Start Up: iPhones will keep Lightning, AI for tennis linecalls, Counter-Strike’s gambling market, and more


What happened at Amazon? Imagine these are Amazon S3 servers. Now, knock one over… Photo by Tim Cummins on Flickr.

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

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

Summary of the Amazon S3 Service Disruption in the Northern Virginia (US-EAST-1) Region • Amazon

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We’d like to give you some additional information about the service disruption that occurred in the Northern Virginia (US-EAST-1) Region on the morning of February 28th. The Amazon Simple Storage Service (S3) team was debugging an issue causing the S3 billing system to progress more slowly than expected. At 9:37AM PST, an authorized S3 team member using an established playbook executed a command which was intended to remove a small number of servers for one of the S3 subsystems that is used by the S3 billing process.

Unfortunately, one of the inputs to the command was entered incorrectly and a larger set of servers was removed than intended. The servers that were inadvertently removed supported two other S3 subsystems.  One of these subsystems, the index subsystem, manages the metadata and location information of all S3 objects in the region. This subsystem is necessary to serve all GET, LIST, PUT, and DELETE requests. The second subsystem, the placement subsystem, manages allocation of new storage and requires the index subsystem to be functioning properly to correctly operate.

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Can you spell “domino effect”? There’s also this deathless admission:

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From the beginning of this event until 11:37AM PST, we were unable to update the individual services’ status on the AWS Service Health Dashboard (SHD) because of a dependency the SHD administration console has on Amazon S3.

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Might want to think about that one. Host it on Azure? Google Cloud?
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Ming-Chi Kuo Says all 2017 iPhones will have Lightning connectors with USB-C fast charging • Mac Rumors

Joe Rossignol:

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All three iPhones rumored to be launched in 2017 will retain Lightning connectors with the addition of USB-C Power Delivery for faster charging, including an all-new OLED model with a larger L-shaped battery and updated 4.7in and 5.5in models, according to KGI Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo.

An excerpt from his latest research note obtained by MacRumors:

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New 2H17 models may all support fast charging. We believe all three new iPhones launching in 2H17 will support fast charging by the adoption of Type-C Power Delivery technology (while still retaining the Lightning port). A key technical challenge lies with ensuring product safety and stable data transmission during a fast charge. In order to achieve that goal, we think Apple will adopt TI’s power management and Cypress’s Power Delivery chip solutions for the new iPhone models. We note the OLED version may have a faster charging speed thanks to a 2-cell L shaped battery pack design.

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Kuo expects Apple to retain the Lightning port given it has a slightly slimmer design compared to a USB-C port, to sustain MFi Program licensing income from Lightning accessories, and because he believes USB-C’s high-speed data transmission is “still a niche application” for iPhone.

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The internet was briefly convulsed yesterday when rumours suggested the next iPhone would use a USB-C port, leading to much headscratching and pre-post-justification for why Apple obviously needed to do it in order to [insert nebulous reason here]. In reality, it always sounded much more likely that it was a supply chain rumour gone wrong.
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Apple declares second-gen Apple TV ‘obsolete,’ halts most hardware support • Apple Insider

Roger Fingas:

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Apple this week added the second-generation Apple TV to its list of “vintage” and “obsolete” products, rendering it ineligible for repairs in most parts of the world.

The only places where service and parts may still be available are in Turkey and California, where the “vintage” label is in effect, according to an Apple support document. Vintage devices are defined as being made over 5 but less than 7 years ago, and the category typically excludes products from support except where required by law.

In the rest of the world the set-top has been declared “obsolete,” which normally refers to products discontinued over seven years ago.

The second-gen Apple TV is actually a more recent device however, having launched in Sept. 2010 with production ending only in 2012, when the third-gen model went on sale.

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I guess the 4K model is on the way. The five-year lifespan would be OK, but it has still been selling them until very recently.
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This $200 AI will end tennis club screaming matches • Bloomberg

Ashlee Vance:

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[Grégoire] Gentil, 44, now lives in Palo Alto and built the In/Out in his living room lab. The device monitors both sides of a tennis court using a pair of cameras similar to those found in smartphones. After attaching the In/Out to the net with a plastic strap, a player pushes a button on its screen, and it scans the court to find the lines using open-source artificial intelligence software. AI also helps the device track the ball’s flight, pace, and spin. “This would not have been possible five years ago,” Gentil says.

In a test at Stanford, Gentil and I played for an hour, and the In/Out beeped whenever one of his shots sailed long or wide. (I don’t remember missing any.) On close calls, we rushed over to watch a video replay on the In/Out screen. At hour’s end, Gentil whipped out a tablet and connected to the In/Out app, which showed where all our shots had landed and provided some other stats.

Although equipment like the In/Out has been around for years, Gentil’s is the only one that costs about as little as a decent racket. Top tournaments, including the Grand Slams, use Hawk-Eye, a Sony Corp.-owned system of superaccurate cameras that customers say costs $60,000 or more to set up on each court. Given the price, it’s typically reserved for show courts. Sony didn’t respond to requests for comment.

PlaySight Interactive Ltd., a startup in Israel, makes a six-camera system that’s less accurate than Hawk-Eye but costs a mere $10,000 per court, plus a monthly fee to collect data that can be reviewed online or in an app. PlaySight’s setup also includes a large screen that lets players see line calls and ball speed without interrupting the game. The company has sold its gear mostly to tennis clubs and universities.

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Fun tale; though the device is too quiet at present. Nobody would hear such a quiet thing on a noisy court. Also, it’s not clear if it knows about service boxes – what happens with serves, which are hotly disputed?
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How Counter-Strike turned a teenager into a compulsive gambler • ESPN

Shaun Assel:

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The first-person-shooter game pits terrorists against counterterrorists and was played by an average of 342,000 people at once in 2016. Its biggest tournaments, such as the ELeague Major scheduled for Jan. 22-29 in Atlanta, can have million-dollar prize pools and as many as 27 million streaming viewers. An estimated 26m copies of the $15 game have been downloaded since its debut four years ago, helping make its manufacturer, Valve, the world’s leading distributor of PC titles.

While other titles such as Call of Duty offer similar gameplay, one distinctive feature has helped fuel Counter-Strike’s growth: collectible items in the game called “skins.” Although they don’t improve anyone’s chances of winning, the skins cover weapons in distinctive patterns that make players more identifiable when they stream on services like Twitch. Users can buy, sell and trade the skins, and those used by pros become hotly demanded. Some can fetch thousands of dollars in online marketplaces.

Valve controls the skins market. Every few months, it releases an update to Counter-Strike with new designs. It decides how many of each skin get produced and pockets a 15% fee every time one gets bought or sold on its official marketplace, called Steam. Valve even offers stock tickers that monitor the skins’ constantly shifting values.

But Valve also leaves a door open into the programming of its virtual world, one that allows skins to move out of Steam and into a murky constellation of gambling websites, where they’re used as currency. Some $5bn was wagered in skins in 2016, according to research by the firms Eilers & Krejcik Gaming and Narus Advisors. While about 40% of them are bet on esports matches and tournaments, says Chris Grove, who authored a study for the companies, roughly $3bn worth flows to a darker corner of the internet – one populated by fly-by-night websites that accept skins for casino-style gaming. Here, the games are simple, the action is fast and new sites open as soon as others close. Plenty of adults visit these sites, but with virtually no age restrictions, kids are also able to gamble their skins — often bought with a parent’s credit card – on slots, dice, coin flips or roulette spins. At least one site even has pro sports betting.

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Remarkable reporting.
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News use across social media platforms 2016 • Pew Research Center

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A majority of U.S. adults – 62% – get news on social media, and 18% do so often, according to a new survey by Pew Research Center, conducted in association with the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. In 2012, based on a slightly different question, 49% of U.S. adults reported seeing news on social media.1

But which social media sites have the largest portion of users getting news there? How many get news on multiple social media sites? And to what degree are these news consumers seeking online news out versus happening upon it while doing other things?

As part of an ongoing examination of social media and news, Pew Research Center analyzed the scope and characteristics of social media news consumers across nine social networking sites. This study is based on a survey conducted Jan. 12-Feb. 8, 2016, with 4,654 members of Pew Research Center’s American Trends Panel.

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If I’m reading this correctly, it’s saying that Reddit and Facebook users particularly live inside news bubbles created by the site. Reddit isn’t algorithmic (though people self-select into silos); Facebook is, and that’s a concern: people won’t realise that their news tastes are being tailored to them.

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Data from connected CloudPets teddy bears leaked and ransomed, exposing kids’ voice messages • Troy Hunt

The security researcher explains:

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firstly, put yourself in the shoes of the average parent, that is one who’s technically literate enough to know the wifi password but not savvy enough to understand how the “magic” of daddy talking to the kids through the bear (and vice versa) actually works. They don’t necessarily realise that every one of those recordings – those intimate, heartfelt, extremely personal recordings – between a parent and their child is stored as an audio file on the web. They certainly wouldn’t realise that in CloudPets’ case, that data was stored in a MongoDB that was in a publicly facing network segment without any authentication required and had been indexed by Shodan (a popular search engine for finding connected things).

Unfortunately, things only went downhill from there. People found the exposed database online. Many people and the worrying thing is, it’s highly unlikely anyone knows quite how many. The first I knew of it was when earlier last week, someone sent me data from the table holding the user accounts, about 583k records in total (this subsequently turned out to be a subset of the total number in the CloudPets service). I started going through my usual verification process to ensure it was legitimate and by pure coincidence, I was in the US running a private security workshop at the time and one of the guys in my class had a CloudPets account. Sure enough, his email address was in the breach and it was time-stamped Christmas day, the day his daughter had been given the toy. His record looked somewhat like these, the first few in the data I was given:

The password was stored as a bcrypt hash and to verify it was legitimate, he gave me his original password (I asked him to change it on CloudPets first) and I successfully validated that the hash against his record was the correct one (I’d previously validated the Dropbox data breach by doing the same thing with my wife’s account). The data was real.

CloudPets left their database exposed publicly to the web without so much as a password to protect it.

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link to this extract


Flotilla of tiny satellites will photograph the entire Earth every day • AAAS

Mark Strauss:

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On 14 February, earth scientists and ecologists received a Valentine’s Day gift from the San Francisco, California-based company Planet, which launched 88 shoebox-sized satellites on a single Indian rocket. They joined dozens already in orbit, bringing the constellation of “Doves,” as these tiny imaging satellites are known, to 144. Six months from now, once the Doves have settled into their prescribed orbits, the company says it will have reached its primary goal: being able to image every point on Earth’s landmass at intervals of 24 hours or less, at resolutions as high as 3.7 meters—good enough to single out large trees. It’s not the resolution that’s so impressive, though. It’s getting a whole Earth selfie every day.

The news has already sparked excitement in the business world, which is willing to pay a premium for daily updates of telltale industrial and agricultural data like shipping in the South China Sea and corn yields in Mexico. But scientists are realizing that they, too, can take advantage of the daily data—timescales that sparser observations from other satellites and aircraft could not provide.

“This is a game changer,” says Douglas McCauley, an ecologist at the University of California, Santa Barbara, who wants to use Planet imagery to map coral bleaching events as they unfold. At present, coral researchers often rely on infrequent, costly reconnaissance airplane flights. “The previous state of the science was, for me, like taking a family photo album and shaking out all the photos on the floor and then being asked to haphazardly pick up three images and tell the story of the family.”…

…Matt Finer, a researcher at the Amazon Conservation Association in Washington, D.C., gets weekly deforestation alerts based on Landsat images, but says they are too course to determine whether the damage is natural or human-caused. He now turns to Planet data to decide whether an event is concerning. He recalls one incident when his group spotted 11 hectares of forest loss in Peru, accompanied by extensive dredging—signs of an illegal gold mining operation. “The Peruvian government was on the ground within 24 to 48 hours, kicking the miners out,” he says. In previous years, Finer says, hundreds of hectares might be lost before anyone acted.

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The benefits this can provide to scientists are immense – once people get used to the amount of data they’re going to have to learn to process.
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This site is “taking the edge off rant mode” by making readers pass a quiz before commenting • Nieman Journalism Lab

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Two weeks ago, NRKbeta, the tech vertical of the Norwegian public broadcaster NRK, published an explainer about a proposed new digital surveillance law in the country.

Digital security is a controversial topic, and the conversation around security issues can become heated. But the conversation in the comments of the article was respectful and productive: Commenters shared links to books and other research, asked clarifying questions, and offered constructive feedback.

The team at NRKbeta attributes the civil tenor of its comments to a feature it introduced last month. On some stories, potential commenters are now required to answer three basic multiple-choice questions about the article before they’re allowed to post a comment. (For instance, in the digital surveillance story: “What does DGF stand for?”)

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Wow. This could revolutionise commenting. Well, there’s always hope, right?
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Samsung’s bill to take on Apple’s Siri topped $200 million • Axios

Ina Fried:

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Samsung spent 238.9bn Korean Won ($209m) for last year’s acquisition of Viv Labs, a 30-person voice AI startup from the creators of Apple’s Siri. The figure was confirmed in a regulatory filing this week.

Viv’s technology, or at least a version of it, is expected to show up in the Galaxy S8, due to be unveiled in New York next month.

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The regulatory filing is quite a slog. Apple paid roughly the same to buy Siri, but that was back in 2010 or so. A lot more has been put into it since then. And Samsung is plunging into a competitive market – Google Assistant, Siri, Alexa. It really risks having egg on its face.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: we previously referred to Paul Nuttall of UKIP as a Martian explorer and polar astronaut. This should have said that he likes Mars bars and Polo mints. We regret the error.

Start Up: strawberry green, Twitter cracks down on eggs, the smartphone squeeze, smarter Word?, and more


“Do those count as sedans?” Let machine learning decide whether it’s a prosperous town. Photo by swainboat on Flickr.

You can now 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 14 links for you. It’s that “started, can’t stop” thing. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

This picture has no red pixels — so why do the strawberries still look red? • Motherboard

Kaleigh Rogers:

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This weekend marked the two-year anniversary of The Dress: the unfathomably viral photo of a dress that divided the internet for more than a week in 2015 over whether it was blue and black, or white and gold. So it’s appropriate that, on this auspicious date, an equally maddening photo recently started making the rounds online:

The photo was created by Akiyoshi Kitaoka, a Professor of Psychology at Ritsumeikan University in Japan, who specializes in creating optical illusions (his twitter feed will blow your mind). As you can see in the tweet above, this photo has no red pixels in it, even though the strawberries pictured clearly appear red. Though plenty of twitter users tried to argue this fact, another person demonstrated that the pixels we’re seeing as red are really grey (and a little green).

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Rogers said that she felt compelled to write the story after seeing the picture. A key part of it is that we recognise the objects as strawberries; if they were something that we’d never seen before, we wouldn’t know what colour they were meant to be.
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US appeals court tosses patent verdict against Apple • Reuters

Jan Wolfe:

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A federal appeals court has thrown out a jury verdict that had originally required Apple to pay $533m to Smartflash LLC, a technology developer and licenser that claimed Apple’s iTunes software infringed its data storage patents.

The trial judge vacated the large damages award a few months after a Texas federal jury imposed it in February 2015, but the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit said on Wednesday the judge should have ruled Smartflash’s patents invalid and set aside the verdict entirely.

A unanimous three-judge appeals panel said Smartflash’s patents were too “abstract” and did not go far enough in describing an actual invention to warrant protection.

The decision likely ends a case that had attracted wide attention when the verdict was rendered but had gone against the plaintiff ever since.

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Judges ruled the patents invalid. That’s a bust for Smartflash.
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Twitter ramps up abuse controls as it lets users silence anonymous ‘eggs’ • Daily Telegraph

Sam Dean:

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Twitter users will now be able to automatically bar anonymous trolls from their timelines as the social media giant steps up its fight on abuse.

Twitter has introduced new filtering options that allow users to mute accounts without profile pictures, unverified email addresses and phone numbers.

Accounts that do not have profile pictures – also known as ‘Twitter eggs’ – have long been associated with abusive behaviour on the site, which has been criticised for not doing more to clamp down on the problem.

The platform also said that it is working on identifying abusive accounts even in cases where they have not been reported. It can then limit the accounts for a certain amount of time so that only their followers can see their tweets.

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Improvement, and only a couple of years overdue.
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Apple deleted server supplier after finding infected firmware in servers [Updated] • Ars Technica

Sean Gallagher, first repeating and then updating a story from The Information about Apple dumping SuperMicro Systems over dodgy firmware:

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Apple has used a variety of other companies’ server hardware—since the company got out of the server business itself and never used its own in datacenters—including servers from HP and storage from NetApp. A few years ago, Apple added Supermicro as a supplier for some of its development and data center computing infrastructure.

