Start up: the stuck smart home, McAfee’s hack trick, ICO probes Deepmind deal, Flash the zombie, and more


Yes, Runkeeper tracks your runs. But Norway’s consumer council thinks it tracks more than that. Photo by Gordon on Flickr.

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A selection of 11 links for you. Ain’t that something? I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

The smart home is stuck • Tech.pinions

Jan Dawson:

»The challenge, then, is the addressable market for most smart home technology is pretty small, composed of innovators and early adopters in the classic technology diffusion curve. As a result, many products are attempting to squeeze every opportunity out of these small markets until they’re maxed out. Nest has been criticized for not innovating more around its original product but I suspect this is the result of a deliberate strategy to saturate many individual product markets rather than focus on ongoing significant improvements in a single market. This helps to explain Nest’s acquisition of Dropcam, its smoke and carbon monoxide detector, and the other products it’s been rumored to be working on. There’s more mileage in opening up new markets than there is in squeezing incremental value out of existing markets already nearing saturation.

I see some people referring to Amazon’s Alexa as a more mainstream smart home or home automation product, and I think that’s actually a red herring. Yes, it can be used to control smart home devices but I suspect (a) only a subset of Alexa devices are used for this purpose and (b) such a focus would limit its appeal to a niche within that smart home early adopter category. I think Alexa’s potential is much broader than that and it’s precisely because it isn’t just a smart home controller. Alexa isn’t extending the smart home market – it’s more mainstream precisely because it’s not limited to that small and limited opportunity.

«

link to this extract


Mobile traffic dominates among the web’s most popular sites • The Atlantic

Adriene Lafrance:

»More than half of Facebook’s roughly 1.7 billion monthly users visit the site exclusively from their smartphones—that’s 894 million mobile-only users each month, up from 581 million such users last year and 341 million mobile-only users in 2014, according to the company’s latest earnings report.

Google confirmed last year that more searches come from mobile devices than computers in 10 countries, including the United States. Over the holiday season, Amazon said more than 60% of shoppers used mobile. And Wikipedia, which recently revamped the way it tracks site traffic, says it’s getting more mobile than desktop visits to its English language site.

In April, Wikipedia had about 361 million unique visits from smartphones and tablets compared with some 229 million from desktops—meaning roughly 61% of traffic to the English-language version of Wikipedia came from mobile devices, according to data provided by a spokeswoman.

«

Didn’t know the Wikipedia stat, but that’s really persuasive.
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John McAfee apparently tried to trick reporters into thinking he hacked WhatsApp • Gizmodo

William Turton:

»McAfee has a history of being shifty with the press about his alleged cybersecurity exploits. In March, for instance, during a media tour that included appearances on CNN and RT, McAfee claimed he would be able to hack into the phone of San Bernadino terrorist Syed Farook. McAfee never proved his claims, and later admitted that he was lying in order to garner a “shitload of public attention.” And earlier this year, McAfee hedged on his terrorism-prevention ideals for America during an interview with CNN about his Libertarian candidacy for president, saying that his strategy for preventing homegrown terrorism was “difficult to explain.”

Now, it seems McAfee has tried to trick reporters again, by sending them phones pre-cooked with malware containing a keylogger, and convincing them he somehow cracked the encryption on WhatsApp. According to cybersecurity expert Dan Guido, who was contacted by a reporter trying to verify McAfee’s claims, McAfee planned to send this reporter two Samsung phones in sealed boxes. Then, experts working for McAfee would take the phones out of the boxes in front of the reporters and McAfee would read the messages being sent on WhatsApp over a Skype call.

«

Pointless.
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ICO probes Google DeepMind patient data-sharing deal with NHS Hospital Trust • Computer Weekly

Caroline Donnelly:

»The Information Commissioner’s Office, the data protection watchdog, confirmed an investigation into the arrangement is underway, on the back of at least one complaint from the general public.

The deal gives DeepMind access to the healthcare records of 1.6 million patients that pass through three hospitals in North London, which fall under the care of the Royal Free Hospital Trust.

The complaint, seen by Computer Weekly, questions whether DeepMind will be expected to encrypt the patient data it receives when at rest.

“Whilst the information-sharing agreement insists that personally identifiable information – such as name, address, post code, NHS number, date of birth, telephone number, and email addresses, etc – must be encrypted whilst in transit to Google, it does not explicitly prohibit that data being unencrypted at the non-NHS location,” the complaint read.

«

First there’s a deal; then it turns out it’s not directly approved. The complaint is essentially that individuals at Google/Deepmind might access personal data. This is the essential battleground of the coming years: how compatible is tight data regulation with data mining?
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Let’s talk about Amazon reviews: how we spot the fakes • The Wirecutter

Lauren Dragan:

»Amazon has a history of trying hard to deal with offenders and shut them down. In fact, in April, Amazon sued another round of companies that are accused of selling fraudulent reviews. But by the time those companies are caught, their clients have already made a bunch of sales, and the fraudulent reviewers will likely pop up again under new names to repeat the process.

(Want to know more? Wirecutter headphones editor Lauren Dragan talks to Marketplace Tech about compensated Amazon reviews and how to tell real crowdsourced opinions from astroturfing.)

You have a few ways to suss out what may be a fake review. The easiest way is to use Fakespot. This site allows you to paste the link to any Amazon product and receive a score regarding the likelihood of fake reviews.

For example, we ran an analysis on some headphones we found during a recent research sweep for our guide about cheap in-ear headphones. You can see from the results below that the headphones’ reviews didn’t score so well.

«

Hadn’t come across Fakespot before; it seems pretty useful.

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The real cost of big tech’s accounting games • FT.com

Jonathan Ford:

»How much did LinkedIn make over the past three years? Sounds a simple enough question doesn’t it? But it is also one that is capable of being answered in multiple and very diverse ways.

First, let’s look at the figure the US online networking site wants you to focus on. That’s a mouthful called adjusted earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation (ebitda), and the total there between 2013 and 2015 came in at a positive $1.7bn.

Sounds pretty hunky dory? Well, now check out the operating profit line for the business — the one calculated according to the generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP) that companies must present but often don’t emphasise. Over the same period, LinkedIn racked up a $67m loss.

What explains the yawning $1.8bn difference between those two figures? It isn’t simply the depreciation and amortisation charges the company took against the value of its assets. Those, while pretty hefty, came to just $791m. No, the biggest single reason for the negative swing was the $1bn cost of the stock LinkedIn stuffed into its employees’ pay packets over those three years.

«

Why does it matter if the company gives stock to employees? As Ford explains, it’s because by doing that

»the firm denies itself the chance to sell those shares or options for value in the market. Failing to recognise that forgone cash effectively understates the cost the company has incurred in employing those individuals.

«

So stock grants are a cost. So they come off the bottom (operating) line. I’m constantly surprised by how many companies’ non-GAAP results are reported as if they were the ones to compare.
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Google faces record-breaking fine for web search monopoly abuse • Sunday Telegraph

Christopher Williams:

»Google faces a record-breaking fine for monopoly abuse within weeks, as officials in Brussels put the finishing touches to a seven-year investigation of company’s dominant search engine.

It is understood that the European Commission is aiming to hit Google with a fine in the region of €3bn, a figure that would easily surpass its toughest anti-trust punishment to date, a €1.1bn fine levied on the microchip giant Intel.

Sources close to the situation said officials aimed to make an announcement before the summer break and could make their move as early as next month, although cautioned that Google’s bill for crushing competition online had not been finalised.

The maximum possible is around €6.6bn, or a tenth of Google’s total annual sales.

It will mark a watershed moment in Silicon Valley’s competition battle with Brussels. Google has already been formally charged with unlawfully promoting its own price comparison service in general search results while simultaneously relegating those of smaller rivals, denying them traffic.

«

I’m hearing the same about the timing and intention from my sources; the fine, meanwhile, is indeterminate.
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This fitness app tracks you too much, consumer advocates claim • Fortune

David Meyer:

»According to the Norwegian Consumer Council, which has lodged a complaint with the country’s data protection authority, Runkeeper transmits data about its users all the time, not just when the app is in use.

The Norwegian data protection commissioner, Bjørn Erik Thon, confirmed to Fortune that his office has received the complaint and will now look into it.

“Everyone understands that Runkeeper tracks users while they exercise, but to continue to do so after the training session has ended is not okay,” said Finn Myrstad, the consumer council’s technical director.

The data in question includes timestamped location information, as well as Google advertising IDs that can be used to identify the individual.

“Our users’ privacy is of the utmost importance to us, and we take our obligation to comply with data protection laws very seriously,” Runkeeper CEO Jason Jacobs told Fortune. “We are in the process of reviewing the issues raised in the complaint, and we will cooperate with the Norwegian [data protection authority] if it has any questions arising out of the complaint.”

According to the council, Runkeeper’s terms and conditions do not explain how regularly data is transmitted, and users do not give consent to being monitored in this way. The council claims this breaches Norwegian and EU data protection laws.

«

Here’s Runkeeper’s privacy policy. It’s astonishingly vague (though in that respect, probably not so different from other privacy policies). What intrigues me is why the Runkeeper CEO didn’t just say “nah, we don’t collect data after your run.”
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Five things you can get in India with a missed call • WSJ

Shefali Anand:

»Want to transfer funds from your account? Give your bank a missed call. Want to hear Bollywood music? Dial a number and hang up.

Making a missed call by calling a number and letting it ring is a popular way of communicating in India because the caller doesn’t have to spend money. Marketing companies, politicians, banks and others now use this practice to reach millions who have cellphones but limited means.

«

Brilliant. Recalls how, in the days when long-distance calls were expensive, kids on their travels would call the operator and ask to set up a reverse-charge call to their parents. Parent’s phone rings: “Alley Okey is calling from Wichita, Kansas. Will you accept the charge?” Parent: “No.” Conversation ends, with parent knowing that the kid is OK and presently in Wichita.
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Chinese smartphone market has slowed, but Huawei, Oppo & Vivo have not • Counterpoint Technology

»According to the latest research from Counterpoint’s Market Monitor service, the demand for smartphones in China softened during Q1 2016 (Jan-Mar) as the smartphone shipments were down 2% annually and 13% sequentially.

Commenting on the results, Research Director, Neil Shah, said: “In spite of the Chinese holiday season quarter, the Chinese smartphone market demand reached a standstill. This has led to intense competition between the players as they struggle to take share away from each other. In a market with hundred of brands, growth is now limited to a handful of players with the greatest marketing budgets and headturning designs, and available at competitive price points.

“Only five brands registered healthy growth during the quarter. Oppo, Huawei and Vivo drove the majority of the volume, capturing a combined 40% of the total Chinese smartphone market. Demand for rest of the brands declined, especially Apple after the strong demand for iPhone 6 & 6 Plus in the quarter a year ago, and lacklustre performance from Lenovo, ZTE and Coolpad.”

The Chinese smartphone market saw a lull in the first two months of 2016, however sales for smartphones started to pick up in March, with the largest sales contribution from Huawei, Oppo and Vivo, the new leaders in Chinese domestic market.

«

Other notable points: 98% of phones sold were smartphones (hence Microsoft’s 90% year-on-year drop); the “premium” segment of RMB3000+ ($450+) makes up a fifth of the market, with Apple, Samsung and Vivo dominating.
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HTML5 by default: Google’s plan to make Chrome’s Flash click-to-play • Ars Technica UK

Peter Bright:

»In a plan outlined last week, Flash will be disabled by default [in Google Chrome] in the fourth quarter of this year. Embedded Flash content will not run, and JavaScript attempts to detect the plugin will not find it. Whenever Chrome detects that a site is trying to use the plugin, it will ask the user if they want to enable it or not. It will also trap attempts to redirect users to Adobe’s Flash download page and similarly offer to enable the plugin.

«

Great!

»

There will be a few exceptions to this policy, with Google planning to leave Flash enabled by default on the top 10 domains that depend on the plugin. This list includes YouTube, Facebook, Twitch, and Amazon.

«

Crap.

»

Even this reprieve is temporary. The plan is to remove sites from the list whenever possible—Twitch, for example, is switching to HTML5 streaming, so should start to phase out its use of Flash—and after one year the whitelist will be removed entirely. This means that after the fourth quarter 2017, Flash will need to be explicitly enabled on every site that tries to use it.

«

“After the fourth quarter of 2017”, aka 2018. Flash, the desktop web’s malware zombie. (Notice that all those sites somehow muddle through on mobile, which is far bigger, without Flash.)
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified.

Start up: Google’s health data grab, Intel’s mobile halt, satire wars, iPad Pro beats Surface Pro, and more


The ex-chief of Microsoft Windows has bought one, and he reckons it’s important. And IDC reckoned it outsold the Surface in the 1Q. Photo by matsuyuki on Flickr.

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A selection of 14 links for you. Yeah, I know, but I couldn’t stop. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

How AI can predict heart failure before it’s diagnosed » NVIDIA Blog

»The last place you want to learn you have heart failure is where it often winds up being diagnosed: in the emergency room.

Researchers analyzing electronic health records are using  artificial intelligence and GPUs to get ahead of this curve. They’ve shown they can predict heart failure as much as nine months before doctors can now deliver the diagnosis.

A research team from Sutter Health, a Northern California not-for-profit health system, and the Georgia Institute of Technology, believe their method has the potential to reduce heart failure rates and possibly save lives.

“The earlier we can detect the disease, the more likely we can change health outcomes for people and improve their quality of life,” said Andy Schuetz, a senior data scientist at Sutter Health and an author of a paper describing one aspect of the research. “That’s what’s exciting to me – the potential to change the future.”

«

Fascinating (though what do you do with the knowledge that you’re probably going to have heart failure in the next nine months? How specific is the diagnosis? The results haven’t yet been published).

Nvidia’s interest is because it builds the graphics processing units (GPUs) which turn out to be ideally suited for machine learning.
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Revealed: Google AI has access to huge haul of NHS patient data | New Scientist

Hal Hodson:

»It’s no secret that Google has broad ambitions in healthcare. But a document obtained by New Scientist reveals that the tech giant’s collaboration with the UK’s National Health Service goes far beyond what has been publicly announced.

The document – a data-sharing agreement between Google-owned artificial intelligence company DeepMind and the Royal Free NHS Trust – gives the clearest picture yet of what the company is doing and what sensitive data it now has access to.

The agreement gives DeepMind access to a wide range of healthcare data on the 1.6 million patients who pass through three London hospitals run by the Royal Free NHS Trust – Barnet, Chase Farm and the Royal Free – each year. This will include information about people who are HIV-positive, for instance, as well as details of drug overdoses and abortions. The agreement also includes access to patient data from the last five years…

…This is the first we’ve heard of DeepMind getting access to historical medical records, says Sam Smith, who runs health data privacy group MedConfidential. “This is not just about kidney function. They’re getting the full data.”

