Start up: journalism v Sean Rad, the Lumia 950 zombie?, Pepsi phones, and more


Too few of these getting sold. Photo by Yuxuan.fishy.Wang on Flickr.

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A selection of 10 links for you. Aren’t they fluffy? I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

An Open Letter to Tinder’s Sean Rad from Vanity Fair’s Nancy Jo Sales | Vanity Fair

Nancy Jo Sales, who wrote a fabulous piece about how dating has changed (including Tinder), which some seemed to think meant she should “seek a quote from Tinder” before publishing. Rad, in the Evening Standard, suggested he had “information” about Sales:

Sean, you and I both know that when you spoke of me as “an individual,” you were talking about me personally. And you seemed to speak from a place of emotion, admitting that you were “upset” about my piece in Vanity Fair—which wasn’t actually just about Tinder per se, but changes in the world of dating, with the introduction of dating apps overall. This was something I tried to point out in my response to an avalanche of tweets directed at me, one night in August, when someone at Tinder decided that he or she would try to besmirch my reputation as a journalist as well. Your Twitter account admonished me: “Next time reach out to us first . . . that’s what journalists typically do.”

I don’t know what you and your colleagues at Tinder think journalism is, but I don’t believe it’s the same as what most journalists think it is. Our job is to report on what real people say and do, and how this impacts our world. It’s not our job to parrot what companies would like us to know about their products. Our job is an important one, and when the heads of companies decide to go after journalists personally, then I think we’re in very dangerous territory—not only for journalists, but for the whole practice of journalism, without which we can’t have a democracy.

This last paragraph. Oh yes, oh yes. I grow so weary of publications which think that a company announcing the new model of a phone or some new tweak to their software merits a breathless single-sourced story.
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Match Group Inc – Free Writing Prospectus » US Securities and Exchange Commission

On November 18, 2015, the Evening Standard (the “Standard”), an online and print news service, published an article based on an interview with Sean Rad, the Chief Executive Officer of Tinder, a subsidiary of the Company. The article is described in relevant part in the following paragraph and the full article is attached hereto.

The article was not approved or condoned by, and the content of the article was not reviewed by, the Company or any of its affiliates. Mr. Rad is not a director or executive officer of the Company and was not authorized to make statements on behalf of the Company for purposes of the article. The article noted that “Analysts believe the [Tinder] app, which launched in 2012, has around 80 million users worldwide and records 1.8 billion “swipes” a day.”  While these statements were not made by Mr. Rad, the Company notes that they are inaccurate and directs readers to the Preliminary Prospectus, which states that for the month of September 2015, Tinder had approximately 9.6 million daily active users, with Tinder users “swiping” through an average of more than 1.4 billion user profiles each day.

Evening Standard routinely publishes articles and is unaffiliated with the Company and all other offering participants, and, as of the date of this free writing prospectus, none of the Company, any other offering participant and any of their respective affiliates have made any payment or given any consideration to Evening Standard in connection with the article described in this free writing prospectus.

The statements by Mr. Rad were not intended to qualify any of the information, including the risk factors, set forth in the Registration Statement or the Preliminary Prospectus and are not endorsed or adopted by the Company.

I can’t actually find that 9.6 million daily active user figure in the Preliminary Prospectus in the link. Still, nice to know.
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Edward Snowden and the Paris attacks » Business Insider

Natasha Bertrand:

some experts are skeptical that revelations regarding the NSA’s ability to access encrypted data and the encryption methods adopted by companies in the wake of the Snowden disclosures had any effect on the ways terrorists have chosen to communicate.

“There is no evidence at all that the Snowden leaks contributed or altered the kind of terrorist activity that ISIS and Al Qaeda do,” Dave Aitel, CEO of the cybersecurity firm Immunity, Inc., told Business Insider.

“Al Qaeda was using high-grade operational technology long before the leaks — and they knew the NSA was their prime enemy long before Snowden,” he added. “For Morell to say the intel gaps that facilitated the Paris attacks fall into Snowden’s lap is a fantastic work of intellectual fiction.”

Indeed, Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups have been using their own encryption software since at least 2007, beginning with a program known as “Asrar al-Mujihideen” (Secrets of the Mujahideen). They extended that program to other devices, such as cellphones and text messaging, as the technology became available.

“Nothing has changed about the encryption methodologies that they use,” Evan Kohlmann, a partner at the private security firm Flashpoint Global Partners, told NBC in 2014. “It’s difficult to reconcile that with the claim that they have dramatically improved their encryption technology since Snowden.”

Paris seems to have been organised by plain old text message.
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Pepsi Phone P1 is official: 5.5in 1080p display, 4G LTE and fingerprint sensor for $110 » Fone Arena

Srivatsan Sridhar:

After the leaks, Pepsi Phone P1s has gone official in China. It features a 5.5-inch (1080 x 1920 pixels) 2.5D curved glass display, is powered by an Octa-Core MediaTek MT6592 processor and runs on dido OS based on Android 5.1 (Lollipop). It has a aluminum unibody design and even has a finger print sensor on the back. It has a 13-megapixel rear camera on the back and 5-megapixel front-facing camera.

It has 4G LTE connectivity and dual SIM support that lets you use the second nano SIM slot as a microSD slot when required. Pepsi is just licensing its branding, and Shenzhen Scooby Communication Equipment Co., Ltd will manufacture the phone. The standard version of the phone is called P1 and the China Unicom version with FDD-LTE support is called P1s.

Phones are now just branding exercises; those specs would have been flagship two years ago. Interesting question: why hasn’t Coca-Cola done this? Probably because it doesn’t need to – Pepsi is playing catch-up in the branding stakes.
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Pepsi phone: can it “change the game”? » Counterpoint Technology Market Research

Neil Shah:

The smartphone space is already looking like a FMCG [fast-moving consumer goods, akin to supermarkets] space where the goods are moving faster than ever and has become highly commoditized with value shifting beyond hardware to brand, content, software, commerce and services.

This offers a perfect opportunity for Pepsi to find some synergies in leveraging its strong brand to this consumer electronics FMCG segment which is smartphone (a highly personal good) and drive its brand further.

This could turn out to be a great and disruptive move if Pepsi plays its cards right and strike key partnerships across different markets to promote Pepsi brand via phones.

As we said, smartphone is “highly personal device” and this could give unique insights about consumers and we believe its the marketing dollars well spent more than Super Bowl commercials to consistently and continuously learn about consumers’ habits on phone as most users now have almost most of their lives use-cases linked to their phones.

We see “Pepsi Phone” as a great marketing & marketing research tool for Pepsi.

Remember when pretty much every FMCG company had its own music download store? I think this will pan out like that. (Count how many FMCG companies still operate their own music download store.)
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Chrome Extensions – aka total absence of privacy » Detectify Labs

We signed up for one of the services which provides this information gathered by the Chrome extensions. We were able to see the following:

• Common URLs used by employees on targeted companies.
• Internal network URLs, exposing internal network structure as well as completely separated websites for internal use only.
• Internal PDFs being placed on AWS S3 referencing competitors.
• Pages which only one person had visited. We tested this out. One of the guys in the office using one of the plugins created a local website, page X, which didn’t link anywhere, but while being on the site he changed the address bar to page Y. He was the only visitor of page X. Two weeks later page X ended up in the “Similar sites” of page Y with “Affinity: 0.01%”.

Technical Details – how they are doing it

• They are running the tracking scripts in a separate background instance of the extension, but can still get access to all information about your tabs. By doing this, your network traffic of a web page will not disclose that requests are being done to a third party. This bypasses all Content Security Policy-rules and Chrome extensions – such as Ghostery – that tries to prevent tracking, since the requests are being done inside the extension itself.

Plus obfuscation, subdomains for extensions and more. Isn’t the web fun?
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China’s chip acquisitions send ripples across industry – News & Trends – EETA

Junko Yoshiba:

The technologies and IP targeted by China include disk drives, CMOS image sensors, servers, memory chips and advanced semiconductor packaging and test services.

For the moment, the biggest prize sought by a private fund such as Tsinghua Unigroup appears to be NAND memory chips. In August, the firm made an informal $23bn takeover offer for US giant Micron Technology. The Idaho-based chipmaker rejected the deal outright, conceded that it might endanger US national security.

In an interview with Reuters this week, the Tsinghua Unigroup chair, Zhao Weiguo, said his firm plans to about $47bn “over the next five years in a bid to become the world’s third-biggest chipmaker.” To put the matter into perspective, this five-year investment target roughly equals a year’s revenue at Intel. (Intel’s 2014 revenue was $55.9bn.)

Over the past two years, Tsinghua has spent more than $9.4bn on acquisitions and investments at home and abroad. These include the purchase of stakes in US data storage company Western Digital Corp. and Taiwan’s Powertech Technology Inc. Without disclosing specifics, the chair revealed that the company is about to close another investment deal, a minority stake in a US chip company, as early as the end of this month, Reuters reported.

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Who turned my blue state red? » The New York Times

Subtitle of this article by Alec MacGillis of ProPublic is “Why poor areas vote for politicians who want to slash the safety net”; for non-US readers, “blue” states vote Democrat, and “red” ones Republican:

The people in these communities who are voting Republican in larger proportions are those who are a notch or two up the economic ladder — the sheriff’s deputy, the teacher, the highway worker, the motel clerk, the gas station owner and the coal miner. And their growing allegiance to the Republicans is, in part, a reaction against what they perceive, among those below them on the economic ladder, as a growing dependency on the safety net, the most visible manifestation of downward mobility in their declining towns.

These are voters like Pamela Dougherty, a 43-year-old nurse I encountered at a restaurant across from a Walmart in Marshalltown, Iowa, where she’d come to hear Rick Santorum, the conservative former Pennsylvania senator with a working-class pitch, just before the 2012 Iowa caucuses. In a lengthy conversation, Ms. Dougherty talked candidly about how she had benefited from government support.

Pulling the ladder up.
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Jawbone lays off 60, 15% of staff globally, closes NY office » TechCrunch

Ingrid Lunden:

TechCrunch has learned and confirmed that the company yesterday [Thursday] laid off around 60 employees, or 15% of staff. It’s a global round of layoffs affecting all areas of the business; and as part of it Jawbone is also closing down its New York office (which was concentrated on marketing) and downsizing satellite operations in Sunnyvale and Pittsburgh.

In an emailed statement, a spokesperson said the layoffs are part of a wider “streamlining.”

“Jawbone’s success over the past 15 years has been rooted in its ability to evolve and grow dynamically in a rapidly scaling marketplace. As part of our strategy to create a more streamlined and successful company, we have made the difficult decision to reorganize the company which has had an impact on our global workforce,” he said. “We are sad to see colleagues go, but we know that these changes, while difficult for those impacted, will set us up for greater success.”

Seventh among wearable device vendors, with a market share of 2.8%; Fitbit by comparison is No.1 (ahead of Apple) with 24.3%, selling 4.4m. Can’t see a market for that many non-smartwatch vendors except the really specialist, eg athletics.
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Microsoft Lumia 950 review: can a smartphone be your PC? » WSJ

Joanna Stern loves the hardware, though notes the mobile apps are limited or out of date (Instagram hasn’t been updated for two years), then tries the “Continuum” system, plugging it into (just) a monitor:

this made for a decent basic desktop computing experience—decent enough for me to write this entire review and not spend every minute pining for my laptop. Word, Excel, PowerPoint all look and feel like they do on a laptop, and the Edge Web browser loads desktop sites instead of mobile ones.

The problem is, despite the hexa-core processor and 3GB of RAM, the system feels out of power. Having just five or six open tabs reminded me of the dial-up modem days. Not only were sites slow to load over Wi-Fi, but the entire system and browser got bogged down. Besides, Google’s Chrome is just a far better desktop browser, feature-wise.

But that’s not the worst of it. Remember those app problems? Because this is Windows 10 Mobile and there is no Intel chip inside, Windows desktop apps don’t work. That means no downloading the desktop version of Spotify or Slack or iTunes. You can’t run mobile apps on the big screen, either. For example, I couldn’t open the Windows Phone Spotify app in the desktop PC mode, but I could run it on the phone while I did work on the computer monitor.

Ah, Windows RT is back. Or risen from its zombie grave. (Via Mike Hole.)
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified.

Start up: porn’s new business model, the real emissions scam, Jamaica’s 419 scammers, and more


What’s really using up the energy in your phone’s battery? Photo by Takashi(aes256) 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 Emissionary Position: screwing the motorist the European way » The Register

John Wilkinson with a tour de force on the entire topic of emissions, testing, ECUs, specific heat capacity, diesel taxation, and whether you should buy a secondhand VW. It’s a long read, but will leave you feeling completely informed:

Emission cheating is not new. Caterpillar, Cummins and others were busted in 1998 for doing exactly what VW has now done – and there have been many more offenders before and since. Why has nothing learned from such instances? How is it the US emissions testing authorities appear to have done nothing for all this time to circumvent cheating?

VW is, of course German, whereas the regulations it has failed to meet are American. Years of cheap gasoline means America does not have a history of running small diesel passenger cars, and they do not form a high percentage of the fleet; nothing like the penetration in Europe.

American cars are historically less fuel efficient than European cars. So why are the American diesel emission regulations so much more stringent than the European equivalent? Could it be protectionism … or, perhaps, the European regulations are rubbish?

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Four more carmakers join diesel emissions row » The Guardian

Damian Carrington:

In more realistic on-road tests, some Honda models emitted six times the regulatory limit of NOx pollution while some unnamed 4×4 models had 20 times the NOx limit coming out of their exhaust pipes.

“The issue is a systemic one” across the industry, said Nick Molden, whose company Emissions Analytics tested the cars. The Guardian revealed last week that diesel cars from Renault, Nissan, Hyundai, Citroen, Fiat, Volvo and Jeep all pumped out significantly more NOx in more realistic driving conditions. NOx pollution is at illegal levels in many parts of the UK and is believed to have caused many thousands of premature deaths and billions of pounds in health costs.

All the diesel cars passed the EU’s official lab-based regulatory test (called NEDC), but the test has failed to cut air pollution as governments intended because carmakers designed vehicles that perform better in the lab than on the road. There is no evidence of illegal activity, such as the “defeat devices” used by Volkswagen.

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Satya Nadella and Microsoft’s very good day » The New Yorker

Nicholas Thompson (who edits the New Yorker website):

Much of the energy in the hardware business has been directed toward phones in recent years. But Microsoft’s strategy is sort of the opposite. The company will never catch up to Apple or to Google’s Android, where phones are concerned, at least in the developed world. So now it’s trying to make all the other devices—namely tablets and laptops—exciting again. You probably won’t buy your next laptop from Microsoft, but the company hopes to have demonstrated to other laptop manufacturers, particularly ones that preload Windows, how to make their devices exciting again. “Here’s my main point that I filter by,” Nadella told me. “Does the world need something like it and does it need it from Microsoft?” With the new laptop, he said, Microsoft was willing to take the risk of spending wildly on R. & D. to show that laptops could be exciting again—perhaps as exciting as phones.

After the event, I wrote to [Mike] Gerbasio [a consultant to construction companies who had been invited to see the event by Microsoft] to ask him if he was, in fact, going to buy anything. He told me that he’d pre-ordered the Surface Pro 4, but was thinking of maybe switching to the laptop. Either way, he said, he was happy with Nadella and the new Microsoft. For the first time, he thinks, the company genuinely cares what he, a normal consumer, actually wants.

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Driven to death by phone scammers » CNN.com

Wayne Drash with an in-depth report (though mute the video) about what Britons would call the 419 or “forward fee” scam – where callers say you’ve won tons of money but have to send them money to get it released:

More than 200 Jamaicans a year are killed in connection with lottery scams — a fifth of the killings in the island nation, which has the dubious distinction of being among the most violent countries per capita in the world.

Scammers who sell names and numbers to callers expect a cut of their profits; if they find out they’re being cheated, they’ll hunt down and kill the caller or a member of his family. Other killings occur when rival gang members steal caller lists.

“It’s a cancer in the society,” says Luis Moreno, the U.S ambassador to Jamaica. “Gangs escalate armed competition with each other over who is going to control these lists and who is going to get the best scammers, the best phone numbers, the best phone guys. Even children as young as 10, 12 years old are tied in as couriers.”

In June, a 14-year-old was dragged out of his home and machine-gunned by gang members connected to the scams. The same fate befell a 62-year-old grandmother in July. Two American women were wounded in August at a nightclub when a gang member opened fire on a rival who owed him money. The rival was killed.

“These gangs are often indiscriminate,” says Bunting, the national security minister. “When they come looking for their target, if they don’t find him, they will shoot members of his family to essentially send a message.”

The average Jamaican makes about $300 a month. The top lottery scammers boast of bringing in $100,000 a week. They share videos of washing cars with champagne and show off by setting fire to thousands of dollars in cash…

Lottery scamming sprang up between 1998 and 1999 when legitimate American and Canadian call centers set up operations in Montego Bay. Young Jamaicans were trained on how to empathize with customers.

No one could have known how those skills would result in today’s flourishing scam business.

Unintended consequences, indeed. Just as Indian PC scam calls arose from British companies setting up call centres there.
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On Apple’s insurmountable platform advantage » steve cheney

Cheney says it’s all about the chips:

The truth is the best people in chip design no longer want to work at Intel or Qualcomm. They want to work at Apple. I have plenty of friends in the Valley who affirm this. Sure Apple products are cooler. But Apple has also surpassed Intel in performance. This is insane. A device company – which makes CPUs for internal use – surpassing Intel, the world’s largest chip maker which practically invented the CPU and has thousands of customers.

This pedigree that Apple developed now has a secondary powerful force: portable devices serve as the reference platform whereby all chip design starts. Components from the smartphone market now power almost all other markets, giving Apple’s in-house team a comparative advantage as they enter new product categories, like wearables and electric cars.

All of this supplier / buyer power that Apple has secured will be extended to cars. And because cars are lower volume by many orders of magnitude than phones, no other car maker will be able to enter the chip making game. Both the costs and the risks of designing chips are way too high. Tesla sells around 100K cars a year. Apple sold that many iPhones every 30 minutes on opening day weekend.

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How MindGeek transformed the economics of porn » Fusion

Felix Salmon:

Porn videos, today, have become free advertising for other business lines—whether that’s camming, or stripping, or outright prostitution. Even in the world of escorting, tube videos are increasingly replacing the photographs of old. As a result, it can make financial sense to appear in porn films even if you get paid very little for doing so, because developing an online following is a great way to build a fan base. And that is where today’s porn stars earn most of their money: fans will pay to see stars like Veronica Rodriguez in a strip club, or for one-on-one Skype sessions, or for IRL sex. It’s the “freemium” business model: most people will be perfectly happy with the free product, but a small minority will pay for more exclusive services.

Meanwhile, the cost of appearing in a porn film—both in terms of production costs and in terms of reputation—has never been lower. We live in a world where young adults are freer than ever to explore and express their sexuality, and where everybody has a high-def video camera in their pocket at all times. The shame factor of porn has been nearly eliminated in popular culture: just ask Kim Kardashian, whose sex tape essentially launched her career.

On the basis that the porn industry presages everything else that happens online..
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See the Milky Way anew » Chromoscope

The Milky Way, viewed at different light frequencies – from gamma ray to radio. It looks very different depending on how your eyes work, as you quickly realise. Fun (though possibly not so much on mobile)
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Smartphone energy consumption » Pete Warden’s blog

Pete Warden:

I found a lot of very useful estimates for components power usages scattered through the book. These are just rough guides, but they helped my mental modeling, so here are some I found notable:

An ARM A9 CPU can use between 500 and 2,000 mW.
• A display might use 400 mW.
• Active cell radio might use 800 mW.
• Bluetooth might use 100 mW.
• Accelerometer is 21 mW.
• Gyroscope is 130 mW.
• Microphone is 101 mW.
• GPS is 176 mW.
• Using the camera in ‘viewfinder’ mode, focusing and looking at a picture preview, might use 1,000 mW.
• Actually recording video might take another 200 to 1,000 mW on top of that.

A key problem for wireless network communication is the ‘tail energy’ used to keep the radio active after the last communication, even when nothing’s being sent. This is vital for responsiveness, but it can be ten seconds for LTE, so apparently short communications can use a lot more energy than you’d expect. Sending a single byte can use a massive amount of power if it keeps the radio active for ten seconds after!

A Microsoft paper showed that over 50% of the power on several popular games is consumed by the ads they show!

The whole blogpost is really great reading. (Warden used to work at Apple, and then was CTO at Jetpac and did some amazing work on neural network apps; so good that Google bought the company.)
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It’s Apple’s world, so why do other smartphone makers even bother? » Bloomberg Business

Ashlee Vance:

Some struggling phone makers likely believe they can profit by selling tons of cheap phones at low margins, says Endpoint’s Kay, while companies like Microsoft and Sony will stay in the business to spread their software as far as possible.

Even Apple may not be immune to these trends. About 2 billion people have smartphones today, and another 150 million to 200 million will buy their first in each of the next three years, estimates researcher EMarketer. Most first-time buyers will be looking for high-powered phones at the lowest possible prices, and every company will have to reckon with that race to the bottom, says McMaster. The companies likely to thrive will be local players that can build money-making services on top of their cheap phones. “We will see sub-$35 devices roll out in sub-Saharan Africa in the next two years,” he says. “It’s just a matter of time.”

The question of how Apple will keep its prices up as every other smartphone maker sees price deflation is a critical one.
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PC shipments remain depressed by volatile currencies, inventory, and OS transition in the third quarter, although 2016 should fare better » IDC

Worldwide PC shipments totaled nearly 71.0m units in the third quarter of 2015 (3Q15), according to the International Data Corporation (IDC) Worldwide Quarterly PC Tracker. This volume represented a year-on-year decline of -10.8% – slightly worse than projections for a decline of -9.2%.

The lackluster volume of PC shipments was consistent with expectations that the third quarter would face challenging financial conditions and be a transition period. Across many regions, the channel remained focused on clearing Windows 8 inventory before a more complete portfolio of models incorporating Windows 10 and Intel Skylake processors comes on the scene. Vendors and channels were also working to limit price swings in the face of changes in currency exchange rates. Though easing a bit, currency devaluation continued to inhibit PC shipments in the third quarter.

While Windows 10 has generally received favorable reviews and raised consumer interest in PCs, many users opted to upgrade existing PCs rather than purchase new hardware…

…the top four vendors performed much better than the rest of the market. Collectively, the top 4 vendors saw shipments fall by -4.5% from a year ago compared to a decline of almost -20% for the rest of the market.

2016 could hardly do worse. PC market now down 26% from the same period in 2011, when it peaked.
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