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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thomas Fox-Brewster:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aaron Miles:

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

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

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

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

Matt Alt:

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

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

Cade Metz:

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

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

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The smartphone lifetime challenge » Bob O’Donnell

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

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

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

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

Gillian Wong ad Eva Duo:

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

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

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

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

Start up: Surface Book review, Google v EC redux, where are the iPad Pro apps?, after Google Flu, and more


Is this a perfect app signup? Photo by kastner 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. Aren’t they pretty? I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Final words – the Microsoft Surface Book review » Anandtech

Brett Howse likes it a lot. Apart from the lack of ports. And also..

The other issue with the hardware is one that plagues all 2-in-1 devices which offer a detachable display. Because the display has to house all of the PC components it gets heavy. The Surface Book display/Clipboard is 1.6 lbs (726 grams) and all of this weight is out over the hinge. The Surface Book does better than any other detachable convertible device for balance, but at the end of the day it is still more top heavy than a traditional notebook. On a desk it’s not going to be an issue, but if you do have to type in your lap, depending on the seating arrangement, it may want to tip backwards. This is compounded by the feet on the bottom not having a lot of grip. The Surface Book’s display travel is also limited to prevent it from tipping over, although it does open far enough that it should not be an issue for almost any situation.

The hardware is overall very good. Where the Surface Book is let down though is on software. It’s kind of ironic that the hardware is well done but the software can’t keep up when you consider Microsoft is first and foremost a software company, and one that has only been in the PC market for a couple of years at that. But there have been a lot of issues with software. When the Surface Book first launched, it suffered from display driver crashes along with hue changes and flickering on the screen when doing certain tasks. Luckily these issues seem to have been corrected with a firmware update issues on November 2nd. But there are still outstanding issues. The fact that you can’t close the lid and expect the laptop to actually go to sleep is a terrible bug. Leaving the Surface Book unplugged but sleeping is going to result in a dead battery. Just yesterday, I closed the lid on the Surface Book, only to notice the fans had kicked in and it was very hot.

I find the coexistence of a laptop that can turn into a tablet (Surface Book) and a tablet that can turn into a laptop (Surface Pro) suggestive of a “let’s turn this ship around any way we can” approach. Also, the Surface Book sure is pricey.

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Google faces new round of EU probing over Android mapping apps » Bloomberg Business

Aoife White:

Google faces a fresh round of European Union questions about its Android operating system for mobile devices as regulators quizzed rivals and customers over applications for maps, e-mail and other services.

The EU wants to know whether Google Maps for phones has supplanted portable or in-car navigation devices, such as those produced by TomTom NV and the HERE unit of Nokia Oyj, according to a document sent to companies and seen by Bloomberg.

Officials are also seeking data, such as user numbers, about downloaded or pre-installed mapping apps on devices, as well as costs mapmakers face to produce a mobile-ready app.

Wonder how long that one will take to reach any decision. 2017? 2018?
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Google EU antitrust response argues Amazon, eBay robust competitors » Re/code

Mark Bergen, who has seen a redacted copy of Google’s response to the EC:

Google points to the number of online price aggregators — sites that collate retail prices elsewhere on the Internet — born in Europe: 180 between 2008 and 2014. The EU’s charge sheet, or statement of objections (SO), “focuses on a handful of aggregators that lost free Google traffic, but ignores many that gained traffic,” Google’s lawyers wrote. Google says it drove 20bn “free clicks” to these aggregators in Europe over the past decade.

More critical to Google’s defense is the argument that online marketplaces, like eBay and Amazon, should be considered peers to Google’s shopping service, a position at odds with the EU, which charges that these merchants are “irrelevant” when it comes to price comparisons. Google’s lawyers claim, using internal data, that Web visitors prefer merchant links over aggregators and go directly to Amazon for product searches. (They do.) Google also argues that these giant merchants consider the smaller price aggregators as rivals as well — in the response, Google cites Amazon SEC filings where the e-commerce company lists “comparison shopping websites” and “Web search engines” as competitors. Ergo, Google contends, the EU should see them that way too.

And echoing the company’s internal note to the charges in April, Google spells out how Amazon and eBay are far more dominant as online retailers in Europe than Google’s service.

Pretty much all these points of Google’s were rebutted thoroughly by Foundem (a price aggregation service which complained to the EC) in June.
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Where are Apple’s iPad Pro apps for pros? » Lou Miranda

There’s a big gap in Apple’s pro app lineup, with Aperture being retired along with iPhoto. iPhoto’s replacement is the Photos app, but there is no Aperture replacement yet. What better device to introduce a Photos Pro app than a giant-screened iPad Pro with a pressure sensitive Pencil?

Likewise with Final Cut Pro X. There’s no reason to make it iPad Pro-only, but it would certainly shine on an iPad Pro. This is similar to Macs: sure you can run Photoshop or FCP X on a MacBook Air, but they really shine on a MacBook Pro or Mac Pro. I discussed this at length in my post “There’s No Such Thing as an iPad App“.

So why would Apple release an iPad Pro without its own pro apps?

My feeling is that the iPad Pro is much like Apple TV: the hardware was ready before the software, and Apple is soft-pedaling both, mostly to developers and early adopters. (You could argue Apple does this with every new device, and I wouldn’t argue with you.)

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AI will reorganize the human population » Medium

Silver Keskkula, who is working on the “Teleport” app which aims to find the best place for you to live:

Matching people to locations is hard — there are more things to account for than might be feasible to code into a human understandable model. Although today we’ve managed to keep things simple and are missing a purely machine learning driven parameter from our search, I’m more than convinced that in the very near future we will need to resort to AI to help guide people’s search into where to live (our first tests are quite encouraging).

All and all we’re all just inefficient computational machines running on wetware and largely biased by evolutionary adaptations more suited to the hunter-gatherer era, so getting AI involved in our next wave of migrations might not be such a bad thing.

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This is how you design your mobile app for maximum growth » First Round Review

[Primer CEO] Kamo Asatryan may very well be one of the best kept secrets in the startup ecosystem. He’s one of a small handful of people who have observed hundreds of mobile apps, thought deeply and scientifically about their mechanics, and determined what they could change to grow faster.

To demonstrate his particular brand of magic: Asatryan’s team recently worked with an app that required users to swipe through four screens explaining the product in-depth before they could sign up. Then the permissions screen literally begged them to let the app access their location data. 60% said no and went on to a dead-end experience.

To turn things around, Asatryan tested a radically different approach: assume that users who installed the app already understood the need to provide their location data. This allowed them to axe the long-winded welcome flow and make the permissions request the second screen. The text was changed to say that users needed to “Enable Location Permissions” (making it clear that it would be for their benefit), and they were literally not able to move on from the screen without saying yes. This sounds risky, but after the shift, 95% of users said yes and went on to a much better product experience.

This is a long article, but every single element of it will be useful if you’re in any way involved in designing or critiquing mobile app design. Today’s must-read. (Via Dave Verwer’s iOS Dev Weekly.)
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New flu tracker uses Google search data better than Google » Ars Technica

Beth Mole:

With big data comes big noise. Google learned this lesson the hard way with its now kaput Google Flu Trends. The online tracker, which used Internet search data to predict real-life flu outbreaks, emerged amid fanfare in 2008. Then it met a quiet death this August after repeatedly coughing up bad estimates.

But big Internet data isn’t out of the disease tracking scene yet.

With hubris firmly in check, a team of Harvard researchers have come up with a way to tame the unruly data, combine it with other data sets, and continually calibrate it to track flu outbreaks with less error. Their new model, published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, out-performs Google Flu Trends and other models with at least double the accuracy. If the model holds up in coming flu seasons, it could reinstate some optimism in using big data to monitor disease and herald a wave of more accurate second-generation models.

I wrote about the failure of Google Flu Trends in March 2014; in 2008 it had claimed 90% correlation. Google said then it would “welcome feedback”. The old data is still available.
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TLC NAND SSDs: The crippling problem storage makers don’t advertise » PCWorld

Jon Jacobi:

With last week’s release of Crucial’s BX200 SSD, a drive that features TLC (triple-level cell) NAND, it’s time to shine a light on this burgeoning segment of the SSD market—especially as vendors happily quote numbers that would have you believe that these SSDs perform just like any other.

Most of the time TLC SSDs perform quite well. But copy a large amount of data to a TLC drive, and part way through the operation you’ll see something discomforting—a startling drop in write speed. With some drives it’s relatively mild, but in the case of many recent TLC drives, the drop is so drastic you’ll wonder if the SSD is dying. It’s not, but you may wish it was.  

While this is true, it turns out you’ll only hit the problem if you’re transferring more data than fits in the disk cache – which could be 3GB or more. Still, a subtle gotcha.
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Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella shows ‘iPhone Pro,’ reveals how much time he spends on email » IB Times

David Gilbert:

Speaking at the company’s Future Decoded conference in London on Tuesday, Nadella, who took the reins at Microsoft over 18 months ago, demonstrated the power of Windows 10 and gave us a glimpse into what he does and how he works on a day-to-day basis.

Using Delve — an Office 365 app which automatically tracks a user’s activities throughout the week by monitoring calendars, emails and the other productivity tools — Nadella showed the audience that last week he spent a total of 16 hours in meetings, well within his goal of under 20 hours per week.

Nadella failed to meet his goal of spending less than nine hours per week on emails, clocking up 9.6 hours in the past seven days. He also fell short on the time he wanted to spend focusing – which he described simply as “time for work.” Nadella considered himself “focused” for only two hours last week, just half of his assigned goal.

Notice how he didn’t show us what devices – and in particular phone – he uses. (Sure, it will be a Lumia, but which?) The “iPhone Pro” is just an iPhone loaded with Microsoft software. Puzzled by how a machine measures your “focus hours”. How does it know?
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No Comcast app on the new Apple TV » Tech Insider

Tim Stenovec:

Marcien Jenckes, the executive vice president of consumer services for Comcast Cable, told Tech Insider in an interview last week that Comcast isn’t working on an app for the new Apple TV.

“We’re not philosophically against it,” Jenckes said of developing an app for the new device. “We just haven’t seen the need to run out and do that, given the fact that we’re already delivering content to the TVs in a way that has our customers already satisfied.”

If American customers were that satisfied, they wouldn’t be buying set-top boxes and TV sticks by the million.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none reported.

Start up: why Android should encrypt, Facebook v the intifada, 3D Touch v page parking, wary drones and more


“My GPS says we finished ages ago!” Photo by A Brand New Minneapolis 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. Please note: if reading the emails, you can’t link directly to the extracts. Monkeys, eh. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Is Google’s lacklustre support for encryption a human rights issue? » MIT Technology Review

Tom Simonite, reporting on a conference where American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) principal technologist Chris Soghioan argued thus:

People using phones powered by Google’s Android software are not so well protected, said Soghioan. The company said last year that it would make Android phones encrypt all stored data by default, like Apple devices do, but reversed that decision early this year. Google said this month it will require only devices meeting certain hardware performance standards to encrypt stored data, which Soghioan thinks will exclude cheaper devices. Google’s Hangouts text and video chat service bundled with Android does not use end-to-end encryption.

Soghioan said this means that someone who uses a cheap Android device is a much easier target for law enforcement or intelligence agencies — which he argues are prone to abusing their surveillance powers. He cited the way the FBI snooped on Martin Luther King’s phone calls and said he fears that US and overseas activists of today and tomorrow will be even easier targets. “The next civil rights movement will use the technology against which surveillance works best,” he said. Protest movements don’t typically start in society’s upper socioeconomic echelons, he noted.