But Apple has been squeezing the cost of its data center supply chain and moving toward more custom hardware much like the other cloud giants. In August of 2016, Digitimes reported Apple was increasing its orders for full-rack systems from the integrator ZT Systems and adding the China-based Inspur as a server supplier.

Leng told The Information that Apple was the only company to report the firmware issue, and he said the servers are used by thousands of customers. He asserted that when his company asked Apple’s engineers to provide information about the firmware, they gave an incorrect version number—and then refused to give further information.

Update: A source familiar with the case at Apple told Ars that the compromised firmware affected servers in Apple’s design lab, and not active Siri servers. The firmware, according to the source, was downloaded directly from Supermicro’s support site—and that firmware is still hosted there.

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Wonder how the infection was spotted. Did it phone home?
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YouTube, the world’s biggest video site, wants to sell you TV for $35 a month • Recode

Dan Frommer:

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YouTube used to be the place you could watch almost anything you wanted, for free. Now YouTube wants to be the place that sells you TV.

Google’s video site is taking the wraps off YouTube TV, its new $35-a-month TV service that will package a bundle of channels from the broadcast networks and some cable networks.

YouTube says the service, which will sit in a new, standalone app, will launch later this spring. It’s separate from YouTube Red, the ad-free subscription service the company launched last year, which hasn’t had much success.

YouTube TV is supposed to be “mobile first” — that is, YouTube expects that subscribers will spend most of their time watching on phones, though they’ll also be able to watch on devices like laptops and traditional TVs, via Google’s Chromecast devices.

Like other new digital TV services, YouTube TV won’t offer every network that cable TV services provide; instead it will feature a “skinny bundle,” composed of the four broadcast networks — Fox, ABC, CBS and NBC — along with some of the cable channels related to the broadcasters. Which means you’ll also get networks like Fox News, ESPN and Bravo; YouTube execs say the base package will include about three dozen channels.

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Neither Google nor Facebook is a media company, of course. Google is touting “cloud DVR” (replayable programs? How cute) and an AI-powered recommendation system. TiVo has offered the latter since 2000.

Plenty of analysis is saying this is a terribly milquetoast offering: none of the sports channels people really do want, but including tons of other things they don’t want. YouTube wants to be the destination for everything video, but it’s hard to see this being the breakthrough.
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UK Digital Strategy: 7. Data – unlocking the power of data in the UK economy • GOV.UK

This is now official UK government policy:

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The true potential of data can only be harnessed if it is open for use by others. The UK leads the world in open data, and the government is committed to building on this and being open by default. All official statistics are now published under the open government licence and we have made over 40,000 government datasets available through our data.gov.uk web-portal.

We also lead the world in the quality of our openly available geospatial data and we will continue to support innovators and businesses to use this data. This includes through the Ordnance Survey’s GeoVation programme which runs competitions to help entrepreneurs use geospatial data and technology to develop their ideas, and provides a Hub where new start-ups can access desk-space, mentoring, and legal and professional support.

But government still holds data that could be opened up for researchers, campaigners, established companies and entrepreneurs to use. It is our ambition to ensure data is shared wherever appropriate. This will help businesses and government to innovate, generate maximum economic value and help create new digital products and services that enhance citizens’ lives.

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11 years ago, Michael Cross and I started the Free Our Data campaign in the Guardian’s Technology section:

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Britain’s public sector information is held by some 400 government departments, agencies and local authorities. Assets range from wills dating back to 1858, house values recorded in the Land Registry, maps and the risk of flooding to individual homes. Much is of great commercial interest, especially when it can be presented on innovative websites such as upmystreet.com. These sets of data are the modern crown jewels – but instead of treating them as a resource to boost national wealth, the government locks them up, restricting access to those who pay.

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What was once controversial is now government policy.
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Are China’s smartphone OEMs falling behind Apple on features upgrades? • Barrons.com

Shuli Ren:

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according to Ken Hui at Huatai Securities, a mainland Chinese brokerage, smartphone manufacturers in China are struggling to sell phones that cost more than 3,000 yuan ($440), and they have started to remove expensive features such as dual cameras.

Hui’s bearish outlook does not bode well for Sunny Optical, which has rallied over 50% this year.

And it is not just dual cameras –  Chinese OEMs are foregoing 3D glass, waterproofing, and haptic technology too as they preserve margins. While Hui has a Sell rating on Sunny Optical, he has a Hold position on haptics supplier AAC Technologies, which has gained 19.5% this year. Haptics, or feedback technology, on smartphones enables the user to feel a tactile sensation when interacting with an application.

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Notable that after Huawei’s headline-grabbing 3D Touch-style phone launched ahead of Apple’s 6S in 2014, there hasn’t been a sign of haptic Android phones. Too expensive, too little benefit. (Apple, meanwhile, has broader plans for haptics.)

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Soaring prices of key components are starting to squeeze the margins of smartphone makers • TrendForce

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The markets for key components used in smartphones have experienced rising prices since the second half of 2016 because of tightening supply. TrendForce’s latest analyses indicate that prices of mobile DRAM, mobile NAND Flash products and AMOLED panels will continue to climb through 2017. As smartphone brands will be raising hardware specifications of their products, they are also revealing their intentions to build up their inventories in advance. High prices of AMOLED panels and memory components during this entire year will constrain smartphone makers’ ability to attain greater profits…

…Samsung Display (SDC) this year will divide most its AMOLED panel capacity between its group company Samsung and Apple. The panel maker has very limited ability to satisfy the rising demand from other brands. Therefore, TrendForce believes that prices of AMOLED panels will most likely stay on an uptrend in the second half of 2017 because of persisting undersupply. On the other hand, prices of LTPS LCD panels for smartphones will begin to drop gradually starting in the second quarter on account of the overall production capacity expansion.

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The squeeze is beginning.

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Watch Tesla Autopilot 2.0 drive like a drunk old man • Jalopnik

Ryan Felton:

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The video from Tesla owner “Scott S.” shows his Model S driving with Autosteer and Traffic-aware cruise control (TACC) engaged while driving. It doesn’t go well. At times, the car veers toward curbs and merges across the double yellow line. Scott wrote in the comment section that he has driven that particular road at least 30 times, making the Autopilot failure seem even more strange.

A commenter hypothesized that the Model S sensors hadn’t been calibrated properly, but Scott replied that it’s likely not the hardware, rather a software issue “because I have two AP2.0 Teslas.”

The slow rollout of Autopilot 2.0 included a caveat from Tesla founder Elon Musk to exercise some caution when driving on the road. Musk also said some HW2 cars may require being serviced.

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Watching this, one’s thought tends to be: it looks like a big hassle. What’s so great about letting the car drive if you have to be constantly alert to the possibility that it’s going to veer off and you’ll have to wrestle with the steering wheel? And given how often updates in software involve bugs, who’d want to rush into installing x.0 of any self-driving software?
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Pre-roll ads motivate 1 in 3 blockers to stop ads • GlobalWebIndex

Katie Young:

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To provide a better advertising experience for its users, Google announced last week that by 2018 it will stop supporting 30-second unskippable ads on YouTube and will instead focus on shorter formats.

Such an approach makes absolute sense for YouTube and shows a proactive response to users’ ad preferences. If we take a look at the top reasons why Ad-Blocker Users deploy these tools, they’re most likely to be doing so out of frustration – believing that ads are annoying, take up too much screen space or simply get in the way. Above all, though, particularly relevant here is that a third say they don’t like seeing video ads before watching video content.

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Using Deep Learning and Google Street View to estimate the demographic makeup of the US • Arxiv

Timnit Gebru, Jonathan Krause, Yilun Wang, Duyun Chen, Jia Deng, Erez Lieberman Aiden, and Li Fei-Fei:

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The United States spends more than $1bn each year on the American Community Survey (ACS), a labor-intensive door-to-door study that measures statistics relating to race, gender, education, occupation, unemployment, and other demographic factors. Although a comprehensive source of data, the lag between demographic changes and their appearance in the ACS can exceed half a decade.

As digital imagery becomes ubiquitous and machine vision techniques improve, automated data analysis may provide a cheaper and faster alternative. Here, we present a method that determines socioeconomic trends from 50 million images of street scenes, gathered in 200 American cities by Google Street View cars. Using deep learning-based computer vision techniques, we determined the make, model, and year of all motor vehicles encountered in particular neighborhoods. Data from this census of motor vehicles, which enumerated 22M automobiles in total (8% of all automobiles in the US), was used to accurately estimate income, race, education, and voting patterns, with single-precinct resolution.

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Though of course Google still has to do the Street View work, which quite possibly costs around $1bn; how often is GSV updated?

But there are some amazing correlations in there:

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The resulting associations are surprisingly simple and powerful. For instance, if the number of sedans encountered during a 15-minute drive through a city is higher than the number of pickup trucks, the city is likely to vote for a Democrat during the next Presidential election (88% chance); otherwise, it is likely to vote Republican (82%).

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If they do this as a time series (with Google’s help?) this could become a very valuable dataset.
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Xiaomi launches its own chip, with an assist from Beijing • WSJ

Eva Dou:

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Chinese government funding helped Xiaomi Corp. produce its first smartphone processor, the company’s chairman said as he unveiled the chip at a packed launch event in the China National Convention Center here Tuesday.

The support is the latest sign of China’s push to develop its semiconductor industry, which has included attempts to buy overseas chip companies for their technology. Xiaomi is the second Chinese smartphone maker, after Huawei Technologies Co., able to develop its own processors.

Xiaomi Chairman Lei Jun disclosed the government funding as he described development of the new Pinecone Surge S1 chip, which will power the company’s new budget smartphone, the Mi 5C. The phone goes on sale in China Friday, with a starting price of 1,499 yuan ($218).

The Beijing-based smartphone company typically thanks private-sector partners during its product launches. But on Tuesday, it flashed a slide that read: “Thanks for the government’s support.”

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The question is quite what difference this can make for Xiaomi. Given that it runs its own OS inside China, it’s possible it might yield some benefit – but it’s a long road. It took Apple years, and a huge integrated system, to reap the value of buying PA Semi.
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In video, Uber CEO argues with driver over falling fares • Bloomberg

Eric Newcomer:

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the gig has gotten harder for longtime drivers. In 2012, Uber Black cost riders $4.90 per mile or $1.25 per minute in San Francisco, according to an old version of Uber’s website. Today, Uber charges $3.75 per mile and $0.65 per minute. Black car drivers get paid less and their business faces far more competition from other Uber services.

Kalanick has a reputation for being ferociously competitive and hard-charging. He’s the guy who has bragged about having earned the second-highest rank on Nintendo’s Wii tennis game. He’s still dogged by the fact that he once referred to Uber as “Boob-er” because it improved his dating prospects. Current and former employees say he can be empathetic when the mood strikes—or tyrannical when it doesn’t. Kalanick loves fighting over a good idea, which sometimes means admitting that his isn’t the best one. “Toe-stepping” is one of Uber’s cultural values.

Kalanick is trying to be a better listener.

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But as the cab video shows, he’s not that great at it. Uber’s toxic culture is starting to seep out and create problems in its interactions with the world.

Also notable: one gets videoed everywhere these days. (A car on a public road is a public space in American law, apparently.)
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Machine learning in Microsoft Word’s new editor gave me the frights • Venturebeat

John Brandon:

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I’ve been writing professionally since 2001 (around 10,000 published articles now), but I’m still learning, I guess. The new Editor announced today (and available [in the US – ed] immediately if you select the Fast Insider option within Word under Settings) is like hiring a grammar nanny. The Editor scans all of your prose, alerting you to passive voice and jargon. It can identify words that “express uncertainty” (the suckers, it flagged dozens of instances). For example, in a document that’s 50,000 words (long story on that one, but you should buy it next year), I kept using words like “basically” and “maybe” over and over again. I zapped them because, now that I look back at the text, they add clutter.

How does Word know when to flag words? That’s where the AI comes into play. It’s interesting, because a simple AI would scan for all instances of the word “really” and flag them. Really? If it was that dense, it would have flagged the word in that last question, but it knows enough about language, context, and even one-word questions to know not to flag them.

Another interesting discovery: I’m a champion of active voice. I was educated about the problem long ago. (Oh crap, there it is again.) Word kept reminding me about it, over and over again, until I had some of the passivity beat out of me. Fixing these problems takes time, editing them for better phrasing, but the Editor shows up in a pane to the right when you select the “See More” option when you right-click. It often makes suggestions that save time.

«

Wonder how it copes with the usual impenetrable jargon that MS Word is asked to produce, such as air conditioning regulations. Will it rebel and demand more interesting stuff?
link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up: Amazon’s big outage, Google kills Pixel laptop, a USB-C iPhone?, the US’s new war on pot, and more


This might be the shape of future Alexa-powered call centres. But first you’d have to get it to work. Photo by Costa Rica Call Centres on Flickr.

You can now 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.

Amazon AWS S3 outage is breaking things for a lot of websites and apps • TechCrunch

Darrell Etherington:

»

The S3 outage is due to “high error rates with S3 in US-EAST-1,” according to Amazon’s AWS service health dashboard, which is where the company also says it’s working on “remediating the issue,” without initially revealing any further details.

Affected websites and services include Quora, newsletter provider Sailthru, Business Insider, Giphy, image hosting at a number of publisher websites, filesharing in Slack, and many more. Connected lightbulbs, thermostats and other IoT hardware is also being impacted, with many unable to control these devices as a result of the outage.

Amazon S3 is used by around 148,213 websites, and 121,761 unique domains, according to data tracked by SimilarTech, and its popularity as a content host concentrates specifically in the U.S. It’s used by 0.8% of the top 1 million websites, which is actually quite a bit smaller than CloudFlare, which is used by 6.2% of the top 1 million websites globally – and yet it’s still having this much of an effect.

«

Be very interested to know what the cause is; it’s not clear at the moment. Some Apple services, Netflix, Expedia, The Verge and the US Securities and Exchange Commission also affected. Amazon S3 has quietly become the circulatory system of the internet.
link to this extract


JPMorgan software does in seconds what took lawyers 360,000 hours • The Independent

Hugh Son:

»

At JPMorgan, a learning machine is parsing financial deals that once kept legal teams busy for thousands of hours.

The program, called COIN, for Contract Intelligence, does the mind-numbing job of interpreting commercial-loan agreements that, until the project went online in June, consumed 360,000 hours of lawyers’ time annually. The software reviews documents in seconds, is less error-prone and never asks for vacation… [UK readers will note that this must be an American writing; a Brit would say ‘holiday’. – CA]

…As for COIN, the program has helped JPMorgan cut down on loan-servicing mistakes, most of which stemmed from human error in interpreting 12,000 new wholesale contracts per year, according to its designers.

JPMorgan is scouring for more ways to deploy the technology, which learns by ingesting data to identify patterns and relationships. The bank plans to use it for other types of complex legal filings like credit-default swaps and custody agreements. Someday, the firm may use it to help interpret regulations and analyze corporate communications.

«

link to this extract


Trump tweets and the TV news stories behind them • CNNMoney

Tom Kludt and Tal Yellin:

»

Whether from Trump Tower, his resort at Mar-a-Lago, or the White House Trump has reportedly spent a significant amount of time glued to the television screen, often firing out a response in nearly real-time to his millions of followers on Twitter.

Below, a running tally of each instance since Election Day in which the president’s tweet appears to have been prompted by something he had just seen on Fox News, MSNBC, CNN or another channel.

«

There are quite a few of them. This is a smart idea. You could also predict what’s going to happen day by day.

Also: watching that crap isn’t what a president should do. He’s either too easily distracted or not doing the job.
link to this extract


Google calls ‘time’ on the Pixel laptop • TechCrunch

Frederic Lardinois:

»

In a small meeting with journalists at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona today, Google’s senior vice president for hardware Rick Osterloh dropped a little bit of news: It looks like the Pixel laptop — Google’s premium Chromebook and the original product bearing the Pixel name — has hit the end of the line after just two iterations.

The Pixel brand these days is now being used for Google’s new line of smartphones, which have done pretty well in the market, although the company has had some issues with supply and keeping up with demand, Osterloh said.

There may be future products that use the Pixel name and concept of building Google products from the ground up, integrating Google’s software into Google’s own hardware, but he hinted that laptops are not likely to be one of those categories.

«

Astonishing. So Google is giving up on its own products. Given that it is bringing Google Assistant to all Android phones, not just the Pixel phone – taking away its differentiation – how long does the latter have? This looks suspiciously like a change in strategy that has been decided quite recently.

Who’s going to trust a new Google product now?
link to this extract


Amazon Echo may get Voice ID feature • Time.com

Lisa Eadicicco:

»

The Seattle-based technology giant has been developing a feature that would allow the voice assistant that powers its Echo line of speakers to distinguish between individual users based on their voices, according to people familiar with Amazon’s Alexa strategy. The sources declined to be identified by name because they are not authorized to talk about the company’s future product plans. An Amazon spokesperson declined to comment.

