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


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

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

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

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

Geoffrey Fowler:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Daniel Austin:

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

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

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

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

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


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Activation lock checker » Apple

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

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

Jan Dawson:

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

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16 mobile theses » Benedict Evans

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

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

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

From August 2010, by Douglas McIntyre:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Start up: damn internet fridges!, getting hacked, the coming phone shakeout, PGP doubts over “Satoshi”, and more


This was when the fridge calendar worked. Photo by Kaeru on Flickr.

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

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

The joy of getting hacked » Waxy.org

Andy Baio:

A quick ‘top’ revealed that MySQL was pegging the CPU, so I logged into the MySQL console and saw that a dump of the database was being written out to a file. This was very unusual: I never schedule database backups in the middle of the day, and it was using a different MySQL user to make the dumps.

Then I noticed where the mysqldump was being written to: the directory for a theme from a WordPress installation I’d set up the previous month, an experiment to finally migrate this blog off of MovableType.

This set off all my alarms. I immediately shut down Apache and MySQL, cutting off the culprit before they could download the dumped data or do any serious damage.

I’d recently updated to the latest WordPress beta, and saw that the functions.php file in the twentysixteen theme directory was replaced with hastily-obfuscated PHP allowing arbitrary commands to be run on my server through the browser.

I’ve had this sort of experience in the past – also with WordPress. It’s a total pain.

Baio points out though that the real weakness was probably not WordPress, but PhPMyAdmin, which is even worse in terms of security vulnerabilities. If you’re running it, delete it.
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China’s hippest smartphone maker warns shakeout will get worse » Bloomberg Business

Shai Oster:

OnePlus, based in Shenzhen, is aiming for similar glory. After originally requiring customers to get an invitation before buying a phone, OnePlus is dropping that approach to broaden its appeal and raise its brand awareness in the U.S., Europe and India. The company says it earned $300m selling nearly 1m phones last year, but won’t reveal figures for this year.

Sales have increased to about 1.3m units worldwide in the first nine months of this year, with 57% sold in the Asia Pacific region, according to Jensen Ooi, an analyst at IDC Corp.

“2016 is the year that a lot of people will be exposed to OnePlus,” Pei said, adding that the company is spending money on promotions like a pop-up store in New York’s Times Square to advertise their brand.

The trouble is that almost no one is making money in smartphones these days except Apple. That company alone gobbles up some 90% of industry profits.

“No one is going to get rich off smartphones in the short term,” he said.

OnePlus is probably making more money than HTC.
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November 2014: Can’t sign in to Google calendar on my Samsung refrigerator » Google Product Forums

Kris Spencer (apparently):

I have a Samsung RF4289HARS refrigerator.  The Google calendar app on it has been working perfectly since I purchased the refrigerator August 2012.  However, with the latest changes in Google Calendar API, I can no longer sign in to my calendar.  I receive a message stating ” Please check your email in Google Calendar website”.  I can sign in fine on my home PC and have no problem seeing the calendar on my phone.  Perhaps this is a Samsung issue, but I thought I would try here first.  Has anyone else experienced this problem and what was the solution?

Yes, other people certainly had experienced this problem. The solution? Er.. well, here’s a post from 18 November 2015:

After 2 years, I still cannot access my Calendar on my Samsung HRS4289……It says cannot connect to the server. I just got done with Samsung and they say, if it needs a software update, it will ‘come’…..that’s a freaking joke. I have software 2.550 loaded……Is there something I need to do to reestablish my calendar??…..this is so ridiculous. I’m more of a yahoo person and not really too familiar with google calendar except I did have it up and running…Ii do have a google calendar account….and it should be talking. Please be specific if there’s something I need to do. I’d really appreciate it. Very frustrating.

Anyhow, do tell me more about your plans to build an internet fridge – the ultimate zombie product.
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Satoshi’s PGP keys are probably backdated and point to a hoax » Motherboard

Sarah Jeong:

there’s one really big problem with the case for Craig S. Wright as Satoshi: at least one of the key pieces of evidence appears to be fake. The “Satoshi” PGP keys associated with the Wired and Gizmodo stories were probably generated after 2009 and uploaded after 2011.

We say keys, because there are two entirely different keys implicated by Wired and by Gizmodo. And neither of them check out.

There is only one PGP key that is truly known to be associated with Satoshi Nakamoto. We’ll call this the Original Key.

Before we continue, we should note that the PGP keys are just one piece of the puzzle. When asked for comment, Gizmodo editor Katie Drummond said that the keys “are just one (relatively small) data point among many others, including in-person interviews and on-the-record corroboration.”

But the keys are important because they’re not just plain suspicious, there’s evidence of active, intentional deception with respect to the keys. (Wired’s Andy Greenberg pointed out that this was already in line with their article, which notes that Wright may have engaged in an elaborate, long-running deception).

Urgh. So much work, and a detail like this seems to sink it (although read on; key creation dates can be faked). The element that made me (as a journalist) wonder about the original story was that the details were leaked by someone who claimed to have “hacked Satoshi”. Really? And yet the characters in the story – far-flung, credible – equally point strongly to it being correct. That sort of detail doesn’t happen coincidentally.

Also, Leah Goodman – who wrote the original “not quite” Satoshi story – says the “hack” was being touted to journalists aggressively this autumn, apparently from a disgruntled employee of the latest “Satoshi”.
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The dangers of setting VR expectations and valuations too high » Forbes

Anshel Sag:

One report by Juniper Research forecasts 30m head-mounted display (HMD) shipments by 2020. That expectation includes a projection that 3m HMDs will ship by 2016 driven by video and gaming use cases. My biggest problem with this projection is that there is no one combination of players that can ship 3m units. Even taking Oculus, Sony, Samsung Electronics , and HTC Valve and all their HMDs [head-mounted displays] into account, the prices and volumes simply won’t be there for 3m units in 2016.

The reality will be much closer to 1 to 2 million units in 2016, and most of those will likely be Samsung Electronics’ Gear VR headsets, since the latest version will be shipping for $99 and be compatible with all of Samsung’s latest high-end phones. Oculus doesn’t have the manufacturing capacity or the price point (around $400-$500) to drive enough volume to help reach 3m units. The same goes for the Vive; they aren’t targeting to make it a high volume product. While we don’t know the price yet, we know it’s going to be more than the Oculus Rift and that will affect volume on its own, not to mention the fact that you need quite a bit of space to set it up. Sony and Samsung are the only two companies that really have the knowhow to potentially ship enough units to hit the million mark.

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The global village and its discomforts — Design Fictions » Medium

Fabien Girardin suggests that new technologies bring their own anxieties with them:

Social network platforms act as an extension of our social practices. Like with any technological extension we are right to be fascinated by its power and scale. However, we too frequently choose to ignore or minimize the ‘amputations’ and implications they produce.

Or as French cultural theorist Paul Virilio would argue: “The invention of the ship was also the invention of the shipwreck.”

For instance, our capacity to record every moment of our lives comes with the high vulnerability of digital data. In fact, no machine can today read a 15 years old hard drive. It is ironic that we have the technological means to record and share our social lives, yet we all might suffer one day from ‘digital amnesia’.

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Can Theranos CEO Elizabeth Holmes fend off her critics? » Bloomberg Business

Sheelah Kolhatkar and Caroline Chen:

Theranos isn’t the only diagnostic company to provide scant details on its technology. “The process has been suboptimal across the industry, but now I think we’re at the crossroads,” [John] Ioannidis [professor of medicine at Stanford, and author of a 2005 paper “Why Most Published Research Findings Are False”] says. “Theranos caught my attention early on because they had such vibrant media stories. Other companies just don’t make such claims. Today it’s Theranos. Tomorrow it may be another company.” He adds: “If you get the wrong test result, you could go down a path that could really destroy your life.”

Holmes says the company’s era of secrecy is over, and it’s inviting outsiders, including reporters, to try the tests for themselves. (For the record, the finger prick feels like a finger prick.) In December, she says, a group of independent medical experts will spend two days in Theranos’s lab to examine the technology, the data, and the regulatory filings, and can then talk publicly about what they found.

Looking forward to that. It would be fantastic if Theranos actually does have a super-cheap blood test; it could make a vast difference to diagnosis. But are the odds in its favour?
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Focus by Firefox: content blocking for the open web » The Mozilla Blog

Denelle Dixon-Thayer, Mozilla’s chief legal and business officer:

We want to build an Internet that respects users, puts them in control, and creates and maintains trust. Too many users have lost trust and lack meaningful controls over their digital lives. This loss of trust has impacted the ecosystem – sometimes negatively. Content blockers offer a way to rebuild that trust by empowering users. At the same time, it is important that these tools are used to create a healthy, open ecosystem that supports commercial activity, instead of being used to lock down the Web or to discriminate against certain industries or content. That’s why we articulated our three content blocking principles

…we’ve based a portion of our product on a list provided by our partner Disconnect under the General Public License. We think Disconnect’s public list provides a good starting point that demonstrates the value of open data. It bases its list on a public definition of tracking and publicly identifies any changes it makes to that list, so users and content providers can see and understand the standards it is applying. The fact that those standards are public means that content providers – in this case those that are tracking users – have an opportunity to improve their practices. If they do so, Disconnect has a process in place for content providers to become unblocked, creating an important feedback loop between users and content providers.

Disconnect is the company whose product was banned from Google Play for “interfering with” other apps. Disconnect formally complained in the EU in June, but hasn’t apparently done so with the FTC in the US.
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EU explores whether Google, Yahoo should pay for showing online news snippets » Reuters

Julia Fioretti:

The European Union is looking into whether services such as Google News and Yahoo News should pay to display snippets of news articles, wading into a bitter debate between the online industry and publishers.

The European Commission, the EU’s executive, said on Wednesday it will consider whether “any action specific to news aggregators is needed, including intervening on the definition of rights.”

The move came as Brussels unveiled plans to loosen copyright rules in the 28-member bloc in order to allow citizens to watch more content online.

Dubbed the “Google Tax”, making online services pay to display news snippets has sparked fierce opposition from both the tech industry and some publishers.

Can’t see it ending well for those who want payment. It’s like banning people from deep linking: sounds great to people who haven’t used the internet.
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Samsung, Micromax planning to discontinue 2G phones » Times of India

Writankar Mukherjee & Gulveen Aulakh:

Samsung and Micromax, the leading sellers of smartphones in India, are planning to discontinue so-called 2G phones and focus on devices that run on faster 3G and 4G networks as prices have dropped sharply for such handsets in the past year. Then there’s the Reliance Jio effect.

“The focus has shifted to 4G phones with telecom operators launching such services,” said Micromax Informatics chief executive officer Vineet Taneja. “4G models already account for 30% of our portfolio with 14 models and will increase to 20 by March.”

The imminent launch of 4G services by Reliance Jio Infocomm has prompted incumbents Bharti Airtel and Vodafone to launch their own high-speed networks in anticipation of competition. That coupled with falling prices has almost wiped out demand for handsets running on 2G.

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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified.

Start up: Huawei’s ambition, HTC R+D layoffs, 3D copyright, Google’s odd war on app ads, and more


But not with “Google Here”, thank you. Photo by x-ray delta one on Flickr.

A selection of 11 links for you. Still nothing about logos. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

FTC settles with Machinima for paying YouTube influencers to endorse Xbox One » GamesBeat | Games | by Dean Takahashi

Dean Takahashi:

According to the FTC’s complaint, Machinima and its influencers were part of an Xbox One marketing campaign managed by Microsoft’s advertising agency, Starcom MediaVest Group. Machinima guaranteed Starcom that the influencer videos receive at least 19 million times.

In a statement, Machinima said, “Machinima is actively and deeply committed to ensuring transparency with all of its social influencer campaigns.  Through collaboration with the FTC, we are pleased to have firmly resolved this matter, related to an incident that occurred in 2013, prior to Machinima’s change of management in March 2014. We hope and expect that the agreement we have reached today will set standards and best practices for the entire industry to follow to ensure the best consumer experience possible.”

In the first phase of the marketing campaign, a small group of influencers received access to prerelease versions of the Xbox One console and video games in order to produce and upload two endorsement videos each. According to the FTC, Machinima paid two of these endorsers $15,000 and $30,000 for producing You Tube videos that garnered 250,000 views and 730,000 views, respectively.

After that, Machinima promised to pay a larger group of influencers $1 for every 1,000 video views, up to a total of $25,000. Machinima did not require any of the influencers to disclose they were being paid for their endorsement.

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Huawei chips away at Samsung » WSJ

Juro Osawa:

For the past three years, Samsung Electronics Co. has been the world’s top seller of smartphones, but its global lead is now under attack from fast-growing Chinese rival Huawei Technologies Co.

Long known as a telecommunications-equipment supplier to global carriers, Huawei has already toppled Samsung in China, the world’s biggest market, where 425 million smartphones are expected to be shipped this year. Globally, the Shenzhen-based company became the third-largest smartphone maker in the second quarter, according to data from IDC. This is due, in part, to its ability to gain market share in the Middle East and Africa, where smartphone growth exceeds that of any other region.

With handset revenue up 87% in the first half of this year, Huawei expects profit from its smartphone business to more than double this year. If its pace of growth continues, Huawei hopes to challenge top competitors Samsung and Apple in the smartphone market.

Huawei doesn’t (yet?) break out its handset profits. It’s aiming to ship 109m smartphones this year – a weirdly precise figure – having shifted 47m in the first half, so 62m to go. Apple sold 192m phones in 2014, and 109m in the first half of this year, so the challenge might take a little while yet.

Cleverly, it introduced a phone with a “Force Touch”-style capability at IFA on Wednesday; it showed it estimating the weight of an orange resting on the screen. Not an apple?

The biggest challenge will be teaching non-Chinese how to say the name (Hoo-waa-way).
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Chinese mobe market suffers pre-pwned Android pandemic » The Register

G DATA found that more than two dozen phones from different manufacturers were already compromised straight out of the box.

Kit from manufacturers including Huawei, Lenovo and Xiaomi have pre-installed espionage functions in the firmware. G DATA suspects that middlemen modified the device software to steal user data and inject their own advertising to earn money.

Other possibilities include unintentional infection through compromised devices in the supply chain (a problem which affected Vodafone Spain back in 2010) or intentional interference by government spies. Many of the models implicated in the malfeasance sell well in China.

The pre-pwned device issue has become a perennial problem for privacy-conscious smartphone users. Sticking to the Play Store, avoiding dodgy websites and following common-sense security precautions are no help in such cases.

If the phones got to G DATA then it seems unlikely to have been the Chinese government, non? More like middlemen seeking cash for ads.
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HTC to lay off 600 employees working in Taiwan » Digitimes

Trevor Huang and Steve Shen:

About 400 out of the more than 9,000 employees currently at HTC’s headquarters in Taoyuan will be laid off, confirmed the Taoyuan City Government, which has received the layoff plan from HTC. The 400 employees include production line works, R&D and backup personnel.

The New Taipei City Government also confirmed that it had received a notification from HTC about discharging 200 workers at its Xindian plant by the end of October. Those who will lose their jobs at the Xindian plant, which has a total of 2,912 employees, are mostly R&D personnel.

Cutting R+D staff seems like an obvious thing to do when finances are tight, but tends to leave you with nothing to go forward with when – if – you emerge from the squeeze.
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Apple receiving G/G touch samples for 2016 iPhone » Digitimes

Siu Han and Alex Wolfgram:

Makers have already begun sending samples of fully laminated G/G technology to Apple and Corning along with Asahi Glass have also reportedly sent glass samples.

Market observers have recently noted that Apple is in discussions over whether to go back to G/G instead of in-cell technology for future iPhone devices as in-cell technology is currently struggling with various production bottlenecks that are preventing Apple from adding new features as well as increasing resolutions. As a result, touch panel makers are aiming to create G/G touch panels that would allow Apple to create smartphones similar in thickness to current iPhones equipped with in-cell touch panels.

G/G touch panels may also help Apple develop bezel-free smartphones as in-cell touch panels reportedly are struggling with touch sensitivity on the edges. Additionally, in-cell touch panels also make it difficult for vendors to pursue higher resolutions including Ultra HD (4K) due to current bottlenecks, the observers said.

Tells you something about what Apple might have planned for 2016. Incremental steps every time.
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What happened to the Readymake: Duchamp chess pieces? » Scott Kildall

Kildall and Bryan Cera had scanned these very rare pieces and uploaded the scanned files to Thingiverse, a site for sharing Makerbot 3D printing files:


The answer is that we ran into an unexpected copyright concern. The Marcel Duchamp Estate objected to the posting of our reconstructed 3D files on Thingiverse, claiming that our project was an infringement of French intellectual property law. Although the copyright claim never went to legal adjudication, we decided that it was in our best interests to remove the 3D-printable files from Thingiverse – both to avoid a legal conflict, and to respect the position of the estate.

Disputes like this might become commonplace if 3D printing really breaks through.
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Beautiful New Designs for Full-Screen In-App Ads » Inside Google AdWords blog

Pasha Nahass, product manager:

Nearly 60% of smartphone users expect their favorite apps to look visually appealing. We’ve always believed that in-app ads can enhance an app’s overall experience by being well designed. So today we’re announcing a completely new look for our interstitial in-app ad formats – also known as full-screen ads – that run on apps in the AdMob network and DoubleClick Ad Exchange.

Ah. So let’s walk through this.
• Full-screen interstitials for apps from mobile search results = bad, attracting search ranking penalties
• Full-screen AdWord ads inside existing apps = good. Especially if, as this post suggests, you use the full-screen interstitials for a mobile app install campaign.

On Twitter, this was described to me as “just don’t block the front door [from search] with an interstitial.” Which makes sense; if you’re already inside the app, you’re less likely to bounce away from a full-page ad.
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Silk Road case: US agent investigating dark web drug site admits to $800,000 Bitcoin theft » City A.M.

Clara Guiborg:

Former secret service agent Shaun Bridges has pleaded guilty to Bitcoin theft, admitting to sending over $800,000 worth of the digital currency to his personal account while he was investigating the dark web drug trafficking site.

Silk Road was shut down in the autumn of 2013, having netted Bitcoin sales of over $200m of drugs and other illegal items during its two years of operations. The site’s founder, Ross Ulbricht, who went by the alias “Dread Pirate Roberts”, was sentenced to life imprisonment during a highly-publicised case.

But the investigation itself led to further illicit uses of Bitcoin.

Bridges is the second US federal agent to have fallen foul of Bitcoin theft temptation during the investigation, after former agent Carl Force pleaded guilty to this just two months ago.

Did they think that bitcoins were untraceable? Strange.
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Almost no one sided with #GamerGate: a research paper on the internet’s reaction to last year’s mob » Superheroes in Racecars

Livio de la Cruz is a program manager at Microsoft, and has done an exhaustive study on coverage and reactions of Gamergate:

The Week compared GamerGate to a soccer team that has only ever managed to score on its own goal and responds with self-congratulatory remarks on a job well done. Their efforts to silence feminist and political critique of games actually ended up inspiring more of it. Their efforts to convince journalists to stop critiquing gamers for their sexist, bigoted behavior has only amplified people’s awareness of society’s misogyny problem. Their efforts to discredit Zoe Quinn, Leigh Alexander, Anita Sarkeesian, and Brianna Wu have led to them becoming some of the most respected voices in games, as more people are inspired by their work against abuse and their advancement of the medium itself. Their efforts to scare women out of the games industry actually led to more money, time, and talent being dedicated towards fixing tech’s diversity problem.

Before GamerGate, people might have had a rough idea of how diversity in teams was good for companies and how online harassment was maybe a problem that needed to be fixed. But now I suspect that people’s thought processes tend to go like this: Why do we need diversity in tech? Because of GamerGate. Why do need to fix online harassment? Because of GamerGate. Why is feminism so important? Because: GamerGate.

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Windows 10 first month worldwide usage well ahead of that recorded by Windows 8 » StatCounter Global Stats

In its first calendar month since launch, Windows 10 worldwide usage share far exceeds that of Windows 8 in the same time period, according to independent web analytics company StatCounter. Its analytics arm, StatCounter Global Stats finds that Windows 10 level of usage after one month also exceeds that recorded by Windows 7.

StatCounter conducted a special analysis of the take up of Edge by Windows 10 users. It found that Edge usage on Windows 10 peaked at 20.1% on 30th July, the day after the global launch, but fell back to 14.1% on the 31st August.

Easy to explain that dropoff: people went back to work on the August Monday (it wasn’t a holiday in the US), stopped using their Windows 10-updated machines at home, and used the old-OS machines at work. The peak in July is probably explained in the same way – people were on holiday.

Remarkable what happens when you force-upgrade peoples’ machines for free.
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Google shut down a secret Google Maps project called ‘Google Here’ » Fortune

Nice scoop by Erin Griffith:

The product was called Google Here, according to a document obtained by Fortune that describes the project’s specifications. The effort spanned multiple departments and was led by Dan Cath, a strategic partner manager, and the Google Maps team. The launch included partnerships with retailers, including Starbucks SBUX -2.03% . Had it launched, Google Here would have been available to more than 350 million Android users by early 2015, with plans to support iOS later in the year.

But people familiar with the project say it was shut down for two reasons: Google Here was potentially too invasive, and the company wasn’t sure if many retailers would want it. (Not helping matters, Nokia has used the name “Here” for its own mapping service.) A Google spokesman declined to comment.

Google Here worked by sending a notification to a smartphone user’s lock screen within five seconds of their entering a partner’s location. If the user clicked on the notification, a full screen HTLM5 “app” experience would launch. Google Here would know when to send the notification via Google Maps and beacons placed in the stores of participating partners. Google planned to supply the beacons to partners for the launch, according to the document. The experience could also be found by going to the Google Maps app.

Too invasive? Probably more likely retailers weren’t prepared to put the money in for an unclear return, since it would be permission-based (and hence isn’t really that invasive).
link to this extract


Start up: bitcoin for Greece?, news apps’ key problem, when hamburger menus are good, and more


Coming to the UK on 14 July? Apple Pay photo by DopiesLife.com on Flickr.

A selection of 7 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Why it’s totally okay to use a hamburger icon » UXmatters

Steven Hoober:

Not too long ago, I was observing a test in which the subject was a mechanic in a truck repair shop. He didn’t have a computer at home, had no access to a smartphone, so had no base of knowledge. But we gave him a smartphone and an app to try out. He did fine with the big, obvious bits on the screen and performed every task. Then, we got to the tricky part. We asked him to reconnect the phone to the IoT (Internet of Things) device we were testing, then refresh the display on the screen.

“Hmm… I don’t see it. Maybe in here?” he said, tapping Menu, where he found the Refresh button. He said, “Ah, there it is,” as he tapped it.

I’ve experienced this sort of observation over and over again. Why? Well, first because of a fundamental behavior of mobile-device users, who do not scan a page top to bottom and left to right, but always gravitate toward the center. In Figure 3, you can see a chart showing where users tapped when presented with a scrolling list of selectable items.

user tapping

The same preference for the center applies to tap accuracy, speed, and comprehension. When designing, I assume users view and read the center, then move outward if they do not find the information they need.

This is actually starting to become a design principle of mine. Assume that users focus on and interact with things at the center of a page, and make sure that you can live with their missing or ignoring things at the top and bottom edges.

Some pushback in the comments: how do you get back from the hamburger?


The problem every news aggregation app faces » Medium

Simon Owens:

The chief problem I have with many news apps is they don’t deliver the level of customization that I can get on Twitter, Facebook, and other social networks. I launched my Twitter account in late 2008. In the intervening years I’ve accumulated a list of over 700 people whom I follow, and for a significant portion of those people I wouldn’t be able to remember my reasoning for following them. In some cases they’re colleagues I’ve worked with. In others they’re writers and journalists I admire. But there are still plenty more I followed because something in their profile caught my eye or they authored an article I enjoyed but have long since forgotten.

But despite not having a complete understanding of all my follow choices, my Twitter feed is a well-oiled machine, one that produces a rich tapestry of news and commentary (and plenty of jokes) every time I open it.

True, but it’s taken him six years to reach that level of aggregation on Twitter. News apps don’t get that. But his key point is that

“The problem is that news tastes go beyond mere categories and keywords.”

And that’s the crux of it.


Some miners generating invalid blocks » bitcoin.org

For several months, an increasing amount of mining hash rate has been signaling its intent to begin enforcing BIP66 strict DER signatures. As part of the BIP66 rules, once 950 of the last 1,000 blocks were version 3 (v3) blocks, all upgraded miners would reject version 2 (v2) blocks.

Early morning UTC on 4 July 2015, the 950/1000 (95%) threshold was reached. Shortly thereafter, a small miner (part of the non-upgraded 5%) mined an invalid block – as was an expected occurrence. Unfortunately, it turned out that roughly half the network hash rate was mining without fully validating blocks (called SPV mining), and built new blocks on top of that invalid block.

Note that the roughly 50% of the network that was SPV mining had explicitly indicated that they would enforce the BIP66 rules. By not doing so, several large miners have lost over $50,000 dollars worth of mining income so far.

All software that assumes blocks are valid (because invalid blocks cost miners money) is at risk of showing transactions as confirmed when they really aren’t. This particularly affects lightweight (SPV) wallets and software such as old versions of Bitcoin Core which have been downgraded to SPV-level security by the new BIP66 consensus rules.

Now bitcoin is getting the inertia problems of widespread use and software updates.


Leak suggests iPhone 6s and 6s Plus will be able to capture 4K video » MobileSyrup.com

Igor Bonifacic:

If a new leak is to be believed, the next iPhone will feature a 12 megapixel rear-facing camera that is able to capture 4K video.

The leak comes courtesy of anonymous poster on China’s Sina Weibo website.

If true, that will mean that the 6s and 6s Plus will boast cameras that are a significant upgrade from the already excellent shooters that are found on their predecessors.

While 4K TVs and computer displays still have a long way to go before they’re ubiquitous, there’s a case to be made that consumers could still get use out all those extra pixels. Current smartphones, TVs and computers might not be able to display 4K content at its native resolution, but consumers will still see an improvement in visual quality through downsampling.

A couple of things. (1) “If a new leak is to be believed”? This takes arms-length writing to an extreme. Later in the piece he says “Of course, it’s impossible to verify a rumour like this one”, which is patently untrue. You just need much, much, much better connections. (2) It can’t be surprising that the next iPhones will have better cameras. The only question will be how much better. (3) I’d like a clearer explanation of how it’s useful to shoot video at that resolution.


Apple Pay expected to go live in the U.K. on July 14th, £20+ transactions starting this fall » 9to5Mac

Mark Gurman:

Apple appears to be planning to enable its Apple Pay iPhone mobile payments service in the United Kingdom on July 14th, according to sources at multiple retailers. Apple has informed some Apple Retail employees in the U.K. that Apple Pay support will go live on that Tuesday, while an internal memos for supermarket Waitrose plus an additional retail partner indicate the same date…

Apple will also begin training its U.K staff on supporting Apple Pay on July 12th.

Given that the UK has widespread availability of NFC terminals, the UK could quickly become the largest location for Apple Pay payments – the penetration of iOS devices is high (32% or so of smartphones).

Vaguely related: it’s 20 years since Mondex tried to create cashless shopping in Swindon. I was there.


Huawei says Honor brand on track to sell 40 million smartphones » Chinadaily.com.cn

Huawei Technologies Co Ltd’s Honor brand has sold 20m smartphones in the first half of 2015 and by should reach its goal of 40m shipments by the year end, double the 2014 figure.

Honor’s sales amounted to $2.6bn of revenue during the first half of the year, Honor President George Zhao said at the launch of the Honor 7 phone in Beijing.

Huawei, the world’s No. 4 handset maker, has invested heavily in the past two years to establish Honor as a stand-alone brand to compete against Beijing-based Xiaomi Inc to win over young, fashion-conscious customers.

Zhao said that he expected 15%, or 6m, of the unit’s total sales this year to come from overseas, with the majority coming from China.

Since you’re wondering, that gives the Honor an average selling price (ASP) of $130 – which puts it some way below the top-end Android price, and lower even than Lenovo.


Fearing return to drachma, some Greeks use bitcoin to dodge capital controls » Reuters

Jemima Kelly:

Although absolute figures are hard to come by, Greek interest has surged in the online “cryptocurrency”, which is out of the reach of monetary authorities and can be transferred at the touch of a smartphone screen.

New customers depositing at least 50 euros with BTCGreece, the only Greece-based bitcoin exchange, open only to Greeks, rose by 400% [translation: tripled – CA] between May and June, according to its founder Thanos Marinos, who put the number at “a few thousand”. The average deposit quadrupled to around 700 euros.

Using bitcoin could allow Greeks to do one of the things that capital controls were put in place this week to prevent: transfer money out of their bank accounts and, if they wish, out of the country.

“When people are trying to move money out of the country and the state is stopping that from taking place, bitcoin is the only way to move any value,” said Adam Vaziri, a board member of the UK Digital Currency Association.

The problem is that in order to translate your euros into bitcoin, you have to find someone willing to take your euros – and you also have to have the euros available. It’s getting money out of the Greek banks that has been the problem lately. And this remains a minority sport.


Start up: Apple Music’s likely effects, no Paypal in Greece, how Bitstamp was hacked, and more


Of 58 aboard, only 15 survived. But was the crash due to machine or human error?

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

Why the next few months of Apple Music will throw up a few surprises » Music Industry Blog

Mark Mulligan:

As we revealed on our MIDiA Research report on Apple Music back in March 28% of iOS users stated they were likely to pay for the service. Among downloaders the rate is 39% and for existing subscribers that rate rises to 62%. Consumer surveys of course always over-report so we shouldn’t expect those rates of paid adoption but the relative values are interesting nonetheless.

Given that 50% of existing subscribers are iOS users the implications are that a big chunk of Spotify et al’s subscribers will at the very least try out Apple’s 3 month trial, which is plenty enough time to get build a comprehensive library of playlists and to get hooked. But there is also going to be a big wave of downloaders that do not currently subscribe that will try it out.

As the iOS 8.4 update virtually pushes iTunes Music users into starting the trial on updating, expect pretty widespread uptake of the trial. Apple reached 11 million users for iTunes radio within 5 days of launch, 21 million within 3 months. Apple Music has had a far bigger build up and is much more deeply integrated into iOS so a fairly safe bet is that those numbers will at the very least be matched.

It’s getting people to pony up that’s hard. Adding Android users (with Apple Music for Android in autumn) might just be the icing on the cake; iOS is where the numbers and easy money will be.

Mulligan points to other surprises too – read on there.


Reddit’s AMA subreddit down after Victoria Taylor departure » Business Insider

Biz Carson:

The iAMA and Science subreddits both were set to private today after Reddit’s director of Communications, Victoria Taylor was allegedly dismissed. In a Reddit thread about her departure, she replied that she was “dazed” and “hopefully” plans to stay in the PR field.

Reddit and Taylor have not yet responded to request for comment.

One of Taylor’s job duties was coordinating the site’s popular AMAs.  Two of the site’s most popular posts ever are AMAs: the one with Barack Obama and a conversation with a man with two penises. The AMA subreddit became such a popular section of the site that Reddit eventually spun it out into its own app.

Something’s up at Reddit; it’s either going to come through this much stronger, or run into the sand.


40 states line up with Mississippi in Google Adwords pharma scrap » The Register

Andrew Orlowski:

Attorneys General representing 40 US states have filed an amicus brief backing Mississippi attorney general Jim Hood’s investigation into Google.

In December, the giant multinational sued the state of Mississippi after it had opened an investigation into Google’s business practices (claiming Hood’s complaints did not come under state law jurisdiction), and earlier this year a District Court froze this investigation.

The attorneys say if the freeze is upheld, it will have a chilling effect on investigative subpoenas across the US.

Hood’s 79-page subpoena inquires mainly into Google’s advertising practices, focussing on the sale of illegal and controlled substances.

Four pages consist of inquiries into how Google deals with IP enforcement. It follows from a 2011 non-prosecution agreement (NPA) between Google and the FBI, the FDA and Rhode Island into rogue drug traffickers, who used Google Adwords to move their wares. Google agreed to a $500m fine, $230m of which was funnelled to Rhode Island.

The NPA lapsed in 2013, three months early, with no indication from Federal authorities that Google had actually complied. That’s when the states got serious.

This is an odd case. Hood comes across as a little obsessed (but is that bad in a lawman?), but Google comes across as vindictive – and not a little defensive.


Bitstamp Incident Report (PDF) » Bitstamp

The bitcoin exchange had 18,000 BTC, worth (then) about $5m, stolen:

On 9 December 2014, Bitstamp’s Systems Administrator, Luka Kodric, received a phishing email to his Gmail account. Unlike some of the others targets, Kordic did have access to Bitstamp’s hot wallet. The email header had been spoofed to appear as if it had been sent from konidas@acm[.]org, although it was actually received from a Tor exit node [the email chain and header details can be seen in full at Appendix A].

ACM is the Association for Computing Machinery, which describes itself as the world’s largest educational and scientific computing society. The sender was offering Mr. Kodric the opportunity to join Upsilon Pi Epsilon (UPE), the International Honour Society for the Computing and Information Disciplines.

The UPE site is hosted within the acm.org domain. On 11 December, as part of this offer, the attacker sent a number of attachments. One of these, UPE_application_form.doc, contained obfuscated malicious VBA script. When opened, this script ran automatically and pulled down a malicious file from IP address 185.31.209.145, thereby compromising the machine.

As the security researcher The Grugq observed, “Computer security is such an unsolved problem that Bitstamp lost $5m because someone had macros enabled in Microsoft Word.”


The (slight) rise of _nomap » OpenSignal blog

Samuel Johnson, on OpenSignal’s checking of how many Wi-Fi networks added the suffix “_nomap” to stop Google mapping their location:

Wifi networks with nomap

This graph also shows a rise beginning at the end of 2013 and continuing into 2014. Edward Snowden’s revelations about the NSA’s privacy incursions occurred during the summer of 2013 – and so it is possible that the heightened awareness about privacy issues could have led to more people taking care that Google was not recording their Wi-Fi hotspot. However, compared to the number of global Wi-Fi networks detected by OpenSignal, it is clear that the number that adopted Google’s solution is very small.

So why is this? Obviously it was deeply concerning that Google were tracking payload data – but it is not in itself concerning that they are collecting Wi-Fi SSIDs (after all, this is what we at OpenSignal do). Those technologically savvy enough to have followed the story (and continued to do so months after the initial outburst of outrage) will know that Google had publicly pledged to stop tracking Wi-Fi payload data, and so any appending _nomap to their Wi-Fi hotspots would not make any difference to that.


We’ve finally hit the breaking point for the original Internet » The Washington Post

Brian Fung:

It’s finally happened. The North American organization responsible for handing out new IP addresses says its banks have run dry.

That’s right: ARIN, the American Registry for Internet Numbers, has had to turn down a request for the unique numbers that we assign to each and every smartphone, tablet and PC so they can talk to the Internet. For the first time, ARIN didn’t have enough IP addresses left in its stock to satisfy an entire order — and now, it’s activated the end-times protocol that will see the few remaining addresses out into the night.

The end of IPv4 has been forecast for a few years now. Looks like it’s actually going to happen, and we’ll move to IPv6.


PayPal no longer works in Greece—and why that matters » Quartz

Shelly Banjo:

Adding to their list of woes, Greeks can no longer use their PayPal accounts.

Limits on how much money Greeks can take out of banks put in place by their debt-stricken government as it negotiates with lenders have effectively crippled the online payment service, which relies on traditional banks and credit cards to transfer money.

According to a PayPal spokesman:

Due to the recent decisions of the Greek authorities on capital controls, funding of PayPal wallet from Greek bank accounts, as well as cross-border transactions, funded by any cards or bank accounts are currently not available. We aim to continue serving our valued customers in Greece in full, as we have for over a decade.

Except that they can’t serve their valued customers. So, why does it matter?

PayPal’s shutdown in Greece reminds us how difficult it is to disintermediate banks from the flow of money.

Well duh. Did you think it was all going to bitcoin? As the Bitstamp link above shows, good luck with that.


Faulty credit card-sized connector led to crash of 20-tonne plane » Bloomberg Business

Tim Culpan:

A faulty connector about the size of a credit card helped trigger a series of mechanical and human failures that led to the crash of a 20-ton aircraft in February, killing 43 people, investigators in Taiwan found.

Microscopic tests of a soldered connector joint on the TransAsia Airways Corp. plane engine showed potential cracking, and the connector failed post-crash tests, the Aviation Safety Council said in a report today.

That failure is at the heart of why the ATR72 twin-propeller plane incorrectly sounded a cockpit warning and an engine adjustment known as autofeather. That set in motion a series of pilot errors that eventually crashed the aircraft into a downtown Taipei river Feb. 4.

The autofeather made the engine ineffective. Pilot error then played a big part: they shut down the other engine, wrongly thinking it was the affected one.

How do you design faults like those out of a system? First the machines screw up, then the humans.


Start up: Grexit to bitcoin?, Google’s antitrust deadline, Merkel’s suspect PC, Samsung security hole and more


Stockpiled – a bit like HTC’s unsold phones. Photo by .dh on Flickr.

A selection of 7 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Bitcoin surges as Grexit worries mount, posts best run in 18 months » Reuters

Jemima Kelly:

Joshua Scigala, co-founder of Vaultoro.com, a firm that holds bitcoin for its customers and allows them to exchange it for gold and vice versa, said that Greeks were buying the currency as their trust in the authorities waned. It is also unclear what currency would be used if a Grexit does occur — another potential factor driving Greek demand for bitcoin.

“Some people aren’t waiting for the government to figure out an exit plan and are doing it for themselves,” said Scigala.

“You have people worrying about their families’ wealth or their life savings, and worrying that their money might be locked up in banks … They’d rather hold money in a private asset like gold or bitcoin.”

Scigala said over the past two months, with Greece locked in talks with its creditors, the company had seen a 124% pick-up in inflows from Greek IP addresses – numerical labels that identify computers and other internet-enabled devices.

124% = doubling. Which doesn’t amount to much, really, unless Greece was already a lot of business. Here’s the problem with this story. To buy bitcoin, you have to sell the euros to someone. If Greeks are withdrawing their euros from banks, why not hold on to those euros instead of buying bitcoin with them? Do they really think a post-Grexit euro will be worth less, rather than more? I’d bet on the latter.

There may be some Greek euros moving into bitcoin, which is moving bitcoin – but that only indicates that bitcoin has low liquidity, and so small amounts of money can move the value easily. Or else it’s something else altogether causing it.


Critics due to get EU’s Google antitrust charge sheet this week: sources » Reuters

Foo Yun Chee:

Microsoft, German publisher Axel Springer and 17 other critics of Google are expected to get a copy of the EU’s antitrust charge sheet against the search engine giant this week in order to allow them to provide feedback, four people familiar with the matter said on Tuesday.

The 19 companies, which include U.S. online travel site Expedia, U.S. consumer reviews website Yelp, online mapping service Hot-map and British price comparison site Foundem, helped triggered the European Commission’s case against Google nearly five years ago…

…Google has until July 7 to respond to the accusations. This can be extended on request. It can also seek a closed-door hearing to argue its case before a broad audience of antitrust officials and the critics.

The complainants were told on Monday to sign confidentiality waivers not to disclose the so-called statement of objections to journalists or public affairs consultants before they could get a copy of the redacted document, according to a Commission letter seen by Reuters.

The critics were told to restrict the charge sheet to their lawyers and economists.

Leaks in 3,2,1… And there’s Andrew Orlowski’s writeup of the Foundem examination into Google’s “search for harm” blogpost.


One tiny number can reveal big problems at a global smartphone maker » Bloomberg Business

Tim Culpan:

Tucked away in a corporate earnings report—past the data on profit margins and revenue growth, hidden deep inside a balance sheet—is a number that can tell you a lot about a mobile phone maker’s health. In the global smartphone war, brands are routinely measured by market share, revenue, profit, and the coolness of their ads. But one line item called finished goods inventory, which refers to the percentage of materials that were manufactured into phones but went unsold, can give insight into whether a company’s fortunes are changing.

The latest company to let phones pile up in warehouses and on store shelves is HTC. The Taiwanese company’s stock just fell to its lowest point in a decade after lowering its sales forecast on June 5 and announcing a NT$2.9 billion ($93 million) writedown, though it’s recovered some of that loss amid speculation the decline could make it a buyout target. HTC’s finished goods inventory had climbed to a record high 2.35% of total assets at the end of last quarter. During the company’s heyday, that figure rarely nudged above 1%.

Culpan has done a neat job, building on what I pointed out last week about HTC’s broader inventory numbers. Relating inventory to total assets is an effective way to look at it; here’s the graph.

HTC inventory as percent of assets
So now it’s higher than ever before. Finished goods inventory is going to be one of the first numbers people look at when the Q2 figures are published (in late July, probably).


Merkel’s PC was the first one infected in the Bundestag hack »Security Affairs

I have written many posts regarding a recent attack against the German Bundestag with caused a major data breach.

We discussed the possibility that the cyber attack against the German Parliament was coordinated by Russian state-sponsored hackers that spread a highly sophisticated malware inside the network of the Bundestag.

The consequence of the data breach could be serious for the German Government, German media states that Bundestag may need to replace 20,000 computers after the intrusion, an operation that could cost millions of euros.

New revelations in the investigation confirms that the cyber attack on the German Bundestag began with the compromise of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s personal computer.

Her phone by the NSA, her computer by Russia…


Flaw lingers in Samsung phones, illustrating hacking risk » WSJ

Danny Yadron:

Last fall, researchers at cybersecurity firm NowSecure found a bug in most Samsung smartphones that could allow hackers to spy on users.

In March, Samsung told NowSecure it had sent a fix to wireless carriers that they could distribute to users. It asked NowSecure to wait three months before going public.

Last week, the researchers bought two new Samsung Galaxy S6’s from Verizon Wireless and Sprint. They found both were still vulnerable to the security hole, which involves how the phone accepts data when updating keyboard software.

NowSecure CEO Andrew Hoog shared his version of events with The Wall Street Journal as his company prepared to release its research Tuesday. The story helps illuminate why hacking is so hard to stamp out.

That’s particularly true in smartphones, with its diffuse system of device makers, software programmers and network operators. Things likely are only to get worse as Americans connect their thermostats, door locks and cars to the Internet and face the need to update their software…

…Welton found he could hijack the process of updating one of the virtual keyboards Samsung installs on many Android smartphones. From there, he could eavesdrop on phone conversations, rummage through text messages and contacts, or turn on the microphone to capture audio.

That was possible, Hoog said, because Samsung didn’t encrypt the update process.

It’s the IOT vulnerability that’s the real worry here, much more than which make of phone is involved. Except that Samsung asked NowSecure for a year to fix the bug – a month after it was told about it. And what does this mean for Google’s “we find a bug and we publicise it in 90 days” stance?


Nokia faces lengthy arbitration over LG patent royalty payments » Reuters

Jussi Rosendahl:

Nokia said the arbitration with LG is expected to conclude within two years. Shares in Nokia rose 1.4 percent by 1204 GMT (8.04 a.m ET).

“This is becoming a more and more common model. The companies won’t go to the court but instead let an independent party decide,” said Nordea analyst Sami Sarkamies.

He estimated that the Samsung deal, expected to conclude later this year, could eventually mean Nokia receives 100-200 million euros of additional royalty payments annually, on top of retroactive payments.

Seems to be related to 4G patents; Nokia signed a similar deal with Samsung a while back. For LG, means that profitability in the smartphone side becomes that little bit more elusive – especially after the back payment.


Apple News curation will have human editors and that will raise important questions » 9to5Mac

Jordan Kahn:

Techmeme‘s founder Gabe Rivera gave us the hard truth on why being an algorithm-based service like Google News doesn’t make sense for the Apple News app saying, “All news aggregators intended for the mass market need editors, so this makes sense for Apple.” But the flip side of Apple’s human-based curation is that without a separation of editorial and the business, there will undoubtedly be conflicts of interest. Rivera points out that “…as the world’s most valuable corporation, they can’t and shouldn’t be trusted to present well-rounded coverage on many important topics.” Rivera continues, “But most readers won’t care about that.”

Apple doesn’t want this to be an algorithm thing, because (a) algorithms might not pull outré-yet-fascinating stuff to the surface (b) if some story that were grisly/violent/sexual – pick the topic you think Americans in particular would react in horror to – popped up, Apple would of course get the blame. Apple hates that.

So it wants humans on hand to stop the Bad Stuff that will Offend People finding its way into the app. But that immediately raises the question: what will it define as Bad Stuff? Are Mark Gurman’s well-sourced leaks of Apple plans Bad Stuff? Is vicious criticism of Apple?

I suspect people are overplaying this; Apple is really wary of consumer backlashes over pr0n. Look at how Facebook struggles with the same topic, and the issue of content posted by millions of people which some find offensive and others really don’t.

No simple answer, but Apple may not have realised it was putting itself in the position of a publisher.


Start up: Pariser on the Facebook bubble, Android Wear’s Wi-Fi tweak, bitcoin economics, and more


Is Facebook keeping you inside this? Photo by sramses177 on Flickr.

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

Facebook published a big new study on the filter bubble. Here’s what it says. » Medium

Eli Pariser, author of The Filter Bubble:

Here’s the upshot: Yes, using Facebook means you’ll tend to see significantly more news that’s popular among people who share your political beliefs. And there is a real and scientifically significant “filter bubble effect” — the Facebook news feed algorithm in particular will tend to amplify news that your political compadres favor.

This effect is smaller than you might think (and smaller than I’d have guessed.) On average, you’re about 6% less likely to see content that the other political side favors. Who you’re friends with matters a good deal more than the algorithm.

You’re probably friends with people who share your beliefs, though. Pariser also has fun facts from the study, which is being torn apart by the wolves of Twitter in various places.


SSD storage: ignorance of technology is no excuse » KoreBlog

Kore stores data as evidence. So it has to be correct:

Digital evidence storage for legal matters is a common practice. As the use of Solid State Drives (SSD) in consumer and enterprise computers has increased, so too has the number of SSDs in storage increased. When most, if not all, of the drives in storage were mechanical, there was little chance of silent data corruption as long as the environment in the storage enclosure maintained reasonable thresholds. The same is not true for SSDs.

A stored SSD, without power, can start to lose data in as little as a single week on the shelf.

SSDs have a shelf life. They need consistent access to a power source in order for them to not lose data over time…

…What started this look into SSDs? An imaging job of a laptop SSD left in storage for well over the 3-month minimum retention period quoted by the manufacturer of the drive before it was turned over to us. This drive had a large number of bad sectors identified during the imaging period. Not knowing the history, I did not consider the possibility of data loss due to the drive being in storage. Later, I learned that the drive was functioning well when it had been placed into storage. When returned to its owner a couple of months after the imaging, the system would not even recognize the drive as a valid boot device. Fortunately, the user data and files were preserved in the drive image that had been taken, thus there was no net loss.

Now imagine a situation in which an SSD was stored in legal hold where the data was no longer available for imaging, much less use in court.

Bet you thought SSDs “store their data forever, no power needed”. Turns out it’s mag disks that do that.


Google can’t ignore the Android update problem any longer (op-ed) » Tom’s Hardware

Lucian Armasu:

For years, Apple has made fun of Android and its fragmented update system, and it will continue for years more. Microsoft has recently started doing the same. The update system on Android is something Google can ignore no longer, and it needs to do whatever it takes to fix it. Otherwise, it risks having users (slowly but surely) switch to more secure platforms that do give them updates in a timely manner. And if users want those platforms, OEMs will have no choice but to switch to them too, leaving Google with less and less Android adoption.

Google also can’t and shouldn’t leave the responsibility to OEMs and carriers anymore, because so far they’ve proven themselves to be quite irresponsible from this point of view. At best, we see flagship smartphones being updated for a year and a half, and even that is less than the time most people keep their phones.

Even worse, the highest volume phones (lower-end handsets) usually never get an update. If they do it’s only one update, and it comes about a year after Google released that update to other phones, giving malicious attackers plenty of time to take advantage of those users.

Google’s (or its fans’) argument is that updates to Play Services do most of this task. In which case, why have OS updates at all? Even so, there doesn’t seem to be any clear suggestion for how Google can do this. And there’s no real evidence that it turns users off. Chances of change: minimal.


Android Wear on Wi-Fi: Using a smartwatch without a phone nearby » Computerworld

JR Raphael:

The two devices don’t have to be on the same network or in the same physical location; your phone could be sitting in your car and you could be miles away in a building with Wi-Fi access. As long as the phone is getting some sort of data – be it via Wi-Fi or a mobile data network – and the watch is in a place with an accessible Wi-Fi network, you’re good to go.

I tested this by turning off my phone’s Wi-Fi and Bluetooth and heading out to the gym. Once I was inside the building (and thus in range of its Wi-Fi network), my watch showed itself as being online in less than 30 seconds. From that point forward, without my phone nearby or in any way connected, the Watch Urbane received notifications like new text messages, Hangouts messages, and emails. I could respond to those messages from the watch via voice. And I could send new messages by using the new Contacts list in the latest Wear update, which is accessible by swiping to the left twice from the main Wear home screen.

I could even use apps like Google Keep – viewing existing notes and lists and dictating new ones (which I confirmed showed up in my account almost instantly). I could give regular “Okay, Google” voice commands, too, but those worked somewhat sporadically; some of the time, the watch would time out and give me a “Disconnected” error instead of an answer. That was the only function that didn’t work consistently for me in this context.

This seems potentially useful, and like the sort of thing Apple might add too in a future update – perhaps next year? No point hurrying…


On the clothing of emperors: a rant about 21.co and the future of bitcoin mining » Medium

Bernie Rihn digs into the economics of bitcoin, and mining, and demolishes the idea that 21.co is going to sell “devices you’ll use in your home that will mine bitcoin and pay you back”:

We’ve established from the above (rant-warm-up) that 21 can’t (sustainably, with a straight face) sell anything that mines bitcoin in our house as a network-connected device masquerading as a “heater.”

They are clearly already in the mining business (their mining pool, pool34 was recently outed and is humming along nicely at 3–4 petahashes / second). They are clearly building an ASIC (Application Specific Integrated Circuit, commonly called a “chip”). The question is, for what?


How Google keeps execs from leaving » Business Insider

The title on the page is “Google has a secret ‘bench’ program that keeps executives at the company even when they’re not leading anything”, which says it better. Alexei Oreskovic and Jillian D’Onfro explain:

The bench system is an effective but little-discussed strategic tactic in Google’s playbook as the company looks to expand into new markets and keep an edge over a growing crop of web challengers that are all desperate for seasoned internet business experts.

“It helps keep people off the market,” one former Google executive says. “It helps keep the institutional knowledge if you need them back for any reason. And it costs [Google] so little to retain these people rather than to have them leave and start the next Facebook.”

About one-third of Google’s first 100 hires still work at the company, according to “Work Rules!” a recent book by HR boss Laszlo Bock.

It’s more of an informal system than an established program, sources say. But the underlying intention and goals are clear and purposeful. “It’s very rational,” the former Google executive says. (Google declined to comment on this story.)

With its deep pockets and sundry internal projects, Google can offer its elites attractive incentives to hang around, even after they have moved on from, or been replaced in, their previous role. The company will often tell someone to take 18 months or 24 months to figure out what he or she wants to do next at the company, the former Googler says.

Keeping those smart people out of other companies, and keeping their institutional knowledge inside Google, is a really clever move.


RCS is still a zombie technology, “28 quarters later” » Disruptive Wireless

Dean Bubley:

In February 2008, a number of major telcos and technology vendors announced the “Rich Communications Suite Initiative” (see here).  I first saw the details a couple of months later, at the April 2008 IMS World Forum conference in Paris.

It is now 7 years, 2 billion smartphones, and 800m WhatsApp users later.

Or to put it another way, 28 Quarters Later*. [Actually 29 but 28 since he discovered the details. Hence the asterisk.]

However, unlike Danny Boyle’s scary, fast-moving monsters in the 28 Days and 28 Weeks Later movies, RCS is not infected with the “Rage Virus”, but is more of a traditional zombie: dead, but still shambling slowly about and trying to eat your brains. It’s infected with bureaucracy, complexity and irrelevance.

To remind you: April 2008 was also a few months after the launch of the first iPhone, and a few months before the launch of the AppStore. It was also when Facebook Chat, now Messenger, was switched on in my browser for the first time – while I was waiting on the podium, to start chairing the IMS event. The world of mobile devices, apps and – above all – communications has moved on incredibly far since then.

But not for RCS.

Mobile operators never like to admit something’s dead.


Are social sharing buttons on mobile sites a waste of space? » Moovweb

Short answer: yes. Longer answer: still yes.

Just because sharing buttons have been popular on the desktop web does not mean they can be ported over with the same experience on the mobile web. And while .02% of mobile users clicking on a social sharing button is a minuscule figure, it does reflect the way social media usage on mobile has evolved: away from the web and toward apps.
Most mobile users access social networks via an app, so they are often not logged in to the corresponding social networks on the mobile web. Pinterest, for example, gets 75% of its traffic from apps.
The heart of the sharing problem is that users must be logged in in order to share. If you’re not logged in, sharing can be kind of a nightmare.


HIV and syphilis biomarkers: smartphone, finger prick, 15-minute diagnosis » ScienceDaily

A team of researchers, led by Samuel K. Sia, associate professor of biomedical engineering at Columbia Engineering, has developed a low-cost smartphone accessory that can perform a point-of-care test that simultaneously detects three infectious disease markers from a finger prick of blood in just 15 minutes. The device replicates, for the first time, all mechanical, optical, and electronic functions of a lab-based blood test. Specifically, it performs an enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) without requiring any stored energy: all necessary power is drawn from the smartphone.

ELISA kit typically costs over $18,000; the dongle for this test about $34.


Start up: Argentina v bitcoin, Secret shuts, Cyanogen dumps OnePlus, Windows10 seeks devs, and more


It’s like this for Secret. Photo by alex mertzanis on Flickr.

A selection of 10 links for you. Like brandy butter for your brain. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Expect more Cyanogen phones from Chinese vendors » PCWorld

Michael Kan:

OnePlus’s flagship phone shipped close to 1 million phones at the end of last year.

“Without Cyanogen, OnePlus would have sold like one device in international markets,” [Cyanogen CEO Kirk] McMaster said in an interview. “Essentially they built their brand on the back of Cyanogen.”

The OnePlus success also showed other Chinese vendors that CyanogenMod could open doors to the global market. A number of these vendors are larger companies than OnePlus, but struggling in international markets to develop visible brands, and want help, he added.

It’s a good sign for Cyanogen, which also managed to bring on board Microsoft as a partner this month. But as for OnePlus, its ties with Cyanogen are probably ending.

Earlier this month OnePlus launched its own custom Android ROM, built with a simple interface that could replace the CyanogenMod. The change means that OnePlus can offer “faster, more meaningful updates”, according to the Chinese company. Cyanogen, however, will continue offering support to OnePlus phones still running its OS.

Cyanogen, plus Microsoft, is for me the most interesting thing happening in smartphones.


Can Bitcoin conquer Argentina? » NYTimes.com

Nathaniel Popper:

That afternoon, a plump 48-year-old musician was one of several customers to drop by the rented room. A German customer had paid the musician in Bitcoin for some freelance compositions, and the musician needed to turn them into dollars. Castiglione joked about the corruption of Argentine politics as he peeled off five $100 bills, which he was trading for a little more than 1.5 Bitcoins, and gave them to his client. The musician did not hand over anything in return; before showing up, he had transferred the Bitcoins — in essence, digital tokens that exist only as entries in a digital ledger — from his Bitcoin address to Castiglione’s. Had the German client instead sent euros to a bank in Argentina, the musician would have been required to fill out a form to receive payment and, as a result of the country’s currency controls, sacrificed roughly 30% of his earnings to change his euros into pesos. Bitcoin makes it easier to move money the other way too. The day before, the owner of a small manufacturing company bought $20,000 worth of Bitcoin from Castiglione in order to get his money to the United States, where he needed to pay a vendor, a transaction far easier and less expensive than moving funds through Argentine banks.

A new rule: any country under sustained currency pressure will see citizens increasingly turning to bitcoin to evade currency controls.


Sunset at the Secret den » Medium

David Byttow:

After a lot of thought and consultation with our board, I’ve decided to shut down Secret.

This has been the hardest decision of my life and one that saddens me deeply. Unfortunately, Secret does not represent the vision I had when starting the company, so I believe it’s the right decision for myself, our investors and our team.

I’m extremely proud of our team, which has built a product that was used by over 15 million people and pushed the boundaries of traditional social media. I believe in honest, open communication and creative expression, and anonymity is a great device to achieve it. But it’s also the ultimate double-edged sword, which must be wielded with great respect and care. I look forward to seeing what others in this space do over time.

The phrase “Secret does not represent the vision I had when starting the company” was highlighted by Ev Williams, Medium’s founder (and a Twitter co-founder). The final couple of sentences seem to be saying “Yeah, good luck with that, Whisper.”


Number of mobile-only internet users now exceeds desktop-only in the US » comScore, Inc

Mobile’s rise over the past few years has been well-documented as it continues to achieve major milestones illustrating its immense popularity, such as last year when app usage surpassed desktop usage and began accounting for half of all U.S. digital media consumption. But its latest milestone shows just how far this platform has come in overtaking desktop’s longstanding dominance as the primary gateway to the internet. For the first time in March, the number of mobile-only adult internet users exceeded the number of desktop-only internet users.

11.3% against 10.6% (the other 78.1% used both, of course). Tablets are counted as “mobile”; desktops still account for 87% of digital commerce. The latter number used to be 100%, of course.


Huge news: Windows 10 can run reworked Android and iOS apps » The Verge

Tom Warren:

After months of rumors, Microsoft is revealing its plans to get mobile apps on Windows 10 today. While the company has been investigating emulating Android apps, it has settled on a different solution, or set of solutions, that will allow developers to bring their existing code to Windows 10.

iOS and Android developers will be able to port their apps and games directly to Windows universal apps, and Microsoft is enabling this with two new software development kits. On the Android side, Microsoft is enabling developers to use Java and C++ code on Windows 10, and for iOS developers they’ll be able to take advantage of their existing Objective C code. “We want to enable developers to leverage their current code and current skills to start building those Windows applications in the Store, and to be able to extend those applications,” explained Microsoft’s Terry Myerson during an interview with The Verge this morning.

I have no idea why an iOS or Android developer would want to bother doing this. Putting an app onto a different platform involves immediate cost and future cost (in support). Can Windows 10 Phone (or whatever it is) really repay that?

Also, typical of The Verge’s approach, there’s no attempt to find any external comment on whether this is smart, stupid, or somewhere in between. Developers aren’t hard to find; nor are analysts. A comment from one or both groups would have informed readers. This falls short. (Contrast Mashable’s Christina Warren – no relation as far as I know – and Rene Ritchie of iMore. Sure, The Verge might have got the interview exclusively, but that’s still no reason not to make it even better by finding separate comment.)

For example, here’s a developer’s response to Ritchie:


The bot bubble: click farms have inflated social media currency » The New Republic

Doug Bock Clark:

Richard Braggs, Casipong’s boss, sits at a desk positioned behind his employees, occasionally glancing up from his double monitor to survey their screens. Even in the gloom, he wears Ray-Ban sunglasses to shield his eyes from the glare of his computer. (“Richard Braggs” is the alias he uses for business purposes; he uses a number of pseudonyms for various online activities.)

Casipong inserts earbuds, queues up dance music—Paramore and Avicii—and checks her client’s instructions. Their specifications are often quite pointed. A São Paulo gym might request 75 female Brazilian fitness fanatics, or a Castro-district bar might want 1,000 gay men living in San Francisco. Her current order is the most common: Facebook profiles of beautiful American women between the ages of 20 and 30. Once they’ve received the accounts, the client will probably use them to sell Facebook likes to customers looking for an illicit social media boost.

Most of the accounts Casipong creates are sold to these digital middlemen—“click farms” as they have come to be known.

It’s a full-time job. Where’s the government promise to create work like this in the UK, eh?


Apple warns of ‘material’ financial damage from Irish tax probe » FT.com

Tim Bradshaw and Christian Oliver:

Apple has warned investors that it could face “material” financial penalties from the European Commission’s investigation into its tax deals with Ireland — the first time it has disclosed the potential consequences of the probe.

Under US securities rules, a material event is usually defined as 5% of a company’s average pre-tax earnings for the past three years. For Apple, which reported the highest quarterly profit ever for a US company in January, that could exceed $2.5bn, according to FT calculations.

The warning came in Apple’s regular 10-Q filing to the Securities and Exchange Commission on Tuesday, a day after it reported first-quarter revenues of $58bn and net income of $13.6bn.

Forgotten what it’s about? Here’s some background.


Apple Watch: faulty Taptic Engine slows roll out » WSJ

Daisuke Wakabayashi and Lorraine Luk:

A key component of the Apple Watch made by one of two suppliers was found to be defective, prompting Apple Inc. to limit the availability of the highly anticipated new product, according to people familiar with the matter.

The part involved is the so-called taptic engine, designed by Apple to produce the sensation of being tapped on the wrist. After mass production began in February, reliability testing revealed that some taptic engines supplied by AAC Technologies Holdings of Shenzhen, China, started to break down over time, the people familiar with the matter said. One of those people said Apple scrapped some completed watches as a result.

Makes sense; some reviewers have complained about not getting anything noticeable “taps” in Watches they tried. Apple has moved to a different supplier, it seems, but is supply-constrained.


Engage Android users around the world » Jana

Over half of the top Google Play countries are emerging markets.

By download, that is, not revenue.


What if we are the microbiome of the silicon AI? » Edge.org

Tim O’Reilly, on the “website for thinkers”:

While all pundits allow that an AI may not be like us, and speculate about the risks implicit in those differences, they make one enormous assumption: the assumption of an individual self. The AI as imagined, is an individual consciousness.

What if, instead, an AI were more like a multicellular organism, a eukaryote evolution beyond our prokaryote selves? What’s more, what if we were not even the cells of such an organism, but its microbiome? And what if the intelligence of that eukaryote today was like the intelligence of Grypania spiralis, not yet self-aware as a human is aware, but still irrevocably on the evolutionary path that led to today’s humans.

This notion is at best a metaphor, but I believe it is a useful one.

Perhaps humans are the microbiome living in the guts of an AI that is only now being born! It is now recognized that without our microbiome, we would cease to live. Perhaps the global AI has the same characteristics—not an independent entity, but a symbiosis with the human consciousnesses living within it.

Oo, interesting idea.


Start up: Apple Watch battery life, the trouble with AdBlock, did FBI agents nick Silk Road bitcoin?, and more


Is exporting data like this? Photo by TunnelBug on Flickr.

A selection of 9 links for you. Rub on exposed skin first. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

We are losing control of our data in the mobile age » Finer Things

David Chartier:

Apps have never been more accessible, powerful, or affordable. But with the shift to mobile, they have also never been more incompatible, often locking our work, play, and precious moments in sandboxes surrounded by wide, deep moats of proprietary file types or a simple lack of an export option.

Take Evernote, for example. The Mac app has an export option, but I know of only a couple apps (like the Mac, but not iOS, version of Together) that could do anything with your data. The iOS apps have no such option, and I haven’t seen any competitors that offer their own import. Note: there are plenty of apps that build on top of Evernote. That’s different from a competitor that moves all your data away.

Or look at the export option at Facebook, a company that years ago went “mobile first”. You can’t export anything on mobile. But with an old ‘n busted computer, you can download most of your data and then… do what with it? Can you import your sub-140 character posts into Twitter? How about Tumblr? Is there a Facebook competitor, or even an app for regular people, that can do anything with this data?

Call it what you want—a technical oversight, lock-in by design, or something more generous or suspicious—but I believe it will become a real problem.

The “what would you want to do with it?” question is apposite. Much of what we do on mobile is ephemeral: messaging, commenting, viewing.


Citymapper on Apple Watch » Medium

Transit info works well on a device that focuses attention on one thing at a time.

And where the transaction cost (ie hassle) of getting additional information is low (raise your wrist and swipe).

Using a wearable app may also be safer. City dwellers are generally walking too fast, crossing streets, using stairs, jostling through crowds.

Good too for destination (getting off), departure and route info. Recall what Richard Gaywood said about his use of an LG Watch with Android Wear: transport info mattered.


Exploring ‘Rivers of Data’ » Defra digital

Paul Hyatt and Jess Dyer on the Environment Agency’s flood data release:

In terms of building a web mapping application, it was a fairly simple task to load the OS Open River data via OpenLayers’ ability to load GeoJSON with ease. To load in the Environment Agency data some simple requests were made to the Beta API service to bring back a list of Monitoring Stations within a distance of a location, Flood Warnings (if any) for the area of Somerset, and a 3 Day Forecast (national) for floods. In the case of the Monitoring Stations and Flood Warnings further requests needed to be made to bring back the information for each individual warning or Monitoring station. This was a fairly simple process to build a loop to go and make the requests based off the data given in the original JSON response. Then it was just a case of working through those further responses to take the location data from the JSON and make OpenLayers vector features from them and add them to their respective layers.

Huge. This is the big win for Free Our Data – getting flood data.


Hands-on with the Apple Watch: a developer’s experience at Apple’s WatchKit labs » Mac Rumors

Juli Clover:

The design and the feel of the watch were described as “absolutely amazing” and software was described as “fluid” and not like other smart watches available on the market. “Animations on the Apple Watch are really what separate it from its competitors,” he said. Handoff works very well, letting users transfer tasks from the Apple Watch to the iPhone with ease, and Siri’s functionality was described as “absolutely phenomenal.”

He also shared a bit of information about battery life. Wearing the watch all day, he used it regularly to send messages and test his app, and he said the watch battery lasted all day with some to spare. He was really impressed and said, “When Apple says all day battery life, they mean it.”

Overall, the developer that we spoke with thought his time at the Apple WatchKit lab was an “inspirational experience” and in his opinion, Apple is on the right track with the Apple Watch.

Unsurprising that a developer would say this, but the battery life point is worth noting.


2 ex-federal agents in Silk Road case are charged with fraud » NYTimes.com

Benjamin Weiser and Matt Apuzzo:

The charges stem from the agents’ role in one of the federal investigations into Silk Road; a separate Manhattan-based investigation ultimately led to the filing of charges against the website’s founder, Ross W. Ulbricht, who was convicted last month on numerous counts.

Mr. Force, while investigating Silk Road, “stole and converted to his own personal use a sizable amount of Bitcoins,” the digital currency that was used by buyers and sellers on the website and which he obtained in his undercover capacity, the complaint said.

“Rather than turning those Bitcoin over to the government, Force deposited them into his own personal accounts,” it added.

The complaint describes both former agents as members of a Baltimore-based task force that investigated Silk Road. The website had been the subject of investigations in several cities, including Chicago and New York.

The Baltimore investigation resulted in an indictment of Mr. Ulbricht on conspiracy and other charges, but that case has remained pending and the evidence in support of it was kept out of the New York trial, apparently because of the investigation into the agents.

Just amazing.


How springs are made » Atomic Delights

Greg Koenig unearthed this hypnotic, short wonder:


Meerkat is dying – and it’s taking US tech journalism with it » BGR

Tero Kuittinen:

Writing about the mobile app industry is a curious niche; you don’t actually have to understand download statistics, different product segments or other industry fundamentals. Unlike movies, fashion, cars or the book industry, you don’t have to focus on products that possess real consumer appeal. In the United States, app industry reporters can simply choose to cover an app their buddies claim is cool and then prioritize the 200th most popular app in the country over apps that have actual heft and significance.

The whole sordid Meerkat mess is an eerie echo of what happened with Secret, another failed social media app with incredible media coverage.

Soon after its launch in January 2014, Secret was pronounced the next huge social media app by a preening murder of California media crows. Hundreds of stories about the importance of Secret were published in February 2014. The app peaked at No. 130 on the U.S. iPhone download chart — and then it dropped out of the top 1000 by end of February.

It was an utter flop and all subsequent relaunches failed miserably. Yet it managed to raise nearly $9m in March despite the February collapse… and then another $25m the following July.

There’s a lot of truth in this: tech blogs/sites love to think that they’ve picked up on the Next Big Thing. But equally, shouldn’t they pick up on the things that are spiking? I think US tech journalism is pretty ill, though that’s not connected with getting VC money. (Well, not tightly connected.) Mull over this as we move to the next link…


Periscope won’t change the world, whatever journalists say » The Next Web

Mic Wright:

Last week, the arrival of Periscope kicked off a rash of ‘hot takes‘ on how live streaming is about to change news, change our lives, hell, change the whole goddamn world.

But it’s not going to. Certainly not in the hyperbole-drenched way “this will change everything!” people think. It will change the way a small subset of people do their jobs and put even more sources in front of the eyeballs of the world’s newsgatherers but it won’t change news. It definitely won’t change the world. The world changes more slowly than we like to think. It hops forward in fits and starts.

We need to start making a distinction between “news” and “source material” again. Some tweets aren’t news. They’re potential source material for news. A Vine clip is practically never news. As odd as it may sound, live video of a fire, an explosion or a protest isn’t the story, it’s a catalyst for a story. We need analysis and thought to be introduced before something become news. Just being present is not enough.


Publishers and adblockers are in a battle for online advertising » FT.com

Robert Cookson, noting that there are now 144m Adblock users (though some dispute that number, suggesting it’s too high):

“Ad blocking is beginning to have a material impact on publisher revenues,” says Mike Zaneis, general counsel at the Interactive Advertising Bureau, a US industry body whose members account for four-fifths of the country’s online advertising market.

“The free internet that consumers demand cannot coexist with the continued proliferation of ad blockers,” he says, adding that publishers are increasingly looking for “aggressive solutions”.
Andy Hart, head of Microsoft’s advertising business in Europe, says that the consumer backlash against online advertising stems from “really interruptive” ad formats such as pop-ups. The problem, he argues, is that ad-blockers are “a very blunt tool” as they tend to block all forms of advertising, including ads that “enhance the consumer experience”.

Trouble is that those 144m users are generally the ones who advertisers want to reach. AdBlock is a real and growing problem for publishers.


Start up: smartwatches are go!, tablets shrink, bitcoins all spent?, Yahoo keeps growing in search, and more


What’s Apple up to with its privacy drive? Photo by dmelchordiaz on Flickr.

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

Pebble has now sold over 1 million smartwatches » The Verge

While Google and Apple have been getting the lion’s share of attention for smartwatches lately, indie darling Pebble has been quietly soldiering on, improving its product and selling watches. In an exclusive interview, CEO Eric Migicovsky revealed that the company shipped its one millionth Pebble on December 31st of last year. That’s more than double what Pebble reported in March, indicating that price cuts and new feature additions later in the year successfully boosted sales figures.

Pebble’s biggest and most visible competitor so far has been Google’s Android Wear, which launched in the middle of 2014 and is found on devices from Motorola, Samsung, LG, Sony, and Asus. Google has yet to reveal how many Android Wear watches have been sold in the six months or so it has been on the market, so it is difficult to determine if the platform is a success or not.

Google’s silence speaks volumes; it must know, surely? Also, how many of its employees are still wearing their LG smartwatch Christmas gift? A million is good going for Pebble. Seems like the smartwatch market will split three ways: Apple, Android, Pebble. (I have a Kickstarter Pebble, and recently rediscovered its usefulness through its step-and-sleep counting Misfit app.)


Worldwide tablet shipments experience first year-over-year decline in the fourth quarter while full year shipments show modest growth » IDC

Worldwide tablet shipments recorded a year-over-year decline for the first time since the market’s inception in 2010. Overall shipments for tablets and 2-in-1 devices reached 76.1 million in the fourth quarter of 2014 (4Q14) for -3.2% growth, according to preliminary data from the International Data Corporation (IDC) Worldwide Quarterly Tablet Tracker. Although the fourth quarter witnessed a decline in the global market, shipments for the full year 2014 increased 4.4%, totaling 229.6m units.

“The tablet market is still very top heavy in the sense that it relies mostly on Apple and Samsung to carry the market forward each year,” said Jitesh Ubrani, senior research analyst, worldwide quarterly tablet tracker.

Apple, Samsung, Asus, Amazon, all lost share and sales; only Lenovo, third-largest, grew (by 0.3m), which may have been mainly in 2-in-1s. Amazon’s dropoff is dramatic in both the Q4 and full year. But remember that tablets are principally going to consumers, have saturated their market, and have a replacement period of around four years. Compare that to PCs, which go to companies and consumers, and were at some times replaced as rapidly as every two years.


New findings suggest nearly 90% of all bitcoin holdings already spent » CoinSpeaker

Nearly 90% of those who have purchased or mined Bitcoin may have already cashed out their holdings, it emerged this weekend. Before now, it was thought that just 36% of bitcoins had currently been spent or sold, an argument often used by both advocates and their adversaries to support the fact that Bitcoin is both likely and unlikely to succeed as an asset class over the long term.

The findings were posted by Reddit user intmaxt64 and are being revealed in the Bitcoin press for the first time here at Coinspeaker…

…the findings may indicate that the Bitcoin price has suffered directly as a result of the major holders of Bitcoin liquidating their holdings while claiming the opposite. Many of the potential sellers appear to be the same individuals and organizations who got buyers to purchase during 2011-2013, since the large quantities of unit exchanges happened during this time.

Very deep implications to this, including the potential to corner the market.


Yahoo gains further US search share in January » StatCounter Global Stats

January saw Yahoo further increase the gain it made in US search share last month, according to the latest data from independent website analytics provider, StatCounter. Google fell below 75% in the US for the first time since StatCounter Global Stats began recording data [in June 2008].

StatCounter Global Stats reports that in January, Google took 74.8% of US search referrals followed by Bing on 12.4% and Yahoo on 10.9%, its highest US search share for over five years.

This is desktop-only, of course, and it’s not a giant change. But US users are surely the most valuable ones. Take Firefox out of the equation, and Google’s share remains where it was (despite Google’s attempts to win them back)

So what sort of people use Firefox and don’t change their search engine back to Google? Well, there’s Katharine Viner, editor-in-chief of the Guardian’s US operation. Did she notice the change?

So why’s she sticking with Yahoo?


How new versions of Android work » Rusty Rants

Russell Ivanovic of Shifty Jelly, which makes Android and iOS apps:

People are often quick to mis-interpret these numbers. “iOS 8 adoption is at 64%, but Android 4.4, a version that’s years old isn’t even at that!”. There’s two things wrong with these kinds of comments. Firstly there are roughly 6-8x more Android devices than iOS devices in the world, depending on which market share numbers you use. This means that if a version of Android achieves 39% adoption, that’s a huge deal, and you could develop just for that platform and address a larger user base than targeting iOS 8 with its 64%. Secondly people confuse overall numbers, with actual numbers of people who buy apps. Here for example are the version breakdowns of people who buy Pocket Casts on Android:

So while Android 5.0 has less than 1% adoption in the overall Android ecosystem, 23% of our customers already run it. This makes sense when you put a bit of thought into these numbers. People that have the money to buy apps, and are passionate about Android, have up to date phones.

I find Ivanovic a necessary counterpoint to a lot of what one reads about Android and iOS. He’s sincere, and expresses his views directly. (He’s Australian, so..) One point about Pocket Casts is that it’s a podcast player. There are paid-for podcast players on iOS (Marco Arment, obviously) but it seems to me the opportunity is much larger because there’s no OS-level podcast app on Android as there is for iOS.

That said, Ivanovic’s points are still valid. It’s install base x amount paid that really matters for developers (and, to some extent, users, as they benefit from the availability of apps, driven by the size of the ecosystem). Also, he wrote this piece before today’s data about Lollipop share – 1.6% of all Google Play installs as of 2 February.


Apple on privacy, security and identity » Benedict Evans

Evans tries to connect the dots that Apple has left around, on the basis that products it has now – such as Apple Pay – are obvious in retrospect (TouchID + Passbook). With that in mind, why Apple’s focus on “privacy”, he asks:

it may also be that as our phones go from sharing pictures to unlocking our front doors, privacy becomes a much more valuable selling point. This might be one reason why Nest is being kept semi-detached at Google. Worrying that Google knows what you search for has always seemed to me rather like worrying that your bank knows how much money you have, but Google knowing when you get out of bed or unlock your front door might be different (though of course it gets a fair bit of this through Android). So, perhaps Apple is talking about privacy not because of its current products, but because it thinks privacy will be a real competitive advantage for future ones. Not the iPhones, but the Watch, or other wearables, or the connected home. There’s an interesting question here – is the big data dividend worth the privacy implications? Is it better to let Google know when you flush the loo for what it can tell you about your bowels, or would people really rather not? 


Why I’ve found that online communities on media sites always seem doomed to fail » Martin Belam

I used to work with Martin at The Guardian (he’s now at the Daily Mirror); he’s got great insights into how communities fail or work. His key points – “The behaviour of the regular users becomes self-limiting for the community as a whole” and “The community believes they are representative of the primary audience” are, to me, the essence of the problem.

As a reminder, I did a pseudo-economic analysis of why comments on media sites just don’t work, which comes down to “the crap drive out the good”. I think that’s what Martin’s saying in his first point, only more nicely. Also, as he notes:

At the moment we don’t have comments on the Mirror site where I work, and I must confess it is a slight relief not to be immediately called a twat every time I press publish, but equally I find sites without comments don’t feel as alive. You know an article has had an impact when it has generated hundreds of comments.

I’d disagree on that latter point. You know an article has generated hundreds of comments when it generates hundreds of comments. But if you read them, you might find there’s no actual impact at all – as in, the comments haven’t added to the sum of human knowledge in the slightest.


Apple Watch sightings picking up ahead of official launch » Mac Rumors

Juli Clover:

Due to the large number of employees testing the device, Apple Watch sightings in the wild have become more common over the course of the last few weeks. On the MacRumors forums, readers are aggregating photos and stories of device sightings, giving us an in-use look at the device that will be attached to many of our wrists in just a few short months.

One of the first major Apple Watch sightings occurred several weeks ago, when Vogue Editor Suzy Menkes snapped a photo of someone wearing the device. Rumors and speculation have suggested the arm in the photo could belong to Marc Newson, the designer who now works at Apple part time alongside Jony Ive.

The forums aren’t that helpful (lots of vague discussion); James Cook at BusinessInsider has wrapped the (few) pics together.

Though the iPhone was announced before its public release, the only person I recall ever being seen in public using it ahead of that was Steve Jobs. This quiet seeding and testing is quite different.

Of course – and ponder this for a moment – everyone’s got an internet-connected camera now. Maybe there were tons more iPhones in public testing in 2007. We just didn’t hear about them.