The difference between Apple and Google’s stances on encryption for mobile devices appears to be due to corporate rather than technical reasons, said Soghioan. “Google has by far the best security team of any company in Silicon Valley, and the security people I know at Google are embarrassed by Android,” he said. “But Apple sells luxury goods and Google gives away services for free in return for access to data.”

That point about protest movements is so important. Would you want people in a repressive regime to have phones that could or couldn’t be tapped? Now you’ve decided, we move on to the next conundrum…
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The Facebook intifada » The New York Times

Micah Lakin Avni’s (Israeli) father was stabbed and shot by two Palestinian men in Jerusalem, who acted in the latest intifada (uprising) by Palestinians:

Watching the well-wishers congregating in the intensive care unit, however, I realized that the world leaders who were having the most impact on the situation in the Middle East right now weren’t Mr. Ban or Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, but Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, Jack Dorsey of Twitter and other young entrepreneurs who shape the social media platforms most of us use every day.

It may sound strange to talk of Twitter and Facebook as relevant players in the war against terror, but as the recent wave of violence in Israel has proved, that is increasingly the case. The young men who boarded the bus that day intent on murdering my 76-year-old father did not make their decision in a vacuum. One was a regular on Facebook, where he had already posted a “will for any martyr.” Very likely, they made use of one of the thousands of posts, manuals and instructional videos circulating in Palestinian society these last few weeks, like the image, shared by thousands on Facebook, showing an anatomical chart of the human body with advice on where to stab for maximal damage…

…Just as it is universally recognized that shouting fire in a crowded theater is dangerous and should be prohibited, so, too, must we now recognize that rampant online incitement is a danger that must be reckoned with immediately, before more innocent people end up as victims.

Before Facebook or Twitter or Google, those charts would have been available in a library, or in books on sale or smuggled in. What’s different now is the scale and speed with which information can be disseminated. It sounds trite, but what Israel and Palestine need is more speech, not less – but speech of the right kind, to negotiate their differences.
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Google owner accuses EU of antitrust about-face » WSJ

Tom Fairless and Natalia Drozdiak:

Google owner Alphabet Inc. accused European Union regulators of making an unexplained about-face in their decision to file antitrust charges against the US search giant, and warned that there was “no basis” for imposing fines, according to a redacted copy of Google’s response seen by The Wall Street Journal.

The response, which runs to almost 130 pages and leans heavily on legal opinions and case law, suggests that Google is gearing up for a protracted legal battle against the European Commission, which has alleged the search giant skewed search results to favor its own comparison-shopping service.

“The theory on which the [EU’s] preliminary conclusions rest is so ambiguous that the Commission itself concluded three times that the concern had been resolved,” Google’s lawyers wrote in the document.

It’s certainly a good point that the EC antitrust team were ready to okay everything, and then decided not to. But the EC would say that new evidence became available (which it did) and that changed things. Less convincing on Google’s part is its quoting of a US academic who used to be in the US Department of Justice antitrust side. That’s not likely to hold any sway.
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Why every GPS overestimates distance travelled » IEEE Spectrum

Douglas McCormick on how an Austrian team discovered subtle but persistent errors in GPS:

Not content with mere calculation, Ranacher, Reich, and their colleagues went on to test their findings experimentally. In an empty parking lot, they staked out a square course 10 m on a side, reference-marked each side at precise 1-m intervals, and set a GPS-equipped pedestrian (a volunteer, one hopes) to walk the perimeter 25 times, taking a position reading at each reference mark.

The researchers analyzed the data for segment lengths of 1 meter and 5 meters. They found that the mean GPS measurement for the 1-m reference distance was 1.02m (σ2 = 0.3) and the mean GPS measurement for the 5-m reference distance was 5.06m (σ2 = 2.0).  They also ran a similar experiment with automobiles on a longer course, with similar results.

Now, that pedestrian-course error of 1.2% to 2% isn’t huge. But it is big enough that your GPS watch could tell you you’re crossing the finish line of a 42,195-metre [26-mile] marathon while the real terminus is more than 400 meters ahead.

Sooo.. how do they measure a marathon? Does someone go around with one of those wheel things? Asking for all my marathon-running friends.
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3D Touch on iPhone 6S: embrace the Force » Nielsen-Norman Group

Raluca Budiu:

Is this a feature worth having? Yes, as an enhancement. There is a lot of potential for improving the user experience and supporting behaviors that mobile and desktop users are engaging in already. Two of them come to mind: microsessions and avoiding pogo sticking.

Microsessions are phone sessions that are 15 seconds or shorter. Recent research by Denzil Ferreira and colleagues shows that 40% of app launches are microsessions, namely short interactions in which users are able to quickly satisfy their goals. A common microsession activity is checking for updates in an app (such as Email or Facebook); the quick actions offer an opportunity for rapid access to such frequent tasks or content. Peek-and-pop views should also make many microsessions more efficient for users.

Pogo sticking refers to alternating between inspecting a collection of items (such as a list of products) and looking at each item individually (a product in the list). It is usually an inefficient behavior because it makes users jump back and forth between pages, losing not only time for loading the page but also the time needed for recovering context. Our recent research with Millennials shows that pogo sticking is so annoying that, on desktop, users have developed a special behavior called page parking to avoid it. On mobile phones, page parking is a lot more difficult.

“Page parking” is basically “open that link in another tab/window while I get on with this”. Other points: interstitials screw up the previewing experience, and so do “can we use your location?” questions.
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Back-alley upgrades: in China, $100 can get you an 128GB iPhone boost » WSJ

Yang Jie and Josh Chin:

If you’re an Apple Inc. device user, you can also now boost your iPhone’s storage from the cramped-feeling 16GB standard to a cavernous 128GB for less than a hundred bucks.

Mobile phone repair shops in major cities like Beijing and Shanghai have sparked curiosity on sidewalks and social media by offering the service, which appears aimed at the many aspirational Chinese device users who can’t afford the roughly $200 premium attached to large-capacity iPhones.

Some are offering the service through online shops on China’s biggest e-commerce site Taobao. One such shop offers to upgrade an iPhone 6 or iPhone 6 Plus from 16GB to 128GB for 500 yuan ($79). Descriptions posted by several Taobao vendors indicate that the new storage card is hand-welded into the phone after the old card is removed. An unnamed software [program] is then used to trick the device into accepting the unapproved hardware.

Love the comment from one customer: “I’ve used it for a day. It feels so great.”
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Huawei emerges as 2nd largest Android brand in EU’s big five » Kantar Worldpanel

“In urban China, with a market share that grew 72% over the third quarter of 2014, Huawei remained the top brand followed by Xiaomi and Apple,” Tamsin Timpson, strategic insight director at Kantar Worldpanel ComTech Asia, commented. “iOS continued to grow year over year with 56% of iPhone buyers during the quarter switching from Android and with iPhone 6 and 6Plus retaining their positions as the best selling and second best-selling smartphones.

“Next month all eyes will be on Apple’s performance in the US and China, as many observers continue to doubt the size of the remaining opportunity for Apple,” Milanesi explained. “28% of consumers in China who own smartphones plan to upgrade in the next 12 months. Among them, 79% of those who own iPhones, and 25% of those who own Android devices, say they prefer Apple.”

That “56% of iPhone buyers in China were switchers” number is remarkable – perhaps it was people waiting for the 6S/Plus. Meanwhile in the UK, Samsung and LG were the only Android makers to grow their share; the implication seems to be that people were switching to iPhones.
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Self-flying drone dips, darts and dives through trees at 30 mph » MIT CSAIL

Adam Conner-Simons of MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory:

“Everyone is building drones these days, but nobody knows how to get them to stop running into things,” says CSAIL PhD student Andrew Barry, who developed the system as part of his thesis with MIT professor Russ Tedrake. “Sensors like lidar are too heavy to put on small aircraft, and creating maps of the environment in advance isn’t practical. If we want drones that can fly quickly and navigate in the real world, we need better, faster algorithms.”

Running 20 times faster than existing software, Barry’s stereo-vision algorithm allows the drone to detect objects and build a full map of its surroundings in real-time. Operating at 120 frames per second, the software – which is open-source and available online – extracts depth information at a speed of 8.3 milliseconds per frame.

The drone, which weighs just over a pound and has a 34-inch wingspan, was made from off-the-shelf components costing about $1,700, including a camera on each wing and two processors no fancier than the ones you’d find on a cellphone.

If this doesn’t lead to an amazing VR “fox and hounds” sort of game soon, someone’s missing a trick. Quad-core CPUs and stereo cameras. Expect the price to halve in a year or so.

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Hilton obstructed investigation into Wi-Fi blocking at hotels, FCC says » Ars Technica

Jon Brodkin:

The Federal Communications Commission yesterday issued proposed fines against two companies in its latest actions against Wi-Fi blocking at hotels and convention centers.

The FCC said it proposed a $25,000 fine against Hilton Worldwide Holdings “for its apparent obstruction of an investigation into whether Hilton engaged in the blocking of consumers’ Wi-Fi devices.” The FCC also plans a $718,000 fine against M.C. Dean, a Wi-Fi access provider that is accused of “blocking consumers’ Wi-Fi connections at the Baltimore Convention Center” on dozens of occasions.

Each company has been accused of blocking personal Wi-Fi hotspots that let consumers share mobile data access with other devices such as laptops and tablets. Hilton and M.C. Dean must pay the fines within 30 days or file written statements seeking reduction or cancellation of the penalties.

The FCC last year received a complaint against a Hilton hotel in Anaheim, California that the company “blocked Wi-Fi access for visitors at the venue unless they paid a $500 fee.” More complaints against other Hilton properties followed, and in November 2014, the FCC issued Hilton a letter of inquiry seeking information about its Wi-Fi management practices at various Hilton-owned hotel chains.

Obstructing the FCC seems to be a parlour game for some companies. Remember Google and its Wi-Fi sniffing? That earned a $25,000 FCC fine for impeding investigation in 2012.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: gave the wrong link for the Microsoft OneDrive story in yesterday’s email – this is the right one (damn ZDNet scrolling system). And no, you won’t use up 5GB of storage with 10 Microsoft Word documents. Unless they’re very big.

Start up: Google’s antitrust expansion, Morocco goes solar, Apple Music revealed?, IoT hacked again, and more


What makes a great selfie? Ask a neural network. Photo by Verónica Bautista 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. Lather them on. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

EU antitrust chief Vestager speaks about Google and other key cases » WSJ

Amazing to think it’s a year since Vestager took over (and the Google case[s] still aren’t resolved…). She tells Tom Fairless and Stephen Fidler in a long interview that with the cases against various bits of Google’s operations:

what they have in common is that the name Google appears in each one, but apart from that they are very different. And therefore I do not think of it as one Google case but literally as different investigations and different cases.

WSJ: So there’s not a read across from the shopping case to the others?

MV: Well, there may be a lesson learned. It’s a very fine balance. The shopping case may have similarities when we eventually look at maps and travel and a number of other related services, because the complaints sort of tell the same story. People feel or experience that they are either being demoted, or Google preferences its own services. But there is no such thing as you have done one, you’ve done them all. You can’t do that. On the other hand, if you look at the shopping case then there will be insights that will probably also be valid when it comes to other neighboring markets. But it’s a very, very fine balance, because we cannot do one case and then say the rest is the same. In a union of law and with due process, this cannot be the case.

