Start up: talking to Barbie, BlackBerry’s criminal approach, mobile theses, tracing bitcoin, and more


I know – it’s backspace, 28 times. Photo by totumweb on Flickr.

Oh, you could get each day’s Start Up post by email. But it’s email, isn’t it? Email.

A selection of 9 links for you. Apply topically. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Talking toys are getting smarter: should we be worried? » WSJ

Geoffrey Fowler:

Maybe the best way to understand whether these toys hinder imagination is to look at their underlying technology. From an interactive standpoint, Hello Barbie is basically a voice-activated Choose-Your-Own-Adventure book, in that she gives children a limited number of choices as they go down the conversational path and has a finite, albeit vast, number of dialogue lines (8,000 in total, recorded by an actress).

Once you start talking to Hello Barbie, what you soon realize is that, although she can remember details—a child’s favorite color or whether she has a sibling—the doll is not a very good listener. Many of her questions are just setups to tell a scripted story. “If you could go on vacation anywhere in the world, where would you want to go?” she asked [test child] Riley before describing her own recent vacation. Sure, every now and then she invites Riley to chime in. (“It’s a warm day and my friends invited me to go to the beach. I’m not really sure what to wear. Um, maybe some mittens and a scarf?”) But ultimately, whatever the child says, Hello Barbie sticks to her script.

Despite Hello Barbie’s inability to participate in a child’s flights of fancy, the doll is programmed to extol the virtues of imagination. “I think it’s great to exercise your imagination and creativity!” she said to Riley. Also: “We love using our imaginations. We are so avant-garde!”

So the answer to the question posed in the headline is “not yet”. But not “not ever”. It feels very much like a slice from a Philip K Dick novella.
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Detect and disconnect WiFi cameras in that AirBnB you’re staying in » Julian Oliver

There have been a few too many stories lately of AirBnB hosts caught spying on their guests with WiFi cameras, using DropCam cameras in particular. Here’s a quick script that will detect two popular brands of WiFi cameras during your stay and disconnect them in turn. It’s based on glasshole.sh. It should do away with the need to rummage around in other people’s stuff, racked with paranoia, looking for the things.

Thanks to Adam Harvey for giving me the push, not to mention for naming it.

May be illegal to use this script in the US (not that that will stop people). Note how the sharing, trusting economy has its limits.
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Bypass Linux passwords by pressing backspace 28 times » Apextribune

Daniel Austin:

if certain conditions are met (mostly the proper version of the OS), pressing the backspace key 28 time in a row will cause the computer to reboot, or it will put Grub in rescue mode, Linux’s version of Safe Mode.

This will provide the would-be hacker with unauthorized access to a shell, which he can then use to rewrite the code in the Grub2 in order to gain full unauthorized access to the machine.

From this point, anything is possible, since the hacker would be able to do anything he wanted to the computer.

Vulnerable versions: Linux GRUB 1.98 (from 2009) through to the current 2.02 version. (Not Linux as said in earlier version of this post.)
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Tracing the Bitcoinica theft of 40,000 btc in July 2012 » YouTube

So 10,000 bitcoins were stolen from MtGox in July 2012. You thought bitcoin were untraceable? Not at all. Watch and learn. Though this doesn’t mean the people named here are guilty of theft (he said, covering himself against any potential libel).


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Activation lock checker » Apple

Before transferring ownership of an iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, or Apple Watch, make sure Activation Lock has been disabled and the device is ready for the next user.