The agreement clearly states that Google cannot use the data in any other part of its business. The data itself will be stored in the UK by a third party contracted by Google, not in DeepMind’s offices. DeepMind is also obliged to delete its copy of the data when the agreement expires at the end of September 2017.

«

From the document: “Data to be processed other than for the direct care of the patient must be pseudonymised in line with the NHS Act 2006″. (Emphasis in original.)
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The Internet of Things has a dirty little secret » Internet of Shit

»As the market eventually saturates and sales of internet-widgets top off, you can bet that everyone from the smallest to largest vendor will look to what’s next: the treasure trove that is everything it knows about you.

Many of the newest IoT devices are the types of household appliances you won’t replace for a decade. We’re talking about a thermostat, fridge, washing machine, kettle, TV or light — long term, there’s just no other way to be sustainable for the creators of these devices.

There is an alternative path that some could take: maybe Nest needs to increase its revenue, so it decides to charge a monthly subscription model for its thermostat. Now you need to pay $5 per month or it’ll lock you out.

The question then, is if you’d pay for it? Will you pay for a subscription for everything in your home?

Maybe: if the device comes for free, with that subscription, and guarantees your data will be kept private… but I suspect that many people prefer to own outright and simply won’t care about the privacy compromise.

The future of your most intimate data being sold to the highest bidder isn’t dystopian. It’s happening now.

«

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My tablet has stickers » Learning By Shipping on Medium

Steve Sinofsky (you know, the ex-Windows chief) has moved from a Surface Pro to an iPad Pro for his work:

»Every (single) time the discussion comes up about moving from a laptop/desktop (by this I mean an x86 Windows or Mac) to a tablet (by this I mean one running a mobile OS such as Android or iOS) there are at least several visceral reactions or assertions:

• Tablets are for media consumption and lightweight social.
• Efficiency requires keyboard, mouse, multiple monitors, and customizations and utilities that don’t exist on tablets.
• Work requires software tools that don’t/can’t exist on tablet.

Having debated this for 6+ years, now isn’t the time to win anyone over but allow me to share a perspective on each of these (some of which is also discussed in the podcast and detailed in the posts referenced above)…

…The fact that change takes time should not cause those of us that know the limitations of something new to dig our heels in. Importantly, if you are a maker then by definition you have to get ahead of the change or you will soon find yourself behind.

«

He asks developers, in particular, to butt out of the “but tablets can’t..” discussion.
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The death of Intel’s Atom casts a dark shadow over the rumored Surface Phone » PCWorld

Mark Hachman:

»Intel’s plans to discontinue its Atom chips for phones and some tablets may not have killed the dream of a Microsoft Surface phone—just the piece of it that made it so enticing.

In the wake of a restructuring that relegated the PC to just another connected device, Intel confirmed Friday that it has cancelled its upcoming SoFIA and Broxton chips. That leaves Intel with just one Atom chip, Apollo Lake, which it had slated for convertible tablets.

Microsoft has never formally commented on its future phone plans, save for a leaked email that suggests that Microsoft is committed to the Windows 10 Mobile platform and phones running ARM processors. But fans of the platform have long hoped for a phone that could run native Win32 legacy apps as well as the new UWP platform that Microsoft has made a central platform of Windows 10. The assumption was that this would require a phone running on an Intel Atom processor. Intel’s decision eliminates that option.

Unless Microsoft has some other trick up its sleeve, the most compelling justification for a Win32-based Surface phone appears to have died.«

Kinda big for Intel too; giving up on its mobile ambitions into which it has sunk billions. And for Acer and Lenovo, which has relied on Intel chips (and subsidies) for its mobile effort.
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What Happened to Google Maps? » Justin O’Beirne

Engrossing look at how Google Maps represents its content, and how it has changed:

»Let’s take a closer look at a couple of areas within the Bay Area.

First, the Pittsburg / Antioch area:

2010 – Cities, but No Roads. Pittsburg and Antioch are shown — but how to get there? No roads are shown that go to Pittsburg and Antioch.

2016 – Roads, but No Cities. Roads leading to Pittsburg and Antioch are shown — but Pittsburg and Antioch aren’t labeled. Why travel on those roads? Where do they go?

On the 2010 map, Pittsburg and Antioch are what cartographers call “Orphan Cities”. That is, they’re cities that lack connections to the rest of the road network.

A similar situation exists with Santa Cruz:

2010 – Santa Cruz, but No Roads. Santa Cruz is shown, but it’s orphaned (i.e., there are no roads going to it).

2016 – Roads, but No Santa Cruz. Four different roads leading into Santa Cruz are shown — but Santa Cruz isn’t.

On either map, it’s not immediately clear how to travel between San Francisco (or any other Bay Area city) and Santa Cruz.

See the problem?

Both maps, the one from 2010 and the one from 2016, have a similar issue: a lack of balance.

«

Would love to see a similar treatment for Apple Maps.
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Google faces first EU fine in 2016 with no deal on cards: sources » Reuters

Foo Yun Chee:

»Google is likely to face its first European Union antitrust sanction this year, with little prospect of it settling a test case with the bloc’s regulator over its shopping service, people familiar with the matter said.

There are few incentives left for either party to reach a deal in a six-year dispute that could set a precedent for Google searches for hotels, flights and other services and tests regulators’ ability to ensure diversity on the Web.

Alphabet Inc’s Google, which was hit by a second EU antitrust charge this month for using its dominant Android mobile operating system to squeeze out rivals, shows little sign of backing down after years of wrangling with European authorities.

Several people familiar with the matter said they believe that after three failed compromise attempts since 2010, Google has no plan to try to settle allegations that its Web search results favor its own shopping service, unless the EU watchdog changes its stance.

«

The fines could be very big, up to 10% of global revenues – or just a slap on the wrist. How does Margrethe Vestager determine how big to make them?
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Journalism professor will go to war for free speech, as long as it doesn’t mock him » Gawker

JK Trotter:

»the ever-present possibility that certain people might mistake a satire for reality is the very thing that makes satire funny. As Ken White, [a] First Amendment lawyer, observed, “The joke is not only at the expense of Jeff Jarvis. The joke is, in part, at the expense of people who read carelessly.”

Esquire, of all magazines, should know this. It frequently traffics in satirical articles, and was even sued a few years ago over a piece mocking the notorious birther Joseph Farah. (The magazine fought the lawsuit, and won.) So it is particularly remarkable that the magazine’s executives, in complying with Jarvis’s demands, have effectively endorsed his misunderstanding of satire. It is far more hypocritical and troubling, however, that a person of Jarvis’s position and influence would ever demand the piece’s removal in the first place.

Jarvis is a public figure who has built his reputation in part on his aggressive advocacy for journalists’ First Amendment rights, as well as his strong belief that a culture of free speech is a necessary component of any functioning political system.

«

This is a terrific essay by Trotter, and it does point up the essential contradiction of someone who (among other things) insists that Google’s search results should be sacrosanct against “a European court’s insane and dangerous ruling [to] allow people to demand that links to content they don’t like about themselves be taken down” demanding that content they don’t like not about themselves be taken down.
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Apple beats Microsoft at their own game while Amazon primes the low end of the tablet market » IDC

»Slate tablets continued their decline while still accounting for 87.6% of all shipments. More importantly, the slate tablet segment has become synonymous with the low-end of the market. While this may bode well for vendors like Amazon that rely on hardware sales to increase their ecosystem size, it has not helped vendors who rely solely on greater margins for hardware sales. Meanwhile, detachables experienced triple-digit year-over-year growth on shipments of more than 4.9m units, an all-time high in the first quarter of a calendar year.

“Microsoft arguably created the market for detachable tablets with the launch of their Surface line of products,” said Jitesh Ubrani, senior research analyst with IDC’s Worldwide Quarterly Mobile Device Trackers. “With the PC industry in decline, the detachable market stands to benefit as consumers and enterprises seek to replace their aging PCs with detachables. Apple’s recent foray into this segment has garnered them an impressive lead in the short term, although continued long-term success may prove challenging as a higher entry price point staves off consumers and iOS has yet to prove its enterprise-readiness, leaving plenty of room for Microsoft and their hardware partners to reestablish themselves.”

«

The suggestion is that Apple sold more than 2m large iPad Pros (the 9.7in iPad Pro wasn’t released until the end of the quarter) and Microsoft fewer than 2m Surface Pros. And also that there’s no profit left in the low-end “slate” tablet market, if there was any before.
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The end of a mobile wave » Benedict Evans

Evans notes that we’ve hit the end of the “which ecosystem will win?” (answer: both) challenge, and now we have a free-for all among Android/AOSP offerings:

»coming from the other end of the spectrum, mobile operators are increasing buying in a selection of low-end smartphones than they sell (generally unsubsidised on prepay) under their own brand. Sometimes these have operator apps preloaded (if they’ve not given up on that yet), sometimes not. One could argue that the value being added here is really only distribution, and so one might see other companies with distribution getting into this, such as mass-market retailers. Some of these have already experimented with Android tablets, with mixed results (as of course they did with MVNOs).

This is all rather like the PC clone market of the 1980s – hundreds of undifferentiated companies fighting it out to sell commodity computers built with commodity components running a commodity operating system (though those companies mainly made the PCs themselves, where many phone brands do not). That world in due course led to companies like Dell – people who embraced the volume, low-margin commodity model and found an angle of their own. We’re starting to see equivalent model-creation now.

«

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YouTube: ‘No other platform gives as much money back to creators’ » The Guardian

Christophe Müller of Youtube:

»Just this month, a funny video of a Ben Affleck interview helped propel Simon and Garfunkel’s The Sound of Silence to the Top 10 Hot Rock Songs chart 50 years after it was released.

All of this is possible because our technology, Content ID, automates rights management. Only 0.5% of all music claims are issued manually; we handle the remaining 99.5% with 99.7% accuracy. And today, fan-uploaded content accounts for roughly 50% of the music industry’s revenue from YouTube.

The next claim we hear is that we underpay compared to subscription services such as Spotify. But that argument confuses two different services: music subscriptions that cost £10 a month versus ad-supported music videos. It’s like comparing what a black cab driver earns from fares to what they earn showing ads in their taxi.

So let’s try a fair comparison, one between YouTube and radio.

«

It’s all radio’s fault!
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How to use Workflow for iOS when you don’t know where to start » iMore

Federico Viticci:

»Workflow is the most powerful app on my iPhone and iPad. I wouldn’t be able to work without it, and, almost two years after its release, I’m still discovering its infinite potential.

Whether it’s sending a message to a group of people or organizing documents, you’ve likely come across a task on your iPhone or iPad that you’d like to speed up. Our iOS devices have evolved into powerful modern computers, but there are still some areas where we can be slowed down by app limitations, or, more simply, by the tedious process of performing the same task over and over.

Thankfully, we have a solution to this: automation. And when it comes to automating tasks on iOS, Workflow is the undisputed king. Learning to master Workflow is the first step to living an efficient, productive life on iOS, and it’s how I’ve been working on my iPad for years now.

«

Viticci isn’t just saying that; he runs macstories.net, and he really does use his iPad for absolutely everything except podcasting. I’ve had Workflow for ages, but struggled with its lack of declarative structure; Viticci’s explanation is great. (It would be great to be able to simulate Workflow tasks on OSX and then export them to iOS.)
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No time to panic as one quarter shows minor dip in smartphone sales » Communities Dominate Brands

Tomi Ahonen on why talk of “peak smartphone” after stalled growth in Q1 is wrong, wrong, wrong:

»it is a superficial view of the industry without understanding two aspects of it. The first was the pent-up demand of the 6 series of iPhone that created a one-off surge of phablet-screen-size iPhone sales – last year. Because iPhone owners had seen rival smartphones issue phablets for years, they waited and finally when Apple did the iPhone 6 and 6+ that created a one-time surge in iPhone sales pushing Apple in 2014 Q4 Christmas sales and 2015 Q1 January-March sales of the total smartphone market to an exceptionally high level. It was a surge, a peak in iPhone sales which is not normal (there is a normal level of iPhone jump in sales any other year at that time).

That means, that last year Q1, January-March 2015, was at an artificially high level – see how much higher Apple’s iPhone market share was Q1 of last year (was 16% in Q1 of 2014, surged to 18% in 2015 and returned to 15% now). That was not normal market wars where one brand gains and another loses. It was Apple loyalists buying the long-awaited phablet-screen size iPhone 6 and 6+ which created that surge. Because of Q1 of last year being so high, thus the normal [sequential from Q4] decline of Q1 meant, that it now produced that one-off dip in the Year-on-Year smartphone market size. Also note, that ‘loss’ of 2% now is exactly the rise of 2% that Apple gained for 2015 that same quarter, when their phablet surge happened.

«

Yup, that makes perfect sense. China stuttered, as did the US and Europe, but smartphones replacing featurephones is a train running down a hill. (Side note: I’ve replaced the words that Ahonen put IN CAPITALS with lowercase, as it makes no difference to the sense, and a lot to whether he’s YELLING in your EAR.)
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LG Electronics profit growth powered by TV business » WSJ

Min-Jeong Lee:

»LG executives are banking on a turnaround at the company’s mobile business after three straight quarters of operating losses, spurred by sales of its new G5 smartphone.

LG introduced the G5 phone, which comes with a modular body that allows users to easily swap in accessories, to a warm reception in February, fueling expectations the new smartphone will be a hit.

LG expects to ship three million units of the G5 in the second quarter. Executives say the phone is on track to outpace the G3 model, released two years ago, which has been one of the company’s best-sellers. LG has shipped 1.6 million units of the G5, compared with 900,000 units during the first month of the G3’s release.

But the new phone comes at one of the toughest times in the smartphone market, which is facing waning global demand. Total smartphone shipments fell 3% to 335 million units in the first quarter from a year ago, which was the first ever decline in shipments since the advent of smartphones, research firm Strategy Analytics said Thursday.

“There’s no promise the [strong] profits will stay where they are given the dent in overall demand and stiff competition,” Greg Roh, an analyst with HMC Investment Securities in Seoul, said in a recent note to clients.

«

LG executives have been banking on a turnaround at the company’s mobile business for ages. It keeps not happening. Shipments, of course, aren’t the same as sales. And LG’s mobile business has actually made a loss for four straight quarters, not three.
link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified.

Start up: Google rehires Moto chief, Esquire’s satire #fail, play the woman card!, Facebook’s video problem, and more


Heard of the Oppo N3? Millions of people in China have. But research companies disagree over how many million. Photo by TechStage 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. Low in sugar and salt. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Q1 2016: top ten Chinese brands capture 33% of global smartphone market » Counterpoint Technology

»• Smartphone shipments reached 344 million units in Q1 2016 with flat growth compared to last year as the market slowed down considerably

• 3 out of 4 mobile phones shipped on the planet now is a smartphone

• The slowdown can be attributed to higher sell-in during 4Q 2015 and weaker demand in markets such as Brazil, China, Indonesia and parts of Europe.

