Start up: Schrödinger’s Satoshi, the trouble with VC funding, stalking with Waze, dentists get malware, and more

Would you put yourself in front of a rifle underwater?

You can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link. So troubling

A selection of 10 links for you. Proceed in a westerly direction. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Craig Wright’s New Evidence That He Is Satoshi Nakamoto Is Worthless | Motherboard

Jordan PEarson and Lorenzo Francheschi-Bucchierai:

»While that [blogpost signature] looks legit, according to experts, the evidence Wright provided seems to actually be worthless. As it turns out, Wright simply reused an old signature from a bitcoin transaction performed in 2009 by Satoshi.

Dan Kaminsky, a well-known security researcher, wrote in a post debunking Wright’s alleged evidence that the whole thing is a scam. “Satoshi signed a transaction in 2009. Wright copied that specific signature and tried to pass it off as new,” he added on Twitter. “He’s lying. Full stop.”

Longtime bitcoin developers also pointed out that this signature could have been copied from a public source, and does not prove that Wright controls the associated addresses.

“It would be like if I was trying to prove that I was George Washington and to do that provided a photocopy of the constitution and said, look, I have George Washington’s signature,” Bitcoin developer Peter Todd said.

Todd added that someone contacted him by email two weeks ago, claiming to be Satoshi, and using the same signature trick as proof. He says he ignored the email.

«

In the space of a few hours this story went from “Bitcoin inventor found!” to “HOAAAAXX!”, leaving a lot of very puzzled citizens in the middle. The point about the “ignored email” could be key: if Wright, or someone, has been hawking this around, something is fishy.
link to this extract

 


Physicist fires a gun at himself underwater to prove a point » Mashable

»

To demonstrate the difference between air and water resistance, Norweigan physicist Andreas Wahl decided to plonk himself in front of a submerged rifle and pull the trigger.

«

Fantastic. Turns out that if you search on Wahl’s name on YouTube, he’s done a ton of these sorts of experiments.

It does however show that Leonardo DiCaprio need not have been so worried when he jumped into that river while being pursued by rifle-wielding enemies in The Revenant. Bigger risk was hypothermia.

link to this extract

 


Theranos and Elizabeth Holmes expose the perverse incentives at work in Silicon Valley » Quartz

Jay Edelson and Christopher Dore, of the law firm Edelson (which has taken class actions against a number of tech companies), argue that the VC model drives companies to ignore rules:

»Take Zynga, the gaming company responsible for Farmville, which has earned the moniker “Scamville” for its allegedly deceptive advertising. The co-founder of Zynga, Mark Pincus, famously said, “I knew I needed revenues…. Like I needed revenues now. So I funded the company myself but I did every horrible thing in the book … just to get revenues right away.” While Pincus, incredibly, made this statement in public, he expressed the private sentiment of countless entrepreneurs faced with the ticking of the VC clock. (Disclosure: our law firm, Edelson PC, has brought class-action lawsuits against Zynga and some of the other companies mentioned below, but not for the conduct discussed in this article.)

This is bad for investors, including venture investors who care just about growth. (Fraudulent companies are, at best, an unreliable source of revenue.) But the reckless pursuit of growth often comes at consumers’ expense as well. That’s because the way that companies grow rapidly is to expand their user bases by hook or by crook, in a process called “growth hacking.”

One of the most common examples of this involves “spam-viting,” or hijacking a consumer’s contact list to blast them with text messages or emails, knowingly in violation of various federal and state statutes. Companies spam-vite because it works. Sending millions of text messages or emails to consumers, dressed up as if they came from those consumers’ friends, is a viable, illegal way to grow a business quickly. LinkedIn, for example, settled a lawsuit for $13 million over its practice of repeatedly sending “add connections” emails to a new user’s entire email contact list. And TextMe, a text-based social network, generated its growth by sending a large volume of text messages to new user’s phone contacts, although it eventually won its legal battle with the Federal Communications Commission.

The pressure to growth-hack begets pressure to disregard the law, at least temporarily.

«

This is a terrific essay; you read it and think “wow, that’s so true”. The saying in Silicon Valley is “it’s better to ask forgiveness than ask permission”; it’s how so many of today’s giants got started – Google, YouTube, Uber and AirBnB being particular examples. All broke, or break, the rules in many ways regularly.
link to this extract

 


Google and Microsoft have made a pact to protect surveillance capitalism » The Guardian

Julia Powles on the surprising (to many) decision by Microsoft to withdraw from antitrust complaints and lobbying against Google:

»Microsoft today is facing a very different business ecosystem to the one it dominated in the 1990s. It needs to adapt. And it appears to want to do so by positioning itself at the heart of what Satya Nadella describes as “systems of intelligence”.

Explaining this concept at Hannover Messe 2016, Nadella defined systems of intelligence as cloud-enabled digital feedback loops. They rely on the continuous flow of data from people, places and things, connected to a web of activity. And they promise unprecedented power to reason, predict and gain insight.

This is unbridled Big Data utopianism. And it is a vision that brings Microsoft squarely into Google territory. So maybe Microsoft is pulling out of regulatory battles because it doesn’t want to shoot itself in the foot. For emeritus Harvard Business School professor Shoshana Zuboff, this gets to the core of the Google-Microsoft deal.

Zuboff is a leading critic of what she calls “surveillance capitalism”, the monetization of free behavioral data acquired through surveillance and sold on to entities with an interest in your future behaviour. As she explained to the Guardian: “Google discovered surveillance capitalism. Microsoft has been late to this game, but it has now waded in. Viewed in this way, its agreement with Google is predictable and rational.”

«

link to this extract

 


Are maps necessary? » ROUGH TYPE

Nick Carr, musing on Jason O’Beirne’s post (linked yesterday) about the changes in Google Maps over the years:

»O’Beirne is a bit mystified by the changes Google has wrought. He suspects that they were inspired by a decision to optimize Google Maps for smartphone displays. “Unfortunately,” he writes, “these ‘optimizations’ only served to exacerbate the longstanding imbalances [between levels of detail] already in the maps. As is often the case with cartography: less isn’t more. Less is just less. And that’s certainly the case here.”

I’m sure that’s true. Adapting to “mobile” is the bane of the modern interface designer. (And, you’ll note, the “cleaner” Google Map provides a lot of open space for future ad placements.) But, when it comes to maps, there’s something more profound going on than just the need to squeeze a map onto a tiny screen. Implicit in the Google changes is the obsolescence of the map as a navigational tool. Turn-by-turn directions and automated route selection mean that fewer and fewer people ever have to figure out how to get from one place to another or even to know where they are. As a navigation aid, the map is a vestigial organ. So why not get rid of the useful details and start to think of the map as merely a picture or an image, or a canvas for advertisements?

«

Carr has such a deliciously sardonic tone, yet deployed so sparingly and precisely, it’s shocking he isn’t British.
link to this extract

 


Drake’s Spotify gamble is paying off: Views just made $8m in a day » Music Business Worldwide

Tim Ingham:

»On Friday (April 29), Beyonce’s Lemonade became the biggest album of the year so far in the US.

Within another 24 hours, Drake’s Views had surpassed Lemonade’s entire week-one album download figure, with around 600,000 sales.

Views is now easily on course to smash through a million North American sales before the weekend.

Drake and his team will have breathed a big sigh of relief at this news – early vindication for a digital strategy which was by no means a safe bet.

Aside from its status as one of the most eagerly anticipated records of the year, Views (previously ‘Views From The 6’), is a complete Apple exclusive.

In its first week, it’s available to stream on Apple Music and buy on iTunes, but not available anywhere else – including physical stores.

Significantly, fans can’t ‘un-bundle’ Views on iTunes, as they could with Beyonce’s Lemonade last week; they only have the option to buy it as one package, with the exception of recent singles One Dance and Hotline Bling.

Drake took a sizable risk with this approach.

«

Really interested by how some artists can still hit it out of the ground by going for the download-only/one-service-only approach, while others can’t. It’s not just about age, either.
link to this extract

 


A poem about Silicon Valley, made up of Quora questions » Fusion

Jason Gilbert:

»Why do so many startups fail?
Why are all the hosts on CouchSurfing male?
Are we going to be tweeting for the rest of our lives?
Why do Silicon Valley billionaires choose average-looking wives?

What makes a startup ecosystem thrive?
What do people plan to do once they’re over 35?
Is an income of $160K enough to survive?
What kind of car does Mark Zuckerberg drive?

«

And there’s more. This is splendid.
link to this extract

 


Dental Assn mails malware to members » Krebs on Security

Brian Krebs:

»The American Dental Association (ADA) says it may have inadvertently mailed malware-laced USB thumb drives to thousands of dental offices nationwide.

The problem first came to light in a post on the DSL Reports Security Forum. DSLR member “Mike” from Pittsburgh got curious about the integrity of a USB drive that the ADA mailed to members to share updated “dental procedure codes” — codes that dental offices use to track procedures for billing and insurance purposes…

«

It had a launcher which would take a PC to a site which would try to download malware; and few antivirus checkers would find it.

»

In response to questions from this author, the ADA said the USB media was manufactured in China by a subcontractor of an ADA vendor, and that some 37,000 of the devices have been distributed. The not-for-profit ADA is the nation’s largest dental association, with more than 159,000 members.