The implication there is that it’s for you, the seller, to do the checking that you’ve turned it off – but the protection is really for buyers to make sure they don’t get a hot phone.
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Competition is shifting to the high end » Tech.pinions

Jan Dawson:

Sony has abandoned PCs and continues to struggle in smartphones, HTC increasingly looks like it’s on its last legs as an Android vendor, Toshiba is considering spinning off its PC business, and Samsung’s smartphone business – once the poster child for success making Android phones – continues to slip. It sometimes seems as if the only vendors making Android phones and Windows PCs who aren’t struggling in some way are the licensors of the operating systems. And though we don’t have detailed financials for either company’s hardware business, they’ve both done it by focusing on selling premium devices at premium prices, and by tightening the integration between hardware and software.
What’s interesting is we haven’t seen any of the OEMs pursue this strategy. That likely reflects, in equal parts, a lack of capability and a lack of will, as these OEMs have neither the experience nor the desire to pursue the high end of the market. And yet it’s been clear for years that, while scale may be in the mass market, the margins are in the high end.

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16 mobile theses » Benedict Evans

We’re now coming up to 9 years since the launch of the iPhone kicked off the smartphone revolution, and some of the first phases are over – Apple and Google both won the platform war, mostly, Facebook made the transition, mostly, and it’s now perfectly clear that mobile is the future of technology and of the internet. But within that, there’s a huge range of different themes and issues, many of which are still pretty unsettled.

In this post, I outline what I think are the 16 topics to think about within the current generation, and then link to the things I’ve written about them. In January, I’ll dig into some of the themes for the future – VR, AR, drones and AI, but this is where we are today.

I wouldn’t be surprised if the title is a subtle reference to Martin Luther (though he rambled on for 95 theses), but it’s impossible to argue against any of these; they simply state the ground where the world now stands. The point about mobile being 10x larger as an ecosystem now than the PC is an important one, though not the only important one.
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August 2010: RIM’s Deal: Saudi Arabia Can Access BlackBerry User Data » DailyFinance

From August 2010, by Douglas McIntyre:

Saudi Arabia’s government announced it reached a deal with Research In Motion (RIMM) that will allow the Canadian maker of BlackBerry smartphones to continue operating its service there. Under the agreement, RIM will put a server in the nation that will allow the government to monitor messages to and from Blackberries. All of RIM’s servers have been in Canada until now so the company could guarantee confidentiality for its customers though the encryption process on those servers.

According to several news sources, similar deals will probably be sought by other countries that have voiced concerns about the Blackberry encryption procedures. First among these is the United Arab Emirates, which threatened to shut down RIM’s services there on Oct. 11. India and Indonesia have also said they’re concerned about the RIM confidentiality system and their inability to track information that they claim may not be in the best interests of their governments.

Everyone’s a criminal, after all – they just need to work out what they’re guilty of. Now read on.
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The encryption debate: a way forward » Inside BlackBerry

John Chen, who is chief executive of BlackBerry, in December 2015:

For years, government officials have pleaded to the technology industry for help yet have been met with disdain. In fact, one of the world’s most powerful tech companies recently refused a lawful access request in an investigation of a known drug dealer because doing so would “substantially tarnish the brand” of the company. We are indeed in a dark place when companies put their reputations above the greater good. At BlackBerry, we understand, arguably more than any other large tech company, the importance of our privacy commitment to product success and brand value: privacy and security form the crux of everything we do. However, our privacy commitment does not extend to criminals.

BlackBerry is in a unique position to help bring the two sides of this debate together, to find common ground and a way forward. BlackBerry’s customers include not only millions of privacy-conscious consumers but also the banks, law firms, hospitals, and – yes, governments (including 16 of the G20) – that use our products and services to protect their highest value resources every single day. We stand as an existence proof that a proper balance can be struck.

We reject the notion that tech companies should refuse reasonable, lawful access requests.

The “powerful tech company” Chen is referring to there is Apple, which has refused to cooperate in unlocking an iOS 7-powered phone in a federal case (which remains under seal). There’s a search warrant for the phone, which is locked.