• This is the first time ever since the launch of smartphone, the segment has seen 0% growth, signaling the key global scale players need to invigorate sales with more exciting products and pricing schemes.

«

What’s odd is that IDC has OPPO shipping 18.5m phones; Counterpoint, just 13.3m. That’s a really big difference. Strategy Analytics, another research company, says Oppo shipped 15.5m.

Clearly, something’s wrong here. Given that research companies have to rely, to some extent, on what companies tell them, is there room for Oppo to .. nudge its figures along?
link to this extract


Venezuela doesn’t have enough money to pay for its money » Bloomberg

Andrew Rosati:

»In late 2015, the [Venezuela] central bank more than tripled its original order, offering tenders for some 10.2 billion bank notes, according to industry sources.

But currency companies were worried. According to company documents, De La Rue began experiencing delays in payment as early as June. Similarly, the bank was slow to pay Giesecke & Devrient and Oberthur Fiduciaire. So when the tender was offered, the government only received about 3.3 billion in bids, bank documents show.

“Initially, your eyes grow as big as dish plates,” said one person familiar with matter. “An order big enough to fill your factory for a year, but do you want to completely expose yourself to a country as risky as Venezuela?”

Further complicating matters is the sheer amount of bills needed for basic transactions. Venezuela’s largest bill, the 100-bolivar note, today barely pays for a loose cigarette at a street kiosk.

«

Did even Zimbabwe ever have this problem?
link to this extract


Google hires Rick Osterloh as SVP for new unified hardware division » Re/code

Mark Bergen and Ina Fried on the hiring of Rick Osterloh, formerly president of Motorola (acquired by and then dumped by Google):

»For years, Google has struggled to get sure footing on its various hardware initiatives — moving delicately to handle partners and, at times, deliver products that consumers actually use. When one of its hardware chiefs, Regina Dugan, who ran its Advanced Technology and Project group, departed for Facebook, we reported that Google was plotting a hardware shake-up.

Here it is now. Osterloh will now oversee Google’s Nexus devices. His new hardware division also includes a suite of products called the “living room,” demonstrating Google’s priority on owning that space.

«

Lots of things here. Osterloh will be in charge of Nexus (phones), Chromecast, consumer hardware (laptops), OnHub (router), ATAP (Project Ara) and – wait for it – Google Glass, which Tony Fadell at Nest had been an adviser to. (He remains an adviser.)

So here’s the setup now. Fadell isn’t going to drive Glass any more; and Nest is consumer hardware, just outside the main Google division. Won’t it get folded into Osterloh’s division now? Which leaves Fadell usurped.

Give it 18 months and see if Fadell’s still there.
link to this extract


Why Esquire removed its funny @ProfJeffJarvis post » NY Mag

Brian Feldman:

»If you’re the kind of person whose job, or, worse, interests lead you to read a lot of very similar (but actually earnest) essays on Medium about the future of technology, media, tech media, media tech, disruption, or innovation, the Esquire post was a funny bit of satire. The Esquire piece included “thinkfluencer” gibberish like:

»

The Innovation Party will be phablet-first, and communicate only via push notifications to smartphones. The only deals it cuts will be with Apple and Google, not with special interests. We will integrate natively with iOS and Android, and spread the message using emojis and GIFs, rather than the earth-killing longform print mailers of yesteryear.

«

The byline on the piece was “Prof. Jeff Jarvis.” Here’s where it got tricky: “Prof. Jeff Jarvis” isn’t former Entertainment Weekly editor and well-known future-of-media pontificator Jeff Jarvis. Rather, it’s a character developed in a parody Twitter account run by Bradbury. Well-known in certain media circles, @ProfJeffJarvis initially satirized the thoughts of Jarvis himself before growing into a more general and very funny riff on the pie-in-the-sky gambits of new media.

«

I do feel sympathetic to (the real) Jarvis: this would be infuriating. Feldman (and Jarvis) makes the point that people don’t get context; most wouldn’t realise that it wasn’t the real Jarvis.

I feel Bradbury could easily tweak the name of his character, and keep tweaking it – ProfJaffJervis, ProfJoeJervis, ProfJayJorving, and so on, until it’s some distance from where it started. That would give everyone a clean way out.
link to this extract


With Facebook video, the aggregators are winning » Digiday

Sahil Patel:

»[The highly popular Facebook video page run by] Vlechten met Daan insists it has the rights to all its content. But that’s not always the case. Funny Videos, Uber Humor and Funk You Entertainment have been singled out by content owners, speaking on the condition of anonymity to Digiday, as Facebook “freebooters.” (None of the channels responded to requests for comment.)

“It’s fraud and it’s hard to tell how big of a problem it is. Some of these pages are not pages you normally see on Facebook — and there are a lot of them out there,” said one publishing executive. “We’ve even seen stuff pop up on our friends and family’s news feeds without our name on it, and then they’ll share it with us and say, ‘Hey, this would be great for you.’”

With no steady ad system in place on Facebook, publishers have been willing to give the platform some slack as it tries to weed out the freebooters. But now that Facebook has loosened its grip on branded content, the issue becomes more immediate.

“The danger of the aggregations is that down the road it leads to monetization complexities,” said Katzeff. “You can’t monetize content that you don’t own unless you have some type of agreement that allows you to do that — and you certainly can’t monetize content that you put on your channel in an unauthorized fashion.”

«

Rather than “certainly can’t” in that last sentence, probably better to substitute “shouldn’t but probably will until forcibly stopped”.

Oh, and these “freebooters” are the aggregators against whom the big media companies seeking to monetise their video are going to be fighting.
link to this extract


Play the ‘woman card’ and reap these ‘rewards’! » The Washington Post

Alexandra Petri:

»“Frankly, if Hillary Clinton were a man, I don’t think she’d get 5 percent of the vote. The only thing she’s got going is the woman’s card,” Trump said Tuesday night, after winning 5 primaries.

Ah yes, the woman’s card.

I have been carrying one of these for years, proudly.

It is great. It entitles you to a sizable discount on your earnings everywhere you go (average 21%, but can be anywhere from 9% to 37%, depending on what study you’re reading and what edition of the Woman Card you have.) If you shop with the Woman Card at the grocery, you will get to pay 11% more for all the same products as men, but now they are pink.

Hook up the Woman Card to your TV and you will get a barrage of commercials telling you that you did something wrong with your face and must buy ointment immediately so as not to become a Hideous Crone. Also, you are now expected to spend your whole life removing hair from your body, except for the areas of your body where your hair must be long and luxurious. (Do not get these two areas confused!)

«

Satire so hot it burns, burns, burns.
link to this extract


AdMop vs Springer — our story » Medium

Vikram Kriplaney and Sebastian Vieira built a free, then paid-for adblocker for iOS 9:

»Axel Springer says that users are not free to see editorial content without ads, and we are violating their copyright because we replace the ads with something else. Despite the fact that bild.de shows a landing page which forces the user to buy a subscription or deactivate the ad blocker.

Their real foe is Eyeo GmbH, which has already won six cases. They are not without controversy, since they sell whitelisting. By defeating us and other indie developers, Axel Springer is building a case for the final ruling against Eyeo GmbH.

Firefox, Asus, Opera… everybody is doing ad blocking now.

Axel springer went as far as going against a youtuber because he gave instructions to how to disable bild.de’s anti-ad-blocking technology

It seems that if you do something that Axel Springer does not like, you are doing something illegal.

«

link to this extract


Warrants served in probe stemming from San Bernardino attack » Associated Press

Why not a headline with something like DRAMA OVER TERROR SHOOTERS? Read on:

»Three people connected to one of the San Bernardino shooters, Syed Rizwan Farook, have been arrested in a marriage fraud conspiracy, including his brother and sister-in-law, federal prosecutors said Thursday.

The third person arrested is the wife of Enrique Marquez Jr., a friend of Farook’s who has been charged for his alleged role in aiding the violence, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said. The two women arrested are Russian immigrants.

Prosecutors say the three participated in a marriage fraud conspiracy that involved lying under oath to obtain immigration benefits.

«

Oh, screw it. The San Bernadino killers weren’t terrorists acting with Isis; they were just a couple of idiots acting alone.
link to this extract


What voice commands & queries do people use Google Now for on Android Wear smartwatches ? » London SEO

“C Byrne”:

»To use Google Now on a smartwatch you say “OK Google”… and then your watch is listening. Wow! Now that is really creepy! You can use your voice with Android smartwatches to do things like search Google for information, get travel directions, and to create personal reminders. For example, you can say “Ok Google where’s the nearest grocery store?” to find grocery stores near you . There are commands and queries unique to Google Now on Android Wear smartwatches e.g. “what’s my heart rate?” (which also may be a normal search query)…

…Based on the phrases (including those below) in my research Google Keyword Planner reported that around 67% were from mobile devices with full browsers – this may be distorted by the inclusion of the phrase “OK google” for comparison.

«

The numbers seem pretty low – though there are fewer than 4m Android Wear devices in use, by my own calculations.
link to this extract


Getty accuses Google of ‘promoting piracy’ » FT.com

Christian Oliver:

»In its complaint [to the European Commission’s competition commissioner Margrethe Vestager], Getty argues that Google abused its dominance of image searches to change “drastically” the way that it presented Getty’s photographs after January 2013, by displaying them in a high resolution and large format. Before that date, they had only been shown in image searches as low-resolution thumbnails.

Yoko Miyashita, Getty’s general counsel, argued that this new display diverted customers away from her company’s website, where customers would pay for them, and deterred customers from ever leaving Google’s platforms.

She said this “promoted piracy, resulting in widespread copyright infringement, turning users into accidental pirates”.

Getty said that it raised its concerns with Google three years ago but Google had replied that Getty should either accept its new presentation of images or opt out of image search, in effect becoming invisible on the web.

Ms Miyashita said this was not a “viable choice” given the importance of Google to navigating the internet.

Getty added that Google was threatening the livelihoods of 200,000 contributors who relied on the company’s business model to make a living. “By standing in the way of a fair market place for images, Google is threatening innovation and jeopardising artists’ ability to fund the creation of important future works,” Ms Miyashita said.

Getty said its web traffic collapsed immediately in 2013 after the changes implemented by google.com and google.co.uk. However, traffic remained robust on the French and German Google sites, which did not implement the display changes in January 2013.

«

Watermarking might work; quite how Google can avoid complaints about copyright is puzzling. And who knew that there were 200,000 contributors to Getty?
link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified.

Start up: EC v Android in detail, how neural networks spot nudes, Xbox 360’s black ring of death, and more

But now you can get a smart one with a remote app which doesn’t work! Photo by 1950sUnlimited 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. Jumping beans for moving goalposts. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Spring cleaning at CNET’s Smart Home starts with a new smart washer and dryer » CNET

Megan Wollerton:

»Here’s how it’s supposed to go:

Select “Add Appliance” in the app and follow the seemingly straightforward step-by-step tutorial. This includes selecting the type of appliance you want to connect – either a washer, dryer, refrigerator or dishwasher – then the app lists the compatible models. Next, you choose the model number that corresponds to your unit, enter the SAID pin (this number is listed in small font on a sticker when you open the washer and dryer’s lid), connect to Wi-Fi, enter your home address and finally, hit the “finish” button.

Unfortunately, I experienced a couple of hiccups during what should have been a 10-minute process. The first time I tried to add the washing machine, the app crashed and would not let me log in for another 2 hours, saying, “Problem Signing In: Please try again Later.”

Once I was able to log in again, I ran into another road block when I hit the “finish” button — the very last step before the machine is connected and you can start using the app. This time the app said, “Registration Error: We couldn’t register the appliance. Please try again later.”

«

Ooh, I love the future. Love it. (Guess they had to get a woman to review it because none of the male writers would know what a washing machine was.)
link to this extract

 


Commission sends Statement of Objections to Google on Android » European Commission

Obkects over licensing of proprietary apps, “exclusivity” and “anti-fragmentation”, here:

»if a manufacturer wishes to pre-install Google proprietary apps, including Google Play Store and Google Search, on any of its devices, Google requires it to enter into an “Anti-Fragmentation Agreement” that commits it not to sell devices running on Android forks.

Google’s conduct has had a direct impact on consumers, as it has denied them access to innovative smart mobile devices based on alternative, potentially superior, versions of the Android operating system. For example, the Commission has found evidence that Google’s conduct prevented manufacturers from selling smart mobile devices based on a competing Android fork which had the potential of becoming a credible alternative to the Google Android operating system. In doing so, Google has also closed off an important way for its competitors to introduce apps and services, in particular general search services, which could be pre-installed on Android forks.

«

That “prevented from selling” is stated as fact; either it’s Amazon’s Fire Phone (Android OEMs couldn’t make the Fire Phone without breaking the Open Handset Alliance agreement) or something involving Cyanogen and a rival app store.
link to this extract

 


Android’s model of open innovation » Google Europe Blog

Kent Walker, Google general counsel:

»Android has emerged as an engine for mobile software and hardware innovation.  It has empowered hundreds of manufacturers to build great phones, tablets, and other devices. And it has let developers of all sizes easily reach huge audiences.  The result?  Users enjoy extraordinary choices of apps and devices at ever-lower prices.

The European Commission has been investigating our approach, and today issued a Statement of Objections, raising questions about its impact on competition. We take these concerns seriously, but we also believe that our business model keeps manufacturers’ costs low and their flexibility high, while giving consumers unprecedented control of their mobile devices.

«

Sure, but that isn’t what the EC is worked up about.
link to this extract

 


The EU’s Android mistake » Beyond Devices

Jan Dawson:

»If the Commission’s main focus is on OEMs rather than consumers, it’s worth evaluating that a little. The reality is that OEMs clearly want to license the GMS [Google Mobile Services] version of Android, because that’s the version consumers want to buy. As Amazon has demonstrated, versions of Android without Google apps have some appeal, but far less than those versions that enable Google search, Gmail, Google Maps, and so on. Vestager’s statement alludes to a desire by at least some OEMs to use an alternative version of Android based on AOSP (presumably Cyanogen), but doesn’t go into specifics. Are there really many OEMs who would like to use both forms of Android in significant numbers, or is their complaining to the Commission just a way to push back on some of the other aspects of Android licensing they don’t like?

It’s certainly the case that OEMs and Android have a somewhat contentious relationship and Google has exerted more power in those relationships over the last recent years, but the main reason for the change in leverage is that Android OEMs have been so unsuccessful in differentiating their devices and hence making money from Android. Inviting the Commission to take action may be a roundabout way to change the balance of power in that relationship, but it’s not the solution to OEMs’ real problems.

«

These are all fair points. Though there’s a certain circularity to the argument of “GMS is what people want to buy, so that’s what is sold”. Dawson does note the above point about the “prevented” development. Was it Amazon? Cyanogen?
link to this extract

 


September 2012: Why Google’s clash with Acer and Alibaba strains China’s Android market » The Guardian

By me, back in September 2012:

»The search giant lobbied Acer last week to halt its scheduled press showing of a new smartphone aimed at the Chinese market, pointing out that membership of the Open Handset Alliance – the group of companies forming the device, carrier, semiconductor, software and “commercialisation” sides of the Android ecosystem – forbids Acer from making devices that offer forked, or incompatible, versions of Android.

