Start up: Wikipedia’s blackmail ban, Ashley Madison redux, Google OnHub meta-reviewed, and more


“Adblocking? Yeah, I heard about it on the radio.” Photo by Skyco on Flickr.

A selection of 12 links for you. Contains nothing about logo changes, so keep moving along. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Hundreds of Wikipedia editors got banned for secretly promoting brands » Motherboard

Jordan Pearson:

Wikipedia has 381 fewer editors today, after hundreds of accounts were banned for taking undisclosed pay to create and edit “promotional articles.”

According to a post on Wikipedia’s administrator board, Wikipedia’s CheckUser team investigated for months to uncover the accounts clogging the site with bogus articles for cash. The 381 banned accounts were active between April and August, but the “nature and quality” of the edits suggests that the scam had been carrying on for some time, the post states.

The “sock puppet” accounts, as they’re called, were essentially extorting their customers. First, they would create a draft article and populate it with promotional links. Next, they contacted their victim, often posing as more established Wikipedians, and requested a fee to publish the article. To keep the page from being edited or taken down, the accounts charged their victims $30 per month, in some cases.

This story is the front-page lead (“splash”) in Wednesday’s Independent newspaper in the UK, where it is branded an “exclusive”. Clearly a new use of the word.
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Mobile-friendly web pages using app banners » Official Google Webmaster Central Blog

Daniel Bathgate, Google Search software engineer:

sometimes a user may tap on a search result on a mobile device and see an app install interstitial that hides a significant amount of content and prompts the user to install an app. Our analysis shows that it is not a good search experience and can be frustrating for users because they are expecting to see the content of the web page.

Starting today, we’ll be updating the Mobile-Friendly Test to indicate that sites should avoid showing app install interstitials that hide a significant amount of content on the transition from the search result page. The Mobile Usability report in Search Console will show webmasters the number of pages across their site that have this issue.

After November 1, mobile web pages that show an app install interstitial that hides a significant amount of content on the transition from the search result page will no longer be considered mobile-friendly.

Note what Google is actually saying here. It isn’t saying it will penalise all interstitials; only those which are a call to install an app and which cover a lot of the page. So page-covering interstitials that aren’t for app installs are OK. Remember that it’s bad for Google if people install apps: they then tend not to use Google search so much on mobile. This is exactly what Yelp’s CEO Jeremy Stoppelman predicted only last week after that slightly flakey Google study about app install interstitials. Now the other shoe drops.

One thing I wonder about: how will Google detect these? Won’t sites just hide those app interstitials from the Googlebot, and then use them for normal users? It’s what I would do.
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Encryption, lock mechanism vulnerabilities plague lock app AppLock » Threatpost

Chris Brook:

A researcher is claiming that the app, which is supposed to securely store photos, videos and other apps, doesn’t really use encryption to do so, it simply hides the files elsewhere on the phone, where an attacker could theoretically read them.

The app also suffers from what Noam Rathaus, a researcher who blogs about vulnerabilities for the portal SecuriTeam, dubs a weak PIN reset mechanism and a weak lock mechanism. Rathaus, who is also the Chief Technology Officer for Beyond Security, published technical details on the vulnerabilities, along with step by step methods to exploit them on Monday.

Rathaus claims that when users save files on AppLock, they’re actually stored in the read/write partition of the filesystem and not in the one assigned to the application. This means that an attacker would only have to install a file manager application and guide themselves to a certain SQLite database, then a PATH, to find the images.

100 million users can’t be wrong.. can they?
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Alliance for Open Media Established to Deliver Next-Generation Open Media Formats

Seven leading Internet companies today announced formation of the Alliance for Open Media – an open-source project that will develop next-generation media formats, codecs and technologies in the public interest. The Alliance’s founding members are Amazon, Cisco, Google, Intel Corporation, Microsoft, Mozilla and Netflix.

John Paczkowski’s tweet-headline for this is absolutely perfect: “Microsoft, Google, and Amazon Partner On Next Failed Open-Video Format”.

Don’t believe me/him? The press release tacitly acknowledges that Google’s WebM project has run into the sand:

“Google launched the WebM Project in 2010 in the belief that web video innovation was too slow and too closed, and that broad collaboration — in the open — would fix both problems. The Alliance for Open Media is a big leap forward for these core philosophies, and we’re gratified that our AOMedia partners share this vision. Our combined strength, resources and expertise will drive the next generation of web media experiences much further and faster than WebM can do alone,” said Matt Frost, Head of Strategy and Partnerships, Chrome Media.

Let’s circle back and reach out in a couple of years, eh?
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Fluid Coupling » Asymco

Horace Dediu on the question of “when exactly did enterprises become late adopters of technology” – given that they were (relatively) early ones for high-priced products such as the first computers:

companies have procedures for accepting technologies (capital expenditures) which require high degrees of interaction and decision making. In order to step though these procedures, the vendors need to have sales people who need to invest lots of their time and therefore need to be compensated with large commissions. If those commissions are a percent of sale then the total sales price needs to be large enough “to make it worth while to all parties”. As a result, paradoxically, an enterprise technology must be sufficiently slow and expensive to be adopted.

Mobility was disruptive to enterprise because the new computing paradigm was both too fast and too cheap to be implementable.

This implies that the problem with enterprises is not the stupidity of its buyers. They are no less smart than the average person – in fact, they are as smart with their personal choices for computing as anybody. The problem is that enterprises have a capital use and allocation model which is obsolete. This capital decision process assumes that capital goods are expensive, needing depreciation, and therefore should be regulated, governed and carefully chosen. The processes built for capital goods are extended to ephemera like devices, software and networking.

It does not help that these new capital goods are used to manage what became the most important asset of the company: information. We thus have a perfect storm of increasingly inappropriate allocation of resources to resolving firms’ increasingly important processes. The result is loss of productivity, increasingly bizarre regulation and prohibition of the most desirable tools.

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Ashley Madison code shows more women, and more bots » Gizmodo

Annalee Newitz, who must feel like it’s Christmas every single day as she wades through the data and code dumps:

Once the man struck up a conversation, the bot would say things like this:

Hmmmm, when I was younger I used to sleep with my friend’s boyfriends. I guess old habits die hard although I could never sleep with their husbands.

I’m sexy, discreet, and always up for kinky chat. Would also meet up in person if we get to know each other and think there might be a good connection. Does this sound intriguing?”

It’s unclear what else the engager would say—either the bots really are this simple, or further chat phrases weren’t in the code. Most likely, based on what I saw from other bot code, the bot would urge the man to pay credits to talk further.

Mr. Falcon pointed out that there’s actually a special bot service, called “RunChatBotXmppGuarentee.service.php,” apparently designed just for interactions with customers who paid the premium $250 for a “guaranteed affair.” When I checked the code, I found Mr. Falcon was right. It appears that this bot would chat up the man, urge him to pay credits, and then pass him along to what’s called an “affiliate.” Likely the affiliate is a third party that provides a real person for the man to chat with. It might also be connecting him to an escort service…

…Ashley Madison aspired to be a global network of people breaking the bonds of monogamy in the name of YOLO. Instead, it was mostly a collection straight men talking to extremely busy bots who bombarded them with messages asking for money.

Plus: it was popular with (real) women who were looking for women for a fling. The data don’t lie.

I do hope Newitz will collect all this into a book. This deserves to be a huge story that’s read and re-read. And it puts every other dating site under just that little extra bit of suspicion.

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Amazon curtails development of consumer devices » WSJ

Greg Bensinger:

Fallout from the Fire phone flop has hurt morale at Lab126, according to current and former employees, and raises questions about Amazon’s ability to develop compelling consumer devices. The $180 Echo virtual assistant, a voice-activated speaker, has developed something of a cult following, if not yet mass appeal.

Some workers say Lab126’s shifting and, at times, enigmatic priorities, including a planned high-end computer for the kitchen, have contributed to a frenetic workplace and ill-defined roles. That has led a number of workers to take jobs at other tech firms, the people said.

Amazon established Lab126—the 1 and 26 stand for the letters A and Z—in 2004 under former Palm Computing Vice President Gregg Zehr to develop what became the popular Kindle e-reader in 2007. Located in Sunnyvale, Calif., some 800 miles from Seattle, the division has since rolled out more than a dozen products, including several versions of the Kindle and the generally well-received Fire tablet.

Last year, Lab126 released a flurry of 10 devices, including a television set-top box, the Echo and a wand for scanning bar codes at home.

“What Amazon makes are devices that are not too flashy, but they are inexpensive and they are simple to use,” said Tom Mainelli, an IDC analyst. “Mostly they are another way to serve up content that Amazon can sell you.”

I’m not sure that it’s really “consumer devices” that Amazon is curtailing, but consumer devices that don’t fit into that latter description from Mainelli. The Fire Phone was a bad idea; the Kindle a great one. The Dash button (press it and it orders [item] from Amazon) is a really smart idea; the Echo, unproven.
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Quick Thoughts: Google’s OnHub router » Beyond Devices

Jan Dawson has the meta-analysis:

To my mind, the OnHub router is also a symbol of Google’s disjointed approach to so many of its projects, and I worry that the Alphabet reorg will only make things worse. Google already has a home automation business, Nest, which not only makes its own products but has been the vehicle for both making further home automation acquisitions (Dropcam) and for acting as a hub for other home automation gear (the Works with Nest strategy). And yet, this product isn’t branded Nest, nor does it apparently sit under Tony Fadell’s hardware group, which also includes Google Glass.

In fact, Mark Bergen of Recode and Amir Efrati of The Information have both suggested that this product actually came out of the Google Fiber team. I’ve written previously about how disconnected from the rest of Google the Fiber project has seemed, and it’s ironic to now see Google proper appropriate this technology just as Fiber is being hived off into a separate Alphabet company. The good thing about Google is that people throughout the organization feel free to experiment with various things, some of which eventually become products. The bad thing is that this means you could have several separate teams working on similar things in isolation, and in some cases you end up with several products apparently chasing the same use case (e.g. the Nexus Q, Chromecast, and Google TV/Android TV).

Meanwhile, on the performance, Glenn Fleishman’s review of the reviews is the one to read.
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Howard Stern just sent adblocking mainstream » Medium

Howard Stern (for non-US readers: he’s a widely-listened to broadcaster in the US) discovered on-air that he can install an “ad blocker”, with a predictably vociferous reaction. Ian Schafer picks up on the likely fallout:

as Richard Blakely suggested on Twitter, we’ll all probably be installing ad blocking extensions on our parents’ browsers this Thanksgiving.

As more consumers learn to (and are able to) pay for ad-free versions of their favorite content, they are beginning to prefer media choices that give them that option. “Premium” versions of ad-supported media are becoming the norm.

So why would people want to see ads (hint: they don’t)? And what does that spell for the future of ad-supported media?

If you’re a brand, you should be dedicating efforts to figuring out how to get your message in front of consumers without running “ad units”. This could be in the form of “content”, “utility”, or anything else that provides some sort of value. But you should be allocating resources to figuring this out now so you can have a competitive advantage.

If you’re a creative agency, you need to figure out what you’re going to be making or doing in a world where consumers are ad avoidant. Core advertising services are destined to change, and innovation should be happening as much on the business and operations end as it is on the creative and technology side of the business.

If you’re a media agency, you should be figuring out what side of history you want to be on, and whether you want to evolve beyond the current state of affairs, or go down with the ship.

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Content blockers on iOS 9 will be 64-bit device only » Twitter

Benjamin Poulain (of Apple’s Safari team) tweeted thus:

Content Blockers do work on 32 bits, but the App Store policies restrict them to 64 bits devices as @reneritchie said.

The extensions already work on 32-bit devices (I’m testing three on an iPhone 5C), but Poulain then says the reason for the limitation is because of the performance of the compiler on the largest extensions. (The blockers are compiled on the fly, as I understand it.)

Cynics will say this is Apple trying to get people to upgrade from 32-bit devices to 64-bit ones. (And other extensions do work on 32-bit..) Depends how compelling you think content blocking is, of course.
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Encounter with the Google car today… » Cycling Forums

“Oxtox”:

a Google self-driving Lexus has been in my neighborhood for the last couple of weeks doing some road testing.

Near the end of my ride today, we both stopped at an intersection with 4-way stop signs.

The car got to the stop line a fraction of a second before I did, so it had the ROW. I did a track-stand and waited for it to continue on through.

It apparently detected my presence (it’s covered in Go-Pros) and stayed stationary for several seconds. it finally began to proceed, but as it did, I rolled forward an inch while still standing. the car immediately stopped…

I continued to stand, it continued to stay stopped. then as it began to move again, I had to rock the bike to maintain balance. it stopped abruptly.

We repeated this little dance for about 2 full minutes and the car never made it past the middle of the intersection. the two guys inside were laughing and punching stuff into a laptop, I guess trying to modify some code to ‘teach’ the car something about how to deal with the situation.

Lots of little situations like this will make the difference between self-driving cars other road users like and which they really don’t. (Can an SDC be “rude”?)
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Google’s driverless cars run into problem: cars with drivers » The New York Times

Matt Richtel and Conor Dougherty:

Google’s fleet of autonomous test cars is programmed to follow the letter of the law. But it can be tough to get around if you are a stickler for the rules. One Google car, in a test in 2009, couldn’t get through a four-way stop because its sensors kept waiting for other (human) drivers to stop completely and let it go. The human drivers kept inching forward, looking for the advantage — paralyzing Google’s robot.

It is not just a Google issue. Researchers in the fledgling field of autonomous vehicles say that one of the biggest challenges facing automated cars is blending them into a world in which humans don’t behave by the book.

“The real problem is that the car is too safe,” said Donald Norman, director of the Design Lab at the University of California, San Diego, who studies autonomous vehicles. “They have to learn to be aggressive in the right amount, and the right amount depends on the culture.”

If it’s about the culture, might be a while before we see them in France or (especially) Italy. Or [insert country where you gaped at the driving].
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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: Ashley Madison’s vanishing women, PC and tablet gloom, taxing sugar, and more


Swiss watch exports – especially to China – fell in July. Why?

A selection of 8 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Almost none of the women in the Ashley Madison database ever used the site » Gizmodo

Annalee Newitz:

I downloaded the data and analyzed it to find out how many actual women were using Ashley Madison, and who they were.

What I discovered was that the world of Ashley Madison was a far more dystopian place than anyone had realized. This isn’t a debauched wonderland of men cheating on their wives. It isn’t even a sadscape of 31 million men competing to attract those 5.5 million women in the database. Instead, it’s like a science fictional future where every woman on Earth is dead, and some Dilbert-like engineer has replaced them with badly-designed robots.

Those millions of Ashley Madison men were paying to hook up with women who appeared to have created profiles and then simply disappeared. Were they cobbled together by bots and bored admins, or just user debris? Whatever the answer, the more I examined those 5.5 million female profiles, the more obvious it became that none of them had ever talked to men on the site, or even used the site at all after creating a profile. Actually, scratch that. As I’ll explain below, there’s a good chance that about 12,000 of the profiles out of millions belonged to actual, real women who were active users of Ashley Madison…

…About two-thirds of the men, or 20.2 million of them, had checked the messages in their accounts at least once. But only 1,492 women had ever checked their messages. It was a serious anomaly.

Top-class data journalism by Newitz. This is how you do it: get facts and hammer them into the ground. Ashley Madison increasingly looks like a game of three-card monte. CEO Noel Biderman previously trumpeted in the media that Ashley Madison had an overall 70/30 gender split — with a 1:1 male/female ratio among the under-30 set. Seems like he was flat-out lying. (Teddy Wayne, who wrote that linked GQ story, now works for the New Yorker; he clearly did well to get five women who apparently used AM to talk to him in 2013.)

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Swiss watch exports fall in July » Business Insider

Ben Moshinsky:

The Swiss-watch bubble may be about to unravel.

After years of stunning growth, in which exports more than doubled from 2000 to 2014, Swiss watchmakers had a terrible month.

China led the fall, according to export figures from the Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry.

Overall exports were 9.3% lower than a year earlier, at 1.9 billion Swiss francs (£1.3 billion, $1.97 billion) with the Chinese market segment dropping by more than 39%. Sales to the United Arab Emirates also tanked 29.8%.

Biggest fall? Those costing between CHF200-500 and CHF500-€3,000. (1 CHF = US$1.05.) Anyone know any watch-like products released recently around that price not coming out of Switzerland?
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Google has a secret interview process… and it landed me a job » The Hustle

Max Rosett:

Three months ago, I thought I wasn’t ready to apply for a job at Google. Google disagreed.

I was in the midst of a career transition. I had spent three years working as a management consultant and then at a startup, but I wanted to become a computer engineer. I was earning a Master’s in computer science through Georgia Tech’s online program. I knew that I was slowly developing the skills that I would need in an engineering role, but I still lacked the confidence to apply for a full-time software role.

One morning, while working on a project, I Googled “python lambda function list comprehension.” The familiar blue links appeared, and I started to look for the most relevant one.

But then something unusual happened.

The search results split and folded back to reveal a box that said “You’re speaking our language. Up for a challenge?”

I would find that intensely scary. I’d worry I’d either been hacked or taken hallucinogenics.
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Worldwide tablet shipments expected to decline -8.0% in 2015 while 2-in-1 devices pick up momentum, growing 86.5% » IDC

According to a new forecast from the International Data Corporation (IDC) Worldwide Quarterly Tablet Tracker, tablet shipments, inclusive of 2-in-1 devices, are expected to decline -8.0% in 2015, representing a notable slowdown from IDC’s previous forecast of -3.8%. Shipments are now expected to reach 212 million with the vast majority being pure slate tablets.

The overall trajectory of the tablet market has not changed significantly over the past year and a half, but the 2-in-1 segment, also referred to as detachables, is starting to gain traction. While the 2-in-1 form factor is not new, OEMs are getting more serious about this market and as a result IDC expects the 2-in-1 segment to grow 86.5% year over year in 2015 with 14.7 million units shipped. Although this volume is far below that of the more affordable slate tablet segment, IDC believes these devices appeal to an audience seeking an alternative to pure tablets with smaller screens.

Basically, Windows picks up from interest in 2-in-1 devices. But it remains niche. (Gartner rolls 2-in-1s into its PC category; IDC calls them “tablets”.) IDC expects an “iPad Pro” and that Apple will still be the largest vendor in 2019.
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PC shipments expected to shrink through 2016 as currency devaluations and inventory constraints worsens outlook » IDC

Worldwide PC shipments are expected to fall by -8.7% in 2015 and not stabilize until 2017, according to the International Data Corporation (IDC) Worldwide Quarterly PC Tracker. The latest forecast has growth declining through 2016 – which will make five years of declining shipments. Growth should resume in 2017, led by the commercial market, while consumer volume continues a small decline through the end of the forecast in 2019.

Although IDC had expected the second quarter of 2015 to be a transition period as vendors prepare for Windows 10 systems in the second half of the year, final results nonetheless shrank even more than expected due to a stubbornly large inventory of notebooks from prior quarters and severe constraints posed by the decline of major currencies relative to the US Dollar.

Hey ho. This is really going to put the squeeze on the smaller players.
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Taxing soda, saving lives » Al Jazeera America

Kate Kilpatrick:

Mexico consumes more soda per capita than any other country, and research links sugary drinks to obesity and diabetes, a leading cause of death in Mexico.

And blindness.

More than 14 million Mexicans have diabetic retinopathy, which impairs vision.

That could explain why Mexico became the first country to impose a national soda tax, which went into effect on the first day of 2014.

“It was a really big deal. A really, really big deal,” said Marion Nestle, a professor of nutrition, food studies and public health at New York University and the author of the forthcoming book “Soda Politics: Taking On Big Soda (and Winning).”

“Generally, the taxes are considered the most radical things you can do about obesity,” said obesity expert Kelly Brownell, the dean of the Sanford School of Public Policy at Duke University.

The tax is an excise tax (meaning it’s paid at the point of purchase) that tacks on a peso (about 6 cents) per liter to sales of sugar- or syrup-sweetened sodas, juices, energy drinks and bottled tea and coffee. It also applies to drink powders and concentrates but excludes flavored milks, diet sodas and bottled waters.

“Soda” is such an innocuous word for a useless drink whose health effects are entirely negative. Sugar taxes are long overdue. As Chris Mims says: “Soda companies are the new tobacco companies, full stop.” When will the UK and US follow suit?
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AT&T Wi-Fi hotspots: now with advertising injection » Web Policy

Jonathan Mayer found some unexpected – and unwanted – ads while at the airport:

Curious, and waiting on a delayed flight, I started poking through web source. It took little time to spot the culprit: AT&T’s wifi hotspot was tampering with HTTP traffic.

The ad injection platform appears to be a service from RaGaPa, a small startup. Their video pitch features “MONETIZE YOUR NETWORK” over cascading dollar signs. (Seriously.)

When an HTML page loads over HTTP, the hotspot makes three edits. (HTTPS traffic is immune, since it’s end-to-end secure.)

First, the hotspot adds an advertising stylesheet.

Next, it injects a backup advertisement, in case a browser doesn’t support JavaScript. It appears that the hotspot intercepts /ragapa URLs and resolves them to advertising images.

Finally, the hotspot adds a pair of scripts for controlling advertisement loading and display.

Those scripts, in turn, import advertising content from additional third-party providers.

Mayer is the person who spotted Google hacking Safari to add Doubleclick cookies back in 2012 (a case that led to a $22.5m FTC fine for Google, and ongoing court cases in the UK).

Strangely enough, when quizzed about this, AT&T said it was a test that it had just finished. What an amazing coincidence that (a) Mayer tried it, last week, just near the end of the trial (b) AT&T stopped it just after Mayer’s post was published. (Bonus: iOS 9 – coming next month – mandates HTTPS for pretty much all connections. So that’s a benefit.)
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Who are Twitter’s verified users? » Medium

Haje Jan Kamps:

The biggest proportion of Verified users are journalists and assorted media folks (news producers, anchors, TV meteorologists etc) representing almost a quarter of the verified accounts.

They’re followed by sports clubs and athletes with about 18% of the accounts, and actors & entertainers representing another 13%. Given how comprehensively musicians are represented in the top 10 lists, it was surprising to me that only about 12% of the verified accounts were musicians and music industry people.

Not that surprising, really. Also notable: verified journalists tend to have lower follower:following ratio (ie, they discuss, rather than broadcast). HMU!
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