Chen’s stance though is really surprising. He seems to be saying “sure, we’ll cooperate with the government if it asks.” But what if it’s the Chinese government? Or the Syrian government? And what’s the mechanism that lets BlackBerry cooperate? From iOS 8 onwards, Apple simply can’t decrypt a phone, no matter what access it gets. Is BlackBerry ceding that ground?
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida:

Start up: the smartphone slowdown, AirBnB ‘racism’, malware Bibles, Google lobbies and more


No longer big in Japan. Photo by Chris Blakeley on Flickr.

I know, you could sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. But we’ll all be dead in 200 years, so why bother?

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

Revealed: how Google enlisted members of US Congress it bankrolled to fight $6bn EU antitrust case » The Guardian

Simon Marks (Brussels correspondent) and Harry Davies (special investigations correspondent):

• Google’s co-founder and CEO Larry Page met the then European commission chief privately in California in spring 2014 and raised the antitrust case despite being warned by EU officials that it would be inappropriate to do so.

• Officials and lawmakers in Brussels say they have witnessed a significant expansion of Google lobbying efforts over the past 18 months as the company faces increased scrutiny of its business activities in Europe.

• Google has employed several former EU officials as in-house lobbyists, and has funded European thinktanks and university research favourable to its position as part of its broader campaign.

Capitol Hill’s aggressive intervention in Brussels came as the European parliament prepared to vote through a resolution in November 2014 that called on EU policymakers to consider breaking up Google’s online business into separate companies.

Republican and Democratic senators and congressmen, many of whom have received significant campaign donations from Google totalling hundreds of thousands of dollars, leaned on parliament in a series of similar – and in some cases identical – letters sent to key MEPs.

Lobbying is entirely fair play; it’s only stupid not to do it. Microsoft is certainly behind lobbying efforts against Google in the US and Europe. It’s the extent, and the subtlety, that’s so striking here.
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Apple names Jeff Williams chief operating officer » Apple

Apple today announced that Jeff Williams has been named chief operating officer and Johny Srouji is joining Apple’s executive team as senior vice president for Hardware Technologies. Phil Schiller, senior vice president of Worldwide Marketing, will expand his role to include leadership of the revolutionary App Store across all Apple platforms. Apple also announced that Tor Myhren will join Apple in the first calendar quarter of 2016 as vice president of Marketing Communications, reporting to CEO Tim Cook.

Interesting on lots of levels:
– Jeff Williams has been COO-in-waiting for some time now; this simply cements it.
– Srouji has been on the chip side; elevating him like this shows the importance of chip design to Apple’s future
– putting Schiller in charge of the App Store looks like the end of a mini-power struggle inside Apple. As Rene Ritchie of iMore pointed out on the Blerg podcast (you listened, right?) responsibility for the App Store was effectively split among three people – Schiller, Eddy Cue and Craig Federighi.

Ritchie has a writeup on this change – definitely worth reading.
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Cyber sacrilege at Christmas: Android malware hiding in Bible (and Quran) apps » Forbes

Thomas Fox-Brewster:

Security company Proofpoint isn’t revealing which exact Android apps are doing bad deeds, as it is going through the process of disclosure with the affected developers and vendors. It is instead revealing data on the number of malware or aggressive adware targeting the Google operating system. Proofpoint analyzed over 5,600 unique Bible apps (4,154 for Android and 1,500 for Apple’s iOS), including 208 that contained known malicious code and 140 were classified as “high risk” based on their behavior, all for the Android platform. Apple is evidently doing a good job of keeping out dangerous Bibles.

Kevin Epstein, VP of threat operations at Proofpoint, said those apps with known malicious behavior let attackers steal information from mobile devices, exploit zero-day vulnerabilities, possibly jailbreak or “root” a device, pilfer login credentials and communicate with IP addresses previously linked with rogue activity.