Alexa, like Apple’s Siri or Microsoft’s Cortana, can interpret and respond to voice commands such as “How’s the weather?” or “What movies are playing tonight?” So far, though, none of the mainstream voice-enabled smart speakers have been able to distinguish who in a household is asking for something. Amazon’s new feature would match the person speaking to a voice sample, or “voice print,” to verify a person’s identity, according to a source. A primary account holder would be able to require a specific voice print to access certain commands. A user would, for example, be able to set it so that a parent’s voice would be required to make a credit card purchase or turn on the coffee machine through the Echo.

«

Completely logical development, though tricky to make work. (So much depends on the acoustics of a location, apart from anything.) As Jan Dawson points out, this is the sort of thing you’d expect Google to have done first – but Amazon is lapping it (and Apple) on this.

Also notable: Amazon is either leakier than it used to be, or is briefing more than it used to do because it sees it as important to get Echo into as many homes as possible before Google.
link to this extract


Google’s E2Email Gmail encryption looks a lot like vaporware • WIRED

Andy Greenberg:

»

[Cryptography expert Matthew] Green, who has spoken to Google engineers about the project, says the End-to-End initiative never received the staffing necessary to push it forward. Today, he says, the total attention Google devotes to the project equates to a fraction of a single full-time staffer. “The upshot is that Google won’t be doing much more on end-to-end encryption,” Green says.

Google’s own security engineers, meanwhile, say that they’ve hardly abandoned their encryption push. But making email encryption easy, argues Google privacy and security product manager Stephan Somogyi, is far harder than it might seem to the public. Unlike WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger, Gmail’s End-to-End project sought to bolt encryption onto email, an old protocol that still has to interoperate with billions of clients outside of Google’s control. And Somogyi points out that his engineers have also had to build and refine an entirely new library of crypto code in javascript, a necessary stepping stone for secure web-based encryption tools, and one widely believed to be unworkable a few years ago.

More recently, he says, the team has focused on the larger problem of key management—the tricky task of securely distributing, tracking, and looking up the unique encryption keys that allow users to decrypt encrypted messages and prove their identities. That problem has for decades dogged PGP, the encryption scheme Google bases its Gmail encryption project on. Google’s engineers are now working to solve it with a project called Key Transparency, along with researchers at Princeton, Yahoo, and Open Whisper Systems.

«

Plus there’s the problem of people just forwarding unencrypted stuff, or replying without the encryption turned on. It’s colossally hard; Google seems to have been wildly overconfident in announcing it in 2014.
link to this extract


This is how your hyperpartisan political news gets made • BuzzFeed News

Craig Silverman:

»

The websites Liberal Society and Conservative 101 appear to be total opposites. The former publishes headlines such as “WOW, Sanders Just Brutally EVISCERATED Trump On Live TV. Trump Is Fuming.” Its conservative counterpart has stories like “Nancy Pelosi Just Had Mental Breakdown On Stage And Made Craziest Statement Of Her Career.”

So it was a surprise last Wednesday when they published stories that were almost exactly the same, save for a few notable word changes.

After CNN reported White House counselor Kellyanne Conway was “sidelined from television appearances,” both sites whipped up a post — and outrage — for their respective audiences. The resulting stories read like bizarro-world versions of each other — two articles with nearly identical words and tweets optimized for opposing filter bubbles. The similarity of the articles also provided a key clue BuzzFeed News followed to reveal a more striking truth: These for-the-cause sites that appeal to hardcore partisans are in fact owned by the same Florida company.

«

I had been wondering if there weren’t hyperpartisan sites for the left. And of course, those enraged by Trump will be lured to them. (Reality might continue to disagree with what they read, though.)
link to this extract


Apple’s next iPhone will have a curved screen • WSJ

Takashi Mochizuki with the (confirmed, now) revelation that there will be an OLED iPhone with a curved edge, a la Samsung Galaxy Edge, this year:

»

The anticipation of an anniversary iPhone with OLED technology helped Apple’s share price climb to a record in February. The phone is expected to be priced at roughly $1,000, bringing the average selling price of an iPhone in Apple’s next fiscal year to $684 from $666, according to BMO Capital Markets.

So far, all iPhones have used liquid-crystal displays, long the standard for mobile devices and television sets.

People familiar with Apple’s plans said the iPhone releases this year would include two models with the traditional LCDs and a third one with the OLED screen.

They said Apple would introduce other updates including a USB-C port for the power cord and other peripheral devices, instead of the company’s original Lightning connector. The models would also do away with a physical home button, they said. Those updates would give the iPhone features already available on other smartphones.

«

I don’t think it will be a USB-C port. I agree with Nati Shochat – it’s more likely that it’s a USB-C-to-Lightning cable, so it’s a USB-C charger. Going with USB-C for the port would mean disrupting the millions of Lightning-compatible ports out there, and kill the licensing fees for the “MfI” (Made for iOS) stuff.

Then again, every year it doesn’t change the Lightning port it becomes a little harder to switch to USB-C, if that is indeed its long-term aim.

link to this extract


Sessions: Legal pot drives violent crime, statistics be damned • Thinkprogress

»

On Monday, days after White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer told reporters to expect stricter enforcement of federal pot law, Attorney General Jeff Sessions recycled discredited drug war talking points in remarks of his own.

“I believe it’s an unhealthy practice, and current levels of THC in marijuana are very high compared to what they were a few years ago, and we’re seeing real violence around that,” Sessions said. “Experts are telling me there’s more violence around marijuana than one would think and there’s big money involved.”

In reality, violent crime rates tend to decrease where marijuana is legalized.

Denver saw a 2.2% drop in violent crime rates in the year after the first legal recreational cannabis sales in Colorado. Overall property crime dropped by 8.9% in the same period there, according to figures from the Drug Policy Alliance. In Washington, violent crime rates dropped by 10% from 2011 to 2014. Voters legalized recreational marijuana there in 2012.

«

The violent crime rate change doesn’t sound significantly different, but the property crime one does. Overall, there’s no link, broader data suggests. But we should maybe expect that Trump’s team won’t be interested in data, more just feelings.
link to this extract


AWS takes aim at call centre industry • The Information

Kevin McLaughlin:

»

Alexa is coming to customer call centers.

Amazon Web Services is preparing to sell software to help companies manage their call centers, based on software Amazon developed for its retail call centers, according to a person who’s been briefed on the plans. The new services also incorporate Amazon’s Alexa virtual assistant to respond to questions from people on the phone, or sent via text, the person said.

AWS has begun pitching the new software, code-named Lily, to large insurance and health care customers, said the person. AWS is telling customers it may announce the product as early as mid-March. An AWS spokesman declined to comment.

The new product represents one of the biggest steps AWS has taken into enterprise apps—and the first big showcase for Alexa in the enterprise market. Thousands of companies around the world use call centers—called customer contact centers in industry jargon—to communicate with their customers via phone, email, instant messaging and other formats.

«

Lots and lots of call centres already use voice recognition, though; you can make calls where you never deal with a human. (And lots where the human is more like a machine, and knows less.) What’s Alexa going to bring to this? To quote the article:

»

How well Alexa will be able to understand the variety of questions coming from customers is sure to be a question facing AWS as it pitches the new service.

«

Well, yes.
link to this extract


Huawei staff fear cuts as smartphone profits disappoint • Reuters

Sijia Jiang and Harro Ten Wolde:

»

Huawei, which rose rapidly to become the world’s third largest smartphone maker, is aiming to narrow the gap with leaders Apple Inc and Samsung Electronics. But the company faces challenges after losing its top spot in China, the world’s biggest market, to new contender Oppo last year.

Huawei’s mobile unit missed an internal profit target for 2016 even though revenues exceeded targets, Richard Yu, head of its consumer business division that includes mobile device operation, told Reuters in an interview at the Barcelona Mobile World Congress this week.

“It is still profitable but the profit margin is very low,” Yu said of the unit that contributes around one third to the group’s revenue.

In an internal memo sent last Friday, Huawei Group founder and CEO Ren Zhengfei urged all employees to work hard, saying the company would otherwise “fall apart”.

“Thirty-something strong men, don’t work hard, just want to count money in bed, is that possible?,” Ren said in the memo seen by Reuters. “Huawei will not pay for those that don’t work hard.”

The remarks have unnerved some of Huawei’s 170,000-strong workforce, 45% of which are in research and development, a division said by Huawei staff in online communities to be most insecure.

“Everybody is nervous,” said a 36-year old engineer in Huawei’s consumer business unit who declined to be identified due to the sensitivity of the issue.

“We are now all thinking more of the next steps, realizing permanent employment with the company is no longer a given.”

«

45% in R&D? That implies either that the networking business is super-profitable, or that the company is badly unbalanced.
link to this extract


Mozilla acquires Pocket to gain a foothold on mobile devices • The Verge

Casey Newton:

»

Mozilla has acquired Pocket, a kind of DVR for the internet, for an undisclosed sum. The nine-year-old company, which makes tools for saving articles and videos to view them later, is Mozilla’s first acquisition. It represents a homecoming of sorts for Pocket, which began life as a Firefox extension before eventually expanding its team and building a suite of apps for every major platform. Pocket has been Firefox’s default read-it-later service since 2015.

Mozilla said Pocket, which it will operate as an independent subsidiary, would help bring the company to mobile devices, where it has historically struggled to attract users. Best known for its Firefox web browser, Mozilla has faltered in the mobile era, spending years on its failed Firefox phone project and waiting until 2016 to release Firefox on iOS globally. Meanwhile, the slow decline of the desktop web has made Mozilla’s broader future uncertain.

Pocket comes to the table with 10 million monthly active users and a set of existing and potential businesses new to Mozilla, including advertising, a premium subscription service, and analytics for publishers. And unlike Mozilla’s existing mobile products, people seem to enjoy using it. “We love the way that they have the user-first mentality, very similar to the way we drive our products,” said Denelle Dixon, Mozilla’s chief business and legal officer. “It hasn’t just been about how much revenue they can glean from their product.”

«

Which is a good thing, because it doesn’t glean much revenue, and it’s unclear how it can. Mozilla has a problem: if the Yahoo search deal ends, it’s going to struggle to find revenues comparable with the good days when Google paid plenty to be its default search engine.
link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: a previous Start Up referred to Paul Nuttall of UKIP as “the polar explorer and Martian astronaut”. This should have read “Martian explorer and polar astronaut.” We regret the error.

Start Up: YouTube’s extreme views, the US travel solution, Singhal out at Uber, the tablet conundrum, and more


Sony should be able to capture moments like this with its new smartphone camera – if you’re quick enough. Photo by nebarnix on Flickr.

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

A selection of 13 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

How YouTube serves as the content engine of the internet’s dark side • BuzzFeed News

Joseph Bernstein:

»

All this is a far cry from the platform’s halcyon days of 2006 and George Allen’s infamous “Macaca” gaffe. Back then, it felt reasonable to hope the site would change politics by bypassing a rose-tinted broadcast media filter to hold politicians accountable. As recently as 2012, Mother Jones posted to YouTube hidden footage of Mitt Romney discussing the “47%” of the electorate who would never vote for him, a video that may have swung the election. But by the time the 2016 campaign hit its stride, and a series of widely broadcast, ugly comments by then-candidate Trump didn’t keep him out of office, YouTube’s relationship to politics had changed.

Today, it fills the enormous trough of right-leaning conspiracy and revisionist historical content into which the vast, ravening right-wing social internet lowers its jaws to drink. Shared widely everywhere from white supremacist message boards to chans to Facebook groups, these videos constitute a kind of crowdsourced, predigested ideological education, offering the “Truth” about everything from Michelle Obama’s real biological sex (760,000 views!) to why medieval Islamic civilization wasn’t actually advanced.

Frequently, the videos consist of little more than screenshots of a Reddit “investigation” laid out chronologically, set to ominous music. Other times, they’re very simple, featuring a man in a sparse room speaking directly into his webcam, or a very fast monotone narration over a series of photographs with effects straight out of iMovie. There’s a financial incentive for vloggers to make as many videos as cheaply they can; the more videos you make, the more likely one is to go viral.

«

The mystery to me is why there aren’t gigantic left-wing conspiracy video makers. Or are there, and we just haven’t heard about them? (Which would imply they aren’t gigantic, wouldn’t it?)

YouTube’s role in all this has been overlooked, though, I think. Fake news sites are one thing, but YouTube’s “related” links and built-in automatic play is the sort of thing that can take you quite far afield very quickly. (That might be worth an experiment.)
link to this extract


Uber’s SVP of engineering is out after he did not disclose he left Google in a dispute over a sexual harassment allegation • Recode

Kara Swisher:

»

Amit Singhal has left his job at Uber as its SVP of engineering because he did not disclose to the car-hailing company that he left Google a year earlier after top executives there informed him of an allegation of sexual harassment from an employee that an internal investigation had found “credible.”

Singhal was asked to resign by Uber CEO Travis Kalanick this morning.

Uber execs found out about the situation after Recode informed them of the chain of events between Singhal and the search giant this week.

Sources at Uber said that the company did extensive background checks of Singhal and that it did not uncover any hint of the circumstances of his departure from Google. Singhal disputed the allegation to Google execs at the time.

«

Of course this story would be by Swisher: she is basically Silicon Valley’s router, via whom every bit of information eventually travels. This is an astonishing tale. Singhal’s departure from Google in February 2016 was a surprise. There sure isn’t anything about assault claims, unfounded or otherwise, in his goodbye letter.
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Donald Trump’s ‘shadow president’ in Silicon Valley • POLITICO

»

“Once Election Day came and went, Peter Thiel was a major force in the transition,” said a senior Trump campaign aide. “When you have offices and you bring staff with you and you attend all the meetings, then you have a lot of power.” At the Presidio, the old Army fort in San Francisco where Thiel’s investment firms are housed, many of his employees have taken to calling him “the shadow president.”

The notion is not entirely absurd. If Steve Bannon, the president’s chief strategist, is one ideological pillar of the Trump White House, Thiel, operating from outside the administration, is the other. Bannon’s ideology is a sort of populist nationalism, while Thiel’s is tech-centric: He believes progress is dependent on a revolution in technology that has been largely stymied by government regulation.

Thiel is a contrarian by nature, and his support for Trump was a signature long-shot bet that is paying big dividends in terms of access to and influence on the new administration.

Trump’s surprise victory in November also gave Thiel a renewed faith in the possibilities of politics, and he has worked around the clock to push friends and associates into positions that will give them sway over science and technology policy, an area he believes has been routinely neglected under previous administrations.

That helps to explain why Jim O’Neill, a managing director at Thiel’s venture capital firm, Mithril Capital Management, is now being considered to run the Food and Drug Administration. O’Neill served at the Department of Health and Human Services in the George W. Bush administration but has no medical background. He has argued that drugs should not have to go through clinical trials to prove their efficacy before they are sold to consumers.

«

Could we instead test them on Thiel? Or O’Neill. I’m not fussy.
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Trump administration re-evaluating self-driving car guidance • Reuters

David Shepardson:

»

US Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao said on Sunday she was reviewing self-driving vehicle guidance issued by the Obama administration and urged companies to explain the benefits of automated vehicles to a skeptical public.

The guidelines, which were issued in September, call on automakers to voluntarily submit details of self-driving vehicle systems to regulators in a 15-point “safety assessment” and urge states to defer to the federal government on most vehicle regulations.

Automakers have raised numerous concerns about the guidance, including that it requires them to turn over significant data, could delay testing by months and lead to states making the voluntary guidelines mandatory…

…Chao said she was “very concerned” about the potential impact of automated vehicles on employment. There are 3.5 million U.S. truck drivers alone and millions of others employed in driving-related occupations.

«

That last bit suggest that self-driving vehicles might not get the clear road they’re hoping for.
link to this extract


Samsung’s disjointed OS strategy poses a hurdle for users • PCWorld

Agam Shah:

»

Samsung has taken a siloed approach to product development, said Werner Goertz, lead Samsung analyst at Gartner. The strategy is deeply rooted in the company’s flawed organizational structure, in which divisions often compete instead of cooperating, producing products that don’t work the same way.

Unlike at Apple, Goertz said, “there is a lack of coherence, consistency, and a comprehensive user experience. Over time it’ll be important to have a consistent user experience.”

The new Galaxy Books, for example, highlight the lack of unity in the company’s VR strategy. Samsung’s Gear VR headset works with some Android Galaxy handsets, but the company has no Windows-based VR device that connects to the new Galaxy Books.

Samsung declined to comment on whether it is developing a VR headset for its Windows devices. But the company’s goals appear to include the development of a multipurpose headset that could work with Windows as well as Android devices, and possibly a separate, untethered headset.