Acer cancelled the launch abruptly, leaving Alibaba fuming publicly at Google’s actions. John Spelich, Alibaba’s international spokesman, told CNet that “Aliyun is different” from Android – dismissing remarks aimed at him by Andy Rubin, head of Google’s mobile efforts including Android, saying to Spelich that “Aliyun uses the Android runtime, framework and tools. And your app store contains Android apps (including pirated Google apps).”

The upshot has been that Acer has withdrawn from the partnership with Alibaba, at least for now. But Digitimes, the Taiwan-based news site for the IT supply chain there and in China, says there is unease on the part of a number of ODMs (original device manufacturers) who would otherwise aim to benefit from making both Android-compatible and forked versions – the latter principally aimed at China.

«

This point is key. To break into or out of China, OEMs needed to be able to have different sets of services in different countries. And some OEMs wanted to be able to offer forks.
link to this extract

 


What convolutional neural networks look at when they see nudity » Clarifai Blog

Ryan Compton:

»Automating the discovery of nude pictures has been a central problem in computer vision for over two decades now and, because of its rich history and straightforward goal, serves as a great example of how the field has evolved. In this blog post, I’ll use the problem of nudity detection to illustrate how training modern convolutional neural networks (convnets) differs from research done in the past.

*Warning: this blog post contains visualizations corresponding to very explicit nudity, proceed with caution!

«

When it’s *other peoples’* very explicit nudity then it’s worrying, of course, but not if it’s your own. NSFW, unless your work involves teaching neural networks to recognise naked people, I guess.
link to this extract

 


The Democratic Party now belongs to Hillary Clinton » The American Conservative

Lloyd Green:

»Up until now, [Bernie] Sanders drew rock star crowds as he raged against the machine. Two days before the primary, 28,000 people showed up in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park to watch the candidate and to listen to Grizzly Bear. The Wednesday before, a crowd of 27,000 filled Greenwich Village’s Washington Square Park for Sanders and Vampire Weekend. Who needed Coachella when you had Bernie, people asked.

But opening acts aren’t the same thing as organization, concerts aren’t elections, and grand gestures don’t necessarily make you a winner. As Clinton pointed out in her victory speech, “it’s not enough to diagnose problems. You have to explain how you actually solve the problems.” Left unsaid was Clinton’s hand in making the messes she was complaining about. But never mind, Clinton clearly conveyed the message that Sanders was not ready for prime time.

In hindsight, Sanders’ jetting to the Vatican just days before the primary looks like showboating, and his ill-prepared interview before the New York Daily News editorial board seems reminiscent of a stoner trying to ace a college biology exam. And Sanders paid for all of it.

«

Just keeping you up to date on the US elections. You know.
link to this extract

 


Intel to cut 12,000 jobs, puts focus on cloud » WSJ

Don Clark and Tess Stynes:

»Makers of handsets overwhelmingly chose chips based on designs licensed from ARM Holdings PLC, which are available from a plethora of suppliers, and Google Inc.’s Android software, which is available free. No matter how good Intel or Microsoft products became, they could never counter those fundamental changes.

Sales of PCs, meanwhile, have been mainly declining since Apple’s iPad emerged in 2010. The market recently seemed to plateau, but sales again dropped in the first quarter, falling nearly 10%, Gartner Inc. estimated.

The continuing decline has forced Intel to focus on growth areas such as computers for data centers and noncomputer devices outfitted with data processing and communications capabilities, known as the Internet of Things.

“They’ve looked at the decline of the PC market and clearly decided that they are going to put most of their effort elsewhere,” said Rob Enderle, a market research who heads the Enderle Group.

«

Let it be recorded that Rob Enderle said something sensible.
link to this extract

 


Antitrust: e-commerce sector inquiry finds geo-blocking is widespread throughout EU » European Commission

»Margrethe Vestager, Commissioner in charge of competition policy, said “The information gathered as part of our e-commerce sector inquiry confirms the indications that made us launch the inquiry: Not only does geo-blocking frequently prevent European consumers from buying goods and digital content online from another EU country, but some of that geo-blocking is the result of restrictions in agreements between suppliers and distributors. Where a non-dominant company decides unilaterally not to sell abroad, that is not an issue for competition law. But where geo-blocking occurs due to agreements, we need to take a close look whether there is anti-competitive behaviour, which can be addressed by EU competition tools.”

More and more goods and services are traded over the internet but cross-border online sales within the EU are only growing slowly. The Commission’s initial findings from the sector inquiry published today address a practice, so-called geo-blocking, whereby retailers and digital content providers prevent online shoppers from purchasing consumer goods or accessing digital content services because of the shopper’s location or country of residence. This is one factor affecting cross-border e-commerce.

«

Pretty much unnoticed among the hubbub about Android, but likely to have more real effect. More details (and pretty graphs!) in the accompanying factsheet.
link to this extract

 


Huawei P9 Leica-branded dual-cam actually made by Sunny Optical » Digital Photography Review

Lars Rehm:

»When the Huawei P9 was launched recently, its unusual dual-camera grabbed headlines for a couple of reasons. On one hand, its innovative technological concept, with one 12MP sensor capturing RGB color information and a second 12MP chip exclusively recording monochrome image information, had not been seen in a smartphone before. On the other hand, a Leica badge next to the camera module had imaging enthusiasts speculating about just how much technology from the legendary German camera-maker had made it into the Chinese smartphone.

Huawei later provided additional information, saying the P9’s camera module had been certified by Leica but the German company had not been involved in development or production of the optics. Now it has been revealed that the camera module in question is actually made by the Chinese company Sunny Optical Technology of China, which, according to “insider sources”, is authorized to do so by Leica.

«

Reviewers praised the P9’s camera to the skies. Wonder if they’ll revisit what they wrote?
link to this extract

 


Achievement unlocked: 10 years – thank you, Xbox 360 » Xbox Wire

Phil Spencer, head of Xbox:

»From the original Zero Hour launch event, to the incredible reaction received last year at E3 when we announced that you could play your Xbox 360 games on Xbox One, the soul of Xbox 360 was about putting gamers at the center of every decision we make – and we apply this principle across our business to this day.

Xbox 360 means a lot to everyone in Microsoft. And while we’ve had an amazing run, the realities of manufacturing a product over a decade old are starting to creep up on us. Which is why we have made the decision to stop manufacturing new Xbox 360 consoles. We will continue to sell existing inventory of Xbox 360 consoles, with availability varying by country.

We know that many of you became gamers on Xbox 360 and are still active, so it’s important to us that while the overall Xbox gaming experience will evolve and grow, we will continue to support the platform you love in multiple ways.

«

During which time it sold not quite 90m units, and was the cause of $1.15bn in writeoffs over the Red Ring of Death.
link to this extract

 


Is Firefox search worth $375m/year to a Yahoo buyer? » Tech.pinions

I dug into Yahoo’s and Mozilla’s financials:

»Who stands to lose if Yahoo is sold — besides of course Marissa Mayer, who will probably lose her job along with a fair number of Yahoo staff? The surprising, and unobvious, answer is Mozilla and the Firefox browser.

That’s because Mozilla is highly dependent on a five-year contract with Yahoo, signed in December 2014, where it receives about $375m per year to make Yahoo the default search provider in the Firefox browser on the desktop. From 2004 to 2014, that contract was exclusively with Google; now it’s Yahoo in the US, Google in Europe, Yandex in Russia and Baidu in China.

How much is $375m per year compared to Mozilla’s spending? Most of it.

«

Is a Yahoo buyer really going to think that is a deal worth continuing with?
link to this extract

 


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified.

Start up: the comments pit, Magic Leap v Google Glass, South Korea’s shocking history, sue Kanye!, and more

Seems the EC is going to charge Google with antitrust violations over Android. Photo by Geoff Livingston on Flickr.

You can now receive each day’s Start Up post by email. Confirmation link first, so no spam.

A selection of 10 links for you. Just a little short of Avogadro’s number. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

They called it ‘the worst job in the world’ – my life as a Guardian moderator » The Guardian

Marc Burrows was head of the Guardian’s comment moderation team for five years:

»Ultimately, the biggest problems in comment threads come down to “agenda trolls”: the people so convinced they are right that they ride into a conversation not to join it, but to rip it apart.

They are easy to spot: they are the users who will scream “LIAR!” when they mean, “I think you’re wrong”, the ones whose arguments never quite seem to match the comment they are addressing, who resort to insults and TALK IN CAPITALS. You can’t win against those people, because they never truly believe they have lost.

They are comment-thread poison – men’s rights activists who act as if articles about women’s issues are their gender’s single biggest problem, climate change deniers who will drag any conversation about energy policy into murky pseudo-science, and borderline racists for whom there is no issue that cannot be pinned on immigration (UK) or black people (US). It is often known as “whataboutery” and is a tactic designed to throw a conversation off course.

«

Burrows was terrific at his job (which obviously includes leaving comments alone as well as deleting them). This long piece points to the benefits of comments, which absolutely do exist, as well as – like here – the disbenefits, and the problems of making them add value to the article above.

I think it’s that which nobody has quite solved: how to make comments below an article add what’s above. Not only do you need intelligent commenters who want to add value, you need a way for that value to be recognised. It’s notable that the number of articles on the Guardian open for comments had reduced drastically in the past 18 months.
link to this extract

 


The Guardian eyes content blocking, while Eyeo pleads legitimacy with independent verification » The Drum

Ronan Shields:

»On the opening day of the week-long event, the IAB hosted a panel session entitled ‘Ad Blocking: A New Deal or a Modern Day Protection Racket?’ where representatives from the indsutry’s buy and sell-side, were joined by privacy and ad blocker advocates to debate the issue.

Tim Gentry, The Guardian’s global revenue director, told attendees the title had recently become “far more persistent” in its charge to counter the effect of ad blockers, and this strategy could eventually include blocking access to content if it detects a user has one installed on their browser.

“With a small section we’ve tried to be far more persistent, asking them to either whitelist us, pay to become a member, tell us you’re a subscriber, and with a small sub-sect of people we’ll start to block access to content,” he said.

“What we’ve seen is that up to two-thirds of ad blocker users are willing to whitelist us, because they want quality content,” added Gentry.

Guy Philipson, CEO, IAB, UK, also recounted how “six-or-seven” publishers were exploring the option of following a similar approach adopted by French and Swedish publishers to act in unison to request that users either whitelist them or switch off their ad blockers altogether, or else be refused access to content.

«

The incremental moves by the publishers here are like a chess game where they’re unsure of the strength of their opponent. Ask nicely? Block back? Offer alternatives? The problem is that no tactics works on more than a third, or fewer, of those who use adblockers. So who’s “winning”?
link to this extract

 


Canada’s competition watchdog drops probe into Google » Reuters

Alastair Sharp:

»Canada’s Competition Bureau said on Tuesday that it was dropping an investigation into Google after saying in 2013 that it suspected the company was abusing its dominant position in online search.

The watchdog said it had found evidence to support one of the allegations against Google but that the company had already made changes to remedy those concerns and agreed not to reintroduce anticompetitive clauses in its contracts.

The Bureau said it did not find sufficient evidence of a substantial lessening or prevention of competition in the market to support its other allegations against Google, now a unit of holding company Alphabet Inc.

«

That’s the good news. Now for the bad news…
link to this extract

 


Margrethe Vestager to charge Google Wednesday: sources » POLITICO

Nicholas Hirst and Chris Spillane:

»European Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager is expected to unveil formal antitrust charges Wednesday against Google’s Android mobile operating system, according to two people briefed on the timing.

Google expects the charges to drill down on its Android distribution agreements, according to one of the people, who requested anonymity because the company’s position isn’t yet public.

The Commission is concerned that some of Google’s terms and conditions unnecessarily restrict phonemakers, giving Google’s own apps — from search to Gmail to maps — an unfair advantage.

«

You could say “popcorn!” except that this will follow this pattern: (a) a charge sheet from the EC (b) a rebuttal blogpost from Google (c) complete silence for a year or more while nothing happens.
link to this extract

 


South Korea covered up mass abuse, killings of ‘vagrants’ » Associated Press

Kim Tong-Hyung and Foster Klug:

»Choi [Seung-woo] was one of thousands — the homeless, the drunk, but mostly children and the disabled — rounded up off the streets ahead of the 1988 Seoul Olympics, which the ruling dictators saw as international validation of South Korea’s arrival as a modern country. An Associated Press investigation shows that the abuse of these so-called vagrants at Brothers, the largest of dozens of such facilities, was much more vicious and widespread than previously known, based on hundreds of exclusive documents and dozens of interviews with officials and former inmates.

Yet nobody has been held accountable to date for the rapes and killings at the Brothers compound because of a cover-up orchestrated at the highest levels of government, the AP found. Two early attempts to investigate were suppressed by senior officials who went on to thrive in high-profile jobs; one remains a senior adviser to the current ruling party. Products made using slave labor at Brothers were sent to Europe, Japan and possibly beyond, and the family that owned the institution continued to run welfare facilities and schools until just two years ago.

Even as South Korea prepares for its second Olympics, in 2018, thousands of traumatized former inmates have still received no compensation, let alone public recognition or an apology. The few who now speak out want a new investigation.

«

The government opposes it on the grounds that the evidence is “too old”; an official said “there have been so many incidents since the Korean War.” Astonishing investigation, aided by still-extant government documents and living people.
link to this extract

 


Magic Leap: a new morning » YouTube

»Welcome to a new way to start your day. Shot directly through Magic Leap technology on April 8, 2016 without use of special effects or compositing.

«

I watched this, and immediately I thought “yup, I’ve seen that thing where notifications you’d rather deal with on your phone are shown to you floating in mid-air. What was it? Oh, I know…”
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Project Glass: One day… » YouTube

You might remember this, released in April 2012.

»This is an early concept video that was made when Project Glass was just getting started. While a lot has changed since then, our motivation to get technology out of the way remains the same.

«

Anyway, if you do want to read about Magic Leap…
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Five burning questions about Magic Leap after Wired’s huge profile » The Verge

Nilay Patel:

»Wired ran an enormous profile on mysterious AR startup Magic Leap today, written by legendary tech journalist Kevin Kelly. It’s incredible, and you should read it, if only because Kelly’s obvious love and enthusiasm for virtual and augmented reality is infectious and energizing.

But the piece also raises many, many more questions about Magic Leap than it answers — and given the extreme opacity that’s surrounded Magic Leap, that’s pretty notable. (To catch you up: Magic Leap is a secretive company that’s raised over a billion in funding from Silicon Valley giants like Google and Andreesen Horowitz, but it’s never given a public demo — most of what we know comes from fantastical pitch decks buried inside patent applications.)