“Upon investigation, the ADA concluded that only a small percentage of the manufactured USB devices were infected,” the organization wrote in an emailed statement.

«

One should now routinely assume that anything involving (a) Flash (b) USB drives is potentially a malware route. Fortunately, both are avoidable in normal life.
link to this extract

 


Yahoo’s $8bn black hole » Bloomberg Businessweek

Max Chafkin and Brian Womack:

»In some ways, [Yahoo CEO Marissa] Mayer’s strategy has worked. Yahoo’s apps have received stellar marks from both reviewers and users, and the company has created new lines of business that accounted for $390m in revenue last quarter. “Mavens as a revenue source didn’t exist at all in 2011 and was nascent in 2012,” Mayer said proudly on the February earnings call, using an acronym that stands for “mobile, video, native advertising, social.” Yahoo has more than 600 million mobile users, up from about 150 million before she took the job.

But those improvements are nowhere near big enough to turn the company around. “Marissa likes to present Mavens as though it should be compared to some nascent startup,” says SpringOwl’s Jackson. But startups, he points out, don’t begin with a billion users. “It’s as if Yahoo took an above-ground pool, dumped it into a bucket, and said, ‘Wow, we’re really filling up this bucket fast,’ ” he says.

And that traffic isn’t necessarily users delighting in Mayer’s new products and telling their friends; much of it comes from Yahoo paying ever-larger sums to other companies to direct their users to Yahoo’s sites and apps. It paid almost $900m in traffic acquisition fees in 2015, up from $200m in 2014. Predictably, Yahoo users are spending less and less time with its sites. A report by The Information, a tech news site, showed that as of early December, the average time spent on Yahoo properties had declined 32% for Yahoo Mail, 29% for the home page, and 20% for Tumblr over the previous 12 months.

«

link to this extract

 


If you use Waze, hackers can stalk you » Fusion

Kashmir Hill:

»Last week, I tested the Waze vulnerability myself, to see how successfully the UC-Santa Barbara team could track me over a three-day period. I told them I’d be in Las Vegas and San Francisco, and where I was staying—the kind of information a snoopy stalker might know about someone he or she wanted to track. Then, their ghost army tried to keep tabs on where I went.

The researchers caught my movements on three occasions, including when I took a taxi to downtown Las Vegas for dinner:

And they caught me commuting to work on the bus in San Francisco. (Though they lost me when I went underground to take the subway.)

The security researchers were only able to track me while I was in a vehicle with Waze running in the foreground of my smartphone. Previously, they could track someone even if Waze was just running in the background of the phone. Waze, an Israeli start-up, was purchased by Google in 2013 for $1.1 billion. Zhao informed the security team at Google about the problem and made a version of the paper about their findings public last year. An update to the app in January of this year prevents it from broadcasting your location when the app is running in the background, an update that Waze described as an energy-saving feature. (So update your Waze app if you haven’t done so recently!)

«

The only way not to be trackable is to choose to be “invisible”. Or not to use Waze, of course. Once more, it’s a theoretical risk – you’d need clever, determined hackers to use it against you – but it also shows how much data these apps leak intentionally.
link to this extract

 


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified.

Did you miss yesterday’s Start up: Overspill? Google’s health data grab, Intel’s mobile halt, satire wars, iPad Pro beats Surface Pro, and more.

Start up: SWIFT’s hacking problem, Apple swoons, the emoji war, the medical firm shut by filesharing, and more


The price tag isn’t necessarily about what it’s worth to the maker. It might be what it’s worth to you. Photo by DaMongMan 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. (Check against delivery. Might not be decimal-based.) I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Exclusive: SWIFT warns customers of multiple cyber fraud cases » Reuters

Jim Finkle:

»SWIFT, the global financial network that banks use to transfer billions of dollars every day, warned its customers on Monday that it was aware of “a number of recent cyber incidents” where attackers had sent fraudulent messages over its system.

The disclosure came as law enforcement authorities in Bangladesh and elsewhere investigated the February cyber theft of $81m from the Bangladesh central bank account at the New York Federal Reserve Bank. SWIFT has acknowledged that the scheme involved altering SWIFT software on Bangladesh Bank’s computers to hide evidence of fraudulent transfers.

Monday’s statement from SWIFT marked the first acknowledgement that the Bangladesh Bank attack was not an isolated incident but one of several recent criminal schemes that aimed to take advantage of the global messaging platform used by some 11,000 financial institutions.

«

Let’s see – since the Bangladesh hack we’ve gone through “not affected” and “isolated incident” and now “multiple incidents”. I believe the next stage is “it emerged that hackers have known for years…”
link to this extract


Apple ends 13 years of continuous quarterly growth » NBC News

Everett Rosenfeld:

»Shares in the company fell more than 6 percent in after-hours trading.

Speaking with CNBC, Apple CEO Tim Cook said the company is in “the early innings of the iPhone” and that they “feel good” about their business in China.

In fact, Apple beat Wall Street’s estimates on iPhone shipments, reporting 51.2m for the quarter. Analysts had expected 50.3m, according to StreetAccount.

Still, that iPhone unit count was a 16% decline from the 61.17m shipped during the same period last year.

Looking ahead to the fiscal third quarter, Apple said it expects revenue between $41bn and $43bn — Wall Street had expected $47.42bn on average, according to StreetAccount.

«

That’s a long way down. Notable that Google, Microsoft, Intel and others have also had poor earnings. So one asks…
link to this extract


The End of Hardware? » LinkedIn

Bob O’Donnell:

»Whether it’s PCs, tablets, smart watches or now, even smartphones, the outlook for most major hardware device categories is not looking good, particularly here in the US.

The issue is that both consumers and businesses have already bought a lot of these devices. Plus, they’re hanging on to their purchases longer than they used to, and longer than many people originally thought they would.

Many companies, including both Intel and Qualcomm, have been forced to make some painful employee reductions as a result of these challenges, and there are likely more from other vendors still to come.

So, does this signal the end of hardware as we know it?

On one hand, yes, we are arguably at the peak of these key hardware categories, particularly when you add them all together. As a result, we are likely to see modest declines in unit shipments from this point forward. After a 30+-year run of growth, that’s tough news to take.

But there is hope in hardware-land. It just requires thinking about the market in a different way.

«

link to this extract


‘It sounded like my child’: the ‘virtual kidnappers’ scamming Americans » The Guardian

Sam Levin:

»Tracy Holczer was driving with a friend to their writers’ group in a suburb of Los Angeles when she got a terrifying call on her cellphone from a number she didn’t recognize. A hysterical girl was screaming on the other end of the line.

“Mommy, please help me! Someone grabbed me, and I’m in a van. I don’t know where I am!”

It was 4.45pm on 22 March, and it was immediately clear to Holczer that she was experiencing the most unimaginable horror any parent could comprehend: her 14-year-old daughter, Maddy, whom she had left at home 30 minutes earlier, had been kidnapped.

A man quickly got on the line and demanded that the mother withdraw money from her bank and transfer it to his account. He told her that if she or her friend contacted anyone, he would know, and if she refused to comply, he would kill Maddy – whom Holczer could periodically hear screaming in the background. “He said they are happy to send body parts,” the 48-year-old mother recalled.

«

Terrifies people enough that they don’t think to ask to speak to the child, or get an identifying detail, or anything else that would prove it’s anything but a scam. You can understand it, though. And how do you stop this scam?
link to this extract


Inside “Emojigeddon”: the fight over the future of the Unicode consortium » BuzzFeed News

Charlie Warzel:

»There’s trouble afoot inside the Emoji Council of Elders, or, at the very least, signs of a low-simmering schism that’s being referred to by some of its participants — perhaps with less humor than one might expect — as “Emojigeddon.”

Emails seen by BuzzFeed News reveal an emerging tension at the Unicode Consortium — the 24-year-old organization that was established to develop standards for translating alphabets into code that can be read across all computers and operating systems.

The series of frustrated messages show a deepening rift between those who adhere to the organization’s original mission to code old and obscure and minority languages and those who are investing time and resources toward Unicode’s newer and most popular character sets: emojis, a quirky periodic table of ideograms and smiley faces that cover everything from bemused laughter to swirling, smiling piles of poop. The correspondence offers a peek behind the scenes of the peculiar and little-known organization that’s unexpectedly been tasked with building what some see as the first digital universal language.

«

🤔
link to this extract


The first rule of pricing is: you do not talk about pricing » Medium

Tom Whitwell, in a terrific essay that has been doing the rounds, but should be bookmarked by everyone who ever has to set a price:

»It’s tempting to talk to customers about price.

Your customers — real or potential — will certainly have views about prices that they are keen to share.
Ignore them.

“It is not your customer’s job to set pricing. An optimal price is one that is accepted but not without some initial resistance” as Ash Mauyra explains in this great piece.

It is almost impossible to predict how a customer will react to a particular price by asking them. That’s because they don’t know how they will react.

They have no idea.

“Are you in the market for tea lights on this trip to IKEA?” you might ask. “No” They might say. Or “Yes”. Neither is a useful signal, because they don’t have a clue.

There’s one easy way to find out what customers think about prices. By selling them things.

«

Whitwell was one of the teams at The Times digital edition, which raised its price in 2010 from zero to £2. Calamity didn’t follow. Why not?
link to this extract


A revolutionary new way to access all your files » Dropbox Business Blog

»With Project Infinite, we’re addressing a major issue our users have asked us to solve. The amount of information being created and shared has exploded, but most people still work on devices with limited storage capacity. While teams can store terabyte upon terabyte in the cloud, most individuals’ laptops can only store a small fraction of that. Getting secure access to all the team’s data usually means jumping over to a web browser, a clunky user experience at best.

Project Infinite will enable users to seamlessly and securely access all their Dropbox files from the desktop, regardless of how much space they have available on their hard drives. Everything in the company’s Dropbox that you’re given access to, whether it’s stored locally or in the cloud, will show up in Dropbox on your desktop. If it’s synced locally, you’ll see the familiar green checkmark, while everything else will have a new cloud icon.

«

I suspect this is going to be a business- (or paid-)-only thing. It’s a clever upsell. Here’s the user interface problem you have to figure out, though: if I download a file but now want to free up that space on the hard drive, when I hit “delete” should it be deleted from the cloud? I expect a three-option dialog (Cancel, only from hard drive, from cloud too). But it gets messy.
link to this extract


The iPhone 6 Blip » Beyond Devices

Jan Dawson argues that iPhone sales growth was on a slowing long-term trend which was artificially interrupted by the larger-screened iPhone 6, for a year:

»The iPhone 6 blip is over, but if iPhone sales land roughly where the analysts expect them to, they’ll be right back on track with where they were headed before the iPhone 6 launched. That’s a big “if” – sales could come in above or below that number, which would suggest either that underlying growth had slowed more dramatically in the past, or that Apple has successfully pushed to a slightly higher long-term growth rate off the back of the iPhone 6 and 6S.

The other big question is what happens in the next few quarters, and whether Apple is able to stay on or above that long-term trend line. Remember that the trend line calls for a 1-1.5% reduction in year on year growth per quarter – on that basis, growth would slow to 6%, 5%, and 4% over the remaining quarters of 2016 with 1% shrinkage, or drop as low as a 1% decline by the end of the year. This is obviously far too precise for a real-world projection, but it gives you some sense of that trajectory if it does continue. It’ll be very interesting to see Apple’s guidance for the June quarter – on the basis of the trajectory, Apple would sell between 39 and 41 million iPhones next quarter. But of course, it’s just launched the iPhone SE, which could change things. Anything below 40m iPhones (or $40bn in revenue guidance) is a sign that Apple is dropping below its long-term trajectory, and would be bad news. Anything above that is cause for optimism, at least in the short term.

«

As noted above, Apple is guiding $41-43bn.
link to this extract


Your media business will not be saved » Medium

Joshua Topolsky (a key mover behind the original Engadget, and then The Verge, who then went to Bloomberg, where things didn’t go well; he’s currently freelance):

»The truth is that the best and most important things the media (let’s say specifically the news media) has ever made were not made to reach the most people — they were made to reach the right people. Because human beings exist, and we are not content consumption machines. What will save the media industry — or at least the part worth saving — is when we start making Real Things for people again, instead of programming for algorithms or New Things.

So what will matter in the next age of media?

Compelling voices and stories, real and raw talent, new ideas that actually serve or delight an audience, brands that have meaning and ballast; these are things that matter in the next age of media. Thinking of your platform as an actual platform, not a delivery method.

«

This sounds great; there’s also an excoriation earlier of the business model of most publishing sites, and an overdone – to my view – criticism of news organisations for not “getting” digital; the ones I’ve been at have got it all too well. But this sound like a recipe for targeting premium readers/viewers, which already happens (FT, WSJ, New York Times). And I don’t quite see what “thinking of your platform as an actual platform” means in terms of “compelling voices and stories”. Clearly Topolsky does, but he isn’t quite willing to share it yet.
link to this extract


A leak wounded this company. Fighting the Feds finished it off » Bloomberg BusinessWeek

Dune Lawrence:

»That Tuesday, LabMD’s general manager came in to tell Daugherty about a call he’d just fielded from a man named Robert Boback. Boback claimed to have gotten hold of a file full of LabMD patient information. This was scary for a medical business that had to comply with federal rules on privacy, enshrined in the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. I need proof, Daugherty told his deputy. Get it in writing.

Boback e-mailed the document. It was a LabMD billing report containing data, including Social Security numbers, on more than 9,000 patients. Boback quickly got to the sales pitch: His company, Tiversa, offered an investigative service that could identify the source and severity of the breach that had exposed this data and stop any further spread of sensitive information.

LabMD’s four-person IT team found the problem almost immediately: The manager of the billing department had been using LimeWire file-sharing software to download music. Without knowing it, she’d left her documents folder, which contained the insurance report now in Tiversa’s possession, open for sharing with other users of the peer-to-peer network.

«

You think (because of the headline and that last sentence) that you know where this story goes. You don’t. Read it; it’s shocking and disquieting.
link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified.

Start up: China’s coming smartphone crash, Boston Globe v readers, Google Glass is back!, and more

A bucket with ice water: much cheaper, though it doesn’t have Bluetooth. Photo by mediadeo 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. (If you signed up and didn’t receive, please let me know in the comments here.)

A selection of 9 links for you. They are what they are. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Dark patterns by the Boston Globe » The Rationalist Conspiracy

Alyssa Vance:

»After years of falling revenue, some newspapers have resorted to deception to boost their subscription numbers. These dishonest tactics are sometimes called “dark patterns” – user interfaces designed to trick people.

For example, this is a Boston Globe story on Bernie Sanders:

Before you can read the article, there is a pop-up ad asking you to subscribe. By itself, this is annoying, but not deceptive. The real dark pattern is hidden at the top – the ‘Close’ button (circled in red) uses a very low contrast font, making it hard to see. It’s also in the left corner, not the standard right corner. This makes it likely that users won’t see it, causing them to subscribe when they didn’t have to.

One the ‘Close’ link is clicked, deception continues:

At the bottom, there’s a non-removable, high-contrast banner ad asking for a paid subscription. Again, this is annoying, but honest. However, the circled text “for only 99 cents per week” is not honest. It’s simply a lie, as later pages will show.

«

Turns out that 99c is actually $6.93 per week, and you can only unsubscribe by phone. So wicked.
link to this extract

 


The blockchain menu » net.wars

Wendy Grossman:

»The Internet of Things is such an established concept that I’m startled to note that week’s (Lego) prototype was my first. Three cars want to park…somewhere. Their owners have preset the maximum they will pay. The system locates the nearest parking space, and they bid. The winner is directed to the space, and the fee is automatically deducted from the car’s balance. A display showed the auction in real time. All very nice until I injected reality by grabbing a car and plunking it in the space before bidding ended.

“Usurped” the contested space was now tagged. “You’ll be fined,” Consult Hyperion’s demonstrator said. Who will that stop in Manhattan, where friends have missed two successive movie showings because no parking space? This may be an entertaining solution wishing for a problem.

In that, it was not alone at this week’s Tomorrow’s Transactions Forum, Dave Birch’s quirky annual event where ideas about the future of money are smashed together like particles to see what happens.

«

I love the idea of app developers thinking people would be well-behaved and wait for their app to tell them where to park, while Noo Yawkers just PARK THE DAMN CAR THERE IN THE STOOPID SPACE.

But the article is actually about blockchains, which in a similar way are mostly a solution in search of a problem.
link to this extract

 


China’s crowded smartphone market heads for an epic shakeout » Bloomberg

David Ramli:

»The startup Dakele looked pretty smart when it released a phone in China four years ago. The market was doubling annually, and the company put brand-name components inside a device that cost a fraction of the iPhone.

That $160 gadget went on sale just four months after Dakele opened its doors, and soon the company, which translates as “Big Cola,” made inroads against Huawei Technologies Co. and Xiaomi Corp. Buzz was building for the Dakele 3 model last year, with online reviews calling it the best Apple Inc. clone.

Then the sizzle started to fizzle. Huawei spent $300 million on marketing, Xiaomi cut prices and clones of the clone appeared. Troubles with a supplier and raising money prompted Dakele to shut down last month—and it likely won’t be alone. China’s herd of 300 phone makers may be halved in 12 months by competition, a sales plateau and economic growth that’s the slowest in a quarter-century, according to executives and analysts.

“The mobile-phone industry changed more quickly and brutally than expected,” Dakele Chief Executive Officer Ding Xiuhong said on his Weibo messaging account. “As a startup, we couldn’t find more strategies and methods to break through.”

«

I can’t decide whether the smartphone market is telescoping a decade of the PC market into two years, or just going through the same as happened in 1985-9 in about the same length of time.
link to this extract

 


Kickstarter’s biggest shitshow somehow got even messier » Motherboard

Jaason Koebler:

»A decidedly not chill development for 36,000 Kickstarter backers of the “Coolest Cooler”: Coolest is now considering asking people who haven’t yet received their coolers to pay an additional $97 for “expedited delivery” of the long-past-due all-in-one disaster, a prospect that has allegedly led some backers to threaten Coolest employees.

If you’re not familiar, at the time it launched, the Coolest Cooler was the most popular Kickstarter of all time, raising $13 million. The 55-quart cooler has a built-in blender, a waterproof Bluetooth speaker, a USB charger, and a bottle opener. You can buy one on Amazon, right now, and have it by the weekend if you pay $399.99.

That $399.99 price point is important—when Coolest Cooler was launched on Kickstarter, it cost between $165 and $225, a price its creator Ryan Grepper said in an update to backers was far too low…

…Coolest Cooler doesn’t have money to produce the remaining coolers, which is why it’s selling existing stock on Amazon but not sending them to backers who haven’t yet received the product (the company has delivered about 20,000 coolers to backers, but 36,000 more people are waiting). Reviews of the cooler are mixed — most say that it is indeed cool, but that it is very heavy and isn’t worth $400.

«

I’m trying to imagine a cooler that would be worth $400, even with those add-ons. The article’s comparison with the Welsh drone screwup Zano isn’t right, though; Zano had absurdly inflated claims. This is just poor pricing.
link to this extract

 


CDC: two of every five U.S. households have only wireless phones » Pew Research Center

»More Americans than ever have cut the (telephone) cord, but the growth rate of wireless-only households slowed last year.

About two-in-five (41%) of U.S. households had only wireless phones in the second half of 2013, according to a report released today by the National Center for Health Statistics. The center, the statistical arm of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, estimated that 39.1% of adults and 47.1% of children lived in wireless-only households.

«

When I noted yesterday that “call mom” had overtaken “call home” as a Google search (hence almost certainly a voice activation), I thought it was because “mom” was likely to be at home. But as was pointed out, there might not be a “home” to call.

(Next up: can we calculate the divorce rate based on the rise of “call mom” v “call dad”?)
link to this extract

 


Google Glass startup Augmedix raises $17m from healthcare orgs » Re/code

Mark Bergen:

»The next time you spot a Google Glass in the wild, it might not be on the face of a fervid techie. It might be on your doctor.

Augmedix, one of several startups that formed around the computerized headgear — and kept spinning after the search giant ditched its first attempt — is raising a fresh round of capital to get Google Glass into more health care facilities. The four-year-old startup is part of a wave of Silicon Valley companies trying to tap the massive medical market. It primarily builds software for wearable devices that display electronic health records so that doctors can access them hands-free.

“They’re engaging with patients in front of them,” said CEO Ian Shakil. “In the background, we’re doing all the burdensome work.”

He’s not raising cash from Sand Hill Road. Instead, the $17m strategic investment comes from a quintet of medical institutions.

«

I always thought that Glass’s best use would be inside businesses, not among consumers.
link to this extract

 


Apple’s Watch outpaced the iPhone in first year » WSJ

Daisuke Wakabayashi:

»Apple doesn’t disclose sales, but analysts estimate about 12m Watches were sold in year one. At an estimated average price of $500, that is a $6bn business—three times the annual revenue of activity tracker Fitbit Inc.

By comparison, Apple sold roughly 6m iPhones in its first year. As a new entrant, the Watch accounted for about 61% of global smartwatch sales last year, according to researcher IDC.

And yet, there are detractors such as Fred Wilson, co-founder of venture-capital firm Union Square Ventures, in December declared the Watch a “flop.” Mr. Wilson, who owns shares of Fitbit through a fund, had earlier predicted the Watch wouldn’t be a “home run” like the iPad, iPhone and iPod, saying many people wouldn’t want to wear a computer on their wrist.

The Watch has shortcomings. It is slow, with an underpowered processor that is throttled at times to extend the device’s battery life. It lacks mobile and Global Positioning System connections, meaning it must be accompanied by an iPhone, limiting its usefulness as an independent device. The battery needs to be charged every day.

Perhaps the biggest challenge is the Watch’s lack of a defining purpose. It does certain things well, such as activity tracking, mobile payments and notifications. But there is no task the Apple Watch handles that can’t be done by an iPhone or a less-expensive activity tracker.

«

The comparison with the first-year iPhone is meaningless – the Watch was released in more places, with more fanfare. Fred Wilson’s criticism, well, would the better metric be what proportion of devices are still in use? How would the Watch do against the Fitbit?

As to “defining purpose” – its purpose so far is to be an adjunct. It does that pretty well; satisfaction is high, according to survey firm Wristly.
link to this extract

 


Exclusive: Bangladesh Bank hackers compromised SWIFT software, warning to be issued » Reuters

Jim Finkle:

»The attackers who stole $81m from the Bangladesh central bank probably hacked into software from the SWIFT financial platform that is at the heart of the global financial system, said security researchers at British defense contractor BAE Systems.

SWIFT, a cooperative owned by 3,000 financial institutions, confirmed to Reuters that it was aware of malware targeting its client software. Its spokeswoman Natasha Deteran said SWIFT would release on Monday a software update to thwart the malware, along with a special warning for financial institutions to scrutinize their security procedures.

The new developments now coming to light in the unprecedented cyber-heist suggest that an essential lynchpin of the global financial system could be more vulnerable than previously understood to hacking attacks, due to the vulnerabilities that enabled attackers to modify SWIFT’s client software.

«

Got in via a poorly secured $10 router, got away with $81m, hacked the software the world’s banks rely on. This could be worse, right?
link to this extract

 


The secret rules of the internet » The Verge

Catherine Buni and Soraya Chemaly, with a (quite astoundingly) long piece about the history of content moderation on social networks – if by “history” you mean “starting in 2004”:

»When Dave Willner arrived at Facebook in 2008, the team there was working on its own “one-pager” of cursory, gut-check guidelines. “Child abuse, animal abuse, Hitler,” Willner recalls. “We were told to take down anything that makes you feel bad, that makes you feel bad in your stomach.” Willner had just moved to Silicon Valley to join his girlfriend, then Charlotte Carnevale, now Charlotte Willner, who had become head of Facebook’s International Support Team. Over the next six years, as Facebook grew from less than 100 million users to well over a billion, the two worked side by side, developing and implementing the company’s first formal moderation guidelines.

“We were called The Ninjas,” he said, “mapping the rabbit hole.” Like Mora-Blanco, Willner described how he, Charlotte, and their colleagues sometimes laughed about their work, so that they wouldn’t cry. “To outsiders, that sounds demented,” he said.

Just like at YouTube, the subjectivity of Facebook’s moderation policy was glaring. “Yes, deleting Hitler feels awesome,” Willner recalls thinking. “But, why do we delete Hitler? If Facebook is here to make the world more open,” he asked himself, “why would you delete anything?” The job, he says, was “to figure out Facebook’s central why.”

For people like Dave and Charlotte Willner, the questions are as complex now as they were a decade ago. How do we understand the context of a picture? How do we assign language meaning? Breaking the code for context — nailing down the ineffable question of why one piece of content is acceptable but a slight variation breaks policy — remains the holy grail of moderation.

«

One could pick out any part of this piece. It’s interesting all through. The trouble is it’s so long (around 2,500 words) that you may struggle to find its thread, because there isn’t an actual, progressing, story.
link to this extract

 


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified.

Start up: trouble with bots, big data’s fable, Google and the White House, beware iCloud phishers, and more

Google search for various speech-related commands
“Call mom” has overtaken “call home” in Google search – probably voice commands. Dad still lingers a way behind.

You can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. Isn’t that something.

A selection of 11 links for you. Well, it is Monday. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

How big data creates false confidence » Nautilus

Jesse Dunietz:

»If I claimed that Americans have gotten more self-centered lately, you might just chalk me up as a curmudgeon, prone to good-ol’-days whining. But what if I said I could back that claim up by analyzing 150 billion words of text? A few decades ago, evidence on such a scale was a pipe dream. Today, though, 150 billion data points is practically passé. A feverish push for “big data” analysis has swept through biology, linguistics, finance, and every field in between.

Although no one can quite agree how to define it, the general idea is to find datasets so enormous that they can reveal patterns invisible to conventional inquiry. The data are often generated by millions of real-world user actions, such as tweets or credit-card purchases, and they can take thousands of computers to collect, store, and analyze. To many companies and researchers, though, the investment is worth it because the patterns can unlock information about anything from genetic disorders to tomorrow’s stock prices.

But there’s a problem: It’s tempting to think that with such an incredible volume of data behind them, studies relying on big data couldn’t be wrong. But the bigness of the data can imbue the results with a false sense of certainty. Many of them are probably bogus — and the reasons why should give us pause about any research that blindly trusts big data.

«

link to this extract

 


Google’s remarkably close relationship with the Obama White House, in two charts » The Intercept

David Dayen:

»[Mikey] Dickerson led the U.S. Digital Service, a new agency whose mission was to fix other technology problems in the federal government. Ex-Google staffers were prevalent there as well. Dickerson attended nine White House meetings with Google personnel while working for the government between 2013 and 2014.

Meetings between Google and the White House, viewed in this context, sometimes function like calls to the IT Help Desk. Only instead of working for the same company, the government is supposed to be regulating Google as a private business, not continually asking it for favors.

Much of this collaboration could be considered public-minded — it’s hard to argue with the idea that the government should seek outside technical help when it requires it. And there’s no evidence of a quid pro quo. But this arrangement doesn’t have to result in outright corruption to be troubling.

The obvious question that arises is: Can government do its job with respect to regulating Google in the public interest if it owes the company such a debt of gratitude?

Google doesn’t think its activities present an antitrust problem. It doesn’t feel constrained from holding incredible amounts of data. But should Google be in a position to make that determination itself? How much influence is too much influence?

«

It’s a very, very comprehensive look at how close Google is to the White House. Would it be any different under Clinton?
link to this extract

 


SMS phishing attackers continue to pursue Apple users » WeLiveSecurity

Graham Cluley:

»A week ago I reported on my personal blog how criminals were spamming out SMS messages that claimed to come from Apple, but were actually designed to steal personal information for the purposes of identity theft.

The messages all used a cunning piece of social engineering – posing as a notice from Apple that their Apple ID was due to expire that very day – to get unsuspecting users to click on a link to a phishing website.

The SMS messages were even more convincing because they referred to recipients by name, most likely fooling some into believing that there was a genuine reason to act upon the alert and visit the site pointed to by the criminals.

Although the site the criminals were initially using – appleexpired.co.uk – was quickly blocked by the major web browsers and taken down, that didn’t take the wind out of the criminals’s sails.

In the days since it has become clear that the identity thieves have registered a series of other domains – all claiming to be related to Apple or Apple ID. Examples have included icloudauth.co.uk, mobileicloud.uk, and icloudmobile.co.uk.

«

There was a big run of these over the weekend; my wife received two, which used her name. They do come via SMS; it seems that once someone’s address book is hacked, messages are then sent out to people in the address book. Standard phishing attack, jumping from one victim to the potential next.

Apple needs to be proactive and set up a way for people to forward these to its security team. And make two-factor authentication easier to implement. (Too late for those who have been hit.)
link to this extract

 


Microsoft Android patent-licensing revenue falling » Business Insider

Matt Rosoff:

»Microsoft missed earnings expectations by a couple of cents per share on Thursday afternoon because of an unexpected tax adjustment that skimmed $0.04 off its earnings per share.

In the release, Microsoft noted that its patent-licensing revenue was down 26% from a year ago. And it’s because of Android.

Android phones are still selling just fine, but the market is dominated by cheap handsets being sold in developing countries like China and India.

“The mix of devices in that market has shifted to the low end,” said Chris Suh, Microsoft’s head of investor relations.

Microsoft’s cut is also sinking. Suh also noted that not every Android manufacturer has a licensing deal with Microsoft. He didn’t name names, but Chinese phone makers typically take a very loose approach toward licensing American intellectual property, and as those inexpensive phones take over the world, Microsoft doesn’t benefit as much.

«

Well, OK, but there may be another part to the drop. Read on..
link to this extract

 


April 2015: Microsoft reportedly cutting patent fees in exchange for pre-installed apps » AndroidAuthority

Rob Triggs, in April 2015:

»Last month, Microsoft announced a global partnership with Samsung and other hardware manufacturers to bring its mobile productivity services, such as its Office suite, to consumers and business users. But there may be more to it than simply offering customers compelling services, DigiTimes Research suggests that Microsoft is tempting Android manufacturers to pre-install its software in exchange for discounts on its licensing fees.

Android hardware manufacturers have all signed a patent licensing agreement with Microsoft for various essential technologies developed by the company. However, according to findings from Taiwan’s and China’s smartphone/tablet upstream supply chain, Microsoft is offering discounts to those who pre-install Office programs such as Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote, as well as OneDrive and Skype onto their Android devices. So far, 11 hardware partners are signed up to the deal.

«

link to this extract

 


As search changes, Google changes » Search Engine Land

Adam Dorfman:

»Recently, a company known as MindMeld, which provides voice search technologies, surveyed US smartphone users and found that 60% had started using voice search within the past year. You can also see a rise in search queries that are clearly voice commands when you look at Google Trends for phrases such as “call mom,” which are highly unlikely to be typed into a search box.

Voice search is no longer coming. It’s here.

These changes do not bode well for Google’s traditional revenue model, which relies on serving up ads while you search on Google.com. The user interface of talking to your mobile phone or wearable device to order a pizza does not leave any room for a paid search ad. So it’s not surprising that display advertising spend is overtaking search ad spend, and the gap between the two will widen over the next few years.

«

But, as Dorfman points out, Google is adapting. That graph of “call mom” is definitely one which would merit playing around with using a few other search terms. Here’s “Call home” against “call Mom” against “call Dad” and “call John” and “call Mary” (also at top of page).
link to this extract

 


Amazon unintentionally paying scammers to hand you 1000 pages of crap you don’t read » Consumerist

Kate Cox on a scam related to Kindle Unlimited:

»if you read 75 pages on your Kindle today, then turn the WiFi on and sync it, Amazon will mark you at page 75. If you never pick up the book again, that’s your furthest synced point. If it’s a 300 page book and you finish it, page 300 is your furthest synced point.

But e-books don’t have to be linear. You might, for example, open up a new Kindle book and find it has a link on the first page, to take you to a later chapter or a table of contents or another language. Tapping that link could put you hundreds of pages into the book — which means that the author of that file is now making money off you, even if you haven’t read a word… or even if there’s not a single real word there to be read.

And that is exactly what’s happening. Scammers are basically uploading “books” that are nothing but files full of nonsense with some link on page 1 that puts readers on page 300 or 3000 (the maximum page length for which Amazon will pay out) almost instantly. In between there’s nothing but nonsense, but the scammer can use click farms to drive up the ranking of their book and so people download it anyway.

The user hasn’t paid for this book directly, because they have an unlimited subscription, so they just close the file, forget about it, and move on to the next. But if dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of readers get tricked into the same maneuver, that “author” has just made a decent amount of money for something like 15 minutes’ worth of total work.

«

link to this extract

 


Bangladesh Bank exposed to hackers by cheap switches, no firewall: police » Reuters

Serajul Quadir:

»Bangladesh’s central bank was vulnerable to hackers because it did not have a firewall and used second-hand, $10 switches to network computers connected to the SWIFT global payment network, an investigator into one of the world’s biggest cyber heists said.

The shortcomings made it easier for hackers to break into the Bangladesh Bank system earlier this year and attempt to siphon off nearly $1 billion using the bank’s SWIFT credentials, said Mohammad Shah Alam, head of the Forensic Training Institute of the Bangladesh police’s criminal investigation department.

“It could be difficult to hack if there was a firewall,” Alam said in an interview.

«

The Internet of Astonishingly Insecure Things.
link to this extract

 


Bots won’t replace apps. Better apps will replace apps » Dan Grover

Grover points out the nonsense of people thinking AI-driven chatbots will take over from touch-and-choose visual interfaces:

»It shouldn’t require any detailed analysis, then, to point out the patent inanity of these other recent examples of bots and conversational UI proffered by companies on the vanguard of the trend:

This notion of a bot handling the above sorts of tasks is a curious kind of skeumorphism. In the same way that a contact book app (before the flat UI fashion began) may have presented contacts as little cards with drop shadows and ring holes to suggest a Rolodex, conversational UI, too, has applied an analog metaphor to a digital task and brought along details that, in this form, no longer serve any purpose. Things like the small pleasantries in the above exchange like “please” and “thank you”, to asking for various pizza-related choices sequentially and separately (rather than all at once). These vestiges of human conversation no longer provide utility (if anything, they impede the task). I am no more really holding a conversation than my contact book app really is a l’il Rolodex. At the end, a single call to some ordering interface will be made.

«

Earlier Grover points out that the “quick and easy way to order pizza with your chatbot” takes 73 precise clicks (of virtual keys), whereas doing it through the visual menu interface on the Pizza Hut app takes 16 fat-fingered ones.

Case closed.
link to this extract

 


Four fresh presentations, four key charts » Creative Strategies, Inc

Ben Bajarin looks at why people who have a PC aren’t upgrading, what people like about wearables, who wants virtual reality, and also whether people in India are interested in PCs:

»My gut told me there was an interesting opportunity brewing in India. I decided to commission a study, in collaboration with local researchers, to see if India was ready to move beyond the smartphone. We focused on the regions in India where PCs, smartphones, and tablets have the highest penetration — Delhi, Bangalore, Mumbai, Hyderabad, and Chennai. We did a mix of online studies, focus groups, and 1:1 interviews of 525 Indian consumers in this market.

The theory was simple. As consumers in India mature and have owned more than a few smartphones, they will look to more traditional PC form factors to use for work, school, and more. But with Windows PC penetration in India at less than 10% of the total population and Windows largely being an enterprise/workplace requirement in India, our theory was Android would be more popular as an operating system. As it turns out, it was for the overwhelming majority of consumers looking to buy their first PC in India. Which is encouragingly high for a market that began their journey on the internet on a smartphone.

«

link to this extract

 


Microsoft, Google end regulatory disputes » WSJ

Stephen Fidler and Sam Schechner:

»According to a person familiar with the matter, the two companies have agreed to talk to each other first in the future before taking any problems to regulators.

The change reflects the shift in approach that followed Microsoft’s 2014 appointment of Satya Nadella as its new chief executive. Mr. Nadella has taken a less combative stance than his predecessor Steve Ballmer, according to a person familiar with the matter.