How is it that Apple is keeping out the dangerous ones, though? You’d assume it would be targeted just the same.
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Discrimation against Airbnb guests » Ben Edelman

In an article posted today, Michael Luca, Dan Svirsky, and I present results of a field experiment on Airbnb. Using guest accounts that are identical save for names indicating varying races, we submitted requests to more than 6,000 hosts. Requests from guests with distinctively African-American names are roughly 16% less likely to be accepted than identical guests with distinctively White names. The difference persists whether the host is African American or White, male or female. The difference also persists whether the host shares the property with the guest or not, and whether the property is cheap or expensive.

Discrimination is costly for hosts who indulge in it. Hosts who reject African-American guests are able to find a replacement guest only 35% of the time.

On the whole, our analysis suggests a need for caution. While information can facilitate transactions, it also facilitates discrimination. Airbnb’s site carefully shrouds information Airbnb wants to conceal, such as hosts’ email addresses and phones numbers, so guests can’t contact hosts directly and circumvent Airbnb’s fees. But when it comes to information that facilitates discrimination, including name and photo, Airbnb offers no such precaution.

You can read the draft paper. I’ve seen no coverage of it at all. Update: I overlooked The Verge’s coverage of the paper. Apologies. (Recall the similar paper studying discrimination by buyers on eBay from the other day too.)
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A botnet has been stealing billions through digital ads aimed at fake audiences » Social Media Today

Aaron Miles:

According to a recent report from ad-fraud prevention firm Pixalate, a sophisticated botnet has been leeching money from digital advertisers by serving up real ads to faked, highly-prized audiences. The botnet, nicknamed Xindi after some Star Trek bad guys, has, by Pixalate’s calculations, rung up something like 78 billion ad impressions so far. According to George Slefo of Adweek, Xindi “could cost advertisers nearly $3 billion by the end of 2016.”

The ingenious thing about the Xindi botnet is who it targeted. The infection was aimed at Fortune 500 companies, university computer networks, and other groups whose users are usually very sought-after by advertisers. Because the advertisers thought that they were reaching such a valuable audience, they were willing to pay much more, $200 per thousand impressions for some, which compounded the cost of the fraud and made things much more lucrative for the fraudsters.

The botnet also uses some sophisticated techniques to trick the protocols that normally check for ad fraud (see image below) and cover its tracks.

Billions of dollars. The scale is astonishing; and so is the ingenuity in how it evaded detection.
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Emojis are no longer cool in Japan » Slate

Matt Alt:

The very first emojis appeared on a handset sold by the company J-Phone (now Softbank) in 1997, but high prices kept it out of the hands of average citizens. The direct ancestors of the emoji we know and use today debuted in Japan in 1999. And now? “The emoji boom is over here in Japan,” says Shigetaka Kurita, the man widely credited with creating the adorable little runes. “They’re still around, they’re still pervasive, but they aren’t a fad anymore,” he says in his Tokyo office. He ventures that when Obama mentioned emojis on the White House lawn, “I suspect most Japanese people’s response was, ‘wow, emoji are still popular over there!?’ ”

Extra irony: lack of emoji stalled interest in the iPhone in Japan too. Now it’s one of its best markets.
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Elon Musk’s billion-dollar AI plan is about far more than saving the world » WIRED

Cade Metz:

We can’t help but think that Google open sourced its AI engine, TensorFlow, because it knew OpenAI was on the way—and that Facebook shared its Big Sur server design as an answer to both Google and OpenAI. Facebook says this was not the case. Google didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. And Altman declines to speculate. But he does say that Google knew OpenAI was coming. How could it not? The project nabbed Ilya Sutskever, one of its top AI researchers.

That doesn’t diminish the value of Google’s open source project. Whatever the company’s motives, the code is available to everyone to use as they see fit. But it’s worth remembering that, in today’s world, giving away tech is about more than magnanimity. The deep learning community is relatively small, and all of these companies are vying for the talent that can help them take advantage of this extremely powerful technology. They want to share, but they also want to win. They may release some of their secret sauce, but not all. Open source will accelerate the progress of AI, but as this happens, it’s important that no one company or technology becomes too powerful. That’s why OpenAI is such a meaningful idea.