So here are five burning questions about Magic Leap.

«

Patel raises excellent questions (along the lines of “how the hell does this thing works, then?”). Kelly’s article is breathless as ever, almost to the extent of parody. Patel’s questions are worth asking. (One also thinks: perhaps he’ll get the journalists on The Verge to ask similar searching questions when they do breathless pieces too.)
link to this extract

 


Man sues Kanye West, Tidal, over new album » Bloomberg

Anthony McCartney:

»The proposed class action lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in San Francisco by Justin Baker-Rhett contends West fraudulently promised fans that his album, “The Life of Pablo,” would only be available on Tidal. The site charges users at least $9.99 a month, but West’s album has since been released for free on Apple Music and Spotify.

Millions of people flocked to Tidal in February because of West’s new album and the rapper’s promise of exclusivity, giving the struggling site a boost and also a trove of user information, the lawsuit states. Baker-Rhett is asking a judge to order Tidal to delete information collected on users who signed up for West’s album.

“Mr. West’s promise of exclusivity also had a grave impact on consumer privacy,” the lawsuit states, noting that users’ credit card information, music preferences and other personal information have been collected.

The lawsuit contends the value of new subscribers and their personal information could be as much as $84m for Tidal.

«

That claim by Kanye (who’s a shareholder in Tidal) that it would be Tidal-only was never credible. But of course everyone feigned belief.
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Ears on with the LG G5’s Bang and Olufsen DAC » AndroidAuthority

Rob Triggs:

»For the listening test I donned my pair of AKG K550’s, a reasonably priced set of “reference” headphones with a 32 ohm input impedance and frequency range from 12Hz to 28KHz.

My impressions of both the regular LG G5’s audio output and the B&O DAC are very positive. The default G5 pumps out a mostly well balanced presentation with plenty of detail and clean sounding highs, although there’s not a huge amount of liveliness to them. The bass can be a little lacking in places, especially in punchier tracks, and, while certainly not narrow, the G5’s stereo output isn’t especially wide. We can attribute this to the handset’s mediocre crosstalk test result, which reveals some bleed between the left and right channels.

I struggled to make out any difference between my “Hi-Fi” files and their equivalent CD quality tracks, but those will a very keen ear will be able to pick up on some differences when listening to their compressed alternatives.

«

That middle paragraph could be about wine (“clean highs.. liveliness..”) or any other product where people pretend to themselves that they can distinguish indistinguishable things. 12Hz is far below hearing, while 28kHz is far above it.

The G5’s “Friends” idea might get some audiophiles to spring for it, but I don’t see it catching on.
link to this extract

 


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified.

Start up: EC v Android?, the human chatbots, Metallica v YouTube, Wall Street’s new mortgage con, and more

Guess what the priciest search ad keywords in the UK are associated with. Photo by Javmorcas on Flickr.

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A selection of 8 links for you. Be ineffable. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

EU prepares for Android crackdown » FT.com

Christian Oliver and Murad Ahmed:

»The EU has given its strongest signal to date of its intent to crack down hard on Google’s mobile operating system, comparing an imminent antitrust case against Android to Brussels’ epic confrontation with Microsoft a decade ago.

People involved in the case said that EU regulators were very close to opening a long-expected new front in their showdown with Google, which has already been hit with charges that it abused its dominance of online searches.

A second charge sheet, in relation to Android, is almost finalised. Margrethe Vestager, competition commissioner, would probably be ready to deliver it as early as this week, the people said, although the timing could not be confirmed.

Ms Vestager said on Monday that she was concerned that Google could be unfairly taking advantage of consumers’ desire to have pre-installed apps, ready for use as soon as “we take a new smartphone out of its box”. This could stifle innovation by keeping fledgling app makers and service providers out of the market.

“Our concern is that, by requiring phonemakers and operators to preload a set of Google apps, rather than letting them decide for themselves which apps to load, Google might have cut off one of the main ways that new apps can reach customers,” she said in a speech in the Netherlands.

Explaining her logic, she alluded to the European Commission’s landmark battle with Microsoft, which lasted years and culminated in 2007 with combined fines of more than €2bn.

«

Very like the search charges (which were filed a year ago, and absolutely nothing has happened). Except that 1) Google really did manipulate search results to keep out rivals 2) phonemakers have always been able to use AOSP and then fill it in with apps – as happened with the Nokia X. I don’t think the Android case is as strong as the search case.
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The top 100 most expensive keywords in the UK: new research » Search Engine Watch

Chris Lake:

»Back in the day, around 2003, somebody asked me a question regarding paid search: “Do you know what the most expensive keyword is on Google Adwords, and how much it costs?”

I made a bunch of guesses, gradually increasing the amount I thought it might be acceptable to pay every time somebody clicks on an ad. £20? No? £30? Surely not!

The grand reveal was that I was horribly wrong, and that some advertisers were paying “about £70 a click” for the term ‘mesothelioma’, which is a type of cancer associated with exposure to asbestos. It was immediately apparent that legal firms would spend that kind of money because they were hunting for big ticket compensation lawsuits.

Roll forward to the present day and I wondered how things had changed, as Google’s revenues have grown to more than $67bn globally and keyword inflation is a big deal in a lot of sectors.

The good folks at SEMrush provided me with a huge list of the most expensive keywords in five countries, and for my first piece of research I’ve focused on the UK.

I had 2,000 keywords to analyse (from its database of 12m in the UK) and here are the top results…

«

Now it’s gambling which leads the pack; gambling-related keywords make up 67 of the 100 most expensive key word searches.

In other words, if you’re using Google services for free in the UK (and who isn’t?), then gambling helps pay for it through the expensive keyword ads. The next ones? Financial spread betting and day trading; “big data” and cloud services; business-to-business (especially cheap electricity); and legal compensation. Gambling, finance (or gambling finance), tech, legal and B2B complete the 100.

Would love to know what percent of total AdWord revenues come from each category, and what percentage the top 100 represent.
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The humans hiding behind the chatbots » Bloomberg

Ellen Huet:

»[Willie] Calvin joined X.ai [which offers an email chatbot “Amy” which sets up appointments in response to emails] in December 2014 just a few months after graduating from the University of Chicago with a public policy degree. He was under the impression that his $45,000 annual salary job as an AI trainer would be half product development and half reviewing the algorithm’s accuracy. He said he was asked, as part of the job application, to write a one-page essay on why automation would be good for jobs and workers. X.ai declined to comment on specific hiring practices.

He was excited at the chance to do product development at a tech startup, but once he started work, he said he found that the product part of the job never materialized. Instead, Calvin said he sometimes sat in front of a computer for 12 hours a day, clicking and highlighting phrases. “It was either really boring or incredibly frustrating,” he said. “It was a weird combination of the exact same thing over and over again and really frustrating single cases of a person demanding something we couldn’t provide.” Kristal Bergfield, who oversees X.ai’s trainers, said that that the job has evolved over time and entails hard work. “We’re building something that’s entirely new,” she said. “It’s an incredibly ambitious thing, and so are the people who work here.”

«

Still, on the plus side, it means that robots aren’t going to take our jobs. Downside: our jobs will become subsidiary to those of robots.
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Metallica manager: ‘YouTube is the devil’ » BBC News

Mark Savage:

»Peter Mensch, the manager of bands including Metallica, Red Hot Chili Peppers and Muse, says YouTube is killing the record industry.

“YouTube, they’re the devil,” he told a BBC Radio 4 documentary on the music business. “We don’t get paid at all.”

He said the site’s business model, in which artists make money by placing ads around their music, was unsustainable.

“If someone doesn’t do something about YouTube, we’re screwed,” he said. “It’s over. Someone turn off the lights.”

Mensch’s arguments echo concerns raised in the annual report of the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI), which was released last week.

It said there was widening “value gap” between the volume of music consumed on free, “user-upload” services – including YouTube, Daily Motion and Soundcloud – and the amount of revenue they generate for the industry.

An estimated 900 million consumers on these sites resulted in revenue of $634m (£447m) in 2015. By contrast the world’s 68 million paying music subscribers generated about $2bn (£1.4bn).

«

Once again, Metallica is OK (as they were when they were suing Napster in 2000) but it’s the other, mid-tier bands that will be missing out. Streaming is a terrible business model, but YouTube makes it look like a goldrush.
link to this extract

 


Sony says Kumamoto plant not main site for smartphone components » Reuters

Makiko Yamazaki:

»Sony Corp said on Monday that its image sensor plant in Kumamoto, which has been shut since earthquakes hit southern Japan last week, makes components mainly for digital cameras.

Sony’s plant in Nagasaki, which resumed full operations on Sunday, is the company’s major production facility for image sensors for smartphones, it said.

The company said it had yet to decide when to restart the Kumamoto plant.

There had been concerns that plant shut downs because of the earthquakes could affect production of Apple Inc’s iPhones, including the iPhone 7.

“The impact of the Kumamoto plant suspension on Apple is expected to be limited,” Hiroyuki Shimizu, principal research analyst at Gartner, said.

«

link to this extract

 


Wall Street veterans bet on low-income home buyers » NYTimes.com

Alexandra Stevenson and Matthew Goldstein:

»As the head of Goldman Sachs’s mortgage department, Daniel Sparks helped make the bank more than a billion dollars betting against the market as housing prices began to crash in 2007.

Today, he is betting on home buyers who no longer qualify for mortgages in the fallout of that housing crisis.

Shelter Growth Capital Partners, an investment firm Mr. Sparks founded in 2014 with two other former Goldman Sachs executives, has been buying homes that were foreclosed on during the financial crisis and later resold to buyers under long-term installment contracts.

The firm has bought just over 200 homes from Harbour Portfolio Advisors, a Dallas investment firm that has specialized in selling homes to lower-income buyers through what is known as a contract for deed. In these deals, a seller provides the buyer with a long-term, high-interest loan, with the promise of actually owning the home at the end of it.

These contracts, a form of seller financing, have ballooned in recent years as low-income families unable to get traditional mortgages have turned to alternate ways to buy homes.

The homes are often sold “as is,” in need of costly repairs and renovations, and many of the transactions end in eviction when buyers fall behind on payments.

«

So poorer would-be buyers are screwed once again because although money is cheaper than it has ever been (and so the loans don’t have to be high-interest; the houses aren’t going to run away), they are – yet again – the marks in the new shell game being played by Wall Street.
link to this extract

 


Hacking your phone » CBS News

Sharyn Alfonsi spoke to a team of German hackers who have found a flaw in SS7, aka Signalling System 7, the phone protocol for voice calls and text – and had a demo of how they could hack into her call to a congressman Ted Lieu, who is knowledgeable about technology, by knowing the number for the iPhone that CBS had provided to Lieu :

»[Karsten] Nohl told us the SS7 flaw is a significant risk mostly to political leaders and business executives whose private communications could be of high value to hackers. The ability to intercept cellphone calls through the SS7 network is an open secret among the world’s intelligence agencies — -including ours — and they don’t necessarily want that hole plugged.

“We live in a world where we cannot trust the technology that we use.”

Sharyn Alfonsi: If you end up hearing from the intelligence agencies that this flaw is extremely valuable to them and to the information that they’re able to get from it, what would you say to that?

Rep. Ted Lieu: That the people who knew about this flaw and saying that should be fired.

Sharyn Alfonsi: Should be fired?

Rep. Ted Lieu: Absolutely.

Sharyn Alfonsi: Why?

Rep. Ted Lieu: You cannot have 300-some million Americans– and really, right, the global citizenry be at risk of having their phone conversations intercepted with a known flaw, simply because some intelligence agencies might get some data. That is not acceptable.

«

link to this extract

 


Investigating the algorithms that govern our lives » Columbia Journalism Review

Chava Gourarie:

»[Algorithms are] also anything but objective. “How can they be?” asks Mark Hansen, a statistician and the director of the Brown Institute at Columbia University. “They’re the products of human imagination.” (As an experiment, think about all of the ways you could answer the question: “How many Latinos live in New York?” That’ll give you an idea of how much human judgement goes into turning the real world into math.)

Algorithms are built to approximate the world in a way that accommodates the purposes of their architect, and “embed a series of assumptions about how the world works and how the world should work,” says Hansen.

It’s up to journalists to investigate those assumptions, and their consequences, especially where they intersect with policy. The first step is extending classic journalism skills into a nascent domain: questioning systems of power, and employing experts to unpack what we don’t know. But when it comes to algorithms that can compute what the human mind can’t, that won’t be enough. Journalists who want to report on algorithms must expand their literacy into the areas of computing and data, in order to be equipped to deal with the ever-more-complex algorithms governing our lives.

«

As Gourarie points out, there aren’t yet any journalists with the title of “Algorithm correspondent”, but maybe there should be; algorithms are (going to be? already?) as powerful as politicians, but less easy to interview. Though in the case of Google search and Facebook’s News feed, no single person, nor even group of people, quite knows for certain why they do what they do. What does that mean?
link to this extract

 


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida:

Start up: Android antitrust?, Flickr flickers, Apple gets small, Opera adblocks, an iPhone killer dies, and more

Sonos is cutting jobs but says voice recognition and streaming will be bigger parts of its future. Photo by nan palmero 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. A computer counted them. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

What happens when video games can read your face » Fast Company

Elizabeth Segran:

»Game developers have always been interested in how players might react to the characters and plots they created—but what if they could tell exactly how the player was feeling and tailor the game to their mood?

“Back in the olden days we had to do a lot of guesswork as game designers,” says Erin Reynolds, the creative director of the gaming company Flying Mollusk. “Is the player enjoying this? Is the player bored? You had to create a game that was one size fits all.”

But all that is changing fast. Affectiva, an MIT Media Lab spin-off that creates technology that recognizes people’s emotions by analyzing subtle facial movements, has created a plugin that game developers can integrate into their games to make them more emotion-aware.

«

The warm bath of AI – it’s all around you.
link to this extract

 


EU taking steps towards formal complaint against Google’s Android » Bloomberg Business

Aoife White:

»The European Union may be gearing up to send Google an antitrust complaint over its Android mobile phone operating system, adding to a growing list of regulatory woes for the company on the continent, according to three people familiar with the probe.

The Internet giant’s opponents have been asked to remove any business secrets from documents submitted to regulators to prepare non-confidential versions that could be shown to Google after a statement of objections, said the people who asked not to be named because the investigation is private.

«

That’s certainly a key step towards a Statement of Objections. But it’s been more than a year since Vestager raised the SOO to Google’s search, and nothing has happened. Why will this make any difference?
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Android N’s under-the-hood changes might point to a new future for OS updates » Android Central

Jerry Hildenbrand:

»Imagine a world where Samsung can have its vision of Android running just how it likes it, while deep system processes — like the infamous Stagefright library — are separate and untouched. That would mean that Samsung or Google could push out changes to their separate parts of the system far more easily (and much faster) than they can today without interfering with the other half of the system. (With APIs and libraries to bridge the gap.) The manpower alone that this situation frees up means more people are available to work on making the Samsung experience better without having to worry about the underlying Android code.

With Android N, Google has essentially started to divide Android into two sections: the core OS (the framework that makes everything work) and the interface (the apps, launcher, notifications, and everything else the user interacts with).

«

Sounds nice. Any reasonable estimate suggests that Android N will be on about a third of Android devices 18 months after it is announced; Lollipop (v 5.x) is now on 36.1% of devices, having been released in November 2014. So that suggests, if N goes live in November, that it’s going to be 2018 before any of this is really widespread.
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Apple invites media to March 21 product event » Mashable

Lance Ulanoff:

»No one expects cutting-edge technology from the new 4-inch phone. Most rumors have pegged it with the last-generation A8 chip and an 8-megapixel camera. It will also, at a rumored $450, cost a lot less than Apple’s flagships, the iPhone 6S and 6S Plus.

Most people also expect an iPad Air 3. Apple’s latest 9.7in tablet will not be a great leap forward, but it should include an A9 processor, support for the Apple Pencil and maybe even Smart Connectors for accessories like an iPad Air-size Smart Keyboard.

This event will also mark the one year anniversary (plus a few days) of the official introduction of Apple’s first wearable, the Apple Watch. No one is predicting new hardware; the Apple Watch design will probably be fixed for at least another six months. There are rumors, though, of even more watch band styles and, possibly, some new Apple Watch colors and materials.

This is also the time of year where Apple does a laptop refresh. A year ago it introduced the ultra-light, gold MacBook, which was notable for having just a single USB-C port. The device is an engineering wonder, but its processor, the Intel Core M, is over a year old. Expect an upgrade to Intel’s sixth-generation Core line (a.k.a. Skylake). Apple could also introduce upgrades for the MacBook Pro and the Mac Pro.

There’s always the possibility of a surprisem, like a brand new gadget or accessory. It’s certainly been ages since Apple upgraded the earbuds that ship with the iPhone. Maybe they’ll finally get a Beats upgrade.

«

They all sound like solid upgrades; watching the effect of a new 4in iPhone on sales will be telling.
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Navigating an industry in transition, investing in the future of music » Sonos

Sonos chief executive (and co-founder) John McFarlane on how future music streaming and voice control will be key to the company’s future:

»Now the path forward for the music industry is crystal clear, so too is our path at Sonos. We’re doubling down on our long-held conviction that streaming music is the dominant form of consumption now and in the future. We believe that listeners will grow increasingly dissatisfied with the solutions they’ve cobbled together for listening at home.

“Now that music fans can finally play anything anywhere, we’re going to focus on building incredibly rich experiences that were all but unimaginable when we started the company.”
Now that music fans can finally play anything anywhere, we’re going to focus on building incredibly rich experiences that were all but unimaginable when we started the company, and will be at the vanguard of what it means to listen to music at home. This is a significant long-term development effort against which we’re committing significant resources.

Voice: we’re fans of what Amazon has done with Alexa and the Echo product line. Voice recognition isn’t new; today it’s nearly ubiquitous with Siri, OK Google, and Cortana. But the Echo found a sweet spot in the home and will impact how we navigate music, weather, and many, many other things as developers bring new ideas and more content to the Alexa platform.

Alexa/Echo is the first product to really showcase the power of voice control in the home. Its popularity with consumers will accelerate innovation across the entire industry. What is novel today will become standard tomorrow. Here again, Sonos is taking the long view in how best to bring voice-enabled music experiences into the home. Voice is a big change for us, so we’ll invest what’s required to bring it to market in a wonderful way.

«

Apparently the new Sonos Play:5 has a microphone built in, but not – it seems – enabled yet. McFarlane also says there are layoffs, though the number isn’t specified. The admiration for Amazon’s Echo is something to note, though.
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Flickr’s desktop auto-upload feature is no longer free » VentureBeat

Ken Yeung:

»Flickr has made a change to its $5.99 monthly Pro membership plan that will affect those using the photo-sharing social network for free. Starting today, its desktop Auto-Uploadr tool will be exclusive to paying customers. But all is not lost, as the company is offering a 30 percent discount to non-paying members to upgrade.

With the desktop Auto-Uploadr feature, users can automatically upload all of their photos from anywhere, while also making them accessible from any device. Introduced in May and available for Windows and Mac computers, it promised to take images from your hard drive, iPhoto, and any external hard drive and store it on Flickr’s servers. This was intended to tout the company’s increase in free storage capacity of up to 1000GB.

«

Feels like the first turn of the screw.
link to this extract

 


The roots of Tim Cook’s activism lie in rural Alabama » The Washington Post

Todd Frankel got sent down to Alabama to see what the hell he could find in the town where Tim Cook grew up. Turned out, not much to find:

»Robertsdale today is a two water-tower town of about 5,200 residents. It’s doubled in size since Cook grew up here, with houses spreading across former farm fields. The town got its first Walmart Supercenter two years ago.

Back in 1977, the new store in town was a Piggly Wiggly. There was no movie theater. No bowling alley. The fall county fair was the big deal. Teens hung out on the town’s tennis courts or outside Hammond’s Supermarket, where they knew the owner. “There was nothing to do,” said Teresa Prochaska Huntsman, another Class of ’78 alum.

School was the center of their lives. And Cook excelled there. He was in the National Honor Society and racked up academic honors. So did Huntsman, who managed to edge out Cook for the title of class valedictorian…

…“He probably considered himself to be a bit nerdy, but he didn’t come off that way,” recalled Harold Richardson, another former classmate.

And the topic of whether Cook — or any other student — was gay wasn’t even on the radar. “In the ’70s, in high school, no one thought about that, especially in Alabama,” Richardson said. It was like it wasn’t even possible.

Growing up gay in small-town Alabama a generation ago meant knowing the value of privacy, recalled Paul Hard, 57, who was raised in tiny Demopolis, Ala. He doesn’t know Cook, but imagines what he went through, because he went through it himself. “You kept your cards close to your chest,” he said.

«

The photo of Cook in the high school yearbook is amazing, though. Took me quite a while to find it.
link to this extract

 


China’s best iPhone clone maker bites the dust » Tech In Asia

Charlie Custer:

»So what killed Dakele? Frankly, having a good-quality, low-cost smartphone simply isn’t enough to win you customers in the Chinese smartphone market these days. While it worked in the early days of Xiaomi, when real iPhones were a luxury item and smartphone penetration was low, these days everybody in major cities has a smartphone, and the middle class has grown enough that Apple’s uber-expensive iPhone is consistently among China’s top sellers.

In this climate, investors are not longer interested in backing phone brands that only offer value-for-money. With virtually all of China’s internet giants getting in on the smartphone game, there are too many other companies out there that can offer the same kind of value for money in addition to other things, like an established customer base or unique software integrations. Dakele ultimately folded, according to Ding, because its sources of capital were cut off as investors became more interested in rivals. (It also probably didn’t help that the company Dakele outsourced its manufacturing to shut down last year.)

The most important lesson of Dakele’s death may be that in big, fast-growing markets like China the bang-for-buck approach to selling smartphones isn’t sustainable in the long term. In the early years of China’s smartphone market, knockoff brands and clone-makers like Dakele were making a killing, but the demise of Dakele suggest that now those days are well and truly gone. If you want to sell smartphones in China, having good specs and an affordable price isn’t enough to attract customers or investors anymore.

«

Now the question becomes: what is enough? Custer also points to other markets where the same lesson is likely to be learnt the hard way.
link to this extract

 


Opera becomes first big browser maker with built-in ad-blocker » Reuters

Eric Auchard:

»Norwegian company Opera is introducing a new version of its desktop computer browser that promises to load web pages faster by incorporating ad-blocking, a move that makes reining in advertising a basic feature instead of an afterthought.

Faster loading, increased privacy and security and a desire for fewer distractions are behind the growing demand for ad-blockers.

However, their popularity is cutting into the growth of online marketing for site publishers and corporate brands, who rely on reaching web and mobile users to pay for their content rather than restricting access to paid subscribers.

Opera has a history of introducing innovations that later become common in major browsers such as tabbed browsing and pop-up blocking, which helped users control an earlier generation of in-your-face ads and malware disguised as advertising.

«

It’s that last paragraph that’s important: Opera introduced tabbed browsing in 2000, and by 2001 it was in Mozilla, then Safari in 2003, and IE in 2006. Adoption of new features could be even faster now.
link to this extract

 


The Economist explains: Why fashion week is passé » The Economist

»Fashion week used to serve a distinct purpose. Designers would prepare collections and present clothes to the press, to major retailers and to select other industry insiders. Fashion editors would then prepare sumptuous magazine spreads featuring the clothes they liked best. Retailers would order this or that dress. About four to six months later, those clothes would appear in shops.

Technology has upended all this. As soon as models sashay down the runway, photographs are posted online and shared endlessly through social media. Fast-fashion brands copy designers’ styles (though the industry prefers the euphemism “interpret”), often stocking look-alikes in their shops before designers’ own clothes make it to department stores. When designers’ clothes do arrive, they seem stale . It is no coincidence that the world’s top two retailers are TJX and Inditex. TJX buys brand-name clothes from stores that can’t sell them at full price, then offers them at a deep discount. Inditex owns Zara, the pioneer in fast fashion.

Few designers like the current system. Less obvious is what they should do next.

«

(Via Benedict Evans.)
link to this extract

 


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida:

Start up: app retention rates, the real FBI-Apple court problem, Samsung closing Milk Music?, and more

Steve Jobs’s desire to push books on the iPad led to an antitrust finding against Apple. Screenshot by tuaulamac 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. Aren’t they? I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Apple, FBI, and the burden of forensic methodology » Zdziarski’s Blog of Things

Jonathan Zdziarski is a forensics expert who has testified in court cases and designed his own computer forensics tools. He says that even if Apple is forced to write the software to crack the iPhone PIN, it will need to be examinable in court:

»Full documentation must be written that explains the methods and techniques used to disable Apple’s own security features. The tool cannot simply be some throw-together to break a PIN; it must be designed in a manner in which its function can be explained, and its methodology could be reproduced by independent third parties. Since FBI is supposedly the ones to provide the PIN codes to try, Apple must also design and develop an interface / harness to communicate PINs into the tool, which means added engineering for input validation, protocol design, more logging, error handling, and so on. FBI has asked to do this wirelessly (possibly remotely), which also means transit encryption, validation, certificate revocation, and so on.

Once the tool itself is designed, it must be tested internally on a number of devices with exactly matching versions of hardware and operating system, and peer reviewed internally to establish a pool of peer-review experts that can vouch for the technology. In my case, it was a bunch of scientists from various government agencies doing the peer-review for me. The test devices will be imaged before and after, and their disk images compared to ensure that no bits were changed; changes that do occur from the operating system unlocking, logging, etc., will need to be documented so they can be explained to the courts. Bugs must be addressed. The user interface must be simplified and robust in its error handling so that it can be used by third parties.

«

Trivial, huh?
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April 2015: Meerkat & Periscope: features, not products » Tech-Thoughts

Sameer Singh, writing almost a year ago when the two streaming apps were just taking off:

»Both Meerkat and Periscope leverage smartphone cameras to broadcast live video. However, the apps themselves don’t play a major role in the discovery of these broadcasts. This may be because they are too specialized to generate sustained engagement, at least enough to be a discovery platform (most app users are likely to be broadcasters). Also, it is relatively easy to replicate the feature set and user experience of a Meerkat or a Periscope, but it is very difficult to enable discovery. Therefore, these apps are not products in their own right, but just features built on top of broadcast-oriented social platforms, i.e. those that facilitate one-to-many communication (e.g. Twitter).

On a standalone basis, these apps have a limited shelf life — they could either be acquired by social platforms that fit the description above or be killed by them. Therefore, it isn’t surprising that Meerkat found viral success by leveraging Twitter’s social graph. Any incumbent’s response in this situation would be to build or acquire a similar feature set. Twitter chose to acquire.

«

And this month: Meerkat announces that it’s going to pivot to being a “video social network” instead.

Not just a feature, but a very niche feature.
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Driverless lorry convoys to be trialled in the UK » Ars Technica UK

Sebastian Anthony:

»Convoys of automated lorries will be trialled on UK motorways, chancellor George Osborne is expected to announce in his 2016 Budget speech later this month.

The Times reports that the trials will take place on a northerly stretch of the M6, which runs from Birmingham all the way up to the border of Scotland, near Carlisle. The Department for Transport confirms that planning for “HGV platoons” is under way, though it did not comment on whether the trials will receive funding in the Budget, nor give any kind of timeline for the fleet’s deployment.

A DfT spokesman said: “We are planning trials of HGV platoons—which enable vehicles to move in a group so they use less fuel—and will be in a position to say more in due course.” The Times reports that these platoons could consist of up to 10 driverless lorries, each just a few metres away from each other.

The DfT’s “less fuel” claim refers to “drafting,” where the first lorry in the platoon creates a slipstream, significantly reducing drag and fuel consumption for the other lorries behind it. In a semi-automated lorry demo a couple of years ago, the fuel economy for a platoon of lorries improved by about 15%. Expand that out to the thousands of trucks that are on UK roads at any one time and you’re looking at potentially huge cost reductions.

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Supreme Court rejects Apple e-books price-fixing appeal » Reuters

Lawrence Hurley:

»The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday declined to hear Apple Inc’s challenge to an appellate court decision that it conspired with five publishers to increase e-book prices, meaning it will have to pay $450m as part of a settlement.

The court’s decision not to hear the case leaves in place a June 2015 ruling by the New York-based 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that favored the U.S. Department of Justice and found Apple liable for engaging in a conspiracy that violated federal antitrust laws.

Apple, in its petition asking the high court to hear the case, said the June decision by the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York upholding a judge’s ruling that Apple had conspired with the publishers contradicted Supreme Court precedent and would “chill innovation and risk-taking.”

«

One of those instances where Steve Jobs (who created the antitrust situation while trying to kickstart iPad sales by getting iBooks competitive with Amazon, but without the pain of competing on price) really overreached. And the irony? It turns out retail e-books aren’t a particularly strong driver of iPad sales.
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Facebook pulls plug on ad software » The Information

Cory Weiberg:

»Last year, Facebook tested software that would represent a bold expansion of its display ads business beyond its own inventory, a move potentially worth billions in revenue. Using a demand-side platform, or a DSP, marketers would be able to use Facebook users’ identity data to bid on ad slots across the mobile and desktop Internet in real time.

But Facebook recently yanked the bidding software from service because the tests showed that banner ads that were served attracted too many fraudulent impressions by bots trawling the Web, the company confirmed to The Information on Friday.

While Facebook’s current advertising business centers mostly on its own mobile inventory and apps plugged into its ad network, many in the industry have been awaiting its plunge into the mobile web’s programmatic ad marketplace. Its ad server, Atlas, which on Monday added capabilities to serve video ads and track offline purchases, can measure whether users saw ads across digital devices. But because of the pulled DSP tests, the ad server doesn’t yet have a bidding platform that would expand its pool of marketing clients wanting to tap this programmatic marketplace.

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Google dominates the banner ad space via DoubleClick, but one has to wonder whether it sees the same level of bot trawling; if it does, how does it stop it better than Facebook? Is it just about having more experience?
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“Google Posts” embeds a one-way social network directly into search results » Ars Technica

Ron Amadeo:

»There’s a weird new feature popping up in Google search results called “Google Posts.” It seems to be a place for Google to directly host content in a post-Google+ world and to embed this content directly into search results. Imagine orphaned Google+ posts with the Google+ branding stripped out, and you’re most of the way there.

Over at Google.com/posts, Google has a landing page for this feature, calling it “an experimental new podium on Google” that allows you to “hear directly from the US presidential candidates in real time on Google.” It’s a believable explanation until you see this Google Posts profile from “Andrew Jewelers” in Buffalo, New York, (spotted by Mike Blumenthal), which is definitely not a presidential candidate.

The landing page says the “experimental” feature is “only available to the 2016 US presidential candidates” (Andrew Jewelers for president!), but those of us not running for office can join a waitlist as Google plans to “make it available to other prominent figures and organizations.”

It really seems like this is a Google+ reboot just for brands. The design definitely seems like Google+ with the Google+ branding stripped out, but this “social network” explicitly dodges being “social” AND any kind of “networking.”

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Sort-of sponsored content in search results?
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Expect lots more publishers to start asking people to turn off their ad blockers » Business Insider

Lara O’Reilly:

»The US digital advertising trade body, the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB,) has released advice to publishers on how they should deal with the growing number of ad blocker users visiting their sites.

The IAB wants publishers to “DEAL” with it, by taking these four steps:

• D: detect ad blocking, in order to initiate a conversation (The IAB also released an ad blocking detection script for its members to add to their websites on Monday.)

• E: explain the value exchange that advertising enables.

• A: ask for changed behavior in order to maintain an equitable exchange.

• L: lift restrictions or Limit access in response to consumer choice.

In other words, it looks like far more websites are going to start asking users to turn off their ad blocker or pay some sort of subscription or make a micropayment in order to access their content.

«

M-i-c k-e-y m-o-u-s-e acronyms are nice, but it’s a big risk to take that people actually do love your content so very much that they’ll take all those ads once more, having stopped. Or will publishers and advertisers just dial back on the ads only for adblocking users? Or for everyone? The inconsistencies multiply.
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Milk Music may shut down as Samsung eyes Tidal [update: doesn’t eye Tidal] » Variety

Janko Roettgers:

»Samsung is likely going to shutter its Milk Music streaming service in the near future as part of a bigger revamp of its music strategy, Variety has learned from multiple sources. However, Samsung denied rumors that it was going to buy Jay Z’s Tidal service in a statement sent to Variety Friday hours after the original publication of this story.

The shut-down would come two years after Samsung unveiled Milk Music with big fanfare as a competitor to Pandora. The service, which offers consumers personalized radio stations, had initially been exclusive to owners of select mobile devices made by the company. Samsung later opened up Milk Music on the Web, and brought it to its smart TVs as well, but never released apps for phones from other manufacturers.

Milk Music was initially meant to be part of a bigger move toward a new generation of media services that would add value to Samsung devices while also adding incremental advertising and subscription revenue to Samsung’s bottom line. As part of that strategy, Samsung launched Milk Video as a platform for short-form video content in late 2014. There had been plans to branch out with the Milk brand into sports and other forms of entertainment as well.

But late last year, Samsung shuttered Milk Video after it failed to gain traction with consumers. Now, it looks like Milk Music may be heading for a similar shut-down.

«

Roettgers was first with the story about Milk Video shutting down. Samsung Milk Music has over 10m downloads on Google Play and a high rating (4.3).

But again, Samsung just can’t seem to make up its mind what it wants to do beyond hardware. Chat service? It closed Chaton. Video service? Closed Milk Video. Music service? … Oh well.
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New data shows losing 80% of mobile users is normal, and why the best apps do better » andrewchen

Andrew Chen and Ankit Jain:

»The first graph shows a retention curve: The number of days that have passed since the initial install, and what % of those users are active on that particular day. As my readers know, this is often used in a sentence like “the D7 retention is 40%” meaning that seven days after the initial install, 40% of those users was active on that specific day.

The graph is pretty amazing to see:

Based on Quettra’s data, we can see that the average app loses 77% of its DAUs [daily active users] within the first 3 days after the install. Within 30 days, it’s lost 90% of DAUs. Within 90 days, it’s over 95%. Stunning. The other way to say this is that the average app mostly loses its entire userbase within a few months, which is why of the >1.5 million apps in the Google Play store, only a few thousand sustain meaningful traffic. (*Tabular data in the footnotes if you’re interested)

Ankit Jain, who collaborated with me on this essay, commented on this trend: “Users try out a lot of apps but decide which ones they want to ‘stop using’ within the first 3-7 days. For ‘decent’ apps, the majority of users retained for 7 days stick around much longer. The key to success is to get the users hooked during that critical first 3-7 day period.”

«

The graph for top 10 apps, by contrast, shows them at over 50% retention even after 90 days. Data via 125m Android devices worldwide, and excluding Google’s own apps.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified.

Start up: Apple’s $8bn tax bill?, the tech funding squeeze, Friends Liquidated, Samsung ‘Live Photos’+ more


At least you knew that the advert might be seen by real people. No such assurances in the online world. Photo by University of Pittsburgh Libraries 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.

Why you should never consider a travel planning startup » Tnooz

Nadav Gur, principal at NG Vanguard Enterprises:

First, you need to acquire users. Guess what — if they’re not planning a trip, they’re not interested in travel planners. They don’t even acknowledge their existence.

People are bombarded by new websites/apps/brands all the time, and they filter for what’s relevant.

That’s what you see GEICO ads on TV all the time – cause the only way to get your attention those 1–2 times a year when you give a damn about insurance, is to be in front of you all the time.
No matter how much press/word-of-mouth/viral exposure you’re getting, it only registers if/when it happens to be relevant.

Inevitably this means that you too have to advertise a lot. And no, free user acquisition schemes like SEO do not work in 2015 at scale in established markets.

The Priceline Group spends over $2bn per year on Google Ads alone. Guess why?

Not so easily disrupted. And that’s before you get to the question of how many people spend enough on travel for any affiliate amounts to be worthwhile.
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Tech faces hour of reckoning as fundraising drops, layoffs rise » USA Today

Jon Swartz:

Is tech in for a rude awakening this year after a magic carpet ride the past few years?

The numbers, and recent actions by once-highflying start-ups, would seem to suggest so.

Consider: Mega-rounds, defined as funding of more than $100 million for venture capitalist-backed companies, are in free fall. The rate of private start-ups attaining unicorn status — a valuation of at least $1 billion — are grinding to a crawl. Friday layoffs at tech start-ups, deemed Black Fridays, are increasing. Bellwether tech stocks such as Apple, Google, Facebook and Amazon have been taking it on the chin.

“It’s a time to re-calibrate — so many companies can’t burn extraordinary amounts of money forever,” says Sunil Panel, co-founder of Sidecar, a pioneer in the crowded ride-sharing space that shuttered operations on Dec. 31.

Last year, Silicon Valley projected unbridled swagger. Today, “there is definitely an era of reckoning,” says Chris Sacca, a venture investor with stakes in Uber and Twitter. “Reality is setting in.”

Not sure about “grinding to a crawl” (note to USA Today subs: things grind to a halt, or slow to a crawl), but the slowdown in stupid ideas is palpable.
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European antitrust chief takes swipe at privacy issue » The New York Times

Mark Scott on the EC’s Margrethe Vestager’s speech at the DLD conference:

“If a few companies control the data you need to cut costs, then you give them the power to drive others out of the market,” Ms. Vestager said at the DLD conference, a gathering of digital executives and policy makers.

She said that “it’s hard to know” how much data is given up when using an online messaging service.

“But it’s a business transaction, not a free giveaway,” she continued. “As consumers, we need to be treated fairly.”

Ms. Vestager’s warning shot in the often-rancorous privacy debate comes ahead of a Jan. 31 deadline for Europe and the United States to reach a new data-sharing agreement…

…A number of European executives echoed Ms. Vestager’s fears about how a small number of American tech companies could use their large-scale data collection to favor their own services over those of rivals. Among them was Oliver Samwer, the German entrepreneur who co-founded Rocket Internet, one of the region’s most high-profile tech companies.

“If someone like Google or Facebook has all of the data, then that’s not good,” Mr. Samwer said here on Sunday.

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Whatsapp goes free, says it won’t introduce ads » Mashable


Whatsapp readily acknowledges that killing its only source of income will raise questions about introducing third-party ads. But the company has a different idea.

“Starting this year, we will test tools that allow you to use WhatsApp to communicate with businesses and organizations that you want to hear from. That could mean communicating with your bank about whether a recent transaction was fraudulent, or with an airline about a delayed flight,” the post reads.

We reckon Whatsapp will charge organizations and business for establishing channels with their users through the service, though no details were announced. The idea is by no means new; a Bloomberg report in May 2015 claimed Whatsapp might foray into B2C messaging in the “longer term.”

Perfectly sensible business idea, and could also turn it into a platform like WeChat (whose capabilities and inclusions dwarf those of any western app).
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Friends Reunited website to close down » BBC News

Zoe Kleinman:

Friends Reunited launched in the year 2000 and was bought by broadcaster ITV for £175m ($250m) in 2005.

However, it failed to keep pace with other social networks.

It was sold to comic publisher DC Thompson for only £25m in 2009 and Mr Pankhurst wrote in a blog post that the company had offered it back to him a couple of years ago.

Pankhurst and business partner Jason Porter agreed to take on the site for a trial period to see if they could revitalise it.

“It became clear that most of the actual users coming to the site were using it purely as a messageboard,” wrote Mr Pankhurst.

“And I also realised that of the more than 10 million users registered, a lot had done so over a decade ago and hence their contact details were out of date. But importantly – it hasn’t covered its costs and like any business this can’t continue indefinitely. Therefore, whilst it’s sad, I believe it’s time to move on and put Friends Reunited to bed.”

Quite why ITV or DC Thompson bought it is one of those mysteries of business; it was never remotely a fit with either. So after ruining many marriages (of people who looked up old school flames), it’s handing that particular torch over to Facebook, where people can do exactly the same…
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Pakistan lifts ban on Youtube after launch of own version » Reuters

Tommy Wilkes:

Pakistan said on Monday it had removed a three-year ban on YouTube after the Google-owned video-sharing website launched a local version that allows the government to remove material it considers offensive.

Pakistan banned access to YouTube in September 2012 after an anti-Islam film, “Innocence of Muslims”, was uploaded to the site, sparking violent protests across major cities in the Muslim-majority country of 190 million people.

The Ministry of Information Technology and Telecom said in a statement that under the new version of YouTube, the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority can ask for access to offending material to be blocked.

“On the recommendation of PTA, Government of Pakistan has allowed access to recently launched country version of YouTube for Internet users in Pakistan,” the ministry said.

“Google has provided an online web process through which requests for blocking access of the offending material can be made by PTA to Google directly and Google/YouTube will accordingly restrict access to the said offending material for users within Pakistan.”

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November 2013: Bitcoin under pressure » The Economist

The Economist doesn’t name writers, but I happen to know this is by Glenn Fleishman, writing back in 2013:

Server farms with endless racks of ASIC cards have already sprung up. But as part of Bitcoin’s design, the reward for mining a block halves every 210,000 blocks, or roughly every four years. Sometime in 2017, at the current rate, it will drop to 12.5 Bitcoins. If the returns from mining decline, who will verify the integrity of the block chain?

To head off this problem, a market-based mechanism is in the works which will raise the current voluntary fees paid by users (around five cents per transaction) in return for verification. “Nodes in the peer-to-peer network will try to estimate the minimum fee needed to get the transaction confirmed,” says Mr Hearn.

Bitcoin’s growing popularity is having other ripple effects. Every participant in the system must keep a copy of the block chain, which now exceeds 11 gigabytes in size and continues to grow steadily. This alone deters casual use. Bitcoin’s designer proposed a method of pruning the chain to include only unspent amounts, but it has not been implemented.

As the rate of transactions increases, squeezing all financial activity into the preset size limit for each block has started to become problematic. The protocol may need to be tweaked to allow more transactions per block, among other changes. A further problem relates to the volunteer machines, or nodes, that allow Bitcoin to function. These nodes relay transactions and transmit updates to the block chain. But, says Matthew Green, a security researcher at Johns Hopkins University, the ecosystem provides no compensation for maintaining these nodes—only for mining. The rising cost of operating nodes could jeopardise Bitcoin’s ability to scale.

Following Mike Hearn’s farewell the other day, I think Fleishman is allowed to say “told you so”.
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“Bitcoin Boulevard” no longer booming » Marketplace.org

Elizabeth Miller:

It’s been almost two years since a group of businesses in a Cleveland suburb started accepting digital currency bitcoin as a form of payment. The response at first was huge.  Visitors from around the world stopped at what became known as “Bitcoin Boulevard.” But now, the bitcoin hype has subsided. 

Along a lane of small retail stores, restaurants and bars, nine independent Cleveland Heights businesses banded together to form Bitcoin Boulevard in May 2014. But today, two of those businesses have closed, one is not actively accepting bitcoin, and a wine shop ceased most of its bitcoin transactions after the Ohio Division of Liquor Control banned alcohol purchases with the digital currency.

Mitchell’s Fine Chocolates is one of the original nine businesses. Owner Bill Mitchell says he started seeing a drop in bitcoin payment when its value dwindled at the beginning of 2015.

“Since the latter part of the winter of this year going through the end of October, it’s been deader than a doornail,” said Mitchell.

Mitchell isn’t the only one seeing a drop in bitcoin business. Shawn Paul Salon says it has only had six bitcoin transactions in the past 18 months. That’s a lot less exciting than everyone had hoped.

Reality check.
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The problem with Adgorithms’ prospectus » Investors Chronicle

Alex Newman, on the AIM-listed ad tech company whose shares have plummeted by 80% from their IPO:

So what went wrong? This is what the company said in its first profit warning, on 9 October, explaining a “significant” and indefinite impact on revenue:

“In recent weeks, the online advertising market has experienced severe disruption, resulting in a loss of supply for major online advertising exchanges and a drop in demand from major media buyers.”

In fact, this disruption had begun several months before, even prior to Adgorithms’ listing. In April, media trading platform news site adexchanger.com reported that AppNexus – which, together with fellow ad exchange Adap.TV related to the majority of Adgorithms’ 2014 revenues – had started screening out unverifiable media inventory. AppNexus’ chief executive, who followed several other ad exchanges when he launched the clean-up in November 2014, later acknowledged that more than half of the impressions flowing through his platform were failing the test. This has had the dual effect of suppressing Adgorithms’ revenues and – according to Peel Hunt analyst Alex DeGroote – increasing the cost of digital media.

Adgorithms certainly should have known about AppNexus’ clean-up plans before listing, and was aware that at least one of its peers had been hit by the broader changes. In April, fellow Israeli ad tech group Matomy Media (MTMY) issued a profit warning, citing the “implementation by one of the leading media trading platforms [this was AppNexus] of a new media verification and screening tool that resulted in an immediate decrease in the amount of digital media available for purchase”.

“Unverifiable” inventory is what can also be called “fraudulent” ads – shown to bots on sites that humans never visit. It’s worth visiting the AdExchanger link (“screening out unverifiable…”) which points to just how much junk and fraud there may be going on.

Seriously, online ads have ended the age of “half of what I spend on advertising is wasted”. Now you have no idea what proportion it may be if you’re using an ad network.
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Samsung to launch Live Photos rival called Vivid Photo with Galaxy S7 » Android Geeks

Marius Maria:

Back in September, Apple launched the iPhone 6S which comes with Live Photos, a feature which captures 1.5 seconds of video before and after a picture is taken. HTC’s Zoe Capture was capable of doing the same thing long before Live Photos, but this gimmick only became cool now because Apple has it on its phones.

But Samsung wants to jump into the Live Photos bandwagon, too. According to one of our sources the software engineers of the South Korean phone maker are testing a Live Photos-like feature that is supposed to debut with the Galaxy S7 later this year.

Not sure about the “But” beginning that second paragraph. All sorts of words fit better: “Now”, “Predictably”, “Unsurprisingly”. Cold comfort for HTC.
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App economy jobs in the United States (Part 1) » Progressive Policy Institute

Michael Mandel:

Is 1.66 million a reasonable figure for US App Economy employment? This figure is based on our estimate of roughly 550,000 core app economy workers. That’s out of roughly 5 million people employed in computer and mathematical occupations or as computer and information systems managers. In effect, core app economy workers make up roughly 11% of the tech workforce.

Informal discussions with tech executives suggest that it’s reasonable to attribute roughly 11 percent of the tech workforce to the App Economy in the United States. Large portions of software development involve backend systems, such as financial and operation databases, which are not mobile specific. On the other hand, software development focused on online consumer or individual interactions must necessarily involve apps, because Americans increasingly access the Internet via their smartphone or other mobile devices. Going forward, mobile is likely to become more important rather than less, further pushing up the number of App Economy jobs.

We can do another comparison. In 2007, before the introduction of the iPhone, there were roughly 3.9 million people employed in computer and mathematical occupations or as computer and information systems managers. Since then tech employment has risen by 1.1 million, suggesting roughly half the net gain in tech occupational employment since 2007 has come from the App Economy.

For the job breakdown, it puts iOS at 1.4m (87%), Android at 1.1m (70%), BlackBerry at 107,000 (6%) and Windows Phone/Mobile at 45,000 (3%). Adds up to 166% because some people (two-thirds?) work on multiple ecosystems. (Via Horace Dediu.)
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Apple may be on hook for $8bn in taxes in Europe probe » Bloomberg Business

Adam Satariano:

The European Commission contends that Apple’s corporate arrangement in Ireland allows it to calculate profits using more favorable accounting methods. Apple calculates its tax bill using low operating costs, a move that dramatically decreases what the company pays to the Irish government. While Apple generates about 55% of its revenue outside the US, its foreign tax rate is about 1.8%. If the Commission decides to enforce a tougher accounting standard, Apple may owe taxes at a 12.5% rate, on $64.1bn in profit generated from 2004 to 2012, according to Larson, a litigation analyst for Bloomberg Intelligence.

Apple is perhaps the highest-profile case of US companies facing scrutiny from officials in Europe. Starbucks, Amazon and McDonalds also have had its tax policies questioned.

Several senators came to the defense of US companies on Friday. In a letter to US Treasury Secretary Jack Lew, bipartisan members of the Senate Finance Committee asked the administration to make sure that European regulators won’t impose retroactive penalties like those that would hit Apple.

Odd if Google, Microsoft, Facebook and Twitter aren’t also in this.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida:

Start up: real China lessons, map the past, India’s phone problem, and more


A Surface Pro: wouldn’t these yank up falling PC figures? Don’t get your hopes up too high. Photo by 麻吉小兔 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.

Beyond the copycats: 5 things I learned about the internet in China » Medium

Chenyu Zheng: In July 2014, my colleague and I moved to China to set up Whisper’s operations in Shenzhen. The subsequent 14 months were my first real experience working in China, on a startup. I was fully immersed in China’s booming tech scene. This humbling journey not only made me more grounded and connected to my roots, but also taught me life-long lessons.

She has five observations, of which this is the key one:

China is far beyond copying the West. Great innovation is happening everywhere in China.

Copying a popular app directly to China does not work — only when a validated need is combined with proper localization by the right team at the right timing. In Chinese, we say 天时地利人和。

(1) For example, Zhihu (30m registered users as of Aug 2015 and raised series C funding from Tencent in Nov 2015) is a leading Q&A platform with significant media distribution in China. At first glance, it could be China’s version of Quora, but it’s far beyond a copycat.

In my mind, it combines Pinterest-style lifestyle, fitness, inspiration photos with Quora’s Q&A and knowledge sharing. Their motto 与世界分享你的知识、经验和见解, which translates to “Share with the world your knowledge, experience and opinion.” Interestingly, the founders are journalists turned entrepreneurs and their stand-alone app Zhihu Daily is a leading media distribution platform in China. For tech worker or lifestyle blogger, having your article selected by Zhihu Daily is a great honor and adds credibility.

Most of my Western friends know about major SNS [social network services] such as Weibo, Wechat, QQ, but for any real China insider, Zhihu is a blossoming platform that people are rushing to build a presence on. It is similar to the trend I observe that Instagram influencers now direct their fans to follow them on Snapchat. The quality and $ value per Zhihu follower are way above Weibo.

(2) With 600m MAU [monthly average users] as of Aug 2015, WeChat is the Facebook of China. It is no exaggeration to regard it as a Swiss Army knife. When you make new acquaintance, the first thing to ask is not their phone number, but scan each other’s WeChat QR code.

On Wechat, I order my Didi taxi, pay for grocery at 711, AA with friends at a meal, top up my cellphone, pay for water & utility, order a ferry ticket to Macau, you name it. In addition, I can order fresh produce, snacks, fresh made yogurt from Wechat official accounts. Not to mention that most of my news and media consumption are from WeChat moment. Everything I need to make life convenient is all within Wechat.

When the smartphone isn’t the platform, but gets abstracted away. How soon will that happen in the west?
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Maps from the past – programmatically »Thenmap


Use the Thenmap API to fetch historical geodata as GeoJSON or TopoJSON, or prerendered maps as SVG files.

Pass a year and preferred coordinate system or projection, and the API will give you all borders in return. Like the world in 1956, or Swedish municipalities from 1979.

The Thenmap API currently holds:

• World borders, from 1945
• Swedish municipalities, from 1974 (a few borders in southern Sweden still missing from 1973)
• Swedish counties, from 1968
• Finnish municipalities, from 2011
• US states, from 1865
• Municipalities of Greenland, from 1979

Learn more by reading the full documentation.

Neat. Built by Leo Wallentin of Journalism++Stockholm.
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PC market finishes 2015 as expected, hopefully setting the stage for a more stable future » IDC

Gloom and doom – the figures for “traditional” PCs are back down to 2007 levels, with only Apple growing year-on-year, while the big players grab more of the market.

Note this though, because IDC doesn’t count these:

Detachable tablets, which are counted separately from PCs, are growing quickly but from a small base. Adding those units to PC shipments would boost growth by roughly 6 percentage points in the fourth quarter and 3 percentage points for all of 2015, bringing year-on-year growth for 4Q15 to a decline of about -5% and -7.5% for all of 2015. The impact for 2016 will be larger as detachable tablet volume grows, boosting earlier forecasts of PC growth in 2016 from -3.1% to growth of 1 to 2%.

That translates to about 4m “detachables” (ie they come with a keyboard, rather than offering the keyboard as an extra – so the iPad Pro is a tablet, not a detachable) shipped in Q4, and 8m in the whole year.

I think the Surface Pro also counts as a “tablet” under IDC’s definition. Nobody’s happy with this, of course.

So the numbers are pretty small, but they’re principally where the profit is – if you’re not Apple.
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Digital publishers face a winter of discontent » Digiday

Ricardo Bilton:

The sunny days of hot growth for digital publishers are fading into a memory as many now face a long, dark winter.

Many venture-backed publishers are coming up to the limits of scale. Their models were based on eye-popping audience-growth figures and the presumption that business would follow. That’s not always the case. And traffic growth inevitably hits a ceiling.

At Business Insider, for example, traffic increased 10% to 40m monthly uniques over the past year, following an 80% increase the year prior. BuzzFeed’s growth was flat this year, at 75.3m uniques in November, after a year in which it grew 42%. (All figures are U.S. cross-platform figures, from comScore.) Mashable’s traffic, on the other hand, grew at a faster rate from November 2013 to November 2014 compared to a year later: 18% vs. 32%. Gawker Media, which spent most of last year in turmoil, has seen a 16% year-over-year decline in unique visitors.

“There’s that sense that not all of these digital news startups will see continuing hockey stick-like growth,” said Ken Doctor, principal analyst at Outsell. “Fall behind in growth, and the current value of these companies may plummet; it’s a momentum game, win or lose.”

A notable point in this: Buzzfeed pays millions of dollars annually for Facebook traffic. Mashable, of course, is reckoned to be shopping itself around.
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A billion users may not be enough for India’s phone industry » Bloomberg Business

Bhuma Shrivastava :

India just signed up its billionth mobile-phone customer, joining China as the only countries to cross that milestone.

Yet that 10-digit base may not be enough to keep the industry from struggling. Asia’s third largest economy is crowded with a dozen wireless carriers – more than in any other country – spectrum is hard to come by and regulatory risks are high. Add it all up and it’s no wonder they deliver lower profitability than phone operators in other parts of Asia, according to Sanford C. Bernstein & Co.

“There are too many of them all fighting for limited spectrum,” said Chris Lane, a telecommunications analyst at Sanford C. Bernstein in Hong Kong. “In China by comparison, 1.3 billion subscribers are serviced by just three operators. The government in China allocates spectrum on the basis of need, and at no cost to the operators. As a result, the Chinese operators get scale benefits that Indian operators are unable to achieve.”

Raises the question of what the optimum number of mobile (or other) operators is for any country to create a competitive but also sustainable market. Four? Five?
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Software turns smartphone into 3-D scanner » BetaBoston

Nidhi Subbaraman:

A team led by Brown professor Gabriel Taubin developed software that could sync up a basic light-pattern projector with a smartphone or camera that can work on “burst” mode.

The patterns illuminate an object in the right sequence as the camera takes photographs, creating a series of images that can then be stitched together to create a 3-D rendering, to use as a model on the computer or to run through a 3-D printer.

You could pick up any object — the curved receiver of a rotary phone, say — scan its surface, upload that scan to a computer program, and print out a replica.

“You need to capture an image at the proper time. You need the camera and the projector to be synchronized,” Taubin said.

The team presented its research at the Association of Computing Machinery’s SIGGRAPH Asia conference in November.

Disruption.
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Why women aren’t buying smartwatches » Racked

Nicola Fumo:

Part of the advantage fitness trackers have over smartwatches with female consumers seems to be their simplicity. “The common knock against general-purpose smartwatches today is that they’re very overwhelming; they do too much,” Fitbit CEO James Park told The Verge. Kaspar Heinrici, who designs traditional watches as well as connected devices for Fossil as its associate creative director, told Racked that the most common pushback it gets from women on wearables is a similar lack of seeing the need. “The first reaction to technical products from women is ‘Oh, I don’t really need that functionality,’ or ‘That’s too much for me,'” he says. Fitness trackers are straightforward and, even more importantly, they offer the promise of a better self.

Aspiration is a strong tool in selling fashion. Think of the purchase motivations behind clothes, jewelry, or cosmetics. Largely, these aren’t replenishment buys like razor blades or socks, and they’re not thoughtful “big gadget” investments like televisions or washing machines. An internal tick is convinced life will be better with the confidence that comes with a dress that fits just so, a designer bag that communicates status, or the seamless disguising of under eye circles. Fitness trackers make an obvious path to an improved self; an increased awareness of behaviors that can be altered for results (more rest, fewer pounds, what have you). With all of their notifications and connected apps, smartwatches have yet to leverage the siren call of “me, but better.”

Though I’d say I know as many women who have Apple Watches as men. Android Wear, however – only men.
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A top venture capitalist thinks startups are causing inequality. He’s wrong. » Vox

This critique is a week old, but Ezra Klein makes a number of good points (all of them worth reading) about this much-debated essay, including this:

An important point Graham makes is that while people are angry about income inequality, they usually prioritize fixing other problems. When it comes down to it, they really care about poverty, or social mobility, or median wages, or political power.

Consider two worlds. In one, the Gini coefficient — the standard measure of inequality — remains the same, but median wages are double their current level. In another, the Gini coefficient falls, but median wages are 10 percent lower and poverty is 3 percentage points higher.

Would anyone choose the second world? Bueller?

But having made that point, Graham spends much of his essay grappling with strawmen. Statements like “Ending economic inequality would mean ending startups” confuse the conversation. No one is talking about ending startups. No one is even talking about ending inequality. And you can certainly ameliorate inequality without destroying the ability to found new companies. Sweden, for instance, has a higher startup rate than America, and less income inequality — as do a number of other countries.

He also includes this useful graphic to show that, au contraire Mr Graham, the number of startups is actually falling as a percentage of all companies in the US:

It feels important to bear these things in mind: Silicon Valley suffers from an extreme myopia, which is fine if you’re trying to build a web service, less so if you’re doling out world advice.
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Google picks former Obama adviser to lead global public policy » The New York Times

Cecilia Kang:

Google, facing increased scrutiny from European regulators, has hired a former senior adviser to President Obama to lead its global public policy team.

Caroline Atkinson, who left her position as a White House deputy national security adviser last month, will join Google in March and be based in Washington.

Her most pressing task will be to temper concerns by antitrust enforcement officials in the European Union, which has accused the company of abusing its dominance in web search.

Ms. Atkinson, who joined the administration in 2011, is the latest in a string of Obama administration officials to join Silicon Valley companies. David Plouffe, also a former adviser, joined Uber in August 2014, and Jay Carney, a former press secretary, was hired by Amazon early last year.

Replaces Rachel Whetstone, who left for Uber in May.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: