Start up: how Facebook beat Google+, Fadell’s exit interview, iPad Pro review, Appelbaum leaves Tor, and more


Is there too much of this kind of thing between Google and influential European administrative positions? Photo by axi11a on Flickr.

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

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

Wal-Mart says it is 6-9 months from using drones to check warehouse inventory • Reuters

Nandita Bose:

»The remotely controlled drone captured 30 frames per second of products on aisles and alerted the user when product ran out or was incorrectly stocked. Natarajan said drones can reduce the labor intensive process of checking stocks around the warehouse to one day. It currently takes a month to finish manually.

Finding ways to more efficiently warehouse, transport and deliver goods to customers has taken on new importance for Wal-Mart as it deals with wages costs while seeking to beat back price competition and boost online sales.

Wal-Mart said the camera and technology on top of the drones have been custom-built for the retailer.

«

Becoming totally quotidien. My only thought when watching Top Gear is how many of the aerial shots have been done using a drone.
link to this extract

 


Google: new concerns raised about political influence by senior ‘revolving door’ jobs • The Guardian

Jamie Doward:

»New concerns have been raised about the political influence of Google after research found at least 80 “revolving door” moves in the past decade – instances where the online giant took on government employees and European governments employed Google staff.

The research was carried out by the Google Transparency Project, an initiative run by the Campaign for Accountability (CfA), a US organisation that scrutinises corporations and politicians. The CfA has suggested that the moves are a result of Google seeking to boost its influence in Europe as the company seeks to head off antitrust action and moves to tighten up on online privacy.

In the UK, Google has hired people from Downing Street, the Home Office, the Treasury, the Department for Education and the Department for Transport. Overall, the company has hired at least 28 British public officials since 2005.

Those hired have included Sarah Hunter, a senior policy adviser to Tony Blair when prime minister, who became head of public policy for Google in the UK. Hunter is now head of policy for Google X, the arm that deals with new businesses such as drones and self-driving cars.

«

The response from some people? “Who funds the CfA – I bet it’s some company that doesn’t like Google.” Rather than “why is there an echelon of people who just shift from policy job to policy job?”
link to this extract

 


How Mark Zuckerberg led Facebook’s war to crush Google Plus • Vanity Fair

Antonio García Martínez:

»As part of the budding media seduction around this new product, Google posted eye-popping usage numbers. In September 2012, it announced that the service had 400 million registered users and 100 million active ones. Facebook hadn’t even quite reached a billion users yet, and it had taken the company four years to reach the milestone—100 million users—that Google had reached in one. This caused something close to panic inside Facebook, but as we’d soon learn, the reality on the battlefield was somewhat different than what Google was letting on.

This contest had so rattled the search giant, intoxicated as they were with unfamiliar existential anxiety about the threat that Facebook posed, that they abandoned their usual sober objectivity around engineering staples like data and began faking their usage numbers to impress the outside world, and (no doubt) intimidate Facebook.

This was the classic new-product sham, the “Fake it till you make it” of the unscrupulous startupista, meant to flatter the ego and augment chances of future (real) success by projecting an image of current (imagined) success.

The numbers were originally taken seriously—after all, it wasn’t absurd to think Google could drive usage quickly—but after a while even the paranoid likes of Facebook insiders (not to mention the outside world) realized Google was juicing the numbers, the way an Enron accountant would a revenue report. Usage is always somewhat in the eye of the beholder, and Google was considering anyone who had ever so much as clicked on a Google Plus button anywhere as part of their usual Google experience a “user.” Given the overnight proliferation of Google Plus buttons all over Google, like mushrooms on a shady knoll, one could claim “usage” when a Google user so much as checked e-mail or uploaded a private photo. The reality was Google Plus users were rarely posting or engaging with posted content, and they certainly weren’t returning repeatedly like the proverbial lab rat in the drug experiment hitting the lever for another drop of cocaine water (as they did on Facebook). When self-delusion and self-flattery enter the mind-set of a product team, and the metrics they judge themselves by, like the first plague rat coming onto a ship, the end is practically preordained.

«

From a forthcoming book by this ex-Facebooker.
link to this extract

 


Bait and switch: the failure of Facebook advertising — an OSINT investigation • Medium

Hunchly (which is software that integrates to Google Chrome for online investigations) noticed, and proved, that you can create Facebook ads which seem to be pointing to reliable domains – such as CNN – but actually go to a scammy one:

»In the security world we have long been pushing to make sure that products become more “secure by default”. This means that no matter how little a user knows, they are protected as best as possible from day one. While we are all aware that there are ways to commit fraud through advertising networks, in a lot of cases it requires numerous tricks or a relatively high level of sophistication. Google AdWords is extremely vigilant when it comes to placing a new ad (go try it) to make sure that you are not doing anything suspicious. While AdWords is not a perfect system, like anything in security the idea is to raise the bar high enough that only the most sophisticated fraudsters can game the system.

Facebook is missing a simple check that is leaving users at risk. We are not talking about enhancing or tweaking a sophisticated anti-fraud algorithm.

«

It’s just three lines of code, though I think it would screw up a lot of ads which go through third-party ad-tech systems.
link to this extract

 


A few thoughts on True Tone – the 9.7″ iPad Pro review • Anandtech

Brandon Chester:

»True Tone works exactly as intended by providing good relative accuracy. As you move to different environments the color temperature of the display shifts to match how your eye adjusts its perception of white depending on the temperature and brightness of the light around you. This obviously leads to inaccuracy relative to the sRGB standard, but that’s missing the point of True Tone entirely. My tests were simply meant to demonstrate how much shifting occurs in different environments, along with a clarification on some misunderstandings I had heard regarding the relationship between True Tone and the DCI-P3 gamut, which are really unrelated technologies.

True Tone works very well, and in a way Apple has proven me wrong here because I was initially skeptical. I’ve seen this attempted before, particularly by Samsung, and the implementations have not been good at all. When I first got the 9.7″ Pro I felt like the True Tone mode shifted too far toward the red. However, after using it for some time I began to realize that this was the product of me using other devices that all shift toward blue, which ruined my perception of the display. When using the iPad Pro on its own for reading or doing work, pulling out another device with a blue shifted display is absolutely jarring, as the iPad has adjusted to match how my eyes perceive things in different lighting, while all my other displays are forever blue. In a way, the biggest problem with True Tone is that it’s not in everything, and I think this is something Apple should be bringing to all of their portable devices.

It’s difficult to photograph True Tone, as depending on where your camera’s white balance lands the iPad Pro will look too red, or the other display will look too blue. I really recommend checking out True Tone for yourself, although if you decide to do it in an Apple Store you probably won’t see the benefits because Apple’s other products are designed to look neutral under the same sort of fluorescent lighting as those stores.

«

link to this extract

 


Forbes has quit bugging (some) people about their adblockers • Nieman Journalism Lab

Laura Hazard Owen:

»Forbes was still preventing me from visiting the site with an adblocker on Tuesday, but several of my colleagues accessed it with adblockers on. Forbes did not respond to multiple requests for comment on Tuesday, so we can’t be sure whether or not it’s a policy shift or a backend snafu.

In recent months, sites like The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal have taken cues from Forbes and Wired and are getting tougher on users with adblockers enabled. Both the Times and the Journal are greeting some adblocker users with messages asking them to whitelist the sites or subscribe; even some people who already pay for subscriptions are seeing the adblocking messages. The Guardian has also said that it will consider “stricter” measures against adblocker users (for now, it just gently notes at the bottom of a page that it has detected an adblocker).

Not surprisingly, all of these policies have annoyed certain users, but Forbes’ appeared to inspire particular aggravation and mocking, perhaps in part because Forbes is not viewed as an essential news source…

«

link to this extract

 


How LinkedIn’s password sloppiness hurts us all • Ars Technica

Jeremi Gosney:

»Let’s quickly remember why we hash passwords in the first place: password hashing is an insurance policy. It ensures that should the password database be compromised in any way or through any vector, including physical theft, the passwords will not be recovered until engineers have an opportunity to identify and contain the breach, notify the public, and give users an opportunity to change their passwords anywhere else they may have used them. The stronger and slower the password hashing is, the more time a sites buys for itself and its users in the event of a breach.

Therein lies the problem. We’ve known about the necessity of slow hashing since the 1970s, yet due to a global failure in threat modeling, adoption has been extremely low. It is only in light of a string of high-profile breaches in the last five years that slow hashing has begun to make its way into the mainstream. Thanks to services like LinkedIn, who negligently failed to employ slow hashing (the combined 184 million passwords dumped in 2012 and this year all used unsalted SHA1), hackers have had more than a few fantastic opportunities to collect and analyze massive amounts of password data.

What this means is even if the next big breach does employ slow hashing, it likely will not be anywhere near as effective as it would have been even five years ago. Post-LinkedIn, it will now take hackers many fewer attempts to guess the correct password than it otherwise would have.

«

Two-factor authentication for everything?
link to this extract

 


Jacob Appelbaum, digital rights activist, leaves Tor amid sexual misconduct allegations • Mic.com

Jack Smith:

»On Thursday, the Tor Project quietly announced the departure of leading digital rights activist Jacob Appelbaum from its board. At first, they didn’t say why — now, we know.

On Friday afternoon, members of the cryptography community accused Appelbaum publicly of multiple instances of sexual assault against people in the Tor community, and attributed these accusations to Appelbaum’s departure from the Tor Project.

On Saturday, the Tor Project confirmed in a blog post that complaints of this nature are, in fact, the reason for Appelbaum’s departure. Appelbaum is a notorious hacker and activist for digital rights who has worked with both WikiLeaks and the Edward Snowden documents. He is prominent in the cryptography and online activism community, and influential among civil liberties projects and foundations.

“We do not know exactly what happened here,” Tor Project executive director Shari Steele wrote. “We don’t have all the facts, and we are undertaking several actions to determine them as best as possible. We’re also not an investigatory body, and we are uncomfortable making judgments about people’s private behaviors.”

“That said, after we talked with some of the complainants, and after extensive internal deliberation and discussion,” the statement continued, “Jacob stepped down from his position as an employee of the Tor Project.”

«

The accusations made in the article and on Twitter against Appelbaum are very serious; remains to be seen if and where any charges will be laid.
link to this extract

 


Software now to blame for 15% of car recalls • Popular Science

Apps freezing or crashing, unexpected sluggishness, and sudden reboots are all, unfortunately, within the normal range of behavior of the software in our smartphones and laptops.

While losing that text message you were composing might be a crisis for the moment, it’s nothing compared to the catastrophe that could result from software in our cars not playing nice.

Yes, we’re talking about nightmares like doors flying open without warning, or a sudden complete shutdown on the highway.

The number of software-related issues, according to several sources tracking vehicle recalls, has been on the rise. According to financial advisors Stout Risius Ross (SSR), in their Automotive Warranty & Recall Report 2016, software-related recalls have gone from less than 5% of recalls in 2011 to 15% by the end of 2015.

SSR points to the sheer volume of software code that interfaces vehicle components, many of them developed to different protocols. While there are about 9 million lines of code in an F-35 fighter jet, today’s cars can contain up to 100 million lines, the firm says.
link to this extract

 


Tony Fadell defends his record and methods • Bloomberg

Ashlee Vance got the exit interview:

»Bloomberg: The internet says you might be a tyrant. Are you a tyrant?

Fadell: You can’t make an omelet without breaking eggs. That style may not be for everyone. But, you know, there are people that worked with me years ago at General Magic, and they have their kids working for me now. If it was true, it would get around like crazy. The Valley’s a small place. I’ve been here 25 years, right?
To me, it’s truly, what’s your mindset? Are you coming to work? Are you truly respecting the mission we’re on? Yes, things are going to go up and down. But because we have a true respect for the people, because they respect what we’re trying to do, we’ll get through anything together. And that’s what counts, right?

Bloomberg: What do you wish you had done differently at Nest?

Fadell: I don’t know of any regrets that I have. You can take something as a challenge or take it as a learning experience. And so for me, it’s always growth. We all make mistakes. We have to make mistakes when we learn to speak or we learn to walk or crawl. So to do what we do at the level we do it, no one’s done it before. So you’re bound to make mistakes.

Bloomberg: What was your relationship like with (Google co-Founder and Alphabet Chief Executive Officer) Larry Page over the years? What did you learn from him?

Fadell: I respect what he’s built. I respect what Larry and Sergey (Brin) have built. I’ve learned a lot from Larry, and a lot of the people that they’ve hired are just top-notch.

For me, it’s really contrasting this with Steve (Jobs), because I learned a lot from Steve about experience and marketing and product design.

«

That’s not quite a strong boost he’s giving Page and Brin, to my mind. Also: Google’s multi-billion hardware acquisitions – Motorola, Nest, Boston Dynamics – haven’t worked out too well, have they?
link to this extract

 


Reuters finds readers want quality news, but aren’t willing to pay for it • Digiday

Jessica Davies:

»Reuters in April polled 1,230 of its readers as part of an attempt to figure out its future strategy. The good news: People value quality news. The bad: They still don’t want to pay for it.

Although 81% of respondents said that a news brand is synonymous with trusted content, with nine out of 10 of them turning to a particular news brand to verify breaking news, two-thirds of them said they wouldn’t be willing to pay for any online content, regardless of quality.

“We have an incredible history as a news organization, going back 165 years. But we must answer some of the questions around what audiences want from news going forward, or we won’t have the same relevance in the next 165 years,” said Reuters commercial director, EMEA, Jeff Perkins in an interview.

«

Anyone who hasn’t bought a newspaper (which is a growing number now in the US especially) isn’t aware of having paid for news; the idea that advertising monetises their consumption will have passed them by. Thus of course they don’t show any inclination to pay for it.

The latest great savious: news on VR. Bet you people won’t pay for the news itself there.
link to this extract

 


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida:

Start up: AI for your app, quantum computing works?, Yahoo’s future, Watch watch, and more


Firefox OS: heading rapidly for the exit. Photo by Wojciech Szczęsny on Flickr.

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

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

How predictive APIs simplify machine learning » ProgrammableWeb

Louis Dorard:

App developers are always looking for ways to make the lives of their users easier and for ways to introduce innovative features that help users save time. For this reason, Machine Learning (ML) has been increasingly popular in app development. Classical examples include spam filtering, priority filtering, smart tagging, and product recommendations. Some people estimate that Machine Learning is now being used in more than half of a typical smartphone’s apps. Because of the new functionality gained by these apps, we can talk of “predictive apps,” a term coined by Forrester Research which refers to “apps that provide the right functionality and content at the right time, for the right person, by continuously learning about them and predicting what they’ll need.” 

If you’re writing an app that would fit that description, this is a great primer.
link to this extract


Mozilla will stop developing and selling Firefox OS smartphones » TechCrunch

Ingrid Lunden:

Firefox OS was first unveiled in 2013, with the aim of targeting the developing world and late adopters with low-cost handsets.

To differentiate from Android and iOS, Mozilla and its carrier partners focused on a web-first platform, with no native and only web apps. Sales, however, were always poor and the devices themselves failed to ignite a lot of consumer interest, and a number of OEMs cornered the market with a flood of cheap handsets. In a business that depends on economies of scale, it was a failure.

Mozilla has been on a streamlining track lately. Last week it announced that it would be looking for alternative homes for its Thunderbird email and chat client. The aim is for the company to focus more on its strongest and core products and reputation.

Came really late to the game, and never made table stakes – an app ecosystem – because it didn’t think that that table was right. Apps trump the mobile web.
link to this extract


Drones save over two hundred people in Chennai floods » DRONELIFE

A senior officer of the Chennai police said that the force has deployed drones in several of the most unreachable neighborhoods, and have been able to locate as many as 200 people, rescuing all of them.  The search and rescue operation sends drones up from a control vehicle.  The aerial images obtained are then sent to a control room, where staff reviews footage and pinpoints affected homes and people.  When a rescue site is identified, the control room communicates with teams of volunteers nearest to the location through wireless walkie-talkie, sending rescue workers to retrieve victims stranded in their homes.

link to this extract


Controversial quantum machine bought by NASA and Google shows promise » MIT Technology Review

Tom Simonite:

Hartmut Neven, leader of Google’s Quantum AI Lab in Los Angeles, said today that his researchers have delivered some firm proof of that. They set up a series of races between the D-Wave computer installed at NASA against a conventional computer with a single processor. “For a specific, carefully crafted proof-of-concept problem we achieve a 100-million-fold speed-up,” said Neven.

Google posted a research paper describing its results online last night, but it has not been formally peer-reviewed. Neven said that journal publications would be forthcoming.

Google’s results are striking—but even if verified, they would only represent partial vindication for D-Wave. The computer that lost in the contest with the quantum machine was running code that had it solve the problem at hand using an algorithm similar to the one baked into the D-Wave chip. An alternative algorithm is known that could have let the conventional computer be more competitive, or even win, by exploiting what Neven called a “bug” in D-Wave’s design. Neven said the test his group staged is still important because that shortcut won’t be available to regular computers when they compete with future quantum annealers capable of working on larger amounts of data.

Been a long time coming, but this is just starting to look promising. Hell, even if it’s off by a few orders of magnitude, it’s amazing.
link to this extract


What’s going on at Yahoo? Here are seven things worth knowing » BuzzFeed News

Mathew Zeitlin draws up the list, in which No.1 and No.5 are the important ones:

Here’s the deal. Yahoo’s current market value is about $32.9bn.

This is much less than the value of the things it owns. Yahoo’s stake in Alibaba is worth about $32.4bn, and its stake in Yahoo Japan is worth about $8.7bn. It also has $1.3bn in cash and about $5.5bn in other securities, and $1.2bn in debt. All that adds up to around $46bn.

So if the market values Yahoo at $33 billion, does that imply the actual Yahoo business — the websites, the apps, the digital advertising tech — is worth less than zero?

Not quite — and here is where those tax issues come into play. Yahoo’s investments in Japan and China have all gained value massively over the years, and all that is subject to taxes if it’s sold. Hedge fund Starboard Value estimates the tax bill on Alibaba shares put their true value to shareholders at around $19.6bn; the Yahoo Japan stake would be worth around $5.3bn.

Once you take those taxes into account, it looks more like Yahoo investors are valuing its actual business at a little over $2bn. That’s a figure that has been promoted by activist investor Starboard Value, as well as analysts at Nomura and Pivotal Research.

And now No.5:

There may be cooler kids on the block these days, but Yahoo still has a massive presence on the web.

According to ComScore, Yahoo has a global audience of 618 million — the fourth largest of any company, behind only Google, Microsoft, and Facebook. In the U.S., Yahoo’s 211 million desktop and mobile unique visitors make it the third biggest destination, behind Google and Facebook.

“Our overall network including Tumblr continued to serve a global user base of more than 1 billion monthly active users,” Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer said in a recent earnings call. Facebook, in comparison, has over 1 billion daily active users. In terms of headcount the two are comparable: Yahoo has 10,700 full-time employees, while Facebook has about 12,000.

link to this extract


Android returns to growth in Europe’s big five Markets » Kantar Worldpanel

Carolina Milanesi:

“As the holiday season approaches, it appears smartphone upgrades are on Santa’s list, with 14% of EU5 smartphone owners planning to replace their current device with a new one in the next three months,” Milanesi said. “Among those consumers, 25% said they prefer Apple, while 38% said they prefer Samsung. Among Apple owners in the EU5 planning to upgrade over the next three months, 79% said they prefer Apple, while 62% of Samsung owners planning to upgrade say they prefer Samsung.”

High retention rate for Apple; less so for Samsung. But Samsung has more users overall, because it sells more phones. (Leaky buckets.)

What’s not visible is the general trend; iPhone sales, on this data, are trending faintly upwards in the mature markets such as the EU5 and US and China.
link to this extract


Time ticks on chances of the Apple Watch catching on » FT.com

Tim Bradshaw:

The pollsters quizzed 1,017 Britons over the age of 15. They found 66% were aware of smartwatches. Awareness was down to 60% among respondents aged 35 and older, and to 57% among the lowest three social and economic groups.

Only 2% said they owned a smartwatch, down to 1% among those over 35. The poll showed 43% believed people did not need a smartwatch; but that doesn’t mean 57% of people believe you do need one.

Similarly, 24% saw a smartwatch as a gimmick, but that’s not an indication that 76 per cent regard it as a life necessity.

Possibly the glummest news for enthusiasts was that only 6% of the smartwatch-aware were likely to buy one in the next year.

So, unless I’m reading the figures wrongly, enthusiasm for this kind of wearable technology is several degrees below lukewarm.

Wearable technology, in general, hasn’t proven its worth to the general population. Then again, smartphones didn’t prove their worth to the general population for quite some time either – about three years from the launch of the iPhone. I’d love to see a comparative study from that time. (Links welcome.)
link to this extract


Apple’s secrets about the iPhone were revealed during Samsung lawsuit » BGR

Yoni Heisler looks back to what came out in the 2012 trial during the discovery phase, particularly in the documents revealed to either side. How about the kickstand idea for the original iPad?

Yeah, perhaps you can guess how long Steve Jobs would let that one live.
link to this extract


June 2015: Which phone has the best battery life? 5 top smartphones tested and compared » Trusted Reviews

Andrew Williams, in June 2015:

For every phone we review, we perform battery tests. There are benchmarks, and just using the phone to see how long it really lasts in daily use. This combo gives you a good idea of how long any phone will stay awake between charges.

But it’s fallible.

All sorts of things can affect battery life, especially when you’re out and about using the thing. So we decided to get all the big phones of 2015 together and give them a thorough going-over with some real-life-related tests to see which phone really is the longest-lasting.

Which phones? We’ll be checking out the iPhone 6, iPhone 6 Plus, Samsung Galaxy S6, LG G4 and HTC One M9. After all, they’re the most desirable phones of the year.

Remarkable results (on video loops, web browsing, film over Wi-Fi, music in the background). Enjoyable comments too saying “but the battery is reporting it wrong!” Which might, actually, be correct. But probably isn’t. (Via Ian Betteridge.)
link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida:

Start up: how we view innovation, FBI malware v Tor, drones on the farm, Samsung in India, and more


Small; soon invisibly so? Photo of a SIM card by smjbk on Flickr.

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

Innovation isn’t dead » Money.com

Morgan Housel, with the only article you need about innovation and people being dismissive of stuff on the basis of “I’d never want one”:

The typical path of how people respond to life-changing inventions is something like this:

• I’ve never heard of it.
• I’ve heard of it but don’t understand it.
• I understand it, but I don’t see how it’s useful.
• I see how it could be fun for rich people, but not me.
• I use it, but it’s just a toy.
• It’s becoming more useful for me.
• I use it all the time.
• I could not imagine life without it.
• Seriously, people lived without it?

This process can take years, or decades. It always looks like we haven’t innovated in 10 or 20 years because it takes 10 or 20 years to notice an innovation.

Planes, lasers, cars, antibiotics, laptops – they’ve all gone through it. What’s going through exactly the same now?
link to this extract


Drawbridge hires Apple ad executive to track users across devices » WSJ

Douglas MacMillan and Elizabeth Dwoskin:

If a desktop computer and a smartphone are connecting to the same WiFi network, the network will recognize the unique ID in each device and pass that information to Drawbridge.

The guesswork gets more accurate the more frequently Drawbridge can capture instances of devices being in the same place or connecting to the same network. Drawbridge uses this cross-device matching system to build rich profiles of people’s behavior, interests, spending habits, demographic information, and sometimes their locations. They claim their matching software is more than 80% accurate.

Methods of tracking consumers online have drawn longstanding criticism from privacy advocates. The advertiser’s holy grail, of capturing every interaction a consumer has with their brand, also requires extensive surveillance of people’s behavior, and increasingly, their comings and goings. Privacy watchdogs say consumers do not want to be monitored in this way, and that the methods companies use to obtain consent to collect people’s data are broken.

Many apps ask for consumers’ permission to collect their location as a condition of downloading the app, but advocates warn that consumers are largely unaware of the extent of the information being collected or how it is being used. A recent study found that roughly 60% of consumers withdrew their consent when presented information about how their data was being shared.

Drawbridge says the company doesn’t maintain a database of names or of people’s real identities, but builds anonymous profiles using identification numbers.

Oh, come on. “Anonymous profiles using identification numbers”? Including, say, location, age, sex, marital status, interests, and so on? Quit the obfuscation; it’s profiling, of people, and Apple tries to limit its extent, and everyone else doesn’t.
link to this extract


Feds bust through huge Tor-hidden child porn site using questionable malware » Ars Technica

Cyrus Farivar and Sean Gallagher:

A newly unsealed FBI search warrant application illustrates yet another example of how the government deploys malware and uses sophisticated exploits in an attempt to bust up child pornography rings.

The 28-page FBI affidavit (text-only, possibly NSFW) was unsealed in a federal court in Brooklyn, New York earlier this month. It describes a North Carolina server hosting a Tor hidden service site. The setup was seized in February 2015, but law enforcement allowed it to run for two additional weeks as a way to monitor its nearly 215,000 users.

Currently, at least three men—Peter Ferrell, Alex Schreiber, and James Paroline—have been charged in connection with this site.

Ferrell, username “plowden23,” is the target of the search warrant affidavit. Schreiber, 66, of Queens, was a former New York City schoolteacher. The two New York men have been released on bond.

“Questionable” malware in the sense that the legal rules about venue of infected PC are very hand-wavey; how do you know where a PC you’re infecting via Tor is based? By getting it to phone home (to the FBI). What if that’s out of venue? Ignore it?
link to this extract


Apple, Samsung in talks with telecom groups to launch e-Sim card » FT.com

Daniel Thomas and Tim Bradshaw:

Apple and Samsung are in advanced talks to join the rest of the telecoms industry to launch electronic Sim cards, in a move could fundamentally change how consumers sign up to mobile operators.

The GSMA, the industry association which represents mobile operators worldwide, is close to announcing an agreement to produce a standardised embedded Sim for consumer devices that would include the smartphone makers.

The traditional Sim card locks in the user to a network but an embedded Sim would enable a smartphone, tablet or wearable user to avoid locking themselves into a plan with a single operator or sign up to switch instantly.

Wouldn’t expect this in 2015, but next year would make perfect sense. And that’s another opening/point of failure removed from phones. I bet Apple is working on making the iPhone 7 “waterproof” – and perhaps at a dual-SIM model.
link to this extract


Agricultural drones: the new farmers’ market » Engineering & Technology Magazine

Katia Moskvitch:

In the past, when farmers had smaller fields, they knew which areas had enough water, or were ready to harvest, just by walking around their land. However, to stay connected with today’s much bigger parcels of farm land, they need precision agriculture, with crop management that relies on GPS and big data analytics to increase yields and profits while cutting down on pesticide and water use.

Many tractors are now guided by GPS, to plant perfectly straight rows of crops. Farmers can monitor the progress of their driverless tractor on a tablet at home. Monsanto, the world’s largest seed company, estimates that data-driven prescriptive planting could increase global crop production by about $20bn a year, or about one-third the value of 2013’s US corn crop.

Drones are the latest addition in the toolkit of precision farming, collecting the key datasets used to make agronomic decisions. Right now, they are still new, and regulations how to use them vary from country to country. But farmers everywhere are waking up to the potential benefits, and “in a few years, drones could be a common sight above British farms,” says Alex Dinsdale, sales manager at Ursula Agriculture, a company that delivers crop intelligence from drones. But are they really useful, or just a technology gimmick?

“I remember driving the vineyards with my grandfather as a child, we would constantly stop, get out, and look at the vines. Right up close,” says Kunde. “He would take off a leaf and look at the undersides, show me, throw it down, then choose another.” At other times groups of men would use magnifying glasses to inspect the leaves, looking for potential pest problems in the vines. Fast-forward to today, and much of that work “could have been helped by advanced tools and aerial imagery,” he says.

link to this extract


How spyware peddler Hacking Team was publicly dismantled » Engaget

The Hacking Team hack has spawned so many stories, but this by Violet Blue pulls together some of the worst behaviour uncovered. Such as:

Ethiopia’s Information Network Security Agency (INSA) was employing Hacking Team to target [security researcher, The Intercept journalist, First Look Media director of security and former Google employee Morgan] Marquis-Boire, likely over his tracking of the company’s malware for Citizen Lab and at Google’s anti-malware team – one which culminated in a particularly bad PR moment for Ethiopia.

The Citizen Lab research in question found Ethiopia’s INSA using Hacking Team’s malware to target journalists; Ethiopian authorities use arbitrary arrests to silence journalists, and detainees routinely allege torture and ill treatment. The Ethiopian government’s spokesperson in Washington vehemently denied the use of products provided by Hacking Team.

Yet PhineasFisher’s haul shows Hacking Team not only provided its products to Ethiopia, but also proposed a new contract with Ethiopia because, according to a leaked email from operations chief Daniele Milan, “700K is a relevant sum.”

link to this extract


Samsung’s smartphone market share falls to 21.5% from 28% in India in June quarter | ETtech

Danish Khan:

Samsung’s smartphone market share fell to 21.5% from 28% in the previous quarter, the report [by tracking firm Cybex Exim Solutions] said. The company, however, still leads the overall handset market in the country with 18.9% share.

Home-bred handset maker Micromax is going steady at the No.2 position, with 12.6% share of the overall mobile phone market in the quarter to June, up from 10% in the previous quarter. In the smartphone segment, Micromax’s market share rose to 17.9% from 13%.

The Indian smartphone market grew by 23.5% sequentially to reach 25m units (according to Cybex). If you do the maths, that means Samsung’s smartphone sales did actually fall, from 5.7m to 5.4m, while Micromax’s rose from 2.6m to 4.5m. Samsung has a problem: it’s being out-competed at the low end.
link to this extract


Navy warns that fingerprint records were compromised in OPM breach » Darkmatters

Anthony Freed:

The Department of the Navy (DON) has sent a notice to more than 436,000 active duty personnel and reservists, as well as over 195,000 civilian employees, warning that data compromised in the recent breach at the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) also included fingerprint records.

“The interagency team has now concluded with high confidence that sensitive information, including the Social Security Numbers (SSNs) of 21.5 million individuals, was stolen from the background investigation databases,” said Thomas W. Hicks in performing the duties of the Under Secretary of the Navy.

“This includes 19.7 million individuals that applied for a background investigation, and 1.8 million non-applicants, predominantly spouses or co-habitants of applicants. Some records also include findings from interviews conducted by background investigators and approximately 1.1 million included fingerprints.”

Please update your fingerprints accordingly, using at least one whorl and two loops. (Though seriously, how can they be abused? Unless you’re going to whirl off into a plot involving a top-flight general using an iPhone with TouchID.)
link to this extract


In praise of Apple Music in my iTunes Library » Six Colors

Jason Snell:

I don’t know what I was expecting from Apple Music integration. I guess I assumed that when I added a track to “my library” from Apple Music, it would go to some special Apple Music tab, or playlist, or library. Nope—that music just shows up in the My Music section of iTunes, mixed in with all of the stuff I’ve bought over the years.

I realize that this approach may not work for everyone—one of the great challenges in designing any computer-based music service is going to be the endlessly different ways people consume to music—but boy, does it work for me. I play music from a lot of self-built playlists, but now I can add Apple Music playlists too, and they’re seamlessly integrated. Apple Music’s integration with my music library lets me listen to music in the same way I’ve been doing it for the past 14 years—but with the addition of tracks from Apple Music’s nigh-endless supply.

I can also see just how insidious this approach is. My music library is no longer pristine, no longer a collection owned by me. Now I’m acquiring albums and tracks not by buying them, but by clicking that Add to Library button. It’s already started to happen, after a couple of weeks. After a few months or years with this service, how will I ever be able to cancel it?

There are roughly 800m iTunes accounts, growing at about half a million per day in 2013.
link to this extract


Start up: drone questions, Baidu barred in AI comp, why Apple shunned HERE, and more


This is what it looks like when you’re upset, Google. Photo by donnierayjones on Flickr.

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

The UX of Commercial Drones » UX Magazine

Dan Saffer:

Let’s examine the customer experience as demonstrated by Amazon: The drone flies in and lands on the back patio. The customer leaves the house. The drone releases the package and flies away. The customer grabs the package and heads back inside. This is all well and good, but a lot of important detail still needs to be addressed. For starters, how does the customer know when the drone is arriving? People aren’t going to want their packages sitting outside unattended, especially in inclement weather (assuming drones will even be able to fly when it’s raining or snowing). And people won’t want to sit around looking out their window for half an hour. But what might work is something like what the car service Uber does: showing you via an app where your drone is and how long until it arrives, as well as alerting you via SMS when it does arrive. This would provide a level of assurance, especially at the onset when the idea of a drone carrying an emergency last-minute birthday gift will seem the height of novelty. When the drone does appear, it’s going to be really tempting to race out and grab the package, especially for kids—and perhaps for dogs and excitable adults as well. One problem: between the person and the package are several spinning, knife-like blades that form the rotors of the drone. Being accidentally hit in the face by one would be a great way to lose an eye or obtain a nasty cut.

“We included plasters in case you get hurt!”


Computer scientists are astir after Baidu team is barred from AI competition » NYTimes.com

John Markoff:

The competition, which is known as the “Large Scale Visual Recognition Challenge,” is organized annually by computer scientists at Stanford University, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the University of Michigan. It requires that computer systems created by the teams classify the objects in a set of digital images into 1,000 different categories. The rules of the contest permit each team to run test versions of their programs twice weekly ahead of a final submission as they train their programs to “learn” what they are seeing. However, on Tuesday, the contest organizers posted a public statement noting that between November and May 30, different accounts had been used by the Baidu team to submit more than 200 times to the contest server, “far exceeding the specified limit of two submissions per week.”

Previously reported here, before the multiple entries were spotted. Baidu’s team calls their multiple entries “a mistake”.


The new Google Photos app is disturbingly good at data-mining your photos » Fusion

Daniela Hernandez:

What’s particularly incredible is the facial recognition. The app sees individuals in photos even if they are barely in the picture, far in the background, or featured in a photo within a photo. When I did a search for my adult sister’s face, it recognized her in a photo I took of a 20-year-old elementary school picture of her. When I searched for my father’s face, it included a photo I took of a decorative tile-wall in Mexico. I thought it had messed up, because I didn’t see any people in the photo, but when I looked closely, there was a tiny version of my dad at the bottom. Facial recognition has gotten very powerful. Google also seems to know how to flatter its users. When I typed in “skinny,” the search unearthed pictures of me, friends, my sister and my mother, as if it was trying to compliment us. But when I searched for other adjectives, particularly negative ones — fat, sad, upset, angry — Google Photos came up empty. (Some of my colleagues got similar results.) The technology to help computers decipher emotions is out there already, so there’s no technical reason why Google isn’t turning up results for those searches. It gave us results for “love,” but not for “hate.” Whether it’s that we don’t take photos of ugly things, or that Google is shielding us, is something we’d really like to ask the search giant.

You could pick up the phone and ask them…


Eric Schmidt on why Google won’t fail » Business Insider

Jillian D’Onfro:

Shareholders understand Google’s search and ad business, [Schmidt said at the AGM], but they don’t necessarily understand the other projects that the company invests in, like self-driving cars or smart contact lenses. On past earnings calls, analysts and investors have sounded impatient when questioning how those businesses are going to ultimately pay off. But Schmidt assured shareholders Wednesday that ambitious goals like cutting down on car crashes or measuring a diabetic’s blood sugar through their tears are the kinds of things that will ultimately make Google a long-lasting, successful company. “Most companies ultimately fail because they do one thing very well but they don’t think of the next thing, they don’t broaden their mission, they don’t challenge themselves, they don’t continually build on that platform in one way or another,” he says. “They become incrementalists. And Google is very committed to not doing that. We understand the technological change is essentially revolutionary, not evolutionary.”

Are there any lessons from technology companies that have lasted more than a century, such as Nintendo, IBM and Nokia?


Here’s why Apple didn’t want to buy Nokia’s mapping unit HERE » Forbes

Parmy Olson:

Apple appears intent on fixing the problems that cropped up from relying on third-party map providers. One of the reasons Apple Maps was so buggy from when it was launched in June 2012 is the fact that its data percolated in from multiple sources like TomTom, Acxiom, Waze and Yelp By building its own geography dataset, Apple can pare down its reliance on sources like TomTom’s TeleAtlas. Apple’s likely vision is that years from now, we’ll have forgotten about how bad Apple Maps was, because Apple will have taken complete control of its mapping infrastructure and made it watertight.


There’s still plenty of money in dumb phones » Quartz

Leo Mirani:

there’s little doubt that dumb phones and feature phones are a shrinking market. Between the first quarter of 2013 and the first quarter of 2014, the market for non-smartphones shrunk by a 14%, according to CCS Insight (pdf), a research firm. This year, some 590 million non-smartphones will be sold. By 2019, that number will shrink to 350m. But 350m phones in one calendar year is still a lot of phones. And it is, as Microsoft’s Pekka Haverinen of Microsoft’s feature phone division tells Quartz, a predictable market with high volumes and a high market share for Microsoft. It’s not just device-makers who stand to profit from cheap, basic phones. Ericsson reckons (pdf) that by 2020, there will 9.2bn mobile subscriptions, of which 1.4bn will be non-3G subscriptions. This huge market is hungry for services.

Well, sorta. Microsoft’s featurephone segment is shrinking really rapidly; this is a market which is being eaten up by cheap Chinese players for whom, as they say, “your [profit] margin is my opportunity”.


Twitter just killed Politwoops » Gawker

JK Trotter:

A Twitter spokesperson just provided the following statement to Gawker regarding the apparent suspension of Politwoops’ access to Twitter’s developer API, which enabled the Sunlight Foundation-funded site to track tweets deleted by hundreds of politicians. Summarized: Politwoops is no more.

Earlier today we spoke to the Sunlight Foundation, to tell them we will not restore Twitter API access for their Politwoops site. We strongly support Sunlight’s mission of increasing transparency in politics and using civic tech and open data to hold government accountable to constituents, but preserving deleted Tweets violates our developer agreement. Honoring the expectation of user privacy for all accounts is a priority for us, whether the user is anonymous or a member of Congress.

The post also says that Twitter was considering a “quiet reversal” but found itself snookered on the question of “why them and not others”. But if someone tweets something publicly, haven’t they yielded their expectation of “privacy”? In the print days, the UK Ministry of Defence could demand back documents about cruise missile sitings from The Guardian on the basis of copyright. That seems to be what Twitter is imposing here.