«

link to this extract


The tablet computer is growing up • Tech.pinions

Ben Bajarin:

»

In a research study we did in the second half of 2016 on consumers usage and sentiment around PCs and tablets, 67% of consumers had not even considered replacing their PC/Mac with an iPad or Android tablet.

As you may have seen, the tablets trend line is not encouraging.

While it is true the PC trendline isn’t much better, over the past year or so a fascinating counter-trend has been happening in the PC industry. The average selling price of PCs is actually increasing. In the midst of the tablet decline, many consumers are realizing they still need a traditional laptop or desktop and are spending more on such computers than in many years past. Our research suggests a key reason is because consumers now understand they want a PC which will last since they will likely keep it for 6 years or more. They understand spending to get a quality product, one that won’t break frequently or be a customer support hassle, is in their best interests and they are spending more money on PCs than ever before. This single insight is a key source of my concern for the tablet category.

«

As he notes, anyone who has a workflow set up on a PC is probably going to be reluctant to set up a new one on an iPad.
link to this extract


Stop fabricating travel security advice • Medium

“The Grugq” (who is, convincingly, an information security researcher):

»

Recently travel to the US has become even more stressful as CBP have been more aggressively exercising their authority to examine digital devices. Their theory goes something like “we can open a cargo container to check whats inside therefore we can open a digital device to check whats inside.” Along with the apparent increase in searching traveller’s laptops and phones, there has been a rise in amateur smuggling suggestions (seemingly by US citizens who aren’t exposed to any risk at the border.) This advice is terrible, dangerous and possibly endangers anyone reckless enough to follow it.

Rather than collecting the garbage advice, I’ll bundle it all into a generic set of terrible ideas and the flawed beliefs that underpin them. To be absolutely crystal clear — DO NOT DO THESE THINGS!

«

His suggestion of what you should do is simpler: “Use travel hardware: laptop, iPad, iPhone. Take only the data you need. Create accounts for travel gear. Use different user/pass.”
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Sony Xperia XZ Premium announced: 4K HDR screen, memory-stacked camera, and Snapdragon 835 • The Verge

Vlad Savov:

»

Beside the (very) nice display, Sony’s new flagship phone also has a new camera system called Motion Eye. The curious thing with this setup is that Sony has embedded fast memory right into the camera stack, allowing it to produce another world first for phones: super-slow motion of 960fps at 720p resolution. This rapid burst lasts for only 0.18 seconds, so technically you’re only capturing something closer to 180 frames, but the effect is still quite compelling when stretched out to a regular 30fps. I can imagine myself capturing water splashes and other blink-of-an-eye moments just for fun. And fun is, after all, what modern cameras are primarily about.

The addition of the extra memory also helps Sony to start buffering shots as soon as the camera detects motion in the frame — so that when you press the shutter button, there’s absolutely no lag, the camera will just pull the image it was already taking at that moment. This is the sort of system that will rely heavily on good autofocus, and Sony is bringing back the triple-sensor system from the Xperia XZ: there’s laser AF, an RGBC infrared sensor for adjusting white balance on the fly, and an updated ExmorRS image sensor. The latter now has 19% larger pixels, stepping down resolution to 19 megapixels. Sony’s Bionz image processing engine has also been upgraded with better motion detection and noise reduction.

«

A fifth of a second? That’s really going to require amazingly precise timing. Mistime your button press, and you’ve missed it. Notable that Sony is going after the camera element, though.

Of note: Sony is the only Android OEM beside Samsung that I know is making an operating profit on its phones. (Huawei might be, but it’s unlikely.)
link to this extract


Intel on the outside: the rise of artificial intelligence is creating new variety in the chip market, and trouble for Intel • The Economist

»

This unipolar world [of Intel processors] is starting to crumble. Processors are no longer improving quickly enough to be able to handle, for instance, machine learning and other AI applications, which require huge amounts of data and hence consume more number-crunching power than entire data centres did just a few years ago. Intel’s customers, such as Google and Microsoft together with other operators of big data centres, are opting for more and more specialised processors from other companies and are designing their own to boot.

Nvidia’s GPUs are one example. They were created to carry out the massive, complex computations required by interactive video games. GPUs have hundreds of specialised “cores” (the “brains” of a processor), all working in parallel, whereas CPUs have only a few powerful ones that tackle computing tasks sequentially. Nvidia’s latest processors boast 3,584 cores; Intel’s server CPUs have a maximum of 28.

The company’s lucky break came in the midst of one of its near-death experiences during the 2008-09 global financial crisis. It discovered that hedge funds and research institutes were using its chips for new purposes, such as calculating complex investment and climate models. It developed a coding language, called CUDA, that helps its customers program its processors for different tasks. When cloud computing, big data and AI gathered momentum a few years ago, Nvidia’s chips were just what was needed.

Every online giant uses Nvidia GPUs to give their AI services the capability to ingest reams of data from material ranging from medical images to human speech. The firm’s revenues from selling chips to data-centre operators trebled in the past financial year, to $296m.

«

link to this extract


Just who are these 300 ‘scientists’ telling Trump to burn the climate? • The Guardian

John Abraham:

»

If you read the headlines, it might have seemed impressive: “300 Scientists Tell Trump to Leave UN Climate Agreement.” Wow, 300 scientists. That’s a lot right? Actually, it’s a pitiful list.

First of all, hardly anyone on the list was a climate scientist; many were not even natural scientists. It is almost as though anyone with a college degree (and there are about 21 million enrolled in higher education programs just in the USA) was qualified to sign that letter.

Okay but what about the signers of the letter? Surely they are experts in the field? Not so much. It was very difficult to find the list of signers online however I was able to acquire it with some help. See for yourself – Google “300 scientists letter climate change” in the past week. You will see many stories in the press, but try finding the actual letter or the list of names. The version I obtained was dated February 23, 2017 which helps narrow your searching. In an era of Dr. Google, it is unbelievable that the letter itself was not made more available.

Okay but let’s get to the central issue. These 300 scientists must be pretty good at climate science, right? Well let’s just go through the list, alphabetically.

«

This is excellent journalism – the sort that is so rare. WattsUpWithThat, a climate change denial site, has the letter and the list of signatories. Would be wonderful to crowdsource the precise qualifications of all the signatories. The letter includes the deathless phrase “carbon dioxide is not a pollutant”. Imagine your own experiments to persuade them otherwise.
link to this extract


Popcorntime offers victims a choice: pay the ransom or infect your friends • Security TC

Eric Vanderburg:

»

PopcornTime is a newly-discovered form or ransomware that is still in the development stages but operates off a disturbing principle: Victims who have their files encrypted by PopcornTime can agree to pay the ransom, or they can choose to send the ransomware to friends. If two or more of those friends become infected and pay the ransom, the original victim gets their files decrypted for free.

The process is reminiscent of the movie, “The Ring,” where victims who had watched a film had seven days to make a copy of a killer movie, or they would die.

Researchers on the MalwareHunterTeam discovered PopcornTime, which shouldn’t be confused with another application with the same name that is used for streaming and downloading movie torrents.

«

Confusion is probably part of the plan, though. It feels like an awful psychological experiment.
link to this extract


FCC to halt rule that protects your private data from security breaches • Ars Technica

Jon Brodkin:

»

The Federal Communications Commission plans to halt implementation of a privacy rule that requires ISPs to protect the security of its customers’ personal information.

The data security rule is part of a broader privacy rulemaking implemented under former Chairman Tom Wheeler but opposed by the FCC’s new Republican majority. The privacy order’s data security obligations are scheduled to take effect on March 2, but Chairman Ajit Pai wants to prevent that from happening.

The data security rule requires ISPs and phone companies to take “reasonable” steps to protect customers’ information—such as Social Security numbers, financial and health information, and Web browsing data—from theft and data breaches.

“Chairman Pai is seeking to act on a request to stay this rule before it takes effect on March 2,” an FCC spokesperson said in a statement to Ars. 

The rule would be blocked even if a majority of commissioners supported keeping them in place, because the FCC’s Wireline Competition Bureau can make the decision on its own.

«

Amazing. Just amazing.
link to this extract


Fitbit defends step goal after experts criticise 10,000 a day target as meaningless • Daily Telegraph

James Titcomb:

»

“Fitbit’s mission to help people lead healthier, more active lives by empowering them with data, inspiration, and guidance to reach their goals,” a spokesman said.

“We understand that there is no ‘one size fits all’ option in fitness, so our users are able to customize all of their health and fitness goals, including steps.”

It comes after experts said many apps and fitness devices have no real evidence base, and that the 10,000 steps a day goal was based on a small study of Japanese men dating back to 1960.

“Some of you might wear Fitbits or something equivalent, and I bet every now and then it gives you that cool little message ‘you did 10,000 steps today’,” Dr Greg Hager, an expert in computer science at Johns Hopkins University, told delegates at the American Association for the Advancement of Science annual meeting in Boston.

«

There are steps, and there are steps.
link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up: Google’s Waymo rows with Uber, the truth about Apple Watch owners, did big data win it?, and more


Pirates don’t look like this any more (if they ever did) – and catching them is changing too. Photo by steve on Flickr.

You can now 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. Spread the news like butter. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

It took less than a minute of satellite time to catch these thieves red-handed • Ars Technica

Annalee Newitz:

»

Though normally we associate the term piracy with rogues who commandeer other people’s ships, it’s also used as shorthand to describe illegal, unregulated, and unreported (IUU) fishing. The Pacific is crawling with fishing pirates. Often their ships are crewed by malnourished slaves who don’t see land for months at a time, a practice that has been documented by rights groups and exposed in a 2015 Associated Press investigation. They make their money by fishing illegally or in poorly regulated areas and then offloading their goods to the crews of large refrigerated cargo vessels called reefers in a process called transshipping. The reefer crews mix their legal catch with the pirate catch and then sell it all in port.

Damage from this kind of piracy doesn’t stop with the abused human crews. It decimates marine life and prevents fisheries managers from regulating the industry using accurate data. That’s why two data-obsessed environmental researchers with the nonprofit group SkyTruth decided to catch some of these pirate vessels in the act. Not only did they succeed, but SkyTruth’s John Amos and Bjorn Bergman did it entirely using satellite data.

Catching the anonymous pirate fishing vessels in uncharted international waters took less than a minute. More precisely, it took a minute of satellite time and three years of complicated signals analysis.

«

The detective trail that they followed involves knowing what people on the ground (well, sea) will do, and lots of analysis.
link to this extract


Phonemakers pile in to exploit Samsung weakness • Reuters

Eric Auchard and Harro Ten Wolde:

»

Phonemakers are piling in to fill a gap in the market left by Samsung, still licking its wounds from a costly recall of its flagship Note 7 and with no key device of its own to launch at the telecom industry’s biggest annual fair.

China’s Huawe, the most likely contender to fill the hole in the premium end of the market, took the wraps off a new phone in its quest to displace Samsung as the world’s no. 2 smartphone maker after Apple, during a rush of new product releases on Sunday ahead of this week’s World Mobile Congress.

Chinese challengers Xiaomi, Vivo, Oppo and Gionee are in hot pursuit, while BlackBerry and Nokia announced models exploiting their retro appeal.

Samsung itself presented two new tablets pending the launch of its next flagship device, the Galaxy S8, expected now at the end of March rather than at Mobile World Congress, its usual showcase.

«

Nokia and BlackBerry, eh. BlackBerry’s is a keyboard phone with midrange specs and flagship price; Nokia is reintroducing its 3310 featurephone, and some Android phones. It’s like choosing between brands of pasta.
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Google Assistant is coming to Nougat and Marshmallow phones this week • AndroidAuthority

Jimmy Westernberg:

»

Google Assistant – the beefed up voice assistant that makes Google Home, Android Wear watches and Pixel phones so smart – is coming to your phone this week.

If you happen to have a phone powered by Android 7.0 Nougat or Android 6.0 Marshmallow (and have Google Play Services installed), you’ll get the update sometime in the following week. And since the update is coming via Google Play Services, there’s no need to wait for a slow OTA rollout; Google will simply push it out to your device once it’s ready.

The Assistant is rolling out soon to English users in the United States, followed by English in Australia, Canada and the United Kingdom, and German speakers in Germany. Of course, Google will add more languages over the coming year.

«

That’s a third of Android phones – possibly more in the west – covered. But what about Samsung, Motorola, Huawei and others which are putting in Amazon’s Alexa or their own assistant?
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Wristly Research: one year in and only now are we getting to know Apple Watch owners • Medium

Bernard Desarnauts:

»

Probably the most surprising insight from this first question is that a significant 12% of the respondents do not consider themselves new tech early adopters. Conversely, and as expected, the Wristly panel includes a very large cohort of very early adopters with just over a third stating they are “the first to try a new tech product”. Let’s see if this applies across a wide set of new products and services.

First let’s look at the aggregate results from this question. We have indeed a broad range of early adopters across a wide range of new products. 26% own a smart thermostat like Nest and astonishingly more than half state owning the latest Apple TV (we are a bit puzzled by this % and as we hadn’t included an option for “older Apple TV” so we assume that our panel have combined Apple TV generations).

Not pictured in the chart above, over 7% report owning Echo from Amazon and even 4% state having ordered (or pre-ordered) a VR system such as Oculus.

«

link to this extract


Robert Mercer: the big data billionaire waging war on mainstream media • The Guardian

Carole Cadwalldr:

»

A few weeks later, the Observer received a letter. Cambridge Analytica was not employed by the Leave campaign, it said. Cambridge Analytica “is a US company based in the US. It hasn’t worked in British politics.”

Which is how, earlier this week, I ended up in a Pret a Manger near Westminster with Andy Wigmore, Leave.EU’s affable communications director, looking at snapshots of Donald Trump on his phone…

…Cambridge Analytica had worked for them, he said. It had taught them how to build profiles, how to target people and how to scoop up masses of data from people’s Facebook profiles. A video on YouTube shows one of Cambridge Analytica’s and SCL’s employees, Brittany Kaiser, sitting on the panel at Leave.EU’s launch event.

Facebook was the key to the entire campaign, Wigmore explained. A Facebook ‘like’, he said, was their most “potent weapon”. “Because using artificial intelligence, as we did, tells you all sorts of things about that individual and how to convince them with what sort of advert. And you knew there would also be other people in their network who liked what they liked, so you could spread. And then you follow them. The computer never stops learning and it never stops monitoring.”

“It is creepy! It’s really creepy! It’s why I’m not on Facebook! I tried it on myself to see what information it had on me and I was like, ‘Oh my God!’ What’s scary is that my kids had put things on Instagram and it picked that up. It knew where my kids went to school.”

They hadn’t “employed” Cambridge Analytica, he said. No money changed hands. “They were happy to help.”

«

It’s a week for companies being evasive about what they’ve been up to through careful use of language, as you’ll see.

Cadwalldr’s piece is fascinating, though as Sophie Warnes observed on Twitter, the narrowness of the win for Brexit, and the non-win in total vote terms for Trump suggests that we’re more resilient against this stuff than folk worry about.

For a more detailed disagreement, see the next link.
link to this extract


The myth that British data scientists won the election for Trump • Little Atoms

Martin Robbins:

»

For me this story is like candy floss – it looks nice and substantial, but when you stick it in your mouth there’s not much there and you’re still hungry. The reporting leaves a ton of questions unanswered, and when you try to look into them the results are less than satisfying.

Before we even get into methods, there’s Ted Cruz. The article posted by Vice doesn’t just gloss over him; it tries to present his campaign as some sort of victory for Cambridge Analytica’s approach. This would be the campaign where Ted Cruz was wiped out in a few short weeks by a reality TV demagogue with no data science operation, and subjected to months’ long national humiliation.

They mention the Iowa primary on 1 February 2016, where the data science outfit helped to identify target voters. Cruz did indeed win, but took just 27% of the vote in a four way race, only three points ahead of Trump. The authors don’t mention the next three states in February – New Hampshire, South Carolina or Nevada – where he was thrashed. Nor do they mention Super Tuesday, on 1 March, where Trump thrashed him by double-digit margins in six states…

…So the story of the Republican primaries is actually that Cambridge Analytica’s flashy data science team got beaten by a dude with a thousand-dollar website. To turn that into this breathtaking story of an unbeatable voodoo-science outfit, powering Trump inexorably to victory, is quite a stretch. Who else have they even worked for? Without a list of clients it’s very easy to cherry-pick the winners.

«

link to this extract


Waymo: a note on our lawsuit against Otto and Uber • Medium

Waymo is Alphabet’s self-driving vehicle subsidiary:

»

Recently, we received an unexpected email. One of our suppliers specializing in LiDAR components sent us an attachment (apparently inadvertently) of machine drawings of what was purported to be Uber’s LiDAR circuit board — except its design bore a striking resemblance to Waymo’s unique LiDAR design.

We found that six weeks before his resignation this former employee, Anthony Levandowski, downloaded over 14,000 highly confidential and proprietary design files for Waymo’s various hardware systems, including designs of Waymo’s LiDAR and circuit board. To gain access to Waymo’s design server, Mr. Levandowski searched for and installed specialized software onto his company-issued laptop. Once inside, he downloaded 9.7 GB of Waymo’s highly confidential files and trade secrets, including blueprints, design files and testing documentation. Then he connected an external drive to the laptop. Mr. Levandowski then wiped and reformatted the laptop in an attempt to erase forensic fingerprints.

Beyond Mr. Levandowki’s actions, we discovered that other former Waymo employees, now at Otto and Uber, downloaded additional highly confidential information pertaining to our custom-built LiDAR including supplier lists, manufacturing details and statements of work with highly technical information.

We believe these actions were part of a concerted plan to steal Waymo’s trade secrets and intellectual property. Months before the mass download of files, Mr. Levandowski told colleagues that he had plans to “replicate” Waymo’s technology at a competitor.

«

In retrospect, that might not have been the smartest conversation anyone ever had.
link to this extract


A lawsuit against Uber highlights the rush to conquer driverless cars • The New York Times

Mike Isaac and Daisuke Wakabayashi:

»

In one case, an autonomous Volvo zoomed through a red light on a busy street in front of the city’s Museum of Modern Art.

Uber, a ride-hailing service, said the incident was because of human error. “This is why we believe so much in making the roads safer by building self-driving Ubers,” Chelsea Kohler, a company spokeswoman, said in December.

But even though Uber said it had suspended an employee riding in the Volvo, the self-driving car was, in fact, driving itself when it barreled through the red light, according to two Uber employees, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they signed nondisclosure agreements with the company, and internal Uber documents viewed by The New York Times. All told, the mapping programs used by Uber’s cars failed to recognize six traffic lights in the San Francisco area. “In this case, the car went through a red light,” the documents said.

«

OK, so Uber is getting a reputation as being a bit of a liar. The “human error” was not stopping the car which was running autonomously from doing something wrong.

But quite separately, further down the story:

»

[Anthony] Levandowski [who has since left Google to join Uber to run its self-driving cars project] gained some notoriety within Google for selling start-ups, which he had done as side projects, to his employer. In his biography for a real estate firm, for which he is a board member, Mr. Levandowski said he sold three automation and robotics start-ups to Google, including 510 Systems and Anthony’s Robots, for nearly $500m. After this story was published, the real estate firm updated its website erasing Mr. Levandowski’s biography and said that it had “erroneously reported certain facts incorrectly without Mr. Levandowski’s knowledge.”

«

Feels a bit like Paul Nuttall of UKIP, the polar explorer and Martian astronaut, whose website was just wrong about him. Will Levandowski – who is part of Google’s lawsuit against Uber – fit in well at his new employer, do you think?
link to this extract


Bad ad epidemic: 28% have at least one quality issue • AdExchanger

»

Bad ads have their run of the internet.

Twenty-eight% of ads fail at least one of five key quality issues that slow down web pages and detract from the user experience, according to Ad Lightning.

Ad Lightning, which helps publishers find and report bad ads, analyzed 605,000 pieces of ad creative across 60 websites over 11 million impressions from October 2016 to this past January.

The bad ads either exceeded IAB-recommended file size, made too many network requests, used too much processing power, weren’t secure or used an intrusive format like in-banner video.

“IAB standards are getting broadly ignored,” said Ad Lightning founder Scott Moore, a former publisher who founded the company last year. “These ads slow down publishers’ sites and cause audience dissatisfaction.”

«

Possibly not surprising, but it’s always going to be a race to the bottom with this stuff.
link to this extract


Google is shutting down ‘Spaces’ on April 17th • Android Police

Ryan Whitwam:

»

After nine months of existence, Google is throwing in the towel on group messaging app Spaces. It’s going read-only on March 3rd and will be completely offline on April 17th. So, that’s one Google messaging app down, like a dozen still to go.

Spaces was launched last May after a confusing early leak. We couldn’t figure out why Google would bother with such an app. The idea was that you’d create group chats around a certain topic, then add content via Chrome, YouTube, and Google search. Google pushed Spaces at I/O last year, but that’s also when it announced Allo. Yeah, Google went on kind of a messaging app bender in 2016. Spaces seemed doomed from the start, and indeed it was.

«

I used to keep a running list of what products Google had started, bought, ended and sold. In the end it became confusing to distinguish the things that had been renamed or folded into other things.

I seem to have predicted that Google Keep, launched in March 2013, would shut next month: the mean for the products it killed was 1459 days. Seems like Spaces lasted a lot less.

When it comes to messaging apps and Google, one has to ask: what the hell is your multi-year strategy, and when is it going to be made concrete?
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Delivering RCS messaging to Android users worldwide • Google blog

Amir Sarhangi, head of RCS at Google:

»

We want to make sure that Android users can access all the features that RCS messaging offers, like group chat, high-res photo sharing, read receipts, and more. So we’re working with mobile device manufacturers to make Android Messages the default messaging app for Android devices. Mobile device brands LG, Motorola, Sony, HTC, ZTE, Micromax, HMD Global – Home of Nokia Phones, Archos, BQ, Cherry Mobile, Condor, Fly, General Mobile, Lanix, LeEco, Lava, Kyocera, MyPhone, QMobile, Symphony and Wiko, along with Pixel and Android One devices, will preload Android Messages as the default messaging app on their devices. With these partners, we’re upgrading the messaging experience for Android users worldwide and ensuring a consistent and familiar experience for users. We’ll continue to add more partners over time.

«

Do you notice a couple of names missing from that list? Sure you do – there’s no Samsung (world’s biggest Android OEM), nor Huawei (second largest) or OPPO or vivo, the third and fourth largest (owned by BBK Electronics, which also part-owns OnePlus).

The question of why the smaller players are happy to be in this but the larger ones aren’t hasn’t been answered in any writeup I’ve seen. But that would require having contacts inside the companies, or at the wireless carriers that are pushing RCS.

Meanwhile the messaging mess on Android will go on, and WhatsApp will continue to be favoured because it works on every Android (and iOS) phone.
link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up: the telltale tracker, Uber’s culture trouble, the Twitter resistance, wood trouble, and more


Could machine learning solve the troll problem? Google hopes so. Others are doubtful. Photo by tsparks on Flickr.

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

A selection of 10 links for you. Not for sale in Boston. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Marathon runner’s tracked data exposes phony time, cover-up attempt • Ars Technica

Sam Machkovech:

»

Hot tip: If you’re going to cheat while running a marathon, don’t wear a fitness tracking band.

A New York food writer found this out the hard way on Tuesday after she was busted for an elaborate run-faking scheme, in which she attempted to use doctored data to back up an illegitimate finish time. In an apologetic Instagram post that was eventually deleted, 24-year-old runner Jane Seo admitted to cutting the course at the Fort Lauderdale A1A Half Marathon.

An independent marathon-running investigator (yes, that’s a thing) named Derek Murphy posted his elaborate analysis of Seo’s scheme, and the findings revolved almost entirely around data derived from Seo’s Garmin 235 fitness tracker. Suspicions over her second-place finish in the half marathon began after very limited data about her podium-placing run was posted to the Strava fitness-tracking service. The data only listed a distance and completion time, as opposed to more granular statistics. (This followed the release of Seo’s official completion times, which showed her running remarkably faster in the half marathon’s later stages.)

Things got weirder when Seo eventually posted a “complete,” GPS-tracked run of the half-marathon course. Its time-stamp looked suspiciously off, Murphy noted in his own report, so he dug up older run-data posts from her same account and noticed starkly different heart rate and cadence stats in her newer report. “The cadence data [of the half marathon] is more consistent with what you would expect on a bike ride, not a run,” Murphy wrote.

«

There are people tracking what you do all. The. Time. How long before this sort of thing is mandatory?
link to this extract


The EU’s renewable energy policy is making global warming worse • New Scientist

Michael Le Page:

»

Countries in the EU, including the UK, are throwing away money by subsidising the burning of wood for energy, according to an independent report.

While burning some forms of wood waste can indeed reduce greenhouse gas emissions, in practice the growing use of wood energy in the EU is increasing rather than reducing emissions, the new report concludes.

Overall, burning wood for energy is much worse in climate terms than burning gas or even coal, but loopholes in the way emissions are counted are concealing the damage being done.

“It is not a great use of public money,” says Duncan Brack of the policy research institute Chatham House in London, who drew up the report. “It is providing unjustifiable incentives that have a negative impact on the climate.”

The money would be better spent on wind and solar power instead, he says.

It is widely assumed that burning wood does not cause global warming, that it is “carbon neutral”. But the report, which is freely available, details why this is not true.

«

From the report:

»

Although most renewable energy policy frameworks treat biomass as though it is carbon-neutral at the point of combustion, in reality this cannot be assumed, as biomass emits more carbon per unit of energy than most fossil fuels. Only residues that would otherwise have been burnt as waste or would have been left in the forest and decayed rapidly can be considered to be carbon-neutral over the short to medium term.

«

link to this extract


Reporters love chatrooms but worry security is slacking • Fast Company

Cale Guthrie Weissman:

»

Slack’s ease of use is great for a busy newsroom. Reporters and staff can post links they’ve found online, leads they’ve uncovered, public records they want to request, or edits, in real-time and in one place. (Most of Fast Company’s staff relies heavily on Slack.) New chatrooms or “channels”—either public or private ones—can be created on the fly. The app’s ease of use also means the virtual newsroom is a sort of digital watercooler, where reporters share the sort of gossip they would never want associated with their bylines. A release of this data—either by a court’s subpoena or a hacker’s intrusion—wouldn’t only require the public explanation of private jokes. It could risk compromising an already delicate trust between journalists and their audiences, and lead to the inadvertent disclosure of the identities of anonymous sources.

This last part is of the utmost importance to reporters. The relationship between a source and an investigative journalist hangs on trust: Sources provide sensitive information under the assumption that writers will protect their identities. Despite the best of intentions, reporters using Slack and other digital platforms may be inadvertently breaking this pact. Sources like John Kiriakou, the first CIA officer to speak openly on waterboarding—and whose disclosure of classified information to investigative journalists helped send him to prison—serve as an example of how high the stakes can be.

«

link to this extract


Inside Uber’s aggressive, unrestrained workplace culture • The New York Times

Mike Isaac:

»

Interviews with more than 30 current and former Uber employees, as well as reviews of internal emails, chat logs and tape-recorded meetings, paint a picture of an often unrestrained workplace culture. Among the most egregious accusations from employees, who either witnessed or were subject to incidents and who asked to remain anonymous because of confidentiality agreements and fear of retaliation: One Uber manager groped female co-workers’ breasts at a company retreat in Las Vegas. A director shouted a homophobic slur at a subordinate during a heated confrontation in a meeting. Another manager threatened to beat an underperforming employee’s head in with a baseball bat.

Until this week, this culture was only whispered about in Silicon Valley.

«

Great reporting as ever by Isaac.
link to this extract


An open letter to the Uber board and investors • Medium

Mitch and Freada Kapor:

»

As early investors in Uber, starting in 2010, we have tried for years to work behind the scenes to exert a constructive influence on company culture. When Uber has come under public criticism, we have been available to make suggestions, and have been publicly supportive, in the hope that the leadership would take the necessary steps to make the changes needed to bring about real change.

Freada gave a talk on hidden bias to the company in early 2015, and we have both been contacted by senior leaders at Uber (though notably not by Travis, the CEO) for advice on a variety of issues, mostly pertaining to diversity and inclusion, up to and including this past weekend.

We are speaking up now because we are disappointed and frustrated; we feel we have hit a dead end in trying to influence the company quietly from the inside.

If we believed it was too late for Uber to change, we would not be writing this, but as investors, it is now up to us to call out the inherent conflicts of interest in their current path.

We are disappointed to see that Uber has selected a team of insiders to investigate its destructive culture and make recommendations for change. To us, this decision is yet another example of Uber’s continued unwillingness to be open, transparent, and direct.

«

If you’re trying to put your finger on where you’ve heard the Kapor name before, Mitch was behind Lotus 1-2-3 – the most gigantic smash hit office software ever before Microsoft Office. It’s useful to read the Wikipedia entry: “Lotus was a company with few rules and fewer internal bureaucratic barriers”. (Quoting a book.)

Uber, meanwhile, is a company with big cultural problems. Changing its culture could kill the company. Not changing the culture could hurt its public face.
link to this extract


Echo Labs debuts a wearable medical lab on your wrist • ReadWrite

Amanda Razani:

»

Echo Labs provides health care organizations with analytics to allow for better care of their patients, decrease hospital admissions, and reduce spending. Its first generation wearable offers health information by creating continuous vital sign tracking.

The company is now working on its newest device. The company states that the new tracker will be able to determine what’s going on inside the bloodstream, which is a first for wrist-based wearables.  The tracker utilizes optical sensors and spectrometry to measure and analyze blood composition and flow. It also monitors heart rate, blood pressure, respiratory rate, and full blood gas panels.

The company explains that the band measures blood content with a light and a proprietary algorithm. Basically, it sends electromagnetic waves through human tissue, and then measures the reflection of varying light frequencies in order to find the concentration of molecules in the blood.

“The wearable and sensor are the gateway to understanding the state of the body at any point in time. We can identify deterioration 3 to 5 days before it happens,” the company states.

«

Might want to have a little scepticism around this (*cough*Theranos*cough*) but it does sound interesting.
link to this extract


Google’s Perspective API opens up its troll-fighting AI • WIRED

Andy Greenberg:

»

Last September, A Google offshoot called Jigsaw declared war on trolls, launching a project to defeat online harassment using machine learning. Now, the team is opening up that troll-fighting system to the world.

On Thursday, Jigsaw and its partners on Google’s Counter Abuse Technology Team released a new piece of code called Perspective, an API that gives any developer access to the anti-harassment tools that Jigsaw has worked on for over a year. Part of the team’s broader Conversation AI initiative, Perspective uses machine learning to automatically detect insults, harassment, and abusive speech online. Enter a sentence into its interface, and Jigsaw says its AI can immediately spit out an assessment of the phrase’s “toxicity” more accurately than any keyword blacklist, and faster than any human moderator.

The Perspective release brings Conversation AI a step closer to its goal of helping to foster troll-free discussion online, and filtering out the abusive comments that silence vulnerable voices—or, as the project’s critics have less generously put it, to sanitize public discussions based on algorithmic decisions.

«

And there’s a demonstration website. Maybe they should try Microsoft’s Tay (which was driven haywire within a few hours) on it? “Nasty woman” gets 92%, “Bad hombre” 78%. Wait, now I’m thinking it should be used on Trump’s tweets.

Testers including the NY Times, Guardian and Economist.
link to this extract


If only AI could save us from ourselves • MIT Technology Review

David Auerbach goes into more detail about Google’s Perspective project:

»

The linguistic problem in abuse detection is context. Conversation AI’s comment analysis doesn’t model the entire flow of a discussion; it matches individual comments against learned models of what constitute good or bad comments. For example, comments on the New York Times site might be deemed acceptable if they tend to include common words, phrases, and other features. But Greene says Google’s system frequently flagged comments on articles about Donald Trump as abusive because they quoted him using words that would get a comment rejected if they came from a reader. For these sorts of articles, the Times will simply turn off automatic moderation.

It’s impossible, then, to see Conversation AI faring well on a wide-open site like Twitter. How would it detect the Holocaust allusions in abusive tweets sent to the Jewish journalist Marc Daalder: “This is you if Trump wins,” with a picture of a lamp shade, and “You belong here,” with a picture of a toaster oven? Detecting the abusiveness relies on historical knowledge and cultural context that a machine-learning algorithm could detect only if it had been trained on very similar examples. Even then, how would it be able to differentiate between abuse and the same picture with “This is what I’m buying if Trump wins”? The level of semantic and practical knowledge required is beyond what machine learning currently even aims at.

«

link to this extract


How Twitter became an outlet of resistance, information for federal employees • FederalNewsRadio.com

David Thornton tried to verify whether the 80+ accounts claiming to be “Alt” federal accounts were really people working inside the US government:

»

Federal News Radio attempted to contact more than 50 of these accounts via Twitter, although the vast majority won’t accept direct messages from people they don’t follow. Those who do claim to be federal employees frequently point to their access to inside information to prove their case.

“It is actually quite fraught for federal employees [to use Twitter], as it is for private employees as well,” Brooke Van Dam, associate professor and faculty director of the Masters in Professional Studies in Journalism at Georgetown University, said in an email. “I can see why they would want to directly talk to the public but most institutions and organizations want to keep a single line or statement and having a multitude of actors sharing ‘what’s really going on’ or ‘the truth’ is problematic. In that, it gives an easy out for those higher up to fire or get rid of those that don’t toe the line as we just saw with Shermichael Singleton at HUD.”

Singleton was an aide to Housing and Urban Development Secretary Nominee Ben Carson, before he was fired after a background investigation turned up writings from the campaign season in which Singleton criticized then-Presidential Candidate Donald Trump.

«

link to this extract


Can I own my identity on the internet? • Terence Eden

The aforesaid Eden:

»

The ultra secure messaging app, Signal, requires a mobile phone number in order to sign up to it. This, as my friend Tom Morris, points out, is madness.

People don’t own mobile phone numbers. They are rented from mobile operators. Yes, you may be able to move “your” number between a limited set of providers – but it ultimately doesn’t belong to you. An operator can unilaterally take your number away from you.
If you move to a different country, you will almost certainly have to change your number – thus invalidating any account which relies on a mobile being your primary identifier.

That’s before we get on to how hideously insecure phone numbers are. Transmitting an SMS with a sensitive one-time code over a cleartext which can be easily intercepted is not a sensible approach to security. Modern phone networks are designed to accommodate Lawful Intercept – and suffer from a range of security weaknesses.

Fine. Whatever. Let’s use emails as our primary ID. Bzzzt! Wrong! Email addresses are just as ephemeral as mobile numbers.

«

Could we not all have an IPv6 address, though, assigned at birth or something?
link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up: the female bot question, Fitbit off pace, Bangalore’s techie times, the fact problem, and more


Wondering how long it will take to get to work? There’s an API for that. Photo by VeloBusDriver on Flickr.

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

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

Alexa, Siri, Cortana: the problem with all-female digital assistants • WSJ

Joanna Stern:

»

So if we can’t have genderless helpers, why did we end up with so many more gal bots than guy bots? The answer is pretty simple: Both women and men find the female voice more welcoming and warm.

In 2008, Karl MacDorman, a professor at Indiana University who specializes in human-computer interaction, set up an experiment with some fellow researchers. When they had men and women listen to male and female synthesized voices, both groups said the female voices were “warmer.” The most interesting part? In further tests of less voluntary responses, women showed a stronger implicit preference for the female voice. (Men showed no significant implicit preference for either gender.)

Amazon and Microsoft found the same preference for the female voice in their market research. “For our objectives—building a helpful, supportive, trustworthy assistant—a female voice was the stronger choice,” says a Microsoft spokeswoman. Amazon says it tested several voices with customers and internal groups and found that Alexa’s female voice was preferred.

Siri may default to a female voice in the U.S. but Apple provides both male and female voice options for iPhone and iPad users to choose from. In fact, on iPhones where the language is Arabic, French, Dutch or British English, Siri defaults to a male voice.

«

Odd how Americans prefer the female voice. Maybe this needs a wider study.
link to this extract


Fitbit attempts to reassure investors after holiday sales slump • FT

Tim Bradshaw:

»

Fitbit attempted to reassure investors that a shortfall in holiday sales was just a temporary problem, after its unit sales fell by a fifth in the fourth quarter of last year.

The San Francisco-based company said it swung to a net loss of $146.3m in the three months ending in December, in full results published on Wednesday.

Despite concerns about the longer-term future for wearable devices, Fitbit said its problems in the second half of last year were due to saturation among “early adopters” and discounting by competitors, as consumers swapped basic fitness trackers for more feature-rich products such as smartwatches.

Sales of Fitbit’s wristbands grew just 3% last year to 22m units, while the number of people actively using its devices grew 37% year on year to 23.3m.

«

Its forecast for this current quarter is $270m-$290m – about 10% below analysts’ estimates. Cutting staff. Trying to move to smartwatches while cheaper competitors eat the bottom end. It’s going to have to do this well or it’s dead.
link to this extract


Maniac killers of the Bangalore IT department • Bloomberg

Ben Crair:

»

“TECHIE’S WIFE MURDERED” read the headlines in both the Hindu and the Bangalore Mirror. “TECHIE STABS FRIEND’S WIFE TO DEATH” ran in the Deccan Herald. To read the Indian newspapers regularly is to believe the software engineer is the country’s most cursed figure. Almost every edition carries a gruesome story involving a techie accused of homicide, rape, burglary, blackmail, assault, injury, suicide, or another crime. When techies are the victims, it’s just as newsworthy. The Times of India, the country’s largest English-language paper, has carried “TECHIE DIES IN FREAK ACCIDENT” and “MAN HELD FOR PUSHING TECHIE FROM TRAIN”; in the Hindu, readers found “TEACHER CHOPS OFF FINGERS OF TECHIE HUSBAND” and “TECHIE DIED AFTER BEING FORCE-FED CYANIDE.” A long-standing journalistic adage says, “If it bleeds, it leads.” In India, if it codes, it explodes.

The epicenter of techie tragedy is Bangalore, a city in the southern state of Karnataka that bills itself as India’s Silicon Valley. Bangalore has more startups than any other city in the country and is home to Apple, Google, IBM, Intel, Microsoft, and Oracle, in addition to big domestic information technology companies such as Infosys and Wipro. More than 10% of Bangalore’s 10.5 million residents work in tech, giving journalists plenty of unfortunate events to sensationalize: “ASSAULT OVER BANANA SPLIT: 3 TECHIES HELD”; “DEPRESSED BANGALORE TECHIE INJURES 24 IN SWORD ATTACK SPREE.”

«

Wonderful observational journalism; and the appearance of “techie” isn’t necessarily a compliment.
link to this extract


TravelTime Maps • TravelTime

»

What is this?

A search tool for anyone wanting to find locations by travel time, rather than distance. It can filter points of interest by travel time and show more than one travel shape at a time. It was originally made to showcase the TravelTime API, but the tool is free for anyone to use.

«

This is a product that’s really useful for people considering buying or renting property; the idea of “travel time” maps goes back some way, but one of the first implementations was by (I believe) Tom Steinberg’s MySociety. TravelTime has turned the concept into a business, and you can get an API key. It covers public transport, driving, walking and cycling. (Shouldn’t Apple be licensing this?)
link to this extract


Why facts don’t change our minds • The New Yorker

Elizabeth Kolbert:

»

an essential puzzle remains: How did we come to be this way?

In a new book, “The Enigma of Reason” (Harvard), the cognitive scientists Hugo Mercier and Dan Sperber take a stab at answering this question. Mercier, who works at a French research institute in Lyon, and Sperber, now based at the Central European University, in Budapest, point out that reason is an evolved trait, like bipedalism or three-color vision. It emerged on the savannas of Africa, and has to be understood in that context.

Stripped of a lot of what might be called cognitive-science-ese, Mercier and Sperber’s argument runs, more or less, as follows: Humans’ biggest advantage over other species is our ability to coöperate. Coöperation is difficult to establish and almost as difficult to sustain. For any individual, freeloading is always the best course of action. Reason developed not to enable us to solve abstract, logical problems or even to help us draw conclusions from unfamiliar data; rather, it developed to resolve the problems posed by living in collaborative groups.

“Reason is an adaptation to the hypersocial niche humans have evolved for themselves,” Mercier and Sperber write. Habits of mind that seem weird or goofy or just plain dumb from an “intellectualist” point of view prove shrewd when seen from a social “interactionist” perspective.

«

Which leads you on to political choices and the difficulty of changing peoples’ minds; but also to the objectively poor (in evolutionary terms) existence of confirmation bias.
link to this extract


Smartphones to become pocket doctors after scientists discover camera flash and microphone can be used to diagnose illness

Sarah Knapton:

»

Professor Shwetak Patel, of the University of Washington is currently devising an app which can detect red blood cell levels simply by placing a finger over the camera and flash, so that a bright beam of light shines through the skin. Such a blood screening tool could quickly spot anaemia. 

He also believes that in future users will be able to bang phones against their bones to check for osteoporosis and use the microphone to test lung function. 

Speaking at the AAAS annual meeting in Boston, Prof Patel said: “If you think about the capabilities on a mobile device, if you look at the camera, the flash, the microphone, those are all getting better and better. 

“Those sensors on the mobile phone can actually be repurposed in interesting new ways where you can use those for diagnosing certain kinds of diseases. 

“You can do pulmonary assessment using the microphone on a mobile device, for diagnosing asthma. If think about people having an asthma attack, if you could monitor their lung function at home you can actually get in front of that, before somebody has an asthma attack.”

«

link to this extract


Android Wear with an iPhone still can’t compete with the Apple Watch • The Verge

Dieter Bohn:

»

After spending a week using an LG Watch Style (the little one, not the giant LG Watch Sport) with an iPhone, I came away from the experience unimpressed. Yes, there are a few things that are possible now that weren’t before. You can directly install third-party watchfaces now, a big benefit over the Apple Watch. You can install little weather widgets and fitness apps. And thankfully, you can do so by visiting the Google Play Store from your laptop’s web browser rather than trying to scroll the tiny little watch screen. There aren’t a ton of apps available yet, but that’s hopefully something that will improve over time. You can query the Google Assistant, which is often more accurate and helpful than Siri.

But for everything that works, there are several things that really don’t. Some of it is because of those Apple policies: there’s simply no conceivable world in which Apple is going to allow third-party smartwatches to access iMessages beyond seeing incoming notifications arrive, for example. You can reply to messages from some other apps — but only those that have reply options properly built into their notification on the phone. Even then, you won’t get the sort of rich message history you can get elsewhere.

I could be comfortable with those limitations — but there are dozens of others, most of them self-inflicted.

«

I’d love to know how many people are using Android Wear watches with iPhones.
link to this extract


Manifestos and Monopolies • Stratechery

Ben Thompson weighs in on Zuckerberg’s “manifesto”:

»

It all sounds so benign, and given Zuckerberg’s framing of the disintegration of institutions that held society together, helpful, even. And one can even argue that just as the industrial revolution shifted political power from localized fiefdoms and cities to centralized nation-states, the Internet revolution will, perhaps, require a shift in political power to global entities. That seems to be Zuckerberg’s position:

»

Our greatest opportunities are now global — like spreading prosperity and freedom, promoting peace and understanding, lifting people out of poverty, and accelerating science. Our greatest challenges also need global responses — like ending terrorism, fighting climate change, and preventing pandemics. Progress now requires humanity coming together not just as cities or nations, but also as a global community.

«

There’s just one problem: first, Zuckerberg may be wrong; it’s just as plausible to argue that the ultimate end-state of the Internet Revolution is a devolution of power to smaller more responsive self-selected entities. And, even if Zuckerberg is right, is there anyone who believes that a private company run by an unaccountable all-powerful person that tracks your every move for the purpose of selling advertising is the best possible form said global governance should take?

«

At this point, Thompson is only getting warmed up.
link to this extract


Portrait of a botnet • Medium

Ben Nimmo of the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab:

»

On February 20, Russia’s ambassador to the United Nations, Vitaly Churkin, died unexpectedly in New York.

One minute after the news broke on the website of Kremlin broadcaster RT, and a minute before RT managed to tweet the news, a slew of Twitter accounts posted the newsflash with an identical “breaking news” caption.

Most of the accounts had a number of features in common: they were all highly active. They were all vocal supporters of US President Donald Trump. They had avatar pictures of attractive women in revealing outfits.

And they were all fake, set up to steer Twitter users to a money-making ad site.

The network they represent is neither large nor politically influential. It is nonetheless worth analyzing as an example of how commercial concerns can use, and abuse, political groups to drive their traffic.

«

The level of detail here is remarkable; but one also wonders why, if these folks can spot it so easily, Twitter can’t too. For all his talk about machine learning on the last quarterly analyst call earlier this month, Jack Dorsey doesn’t seem to be applying it to the places where it could matter.

For example:

»

The accounts’ specific behavior confirms this. As of February 21, all their recent tweets were posts of news content from a range of sources including Breitbart, the BBC, RT, Reuters and (bizarrely) local newspaper the Coventry Telegraph in the UK. The great majority of them tweeted the same stories, from the same sources, in the same order…

…The common theme between these accounts is therefore not a political stance, but the desire to generate revenue by attracting clicks.

Confirming that these accounts are the work of a single individual, eleven of them posted, as their pinned tweet, an identical shortened Google URL (goo.gl/1s3Rmr).

«

Nobody could spot that? Come on. (The redirect is to a Facebook page, which Twitter would know because every link posted there goes via t.co.)
link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up: Snapchat’s story trouble, Asus’s dwindling tablets, Apple without Netflix, and more


This looks the ideal place for our new server! Photo by happy via on Flickr.

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

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

Why I’m leaving Snapchat and so are all your friends • Medium

Owen Williams:

»

The addictiveness and popularity of Snapchat’s Stories feature continue to this day, but the company finds itself at something of a crossroads: Facebook’s cloned the entire thing, and it’s doing it better than Snapchat ever could, and innovating at a faster clip.

When Instagram Stories launched well over a year ago, I thought it was cute, but couldn’t understand why I’d ever jump from Snapchat. Simply put, like you, I was hooked on snapping everything as it was. I loved sharing photos into my story, and rarely send pictures directly to others, because it’s a fun way to passively share what I’ve been up to over the course of the day.

Throughout each day, friends browse my story and fire back a chat message if they like it, and I do the same. Before I switched, I was probably checking Snapchat once an hour to see if anything new had happened. Like you, I was addicted to the service — more than a disturbing amount.

But I’ve noticed over recent months a shift: less people are using Snapchat around me, and I’ve stopped entirely. Photos in my stories that regularly got over 5,000 views a day, now get less than half of that — and only a handful of the people I actively followed along with are even sharing anymore.

We’ve all moved to Instagram Stories.

«

Troubling ahead of the IPO.
link to this extract


Want an energy-efficient data center? Build it underwater • IEEE Spectrum

Ben Cutler, Spencer Fowers, Jeffrey Kramer and Eric Peterson:

»

When Sean James, who works on data-center technology for Microsoft, suggested that the company put server farms entirely underwater, his colleagues were a bit dubious. But for James, who had earlier served on board a submarine for the U.S. Navy, submerging whole data centers beneath the waves made perfect sense.

This tactic, he argued, would not only limit the cost of cooling the machines—an enormous expense for many data-center operators—but it could also reduce construction costs, make it easier to power these facilities with renewable energy, and even improve their performance.

Together with Todd Rawlings, another Microsoft engineer, James circulated an internal white paper promoting the concept. It explained how building data centers underwater could help Microsoft and other cloud providers manage today’s phenomenal growth in an environmentally sustainable way.

«

Utterly brilliant thinking. How do you change motherboards, you wonder? You don’t – you build self-contained pods and dump them when they die.
link to this extract


Asustek adjusting tablet operations • Digitimes

Monica Chen and Adam Hwang:

»

Asustek Computer is adjusting its tablet operations by decreasing the number of models developed, focusing shipments on fewer overseas markets, and transferring a portion of its about 1,000 employees specifically working on tablets to its VR (virtual reality) and AR (augmented reality), and smartphone business units, according to company CEO Jerry Shen.

Asustek began the adjustments in mid-2016 and expects to finish it in mid-2017, Shen said.

Asustek’s global tablet shipments fell from 12.1m units in 2013 to 9.4m units in 2014, 5.9m units in 2015 and 3.3m units in 2016.

«

“Adjusting” seems a roundabout way to say “abandoning”. Remember the Nexus 7 in 2012 and 2013? Those were Asus.

The reality: there’s no profit in Android tablets any more unless you’re Samsung, and even then it’s iffy.
link to this extract


Report: Apple might be revamping its iPad lineup in March • Engadget

Andrew Tarantola:

»

Japanese website Macotakara reports that Apple’s upcoming March event will see the release of a new line of iPad Pros as well as 128GB iPhone SE and a new bright red color choice for the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus. The company is expected to unveil iPad Pros in 7.9in, 9.7in, 10.5in, and 12.9in models.

That could mean that Apple is replacing the iPad mini 4 with the 7.9in Pro, refreshing the 9.7in and 12.9in models. and introducing a whole new model, the 10.5. However there have been some conflicting reports as to whether Apple really will do that. Both Barclays and KGI Securities failed to mention the 7.9in model in their predictions so it could be that the 10.5in will actually replace the mini 4. As DigiTimes points out, the 10.5’s screen width would be the same as the iPad mini’s screen height and, with that rumored edge-to-edge display, would fit in the same overall footprint.

Still, Macotakara is saying that the 7.9in will use the Smart Connector, a 12MP iSight camera, True Tone flash and display, just like its larger counterparts. The 10.5 and 12.9in versions will reportedly run on A10X chips while the smaller models will use the A9X.

«

This is going to be quite a big parade of iPads. What I’m wondering is: whatever happened to the big enterprise boost to iPad sales that we were led to believe would follow from the Apple-IBM deal? Or just generally? It seems like enterprises are sitting on their hands when it comes to tablets.

link to this extract


Apple doesn’t need to buy Netflix • Above Avalon

Former Wall Street analyst Neil Cybart:

»

Upon closer examination, calls that Apple should buy Netflix are misplaced as they do not take into account how Apple actually views the world. Many of the arguments assume Apple’s current hardware-centric revenue model is in trouble. In addition, each of the three primary reasons cited for why Apple should buy Netflix contain significant gaps in logic and rationale. 

• Revenue. Apple doesn’t, and shouldn’t, use M&A to directly acquire revenue streams. Apple didn’t buy Beats for its revenue-generating headphone business. Instead, Apple bought Jimmy Iovine’s music vision. A headphones business just happened to be attached to that vision. If M&A is used as a tool to grow revenue, Apple’s effort to place the product above everything else is put into jeopardy. This logic explains why Apple doesn’t acquire the large companies often paraded in the press as possible acquisition targets.

• A different business model. Apple has already shown the willingness to embrace change when it comes to selling product. This is a company that pivoted from a very successful paid music download model for iTunes to paid subscriptions with Apple Music. With more than 20 million paying subscribers for Apple Music after only 17 months, the streaming service is already 20% the size of Netflix – and this is with little to no video content.

• Original content. There is no evidence to suggest Apple wants to own large portfolios of video content. Instead, the company is still focused on being a content distributor with its iOS platform. In addition, rather than buying legacy content portfolios (Time Warner, Viacom, Disney, etc.) or original content initiatives found at tech companies masquerading as media companies (Netflix, Amazon), Apple is more interested in buying great ideas. This was very much on display with Apple’s approach to music streaming. 

«

The idea of buying a huge company with a different culture for tons of money makes no sense to me either. It’s dilutive, in all sorts of ways.

link to this extract


Verizon will pay $350m less for Yahoo • The New York Times

Vindu Goel:

»

Faced with unknown costs related to two huge data breaches, Yahoo and Verizon Communications announced Tuesday that they had agreed to shave $350m from the price that Verizon would pay to buy Yahoo’s core internet businesses.

The two companies said they would also share liabilities related to the breaches, which occurred in 2013 and 2014 but were only disclosed last year after the deal was announced.

The revised agreement, now valued at $4.48bn, paves the way for the deal to proceed to a shareholder vote as early as April, although securities regulators are still assessing how Yahoo disclosed information about the breaches to investors. Yahoo, which is winding down its own investigation of the breaches, will share more details about the incidents and their impact in the next few weeks when it makes required regulatory filings.

«

Do you think it would have cost them $350m to prevent the hacks in the first place?
link to this extract


U.S. iPhone users spent an average of $40 on apps in 2016 • Sensor Tower

»

US iPhone users spent more on premium apps and in-app purchases (IAPs) per device last year than in 2015—an average of $40 per iPhone, versus $35 the year before—according to Sensor Tower Store Intelligence data. While mobile games still dominated consumer spending in 2016, big gains by other categories (such as Entertainment, which saw per-device spend double) helped grow overall revenue per iPhone considerably.

In this report, we’ll look at the leading categories by per-device spending for 2016, including their year-over-year growth, along with average app installs by category.

More than 80% of U.S. App Store revenue in 2016 was generated by games, which was reflected on the device level by the overwhelming portion of the $40 total they comprised. US iPhone owners spent an average of $27 per device on games last year, up from $25 in 2015.

While this is an impressive figure, and further proof that monetization of mobile games continues to improve, the real standout of our findings was the year-over-year growth of Entertainment category spending, which was up by 130 percent, from $1.00 in 2015 to $2.30 in 2016. This category includes some of the U.S. App Store’s historically highest grossing apps, such as HBO NOW, Hulu, and Netflix.

«

The average app installs data is quite eye-opening too.
link to this extract


How Fujifilm survived the digital age with an unexpected makeover – Channel NewsAsia

Desmond Ng:

»

The company thought it was ahead of the curve but the digital age hadn’t truly arrived yet. Incredibly, the photo film market continued to grow. By 2001, two-thirds of the company’s profits still came from photo film.

Fujifilm abandoned its new business ventures, despite having pioneered the digital camera a decade earlier. The company felt that the printed picture would survive and invested millions in the Instax Mini, an analogue camera that allowed one to take a picture and print it in seconds. It sold over a million units in 2002.

But then, the long-awaited digital age finally arrived in 2003 – and hit the company hard.

Sales of photo film plunged by a third in less than a year. In just six months, shops went from processing almost 5,000 rolls of film a day, to fewer than 1,000.

A market that had accounted for two-thirds of the company’s profits had disappeared in the blink of an eye.  Mr Komori said: “At first I thought that colour film wouldn’t disappear easily, but digital stole it all away in an instant.”

To add to the company’s woes, another disruptive technology emerged – the mobile phone. This revolutionised digital photography. Digital photographs were cheaper and speedier, and Facebook, Instagram and Twitter became the new pioneers of photography as smartphone sales skyrocketed.

Drastic changes were needed at Fujifilm.

«

An infrequently told business story of survival against the odds.
link to this extract


4chan: the skeleton key to the rise of Trump • Medium

Dale Beran, in a looong read:

»

Yiannopoulos’ rambling “arguments” against feminism, are not arguments at all, as much as pep talks, ways of making these dis-empowered men feel empowered by discarding the symbol of their failure — women. As an openly gay man, he argues that men no longer need be interested in women, that they can and should walk away from the female sex en masse. For example in a long incoherent set of bullet points on feminism he states:

»

The rise of feminism has fatally coincided with the rise of video games, internet porn, and, sometime in the near future, sex robots. With all these options available, and the growing perils of real-world relationships, men are simply walking away.

«

Here Yiannopoulos has inverted what has actually happened to make his audience feel good. Men who have retreated to video games and internet porn can now characterize their helpless flight as an empowered conscious choice to reject women for something else. In other words, it justifies a lifestyle which in their hearts they previously regarded helplessly as a mark of shame.

Gamergate at last (unlike Habbo Hotel, Scientology, Paypal, or Occupy Wall Street) was a “raid” that mattered, that wasn’t just a fun lark to pass the time or a winking joke. Here was another issue (besides “let me do what I want on the internet all the time”) that spoke to the bulk of 4chan users.
Anon was going to get “SJW”s (ie. empowered women) out of their safe spaces — video games — the place from which they retreated from women by indulging in fantasies in which they were in control (that is to say, ones which demeaned women).

However, their efforts failed, not so much for lack of trying (though there’s that, too) but because the campaign itself was a fantasy.

«

Loath though I am to include any link that mentions Yiannopoulos – attention is his oxygen – this is an excellent distillation, based on the author’s own experiences, of what went on. Gamergate has as many “causes” as members, perhaps, but some explanations work better than others.
link to this extract


‘So much of it is a con’: Confessions of a veteran ad tech developer • Digiday

Ross Benes spoke to an anonymous ad-tech person:

»

How do you feel about the state of advertising?
So much of it is a con. I have been in this forever, for almost 20 years, and I do know what is going on. And I know that no one calls bullshit on bullshit.

Are you implying that people don’t want to address major problems?
Yes. To give you an example, I was in a meeting and said, “Everything is cookie-based, what happens when you delete the cookies?” The reaction I got was worse than if someone had farted in an elevator.

Is there anything in particular that irritates you?
People buy traffic through ad networks and they run full-page prompts. On these full-page prompts, underneath the window you’re on, they pop another window and it may or may not be visible. That window has an autoplay video player in it with the sound turned off. And that is one of the simplest way to rack up traffic.

You sound skeptical of traffic statistics.
If you take the amount of traffic that is out there, and you look at the amount of traffic that is not parsed to Google, there is just not enough inventory in the world to back up all these impressions that publishers say they’re getting.

«

link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up: Wikipedia’s AI effort, Krebs wins again, Uber’s harassment problem, Hololens on hold?, and more


The trouble with IBM’s Watson is that it doesn’t, by a long stretch – and that has people asking questions about its value. Photo by stewf on Flickr.

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

A selection of 8 links for you. Oh well. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Inside Wikipedia’s attempt to use artificial intelligence to combat harassment • Motherboard

Sarah Smellie:

»

A paper published last week on the arXiv preprint server by the Detox team offers the first look at how Wikimedia is using AI to study harassment on the platform. It suggests that abusive comments aren’t the domain of any specific group of trolls, and that diverse tactics are going to be needed to combat them on Wikipedia. 

“This is not ground-breaking machine learning research,” said Ellery Wulczyn, a Wikimedia data scientist and Detox researcher, in a telephone interview. “It’s about building something that’s fairly well known but allows us to generate this data scale to be able to better understand the issue.”

The goal at Jigsaw, an Alphabet tech incubator that began as Google Ideas, is nothing short of battling threats to human rights and global security. Their projects include a map that shows the sources and targets of global DDoS attacks in real time, and an anti-phishing extension for Chrome originally developed to protect Syrian activists from hackers.

To get their algorithm to recognize personal attacks, the Detox team needed to train them on a solid data set. They started with 100,000 comments from Wikipedia talk pages, where editors hash out their disagreements. Next, 4,000 crowdworkers evaluated the comments for personal attacks. Each comment was inspected by 10 different people.

«

Certainly a place to go for personal attacks. For another view, on getting humans to make Wikipedia better, there’s this: How Wikipedia is cultivating an army of fact checkers to battle fake news.
link to this extract


Men who sent swat Team, heroin to my home sentenced • Krebs on Security

Brian Krebs:

»

It’s been a remarkable week for cyber justice. On Thursday, a Ukrainian man who hatched a plan in 2013 to send heroin to my home and then call the cops when the drugs arrived was sentenced to 41 months in prison for unrelated cybercrime charges. Separately, a 19-year-old American who admitted to being part of a hacker group that sent a heavily-armed police force to my home in 2013 was sentenced to three years probation.

«

Krebs, who does remarkable work, is proof that right can win over wrong if you just persist. (And that hackers are terribly susceptible to hubris.)
link to this extract


Reflecting on one very, very strange year at Uber • Susan J. Fowler

She went to work at Uber:

»

After the first couple of weeks of training, I chose to join the team that worked on my area of expertise, and this is where things started getting weird. On my first official day rotating on the team, my new manager sent me a string of messages over company chat. He was in an open relationship, he said, and his girlfriend was having an easy time finding new partners but he wasn’t. He was trying to stay out of trouble at work, he said, but he couldn’t help getting in trouble, because he was looking for women to have sex with. It was clear that he was trying to get me to have sex with him, and it was so clearly out of line that I immediately took screenshots of these chat messages and reported him to HR.

Uber was a pretty good-sized company at that time, and I had pretty standard expectations of how they would handle situations like this. I expected that I would report him to HR, they would handle the situation appropriately, and then life would go on – unfortunately, things played out quite a bit differently. When I reported the situation, I was told by both HR and upper management that even though this was clearly sexual harassment and he was propositioning me, it was this man’s first offense, and that they wouldn’t feel comfortable giving him anything other than a warning and a stern talking-to. Upper management told me that he “was a high performer” (i.e. had stellar performance reviews from his superiors) and they wouldn’t feel comfortable punishing him for what was probably just an innocent mistake on his part.

I was then told that I had to make a choice: (i) I could either go and find another team and then never have to interact with this man again, or (ii) I could stay on the team, but I would have to understand that he would most likely give me a poor performance review when review time came around, and there was nothing they could do about that. I remarked that this didn’t seem like much of a choice, and that I wanted to stay on the team because I had significant expertise in the exact project that the team was struggling to complete (it was genuinely in the company’s best interest to have me on that team), but they told me the same thing again and again.

«

And guess what? She left the team, spoke to other women, and they had had the same kind of problem. In some cases, previously with the same man.

It also sounds like an absolute rats’ nest in there as well. And guess what? Once this had gone viral, Travis Kalanick ordered an immediate investigation.

Charitable explanation: Kalanick didn’t know how screwed up his company has become. However, changing the culture is going to be hard – if he really wants to.
link to this extract


Microsoft accelerates HoloLens V3 development, sidesteps V2 • Thurrott.com

Paul Thurrott:

»

By skipping what was version two on their roadmap, the company can accelerate version three which will be closer to a generational leap and help keep Microsoft ahead of the competition. My sources are telling me that this version of Hololens will not arrive until 2019.

Yes, 2019 is a considerable amount of time away but for Microsoft, if they would have built what was known as version two, the company would not be able to get version three delivered by 2019. In short, the company is making a bet that the advancements they are investing in today for the v3 version of Hololens are significant enough and add enough value to the product that it will make sure they continue to lead the segment by getting that device to the market earlier.

Of course, it’s always possible the device arrives before then but do not expect a new device this year and likely nor will one arrive next year, based on what I have been told. I did reach out to Microsoft for comment and they provided the following statement but it’s generic and doesn’t add any new context to the information already provided:

“Mixed reality is the future of computing, and Microsoft HoloLens is the future and present of mixed reality. Our commitment requires no roadmap”.

«

So you’re accelerating to leave a two-year gap? 🤔 But on the other hand, I don’t think there will be huge demand for AR systems this year or next. If this is Microsoft’s timeline, it sounds sensible.
link to this extract


Apple acquires Israel firm RealFace, specializing in facial recognition • MacRumors

Tim Hardwick:

»

RealFace’s website is currently offline, but according to promotional material, the startup had developed a unique facial recognition technology that integrates artificial intelligence and “brings back human perception to digital processes”. RealFace’s software is said to use proprietary IP in the field of “frictionless face recognition” that allows for rapid learning from facial features.

The Israeli startup also developed a now-defunct app called Pickeez, which selected and collated a user’s best photos across various platforms using the RealFace recognition software.

According to iPhone 8 rumors, Apple may ditch Touch ID along with the physical home button, in favor of a facial recognition-capable front-facing 3D laser scanner, although with the RealFace acquisition coming at such a late time, it’s unlikely that the any of the startup’s technology will feature.

RealFace is the fourth Israel-based firm Apple is known to have acquired. In 2011 it bought flash memory maker Anobit for a reported $400m, then in November 2013 it acquired 3D sensor company PrimeSense for an estimated $345m. Most recently in 2015, Apple bought LinX for around $20m.

«

All the stuff about OMG LAZERS is rather overexcited, and I’m not sure “face unlock” meets the sort of security standards Apple has liked. I could see it being useful for analysing faces in photos, though.
link to this extract


15-year-old Amanda Todd’s alleged sextortionist on trial at last • Daily Beast

Nadette De Visser:

»

Despite the publicity that surrounded Amanda Todd’s suicide, it took two years before Coban was found and arrested, and the initial break in the case actually came before her death.

In 2012, at the same time Coban was allegedly targeting Amanda, he also was pursuing a Norwegian girl who decided to approach the police about it. They tracked his IP addresses to the Netherlands. The Norwegian police contacted the Dutch police and the predator’s IP address was then traced to the trailer park in Oisterwijk where Aydin Coban lived. But that did not lead to his arrest. It took Todd’s suicide and a report compiled by Facebook in its wake to jolt the Dutch police into further action. In Facebook’s own investigation a relationship was established between a phone number, an IP address and 86 accounts in which it appeared aliases were being used to target young girls. That information then led Dutch police to Coban’s home, where they installed spyware on both of his computers.

In all, Coban has been indicted for 72 alleged offenses related to sexual exploitation and extortion over the internet. At his place, police found a trove of more than 204,000 photos and videos on a partially encrypted hard drive, many of them involving child pornography. The Dutch police also found a drive with 5,800 bookmarked names that served as a database of potential victims and their social networks.
Much of the evidence presented in court has come from the spyware that allowed police to collect every keystroke and multiple screenshots from Coban’s computers.

«

Depressing. A notable point is how a single person like this can, through the network, cause misery – or worse – for hundreds. Before the internet, their reach would have been much smaller. With the good, the bad.
link to this extract


MD Anderson benches IBM Watson in setback for artificial intelligence in medicine • Forbes

Matthew Herper:

»

The partnership between IBM and one of the world’s top cancer research institutions is falling apart. The project is on hold, MD Anderson confirms, and has been since late last year. MD Anderson is actively requesting bids from other contractors who might replace IBM in future efforts. And a scathing report from auditors at the University of Texas says the project cost MD Anderson more than $62m and yet did not meet its goals.

“When it was appropriate to do so, the project was placed on hold,” an MD Anderson spokesperson says. “As a public institution, we decided to go out to the marketplace for competitive bids to see where the industry has progressed.”