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The smartphone lifetime challenge » Bob O’Donnell

In a recent survey of over 3,000 consumers across five countries (US, UK, Germany, Brazil and China) conducted by TECHnalysis Research, consumers said they expected to replace their smartphones every 1.8 years. Now, on the surface, that seems fine, and probably in line with what people have done in the past. The problem is, in response to the same question about notebook PCs, people said they expected to replace those devices every 2.5 years.

In reality, however, notebook PC replacements occur closer to 5 years. In other words, people clearly aren’t good at estimating how long they plan to keep a device. To be fair, I don’t think smartphone replacement times will be double the 1.8-year lifecycle that they responded with, but I am certain they will be longer. And that is the crux of the challenge for the smartphone market.

As we saw first with PCs and then with tablets, once a market reaches the saturation point, then future growth becomes nearly completely dependent on refresh rate and lifecycle—how quickly (or not) you choose to upgrade what you have.

Things are going to get tight in the next few years in mature markets.
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Xiaomi plays down sales target » OmniFeed

Gillian Wong ad Eva Duo:

“This target [of 80m shipped in 2015, given earlier this year is not the No. 1 priority for us,” Mr. Lei said on the sidelines of the World Internet Conference on Wednesday in the Chinese city of Wuzhen, when asked if Xiaomi could reach its smartphone sales target. “What we care about the most is the rate of customer satisfaction.”

Mr. Lei played down the sales target, saying he was “constantly pushed by everyone” to give the figure earlier this year.

He said in a statement in July that Xiaomi sold 34.7m smartphones in the first half of the year. Xiaomi sold 61.1m smartphones in 2014 and 18.7m in 2013.

The “80m” number is actually a reduction from the 100m or so that Xiaomi was hoping for back in March.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida:

Start up: Samsung ChatON going off, USB apps for iPad, the ‘uncanny valley’ for algorithms, Sony hack history, and more


Bitcoin mining: significantly lower health and safety risk than other forms.

A selection of 10 links for you. Wipe off excess. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Apple, is USB allowed now? >> Medium

Matt Ronge, pointing to Duet Display, which lets you use an iPad (via Lightning) as an extra screen for a Mac running 10.9 or better:

For the past year, we’ve been working on an app (launching early 2015) that turns your iPad into a graphic tablet for your Mac (like a Wacom tablet). Our app at its core also streams video content from the Mac to the iPad, so we were very interested in USB connectivity early on in our project.

We knew that using USB instead of Wifi was a decision we had to make early on, as it would completely change our direction of development. USB offers a reliable, low latency connection which is 100x better than any wireless technology (especially with Yosemite experiencing serious Wifi reliability issues).

We were also very hesitant to build a business around a decision Apple may change on a whim. So we submitted an app to test the waters, would Apple allow an app that requires USB? An Apple representative called us and informed us USB connectivity was not allowed.

Duet Display looks like it could be fun, though one usually wants a bigger display – but if you had an 11in Macbook Air, a full-size iPad would almost double your screen size, and improve the resolution a lot.


Our tactics for Gamergate are outdated >> Space Channel 6

Brianna Wu:

For me, personally, I intend to keep lessening the amount I’m posting and writing about Gamergate. Everyone knows they are very sexist, very unhealthy individuals. Thanks to my Patreon, GSX’s full time staffer will document this behavior for law enforcement leaving me free to speak out for change in the industry and make inclusive games.

My suggestion to people rightly outraged about this movement, is to ask yourself what you currently want to accomplish. It’s my suggestion that it would be most helpful to shift the conversation back to representation in the industry. I think the gains in raising awareness of Gamergate have diminished, while the threat of giving the lunatic fringe the attention they desire has stayed the same.

To be blunt, I’m not sure endlessly talking about Gamergate does anything anymore.

I’m not sure it did past the second month. Idiots enjoy being idiots, and won’t be dissuaded from that track.

Topsy suggests a gradual dimunition in the number of tweets on this topic from 50,000 to 20,000 over the past month (and bear in mind that the obsessives tweet many, many times per day).


BuildZoom office burglary – $5000 reward – update!! >> BuildZoom

David Petersen of BuildZoom, from which equipment was stolen:

After our story was covered on ABC 7 News, we were contacted by a nearby startup that was burglarized on July 6th and July 13th. Comparing footage, it’s clear that the same person broke into both offices.

Update 2: It appears that this woman is breaking into SF startups with a Doorking / DKS code entry system. She has obtained a master key and is able to enter any office with this system.

Update 3: We believe we have identified the burglar. It’s a local San Francisco woman who has been convicted of similar crimes in the past. An acquaintance of hers emailed with photographs and additional information. It certainly looks like her.

Someone with a master key for office doors in SF? That’s a problem.


Facebook’s popularity among teens dips again >> Bloomberg

A report yesterday by Frank N. Magid Associates Inc. found that the portion of 13- to 17-year-old social-media users in the U.S. on Facebook slipped to 88% this year from 94% in 2013 and 95% in 2012. In the same period, Twitter and messaging applications rose in popularity in that age group, the study showed.

The Menlo Park, California-based company first warned a year ago that teens weren’t using its website as often as before. Facebook stopped discussing teen usage on its earnings calls after last year’s disclosure alarmed investors. While the issue was all but forgotten as the company’s advertising revenue reached new highs, it’s a bigger concern now, according to Tero Kuittinen, a managing director at Magid in New York.

“You look at Facebook and you say, ‘Wow, something really changed in 2014,’” Kuittinen said. “If kids are starting to use so much of their daily time on messaging apps, surely it’s going to hurt somebody.”

Among 13- to 17 year-olds, Twitter usage climbed 2 percentage points to 48%, according to the report. While more people use Facebook and its messaging app than any competitor, its user base tends to be older, with 55% of Facebook Messenger users being 37 or younger. By the same measure, 86% of Snapchat Inc.’s users and 83% of Kik Interactive Inc.’s users are under 37.

Seems reasonable to think that messaging apps are pulling teens away from Facebook.


2015: the year we get creeped out by algorithms >> Nieman Journalism Lab

Zeynep Tufekci:

It turns out computers have a built-in “uncanny valley” (that creepy feeling android robots generate when they kind of look human). Just like we don’t want robots too human-shaped — we want them to know their place — it turns out we aren’t too happy when our computers go from “smart” (as in automating things and connecting us to each other or information) to “smart” (as in “let me make that decision for you”).

Algorithmic judgment is the uncanny valley of computing.

Algorithms (basically computer programs, but here I’m talking about the complex subset that is being used to calculate results of some consequence, which then shape our experience) have become more visible in 2014, and it turns out we’re creeped out.

Tufekci is super-smart, and always ahead of the curve.


htmlwidgets: JavaScript data visualization for R >> RStudio Blog

Today we’re excited to announce htmlwidgets, a new framework that brings the best of JavaScript data visualization libraries to R. There are already several packages that take advantage of the framework (leaflet, dygraphs, networkD3, DataTables, and rthreejs) with hopefully many more to come.

An htmlwidget works just like an R plot except it produces an interactive web visualization. A line or two of R code is all it takes to produce a D3 graphic or Leaflet map. Widgets can be used at the R console as well as embedded in R Markdown reports and Shiny web applications.

This looks terrific (if you’re into R.)


Bitcoin’s collapse is worse than the ruble’s >> Quartz

Matt Phillips & Melvin Backman:

Why the collapse in bitcoin?  One of the clearest answers seems to be that it’s gotten harder to use bitcoin for some of its less savory uses, such as dodging taxes and buying drugs. Governments increasingly are trying to clamp down on the “dark web” sites where bitcoin quickly was the cryptocurrency of choice. Collapses of large, unregulated bitcoin exchanges — such as Mt. Gox — have done little to instill confidence in the currency either.

Mt Gox was a key reason for the start of the collapse. Yet the nearer Bitcoin gets to its 2011/12 levels, and the more people are using it (thus ironing out the speculative element), the more it looks like a really useful product. The implications of the blockchain are fascinating.


Absolute Sownage >> Attrition.org

Over the last two months, the multi-national Sony Corporation has come under a wide range of attacks from an even wider range of attackers. The backstory about what event prompted who to attack and why will make a mediocre made-for-TV movie someday. This article is not going to cover the brief history of hacks; readers can find details elsewhere. Instead, the following only serves to create an accurate and comprehensive timeline regarding the recent breaches, a cliff notes summary for easy reference.

Starts in April 2011, by the end of which we were up to 21. Current count: 24.


Why the sharing economy could be the internet’s most divisive revolution yet >> The Guardian

By me, on the “sharing economy” companies such as Uber and AirBnB:

what would happen if an Airbnb guest was harmed by fire, or a carbon monoxide leak – a constant concern for hotels. Airbnb’s site says owners “should” make sure they have a functioning CO detector and are following gas safety regulations. But although the money for any stay is paid via Airbnb, Robinson says he doesn’t know who would be responsible if someone were injured that way.

“I’m not a lawyer,” says [Patrick] Robinson [AirBnbB’s public policy director in Europe]. It seems surprising that the eventuality hasn’t come up in business meetings, but Robinson declines to discuss it.

It’s a scenario that has exercised insurance companies, which are wrestling with the question of who is liable in a collision involving a car being driven on an Uber journey, or one of the other car rental services, or a complaint involving Airbnb clients. Premiums might rise, or need extra tweaking.

I still find it surprising if AirBnB hasn’t discussed – and even worked out a plan – for the eventuality of poisoning or death at one of its lets, given that it receives the payments for them.


Samsung says ‘cya’ to ChatON smartphone messaging app >> WSJ

Samsung is closing ChatON, for which it claims a “user base” of over 200m users. To which everyone else says: O RLY? And they used it so much you’re closing it?

“Samsung’s failure in messaging apps is endemic of a broader struggle for the company in software and services,” said Rajeev Chand, managing director at Rutberg & Co., a San Francisco-based investment bank that focuses on the mobile industry.

Mr. Chand said he was puzzled by Samsung’s inability to parlay its massive handset sales into at least some traction in software and services, calling it “the defining issue for the company’s long-term success.”

“If they don’t succeed in apps and software, Samsung has a very large risk of being relegated to an increasingly shrinking-margin company,” he said, referring to the recent gains that low-cost Chinese and Indian competitors have made in handset sales in recent months.

Add in this from April:

Strategy Analytics, a Newton, Mass.-based research firm, said in a report Tuesday that U.S. users of Samsung’s devices spend little time on its own messaging, music and voice-activated applications including apps like ChatON, the South Korean company’s answer to services like WhatsApp, Line and Viber.

The report said that U.S. users of Samsung’s Galaxy S3 and S4 smartphones logged an average of six seconds per month using ChatON, compared to more than 11 hours per month on Facebook and about two hours per month on Instagram.

Six. Seconds. This is Samsung’s problem, writ large (or small). By contrast, Apple failed with Ping – but that was a social media app built on top of iTunes, itself a successful Apple-owned platform; iTunes remained. Samsung is left with nothing.

And it was always reluctant to give any hard numbers about ChatON. The irony is that ChatON is going to remain open for slightly longer in the US – apparently that’s one of the busier places.

Even more fun: at the end of November, Samsung categorically denied that it was going to close ChatON. Denials, eh?


Corrected: the author of the Gamergate post is Brianna Wu, not Anita Sarkeesian. Apologies, and thanks to Ron Hayter.