WSJ: But equally, Google has many business lines besides shopping and could have many more in the future, and you would presumably not want to open a new case each time. So you would want to establish some sort of precedent?

MV: Yes, but still whatever precedent comes out has to be taken from the finalization of the case. And since we’re not there yet, it is very difficult to see where that will take us.

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What a deep neural network thinks about your #selfie » Andrej Karpathy

Karpathy set a neural network to examine a few million not-liked and well-liked selfies, and draw conclusions:

A few patterns stand out for me, and if you notice anything else I’d be happy to hear about in the comments. To take a good selfie, Do:

• Be female. Women are consistently ranked higher than men. In particular, notice that there is not a single guy in the top 100.
• Face should occupy about 1/3 of the image. Notice that the position and pose of the face is quite consistent among the top images. The face always occupies about 1/3 of the image, is slightly tilted, and is positioned in the center and at the top. Which also brings me to:
• Cut off your forehead. What’s up with that? It looks like a popular strategy, at least for women.
• Show your long hair. Notice the frequent prominence of long strands of hair running down the shoulders.
• Oversaturate the face. Notice the frequent occurrence of over-saturated lighting, which often makes the face look much more uniform and faded out. Related to that,
• Put a filter on it. Black and White photos seem to do quite well, and most of the top images seem to contain some kind of a filter that fades out the image and decreases the contrast.
• Add a border. You will notice a frequent appearance of horizontal/vertical white borders.

You can also tweet your selfies to @deepselfie and get a score (100% is top!).
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Morocco poised to become a solar superpower with launch of desert mega-project » The Guardian

Arthur Neslen:

When they are finished, the four plants at Ouarzazate will occupy a space as big as Morocco’s capital city, Rabat, and generate 580MW of electricity, enough to power a million homes. Noor 1 itself has a generating capacity of 160MW.

Morocco’s environment minister, Hakima el-Haite, believes that solar energy could have the same impact on the region this century that oil production had in the last. But the $9bn (£6bn) project to make her country’s deserts boom was triggered by more immediate concerns, she said.

“We are not an oil producer. We import 94% of our energy as fossil fuels from abroad and that has big consequences for our state budget,” el-Haite told the Guardian. “We also used to subsidise fossil fuels which have a heavy cost, so when we heard about the potential of solar energy, we thought; why not?”

Solar energy will make up a third of Morocco’s renewable energy supply by 2020, with wind and hydro taking the same share each.

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Lawsuit accuses Apple’s iOS 9 Wi-Fi Assist of burning through $5M+ in data » Apple Insider

Neil Hughes:

Apple was slapped with a class-action suit on Friday, claiming that the company failed to properly warn users that the new Wi-Fi Assist feature in iOS 9 will use data from their cellular plan.

In the complaint, plaintiffs William Scott Phillips and Suzanne Schmidt Phillips allege that because of costs related to Wi-Fi Assist, the “overall amount in controversy exceeds” $5m. Filed in a U.S. District Court in San Jose on Friday, the suit was first discovered by AppleInsider.

Once users update to iOS 9, Wi-Fi Assist is turned on by default. Its goal is ensure a smooth internet experience, switching to cellular data in the event that the user is connected to a weak Wi-Fi signal.
The lawsuit claims that Apple “downplays the possible data overcharges a user could incur” from Wi-Fi Assist.

Some who don’t understand how Wi-Fi Assist works, or even that it exists, have alleged that the new feature has caused them to use more cellular data than anticipated. But the new class-action suit alleges it should be Apple who should reimburse customers for any overages [excess data use].

Default-enabling something that could burn through your mobile data is plain stupid. Why not offer people the chance of whether to use it the first time the chance comes up? This is poor focus – putting user experience in the narrow field of device use ahead of the wider user experience of “how big is my mobile bill?”

It puzzles me how implementations like this get through Apple’s processes. (See also: the pain of being the person working on Wi-Fi inside Apple.)
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TalkTalk boss says cybersecurity ‘head and shoulders’ above competitors » The Guardian

Josh Halliday:

TalkTalk chief executive Dido Harding has insisted the company’s cybersecurity is “head and shoulders” better than its competitors in the wake of the massive hack attack affecting thousands of customers.

In an interview with the Guardian, Harding conceded it would be “naive” to rule out the prospect of the telecoms firm suffering a similar cyber-attack in the future, describing the threat from hackers as “the crime of our generation”.

Asked about claims by an IT researcher that he raised concerns about TalkTalk’s security with her office last September, Harding said its security had “improved dramatically” in the last year.

TalkTalk’s customer account details (excluding bank details, but including usernames and phone numbers) were stolen from an India call centre last year, and again, and now it has been hacked in a big way. The hackers are miles ahead of the companies here – which is becoming a depressingly common refrain. Also see the blogpost from last October showing how poor TalkTalk’s cybersecurity was.
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Content paywalls on the agenda for digital news sites » FT.com

Matthew Garrahan:

Business Insider, which was acquired by German media group Axel Springer last month for close to $390m already charges for its research service and is now on course to be one of the first digital only news operations to erect a paywall around some of its general content. John Ore, Business Insider’s product manager, said in a recent blog post that the company was planning a broad “subscription offering” for readers “who prefer to pay us directly”.

Sweeping changes to the online advertising market mean other free news sites may follow suit. Sir Martin Sorrell thinks all newspapers should charge for content: the chief executive of WPP, the world’s largest advertising group said this week that paywalls were “the way to go”.

The problem, he says, is the lack of growth in digital advertising — an issue which is likely to get worse as ad blocking software grows in popularity. Ad blockers pose a real threat to the revenues generated by news sites. Meanwhile, rampant online ad fraud and the fact that brands often do not know whether their campaigns are being seen by real people, has shaken confidence in an industry that could do without the additional anxiety.

Would Business Insider try to block people using adblockers, as Axel Springer has?
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New screenshots purportedly show Apple Music for Android ahead of release » 9to5Google

Mike Beasley:

In bringing its software to Android, Apple has taken a slightly different approach from Google’s own iOS apps. While Google’s apps attempt to mimic the company’s Material Design principles—even going so far as to include custom-made toggle switches and other elements—Apple relies on UI elements built into Android rather than attempting to recreate the iOS versions of them. The main navigation has even been moved from an iOS-like tab bar to a more Android-friendly slide-out sidebar.

Despite this, the company hasn’t managed to stick completely to Google’s design guidelines and has injected some of its own style into the app. For example, the For Me page almost identically mirrors its iOS counterpart.

The images appear to be legitimate and match up with the design Apple teased during the Apple Music announcement at WWDC this year. Not every feature of the app is shown off in the screenshots below, but you can get a feel for how the app will look and behave from our gallery of screenshots.

Looks quite Android-y, though not a full dive into Material.
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DoJ to Apple: your software is licensed, not sold, so we can force you to decrypt » Boing Boing

Cory Doctorow:

The Justice Department lawyers argue [in a case where a defendant’s phone has been seized but they won’t give up the passcode; Apple has however acknowledged that it can bypass the code in pre-iOS 8 devices] that because Apple licenses its software – as opposed to selling it outright – that it is appropriate for the government to demand that Apple provide assistance in its legal cases.

To my knowledge, this is an entirely novel argument, but as I say, it has far-reaching consequences. Virtually every commercial software vendor licenses its products, rather than selling them. If the DoJ establishes the precedent that a product’s continued ownership interest in a product after it is sold obliges the company to act as agents of the state, this could ripple out to cars and pacemakers, voting machines and tea-kettles, thermostats and CCTVs and door locks and every other device with embedded software.

Might work in this particular case, but devices running iOS 8 onwards it won’t. That of course doesn’t apply to the many more internet-enabled “things”. Though those bring their own associated problems…
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Compromised CCTV and NAS devices found participating in DDoS attacks » Slashdot

the security firm Incapsula [reports] that its researchers discovered compromised closed circuit cameras as well as home network attached storage (NAS) devices participating in denial of service attacks. The compromised machines included a CCTV at a local mall, just a couple minutes from the Incapsula headquarters.

According to the report, Incapsula discovered the infections as part of an investigation into a distributed denial of service attack on what it described as a “rarely-used asset” at a “large cloud service.” The attack used a network of 900 compromised cameras to create a flood of HTTP GET requests, at a rate of around 20,000 requests per second, to try to disable the cloud-based server. The cameras were running the same operating system: embedded Linux with BusyBox, which is a collection of Unix utilities designed for resource-constrained endpoints.

The Internet of Compromised Things is growing faster than our ability to cope with its effects.
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Start up: inside a content factory, US reacts to Safe Harbour sinking, why Surface?, Android lemons and more


In China, such literalism might really happen. Photo by GotCredit on Flickr.

A selection of 8 links for you. Fee fi fo fum. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

The Chicago End-Times » The Awl

Sam Stecklow on the “content factory” at the Chicago Sun-Times, churning out meaningless content because ads:

Network staffers were concerned with the quality of work they were being asked to do, too. Marty Arneberg, a former intern, told me, “When I was applying to jobs, I would send very few Sun Times Network articles. I would mention in my résumé, forty hours a week I worked here, but I would not send them any examples. Because it was such a content factory, you just had to pump stuff out all the time. It was just like, get it out there, we need some pageviews now.” A former editor told me, “I wouldn’t read most of what I wrote if given the choice.” He added, “Spending more than thirty minutes on any article was generally frowned upon.” Arneberg told me that a “post got me the most pageviews of any post that I wrote and it was complete bullshit. It was a total hoax,” he said. “The weird thing is, when it came out that that was a hoax, nobody spoke to me. Nobody said anything, like, ‘Hey, you gotta watch out for that.’ It was just ignored.”

The question of whom, exactly, Sun Times Network is supposed to be for is one I asked everyone I interviewed for this story, and none of them could provide a good answer. I can’t either.

Stecklow’s descent into the toxic hellstew is well-described; it’s like a modern version of The Jungle. This is where content is heading. And not long after that, the stories will be “written” by computers, and you’ll wonder why we don’t just get computers to read them too, and go and do something more worthwhile, such as digging ditches. Oh, and reading The Awl.
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The company behind Relish wireless broadband makes a big loss » Engadget

Nick Summers:

Relish’s dream to connect London homes with wireless broadband, rather than traditional landlines, could be in trouble. UK Broadband, the company behind the service, has reported losses of £37.5m for 2014 – almost four times what it was the year before. To make matters worse, turnover slipped from roughly £2m to £1.5m over the same period. Relish was launched in June 2014 as a simpler, but capable broadband alternative to the likes of BT, Sky and Virgin Media. Instead of copper and fibre cables, the company relies on 4G connections to deliver the internet to its customers. The advantages are plentiful — you don’t need to pay for a landline, and because Relish’s network is already up and running, you don’t need an engineer to install anything. Once you’ve signed up, a router is sent round within the next working day and you can instantly get online. The concept is similar to the mobile broadband packages offered by EE, Three and other UK carriers, although here there are no restrictive data allowances. So what’s gone wrong?