The disclosure comes at an uncomfortable moment for IBM. Tomorrow, the company’s chief executive, Ginni Rometty, will make a presentation to a giant health information technology conference detailing the progress Watson has made in health care, and announcing the launch of new products for managing medical images and making sure hospitals deliver value for the money, as well as new partnerships with healthcare systems. The end of the MD Anderson collaboration looks bad.

But IBM defended the MD Anderson product, known as the Oncology Expert Advisor or OEA. It says the OEA’s recommendations were accurate, agreeing with experts 90% of the time.

«

Um. Agreeing with experts 90% of the time means it’s wrong 10% of the time (and no indication on whether that’s false positives, false negatives or both). That has the potential to be very harmful in oncology.

More broadly, I’m seeing a growing groundswell of opinion that IBM’s pushes in AI are all talk, little result. This, while the company’s revenues have been falling for years under Rometty. This story isn’t quite finished yet.
link to this extract


What do you think happened to flight MH370 passengers during its final hour? • Quora

Sy Gunson is a former pilot and worked in airline operations:

»

Two of [MH370 pilot] Zaharie’s sisters are friends of mine and during a face to face meeting with them in December 2016 they surprised me by revealing after listening to the ATC audio, they could identify the final three radio calls by MH370 were made by their brother and his voice was slurred. They volunteered this fact unprompted.

«

This is a comprehensive look at what could have happened; he also suggests that the plane broke up in the air due to G-forces as it went into a dive after running out of fuel. His answer is calm and has a lot of detail I hadn’t seen before – and I used to write articles on MH370.
link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up: car app hacking, Zuckerberg examined, Samsung’s S8 Sony power, the trouble with HTTPS, and more


Curved TVs: looks like they’re going the way of 3D TVs. Photo by pestoverde on Flickr.

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

A selection of 13 links for you. Unlucky for some. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Car apps are vulnerable to hacks that could unlock millions of vehicles • WIRED

Andy Greenberg:

»

In the era of the connected car, automakers and third-party developers compete to turn smartphones into vehicular remote controls, allowing drivers to locate, lock, and unlock their rides with a screen tap. Some apps even summon cars and trucks in Knight Rider fashion. But phones can be hacked. And when they are, those car-connected features can fall into the hands of hackers, too.

That’s the troubling result of a test of nine different connected-car Android apps from seven companies. A pair of researchers from the Russian security firm Kaspersky found that most of the apps, several of which have been downloaded hundreds of thousands or over a million times, lacked even basic software defenses that drivers might expect to protect one of their most valuable possessions. By either rooting the target phone or tricking a user into installing malicious code, the researchers say, hackers could use any of the apps Kaspersky tested to locate a car, unlock it, and in some cases start its ignition.

«

Happy days.
link to this extract


Zuckerberg’s world • ROUGH TYPE

Nick Carr:

»

The problems with Zuckerberg’s self-serving fantasy about social relations become even more pronounced when we turn to “sub-communities” of creeps and miscreants who share poisonous beliefs — neo-Nazi groups, say, or racist groups or misogynistic groups or groups of murderous ideologues (or even groups of amoral entrepreneurs who seek to make a quick buck by spreading fake news stories through the web). Here, too, the beliefs of the individual members of the community form the values of the community — values that, thankfully, are anything but common standards. “The purpose of any community is to bring people together to do things we couldn’t do on our own,” Zuckerberg writes, without any recognition that those “things” could be bad things. Even though the actions of destructive groups, in particular their use of Facebook and other social networks not as a metaphorical infrastructure for global harmony but as a very real infrastructure for recruitment, propaganda, planning, and organization, would seem to be one of the spurs for Zuckerberg’s message, he is blind to the way they contradict that message. Nastiness, envy, chauvinism, mistrust, distrust, anger, vanity, greed, enmity, hatred: for Zuckerberg, these aren’t features of the human condition; they are bugs in the network.

«

There have been plenty of takedowns of Zuckerberg’s sorta-manifesto, but Carr offers the broadest take.
link to this extract


Samsung to use Sony batteries in Galaxy S8 phone • WSJ

Takashi Mochizuki:

»

Samsung Electronics Co. will add a third battery supplier for its next flagship smartphone, the Galaxy S8, according to people familiar with the matter, as the world’s biggest phone maker seeks to avoid a repeat of last year’s disastrous recall.

The South Korean technology giant will use lithium-ion battery packs from a unit of Japan’s Sony Corp. for the Galaxy S8, these people said, in addition to its two longtime suppliers: a Samsung affiliate and Hong Kong-based Amperex Technology Ltd.

Samsung SDI Co. and Amperex, a unit of Japanese electronic parts maker TDK Corp., have been told by Samsung Electronics that there will be an additional battery supplier for the new smartphone, these people said. The orders from the Sony unit are relatively small in quantity, they said.

«

In the UK (perhaps elsewhere too?) Samsung is running a series of ads about how carefully it tests its phones – heat, cold, bending, dropping, water. No fire though. Not sure how reminding people about its quality control, or its failure, will go down.
link to this extract


Apple vowed to revolutionize television. An inside look at why it hasn’t • Bloomberg

Mark Gurman:

»

[Timothy] Twerdhal’s arrival [from Amazon] comes as the company tests a new, fifth-generation Apple TV that it may release as soon as this year. Internally codenamed “J105,” the new box will be capable of streaming ultra-high-definition 4K and more vivid colors, according to people familiar with the plans.

The features will probably boost Apple TV sales as consumers increasingly upgrade to 4K television sets, but those enhancements alone probably aren’t enough to turn the gadget into a groundbreaking, iPhone-caliber product. Time and again, the people say, Apple engineers have been forced to compromise on Apple’s vision of revolutionizing the living room.

Early on, the Apple TV was going to replace the clunky set-top boxes from the cable companies and stream live television. It never happened. The team debated bundling a gaming controller with the current model to better compete with Microsoft Corp.’s Xbox and Sony Corp.’s PlayStation. That didn’t happen either. Originally, viewers were going to be able to shout commands from the couch to the Apple TV. Instead they must talk to the remote control.

Apple has essentially settled for turning the television set into a giant iPhone: a cluster of apps with a store. “That’s not what I signed up for,” says one of the people, who requested anonymity to talk freely about internal company matters. “I signed up for revolutionary. We got evolutionary.”

«

Nor, of course, has anyone else managed to do this. I wondered on Sunday morning what has happened to Android TV – relaunched for a third time in 2014. Nobody seems to know, except that it doesn’t work well for some. I’d love to see stats on intentional Android TV use.
link to this extract


How software is eating the banking industry • CNBC

Ari Levy:

»

Digit’s software plugs into a user’s checking account, analyzing expenses and income and determining how much money could be stashed away without the customer feeling it. Based on the personalized algorithm, Digit puts a few bucks or so a week into a savings account, notifying users with a simple text to help them pay off college or credit card debt or prepare for a wedding. It also serves up reminders to eliminate late fees and recently launched a notification bot on Facebook Messenger.

Digit says that it’s saved more than $350m for its customers.

That includes people like Jenn Chenn, a former community manager at a San Francisco software company who’s now in between jobs. Chenn has saved close to $16,000 over the past three years using Digit, money that would have otherwise remained in her checking account and more than likely have been spent.

“It started off small and as time went by, I started seeing different ways I could increase that amount and be OK,” she said.

The savings were of particular importance after a hit-and-run accident left her with a hefty out-of-pocket payment for hospital bills.

«

Ah, American healthcare. Nearly as broken as the American banking industry.
link to this extract


LG and Sony confirm no curved TVs for 2017 • What Hi-Fi?

Andy Madden:

»

It came as no real surprise when LG and Sony revealed they were both killing off 3D at CES 2017. The feature failed to take off for a number of reasons, not least cost and the competing passive/active technologies. Now, both LG and Sony have confirmed that there won’t be any curved TV options on the menu this year either.

Speaking at the company’s InnoFest event in Crete, LG cited a lack of consumer interest as the key reason, with its research showing consumers tend to choose flat over curved when given the choice of similarly-priced sets.

Sony had a similar event to outline its ranges for 2017 and curved sets were also absent – “there were no curved models in the line-up we showed at the trade show recently, but we are not commenting on our future plans,” said a Sony spokesperson.

«

Recall that the furious review of the Samsung TV included its curvedness.

Another innovation bites the dust.
link to this extract


The truth about the Trump data team that people are freaking out about • BuzzFeed News

Kendall Taggart:

»

interviews with 13 former employees, campaign staffers, and executives at other Republican consulting firms who have seen Cambridge Analytica’s work suggest that its psychological approach was not actually used by the Trump campaign and, furthermore, the company has never provided evidence that it even works. Rather than a sinister breakthrough in political technology, the Cambridge Analytica story appears to be part of the traditional contest among consultants on a winning political campaign to get their share of credit — and win future clients.

Every person who spoke to BuzzFeed News insisted on anonymity, with many citing a reluctance to cross the company’s powerful leaders, who insiders say include co-owner Rebekah Mercer, one of Trump’s major donors, and board member Steve Bannon, his chief strategist.

Yet when Nix claimed that on a single day during the campaign, the firm tested more than 175,000 different Facebook ad variations based on personality types, Gary Coby, who ran digital advertising for the Trump campaign, took to Twitter to call it a “100% Lie” and “total rubbish.” Gerrit Lansing, who worked with the campaign and is now the White House chief digital officer, also dismissed Nix’s claim as “a lie.” Both declined to comment further, as did Mercer and Bannon.

«

Perhaps the truth is somewhere in between the amazing and the flop.
link to this extract


ZTE cancels Kickstarter campaign for Project CSX “Hawkeye” phone • AndroidAuthority

John Callaham:

»

ZTE started Project CSX as a way to get its fans to help them design a unique device. It held a contest in 2016 for people to submit concepts for new products, with the public voting for their favorite of the top five designs. The winning product idea was an Android smartphone that included eye-tracking technology and a self-adhesive case, so the phone could be used without actually touching the screen.

However, when the campaign actually began in early January, many people were not impressed by the hardware specs that were posted on the Kickstarter page. They included a 5.5-inch display, a Qualcomm Snapdragon 625 processor, 3GB of RAM and 32GB of onboard storage. Some fans felt the specs were too low for a phone that was scheduled for a launch in September 2017 for the price of $199.

In their update today announcing the Kickstarter campaign cancellation, ZTE said this was not going to be the end for Project CSX. It stated it is “reevaluating the device” and changes to the phone “will be implemented on based on your feedback.” That includes improving the hardware specs and also pushing back the date of its release, which the company said is “still being finalized”.

«

Raised 190 people donated $36,245 towards the $500,000 target. VR headsets for your cat do better.
link to this extract


Certified malice • text/plain

Eric Lawrence:

»

One unfortunate (albeit entirely predictable) consequence of making HTTPS certificates “fast, open, automated, and free” is that both good guys and bad guys alike will take advantage of the offer and obtain HTTPS certificates for their websites.

Today’s bad guys can easily turn a run-of-the-mill phishing spoof:

…into a somewhat more convincing version, by obtaining a free “domain validated” certificate and lighting up the green lock icon in the browser’s address bar:

The resulting phishing site looks almost identical to the real site…

By December 8, 2016, LetsEncrypt had issued 409 certificates containing “Paypal” in the hostname; that number is up to 709 as of this morning. Other targets include BankOfAmerica (14 certificates), Apple, Amazon, American Express, Chase Bank, Microsoft, Google, and many other major brands. LetsEncrypt validates only that (at one point in time) the certificate applicant can publish on the target domain. The CA also grudgingly checks with the SafeBrowsing service to see if the target domain has already been blocked as malicious, although they “disagree” that this should be their responsibility. LetsEncrypt’s short position paper is worth a read; many reasonable people agree with it.

«

It’s a real mess.
link to this extract


Trump can’t build a border wall without the real estate • WSJ

Evan Siegried:

»

This past weekend the president took to Twitter to lash out at reports that the true cost of the border wall would be well north of $10bn.

The critics are almost certainly correct. Mr. Trump fails to take into account the major hurdle the wall faces: eminent domain.

To build the wall, the U.S. would need to own all 1,954 miles of the border. Most of this land is now private property—especially in Texas, where the U.S. government owns only 100 miles of the 1,254-mile border. To acquire the rest of the land it would need, Washington would need to employ eminent domain, the authority under the Fifth Amendment to seize private property for public use upon payment of “just compensation.”

Recent history shows that’s easier said than done. In 2006 Congress passed the Secure Fence Act with strong bipartisan backing, including the support of New York Democrat Chuck Schumer, now Senate minority leader. The law authorized construction of a border fence along 700 miles of the U.S.-Mexico border, including 100 miles in Texas. Lawmakers expected swift completion of the project.

Instead, a decade later, there are unfenced gaps—because the fence had to have holes to accommodate local ranchers whose cattle graze on the southern side, but also due to property owners’ fighting land seizures in federal court.

«

Gosh, it’s almost as if he hadn’t actually done any research into the complexity of the preexisting problem before he spouted a convenient neologism for personal gain. Property bought in this way can cost 20 times what the government first offers. And there are thousands of landowners.
link to this extract


Why so many couples fight at Ikea • Science of Us

Carl Romm:

»

Here’s the cruelest of all the cruel jokes Ikea plays on its customers: If — if — you and your significant other still make it out of there with minimal strife and all the furniture you need, you still have to go home and assemble it. And that, for the uninitiated, is a whole other can of worms.

Ikea famously does not write out the instructions for assembling its pieces, but instead uses pictures of a cheerful, human-shaped blob, a strategy that unfortunately leaves plenty open to interpretation. Which means — you guessed it — more decisions. “You have a lot of steps to go through to get to that final product,” Peterson says, “and you’re compromising every single step of the way, because most of us don’t do things exactly the way our partners do them.”

Or at least, that’s the best possible outcome, even if it’s mentally exhausting. Another alternative: You don’t compromise, and instead butt heads every step of the way about what those confusing little arrows in the illustration are actually saying. “It’s a situation where there needs to be clear communication, but there’s stress on the system because the instructions are not clear,” Ayduk says. And that stress can lead to a lot of finger-pointing when things go awry: “It’s open to misunderstanding, errors, and then people get into blaming mode,” she adds. “And then it becomes more than just disagreeing over a bad interaction in the context of furniture assembly.” As with the chair that goes on too many camping trips, a spat over which peg goes where can quickly roll down the slippery slope into don’t you trust me and you never listen.

«

Pro tip: only one of you goes to Ikea. Then once home, the other one assembles, while the buyer provides refreshments.
link to this extract


Beepi winding down after burning through $150m • WSJ

Yuliya Chernova:

»

Beepi Inc. is inching toward winding down its business after blowing through $150m in venture capital, the latest casualty of investor caution after a frothy period.

The Mountain View, Calif.-based startup, founded in 2013, was operating an online marketplace for used cars. Having run out of cash, the startup has begun the process to sell its assets to satisfy creditors through an alternative to bankruptcy.

Neither equity investors nor employees are likely to get any money back, said a person familiar with the matter.

«

Astonishing. If only John Updike were around to write “Rabbit is Venture-Funded”.
link to this extract


The problem with AMP • 80×24

Kyle Schreiber:

»

Make no mistake. AMP is about lock-in for Google. AMP is meant to keep publishers tied to Google. Clicking on an AMP link feels like you never even leave the search page, and links to AMP content are displayed prominently in Google’s news carousel. This is their response to similar formats from both Facebook and Apple, both of which are designed to keep users within their respective ecosystems. However, Google’s implementation of AMP is more broad and far reaching than the Apple and Facebook equivalents. Google’s implementation of AMP is on the open web and isn’t limited to just an app like Facebook or Apple.

If you want to avoid AMP, it is a lot easier to stop using the Facebook app or Apple News app than it is to avoid Google search. Google is the gateway to the web at large and is the doorway to information access in a way that Facebook will never be. Facebook might be the gatekeeper of social, but Google is the gatekeeper to a far larger and more meaningful set of information stored on the web – anything from cat pictures to scientific research. It’s disappointing to see Google promoting a closed standard under the guise of an open one.

Google insists that AMP is not a factor in a site’s search ranking. However, AMP compatibility does determine whether or not publishers are featured in the much coveted news carousel. This, in effect, forces publishers to start using AMP regardless of how fast their site loaded previously.

Google has the ability to further change the AMP HTML specification to keep publishers in their ecosystem. Google already makes deleting AMP pages difficult. Despite touting AMP HTML as an open standard, every one of the AMP Project’s core developers appears to be a Google employee.

«

There’s open, and there’s “open”. His point about external Javascript might also give some people pause. Question is: will AMP become embedded as the way publishers provide pages, or will the pendulum swing back? The “news carousel” factor is probably determinant there.
link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified