers, email addresses, IP addresses, devices used to connect to the site, details of ordered items, the card issuer (e.g. Visa) and the last 4 digits of credit cards used to pay for goods…

…orders seen by The Reg include ones placed by: staff from privatised defence research firm Qinetiq; the UK’s Defence Science and Technology Laboratory’s radar R&D base at Portsdown Hill; the Brit Army’s Infantry Trials and Development Unit; UK police forces up and down the country; local councils; governmental agencies; and thousands more orders placed by private individuals.

Many were for cameras and other optical gear as well as drones, reflecting the network of branded e-commerce sites that Drones For Less forms a part of.


Amazing that one could run an e-commerce site and have such poor security. The details would allow any half-competent fraudster to have a go at phishing, or properly defrauding, anyone who’d bought this stuff. (Might be risky, of course, given the buyers..)
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Russia moves to block Telegram after encryption key denial • ZDNet

Zack Whittaker:


Russia’s media and internet regulator has asked a court to block the encrypted messaging app Telegram after the company refused to give its encryption keys to state authorities.

The regulator, known as Roskomnadzor, filed the suit Friday in a Moscow district court.

The lawsuit, which has yet to be published, contains a “request to restrict access to the territory of Russia to the information resources” of the app, said a statement.

In other words, the government wants to block the app from working in the country.

The lawsuit lands after the Russian state security service, the FSB (formerly known as the KGB), demanded that the Dubai-based app maker hand over its encryption keys, which Russia contends is a legal demand. Russian entrepreneur and company founder Pavel Durov refused, and the Russian government took Telegram to court.

Russia’s Supreme Court upheld the demand in late March.

Telegram was ordered to hand over the keys by Wednesday, but refused. Roskomnadzor must now sue the company to obtain the authority to block the service.

Durov said that any threats to block Telegram in the country “won’t bear fruit,” but did not outright say if he or the company would hand over the keys.


Continuing the court case. I take it that Russia would block Telegram by blackholing the Telegram servers (because it’s a “cloud-based messenger with seamless sync”). What if someone uses a VPN to access it, though? Now you have to block VPNs as well.
link to this extract

Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up: the Tesla Autopilot fault, 19 things about 2001, smartphones for cardiac diagnosis, and more

Yvon Chouinard took on tough walls. Now he’s taking on Donald Trump. Photo by Sam Beebe on Flickr.

A selection of 10 links for you. TGIF (where I am). I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Tesla drivers show possible Autopilot limit after Model X accident • Business Insider

Mark Matousek:


On Friday, Tesla revealed that the Model X driver who died in an accident in California had activated Autopilot before the crash. While Tesla said the driver received multiple warnings to put his hands on the wheel before the accident, two YouTube videos from other Tesla drivers shed light on what may have caused the Model X to drive into a highway barrier.

One video shows a Model S driving through the same segment of the highway where the crash occurred with Autopilot activated. As the road approaches the barrier, a new lane marking indicates that drivers need to veer right if they want to stay on the road.

But the new lane marking is more faded than the prior left-hand lane marker, which becomes the right-hand lane marker for a ramp that allows drivers to exit to a new road. In the video, the Model S, which has Autopilot engaged, does not recognize the new lane marker and continues to use the old lane marker, which would lead it into the barrier… While the software’s automatic-steering feature can keep a vehicle in its lane on the highway, it does so by reading the lane markings. If a lane marking has faded, it’s more difficult for the vehicle to recognize it, and if the faded lane marking is close to one that is more prominent, the vehicle may assume the more prominent marking is the one to follow.


There’s something both chilling and heartening about the way that people are prepared to share their re-enactment of these incidents to show us what went wrong.
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How much will artists get paid from the major labels’ Spotify profits? • Music Business Worldwide

Tim Ingham notes that Sony sold 17.2% of its Spotify stake – about 0.98% of the whole company, or $250m – on Spotify’s debut:


What’s even more interesting, however, is a little secret given away by Sony Corp in a note to shareholders yesterday. The Japanese giant revealed that it’s forecasting a 105bn yen ($980m-ish) profit from the entirety of its Spotify stake once it’s done trading. (Again, that’s based on Spotify’s final stock price on Tuesday.)

This is a bit of a leap, but a worthwhile one: from this small nugget of information, we can glean rather a lot about the windfall that artists can expect to receive from the major labels once they cash in their ownership holdings in Spotify.

Sneak preview: it’s not a small number. These calculations get a little hairy, but – trust us – they’re worth keeping up with.

For simplicity’s sake, let’s start with just Sony. Sony Corp forecasts a gain of nearly $1bn from Sony Music’s total 5.7% stake in Spotify as per Tuesday evening’s stock price ($149.01). In total, Sony’s stake in Spotify at that point was worth $1.51bn. In other words, Sony Corp is saying that it expects profits from its Sony stake to represent a return on investment of around 3X…

…You won’t hear a cavalcade of praise for the major labels come cash-in day at Spotify, but think about what this actually means: Sony is committing to sharing all profits with its artists, even those that are a result of it acting like a VC – buying additional equity in Spotify out of its own pocket.

That rather lays down the gauntlet to Warner and Universal, no?


Suddenly there’s plenty of money sloshing around. And some of it might even go to artists – and equally, or at least less un-equally.
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Exclusive: Robert Mercer backed a secretive group that worked with Facebook, Google to target anti-Muslim ads at swing voters • Open Secrets

Robert Maguire:


Most Americans have never heard of the far-right neoconservative nonprofit that ran the ads. It has no employees and no volunteers, and it’s run out of the offices of a Washington, D.C. law firm. More importantly, most voters never saw the ads.

And that was by design.

The group, a social welfare organization called Secure America Now, worked hand in hand with Facebook and Google to target their message at voters in swing states who were most likely to be receptive to them.

And new tax documents obtained by OpenSecrets show that the money fueling the group came mostly from just three donors, including the secretive multimillionaire donor Robert Mercer.

As a 501(c)(4) social welfare organization, Secure America Now (SAN) is not required to disclose its donors to the public, but they are required to report them to the IRS. This information is usually redacted when provided for public inspection. However, when OpenSecrets called to request a 2016 return, an unredacted return was provided by the group’s accounting firm.

The filing shows the largest individual contribution, $2m, came from Robert Mercer, the reclusive hedge fund investor who spent millions in 2016 helping Donald Trump capture the White House.

Mercer has become a household name not only for his political spending in recent years or his peculiar interests — such as part-timing as a New Mexico police officer or funding stockpiles of urine in the Oregon mountains — but also for bankrolling the alt-right and the data firm Cambridge Analytica, both of which helped Trump clinch victory in 2016.


Hidden extremist ads. Oh, the joys of Facebook and social media.
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‘2001: A Space Odyssey’: 19 things you probably don’t know about Kubrick’s landmark film • The Washington Post

Michael Cavna:


Fifty years ago this week, Stanley Kubrick’s epic “2001: A Space Odyssey” opened, first in Washington and then New York. The influential film, which won an Oscar for its pioneering special effects, has been called Kubrick’s “crowning, confounding achievement” and a “quantum leap” in technological achievement by film critic James Verniere, who notes that Steven Spielberg called “2001” the Big Bang of his filmmaking generation.

Timed to the anniversary, author Michael Benson’s latest work, “Space Odyssey: Stanley Kubrick, Arther C. Clarke and the Making of a Masterpiece” (Simon & Schuster), debuts today, and within Benson’s devotional telling is a wealth of intriguing facts and anecdotes.

Here are 19 things you probably don’t know about “2001,” according to Benson and other sources.


Not 20? Or 01? Maybe 19 is 20 minus 01? Anyhow, I didn’t know these. The 19th – about how badly it was initially received – seems a bit relevant to Apple criticism.
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Patagonia vs. Donald Trump • GQ

Rosecrans Baldwin:


In Ventura, weeks after the Thomas fire, the air still smelled of smoke. [Outdoor clothing company] Patagonia’s headquarters had been used to house evacuees until the fires got too near. Later, the Ventura store gave away long underwear to firefighters working nights in the mountains and fishing waders to crews trying to find people in the mud. I felt a little awkward, then, considering the context, when I told [Patagonia founder and legendary climber Yvon] Chouinard that Patagonia’s activism seemed pretty convenient when it did so well for the bottom line. What’s “Zen” to his mind might sound to others like “good marketing.” He conceded the point, somewhat, but strongly disagreed: “What we say we’re doing, we’re actually doing. A lot of companies are just greenwashing, and young people can see right through it. Kids are smart, so we don’t talk down to them. Our marketing philosophy is just: Tell people who we are. Which is, tell people what we do, and don’t try to be anything more than that.”

I asked Chouinard about the lawsuit and his personal feelings about Trump. He thought for a moment, perhaps to contain himself. “What pisses me off about this administration is that they’re all these ‘climate deniers’—well, that’s bullshit. They know what’s happening. What they’re doing is purposely not doing anything about climate for the sake of making more money.” He paused, bowed his head, and scraped his fingernails on the table. He sat up again. “That is truly evil. That’s why I call this administration evil. They know what they’re doing, and they’re doing it to make more money.”

Gradually, the conversation went even darker. About Trump, Chouinard added, “It’s like a kid who’s so frustrated he wants to break everything. That’s what we’ve got.” I asked sarcastically if any part of him was an optimist. Marcario, sitting next to him, laughed loudly. “Did you just ask Yvon if he’s an optimist?” Chouinard smiled and cocked his head. “I’m totally a pessimist. But you know, I’m a happy person. Because the cure for depression is action.”


Chouinard is a remarkable person and businessman; you read the article and find so many examples of what he’s done that sounds mad but works both for business and environment.
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Smartphone app performs better than traditional exam in RCT cardiac assessment• ScienceDaily


A smartphone application using the phone’s camera function performed better than traditional physical examination to assess blood flow in a wrist artery for patients undergoing coronary angiography, according to a randomized trial published in CMAJ (Canadian Medical Association Journal).

These findings highlight the potential of smartphone applications to help physicians make decisions at the bedside. “Because of the widespread availability of smartphones, they are being used increasingly as point-of-care diagnostics in clinical settings with minimal or no cost,” says Dr. Benjamin Hibbert of the University of Ottawa Heart Institute, Ottawa, Ontario. “For example, built-in cameras with dedicated software or photodiode sensors using infrared light-emitting diodes have the potential to render smartphones into functional plethysmographs [instruments that measure changes in blood flow].”

The researchers compared the use of a heart-rate monitoring application (the Instant Heart Rate application version 4.5.0 on an iPhone 4S) with the modified Allen test, which measures blood flow in the radial and ulnar arteries of the wrist, one of which is used to access the heart for coronary angiography. A total of 438 participants were split into two groups; one group was assessed using the app and the other was assessed using a gold-standard traditional physical examination (known as the Allen test). The smartphone app had a diagnostic accuracy of 94% compared with 84% using the traditional method.

“The current report highlights that a smartphone application can outperform the current standard of care and provide incremental diagnostic yield in clinical practice,” writes Dr. Hibbert, with colleagues.


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AI reporter rewrites news for your political leaning • Digital Trends

Luke Dormehl:


Today, all of us live in filter bubbles online, in which the news we read is increasingly tailormade for our personal tastes. This is a problem for media companies and readers alike — and it’s one that an intriguing new online news aggregator hopes to help solve.

Called Knowhere, the newly launched website is the work of a media-savvy entrepreneur and some Stanford-trained artificial intelligence experts. It uses machine learning tools to cover the day’s biggest stories by offering left, impartial, and right-leaning versions of each. The components of these stories are aggregated from various online news outlets and then rewritten by an AI. Each story can reportedly be written in as little as 60 seconds to 15 minutes, depending on the complexity of the piece. Once that process is completed, a human editor then reviews the story, which further trains the news-writing algorithms. The result? Not only a whip-fast news aggregation site, but one which could help break the filter-bubble problem.

“I was inspired by my father who was an investigative journalist and correspondent for the BBC throughout my childhood,” co-founder, CEO and editor-in-chief Nathaniel Barling told Digital Trends. “Each night he would bring home three papers, The Guardian, The Times, and The Telegraph. He’d ask me to read all three of them so that I could gain a balanced perspective on the day’s news.”


The idea is that it shows articles which are written in all three ways – “left”, “right”, “impartial”. To be honest, I don’t see that people are going to read all three. Most people barely read one. Why not just go with the “impartial”?
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Obamacare enrollment 2018: the law is actually doing fine under Trump • Vox

Dylan Scott:


Don’t be mistaken: The Trump administration didn’t help matters. Working overtime to repeal the law, telling the American people that the ACA is dead and gone, slashing advertising by 90% and enrollment support by 40%, ending key payments to insurers while Congress refused to appropriate them and take the issue off the table — the Republican Party and Trump did everything they could throughout 2017 to undermine Obamacare.

But we learned that the ACA is pretty resilient. The Trump administration released a report on Tuesday saying that 11.8 million Americans enrolled in health coverage for 2018 through the law’s insurance marketplaces, down just a tick from the 12.2 million sign-ups in 2017.

Sure, Obamacare’s marketplaces are not exactly, on the whole, a robust and competitive market. For millions of people, insurance is still unaffordable. But for millions of others, the law is providing them with meaningful financial protections against medical bankruptcy.

“At this point, the marketplaces are really functioning more broadly in their role as an extension of the public safety net than in their role as a competitive market,” John Graves, a health policy professor at Vanderbilt University, told me.


America is still stumbling towards the point where it’s a sensible civic society. Obamacare, aka the ACA, is one of the things that suggests it’s getting there.

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Apple’s 2019 Mac Pro will be shaped by workflows • TechCrunch

Matthew Panzarino was invited to an interview at Apple’s campus:


In that discussion a year ago, Apple SVP Phil Schiller acknowledged that pro customers, including developers, were hungry for evidence that Apple was paying attention to their needs.

“We recognize that they want to hear more from us. And so we want to communicate better with them. We want them to understand the importance they have for us, we want them to understand that we’re investing in new Macs — not only new MacBook Pros and iMacs but Mac Pros for them, we want them to know we are going to work on a display for a modular system,” Schiller said.

Now, it’s a year later and Apple has created a team inside the building that houses its pro products group. It’s called the Pro Workflow Team, and they haven’t talked about it publicly before today…

…Apple decided to go a step further and just begin hiring these creatives directly into Apple. Some of them on a contract basis but many full-time, as well. These are award-winning artists and technicians that are brought in to shoot real projects (I saw a bunch of them walking by in Apple Park toting kit for an on-premise outdoor shoot). They then put the hardware and software through their paces and point out sticking points that could cause frustration and friction among pro users.

[VP of Hardware Engineering, John] Ternus says… Ternus says that they wanted to start focused, then grow the team and disciplines over time.

“We’ve been focusing on visual effects and video editing and 3D animation and music production, as well,” says Ternus. “And we’ve brought in some pretty incredible talent, really masters of their craft. And so they’re now sitting and building out workflows internally with real content and really looking for what are the bottlenecks. What are the pain points. How can we improve things…”


It’s hard not to feel that one very significant way Apple could improve things is not to have six years between updates of its top-end model. Two feels like it would be acceptable.
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AirPods and the Three Stages of Apple Criticism • Medium

Jonathan Kim:


I’d like to applaud [The Verge’s Vlad] Savov for writing his review, entitled “Apple Airpods: the Audiophile Review”. Instead of explaining why his take on the AirPods has gone through such a drastic evolution as he did, Savov could have simply remained quiet with the expectation that his previous excoriation of the AirPods in 2016 would be lost down the memory hole. An important sign of maturity is understanding that admitting you were wrong is a sign of strength, not weakness — a lesson our current president should heed. Coming from someone who had previously ridiculed the AirPods, Savov’s change of heart is a valuable perspective for those who had written off AirPods based on their first impressions.

Still, it’s worth wondering how Savov, a professional reviewer from a respected tech publication, could have gotten AirPods so wrong. But when looking at Savov’s three AirPods articles — “Apple Killed the Headphone Jack So It Could Resurrect the Bluetooth Headset” (September 2016), “Apple’s AirPods Are Winning With the Critics That Matter” (May 2017), and “Apple Airpods: the Audiophile Review” (March 2018) — I see an excellent illustration of a pattern I’ve seen often from tech reviewers, people on Twitter, and especially those who criticize Apple in the comments sections of posts about Apple.

Let’s call it the Three Stages of Apple Criticism.


Kim sets out the way in which people tend to criticise (negatively) Apple stuff very neatly, and encapsulates how people shift their positions – but rarely get as far as the third stage. If you’d like to see various people in all those stages, see the comments on Savov’s article linked in the extract. As you’d expect, it’s a morass.
link to this extract

Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

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Start Up: Facebook’s 87m mistake, the cost of correcting Google, 2001+50, the wrong Waze, and more

You know they’re flown by computers. But did you their code is flawless? Photo by NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center on Flickr.

A selection of 9 links for you. Not as looks as it hard. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Facebook says Cambridge Analytica may have gained 37m more users’ data • The Guardian

Olivia Solon:


The Facebook data of up to 87 million people – 37 million more than previously reported – may have been improperly shared with Cambridge Analytica, the company has revealed.

This larger figure was buried in the penultimate paragraph of a blogpost by the company’s chief technology officer, Mike Schroepfer, published on Wednesday, which also provided updates on the changes Facebook was making to better protect user information.

The news comes a week before CEO Mark Zuckerberg is due to face questioning from members of Congress over the data scandal. He will appear before the House energy and commerce committee on Wednesday 11 April.

In his blogpost, Schroepfer outlined sweeping changes to the way third-party developers can interact with Facebook via APIs, the digital interfaces through which third parties can interact with and extract data from the platform.

The company will no longer allow developers to access the guest list or wall posts of an event scheduled on Facebook, while developers seeking to access the data of Facebook group members will first need to get the permission from a group administrator to ensure “they benefit the group”.


That sound? Stable doors slamming everywhere.
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2001: A Space Odyssey’s mystery endures, 50 years on • CNET

Nicholas Tufnell interviewed Michael Benson, who has a new book about the enduringly marvellous film. (I have two posters drawn from the set by the official artist on my walls at home.)


Q: What surprised you and what did you learn about the film and its creators as you researched and wrote the book?

There’s so much of it, I don’t know where to begin. From the source of Arthur’s financial distress during the four years of production; to stuntman Bill Weston’s ordeal after Stanley refused to allow him to punch air holes in his helmet while dangling 30 feet above the studio’s hard concrete floor; to the intricacies of makeup man Stuart Freeborn’s incredibly elaborate techniques as he worked to create believable man-ape costumes — it goes on and on. Not to mention Dan Richter’s simultaneously dominating the role of a lifetime and holding down a seriously hard-core heroin addiction. 

You know I used to make films myself, and I remember realizing as early as film school in the early 1990s that frequently the story of what’s going down behind the camera is as interesting or more interesting as what’s going on in front of it. Given the scale of what we see on the screen with “2001” I’m not sure I’d make that claim here, but I do feel that I discovered a lot of interesting things.


Lots of great stuff. The one thing that for me is a constant, tiny delight every time I see the film or a clip is that it knows that what happens in the vacuum of space is silent. So few films are able to bear that. (Gravity, I think, managed it. Which others? Interstellar?)
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The man who spent $100k to remove a lie from Google • NPR

Aarti Shahani:


[Hakan] Yalincak was convicted of fraud, sentenced to 42 months in prison and then deported.

But from Turkey, he wanted to make [former hedge fund manager Jeff] Ervine [who had helped get Yalincak convicted] pay for his actions. The website Con v. Con was designed to destroy Ervine’s reputation.

At first Ervine shrugged it off. But then prospective clients and partners kept bringing it up. “I’d spend the first 15 minutes explaining the story” in every meeting, he says. It had happened right after the financial crisis and the Bernie Madoff scandal — not a great time to try to explain yourself.

Ervine knew he couldn’t talk any sense into his attacker. But he assumed he could get Google on his side. He had lawyers fax and mail a letter to Google’s chief counsel, with a simple request: Please stop highlighting this site in search results. Google ignored the request. Ervine was shocked.

“You are helpless and you’re hopeless. And what can you do? It’s like slut-shaming or anything else that goes on on the Internet today,” he says.

Google holds the position that in the U.S., it’s not obligated to remove defamatory content or lies from search results. It’ll consider it if there is a court finding. Even then, it’s really up to Google’s discretion. So Ervine’s lawyers sued the website creator. It took more than a year — to establish jurisdiction, to serve the papers overseas and to win the case.

The final court hearing was extraordinary. Judge James Holderman, of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, apologized to Ervine on behalf of the American justice system. “You, in my opinion, have done everything right — you have been a model citizen, you have assisted your government in exposing and prosecuting fraud on other people — and then you are victimized,” he said for the court record. “I wish I could do more.”

Ervine’s lawyers rushed to Google with the judgment. And then it took a few months for Google to respond that yes, the company would help; then another month to actually do it.

No wonder that winning didn’t feel like victory for Ervine.


Where’s the right to be forgotten when you need it. Especially when you consider this next chart…
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New Jumpshot 2018 data: where searches happen on the web (Google, Amazon, Facebook, and beyond) • SparkToro

Rand Fishkin looks at US search data (desktop and mobile) that goes back to 2015:


Some of my takeaways:

• Back in November, 2015, Bing & Yahoo combined for ~7% of all searches. In February of 2018, that number was down to 4.6%.
• YouTube, Pinterest, Amazon, and Twitter have remained surprisingly stable, varying less than a half a% each. That’s particularly surprising with Amazon, because I keep reading all these stories about how so much of product search is shifting to their platform. If that’s true, it must only be proportional in keeping up with the broad growth of search on the web as a whole. Perhaps that’s impressive by itself.
• Google Images shrank, but almost entirely because Google web search took that traffic for themselves (dropping the tabs to image search, embedding more image results in the web SERPs, etc)
• Google Maps, similar to Images, only technically lost share, as Google web search gets most of that (and the shift to mobile use has obviously biased that too)
• Google properties own just over 90% of all searches in 2018, up ~1.5% from 2015.

If asked to predict the future, I’d guess that Google’s dominance will continue, and that there’s no clear evidence for a big shakeup anytime in the next two to three years.


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On one of Los Angeles’s steepest streets, an app-driven frenzy of spinouts, confusion and crashes • LA Times

Steve Lopez:


along Baxter Street, everyone seems to have a story about the ineptitude of drivers — following directions from navigation apps — who can’t seem to handle one of the steepest inclines [32%] in Los Angeles.

“The car came through our garden, went through two fences and ended up backwards hanging over our driveway,” said Jason Luther, who was describing an accident that happened during the last rains.

“A lot of people can’t make it up the hill,” Baxter resident Robbie Adams said.

Why not? I asked.

“Because it’s too steep, and they don’t know how to drive up. So they stop and try to back down, and it’s a mess because people are coming up behind them.”

And that’s in good weather. “Rain is a huge problem,” Adams said. “People start skidding and spinning. We had our garden wall knocked down twice, and my wife’s car got hit in our own driveway. I’ve seen five or six cars smash into other cars, and it’s getting worse.”

Adams said “we sent a letter to Waze” — a GPS navigation service — suggesting removal of Baxter as a shortcut possibility, or at least listing it as hazardous during wet weather.

“They said they couldn’t do that because it involves changing the algorithm of the app in a weird way,” he said.


I was in Los Angeles last week. All the Uber drivers swore by Waze.
link to this extract

This is what we know about YouTube shooter Nasim Aghdam • Buzzfeed

Michelle Broder van Dyke:


A 39-year-old woman who alleged that YouTube “discriminated and filtered” her videos was identified as the shooter who opened fire Tuesday at the company’s California headquarters, injuring three people before killing herself.

The shooter, Nasim Najafi Aghdam of San Diego, had multiple YouTube channels where she frequently posted about animal rights and veganism. The channels were terminated Tuesday night after she was identified as the shooter.

Google did not respond to a request for comment.

“At this point in the investigation, it is believed the suspect was upset with policies and practices of YouTube,” San Bruno Police Chief Ed Barberini said during a news conference Wednesday, adding that Aghdam’s motive is still under investigation.

Barberini added that Aghdam visited a local gun range Tuesday morning before the shooting, and that she legally owned the 9mm Smith & Wesson semi-automatic handgun used in the attack.

Aghdam’s father, Ismail, said she had been missing for several days and was located by police in Mountain View, California, early Tuesday morning. He told the Mercury News that he informed authorities his daughter might be going to YouTube because she “hated” the company.


Plenty more in the story: she felt that YouTube was discriminating against her, stopping her monetising videos, and putting age restrictions on unnecessarily.
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BlackBerry goes after Snapchat in saddest patent lawsuit ever • Gizmodo

Rhett Jones:


BlackBerry is gradually feeling out its new niche as a veritable patent troll. Following a complaint it filed against Facebook last month, the company has filed fresh litigation against Snap, creator of Snapchat, for allegedly infringing its messaging patents.

Bloomberg first reported the lawsuit on Tuesday. It claims that BlackBerry has been trying to resolve Snap’s alleged infringement of six of its patents for the last year. “Various letters, calls and an in-person meeting,” as the lawsuit puts it, have resulted in failure to find an acceptable resolution.

It should come as no surprise that the patents relate to BlackBerry’s BBM messaging service that was considered the crown jewels of the company in the days when it was known as “CrackBerry” due to its popularity. Among the features that BlackBerry claims Snap stole, it lists the display of timestamps in the messaging interface, and “mapping techniques to establish and maintain real-time activity location information.”


2010 called – it says its patent lawyers are available for hire any time.
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They write the right stuff • Fast Company

Charles Fishman:


It’s an awesome display of hardware prowess. But no human pushes a button to make it happen, no astronaut jockeys a joy stick to settle the shuttle into orbit.

The right stuff is the software. The software gives the orders to gimbal the main engines, executing the dramatic belly roll the shuttle does soon after it clears the tower. The software throttles the engines to make sure the craft doesn’t accelerate too fast. It keeps track of where the shuttle is, orders the solid rocket boosters to fall away, makes minor course corrections, and after about 10 minutes, directs the shuttle into orbit more than 100 miles up. When the software is satisfied with the shuttle’s position in space, it orders the main engines to shut down — weightlessness begins and everything starts to float.

But how much work the software does is not what makes it remarkable. What makes it remarkable is how well the software works. This software never crashes. It never needs to be re-booted. This software is bug-free. It is perfect, as perfect as human beings have achieved. Consider these stats : the last three versions of the program — each 420,000 lines long-had just one error each. The last 11 versions of this software had a total of 17 errors. Commercial programs of equivalent complexity would have 5,000 errors.

This software is the work of 260 women and men based in an anonymous office building across the street from the Johnson Space Center in Clear Lake, Texas, southeast of Houston. They work for the “on-board shuttle group,” a branch of Lockheed Martin Corps space mission systems division, and their prowess is world renowned: the shuttle software group is one of just four outfits in the world to win the coveted Level 5 ranking of the federal governments Software Engineering Institute (SEI) a measure of the sophistication and reliability of the way they do their work. In fact, the SEI based it standards in part from watching the on-board shuttle group do its work.


This is not a brief article. It is very good.
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The conservative coddling of Scott Pruitt • The New Republic

Emily Atkin:


Pruitt said that Obama’s EPA heads spent almost ten times as much as he did on international travel—his $120,000 compared with their $1 million. To start, Pruitt’s 2017 international travel costs are actually $160,000. (He declined to include a $40,000 trip to Morocco, perhaps because it’s under investigation for potential impropriety by the EPA inspector general.) Next, the $1m figure he cites represents 14 trips Obama’s EPA heads took over a period of eight years, compared with two international trips Pruitt took in one year. Correlating $160,000 to $1m is thus a plainly false comparison.

To make an intellectually honest comparison, you’d have to average the Obama EPA’s $1m over eight years. Doing so shows that Obama EPA chiefs averaged about $71,000 per international trip. Pruitt is already averaging $80,000 per international trip. Pruitt’s trip to Italy was also more expensive than any individual international trip taken by an Obama-era EPA administrator, with one exception, a $155,764 trip that former EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson took to three Chinese provinces: Beijing, Guangzhou, and Shanghai.

In any case, the international travel comparison is actually all a red herring. You see, the backlash over Pruitt’s lavish spending is about unnecessarily expensive first-class domestic airfare, which runs afoul of federal regulations. Federal travel rules allow first- and business-class flights to be expensed to the EPA on long, international trips only. (Notably, Obama EPA chief Gina McCarthy flew coach even on international flights.) On other flights, however, federal regulations dictate government employees be “prudent” about travel and book “the least expensive class of travel that meets their needs.”

These are the regulations Pruitt is accused of violating. As The Washington Post’s reporting has shown, he routinely books $3,000 to $4,000 first-class flights to places like New York, South Carolina, and Alabama for the purposes of doing local media hits and promoting regulatory rollbacks. At least four times, he spent between $2,000 and $2,600 on first-class flights to meetings near his hometown in Oklahoma. He “frequently opts to fly Delta Air Lines, even though the government has contracts with specific airlines on certain routes,” according to the Post, and he often stays at high-end hotels.


Atkin also found that the source of those false comparisons was the EPA’s press office. The rot goes deep with Trump’s hires.
link to this extract

Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: yesterday’s link about the YouTube shooting was picked while information was still coming in, and so was wrong. It would have been better to wait for fuller information. It was a mistake; my apologies.

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Start Up: Apple hires Google’s AI chief, Trump campaign’s Facebook skillz, Grindr to stop sharing HIV data, and more

Why does Foxconn want Belkin? Because margins are good on accessories. Photo by Harsh Agrawal on Flickr.

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

A selection of 12 links for you. Safety first. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Woman opens fire at YouTube headquarters, wounding four before taking her own life • LA Times

James Queally, Benjamin Oreskes, Richard Winton, Tracey Lien and Angel Jennings:


A woman opened fire at the YouTube headquarters in San Bruno, Calif., wounding four people before taking her own life, authorities said.

San Bruno Police Chief Ed Barberini told reporters Tuesday afternoon that one person, believed to be the shooter, was found dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Four other people were taken to area hospitals for medical treatment, according to Barberini.

Lisa Kim, a spokeswoman for Stanford Medical Center, said at least four patients from the shooting were expected to be admitted at the medical center.

“We do not know their conditions,” she said…

…At least two people were reportedly struck by gunfire, according to a law enforcement source who was not authorized to speak publicly about the incident. The shooter was described as a woman. So far authorities do not believe this was an act of terrorism and appears instead to have been a case of domestic or workplace violence — although the investigation has just begun.


So it looks like a domestic incident (as far as was known as 2200GMT). But those on all sides will use this incident to make points that aren’t justified by the facts. A take I liked: “they say the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun but that just sounds like someone trying to sell TWO guns”.
link to this extract

Apple hires Google’s AI chief • The New York Times

Jack Nicas and Cade Metz:


Apple has hired Google’s chief of search and artificial intelligence, John Giannandrea, a major coup in its bid to catch up to the artificial intelligence technology of its rivals.

Apple said on Tuesday that Mr. Giannandrea will run Apple’s “machine learning and A.I. strategy,” and become one of 16 executives who report directly to Apple’s chief executive, Timothy D. Cook.

The hire is a victory for Apple, which many Silicon Valley executives and analysts view as lagging its peers in artificial intelligence, an increasingly crucial technology for companies that enable computers to handle more complex tasks, like understanding voice commands or identifying people in images.

“Our technology must be infused with the values we all hold dear,” Mr. Cook said in an email to staff members obtained by The New York Times. “John shares our commitment to privacy and our thoughtful approach as we make computers even smarter and more personal.”


Wow. That’s a hell of a coup. Giannandrea joined Google in 2010 from Metaweb (which Google bought). He’s got to be on a gigantic options deal with some big incentives around Siri et al.
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Trump’s campaign said it was better at Facebook. Facebook agrees • Bloomberg

Sarah Frier:


Donald Trump’s presidential campaign has boasted often that it made better use of Facebook Inc.’s advertising tools than Hillary Clinton’s campaign did. An internal Facebook white paper, published days after the election, shows the company’s data scientists agree.

“Both campaigns spent heavily on Facebook between June and November of 2016,” the author of the internal paper writes, citing revenue of $44m for Trump and $28m for Clinton in that period. “But Trump’s FB campaigns were more complex than Clinton’s and better leveraged Facebook’s ability to optimize for outcomes.”

The paper, obtained by Bloomberg and discussed here for the first time, describes in granular detail the difference between Trump’s campaign, which was focused on finding new donors, and Clinton’s campaign, which concentrated on ensuring Clinton had broad appeal. The data scientist says 84% of Trump’s budget asked people on Facebook to take an action, like donating, compared with 56% of Clinton’s…

…Trump ran 5.9 million different versions of ads during the presidential campaign and rapidly tested them to spread those that generated the most Facebook engagement, according to the paper. Clinton ran 66,000 different kinds of ads in the same period.


And yet (I feel faintly obligated to point out) Trump lost the popular vote by millions of votes, and prevailed because 77,000 votes in three key states went his way; his winning margins in each of those states was smaller than the number of votes that went to the most popular third candidate.

Trump did Facebook better, but we need even more granularity to get clarity on what happened.
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A Cambridge Analytica whistleblower claims that “cheating” swung the Brexit vote • The New Yorker

John Cassidy:


[Cambridge Analytica whistleblower Christopher] Wylie said that he was pretty sure A.I.Q. used C.A.’s data, adding, “You can’t have targeting software that doesn’t access the database. Cambridge Analytica would have a database and A.I.Q. would access that database, otherwise the software wouldn’t work.” He also argued that “A.I.Q. played a very significant role in Leave winning,” because the online ads that the pro-Brexit groups purchased with the help of the firm were “incredibly effective,” with very high conversion rates. On this basis, he said, “I think it is incredibly reasonable to say A.I.Q. played a very significant role in Leave winning.” Asked directly if this made the difference in the outcome of the referendum, Wylie replied, “I think it is completely reasonable to say there could have been a different outcome of the referendum had there not been, in my view, cheating.”

In response to Wylie’s statements, C.A. accused him of spreading “false information, speculation, and completely unfounded conspiracy theories.” Taking its defense to Twitter, the firm described Wylie as “a part-time contractor who left in July 2014 and has no direct knowledge of our work or practices since that date.” Contradicting its earlier claims, the firm said, “We played no role in the referendum on EU membership.” It also distanced itself from Aggregate I.Q., saying, “The suggestion that Cambridge Analytica was somehow involved in any work done by Aggregate IQ in the 2016 EU referendum is entirely false.”


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Google shutting down URL shortener next year, existing links will keep working • 9to5Google

Abner Li:


The link is very common on the web and was first launched by Google in 2009. However, the company announced today that it’s winding down the URL Shortener beginning next month, with a complete deprecation by next year. Fortunately, existing links will continue to work.

The URL shortener service launched in 2009 for FeedBurner and the Google Toolbar. With neither of those services available, the same is now happening to for both consumers and developers. The latter group is being directed to Firebase Dynamic Links with today’s announcement meant to “refocus” Google’s efforts.

many popular URL shortening services have emerged and the ways people find content on the Internet have also changed dramatically, from primarily desktop webpages to apps, mobile devices, home assistants, and more.

However, for average users that just want to truncate a link, there is no new alternative from the company, with Google suggesting Bitly and


Link shortener advantages for the operator: you get to see where traffic is going; you get to see which users click on what and which users create what.

Link shortener disadvantages for the operator: spammers hammer your traffic; you have to watch for dead/dying links; you have to keep checking that old links aren’t taken over by spammers; it costs you a little.

I’d guess that Google saw the number of newly created links diminishing quite fast. I’d guess that Twitter and Facebook are the biggest players, via the and shorteners they use.
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Grindr will stop sharing users’ HIV data with other companies • Buzzfeed

Azeen Ghorayshi:


The popular gay hookup app Grindr said late on Monday that it would stop sharing information about its users’ HIV status with third-party analytics companies.

The announcement came after BuzzFeed News revealed that Grindr had been securely providing two companies — Apptimize and Localytics, commonly used services to help optimize apps — with some of the information that Grindr users include in their profiles, including HIV status and “last tested date.”

The company decided to stop sharing the information with Localytics “based on the reaction — a misunderstanding of technology — to allay people’s fears,” chief security officer Bryce Case told BuzzFeed News. It will happen when the app’s next update is released, he said.

Still, Case defended Grindr’s decision to share the data, arguing that Apptimize and Localytics are simply tools to help apps like Grindr function better, and that the information was not shared to make money or for other nefarious purposes.


It was sharing this data with third-party analytics companies? What sort of world do these people live in?
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Facebook delays home-speaker unveil amid data crisis • Bloomberg


Facebook Inc. has decided not to unveil new home products at its major developer conference in May, in part because the public is currently so outraged about the social network’s data-privacy practices, according to people familiar with the matter.

The company’s new hardware products, connected speakers with digital-assistant and video-chat capabilities, are undergoing a deeper review to ensure that they make the right trade-offs regarding user data, the people said. While the hardware wasn’t expected to be available until the fall, the company had hoped to preview the devices at the largest annual gathering of Facebook developers, said the people, who asked not to be named discussing internal plans.

The devices are part of Facebook’s plan to become more intimately involved with users’ everyday social lives, using artificial intelligence — following a path forged by Inc. and its Echo in-home smart speakers. As concerns escalate about Facebook’s collection and use of personal data, now may be the wrong time to ask consumers to trust it with even more information by placing a connected device in their homes. A Facebook spokeswoman declined to comment.


So “a deeper review to ensure that they make the right trade-offs regarding user data”? They hadn’t thought to do that before? This thing is dead in the water.
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The curious case of the Belkin buy • Om Malik

Malik on Foxconn’s $866m of the US Belkin company:


Anker, for example, has come from nowhere and has become a dominant brand for accessories. Others such as Native Union and Mophie, too are well-known players. Amazon Basics and Bestbuy’s in-house brands, RocketFish, are other examples of companies that are aggressively trying to capture the consumer electronics business.

Against this backdrop, Belkin has done a good job of surviving in the market. They have managed not to become yet another “commodity brand.” But the question is for how long could they stay independent. In Foxconn, they have found an excellent parent to keep them growing. They can use Foxconn’s more significant infrastructure to their advantage.

As the press release notes:


Belkin International and its family of brands will continue to operate as a subsidiary of FIT under the leadership of CEO and founder Mr. (Chet) Pipkin and his executive team. Mr. Pipkin is expected to join FIT’s management team.


So what does Foxconn get? Well, if you are working as a contract manufacturing company for Apple, you aren’t making that huge a margin. Apple’s financial team makes sure that its suppliers and vendors are squeezed hard. It needs to figure out ways to boost its revenues and more importantly, margins. Belkin brings that to the stable, just like Sharp, which they bought in 2016.

Foxconn is also the financial backer for Nokia phones business, HMD Global.

It more than just money. It is also a company that is facing a lot of competition from the home-grown Chinese companies such as (former cable maker) Luxsher, which were upstarts ten years ago, but now have started to eat into Foxconn’s dominance. Belkin is yet another step towards making sure it has a future.


Not mentioned: accessories have better margins (percentage-wise) than lots of other electronics devices, so if you can sell a lot of them, you actually have a better chance of making money than if you’re just an ODM – original device manager – for someone else (as Foxconn often is).

And it has bought into a known brand. Another Chinese (Taiwanese) purchase of a western brand.
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The death of the newsfeed • Benedict Evans

The aforesaid Evans:


If you have 1,500 or 3,000 items a day, then the chronological feed is actually just the items you can be bothered to scroll through before giving up, which can only be 10% or 20% of what’s actually there. This will be sorted by no logical order at all except whether your friends happened to post them within the last hour. It’s not so much chronological in any useful sense as a random sample, where the randomizer is simply whatever time you yourself happen to open the app. ’What did any of the 300 people that I friended in the last 5 years post between 16:32 and 17:03?’ Meanwhile, giving us detailed manual controls and filters makes little more sense – the entire history of the tech industry tells us that actual normal people would never use them, even if they worked. People don’t file. 

This is the logic that led Facebook inexorably to the ‘algorithmic feed’, which is really just tech jargon for saying that instead of this random (i.e. ‘time-based’) sample of what’s been posted, the platform tries to work out which people you would most like to see things from, and what kinds of things you would most like to see. It ought to be able to work out who your close friends are, and what kinds of things you normally click on, surely? The logic seems (or at any rate seemed) unavoidable. So, instead of a purely random sample, you get a sample based on what you might actually want to see.

Unavoidable as it seems, though, this approach has two problems. First, getting that sample ‘right’ is very hard, and beset by all sorts of conceptual challenges. But second, even if it’s a sucessful sample, it’s still a sample.

Looking at the first of these, there are a bunch of problems around getting the algorithmic newsfeed sample ‘right’, most of which have been discussed at length in the last few years. There are lots of incentives for people (Russians, game developers) to try to manipulate the feed. Using signals of what people seem to want to see risks over-fitting, circularity and filter bubbles. People’s desires change, and they get bored of things, so Facebook has to keep changing the mix to try to reflect that, and this has made it an unreliable partner for everyone from Zynga to newspapers. Facebook has to make subjective judgements about what it seems that people want, and about what metrics seem to capture that, and none of this is static or even in in principle perfectible.


This is a terrific post about the realities that social networks face. This is just a small part of a much longer post; all worth reading.
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Instagram suddenly chokes off developers as Facebook chases privacy • TechCrunch

Josh Constine:


Without warning, Instagram has broken many of the unofficial apps built on its platform. This weekend it surprised developers with a massive reduction in how much data they can pull from the Instagram API, shrinking the API limit from 5,000 to 200 calls per user per hour. Apps that help people figure out if their followers follow them back or interact with them, analyze their audiences or find relevant hashtags are now quickly running into their API limits, leading to broken functionality and pissed off users.

Two sources confirmed the new limits to TechCrunch, and developers are complaining about the situation on StackOverflow.

In a puzzling move, Instagram is refusing to comment on what’s happening while its developer rate limits documentation site 404s. All it would confirm is that Instagram has stopped accepting submissions of new apps, just as Facebook announced it would last week following backlash over Cambridge Analytica. Developers tell me they feel left in the dark and angry that the change wasn’t scheduled or even officially announced, preventing them from rebuilding their apps to require fewer API calls.

Some developers suspect the change is part of Instagram parent company Facebook’s scramble to improve data privacy in the wake of its non-stop string of data scandals…

…Causing this kind of platform whiplash could push developers away from the Instagram ecosystem, not that the company was too keen on some of these apps. For example, Reports+ charges $3.99 per month to give people analytics about their Instagram followers. Sensor Tower tells TechCrunch that Reports+ has grossed more than $18m worldwide since October 2016 on the App Store and Google Play, and made more than $1.2m last month alone.


All the stable doors being slammed. But that’s quite the ecosystem there.
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Amazon Music may be bigger than we thought • The Verge

Dani Deahl:


Amazon Music has tens of millions of active subscribers, the company tells The Verge. While analysts have often pointed to research that indicates it’s the third-largest company for on-demand streaming music (behind Spotify and Apple Music), Amazon has remained mum on confirming numbers.

Amazon has two tiers of music subscription: Prime Music (free for Prime subscribers) and Music Unlimited, which has monthly fees ranging from $3.99 to $14.99 depending on the number of devices, users, and if you’re already an Amazon Prime member. While Prime Music offers around 2 million songs ad-free, Music Unlimited provides more songs, greater control, and it’s cheaper than competitors’ $9.99 monthly fee for a single account.

Amazon launched Music Unlimited in April 2017 to compete with major streaming players while leveraging its Echo smart speakers, already deeply integrated with its music offerings and in millions of homes. Last year, Steve Boom, the vice president of Amazon Music, said in an interview that he “ See[s] us as one of the top global streaming services … I expect us to grow faster than everybody else.”

It appears that those predictions are being met. Amazon Music Unlimited subscriptions have grown more than 100% in the past six months…


Neatly timed to rain on Spotify’s IPO parade. What does “tens of millions” mean though? It’s between 20m and 90m. I think it’s a lot closer to the 20m.

When will Amazon get off the “no numbers number” habit? It feels like an invitation to industrial espionage, or an industry regulator that can audit these numbers. Otherwise they’re meaningless. (As a reminder, Spotify has 71m paid subscribers, Apple has 36m.)
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Spotify’s stock falls from $165.90 opening price • The Washington Post

Hamza Shaban and Renae Merle:


Spotify made its highly anticipated Wall Street debut on Tuesday, with an opening price of $165.90, giving the music streaming company a valuation of $29.5 billion.

The price was 25% more than the reference price set by the New York Stock Exchange, based on how the stock traded on private markets before public trading began.

During the first moments of its public listing, Spotify’s stock experienced stable trading before falling more than 9% in the afternoon, to $150. Analysts had anticipated volatility during Spotify’s market debut because the company chose an unusual path to go public.

The streaming service giant, which trades under the symbol SPOT, bypassed many of the traditional steps of a Wall Street public offering. Company executives did not conduct a roadshow to convince big institutional investors, such as pension and mutual funds, to buy shares. Its chief executive even skipped the usual New York Stock Exchange ritual of ringing the opening bell. Epic Players, a theater group, preformed the honors.

What made Spotify’s public debut most notable, however, was how it offered its stock. Rather than issuing new shares, Spotify instead conducted a direct listing, in which no money was raised but existing shares were sold by employees and investors.

“Normally, companies ring bells. Normally, companies spend their day doing interviews on the trading floor touting why their stock is a good investment,” Daniel Ek, Spotify’s founder and chief executive said in a blog post Monday. “As I mentioned during our Investor Day, our focus isn’t on the initial splash. Instead, we will be working on trying to build, plan, and imagine for the long term.”


And so Spotify gets out of its tight spot with $1bn of debt raised in March 2016 that it had to pay off. Well played, Mr Ek.

Though some of the earlier investors might feel peeved. From that March 2016 WSJ story:


Fidelity Investments held its Spotify shares at $1,643 a share in January, down 27% from last August, according to regulatory filings. Another mutual fund, Vanguard International Growth, paid $2,229 a share for a stake in Spotify and still held it at that price as of December.


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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up: EPA vs the future, will Tesla go bust?, Russia’s bots like guns, sayonara Windows!, and more

Apple switched from PowerPR (a RISC architecture) in 2005 to Intel. Is it going to switch back again for the Mac? Photo by Adam Schilling on Flickr

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

A selection of 13 links for you. I do hope you behaved while I was away.. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Calling car pollution standards ‘too high,’ EPA sets up fight with California • NY Times

Hiroko Tabuchi:


Scott Pruitt, the EPA [Environmental Protection Agency] administrator, signaled that he aimed to make California fall in line. The Obama administration, he said, “made assumptions about the standards that didn’t comport with reality, and set the standards too high.” California’s history of setting its own emissions rules “doesn’t mean that one state can dictate standards for the rest of the country,” Mr. Pruitt said.

A rollback of the rules, which are designed to cut back on emissions of greenhouse gases, would reverse one of the single biggest steps any government has taken to tackle climate change. California has said it will stick with the tougher, Obama-era regulations, a decision that could effectively split the United States into two auto markets: one requiring cars to be more efficient and less polluting than the other.

California has long possessed the unique authority under the 1970 Clean Air Act to write its own air pollution rules. Traditionally, a dozen other states follow California’s air pollution rules and together they represent one-third of the nation’s auto market. That puts California in an extraordinary position to stage a regulatory revolt, with much of the country’s car market in tow.

State officials indicated they would fight the Trump administration. “This is a politically motivated effort to weaken clean vehicle standards,” said Mary Nichols, California’s top air pollution regulator. California, she said, “will vigorously defend the existing clean vehicle standards.”

Xavier Becerra, the state’s attorney general, said the state was “ready to file suit.”

Adopted in 2012, the standards up for revision would have required automakers to nearly double the average fuel economy of new cars and trucks, to 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025. If fully implemented, the rules would have cut oil consumption by about 12 billion barrels over the lifetime of all the cars affected by the regulations and reduced carbon dioxide pollution by about six billion tons.


I’ve spent the past week in the US (hello!) in California (hello!) and I’ve been fascinated by the subtle inefficiencies in lots of things, from supermarkets to car washes. (I’ll write about it presently.) An administration that isn’t trying to make things more efficient is cutting its citizens’ throats in the long and medium term.

But with Pruitt at the EPA, that isn’t surprising.
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Apple plans to use its own chips in Macs from 2020, replacing Intel • Bloomberg

Mark Gurman and Ian King:


The shift would also allow Cupertino, California-based Apple to more quickly bring new features to all of its products and stand out from the competition. Using its own main chips would make Apple the only major PC maker to use its own processors. Dell Technologies Inc., HP Inc., Lenovo Group Ltd., and Asustek Computer Inc. use Intel chips.

By using its own chips, Apple would be able to more tightly integrate new hardware and software, potentially resulting in systems with better battery life – similar to iPads, which use Apple chips.

While the transition to Apple chips in hardware is planned to begin as early as 2020, the changes to the software side will begin even before that. Apple’s iPhones and iPads with custom chips use the iOS operating system, while Mac computers with Intel chips run on a different system called macOS. Apple has slowly been integrating user-facing features over the past several years, and more recently starting sharing lower-level features like a new file management system.

As part of the larger initiative to make Macs work more like iPhones, Apple is working on a new software platform, internally dubbed Marzipan, for release as early as this year that would allow users to run iPhone and iPad apps on Macs, Bloomberg News reported last year.

The company has also previously released Macs with ARM-based co-processors, which run an iOS-like operating system, for specific functions like security. The latest MacBook Pro and iMac Pro include the co-processors. Apple plans to add that chip to a new version of its Mac Pro, to be released by next year, and new Mac laptops this year, according to a person familiar with the matter.


The processing penalty for emulating Intel on ARM would be considerable, so Apple must either be looking at getting people to recompile (in XCode) or some other twiddly magic. The lack of named sources actually makes this seem more likely to me; they’ll be people who must not explain the how, when or why. But the why is obvious: get away from Intel’s timetable and pricing, use Apple’s huge power in chip design. Also essential reading: Nick Wingfield’s Twitter thread on how he had the scoop and Steve Jobs tried to steer him away from it.
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“Tesla is on the verge of bankruptcy” – Vilas Capital • Seeking Alpha

Vilas Capital staff:


I think Tesla is going to crash in the next 3-6 months, partially due to their incompetence in making and delivering the Model 3, partially due to falling demand for the Model S and X, partially due to the extreme valuation, partially due to their horrendous finances that will imminently require a huge capital raise, partially due to a likely downgrade of their credit rating by Moody’s from B- to CCC (default likely) which should scare their parts suppliers into requiring cash on delivery (a death knell), partially due to the market’s recent falling appetite for risk, and partially due to our suspicions of fraudulent accounting activities, evidenced by 85 SEC letters/investigations and two top finance people leaving in the last month. We are doubtful that they can raise a meaningful sum in the face of these material issues. If the fall happened quickly, it could add substantially to the Fund ( 30 to 50%), in part due to our purchase of put options. Tesla, without any doubt, is on the verge of bankruptcy.

As a reality check, Tesla is worth twice as much as Ford yet Ford made 6 million cars last year at a $7.6 billion profit while Tesla made 100,000 cars at a $2bn loss. Further, Ford has $12bn in cash held for “a rainy day” while Tesla will likely run out of money in the next 3 months. I have never seen anything so absurd in my career.


A few caveats here: Vilas Capital’s biggest holding is shorted Tesla stock (it’s betting in a big way its value will plummet), so this is an entirely self-interested opinion on their part. On the other hand, Tesla has missed its production targets for the Model 3, and it isn’t clear how it’s going to ramp up to meet them. Watch this space.
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An update on last week’s accident •Tesla

The Tesla Team:


In the moments before the collision, which occurred at 9:27 a.m. on Friday, March 23rd, Autopilot was engaged with the adaptive cruise control follow-distance set to minimum. The driver had received several visual and one audible hands-on warning earlier in the drive and the driver’s hands were not detected on the wheel for six seconds prior to the collision. The driver had about five seconds and 150 meters of unobstructed view of the concrete divider with the crushed crash attenuator, but the vehicle logs show that no action was taken.

The reason this crash was so severe is because the crash attenuator, a highway safety barrier which is designed to reduce the impact into a concrete lane divider, had been crushed in a prior accident without being replaced. We have never seen this level of damage to a Model X in any other crash.

Over a year ago, our first iteration of Autopilot was found by the US government to reduce crash rates by as much as 40%. Internal data confirms that recent updates to Autopilot have improved system reliability.

In the US, there is one automotive fatality every 86 million miles across all vehicles from all manufacturers. For Tesla, there is one fatality, including known pedestrian fatalities, every 320 million miles in vehicles equipped with Autopilot hardware. If you are driving a Tesla equipped with Autopilot hardware, you are 3.7 times less likely to be involved in a fatal accident.


This isn’t much comfort if you *are* involved in a fatal accident. Given how few Teslas there are (comparatively), they have had now had two fatal crashes with Autopilot. That doesn’t sound like a good statistic.

I bet that the driver’s thoughts were “oh, I’m sure the Autopilot has seen that it’s headed for the crash barrier and will avoid it.” Because what Tesla’s blogpost doesn’t say is how often those warning sounds typically go off during the course of journeys. Only happened once? Bad judgement by the driver. Happens a lot? Tesla’s fault.
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Russian bots are tweeting their support of embattled Fox News host Laura Ingraham • Washington Post

Amanda Erickson:


Russian-linked Twitter accounts have rallied around the conservative talk-show host, who has come under fire for attacking the young survivors of the Parkland, Fla., school shooting. According to the website Hamilton 68, which tracks the spread of Russian propaganda on Twitter, the hashtag #IstandwithLaura jumped 2,800% in 48 hours this weekend. On Saturday night, it was the top trending hashtag among Russian campaigners.

The website, which tracks 1,500 “political propaganda bots,” found that @ingrahamangle, @davidhogg111 and @foxnews were among the top six Twitter handles tweeted by Russia-linked accounts this weekend. “David Hogg” and “Laura Ingraham” were the top two-word phrases being shared.

Wading into controversy is a key strategy for Russian propaganda bots, which seize on divisive issues online to sow discord in the United States. Since the Feb. 14 Parkland shooting, which claimed 17 lives, Russian bots have flooded Twitter with false information about the massacre.


If you want more, see Josh Russell’s tweets – he is the one looking at this stuff.

Raises the question: he can find this stuff so easily, why isn’t Twitter zapping them faster?
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Microsoft is ready for a world beyond Windows • The Verge

Tom Warren:


Windows isn’t dead, but it’s clearly not as important to Microsoft anymore and it will play a very different role in the company’s future. Microsoft needs to follow and provide cloud services and apps to people on the platforms they’re using. The company has seen great success with Office 365 and apps like Outlook for mobile, and Microsoft expects that two-thirds of its Office users will have moved to its subscription cloud service by next year.

Windows is being adapted for new devices and scenarios, but it’s not the core of Microsoft’s business anymore and hasn’t been for years. Nadella says “the future of Windows is bright,” but in the same sentence he says Microsoft will “more deeply” connect Windows to its Microsoft 365 offering. Microsoft 365 lets companies purchase Office and Windows together in a single subscription.

Consumers don’t care about Windows anymore, and I’ve long argued Microsoft should drop its insistence of branding everything with it. Consumers are no longer interested in purchasing devices for the familiarity or compatibility of Windows, and it’s hard to even list 10 desktop apps I really need on a daily basis. A big exception to this is gaming, but Microsoft hasn’t innovated enough on gaming PCs to really foster that. Gaming PCs simply run Windows because it’s the platform to deliver those games, and we’re starting to see how mobile operating systems are rapidly catching up. Thanks to the web and Chrome, it’s easy to imagine a future where services matter far more than the operating system they run on.

Now that Microsoft has moved the fundamental core of Windows over to the cloud team, it’s easy to see the long-term future of Windows being a cloud subscription service for the people who really need to use it, rather than love using it. Bill Gates figured out how to put a computer on every desk and in every home, and now the company is ready to grow and tackle the future. It’s not the old and trusted Windows operating system that will get Microsoft there.


Ben Thompson argues at Stratechery that it was Steve Ballmer’s insistence on Windows above all that meant the company fell behind the curve in AI and cloud efforts; but Nadella has refocussed that. (Microsoft was too late to mobile to ever succeed, but Ballmer prolonged the pain – and cost – by buying Nokia.)

This is a terrific article, well worth your time reading in full. The Stratechery one too (it’s free).
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Growth at any cost: top Facebook executive defended data collection in 2016 memo — and warned that Facebook could get people killed • Buzzfeed

Ryan XXXX:


On June 18, 2016, one of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s most trusted lieutenants circulated an extraordinary memo weighing the costs of the company’s relentless quest for growth.

“We connect people. Period. That’s why all the work we do in growth is justified. All the questionable contact importing practices. All the subtle language that helps people stay searchable by friends. All of the work we do to bring more communication in. The work we will likely have to do in China some day. All of it,” VP Andrew “Boz” Bosworth wrote.

“So we connect more people,” he wrote in another section of the memo. “That can be bad if they make it negative. Maybe it costs someone a life by exposing someone to bullies.

“Maybe someone dies in a terrorist attack coordinated on our tools.”

The explosive internal memo is titled “The Ugly,” and has not been previously circulated outside the Silicon Valley social media giant.

The Bosworth memo reveals the extent to which Facebook’s leadership understood the physical and social risks the platform’s products carried — even as the company downplayed those risks in public. It suggests that senior executives had deep qualms about conduct that they are now seeking to defend.


I think it shows that Bosworth had a handle on the reality of building a giant social network, and that people aren’t all nice. (Gamergate, from 2014, demonstrated that to anyone who was half-awake.) The reality too though was that Facebook has been relentlessly focussed on growth and retention. Bosworth saw this. He’s been getting a lot of heat for it – not entirely fairly. The company’s public face might have denied it, but he saw it for what it was.
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New York passes bill to restrict guns for domestic abusers • The Hill

John Bowden -:


New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (Democrat) on Saturday announced the passage of legislation that would strip all firearms from New Yorkers convicted of domestic violence, updating a previous law that prohibited abusers from owning handguns.

In a press release on the governor’s website, Cuomo said the law, which passed the state Assembly by 85-32 and Senate by 41-19 this week, will make the state “safer and stronger.”

“New York is once again leading the way to prevent gun violence, and with this common sense reform, break the inextricable link between gun violence and domestic violence,” Cuomo said.

The law forces convicted domestic abusers to turn in rifles, shotguns, and any other firearms they were not previously prohibited from owning under a law passed after the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, that barred abusers from owning pistols or revolvers.

In his press release, Cuomo faulted the federal government for not doing more to protect citizens from gun violence.


One to watch for the effects on deaths by gun in the state. Domestic abuse is a key indicator for whether someone will kill with a gun.
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Introducing DNS resolver, (not a joke) • Cloudflare

Olafur Gudmundsson:


Our goals with the public resolver are simple: Cloudflare wants to operate the fastest public resolver on the planet while raising the standard of privacy protections for users. To make the Internet faster, we are already building data centers all over the globe to reduce the distance (i.e. latency) from users to content. Eventually we want everyone to be within 10 milliseconds of at least one of our locations.

In March alone, we enabled thirty-one new data centers globally (Istanbul, Reykjavík, Riyadh, Macau, Baghdad, Houston, Indianapolis, Montgomery, Pittsburgh, Sacramento, Mexico City, Tel Aviv, Durban, Port Louis, Cebu City, Edinburgh, Riga, Tallinn, Vilnius, Calgary, Saskatoon, Winnipeg, Jacksonville, Memphis, Tallahassee, Bogotá, Luxembourg City, Chișinău) and just like every other city in our network, new sites run DNS Resolver, on day one!

Our fast and highly distributed network is built to serve any protocol and we are currently the fastest authoritative DNS provider on the Internet, a capability enjoyed by over seven million Internet properties. Plus, we already provide an anycast service to two of the thirteen root nameservers. The next logical step was to provide faster recursive DNS service for users. Our recursor can take advantage of the authoritative servers that are co-located with us, resulting in faster lookups for all domain names.

While DNSSEC ensures integrity of data between a resolver and an authoritative server, it does not protect the privacy of the “last mile” towards you. DNS resolver,, supports both emerging DNS privacy standards – DNS-over-TLS, and DNS-over-HTTPS, which both provide last mile encryption to keep your DNS queries private and free from tampering.


Launched on Sunday April 1, because there are 4 1s in the address, and 4/1 is 1 April in the US (they’d have had to do it on Jan 4 in the UK, but anyway), which meant some weren’t sure if it wasn’t a joke.

They’re presently claiming to be the fastest DNS resolver on the planet, even faster than Google’s; will watch to see how that holds up if there’s enough consumer adoption.
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CRISPR could enable quick, reliable medical tests • MIT Technology Review


You’ve heard of CRISPR as a way to edit or delete genes. Now, two leading biologists say it could also be used to detect cancer or viruses.

What it did: Jennifer Doudna’s team at the University of California, Berkeley used a CRISPR-based test to accurately detect DNA from cancer-causing strains of human papilloma virus in human cells. Meanwhile, Feng Zhang’s lab at the Broad Institute used CRISPR to find tumor DNA in blood samples from lung cancer patients, as well as Zika and dengue virus.

How it works: The researchers attached a signaling molecule to CRISPR. When the CRISPR system finds the DNA it’s looking for, it cuts it up the genetic material around it and releases the signaling molecule, indicating that it’s found foreign DNA.


Inventive. CRISPR is going to have long-term subtle effects on our lives.
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ICO quality: development & trading • Medium

Sherwin Dowlat:


This is a high level look above a market cap of $50m only, as an initial attempt to improve on the reporting we have seen to date on percentage failed ICO’s. We will continue to develop our research in this area and produce a more in-depth study in coming months.

We break down ICO’s into groups, with the following definitions:
• Scam (pre-trading): Any project that expressed availability of ICO investment (through a website publishing, ANN thread, or social media posting with a contribution address), did not have/had no intention of fulfilling project development duties with the funds, and/or was deemed by the community (message boards, website or other online information) to be a scam.
• Failed (pre-trading): Succeeded to raise funding but did not complete the entire process and was abandoned, and/or refunded investors as a result of insufficient funding (missed soft cap).
• Gone Dead (pre-trading): Succeeded to raise funding and completed the process, however was not listed on exchanges for trading and has not had a code contribution in Github on a rolling three-month basis from that point in time.
• Dwindling (trading): Succeeded to raise funding and completed the process, and was listed on an exchange, however had one or less of the following success criteria: deployment (in test/beta, at minimum) of a chain/distributed ledger (in the case of a base-layer protocol) or product/platform (in the case of an app/utility token), had a transparent project roadmap posted on their website, and had Github code contribution activity in a surrounding three-month period (“Success Criteria”).
• Promising (trading): Two of the above Success Criteria.
• Successful (trading): All of the above Success Criteria.

On the basis of the above classification, we found that approximately 81% of ICO’s were Scams, ~6% Failed, ~5% had Gone Dead, and ~8% went on to trade on a exchange.


Of that 8%, most are dwindling. Hey ho.
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New smart home device tracker forecasts solid growth for connected devices • IDC


In 2017, 433.1m smart home devices were shipped worldwide, growing 27.6% from the previous year. Looking ahead, IDC anticipates a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 18.5% as the market balloons to 939.7m devices shipped in 2022. Within the smart home market, the smart speaker category, which includes devices like the Amazon Echo and Google Home, will remain the fastest growing category throughout the forecast.

Meanwhile, shipments for most other categories, with the exception of video entertainment products, will experience a double-digit CAGR during the same period.

“The smart home market is still in its infancy but we’re already seeing some significant changes in consumers’ and vendors’ approach,” said Jitesh Ubrani senior research analyst for IDC Mobile Device Trackers. “There’s less of a focus on having a central hub and apps as the center of the interface as hardware makers race to create interoperability with smart assistants like Alexa, Siri, or Google Assistant. On the other hand, consumers, while still somewhat hesitant to anthropomorphize smart assistants, are beginning to expect a more natural user interface to the myriad of smart home devices.”

“While it’s still early days for the smart home market – and the wider consumer IoT ecosystem in general – we expect to see considerable growth over the next few years, especially as consumers become more aware of and increasingly interact with smart assistant platforms like Amazon’s Alexa and Google Assistant,” said Adam Wright senior research analyst for IDC’s Consumer IoT Program. “Whether in the form of a smart speaker or embedded in a thermostat, fridge, TV, or any other device, smart assistants are quickly becoming the cornerstone of consumer IoT by enhancing the accessibility, use, and functionality of connected devices, which will noticeably boost adoption rates in the near future.”


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Have I Been Pwned is now partnering with 1Password • Troy Hunt

Troy Hunt is teaming up to make his database of passwords found from breaches link up with 1Password’s password-handling system:


Throughout the life of HIBP, I’ve held onto the mantra that it must help people do good things in the wake of bad events. What pleases me most about partnering with 1Password is that the relationship furthers that objective; people going and getting themselves the very password manager that I’ve used myself for so many years is the single best security advice I could give, and this makes that a whole lot easier for those that have never given it any thought before. And it is a partnership too rather than just a one-way relationship where their name appears on HIBP; even just yesterday they blogged about including Pwned Passwords searches in the desktop app:

What I love about this model with 1Password is that it only contributes to the user experience, it takes nothing away from it. I do hope it’s well-received and that this post sufficiently explains why I felt this was the right fit at the right time.


Password management has long ago passed into the horrendous place where you either have a system (which can be cracked), or you keep using the same password (which is calamitous), or you have a password manager.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified.

Start Up (holiday bonus): Facebook redux, what the Uber car should have seen, the fake NHS pay rise, and more

That’s a forgery! But will the blockchain spot it? Photo by Yersinia pestis on Flickr.

Today’s is just a bonus, because honestly, there’s a lot of tech stuff that needs noting, isn’t there? But truly, I am on holiday as you read this. I just wasn’t when I wrote it.

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

A selection of 12 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Bitcoin will eventually be the single global currency: Twitter’s Jack Dorsey • CNBC

Ari Levy:


Jack Dorsey, the CEO of Twitter and Square, expects bitcoin to become the single global currency within the next decade, he told the Sunday Times newspaper.

Dorsey, a personal investor in bitcoin, expects the cryptocurrency to be used for simple things like coffee and said its ascendance to world’s currency will occur over 10 years, “but it could go faster,” the U.K.-based paper reported.

Square said in November that it would start enabling the buying and selling of bitcoin on its Cash app. Dorsey is also an investor in a star-up called Lightning Labs, which is developing technology to make bitcoin faster and easier to use.

When it first came into use, Bitcoin was touted as an alternative to the dollar and even gold. However, the cryptocurrency has been on a wild ride in recent months, soaring to a record near $20,000 before crashing below $8000 last month.

Dorsey told the Times that bitcoin is “slow and it’s costly, but as more and more people have it, those things go away.”


I’m perfectly happy to take the other side of that bet and come back in ten years. How about you, Jack?
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Facebook scraped call, text message data for years from Android phones • Ars Technica

Sean Gallagher:


If you granted permission to read contacts during Facebook’s installation on Android a few versions ago—specifically before Android 4.1 (Jelly Bean)—that permission also granted Facebook access to call and message logs by default. The permission structure was changed in the Android API in version 16. But Android applications could bypass this change if they were written to earlier versions of the API, so Facebook API could continue to gain access to call and SMS data by specifying an earlier Android SDK version. Google deprecated version 4.0 of the Android API in October 2017—the point at which the latest call metadata in Facebook users’ data was found. Apple iOS has never allowed silent access to call data.

Facebook provides a way for users to purge collected contact data from their accounts, but it’s not clear if this deletes just contacts or if it also purges call and SMS metadata. After purging my contact data, my contacts and calls were still in the archive I downloaded the next day—though this may be because the archive was still the same cache I had requested on Friday.

As always, if you’re really concerned about privacy, you should not share address book and call-log data with any mobile application. And you may want to examine the rest of what can be found in the downloadable Facebook archive, as it includes all the advertisers that Facebook has shared your contact information with, among other things.


Jelly Bean was released in September 2012, but it took until October 2013 for that version (or later) to be on more than 50% of Android phones.
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Fact check: your call and SMS history • Facebook Newsroom


You may have seen some recent reports that Facebook has been logging people’s call and SMS (text) history without their permission.

This is not the case.

Opt-in features in Facebook Lite and Messenger
Call and text history logging is part of an opt-in feature for people using Messenger or Facebook Lite on Android. This helps you find and stay connected with the people you care about, and provide you with a better experience across Facebook. People have to expressly agree to use this feature. If, at any time, they no longer wish to use this feature they can turn it off in settings, or here for Facebook Lite users, and all previously shared call and text history shared via that app is deleted. While we receive certain permissions from Android, uploading this information has always been opt-in only.

We introduced this feature for Android users a couple of years ago. Contact importers are fairly common among social apps and services as a way to more easily find the people you want to connect with. This was first introduced in Messenger in 2015, and later offered as an option in Facebook Lite, a lightweight version of Facebook for Android.


Unsigned. Isn’t going to make it any more welcome. “Yeah, you agreed to that in the gazillion-page agreement. Remember? OK so it looked like something else. Get over it.”
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How can I download a copy of my Facebook data? What is included – and what isn’t? • Big Brother Watch

You can download your information from your settings. To download your information:

1. Click at the top right of any Facebook page and select “Settings”
2. Click “Download a copy of your Facebook data” at the bottom of General Account Settings
3. Click “Start My Archive”
You will be prompted to confirm that you have requested the archive from your associated email account.

This archive will typically contain a large amount of very sensitive personal information, including contact information, addresses, photos and private messages (see below). You should be careful to store it securely.

I now have my Facebook archive. Where can I find the contact information it has stored about me?

See the ‘contact info’ tab under ‘html’. If you have closely controlled your privacy settings, you won’t see much here.

However, many people find comprehensive contact details from their phone and email accounts.

Some even find extensive call and text logs, likely to arise from app permissions that have been granted.

Why does my contacts list include people that are not on Facebook?

When you first sign up to Facebook, you are asked to hand over your contact lists and address books so Facebook can “Find Friends” for you.
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‘Oh my God…It’s fake’: Far right falls for hoax about Broward County sheriff • POLITICO

Marc Caputo:


In the wake of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School massacre, the far-right fever swamps buzzed with false information and conspiracy theories about student “crisis actors” who were paid to lie about the mass shooting.

But ironically, conspiracy-minded conservatives fell for a political hoax involving a different kind of actor. The subject? Broward County’s Democratic sheriff, Scott Israel.

Israel for the past month has been assailed as everything from a “rapist” to a philanderer to a crooked cop thanks to three old YouTube videos in which a mystery woman accused him of impregnating her when she was 17 and forcing her to get an abortion. The videos together have been viewed almost 130,000 times since the Feb. 14 shooting.

But all of it was a lie, the woman and her attorney, Yechezkel Rodal, now tell POLITICO, which found her by combing internet videos and social media.

“I was paid to say these things. I didn’t even know what I was saying,” said the woman, who spoke with POLITICO on condition of anonymity because she fears political retribution from Internet trolls or from the sheriff’s office, which does not know her identity. “I’m sorry … It’s fake.”

The revelation comes amid growing concerns about the spate of conspiracy theories and “false flag” attacks surrounding recent mass shootings — especially in Florida — that are surfacing on right-wing and fringe media sites.


This happens at both extremes of political belief, of course.
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Despite its mystique, Cambridge Analytica didn’t offer advertisers anything special • AdExchanger

James Hercher:


One agency found Cambridge Analytica was effective for campaigns with specific parameters and targets. The agency used Cambridge Analytica for a campaign heavy on earned media after it claimed it could drive new cycles and engagement.

“It worked, but we chose them because we knew we were targeting a Trump-like audience and they’d have models for that,” said the agency exec, who hasn’t worked with Cambridge Analytica since.

Cambridge Analytica was fairly effective, according to an executive from a news publisher that piloted a subscription campaign with the company, but the program was dropped because it was more expensive than similar optimization tech companies on the market.

Where Cambridge Analytica found success and longer-term work was in Washington, DC, where it positioned itself as an outside commercial option for Republican candidates losing the narrative on data and technology.

Besides need, the Republicans also presented opportunity. They had fewer vendors compared to the Democratic ecosystem, according to a former Cambridge Analytica executive and a digital media executive who worked closely with the company during the election.

“Republican candidates and committees had frankly been overpaying conservative vendors for a long time because really no competition was allowed,” said one political tech executive who worked closely with Cambridge during the campaign and refused to comment publicly due to a nondisclosure.

Cambridge Analytica’s technology may have been standard market fare, he said, but it was competing with overpriced platforms that had long attached big premiums to conservative media buys based on a vague sense that campaigns should have a more political-first media approach and, mostly, out of partisan loyalty.

“The truth is, Facebook or about any commercial DMP can do that better even if their employees want you to lose,” he said.


AdExchanger doesn’t want to tell us what DMP is. Jargon for “data management platform“, since you ask.
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Indian agency denies security lapse in ID card project; ZDNet defends report • Reuters

Malini Menon:


Tech news site ZDNet said on Sunday it stood by its report that identified a security vulnerability in data-linked to Aadhaar – India’s national identity card project, after a semi-government agency that manages the database sought to discredit the report.

ZDNet reported that a data leak on a system run by a state-owned utility company could allow access to private information of holders of the biometric “Aadhaar” ID cards, exposing their names, their unique 12-digit identity numbers, and their bank details.

The Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI), which manages the Aadhaar program, said “there is no truth in this story,” in a statement late on Saturday.

ZDNet’s global editor-in-chief Larry Dignan said in an email to Reuters on Sunday the publication stood by its report. Dignan said they spent weeks compiling evidence and verifying facts.

“We spent weeks reaching out to the Indian authorities, specifically UIDAI, to responsibly disclose the security issue, and we heard nothing back — and no action was taken until after we published our story,” said Dignan.

UIDAI sought to downplay the report stating that even if the claims in the story were true, it would raise security concerns with the database of the utility company and not with the security of UIDAI’s Aadhaar database. UIDAI said it is “contemplating legal action against ZDNet”.


There have been so many reports of Aadhaar breaches that they can’t all be fake.
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#PutinAtWar: trolls on Twitter • Medium

The Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Lab looks at how a poll about the Skripal poisoning by a British user was hijacked by a Russian account which spread it to others bots:


From Lisitsa, the retweet cascaded to dozens of other, primarily Russian-language accounts, forming the most substantial cluster of retweets throughout the scan.

None of these Russian accounts has an organic focus on, or interest in, UK politics; their content is dominated by pro-Kremlin messaging, mostly in Russian or English. Their purpose in retweeting the poll therefore seems to have been to spread it to a Russian audience which could be expected to vote against the UK government.

This intervention was small in itself, impacting one poll, from one account. However, the source account was an influential member of a politically vocal UK community; thus, by targeting it, the Russian accounts may have hoped to reinforce their message among UK opposition supporters.

If so, they succeeded. @Rachael_Swindon is not a member of this troll community; it has had no interactions with @malinka1102 or @rixstep, and does not post on hot-button Kremlin topics such as Crimea or MH17.

However, still on March 17, the account had a conversation with @ValLisitsa, at the end of which @Rachael_Swindon claimed, based on its own poll, that the “mood of the British public is starting to shift.”


If these researchers find it this easy to find Russian trolls, why can’t Twitter? Also, anyone who takes the slightest notice of a Twitter poll needs telling off.
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Why you need an Untouchable day every week • Harvard Business Review

Neil Pasricha:


Now when I get home after work, I soak in time with my wife and two little boys. Nothing is or will ever be as precious to me, and I resist insight from anyone who isn’t making space for loved ones.  I realized that what I needed was a practical way to get more work done without taking more time. And, to be honest, I needed it fast. Why? Because in my first year as a full-time author, I actually started feeling my productivity slipping — even though I had quit my full-time job. It wasn’t just disheartening; it was also embarrassing. “So how’s the new book coming?” “Oh, now that I quit my job? Terribly!”

I finally found a solution that I feel has saved my career, my time, and my sanity. If you’re with me right now, I bet you need this solution too: I call it “Untouchable Days”.

These are days when I am literally 100% unreachable in any way…by anyone.

Untouchable Days have become my secret weapon to getting back on track. They’re how I complete my most creative and rewarding work. To share a rough comparison, on a day when I write between meetings, I’ll produce maybe 500 words a day. On an Untouchable Day, it’s not unusual for me to write 5,000 words.  On these days, I’m 10 times more productive.

How do I carve out Untouchable Days?

I look at my calendar sixteen weeks ahead of time, and for each week, I block out an entire day as UNTOUCHABLE. I put it in all-caps just like that, too. UNTOUCHABLE. I don’t write in all-caps for anything else, but I allow  UNTOUCHABLE days to  just scream out to me.

Why sixteen weeks ahead? The number of weeks isn’t as important as the thinking behind it. For me, that’s after my speaking schedule is locked in — but, importantly, before anything else is. That’s a magic moment in my schedule. It’s the perfect time to plant the Untouchable Day flag before anything else can claim that spot.


Not sure this works for those who aren’t authors who aren’t obliged to go to meetings and offices, but included just in case you’re looking for a new way to make your boss say “You’re WHAT?”
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Police chief said Uber victim “came from the shadows”; don’t believe it • Ars Technica

Timothy B. Lee:


In this nighttime video, posted to YouTube by Brian Kaufman on Wednesday, the scene of the crash can be seen around 0:33. Features at the sides of the road—including curbs, signs, and bushes—are clearly visible. No pedestrians walk into the road during the video, but it seems clear that Herzberg would have been visible much earlier if the Uber video had been taken with this camera.

Mill Ave. at night.
Another YouTuber, Dana Black, posted this video. His camera work isn’t as good as Kaufman’s—the video is blurry and he doesn’t hold his camera steady. But his video supports the same basic conclusion. “It’s not as dark as that video made it look,” Black says in the video as he drives past the point in the road where Herzberg was hit (around 0:33). “My footage is from my Pixel XL and looks pretty similar to real life,” he writes in the YouTube description.

To be fair, there are a few other cars on the road in Black’s video, which might be adding some illumination. But Kaufman’s car appears to be the only vehicle on the road, and visibility is still much better than in Uber’s dashcam video.

It’s not surprising that the road was actually more brightly lit than the Uber video makes out. Think about it: the Uber car was going 38 miles per hour (61km/h), and people on pitch-black country roads drive faster than that all the time. That would be extremely reckless if—as the video implies—headlights can’t illuminate the road two seconds ahead at that speed.

The video implies that the Uber car’s headlights had a range under 110 feet (33 meters). For comparison, here’s a diagram from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety showing headlight ratings for the car in question, a Volvo XC90:


IIHS shows the XC90 with a range just under 250 feet (76 meters) with “low beams” on. The car’s headlights are rated poorly by the IIHS compared with other cars on the market. Still, 250 feet is more than 4 seconds of illumination for a car driving 38 miles per hour. If the Uber car’s headlights really didn’t illuminate Herzberg until less than two seconds before the crash, there was something seriously wrong with them.


As I said previously, cameras don’t give you a good idea of how people see them, but the Uber dashcam really seems to be making it look a lot darker than it was. Uber doesn’t have an alibi.
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Those eye-popping 6.5% to 29% NHS pay rises are a lie – and I can prove it •

Rachel Clarke is an NHS doctor, but used to be a journalist for ITV:


Pages 11-13 of the Framework Agreement purport to demonstrate, for each level of seniority of NHS staff, their “new” pay rise over three years. To expose the statistical sleights of hand deployed, take the example of staff on “point 24” of the payscale, screenshot below:

The total pay rise for a staff member on this point of the payscale would be, allegedly, 14.02% over three years. However, during that same three-year period, their pay would have risen anyway on the old payscale by 10.48% (from £29,626 to £32,731), as they received their annual incremental pay awards, reaching point “27” on the old payscale. In other words, their actual pay rise on the proposed new pay deal is a mere 3.54%, spread over three years.

That’s not even close to the promised minimum pay rise of 6.5%. It’s barely greater than 1% per annum.

Deploying the same simple arithmetic with the outlandish-sounding upper limit pay rises reveals, again, the dishonesty of the government’s figures. Let’s look at that alleged 29% pay rise. Here are those lucky individuals, on point “26” of the payscale:

But, once you deduct the increase in salary these staff members would have received anyway on the old payscale (from £31,696 to £35,577 = 12.24%), you find the headline figure of 29% shrinks down to an actual pay rise of 16.8%.

In short, the government – and the 13 unions who have agreed to sign up to these bogus figures, with the notable exception of the GMB – have misled NHS staff into thinking their pay rises over the next three years are vastly greater than they actually will be.


How surprising that the government would misrepresent a pay award in a way that favours it. Meanwhile I highly recommend Clarke’s book “Your Life In My Hands“.
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This startup is using blockchain to fight art forgers • Bloomberg

Vivianne Rodrigues and Rob Urban:


Contemporary artist Philip Colbert, whose colorful, high-spirited art is finding buyers around the world, had been toying with the idea of creating his own catalog system to prove the authenticity of his expanding body of work.

“I had a dealer in Japan who had been telling me I needed to have better forms of certification for my artwork, because people are buying art as an investment,” said the British artist, who appropriates pop culture images in his paintings, fashion and furniture. “Art is a currency in a way; at the end of the day when they come to auction, the provenance is a very important element of their value.”

Then he met Rob Norton, the founder of Verisart, a U.S.-based startup that’s using blockchain, the ledger technology underlying Bitcoin, to verify the authenticity of artwork. It’s a problem as old as art itself, said Norton, and artists have long been unreliable when it comes to documenting their own work. As far back as the 17th century, Rembrandt’s dealer complained of his client’s poor record-keeping, Norton said.

Blockchain creates an immutable, traceable record of every transaction, whether it’s art changing hands or Bitcoin. Widespread adoption of the technology could give a boost to the market for art online, which has yet to explode…

…Colbert’s certificates, for example, contain small reproductions of the piece itself called “image hashes,” along with all of the relevant information about its creation, ownership and movement, such as whether it was part of an exhibition. He’ll have a show in Tokyo in September and Beijing next February.

Since Verisart uses the unaltered Bitcoin blockchain rather than a customized version, one risk may be that their effort can be easily replicated, since it brings little in the way of new technology. Some collectors, particularly those who buy and sell privately may also be reluctant to share their information in such a public way.

“The blockchain is a more efficient method of verification,” Colbert said. “You’re not worried about the authentic value of your work, because it’s all about locking down the time and place. Then all those fakes aren’t doing you any damage. All those fake Mona Lisas don’t do the Mona Lisa any harm.”


But how do you know that the image of the original thing that you hashed is authentic? Art faking often starts right at the point where the art enters the system. The first buyer thought it was a Monet; turns out it was a fake all along. Now do you do to the blockchain entry?
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up: YouTube will ban gun ads, reproducing machine learning, the bird catastrophe, and more

Ikea assembly trouble? Maybe augmented reality can fix that. Photo by Robert Couse-Baker on Flickr.

PLEASE NOTE: The Overspill will be on holiday next week. So you’re unlikely to receive any emails/see any posts here.

(Why in bold red? Because I know some people will miss this. Next time I might bring back the <blink> tag for the message.)

A selection of 11 links for you. That’s the way it goes. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

YouTube to ban videos promoting gun sales • The New York Times

Niraj Chokshi:


The video-streaming service, which is owned by Google, said it would ban videos that promote either the construction or sale of firearms and their accessories. The new policy, developed with expert advice over the past four months, will go into effect next month, it said.

“While we’ve long prohibited the sale of firearms, we recently notified creators of updates we will be making around content promoting the sale or manufacture of firearms and their accessories, specifically, items like ammunition, gatling triggers, and drop-in auto sears,” YouTube said in a statement.

YouTube, which described the move as part of “regular changes” to policy, notified users in a Monday forum post. The company had previously banned videos showing how to make firearms discharge faster, a technique used by the gunman who killed 58 people in Las Vegas last fall.

The announcement comes days before planned student-led protests against gun violence on Saturday. It was met with frustration from gun rights advocates.

“Much like Facebook, YouTube now acts as a virtual public square,” the National Shooting Sports Foundation, a private group representing gun makers, said in a statement. “The exercise of what amounts to censorship, then, can legitimately be viewed as the stifling of commercial free speech, which has constitutional protection. Such actions also impinge on the Second Amendment.”


It’s not a stifling of commercial free speech (Google owns the platform; it gets to decide what’s on it) and it really doesn’t impinge on the Second Amendment. It’s not stopping anyone buying or owning a gun. Reason is a stranger to some.
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Best Buy severs ties with Huawei on security concerns • Bloomberg

Mark Gurman:


Best Buy Co., the large consumer electronics retailer, plans to sever ties with Chinese phone maker Huawei amid U.S. government criticism of the phone maker, according to people familiar with the matter.

The U.S. retail giant will stop selling all Huawei phones, laptops, and smartwatches in the coming weeks, they said. In addition, Best Buy won’t sell phones under the Honor brand, a Huawei subsidiary that was supposed to help the Chinese phone maker sell in lower-cost smartphone markets globally, including in the U.S.

Best Buy follows U.S. mobile-phone carriers AT&T Inc. and Verizon Communications Inc. in distancing themselves from Huawei, which has come under scrutiny by U.S. officials concerned about whether the company is too closely affiliated with the Chinese government.

After the top two U.S. carriers decided not to go forward with Huawei devices, the company began selling its latest phone, the Mate 10 Pro, directly to consumers, through outlets like Best Buy and Inc. The device is still available on Best Buy’s website, but the retail giant won’t purchase new supply from Huawei and will stop selling the phone in the coming weeks, said the people, who asked not to be identified because the retailer’s action isn’t yet public.


This is quite weird. Gurman says it’s also going to stop selling Huawei laptops and smartwatches, though that’s probably not going to hurt as much.
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Bannon oversaw Cambridge Analytica’s collection of Facebook data, says former employee • The Washington Post

Craig Timberg, Karla Adam and Michael Kranish:


The data and analyses that Cambridge Analytica generated in this time provided discoveries that would later form the emotionally charged core of Trump’s presidential platform, said Wylie, whose disclosures in news reports over the past several days have rocked both his onetime employer and Facebook.

“Trump wasn’t in our consciousness at that moment; this was well before he became a thing,” Wylie said. “He wasn’t a client or anything.”

The year before Trump announced his presidential bid, the data firm already had found a high level of alienation among young, white Americans with a conservative bent.

In focus groups arranged to test messages for the 2014 midterms, these voters responded to calls for building a new wall to block the entry of illegal immigrants, to reforms intended to “drain the swamp” of Washington’s entrenched political community and to thinly veiled forms of racism toward African Americans called “race realism,” he recounted.

The firm also tested views of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“The only foreign thing we tested was Putin,” he said. “It turns out, there’s a lot of Americans who really like this idea of a really strong authoritarian leader and people were quite defensive in focus groups of Putin’s invasion of Crimea.”


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The machine learning reproducibility crisis • Pete Warden’s blog

Warden was CTO at a company called Jetpac, which did some amazing deep learning stuff on Instagram photos and then on-device recognition of photo contents. Then Google bought Jetpac and now he’s shoulder-deep in machine learning stuff there:


In many real-world cases, the researcher won’t have made notes or remember exactly what she did, so even she won’t be able to reproduce the model. Even if she can, the frameworks the model code depend on can change over time, sometimes radically, so she’d need to also snapshot the whole system she was using to ensure that things work. I’ve found ML researchers to be incredibly generous with their time when I’ve contacted them for help reproducing model results, but it’s often months-long task even with assistance from the original author.

Why does this all matter? I’ve had several friends contact me about their struggles reproducing published models as baselines for their own papers. If they can’t get the same accuracy that the original authors did, how can they tell if their new approach is an improvement? It’s also clearly concerning to rely on models in production systems if you don’t have a way of rebuilding them to cope with changed requirements or platforms. At that point your model moves from being a high-interest credit card of technical debt to something more like what a loan-shark offers. It’s also stifling for research experimentation; since making changes to code or training data can be hard to roll back it’s a lot more risky to try different variations, just like coding without source control raises the cost of experimenting with changes.

It’s not all doom and gloom, there are some notable efforts around reproducibility happening in the community. One of my favorites is the TensorFlow Benchmarks project Toby Boyd’s leading. He’s made it his team’s mission not only to lay out exactly how to train some of the leading models from scratch with high training speed on a lot of different platforms, but also ensures that the models train to the expected accuracy. I’ve seen him sweat blood trying to get models up to that precision, since variations in any of the steps I listed above can affect the results and there’s no easy way to debug what the underlying cause is, even with help from the authors. It’s also a never-ending job, since changes in TensorFlow, in GPU drivers, or even datasets, can all hurt accuracy in subtle ways.


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Google wants publishers to get users’ consent on its behalf to comply with EU privacy law • WSJ

Lara O’Reilly:


Alphabet Inc.’s Google will ask web publishers to obtain consent on its behalf to gather personal information on European users and target ads at them using Google’s systems, according to people familiar with the matter, part of a plan to comply with a coming data-privacy law in Europe.

Under the European Union’s forthcoming General Data Protection Regulation, which goes into effect on May 25, global companies will be required to obtain consent from European users to gather their personal information in many cases, and be more transparent about the data they collect and how it is used.

Companies found in violation of the sweeping regulation, known as GDPR, will face fines of up to 4% of their annual global revenue. Google is poised to announce its steps toward compliance for its ad-technology platforms as early as this week, the people familiar with the matter said.

The company will be gathering consent from users itself for data-usage on its own properties such as, Gmail and YouTube. But when it comes to third-party websites and apps that use Google’s ad technology to sell ads, the tech giant wants those publishers to be responsible for obtaining consent…

…It’s important for Google to get its GDPR strategy right. In January, Deutsche Bank analyst Lloyd Walmsley wrote in a research note that the GDPR could trim Google’s global revenue by 2 percentage points, should 30% of European users opt-out of some data sharing.

“GDPR is on the minds of most of us in the industry,” Sridhar Ramaswamy, Google’s senior vice president of ads and commerce, said Wednesday on stage at an ad-industry conference in London.

Google hasn’t yet briefed many publishers on its forthcoming plans. But people with some knowledge of Google’s plans said publishers might be concerned that by mandating through policy that publishers obtain consent on its behalf, Google is seeking different treatment from publishers’ other ad tech partners.


Suggestion from those in the know is that this isn’t going to work. Google is pushing it. The GDPR wave is just beginning.
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Changes to improve your Instagram feed • Instagram


We’ve heard it can feel unexpected when your feed refreshes and automatically bumps you to the top. So today we’re testing a “New Posts” button that lets you choose when you want to refresh, rather than it happening automatically. Tap the button and you’ll be taken to new posts at the top of feed — don’t tap, and you’ll stay where you are. We hope this makes browsing Instagram much more enjoyable.

Based on your feedback, we’re also making changes to ensure that newer posts are more likely to appear first in feed. With these changes, your feed will feel more fresh, and you won’t miss the moments you care about. So if your best friend shares a selfie from her vacation in Australia, it will be waiting for you when you wake up.


What would make browsing Instagram much more enjoyable would be if posts appeared in reverse chronological order, newest at the top, always.

This is a step towards that; maybe if enough people mash that button, then they’ll move to a time-based timeline.
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It certainly looks bad for Uber • Brad Ideas

Brad Templeton is a self-driving car consultant:


Above I have included a brightened frame from 3 seconds into the video. It is the first frame in which the white running shoes of the victim are visible in the dashcam video. They only appear then because she is previously in darkness, crossing at a poorly lit spot, and the headlamps finally illuminate her. Impact occurs at about 4.4 seconds (if the time on the video is right.)

She is crossing, we now see, at exactly this spot where two storm drains are found in the curb. It is opposite the paved path in the median which is marked by the signs telling pedestrians not to cross at this location. She is walking at a moderate pace.

The road is empty of other cars. Here are the big issues:

• On this empty road, the LIDAR is very capable of detecting her. If it was operating, there is no way that it did not detect her 3 to 4 seconds before the impact, if not earlier. She would have come into range just over 5 seconds before impact.
• On the dash-cam style video, we only see her 1.5 seconds before impact. However, the human eye and quality cameras have a much better dynamic range than this video, and should have also been able to see her even before 5 seconds. From just the dash-cam video, no human could brake in time with just 1.5 seconds warning. The best humans react in just under a second, many take 1.5 to 2.5 seconds.
• The human safety driver did not see her because she was not looking at the road. She seems to spend most of the time before the accident looking down to her right, in a style that suggests looking at a phone.
• While a basic radar which filters out objects which are not moving towards the car would not necessarily see her, a more advanced radar also should have detected her and her bicycle (though triggered no braking) as soon as she entered the lane to the left, probably 4 seconds before impact at least. Braking could trigger 2 seconds before, in theory enough time.)

To be clear, while the car had the right-of-way and the victim was clearly unwise to cross there, especially without checking regularly in the direction of traffic, this is a situation where any properly operating robocar following “good practices,” let alone “best practices,” should have avoided the accident regardless of pedestrian error.


The videos (external view, interior view) are alarming, and disturbing. The lighting is terrible – though it’s hard to tell what a (driving) human would have seen; our eyes adapt to darkness in ways that cameras don’t.

But the LIDAR failure is astonishing. Google has described early self-driving tests where the SDC stopped in a forest because it detected a deer at the side of the road. This fatality could be due to LIDAR failure. But if that can happen without alarms going off, it’s just as bad, if not worse, than anything else.
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The Ikea manual of the future looks amazing • Fast Company

Mark Wilson:


Sure, Ikea’s ubiquitous instruction manuals look so simple and friendly, but translating the schematics from the page into real life can be challenging.

A designer named Adam Pickard has shown us a better way. He imagined that Ikea’s instructions were rendered in augmented reality–much like the company allows you to preview a couch in your living room today with its AR app.

Using 3D modeling and a bit of post-production trickery, he created a concept called AssembleAR. It’s a high fidelity vision for an app that could place Ikea’s wireframe build instructions right onto your living room floor. After scanning the barcode on the box, you could literally lay the step-by-step models right next to your actual built project.

In principle, this AR effect shouldn’t be all that much of an improvement over good old paper instructions. But in rendered reality, the little nuances, like animated bolts and screws twisting into place, seem like they could do wonders to eliminate those half-guess moments that seem so intrinsic to building a piece of furniture on your own.


Except it’s not definitely the manual of the future, is it? Not a great headline. But a nice use of AR.
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‘It’s got me’ – lonely death of Soviet scientist poisoned by novichok • The Guardian

Andrew Roth and Tom McCarthy:


Before former spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia collapsed on a park bench in Salisbury on 4 March, the only other person confirmed to suffer the effects of novichok was a young Soviet chemical weapons scientist.

“Circles appeared before my eyes: red and orange. A ringing in my ears, I caught my breath. And a sense of fear: like something was about to happen,” Andrei Zheleznyakov told the now-defunct newspaper Novoye Vremya, describing the 1987 weapons lab incident that exposed him to a nerve agent that would eventually kill him. “I sat down on a chair and told the guys: ‘It’s got me.’”

By 1992, when the interview was published, the nerve agent had gutted Zheleznyakov’s central nervous system. Less than a year later he was dead, after battling cirrhosis, toxic hepatitis, nerve damage and epilepsy.

But by deciding to go public, he joined those blowing the whistle on a chemical weapons programme that was still charging forward years after George Bush and Mikhail Gorbachev signed the 1990 US–Soviet Chemical Weapons Accord in which each pledged to halt the production of chemical weapons.

Despite Zheleznyakov’s role in creating a binary of a nerve agent believed to be more potent than the deadly VX nerve agent, he remains a hero to some.

“He gave all the information – I couldn’t do that at the time,” said Vil Mirzayanov, a chemical weapons scientist put on trial in Russia for first revealing the existence of the novichok programme, speaking to the Guardian at his home in Princeton, New Jersey. “He was not afraid because he knew his days were numbered.”

Zheleznyakov was never prosecuted, but he could not outrun the poison. He lost the ability to concentrate, Mirzayanov said, and eventually isolated himself.

He died in 1993 of a brain seizure while eating dinner, divorced and childless, largely disgruntled at the perceived indifference shown him by his superiors and journalists.

Russian officials continue to deny ever having such a programme.


Novichoks (it’s a class) are binary agents – you mix two relatively harmless substances together.
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A “tamper-proof” currency wallet just got backdoored by a 15-year-old • Ars Technica

Dan Goodin:


For years, executives at France-based Ledger have boasted their specialized hardware for storing cryptocurrencies is so securely designed that resellers or others in the supply chain can’t tamper with the devices without it being painfully obvious to end users. The reason: “cryptographic attestation” that uses unforgeable digital signatures to ensure that only authorized code runs on the hardware wallet.

“There is absolutely no way that an attacker could replace the firmware and make it pass attestation without knowing the Ledger private key,” officials said in 2015. Earlier this year, Ledger’s CTO said attestation was so foolproof that it was safe to buy his company’s devices on eBay.

On Tuesday, a 15-year-old from the UK proved these claims wrong. In a post published to his personal blog, Saleem Rashid demonstrated proof-of-concept code that had allowed him to backdoor the Ledger Nano S, a $100 hardware wallet that company marketers have said has sold by the millions. The stealth backdoor Rashid developed is a minuscule 300-bytes long and causes the device to generate pre-determined wallet addresses and recovery passwords known to the attacker. The attacker could then enter those passwords into a new Ledger hardware wallet to recover the private keys the old backdoored device stores for those addresses.

Using the same approach, attackers could perform a variety of other nefarious actions, including changing wallet destinations and amounts for payments so that, for instance, an intended $25 payment to an Ars Technica wallet would be changed to a $2,500 payment to a wallet belonging to the backdoor developer.


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‘Catastrophe’ as France’s bird population collapses due to pesticides • The Guardian

Agence France-Presse:


“The situation is catastrophic,” said Benoit Fontaine, a conservation biologist at France’s National Museum of Natural History and co-author of one of the studies.

“Our countryside is in the process of becoming a veritable desert,” he said in a communique released by the National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS), which also contributed to the findings.

The common white throat, the ortolan bunting, the Eurasian skylark and other once-ubiquitous species have all fallen off by at least a third, according a detailed, annual census initiated at the start of the century.

A migratory song bird, the meadow pipit, has declined by nearly 70%.

The museum described the pace and extent of the wipe-out as “a level approaching an ecological catastrophe”.

The primary culprit, researchers speculate, is the intensive use of pesticides on vast tracts of monoculture crops, especially wheat and corn.

The problem is not that birds are being poisoned, but that the insects on which they depend for food have disappeared.

“There are hardly any insects left, that’s the number one problem,” said Vincent Bretagnolle, a CNRS ecologist at the Centre for Biological Studies in Chize.

Recent research, he noted, has uncovered similar trends across Europe, estimating that flying insects have declined by 80%, and bird populations has dropped by more than 400m in 30 years.

Despite a government plan to cut pesticide use in half by 2020, sales in France have climbed steadily, reaching more than 75,000 tonnes of active ingredient in 2014, according to European Union figures.

“What is really alarming, is that all the birds in an agricultural setting are declining at the same speed, even ’generalist’ birds,” which also thrive in other settings such as wooded areas, said Bretagnolle.


This has been going on silently for years: older readers might remember how car windscreens and radiator grilles would be covered in dead insects after long journeys in the past. Now? Hardly anything. It’s not because insects are getting better at dodging cars.

I hope this doesn’t turn out to be the most significant story I ever link to.
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