Nobody, it seems, knows.
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China is building the mother of all reputation systems to monitor citizen behaviour » Co.Exist

Ben Schiller:

“They’ve been working on the credit system for the financial industry for a while now,” says Rogier Creemers, a China expert at Oxford University. “But, in recent years, the idea started growing that if you’re going to assess people’s financial status, you should equally be able to do that with other modes of trustworthiness.”

The document talks about the “construction of credibility”—the ability to give and take away credits—across more than 30 areas of life, from energy saving to advertising. “It’s like Yelp reviews with the nanny state watching over your shoulder, plus finance, plus all of these other things,” says Creemers, who translated the plan.

The system, overseen by the State Council, is made possible by two factors. One, it’s now possible to gather information about behavior as never before. As we use the Internet and different devices, we’re leaving behind a huge footprint of data. Second, the Chinese government sees no reason to safeguard its citizens’ data rights if it thinks that data can benefit them, says Creemers.

“In Europe and the U.S., there’s a notion that the state should be constrained, that it’s not right to intervene in people’s lives, unless for justified reasons. In China, the state has no qualms about that. It says ‘data allows us to make society for better, so we’re going to use it,'” he says.

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Behind the European privacy ruling that’s confounding Silicon Valley » NYTimes.com

Robert Levine:

American technology firms are especially worried because they routinely transfer so much information across the Atlantic. “International data transfers are the lifeblood of the digital economy,” said Townsend Feehan, chief executive of IAB Europe, which represents online advertising companies including Google as well as small start-ups. The ruling “brings with it significant uncertainty as to the future possibility for such transfers.”

As Mr. Schrems sees it, however, what is at stake is a deeper conflict between the European legal view of privacy as a right equivalent to free speech and that of the United States, where consumers are asked to read and agree to a company’s terms of service and decide what’s best for themselves. “We only do this in the privacy field — dump all the responsibility on the user,” Mr. Schrems said. He pointed out that consumers are not expected to make decisions about other complex issues, like food or building safety. “In a civilized society,” he said, “you expect that if you walk into a building it’s not going to collapse on your head.”

But if it collapses on your head and kills you, then you sue! No, hang on. (Bonus point to Levine for the handwringing quote from the advertising industry.)
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Microsoft Surface: from cross-bearer to standard-bearer » Fast Company

Ross Rubin:

As the Surface Pro customer base has grown, it’s likely that Microsoft is just accommodating potential customers who prefer a more laptop-like device than the Surface Pro 4, which is still a tablet propped up with a kickstand.

While Microsoft is quick to compare its “ultimate laptop”—which starts at $1,500 and goes way, way up—to Apple’s portables, it will walk a far narrower tightrope in competing with its own hardware partners with the Surface Book. Not only does the first model stand to do battle with the best that HP, Dell, Acer, and Lenovo have to offer, but the company is poised to come downmarket with a lower-priced mainstream version, as it did with the $500 Surface 3.

The Surface experience story isn’t quite as good as it looks on paper. Even with the considerable reconciliation of Windows 10 and the arrival of a touch-optimized Office as well as other universal apps, Windows’ interface is still in transition. Many people with Surfaces spend much of their day working not so differently than they would with a no-touch Windows 7 laptop. Even on the marketing side, Microsoft needs to rethink the Surface Pro, which it’s been promoting as the tablet that can replace your laptop. Now that the company wants to sell you a laptop, where does that leave the Surface Pro?

This is slightly the problem: why Surface Pro, if there’s Surface Book? Rubin also thinks there’s a Surface iMac (for want of a better name) brewing in Redmond. This seems unlikely though – the sales figures would be so miniscule it would never make money for anyone. Speaking of which…
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Why Apple is still sweating the details on iMac » Medium

Steven Levy was given access to Apple’s Ergonomic Design Lab to get the inside story of how the new iMacs and Magic Mouse and so on were built. But what are they for? Phil Schiller, Apple’s head of marketing, explains:

“The job of the watch is to do more and more things on your wrist so that you don’t need to pick up your phone as often. The job of the phone is to do more and more things such that maybe you don’t need your iPad, and it should be always trying and striving to do that. The job of the iPad should be to be so powerful and capable that you never need a notebook. Like, Why do I need a notebook? I can add a keyboard! I can do all these things! The job of the notebook is to make it so you never need a desktop, right? It’s been doing this for a decade. So that leaves the poor desktop at the end of the line, What’s its job?”

Good question. And the answer?

“Its job is to challenge what we think a computer can do and do things that no computer has ever done before, be more and more powerful and capable so that we need a desktop because it’s capable,” says Schiller. “Because if all it’s doing is competing with the notebook and being thinner and lighter, then it doesn’t need to be.”

But – take note – no intention of introducing a touchscreen iMac. None at all, says Schiller: “The Mac OS has been designed from day one for an indirect pointing mechanism. These two worlds are different on purpose.”
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​Android security a ‘market for lemons’ that leaves 87% vulnerable » ZDNet

Liam Tung:

“The difficulty is that the market for Android security today is like the market for lemons,” Cambridge researchers Daniel Thomas, Alastair Beresford, and Andrew Rice note in a new paper.

“There is information asymmetry between the manufacturer, who knows whether the device is currently secure and will receive security updates, and the customer, who does not.”

Their analysis of data collected from over 20,000 Android devices with the Device Analyzer app installed found that 87% of Android devices were vulnerable to at least one of 11 bugs in the public domain in the past five years, including the recently discovered TowelRoot issue, which Cyanogen fixed last year, and FakeID.

The researchers also found that Android devices on average receive 1.26 updates per year.

“The security community has been worried about the lack of security updates for Android devices for some time,” Rice said.

The “security community” hasn’t had much effect, then. The study was part-funded by Google.
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US says Apple e-books antitrust monitor no longer needed » Reuters

Nate Raymond:

The US Justice Department has determined that Apple Inc has implemented significant improvements to its antitrust compliance program and that a court-appointed monitor’s term does not need extended, according to a court filing.

The Justice Department in a letter filed late Monday in Manhattan federal court said its recommendation was despite Apple’s “challenging relationship” with Michael Bromwich, who was named monitor after the iPad maker was found liable for conspiring to raise e-book prices.

The Justice Department said its decision to not recommend extending the monitorship beyond its two-year term was “not an easy one,” as Apple “never embraced a cooperative working relationship with the monitor.”

But the department said it was giving greater weight to Bromwich’s “assessment that Apple has put in place a meaningful antitrust compliance program than to the difficult path it took to achieve this result.”

Apple is still considering an appeal to the Supreme Court. The antitrust thing must feel like a stain.
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No, wait! 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.

Start up: ad traffic fraud, adblocking goes paid and free, US v Google?, BlackBerry to Android, and more


Perhaps this one isn’t better as a Live Photo, but parents will like capturing “moments”. Photo by Meigs O’Toole on Flickr.

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

A selection of 11 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

The fake traffic schemes that are rotting the internet » Bloomberg Business

Ben Elgin, Michael Riley, David Kocieniewski, and Joshua Brustein:

[Ron] Amram is at Heineken USA now, where the annual ad budget is in the $150m range. In 2013 the company replaced its old stubby bottles with a fashionably long-necked version that supposedly keeps the beer cold longer. “We had a healthy investment in TV, local media, and digital,” he says. “We thought digital would come close and compete with television in terms of effectiveness.”

Late that year he and a half-dozen or so colleagues gathered in a New York conference room for a presentation on the performance of the online ads. They were stunned. Digital’s return on investment was around 2 to 1, a $2 increase in revenue for every $1 of ad spending, compared with at least 6 to 1 for TV. The most startling finding: Only 20% of the campaign’s “ad impressions”—ads that appear on a computer or smartphone screen—were even seen by actual people.

“The room basically stopped,” Amram recalls. The team was concerned about their jobs; someone asked, “Can they do that? Is it legal?” But mostly it was disbelief and outrage. “It was like we’d been throwing our money to the mob,” Amram says. “As an advertiser we were paying for eyeballs and thought that we were buying views. But in the digital world, you’re just paying for the ad to be served, and there’s no guarantee who will see it, or whether a human will see it at all.”

Stunning journalism, and a must-read (allow some time). The team finds people who have set up junk sites which attract huge amounts of machine “traffic” which is monetised through ads set up by more-or-less honest ad networks. It’s a house of cards.
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On Acceptable Ads » Murphy Apps

Dean Murphy, author of the Crystal content blocker:

There has been a lot of confusion and mis-reporting going on today regarding Crystal allowing advertising. I’m hoping this post will clarify the information.

-What will be changing? 

In my first update (6-10 weeks time?) there will be two new features. A user managed whitelist, where you the user can specify a list of domains that you would like to support and an option to enable/disable Acceptable Ads on the websites you visit.

You are totally free to use all/any/none of these features as you see fit.

-What are acceptable ads? 

Acceptable Ads is an initiative, supported by 3 of my favourite websites  (Reddit, DuckDuckGo, Stack Exchange), that encourages and promotes the use of better advertising on the web. They have 5 rules for publishers and advertisers to stick to: 

• Acceptable Ads are not annoying.
• Acceptable Ads do not disrupt or distort the page content we’re trying to read.
• Acceptable Ads are transparent with us about being an ad.
• Acceptable Ads are effective without shouting at us.
• Acceptable Ads are appropriate to the site that we are on.

His reasoning: as a lone developer, he can’t keep up; Eyeo, maker of Adblock Plus, can. Eyeo will pay him an ongoing fee.
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Live Photos are a gimmick — says nobody who has young kids, ever » Medium

Jeremy Olson:

Sometimes hiding behind a bad photo is a beautiful moment. These moments are elusive. They happen too fast to catch on video. You can’t catch them intentionally. The only possible way to catch them is … accidentally.

Sure, I might have been able to record a video of my daughter playing peek-a-boo with me but that is not the point. I’ve only had Live Photos for a day and they are already surfacing the hidden treasures behind both good and bad photos. If I keep Live Photos turned on, I am inevitably going to capture precious moments of my daughter growing up that I would have never captured intentionally.

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Wait, what? Mobile browser traffic is 2x bigger than app traffic, and growing faster » VentureBeat | Mobile | by John Koetsier

John Koetsier unpicks a not-quite-apples-with-apples comparison from Morgan Stanley:

Mobile users spend massive numbers of hours in Subway Surfer or Game of War, blowing 80% of their time in just five favorite apps, while they might also visit 10 or 15 mobile web sites of companies that they’re checking out, and spend just a few moments on each. Mobile “traffic” — read unique visitors — are up on mobile web, but mobile time is also up on apps.

The questions proliferate: Why is this happening, what’s best, and what matters most? And, what should brands, companies, and media properties do?

The answer is pretty simple: Deepest engagement for the longest period of time happens in apps, so apps matter, and they matter desperately for brands who want to connect to customers. But since, as we’ve seen in our research, apps-per-smartphone users is maxxing out at an average of 50-60, and no-one besides Robert Scoble is going to install an app for each company, service, or site he or she interacts with, your mobile web experience has to be good, and it has to be strong.

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FBI wants better automated image analysis for tattoos » IEEE Spectrum

Tam Harbert:

In June, the six groups [chosen by the US National Institute of Standards and Technology] reported on how well their algorithms performed in five different types of searches. The algorithms did well in three of these searches, achieving success rates of 90% and above in detecting whether a given image contained a tattoo; identifying the same tattoo on the same person, over a span of time; and identifying a small segment of a larger tattoo.

The algorithms performed poorly — with hit rates as low as 15% — at two tasks: identifying visually similar tattoos on different people, and searching for similar tattoos across a variety of media, including sketches, scanned prints, and computer graphics.

Tattoos are hard – much harder than faces.
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Native advertising is a bad solution » The Brooks Review

Ben Brooks:

here’s another scenario I see playing out all over the web: a small app is reviewed with great gusto and praise by a site, and a few weeks (or months) later that app is paying for a sponsorship on the site. Now, those are likely two unrelated events — perhaps the app didn’t know about the site before the review, but now they know about the site and the exposure was great, so why not get more by paying for advertisement?

But now the site publisher is in a hairy situation. They know the review was genuine because they wrote it long before they were ever contacted by that developer, but will people still believe it was genuine if they accept this sponsorship? Or will everyone just yell “conspiracy” and find another review site? Will the people who read the review long before the sponsorship rethink that review? Will new readers finding that review disregard the objectivity of the entire site because of this one ad?

There’s no easy solution, unless you don’t ever want to write about products or companies.

Brooks evidently hasn’t ever written for a major online publication: writing about anything and offering a positive or negative view will instantly bring accusations of bias. It happens all the time to every writer. Native advertising, in that sense, is like Churchill’s view of democracy as a form of government: the worst – apart from every other one.
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Avi Cieplinski: “This morning I received…” » Twitter

This morning I received the end product of 5 years of work at Apple. Can’t believe I’m really 3D Touching it. 🙂

Cieplinski’s Twitter bio says he’s “co-inventor of Apple’s Force Touch and Taptic Engine”. He’s now at Twitter. The “co-” would have been with lots of others. But it’s the timescale that makes you think: that means this started in 2010, when everyone was excited about the iPhone 4.

What other interaction is five years away now?
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Adblock Fast » App Store

Adblock Fast is a free, open-source ad blocker!

Just as webpages grew bloated with ads, so too have ad blockers grown bloated with little-used filtering rules and features that sap their speed and hog your device’s disk space, CPU cycles, and memory. Adblock Fast runs an optimized ruleset to accelerate pages more but consume less system resources than other ad blockers do.

Well that was pretty rapid price deflation.
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Google said to be under US antitrust scrutiny over Android » Bloomberg Business

The Federal Trade Commission reached an agreement with the Justice Department to spearhead an investigation of Google’s Android business, the people said. FTC officials have met with technology company representatives who say Google gives priority to its own services on the Android platform, while restricting others, added the people, who asked for anonymity because the matter is confidential.

The inquiry is in its early stages, and it could end without a case against the company. Regardless, it shows the FTC is again turning its attention to one of America’s biggest companies, two years after it closed a separate investigation into Google’s Internet search business. The FTC’s handling of the earlier probe left some technology companies skeptical of the agency’s willingness to bring a case, according to the people.

Spokesmen for the FTC and Google declined to comment.

I thought that a similar case (or class action) had already been tried and failed in the US. I have trouble seeing how the FTC would make the US’s required triumvirate of antitrust proof – dominant position, annexing of adjacent market, harm to consumers – stick. The first two might be true, but the third feels like a hell of a stretch.
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Ad-supported is 56% of US streaming revenue » Music Industry Blog

Mark Mulligan:

According to the IFPI ad supported streaming accounted for just 19% of all US streaming revenues in 2014, down from a high of 30% in 2011.  Which points to the success of subscriptions.  Except that those numbers ignore a major part of the equation: Pandora (and other semi-interactive radio services).  The IFPI has Pandora hidden away with cloud locker services, SiriusXM and a mixture of other revenues in ‘Other Digital’.  Extracting the semi-interactive radio revenues that count as label trade revenues wasn’t the most straight forward of tasks but it was worth the effort.  Once Pandora is added into the mix it emerges that 56% of US streaming revenues are from free, ad supported services.  While that share is down from a high of 66% in 2012 it remained flat in 2013 and 2014.  Which means that however fast subscriptions grew Pandora, Slacker, Rhapsody UnRadio and co grew even faster in order to offset the decline in on demand ad supported income.

Sneaky of the IFPI. Pandora is a listed company in the US – can hardly call it core. And this is before you include YouTube, which many teens use to stream entire albums while not actually watching the screen.
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BlackBerry’s Android move may be too late » Jackdaw Research

Jan Dawson:

being an Android OEM is a pretty uncomfortable place to be right now. Competition is intensifying, the biggest players are struggling, and small lower-priced vendors are taking increasing share. The big question is whether BlackBerry can really turn handsets around at this point, or whether it’s simply too late for the brand, which has been tarnished by all that has happened over the last few years. My sense is that many users have moved on at this point, and that even if enterprises like the BlackBerry platform, employees won’t. The reality is that there are still some industries where BlackBerry devices are the only option, and therefore I think it’s likely that BlackBerry will continue to make devices for some time to come, but the question is whether that can ever be a profitable business for them again.

Ooh, I know this one! It’s “no”: by my calculations BlackBerry’s handset business has lost money (quite a lot in some cases) for 15 quarters in a row. Android won’t solve that.
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Start up: hacked ATMs in Mexico, Cyanogen + Cortana, iPhone forecasts, Apple TV v consoles, and more


Content blockers are days away from going live with iOS 9. Photo by Dave Lanovaz on Flickr.

A selection of 10 links for you. Wash at 40 degrees. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Should police have the right to take control of self-driving cars? » Techdirt

Karl Bode:

Just how much power should law enforcement have over your self-driving vehicle? Should law enforcement be able to stop a self-driving vehicle if you refuse to? That was a question buried recently in https://assets.documentcloud.org/documents/2388355/rand-rr928.pdf (pdf) which posits a number of theoretical situations in which law enforcement might find the need for some kind of automobile kill switch:

“The police officer directing traffic in the intersection could see the car barreling toward him and the occupant looking down at his smartphone. Officer Rodriguez gestured for the car to stop, and the self-driving vehicle rolled to a halt behind the crosswalk.

Commissioned by the National Institute of Justice, the RAND report is filled with benign theoreticals like this, and while it briefly discusses some of the obvious problems created by giving law enforcement (and by proxy intelligence agencies) this type of power over vehicle systems and data, it doesn’t offer many solutions.

That’s quite a question. Then again, would you try to make a getaway in an SDC?
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Intelligent machines: Making AI work in the real world » BBC News

Eric Schmidt – you know, the Google guy – wrote a piece for the BBC’s machine learning week. Most of it is blah. Then there’s this bit:

In the next generation of software, machine learning won’t just be an add-on that improves performance a few percentage points; it will really replace traditional approaches.

To give just one example: a decade ago, to launch a digital music service, you probably would have enlisted a handful of elite tastemakers to pick the hottest new music.

Today, you’re much better off building a smart system that can learn from the real world – what actual listeners are most likely to like next – and help you predict who and where the next Adele might be.

As a bonus, it’s a much less elitist taste-making process – much more democratic – allowing everyone to discover the next big star through our own collective tastes and not through the individual preferences of a select few.

This is being taken as a dig at Apple Music with its human-curated lists. Well, sure, but the “radio” function in Apple Music isn’t human-curated. And music choice “democratic”? Isn’t that how it already works?
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iOS dev: why Apple TV is game over for Xbox One and PS4 » Forbes

Dave Thier:

It’s hard to imagine an immediate threat to Microsoft MSFT -0.93% Xbox One and Sony PS4 running games like Halo and Uncharted. But I talked to Jeff Smith, CEO of the popular Karaoke app Smule , and a developer who’s been with the iOS platform since the beginning. He says that Xbox One and PS4 fans shouldn’t be too quick to dismiss the Apple TV as a serious gaming contender. The key, he says, is that Apple is a developer-friendly platform, and that means more content, and, as iOS has shown, more quality content as well.

“We think it’s significant if you consider the console market today: it’s been a market where there have been high barriers of entry to get into that market,” Smith says. “You have to get Sony and Microsoft or Nintendo to get you on to the platform, you have to have a custom deal, and they’re all proprietary platforms. With Apple bringing tvOS, which is a subset of iOS, onto a console-like platform, we think it lowers the barrier of entry. And I think you’ll see a lot more developers on the console market than ever before.”

Suitably overdone headline, but it’s certainly a mistake to dismiss the Apple TV out of hand. It has an install base of 25m, which isn’t much (the PS3 and Xbox 360 are at about 70m, the PS4 and Xbox One rather less so far), but the next version will attract a lot more people. And you don’t need to pay to put a game on iOS.
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Tracking a Bluetooth skimmer gang in Mexico » Krebs on Security

Brian Krebs:

“–Sept. 9, 12:30 p.m. CT, Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico: Halfway down the southbound four-lane highway from Cancun to the ancient ruins in Tulum, traffic inexplicably slowed to a halt. There was some sort of checkpoint ahead by the Mexican Federal Police. I began to wonder whether it was a good idea to have brought along the ATM skimmer instead of leaving it in the hotel safe. If the cops searched my stuff, how could I explain having ultra-sophisticated Bluetooth ATM skimmer components in my backpack?”

The above paragraph is an excerpt that I pulled from the body of Part II in this series of articles and video essays stemming from a recent four-day trip to Mexico. During that trip, I found at least 19 different ATMs that all apparently had been hacked from the inside and retrofitted with tiny, sophisticated devices that store and transmit stolen card data and PINs wirelessly.

In June 2015, I heard from a source at an ATM firm who wanted advice and help in reaching out to the right people about what he described as an ongoing ATM fraud campaign of unprecedented sophistication, organization and breadth. Given my focus on ATM skimming technology and innovations, I was immediately interested.

Krebs gets up to some amazing jaunts.
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Google found guilty of ‘abusing dominant market position’ in Russia » WSJ

Olga Razumovskaya and Alistair Barr:

Google has been found guilty in a rapid Russian antitrust probe, a spokesperson for the country’s antitrust regulator told The Wall Street Journal.

In February, Russia’s Federal Antimonopoly Service opened a probe into Google for alleged anticompetitive practices related to how the company bundles apps with its Android mobile operating system.

The company was found guilty of “abusing its dominant market position,” but not of “unfair competition practices,” the regulator told The Wall Street Journal.

The Russian agency will have 10 business days to issue its ruling on the case in full. “We haven’t yet received the ruling,“ Google’s Russia spokeswoman said. “When we do, we will study it and determine our next steps.”

Form an orderly queue behind the EC, Canada and the rest, please, Russia. Also, how do you have dominance abuse but not unfair competition?
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Cortana on Cyanogen: CEO Kirt McMaster on building the next great smartphone OS » IB Times

David Gilbert:

Cyanogen has not announced any partnerships with hardware manufacturers beyond what is already on the market, but to really reach the masses, it will have to partner with a well-known name – and for companies like Sony, HTC and LG, all struggling to make Android work, Cyanogen could be an enticing option.

Of course, with Microsoft’s Lumia range failing to capture any significant market share since the company bought Nokia’s mobile phone division, it, too, could be on the lookout for something new.

While McMaster tells it like it is about Microsoft’s smartphone woes, he says Microsoft is still a great company and builds great services, one of which is going to be key in building the next version of Cyanogen – and that is Cortana.

Microsoft’s digital personal assistant has grown significantly since it began life on the company’s smartphones and this summer had its biggest update to date when it was deeply integrated into Windows 10 and Microsoft’s Edge browser.

McMaster revealed that Cyanogen is working with Microsoft to deeply integrate Cortana into the next version of Cyanogen OS. This is key to catapulting Cyanogen into the mass market, he asserts: Cortana is currently available as an app on Android, but in order for it to make a real difference, it needs to be able to be integrated at the OS level so that its full potential can be leveraged.

So how would that work in a phone running Google services? Wouldn’t Cortana and ‘OK Google’ fight like cats in a sack?
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Next up: iPhone preorder sales data » BTIG Research

Walter Piecyk:

The focus of investors is squarely on the number of phones that can be sold over the next three and a half months. Our estimate is that it can sell 80 million units in the December quarter versus a consensus view that expects little to no growth this year. We believe 3D touch is a much bigger deal that many think and wrote about that and our hands-on experience with all of Apple’s new products. (Link). Of course the bigger issue is that 70% of existing iPhone users are carrying 5s or older models, of which the 6 and 6S models are big upgrades. As we have discussed in the past, the lower hurdles to upgrade those phones in the United States could be a key driver of sales.

Last year at this time Apple shipped 74.5m phones; only Samsung has previously shipped 80m or more smartphones in a quarter (which it’s done four times).

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Hands on with three iOS 9 content blockers: 1Blocker, Blockr and Crystal » TechCrunch

Sarah Perez:

ahead of iOS 9’s release, a number of companies and indie developers have been building content blockers of their own and testing them out with iOS 9’s sizable group of beta testers.

While many consumers will likely gravitate toward AdBlock Plus because of their familiarity with the brand’s name and reputation, there will be a good handful of new apps on the horizon as well, which are also worth a look.

As she says, you can choose from super-twiddly, a bit twiddly, and simple. I’d bet that simple will actually be the one people pick.

Meanwhile…
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Advertisers complain about format & approval obstacles with iOS 9’s News app » Apple Insider

Roger Fingas:

Although publishers like CNN, Time, and Vox are making most of their content available in the app, some are said to be planning to offer a few dozen stories a day at most. Standouts in that sense include companies that depend on paid subscription models, such as the New York Times and Wall Street Journal.

Some ad executives have complained that common tools like real-time placement bidding aren’t in place for the News launch, and that Apple is requiring 48 hours notice before approving a campaign. The company is also allegedly demanding that pre-roll ads before video segments get their own approval.

Apple is moreover refusing to support Google’s DoubleClick ad platform. Edward Kim, a member of the online marketing company SimpleReach, argued to the Post that Apple is attempting to use News to build up iAd. That platform has struggled to gain ground in a market dominated by Google — whereas Google ads can reach virtually any device, iAd is unusable in some key spaces, like Android.

“Real-time placement bidding” is what quickly leads to malware and “bounce you out to App Store install” ads.
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Google reveals plans to increase production of self-driving cars » The Guardian

Mark Harris (who has done so much great original reporting on this topic):

[Sarah] Hunter [head of Google X] also shared new details about how the existing driverless prototypes work. “All [the car] has is a ‘go’ button, a ‘please slow down and stop’ button and a ‘stop pretty quickly’ button,” she said. “The intention is that the passenger gets in the vehicle, says into microphone, take me to Safeway, and the car does the entire journey.”

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Google’s self-driving cars currently require highly detailed maps of the areas they’re operating in, with centimetre accuracy of road features like lanes, roundabouts and traffic lights. They are also limited to 25mph so that Google could get them on to public roads without expensive and time-consuming crash tests. Even more importantly, they need safety drivers able to take control back in an instant if the system malfunctions. California is slowly working on regulations that will pave the way for the operation of completely driverless vehicles by the public.

All of this means that Google is unlikely to move its self-driving technology into full production any time soon. “We haven’t decided yet how we’re going to bring this to market,” admitted Hunter. “Right now, our engineers are trying to figure out … how to make a car genuinely drive itself. Once we figure that out, we’ll figure out how to bring it to market and in which way. Is it something that we manufacture at scale for sale to individuals? Or is it something that we own and operate as a service?”

Is it a taxi, a bus or an owned device? Seems trivial; actually gets to the heart of what a “car” is.
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Start up: Android Wear on iOS, will Slack kill Dropbox?, India v Google, after the adblockers, and more


One other piece of technology – besides the lifejackets and boat – probably kept them alive. Photo by Irish Defence Forces on Flickr.

A selection of 9 links for you. Blimey, it’s September (here at least). I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Android Wear now works with iPhones » Official Google Blog

David Singleton, director of engineering for Android Wear:

When you wear something every day, you want to be sure it really works for you. That’s why Android Wear offers countless design choices, so you can find the watch that fits your style. Want a round watch with a more classic look? Feel like a new watch band? How about changing things up every day with watch faces from artists and designers? With Android Wear you can do all of that. And now, Android Wear watches work with iPhones.

Android Wear for iOS is rolling out today. Just pair your iPhone (iPhone 5, 5c, 5s, 6, or 6 Plus running iOS 8.2+) with an Android Wear watch to bring simple and helpful information right to your wrist.

Key problem – and I think it will be a problem – is that it won’t be able to show reply to iMessages on the Wear watch. And iMessage is a huge part of using an iPhone (demonstrated by the volume sent each day), and, in my experience, the Apple Watch. The picture in the blogpost shows Google Hangouts; if you’re that dedicated to Hangouts, you’ll be on Android. Also: no third-party (Android Wear, nor, obviously, iOS) apps. Harry McCracken has a useful rundown – mostly of what it doesn’t do on iOS – at Fast Company.

So this might goose Android Wear watch sales a little, but I don’t see it lasting.
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Dropbox: the first dead decacorn » Thoughts from Alex Danco

Slack (the workplace collaboration tool) is going to kill it, Danco reckons:

The problem for Dropbox is that our work habits are evolving to make better use of what’s available; specifically, the awesome power of the internet. And on the internet, the concept of a ‘file’ is a little weird if you stop and think about it. Files seem woefully old-fashioned when you consider organization tools like Evernote, task management tools like Trello, and communication channels like Slack. Files are discrete objects that exist in a physical place; the internet is … pretty much the opposite of that. And while it made sense that the birth and early growth of information and the internet would contain familiar, old-school ideas and organizing systems, and some point the other shoe was bound to drop. To me, Slack feels like the first truly internet and mobile-native productivity platform – especially as it expands beyond messaging and into workflow automation, helper bots, and who knows what else. Dropbox might be the pinnacle of file management, but Slack is the beginning of what comes next.
  
I don’t think files are going to completely disappear; not anytime soon, anyway. They’ll certainly still exist as data structures, deep inside our servers and our phones, for a very long time – and yet most people will be indifferent to their existence. I’m pretty sure Dropbox’s multi-billion dollar valuation isn’t an anticipation of this new reality – it’s simply a projection of our current world, played in fast-forward. This is gravely shortsighted. Dropbox may not be the first Unicorn to slide slowly and then quickly towards irrelevance and death – but it’ll happen.

Having used Slack, I can believe a lot of that. If you haven’t used Slack, you’ll be harrumphing at this. (People who still put music and video files onto SD cards to slot into their phones will be incredulous.) It’s just a matter of time.
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India’s competition authority charges Google with rigging search results; Flipkart, Facebook corroborate complaints » The Economic Times

Deepali Gupta:

Flipkart, Facebook, Nokia’s maps division, MakeMy-Trip.com and several other companies have corroborated complaints that US Internet giant Google abused its dominant market position, in their response to queries raised by the Competition Commission of India.

Based on the responses from 30 businesses spanning search, social networks, ecommerce, travel and content sites, the CCI director-general last week filed a report that accuses Google of abusing its dominant position to rig search outcomes, both the actual search result as well as sponsored links. This marks the first case globally where an antitrust body is formally raising such charges against Google.

Flipkart’s complaint – that its position in organic results varied on how much it spent on ads with Google – is an eye-opener; often whispered, never made part of a complaint.

The list is comprehensive; if anything, Google faces more fires here than in Europe. What’s not clear is how determined, and meticulous, the CCI is. Anyone know? Google has to respond by September 10.
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Adobe aims to bring Photoshop to mobile masses with upcoming app » CNET

Stephen Shankland:

“Project Rigel is designed and built in a way that serves the needs of professionals familiar with retouching tools on the desktop, but more so for people not familiar with Photoshop tools like content-aware fill or spot healing,” Manu Anand, Adobe’s senior product manager for digital imaging, said in an interview at Adobe’s offices here. “It democratizes them and makes them easier to use.”

The app itself has a touchscreen interface, with a menu of editing options across the bottom, pop-out tool adjustments on the left side and a strong zoom ability to offer precision when selecting areas of an image with fat fingertips. It’s even got face recognition technology that Photoshop for PC lacks, a feature that identifies facial features then lets people enlarge or tilt eyes or raise the corners of a subject’s mouth to emphasize a smile.

Bringing Photoshop to the mobile masses is crucial for Adobe as it tries to adapt its business to modern computing trends. The company has no desire to suffer Microsoft’s fate, being largely left behind by the meteoric rise of Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android, the software that powers nearly all smartphones and tablets.

Not sure Adobe gets a choice there. It has clung on to the desktop with Flash, and it’s hard to see how Photoshop is really that relevant for mobile; it feels like overkill. (Adobe has a large, unseen-by-consumers business in web measurement too.)
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A 21st-century migrant’s essentials: food, shelter, smartphone » The New York Times

Matthew Brunwasser:

The tens of thousands of migrants who have flooded into the Balkans in recent weeks need food, water and shelter, just like the millions displaced by war the world over. But there is also one other thing they swear they cannot live without: a smartphone charging station.

“Every time I go to a new country, I buy a SIM card and activate the Internet and download the map to locate myself,” Osama Aljasem, a 32-year-old music teacher from Deir al-Zour, Syria, explained as he sat on a broken park bench in Belgrade, staring at his smartphone and plotting his next move into northern Europe.

“I would never have been able to arrive at my destination without my smartphone,” he added. “I get stressed out when the battery even starts to get low.”

Not a thing one would have been likely to forecast even five years ago. GPS and WhatsApp are now essential.
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Apple iPhone 6 Plus vs. Samsung Galaxy Note 5 » Business Insider

Lisa Eadicicco:

After spending a week switching between the two, here’s what I came away with. 

• Both phones are gorgeous, but with the Note 5 you get a slightly larger screen packed into a phone that’s the same size as the iPhone 6 Plus.
• The Note 5’s screen displays colors more vibrantly than the iPhone, but it’s not any sharper than the iPhone’s screen even though it’s a higher spec.
• The iPhone is still much more simple to use than Samsung’s phone.
• The Note 5’s S Pen feels natural and the multiwindow feature is useful, but Samsung’s version of Android is still too cluttered for me.
• Both phones take excellent photos. It’s a win-win here, but, as is the case with the Note 5’s display, its camera also sometimes exaggerates color. 

She also liked the Note’s split screen, and found the pen useful too.
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The mobile video ad lie » Medium

Rob Leathern found a page apparently with no video ads on the NY Post was loading 10MB. But how?

The large JPG files I referenced earlier make up the majority of the payload of this page — and are coming from the images.fusevid.com domain. Here again are those example1 and example2 of the image files.

Remember, I didn’t see any video content nor any video ads at all. If there is not willful fraud here, loading ads in the background that are impossible to see, then at the very least it is ‘user-hating’ irresponsible behavior to have a 10+mb payload with hundreds of http calls in a mobile browser.

Many publishers simply must have a sense that something nasty is going on — when their users complain about slow page loads on mobile web — but they either don’t have the tech savvy and/or more likely, they won’t ask questions about how their site could possibly be monetizing as well as it is when simple math indicates that their users aren’t watching that many video streams. Many simply turn a blind eye.

Ad industry insiders talk about “improving viewability” — but make no mistake, these are likely not mistakes made by inexperienced workers — just as mobile ads that pop up iTunes Store pages for mobile app installs are not casual errors — this is an industry that persists by helping already-fraught businesses like newspapers and online publishers survive at the expense of the advertisers who supposedly help us users have free content.

Is it any wonder desktop ad blocking has been on the rise, and many iOS users are excited at the prospect of using content blocking in iOS9 to get rid of mobile ads? The industry has only itself to blame.

I find these stories – which are growing in volume – fascinating. This is a boil that the internet community is looking to lance with vigour.
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Life after content blocking » Monday Note

Jean-Louis Gassee:

What are the smaller publishers to do?

Displaying their outrage by posting “Access Denied” when reached by an “offending” browser won’t work.

Some very specialized sites, such as Ben Thompson’s Stratechery and Ben Bajarin’s TechPinions, are able to generate membership revenue because the quality of their content — sober analysis versus mere reporting — makes it worth the price of subscription.

But these are exceptions. Too many sites are just echo chambers, they rewrite news releases, add strong adjectives and adverbs, and a bit of spin. Competition for attention, pageviews, and advertising dollars drives them to shout from the rooftops. If they don’t want to disappear or be rolled up into a larger entity to “optimize expenses”, they’ll have to get us to pay for their content.

This is much easier said than done. It’s difficult to conjure up a picture in which we’ll have subscriptions to most of the sites we graze today in their ad-supported form.

An alternative to subscriptions for content we may or may not actually “consume” is pay-as-you-go. In principle, this isn’t very different from what we do when we buy an episode of Breaking Bad. We gladly pay $2.99 to watch what we want, when we want, and without ads.

This works well for TV shows, but it doesn’t easily translate to websites.

I do foresee a number of those middling sites selling up to others which reckon they can make a go of it.
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We have no interest in competing with Apple: John Sculley of Obi Worldphone » Business Today

Interviewed by Manu Kaushik:

[Inflexionpoint chief executive] Neeraj [Chauhan] and I sat down. I asked him why he thought there’s an opportunity for us to go into this industry. He said that we have skills of distribution and supply chains, we know how to negotiate with various vendors, and we can run on a different business model.

At the same time, we were looking at the opportunity of buying BlackBerry. We were approached by the Canadian government. We have big operations in Toronto with another one of our companies. They said that we would like to keep BlackBerry a Canadian company and would you consider acquiring it. We studied BlackBerry’s business practices. We realised that they had 7,000 people in their handsets division at that time. That was incredible number of people. There’s no way you can make money with that. Eventually, BlackBerry pulled the auction [down]. They brought a talented CEO to run the company John Chen. They should have brought him in three years earlier.

But it opened our eyes. I asked Neeraj how many people you would need to run BlackBerry’s handset business. He said that he could do it with hundreds of people.

Via Charles Knight, who adds: “You have to wonder who else in Canada they approached.” It’s probably a long list.
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Start up: Chrome v Flash (and Google v iOS 9), HTC delays Vive, streaming’s true problem, and more


Suggested caption: “I wish I’d never mentioned the bloody sealion”. Can a computer do better? Picture from MCAD Library on Flickr.

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

Google makes it official: Chrome will freeze Flash ads on sight from Sept 1 » The Register

Shaun Nichols:

Back in June, Google warned that, in cooperation with Adobe, it would change the way Flash material is shown on websites.

Basically, “essential” Flash content (such as embedded video players) are allowed to automatically run, while non-essential Flash content, much of that being advertisements, will be automatically paused.

As we explained a couple of months ago, it’s effectively taking Chrome’s “Detect and run important plugin content” feature, and making it the default: only the “main plugin content on websites” will be run automatically. That should put a stop to irritating ads around the sides of pages.

Google’s reasoning for the move is largely performance-based, apparently. The Chocolate Factory worries that with too many pieces of Flash content running at once, Chrome’s performance is hamstrung, and, more critically, battery life is drained in notebooks and tablets running the Flash plugin.

A performance and battery hit? From Flash? I’m shocked, shocked to hear of such a thing.
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Handling App Transport Security in iOS 9 » Hacker News discussion

Remember the Google Ads blogpost from last week explaining how developers could enable non-HTTPS ads to show on iOS 9, which enforces (almost) HTTPS? The discussion on Hacker News include some who’ve been in the trenches:

At my last job, we did something similar to what iOS 9 is now doing, where we migrated a survey engine to serve all forms over https. There was high fiving and champagne all around the engineers desks, while media was freaking out that their impressions took the sharpest reverse-hockey-stick in the world. Ad networks are seriously the worst when it comes to https traffic. Given the dozens of redirects and pixel injections and iframes slapped into a media page, it’s nearly impossible to serve secure traffic since it only takes one network to downgrade the https request to http and then the page is “broken”.

Other comments provide useful insight too.
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The wait for HTC’s Vive VR headset just got longer » ReadWrite

Adriana Lee:

Other projects and software features are likely in the works [from Oculus Rift] as well. (We may know more at the Oculus Connect 2 developer conference in Los Angeles next month.) 

There’s also increasing competition from VR hardware startups and other (bigger) competitors eyeing virtual and augmented reality—including Sony, Google, Samsung and Microsoft. Apple may also be pursuing virtual and augmented reality behind closed doors.

All of which makes HTC’s decision to delay the Vive’s consumer release rather risky—especially if the company is relying on this initiative to make up for its flagging smartphone business. For end users and developers, however, the scenario points to something else: Next year is going to be absolutely huge for all realities virtual. 

Can HTC hang on long enough to ride that wave? Testers say it’s terrific quality. Most valuable asset?
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Chromebooks gaining on iPads in school sector » The New York Times

Natasha Singer:

In terms of the sheer numbers of devices sold, however, Microsoft remained in the lead. In 2014, about 4.9m Windows devices, including notebooks and desktops, shipped to schools, giving Microsoft a roughly 38% market share in unit sales, IDC said.

Apple, meanwhile, shipped about 4.2m devices for schools, including desktops, notebook computers and tablets, accounting for about 32% of the education market, according to the report.

But the Chromebook category is fast gaining traction in the United States.

Last year, about 3.9m Chromebooks were shipped in the education sector, an increase in unit sales of more than 310% compared with the previous year, IDC said. By contrast, iPad unit sales for education fell last year to 2.7m devices, compared to 2.9m in 2013, according to IDC data.

“Even if Microsoft is No. 1 in volume and Apple is No. 1 in revenue, from the growth perspective, nobody can beat Chromebook,” said Rajani Singh, a senior research analyst at IDC who tracks the personal computer market and is the author of the report.

In the first half of this year, she said, roughly 2.4m Chromebooks shipped to schools compared with about 2.2m Windows-based desktops and notebook computers.

Maybe this is where Chromebooks begin to eat away at Windows. They certainly should be a lot easier to secure and manage.
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We built a robot to help you win The New Yorker’s cartoon caption contest » The Verge

Michael Zelenko and Frank Bi:

Each week The New Yorker runs a cartoon contest on its back page, where the publication invites readers to submit captions to cartoons drawn by the magazine’s illustrators. Winning the contest is notoriously difficult — writers have to generate a quip that’s funny, but also perfectly mimics the magazine’s sensibilities. A deep knowledge of The New Yorker is a prerequisite. Or is it?

We’ve collected all the first, second, and third place winning entries going back to when the magazine introduced the competition in 2005 — all 1,425 of them. Then, we ran them through a Markov text generator program that analyzes the winning captions and generates new, randomized entries that echo the original set.

Observation: using this won’t even get you to the last three in the caption contest. Maybe when the robots have taken all the other jobs, “comedian” will still remain for humans.
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The real problem with streaming » Music Industry Blog

Mark Mulligan:

Even without considering the entirely intentional complexity of details such as minimas, floors and ceilings, the underlying principle is simple: a record label secures a fixed level of revenue regardless, while a music service assumes a fixed level of cost regardless.

Labels call this covering their risk and argue that it ensures that the services that get licensed are committed to being a success. Which is a sound and reasonable position in principle, except that in practice it often results in the exact opposite by transferring all of the risk to the music service. Saddling the service with so much up front debt increases the chance it will fail by ensuring large portions (sometimes the majority) of available working capital is spent on rights, not on building great product or marketing to consumers.

None of this matters too much if you are a successful service or a big tech company (both of which have lots of working capital). Both Google and Apple are rumoured to have paid advances in the region of $1 billion. While the payments are much smaller for most music services, Apple, with its $183bn in revenues and $194bn in cash reserves can afford $1bn a lot more easily than a pre-revenue start up with $1m in investment can afford $250,000.  Similarly a pre-revenue, pre-product start up is more likely to launch late and miss its targets but will still be on the hook for the minimum revenue guarantees (MRG).

It is abundantly clear that this model skews the market towards big players and to tech companies that simply want to use music as a tool for helping sell their core products. 

 
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Heads-up, Google: fighting the EU is useless » Bloomberg View

Leonid Bershidsky:

Microsoft can tell Google exactly what happens next; indeed, Google’s lawyers realize there will be other antitrust investigations. One, concerning the Android operating system and its links to Google services, is already in the works, although no official charges have been brought. Another may soon hit Google where it really hurts, challenging its dominance in online advertising. Google will fight and probably lose, because Europe doesn’t like big U.S. companies to dominate its markets. 

Lobbying and complying with whatever demands still can’t be avoided is a less painful path. Microsoft spent 4.5 million euros last year, a million more than Google, on efforts to get EU officials to see its points on issues such as data protection and cloud computing. Among other things, the European Parliament is now considering a Microsoft proposal that would cap fines for Internet privacy violations at 2m euros a case, instead of 2% of a company’s international turnover.

It’s admirable that Google now wants to fight for its principles and against the dilution of its superior offering. It makes me cringe, however, to think of the time and money that will be burned in this hopeless battle.

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The fembots of Ashley Madison » Gizmodo

Annalee Newitz:

In the data dump of Ashley Madison’s internal emails, I found ample evidence that the company was actively paying people to create fake profiles. Sometimes they outsourced to companies who build fake profiles, like the ones Caitlin Dewey wrote about this week in the Washington Post. But many appear to have been generated by people working for Ashley Madison. The company even had a shorthand for these fake profiles—“angels.” Perhaps this is a tip of the hat to Victoria’s Secret models, also known as angels.

Ashley Madison created their angels all over the world, and the dump contains dozens of emails where Avid Life Media management arranged to generate more. Here you can see a July 4, 2013 email from Avid Life Media’s director of internal operations, Nora Abtan, to CEO Noel Biderman and other managers, with the subject “summary angels status”…

…An email chain between Sandra Simpson and an employee named Eduardo Borges, dated July 30, 2012, suggests that quality control on the angel profiles was actually pretty rigorous. Borges asks whether it’s OK to reuse photos if they are in different states, and Simpson says no—she notes that many members travel and they might spot the duplicates.

Such great journalism; such a scammy business. The question becomes, did the company take this direction from the start, or was it forced towards fakery by circumstance?
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Apple is about to lay down its TV cards » TechCrunch

Matthew Panzarino:

It stands to reason that Apple will be able to push the A8 much, much further than it ever has before given that the Apple TV is plugged into the wall, and not dependent on battery.

This will enable developers of games and other resource-intensive applications to produce higher quality and more demanding apps. Among the demos I’d expect to see on stage next month are content apps, games, and broadcast companies. These apps fit the venue (fixed, but large and participatory) and purpose of your television — and the apps that people will build for the Apple TV would do well to take those factors into account as well.

A native SDK that takes advantage of the hardware fully will, for the first time ever, turn the Apple TV into a platform, a self-sustaining life form that Apple likely hopes will dominate competitors who have done only slightly better about adding third-party support.

To control the new Apple TV? A new remote. One major feature of which was pretty much nailed by Brian Chen in an article earlier this year. It’s slightly bigger and thicker, with physical buttons on the bottom half, a Touchpad area at the top and a Siri microphone.

I thought the Apple TV would get its own SDK
back in 2012. Totally wrong; it just wasn’t ready.
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Start up: wearables grow, adblocking as chemo?, how silent calls lead to fraud, Acer woes, and more


Replace “George Davis” with “Google” and you get its message. Photo by ross mcross on Flickr.

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

Apple debuts at the number two spot as the worldwide wearables market triples in 2Q15 » IDC

In its first appearance in the wearables market, Apple finds itself within striking distance of the established market leader, Fitbit. According to the International Data Corporation (IDC) Worldwide Quarterly Wearable Device Tracker, Apple shipped a total of 3.6 million units in the second quarter of 2015 (2Q15), just 0.8m units behind Fitbit’s 4.4m units. Total shipment volume for the quarter came to 18.1m units, up 223.2% from the 5.6m units shipped in 2Q14.

“Anytime Apple enters a new market, not only does it draw attention to itself, but to the market as a whole,” noted Ramon Llamas, Research Manager for IDC’s Wearables team. “Its participation benefits multiple players and platforms within the wearables ecosystem, and ultimately drives total volumes higher. Apple also forces other vendors – especially those that have been part of this market for multiple quarters – to re-evaluate their products and experiences. Fairly or not, Apple will become the stick against which other wearables are measured, and competing vendors need to stay current or ahead of Apple. Now that Apple is officially a part of the wearables market, everyone will be watching to see what other wearable devices it decides to launch, such as smart glasses or hearables.”

This rather mixes oranges and.. um, because the Fitbit is not a “watch”. I’d prefer to see “watches” and “bands” separated, but that might be tricky. Telling that none of the Android Wear watches did more than 0.6m; and that Samsung’s early lead hasn’t translated into, well, anything. The figure for Apple Watches feels high, though.

Also: “hearables”?
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The realities of a $50 smartphone » Engadget

Daniel Cooper:

“If you had asked me this a year ago, I would have said that it was impossible.” Wayne Lam is the principal telecoms analyst for IHS, a market intelligence firm that looks at the technology market. As part of the experiment, he offered to cook up a hypothetical device that, if someone built it today, could probably be mass-produced for under $50. He worked out that the upper limit for a bill of materials would be around $42, and worked backward to build out a spec list from there. It wasn’t pretty, since “any time you put a constraint on the design, like a maximum price, you end up having to make compromises.”

Really impressive. Of course, that doesn’t leave any margin for distribution, marketing, or R+D, but it’s amazing the market has come so far in just eight years.
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Dark patterns : user interfaces designed to trick people

Harry Brignull and others:

Normally when you think of “bad design”, you think of the creator as being sloppy or lazy but with no ill intent. This type of bad design is known as a “UI anti-pattern”. Dark Patterns are different – they are not mistakes, they are carefully crafted with a solid understanding of human psychology, and they do not have the user’s interests in mind. We as designers, founders, UX & UI professionals and creators need to take a stance against Dark Patterns.

You can send them your examples via the site.

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Acer honourary chairman Shih would ‘welcome’ takeover bid » The Register

Paul Kunert:

The major players, such as HP, Lenovo and Dell, would gain nothing on the technology front from buying Acer – which derived 65% of its revenues from PCs last year – save for perhaps some low-margin market share.

Surely it would be cheaper to let the company continue to wither on the vine?

More than a decade ago, Acer said it was the PC maker of the future, based partly on the relatively tiny workforce – it employs 7,000 heads, which is fewer than some vendors employ in their country operations.

As we pointed out recently, Acer is running out of runway and something has to give. We doubt any of the majors in the industry will want to buy the business, and the politics involved in merging with Taiwanese rivals HTC or Asus make such a move unlikely, though not entirely implausible.

Becoming a question of whether Acer or HTC will be forced into someone else’s arms first. Acer is bigger, but shrinking fast.
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Handling App Transport Security in iOS 9 » Google Ads Developer Blog

Tristan Emrich, mobile ads developer relations:

All iOS 9 devices running apps built with Xcode 7 that don’t disable ATS [App Transport Security, which forces HTTPS connections] will be affected by this change. The following log message appears when a non-ATS compliant app attempts to serve an ad via HTTP on iOS 9:

“App Transport Security has blocked a cleartext HTTP (http://) resource load since it is insecure. Temporary exceptions can be configured via your app’s Info.plist file.”

While Google remains committed to industry-wide adoption of HTTPS, there isn’t always full compliance on third party ad networks and custom creative code served via our systems. To ensure ads continue to serve on iOS9 devices for developers transitioning to HTTPS, the recommended short term fix is to add an exception that allows HTTP requests to succeed and non-secure content to load successfully.

Publishers can add an exception to their Info.plist to allow any insecure connection.

Translation: ads are insecure, and trackable, but let them through. (Obviously, many app developers will need to for revenue.) Once again, Apple is forcing the pace on advertisers.
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Why phone fraud starts with a silent call » All Tech Considered : NPR

Aarti Shahani:

Maybe you gave your number to Target or some other big retailer that got hacked. Maybe you entered an online raffle to win a free iPhone.

According to the Federal Trade Commission, these robocalls are on the rise because Internet-powered phones make it cheap and easy for scammers to make illegal calls from anywhere in the world.

That initial call you get, with silence on the other end, “[is] essentially the first of the reconnaissance calls that these fraudsters do,” Balasubramaniyan says. “They’re trying to see: Are they getting a human on the other end? You even cough and it knows you’re there.”

The next step is gathering information about your bank or credit card account. You get a call with a prerecorded voice that tells you, for example, “[we’re] calling with an important message about your debit card. If you are the cardholder please stay on the line and press 1. Otherwise please have the cardholder call us at 1-877…”

If you’re thinking about ignoring it, the message tries to scare you into paying attention with a warning: “A temporary hold may have been placed on your account and will be removed upon verification of activity.”

That number leads to another automated system that prompts you to share personal details like your date of birth, your card number and secure PIN, the expiration date, your Social Security number.

It can be tricky because many real banks have a similar system.

Foolish of the banks, really.
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Improving quality isn’t anti-competitive » Google Europe Blog

Kent Walker, Google’s general counsel:

The response we filed today [to the EC] shows why we believe those allegations [of stifling competition] are incorrect, and why we believe that Google increases choice for European consumers and offers valuable opportunities for businesses of all sizes.

The Statement of Objections [SO] says that Google’s displays of paid ads from merchants (and, previously, of specialized groups of organic search results) “diverted” traffic away from shopping services. But the SO doesn’t back up that claim, doesn’t counter the significant benefits to consumers and advertisers, and doesn’t provide a clear legal theory to connect its claims with its proposed remedy.

Our response provides evidence and data to show why the SO’s concerns are unfounded. We use traffic analysis to rebut claims that our ad displays and specialized organic results harmed competition by preventing shopping aggregators from reaching consumers. Economic data spanning more than a decade, an array of documents, and statements from complainants all confirm that product search is robustly competitive. And we show why the SO is incorrect in failing to consider the impact of major shopping services like Amazon and eBay, who are the largest players in this space.

Funny thing: I’ve skim-read the SO (it’s long – 100+ pages) and it picks away at lots of these traffic analysis claims (which were themselves dismantled thoroughly by Foundem, one of the complainants to the EC). Among the SO’s complaints was that Google didn’t provide enough data about shopping traffic. I don’t think the EC is going to roll over on this one. Nor, evidently, is Google. Though in arguing “choice for consumers” it’s using the wrong antitrust doctrine – that applies in the US, but not the EU.

Can’t find where Google has published its response, either. Surely it would want that public too? Also: an analysis of Google’s blogpost by “Focus On The User” (anti-Google, not involving Microsoft).
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Apple’s content blocking is chemo for the cancer of adtech » Doc Searls Weblog

Searls calls “tracking” ads (eg Doubleclick etc) “adtech”, as opposed to simple brand ads:

• Apple’s iAd is for brand advertising, not adtech. At least that’s what I gather from Apple’s literature. This puts them on the side of [advertising] wheat, and Apple’s competitors — notably Google, Facebook and all of adtech — on the side of chaff.

• Apple has put a big stake in the ground on the subject of privacy. This is clearly to differentiate itself from adtech in general, and from Google and Facebooks in particular.

• Brand advertising is more valuable to publishers than adtech. Its provenance and value are clear and obvious, it sells for better prices, and — while some of it may be annoying — none of it shares its business model with spam, which adtech does. Nor is brand advertising corrupted by fraud, which is rampant in adtech. So rampant, in fact, that T.Rob Wyatt, a security expert, calls adtech “the new digital cancer.”

This is why content blocking is chemo for the cancer of adtech. It is also why it is essential for everybody involved in the advertising-funded online ecosystem to start separating the wheat from the chaff, and to make clear to everybody that the wheat — plain old brand advertising — is (to mix metaphors) the baby in the advertising bathwater.

(Searls was taken to task for using “chemo” and “cancer”; he pointed out that he has had loved ones die of cancer, and “I’m not sure they would have disapproved of the metaphor.”)

As bandwagons go, the anti-adtech one is rolling downhill at top speed. I’ve already got three different ones I’m testing on an iOS 9 phone.
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The Labour Purge…. and social media privacy. » Paul Bernal’s Blog

Bernal notes that the Labour Party is trawling social media to try to find out if newly joined members really “support” the party:

We should not expect people to have social media profiles – let alone identifiable social media profiles. What is more, this is particularly important for some of the people that Labour should care about and support the most. People may be ‘digitally excluded’, for a start – but they might also have extremely valid reasons to be pseudonymous on the internet. Vulnerable people, in particular, might need pseudonymity to protect them from those to whom they are vulnerable. Whistleblowers. People with abusive spouses. People with abusive or manipulative employers. Trade unionists, for example, might have that status used against them – there’s a reason that Trade Union membership is considered ‘sensitive personal data’ under the Data Protection Act. People might wish not to have their religion revealed to all and sundry. People might wish to separate their personal and professional lives for perfectly good reasons.

There is much more to say on this subject – but the underlying issue is the one that is most disturbing. What the Labour Party is doing may well breach the Data Protection Act – there is a discussion to be had here – but it is certainly at least verging on the creepy.

The Labour Party has long had a problem with privacy; it tried really hard to introduce ID cards (with biometrics!), and was only stopped by losing an election.
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