“The relationship between the two companies has changed,” the person said, adding that “Nadella has made most of the difference.”

Microsoft’s business priorities also have changed, among other things, with the growth of cloud computing.

The relationship between the two companies began publicly to thaw last year as they worked together to settle their long-running patent war involving roughly 20 pending lawsuits, said a person close to Google.

Microsoft also resigned from FairSearch, a group of digital companies—including Nokia Corp. and Oracle Corp.—that are prominent Google complainants. In addition, the software maker has discouraged ICOMP, another lobby group of which it was a member, from pursuing Google.

«

Wow. Going to be interesting to see whether Icomp and Fairsearch can continue without funding from Microsoft.
link to this extract

 


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified.

Start up: EC v Android?, the human chatbots, Metallica v YouTube, Wall Street’s new mortgage con, and more

Guess what the priciest search ad keywords in the UK are associated with. Photo by Javmorcas 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 8 links for you. Be ineffable. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

EU prepares for Android crackdown » FT.com

Christian Oliver and Murad Ahmed:

»The EU has given its strongest signal to date of its intent to crack down hard on Google’s mobile operating system, comparing an imminent antitrust case against Android to Brussels’ epic confrontation with Microsoft a decade ago.

People involved in the case said that EU regulators were very close to opening a long-expected new front in their showdown with Google, which has already been hit with charges that it abused its dominance of online searches.

A second charge sheet, in relation to Android, is almost finalised. Margrethe Vestager, competition commissioner, would probably be ready to deliver it as early as this week, the people said, although the timing could not be confirmed.

Ms Vestager said on Monday that she was concerned that Google could be unfairly taking advantage of consumers’ desire to have pre-installed apps, ready for use as soon as “we take a new smartphone out of its box”. This could stifle innovation by keeping fledgling app makers and service providers out of the market.

“Our concern is that, by requiring phonemakers and operators to preload a set of Google apps, rather than letting them decide for themselves which apps to load, Google might have cut off one of the main ways that new apps can reach customers,” she said in a speech in the Netherlands.

Explaining her logic, she alluded to the European Commission’s landmark battle with Microsoft, which lasted years and culminated in 2007 with combined fines of more than €2bn.

«

Very like the search charges (which were filed a year ago, and absolutely nothing has happened). Except that 1) Google really did manipulate search results to keep out rivals 2) phonemakers have always been able to use AOSP and then fill it in with apps – as happened with the Nokia X. I don’t think the Android case is as strong as the search case.
link to this extract

 


The top 100 most expensive keywords in the UK: new research » Search Engine Watch

Chris Lake:

»Back in the day, around 2003, somebody asked me a question regarding paid search: “Do you know what the most expensive keyword is on Google Adwords, and how much it costs?”

I made a bunch of guesses, gradually increasing the amount I thought it might be acceptable to pay every time somebody clicks on an ad. £20? No? £30? Surely not!

The grand reveal was that I was horribly wrong, and that some advertisers were paying “about £70 a click” for the term ‘mesothelioma’, which is a type of cancer associated with exposure to asbestos. It was immediately apparent that legal firms would spend that kind of money because they were hunting for big ticket compensation lawsuits.

Roll forward to the present day and I wondered how things had changed, as Google’s revenues have grown to more than $67bn globally and keyword inflation is a big deal in a lot of sectors.

The good folks at SEMrush provided me with a huge list of the most expensive keywords in five countries, and for my first piece of research I’ve focused on the UK.

I had 2,000 keywords to analyse (from its database of 12m in the UK) and here are the top results…

«

Now it’s gambling which leads the pack; gambling-related keywords make up 67 of the 100 most expensive key word searches.

In other words, if you’re using Google services for free in the UK (and who isn’t?), then gambling helps pay for it through the expensive keyword ads. The next ones? Financial spread betting and day trading; “big data” and cloud services; business-to-business (especially cheap electricity); and legal compensation. Gambling, finance (or gambling finance), tech, legal and B2B complete the 100.

Would love to know what percent of total AdWord revenues come from each category, and what percentage the top 100 represent.
link to this extract

 


The humans hiding behind the chatbots » Bloomberg

Ellen Huet:

»[Willie] Calvin joined X.ai [which offers an email chatbot “Amy” which sets up appointments in response to emails] in December 2014 just a few months after graduating from the University of Chicago with a public policy degree. He was under the impression that his $45,000 annual salary job as an AI trainer would be half product development and half reviewing the algorithm’s accuracy. He said he was asked, as part of the job application, to write a one-page essay on why automation would be good for jobs and workers. X.ai declined to comment on specific hiring practices.

He was excited at the chance to do product development at a tech startup, but once he started work, he said he found that the product part of the job never materialized. Instead, Calvin said he sometimes sat in front of a computer for 12 hours a day, clicking and highlighting phrases. “It was either really boring or incredibly frustrating,” he said. “It was a weird combination of the exact same thing over and over again and really frustrating single cases of a person demanding something we couldn’t provide.” Kristal Bergfield, who oversees X.ai’s trainers, said that that the job has evolved over time and entails hard work. “We’re building something that’s entirely new,” she said. “It’s an incredibly ambitious thing, and so are the people who work here.”

«

Still, on the plus side, it means that robots aren’t going to take our jobs. Downside: our jobs will become subsidiary to those of robots.
link to this extract

 


Metallica manager: ‘YouTube is the devil’ » BBC News

Mark Savage:

»Peter Mensch, the manager of bands including Metallica, Red Hot Chili Peppers and Muse, says YouTube is killing the record industry.

“YouTube, they’re the devil,” he told a BBC Radio 4 documentary on the music business. “We don’t get paid at all.”

He said the site’s business model, in which artists make money by placing ads around their music, was unsustainable.

“If someone doesn’t do something about YouTube, we’re screwed,” he said. “It’s over. Someone turn off the lights.”

Mensch’s arguments echo concerns raised in the annual report of the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI), which was released last week.

It said there was widening “value gap” between the volume of music consumed on free, “user-upload” services – including YouTube, Daily Motion and Soundcloud – and the amount of revenue they generate for the industry.

An estimated 900 million consumers on these sites resulted in revenue of $634m (£447m) in 2015. By contrast the world’s 68 million paying music subscribers generated about $2bn (£1.4bn).

«

Once again, Metallica is OK (as they were when they were suing Napster in 2000) but it’s the other, mid-tier bands that will be missing out. Streaming is a terrible business model, but YouTube makes it look like a goldrush.
link to this extract

 


Sony says Kumamoto plant not main site for smartphone components » Reuters

Makiko Yamazaki:

»Sony Corp said on Monday that its image sensor plant in Kumamoto, which has been shut since earthquakes hit southern Japan last week, makes components mainly for digital cameras.

Sony’s plant in Nagasaki, which resumed full operations on Sunday, is the company’s major production facility for image sensors for smartphones, it said.

The company said it had yet to decide when to restart the Kumamoto plant.

There had been concerns that plant shut downs because of the earthquakes could affect production of Apple Inc’s iPhones, including the iPhone 7.

“The impact of the Kumamoto plant suspension on Apple is expected to be limited,” Hiroyuki Shimizu, principal research analyst at Gartner, said.

«

link to this extract

 


Wall Street veterans bet on low-income home buyers » NYTimes.com

Alexandra Stevenson and Matthew Goldstein:

»As the head of Goldman Sachs’s mortgage department, Daniel Sparks helped make the bank more than a billion dollars betting against the market as housing prices began to crash in 2007.

Today, he is betting on home buyers who no longer qualify for mortgages in the fallout of that housing crisis.

Shelter Growth Capital Partners, an investment firm Mr. Sparks founded in 2014 with two other former Goldman Sachs executives, has been buying homes that were foreclosed on during the financial crisis and later resold to buyers under long-term installment contracts.

The firm has bought just over 200 homes from Harbour Portfolio Advisors, a Dallas investment firm that has specialized in selling homes to lower-income buyers through what is known as a contract for deed. In these deals, a seller provides the buyer with a long-term, high-interest loan, with the promise of actually owning the home at the end of it.

These contracts, a form of seller financing, have ballooned in recent years as low-income families unable to get traditional mortgages have turned to alternate ways to buy homes.

The homes are often sold “as is,” in need of costly repairs and renovations, and many of the transactions end in eviction when buyers fall behind on payments.

«

So poorer would-be buyers are screwed once again because although money is cheaper than it has ever been (and so the loans don’t have to be high-interest; the houses aren’t going to run away), they are – yet again – the marks in the new shell game being played by Wall Street.
link to this extract

 


Hacking your phone » CBS News

Sharyn Alfonsi spoke to a team of German hackers who have found a flaw in SS7, aka Signalling System 7, the phone protocol for voice calls and text – and had a demo of how they could hack into her call to a congressman Ted Lieu, who is knowledgeable about technology, by knowing the number for the iPhone that CBS had provided to Lieu :

»[Karsten] Nohl told us the SS7 flaw is a significant risk mostly to political leaders and business executives whose private communications could be of high value to hackers. The ability to intercept cellphone calls through the SS7 network is an open secret among the world’s intelligence agencies — -including ours — and they don’t necessarily want that hole plugged.

“We live in a world where we cannot trust the technology that we use.”

Sharyn Alfonsi: If you end up hearing from the intelligence agencies that this flaw is extremely valuable to them and to the information that they’re able to get from it, what would you say to that?

Rep. Ted Lieu: That the people who knew about this flaw and saying that should be fired.

Sharyn Alfonsi: Should be fired?

Rep. Ted Lieu: Absolutely.

Sharyn Alfonsi: Why?

Rep. Ted Lieu: You cannot have 300-some million Americans– and really, right, the global citizenry be at risk of having their phone conversations intercepted with a known flaw, simply because some intelligence agencies might get some data. That is not acceptable.

«

link to this extract

 


Investigating the algorithms that govern our lives » Columbia Journalism Review

Chava Gourarie:

»[Algorithms are] also anything but objective. “How can they be?” asks Mark Hansen, a statistician and the director of the Brown Institute at Columbia University. “They’re the products of human imagination.” (As an experiment, think about all of the ways you could answer the question: “How many Latinos live in New York?” That’ll give you an idea of how much human judgement goes into turning the real world into math.)

Algorithms are built to approximate the world in a way that accommodates the purposes of their architect, and “embed a series of assumptions about how the world works and how the world should work,” says Hansen.

It’s up to journalists to investigate those assumptions, and their consequences, especially where they intersect with policy. The first step is extending classic journalism skills into a nascent domain: questioning systems of power, and employing experts to unpack what we don’t know. But when it comes to algorithms that can compute what the human mind can’t, that won’t be enough. Journalists who want to report on algorithms must expand their literacy into the areas of computing and data, in order to be equipped to deal with the ever-more-complex algorithms governing our lives.

«

As Gourarie points out, there aren’t yet any journalists with the title of “Algorithm correspondent”, but maybe there should be; algorithms are (going to be? already?) as powerful as politicians, but less easy to interview. Though in the case of Google search and Facebook’s News feed, no single person, nor even group of people, quite knows for certain why they do what they do. What does that mean?
link to this extract

 


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida:

Start up: more Alphabet trouble, peak desktop?, hacking the Philippines, Japan quakes hit iPhones, and more

A URL shortener would be easier to write, but might it be hacked? Photo by MrZebra 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. Eerie, isn’t it? I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

When a nation is hacked: Understanding the ginormous Philippines data breach » Troy Hunt

Hunt delves into the hacking of 55 million Filipino voters’ details on a government system. The government insisted that no sensitive data was disclosed. Hunt checked with people who were on the released data via his Have I Been Pwned service:

»Yesterday I emailed a number of HIBP [Have I Been Pwned] subscribers and got back some pretty quick responses with everyone willing to assist. I found them spread out across two tables in the data breach, the first being a table called “irdoctable2014” which has the following fields:

# FORM_ID, APP_TYPE, REGISTRATION, LASTNAME, FIRSTNAME, MATERNALNAME, SEX, CIVILSTATUS, SPOUSENAME, RESSTREET, RESPRECINCT, RESPRECINCTCODE, RESREGION, RESBARANGAY, RESCITY, RESPROVINCE, MAILSTREET, MAILEMBASSY, MAILCOUNTRY, REGCOUNTRY, REGEMBASSY, REPSTREET, REPBARANGAY, REPCITY, REPPROVINCE, EMAIL, ABROADSTATUS, ABROADSTATUSSPECIF, FLASTNAME, FFIRSTNAME, FMATERNALNAME, MLASTNAME, MFIRSTNAME, MMATERNALNAME, REPLASTNAME, REPFIRSTNAME, REPMATERNALNAME, DOBYEAR, DOBMONTH, DOBDAY, BIRTHCITY, BIRTHPROVINCE, CITIZENSHIP, NATURALIZATIONDATE, CERTIFICATENB, COUNTRYRES, CITYRESYEAR, CITYRESMONTH, PROFESSION, SECTOR, HEIGHT, WEIGHT, MARKS, DISABLED, ASSISTEDBY, TIN, PASSPORTLOST, PASSPORTNB, PASSPORTPLACE, PASSYEAR, PASSMONTH, PASSDAY, REGBARANGAY, REGREGION, REGCITY, REGPROVINCE, REG_DATE, STATIONID, LOCAL_ID, CREATE_TIME, UPDATE_TIME, IS_EXTRACTED, IS_EXPIRED, IS_CANCELLED, CONTACTNUMBER, EXPIRATION_DATE, APPOINTMENT_DATE, APPOINTMENT_TIME, SCHED_TIME, COUNTER_CHANGES, REFERENCENUMBER, ERBDATE, USER_ID, EMAIL_ID, EXTRACTED_DATETIME, IS_DELETE, UPDATED_DATETIME, IS_FRONTPAGE, IS_REPRINT, IS_OV, IS_COUNTED

This is a very large amount of data and reading through those column names, clearly many of them would be considered sensitive personally identifiable data. However, some of the data is encrypted, namely the person’s name and their data of birth. Part of the irony here though is that the email addresses appear in the clear and often contains both the first and last name anyway! Not all the fields are populated but plenty of them are and they contain very personal info.

«

That’s not the worst of it, though. In some cases fingerprint scans were also leaked. And as Hunt says, “you don’t get to reset that stuff once it’s been released into the wild”. Trend Micro has more analysis of the dataset.
link to this extract

 


What is the Apple Watch good for? » Martiancraft

Richard Turton evaluates what does work and what doesn’t:

»Third-party watch apps all suffer from slow loading and slow or unreliable communication with the phone. Many of these limitations are inherent in the current generation of hardware and software. But, rather than wave our hands and say that third-party apps might suck now, but it’s all Apple’s fault and it’ll be great on Watch 2, it’s worth taking a look at what our watch apps should be doing and what we, as app creators, should be thinking about.

The watch is not just a small-screened iPhone, in the same way that an iPhone is not just a small-screened Mac. The usage patterns, interactions and user intentions are completely different. No matter how great the watch hardware becomes, users are never going to want to interact with it for more than a few seconds.

«

Don’t forget that eight years ago people were struggling with the concept of how to pack desktop apps into 3.5in screens. (Some still are.) The difference is that the Watch screen won’t get bigger. But as Turton says, you have to embrace what it does well, and avoid what it doesn’t.
link to this extract

 


Researchers crack Microsoft and Google’s Shortened URLs to spy on people » WIRED

Andy Greenberg:

»For anyone with minimalist tastes or an inability to use copy-paste keyboard shortcuts, URL shorteners may seem like a perfectly helpful convenience. Unfortunately, the same tools that turn long web addresses into a few characters also offer the same conveniences to hackers—including any of them motivated enough to try millions of shortened URLs until they hit on the one you thought was private.

That’s the lesson for companies including Google, Microsoft, and Bit.ly in a paper published today by researchers at Cornell Tech. The researchers’ work demonstrates the unexpected privacy-invasive potential of “brute-forcing” shortened URLs: By guessing at shortened URLs until they found working ones, the researchers say that they could have pulled off tricks ranging from spreading malware on unwitting victims’ computers via Microsoft’s cloud storage service to finding out who requested Google Maps directions to abortion providers or drug addiction treatment facilities.

«

This always seemed a possibility if you slogged through enough shortened URLs; eventually you’ll hit on something interesting. (A few years ago I tried it in a limited way; all one tended to find were scam links set up by, well, scammers doing it on an industrial scale.) Stories like this, though, once you read further, always have a slight letdown: the risk was in the past, because responsible disclosure means they’ve told the companies, who (reluctantly in Microsoft’s case) have changed their practices.
link to this extract

 


HubSpot is good people » Medium

Todd Garland was at Hubspot early on:

»As you’d expect, meetings were painfully long, and the tiny conference rooms built for eight started to get more crowded with every hire. There was a reason that happened. We were determined to treat our initial customers like family. Heck, a few may have even been family. We knew that if we could solve their pain points, there would eventually be hundreds, if not thousands, of companies lining up to work with us. We imagined it. How couldn’t we? It felt good. It felt like we were on the cusp of trapping lightning in a bottle.

HubSpot, since the very beginning, has been committed to helping small and medium sized businesses grow. It’s all that we cared about back then. I’ve tried to take that same customer commitment with me to BuySellAds. I would be lying if I said that I didn’t draw inspiration from both Brian and Dharmesh. Their passion for helping small and medium sized business was inspiring.

«

This little extract doesn’t quite capture the oleaginous, hagiographic quality of the whole piece, but then it’s the cumulative effect that leads one to the feeling summed up by Private Eye by the phrase “pass the sick bag, Alice.” Hubspot, of course, is the company so beautifully skewered by Dan Lyons in his latest book; this piece reads like something from a cult member, and makes me want to read Lyons’s book all the more.
link to this extract

 


How the desktop computer will rise again » CNN.com

Peter Shadbolt:

»Poor internet connectivity, uncertain power supply and a simple lack of money have meant that billions have been locked out of the knowledge economy.

Matt Dalio, CEO of Endless Computers, wants to change all of that with the first simplified, robust and affordable desktop aimed at emerging market consumers.

Dalio told CNN he got the idea to create a $169 computer while he was traveling and noticed that, while most homes did not have a desktop computer, they often had an HD screen.

“It was one of those micro-epiphanies,” he said. “I was in India and I looked over at a television and then I looked at my hand and there was a phone in it and I thought why not connect the two?”

«

Tell us how this computer fits in your pocket, Mr Dalio, and what it’s like with phone calls, WhatsApp.. oh, also, we have some news for you just coming up.
link to this extract

 


Has desktop internet use peaked? » WSJ

Jack Marshall:

»The amount of time people spend accessing the Internet from desktop devices is showing signs of decline, according to online measurement specialist comScore.

Data from the research company indicate overall time spent online in the U.S. from desktop devices—which include laptop computers—has fallen for the past four months, on a year-over-year basis. It dipped 9.3% in December 2015, 7.6% in January, 2% in February and 6% in March.

«

“Great story, Jack! What’s the data look like?”

“Um… here you go. I’ve done it as a graph.”

“Hmm – should we mention the four-month dip in 2014? No, probably better if we don’t. Just leave that out of the story.”

(I suspect desktop use is probably falling, but this isn’t quite proof yet.)
link to this extract

 


Japan quakes disrupt Sony production of image sensors used in Apple iPhones » Reuters

Makiko Yamazaki and Shinichi Saoshiro:

»Electronics giant Sony Corp said a factory producing image sensors for smartphone makers will remain closed while it assesses the damage from two deadly earthquakes which hit southern Japan. One of its major customers is Apple, which uses the sensors in its iPhones.

Sony said it will extend the closure of its image sensor plant in Kumamoto, which is in the southern island of Kyushu, after major tremblors on Thursday and Saturday rocked the key manufacturing region.

The PlayStation maker said operations at its image sensor plant in Nagasaki, also in Kyushu, will be partially suspended and it does not yet have a timeline for full resumption of operations.

Sony controls about 40 percent of the market for complementary metal-oxide semiconductor (CMOS) image sensors, a type of integrated circuit that converts light into electrical signals. In smartphones they are used to convert images into digital data.

«

Not just iPhones; I think other smartphone companies use them too.
link to this extract

 


The future: a cat litter box and DRM » Medium

Jorge Lopez:

»I took the SmartCartridge and realized I could just open it up, and fill it myself. Great, I’ll order new ones and get it by Tuesday and I’ll just fill this one up with water for now. So I filled it up with water, and put it into the machine….

It didn’t stop beeping, it knew this wasn’t it’s SaniSolution. Somehow it knew. I wasn’t able to even force it to run without the solution. I did some Googling, and I found that the “Smart” in SmartCartridge is that it has an RFID chip inside of it to keep track of how much solution it has, and once it runs out, well, you can’t refill it. I honestly did not believe this and tore one of the cartridges apart, and there it was, looking back at me, a tiny chip holding up it’s little metal finger.

Seriously CatGenie, you added fairly sophisticated DRM to a litter box? I’m a tad hurt you spent my money on building in a restriction instead of figuring out how to avoid constantly cooking poop.

This made me realize that I don’t actually own a CatGenie, I’m renting it.

«

Could get rid of the cat?
link to this extract

 


EA lets slip lifetime Xbox One and PS4 consoles sales » Ars Technica

Mark Walton:

»Lifetime Xbox One sales have reached 19m units—at least if EA’s CFO is to believed. During a financial call last night, Blake Jorgensen said the combined install base of the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 had hit an estimated 55m units, a mere two years into the life of the current generation.

While Microsoft has long stopped reporting on the absolute number of Xboxes sold, Sony continues to push out its own figures. Most recently, Sony revealed it has sold an impressive 35.9m PS4s, which—when deducted from EA’s 55m figure — leaves around 19m units for the Xbox One.

“I think our business seems to be operating pretty consistent as it has been over the last couple of years,” said Jorgensen. “The console purchases are up through the end of calendar year ’15. Our estimate is 55 million units out there which has exceeded virtually everyone’s forecast for the year and now almost 50% higher than previous console cycle so, all of that is very, very positive.”

While Sony has a significant lead in terms of units sold, as Jorgensen pointed out, both consoles are doing better than their predecessors did at the same point in their lifecycle.

«

This is from January, but the figures won’t have shifted very much. So that’s two-thirds of the business gone to Sony. Note also that these aren’t big numbers in the context of sales of smartphones, or even PCs: both consoles have now been on sale for two and a half years, or 30 months. That’s an average of less than two million consoles sold per month.

Sony has shipped (and likely sold) more smartphones than PS4s in the same period. It’s made a big loss on the smartphones. Yet the consoles are also meant to be sold at a loss. The difference? The consoles create an ecosystem for Sony. The smartphones don’t. (Since you ask, Microsoft sold more smartphones than it did consoles, and at a loss too.)
link to this extract

 


Google’s skunkworks loses its leader to Facebook — and has yet to produce any hits » MIT Technology Review

Tom Simonite:

»Facebook just made a high-profile hire from rival Google, luring away Regina Dugan, head of a research team tasked with inventing groundbreaking new hardware known as Advanced Technology and Projects, or ATAP. She will start a similar lab at Facebook. It’s unclear what will happen to the team she’s leaving behind, which has produced many striking demos but no hits.

Dugan previously led the Pentagon research agency DARPA and was hired to set up ATAP by Motorola in 2012, after the mobile phone company was acquired by Google for $12.5 billion. When Google sold off the company to Lenovo for almost $10 billion less in 2014, ATAP stayed behind. It was supposed to inhabit a middle ground between Google’s product development teams and the horizon-scanning “moon shot” laboratory, Google X.

Dugan established the group with a ground rule that projects should produce a marketable product within two years or be abandoned.

«

I guess she didn’t produce a marketable product within two years, so…? Two ways to look at this: ATAP is so young that it’s expecting a lot to think it would come out with a product in less than four years. Or: this looks like another example of an Alphabet division which simply isn’t making stuff happen. Contrast the breathless article in The Verge from May 2015:

»Dugan describes everything ATAP does as “badass and beautiful,” and after watching [360-degree live-action monster movie] Help!, I’m inclined to agree.

«

I’m inclined to think some people can’t tell the difference between a demo and a business. (ATAP is also behind the much-promised oft-delayed Project Ara modular smartphone idea.)
link to this extract

 


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified.

Start up: the iCloud celeb hack, a Chinese ransom?, the real terrorist phone, Trump as Berlusconi, and more

“Hey, Miss Lawrence! My name’s iCloud! What’s your password?” Photo by YourWay Magazine 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 12 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

The disturbingly simple way dozens of celebrities had their nude photos stolen » Fusion

Kashmir Hill:

»According to court documents, Collins gained access to the intimate images of nude celebrities via a disturbingly simple technique: phishing.

Though many people assumed that the hacker took advantage of an iCloud vulnerability to brute-force his way into the celebrities’ accounts, the government makes no mention of that. Instead, it says that Collins hacked over 100 people by sending emails that looked like they came from Apple and Google, such as “e-mail.protection318@icloud.com,” “noreply_helpdesk0118@outlook.com,” and “secure.helpdesk0019@gmail.com.” According to the government, Collins asked for his victims’ iCloud or Gmail usernames and passwords and “because of the victims’ belief that the email had come from their [Internet Service Providers], numerous victims responded by giving [them].”

Celebrities really need better computer security advisers. If a dedicated enough attacker comes at you, it’s hard to avoid being compromised, but it helps immensely to turn on two-factor authentication for your online accounts. That way a person needs not just your password but a code sent to your phone to get into your account.

Once Collins had their credentials, says the government, he went through their email accounts looking for nude photos and videos. The government says that Collins got into approximately 50 iCloud accounts and 72 Gmail accounts this way, most of them belonging to celebrities. He “accessed full Apple iCloud backups belonging to numerous victims, including at least 18 celebrities” and “used a software program to download those full Apple iCloud backups.”

Ironically, that program was likely one that’s used by law enforcement to get evidence from phones.

«

The idea that someone had used a cutting-edge brute-force attack to break into the passwords always seemed like vapour trails to me. Social engineering is the Occam’s Razor explanation (and also the Hanlon’s Razor explanation) to stuff like this.
link to this extract

 


Exclusive: Chinese hackers behind U.S. ransomware attacks – security firms » Reuters

Joseph Menn:

»executives of the security firms have seen a level of sophistication in at least a half dozen cases over the last three months akin to those used in state-sponsored attacks, including techniques to gain entry and move around the networks, as well as the software used to manage intrusions.

“It is obviously a group of skilled of operators that have some amount of experience conducting intrusions,” said Phil Burdette, who heads an incident response team at Dell SecureWorks.

Burdette said his team was called in on three cases in as many months where hackers spread ransomware after exploiting known vulnerabilities in application servers. From there, the hackers tricked more than 100 computers in each of the companies into installing the malicious programs.

The victims included a transportation company and a technology firm that had 30 percent of its machines captured.

Security firms Attack Research, InGuardians and G-C Partners, said they had separately investigated three other similar ransomware attacks since December.

Although they cannot be positive, the companies concluded that all were the work of a known advanced threat group from China, Attack Research Chief Executive Val Smith told Reuters.

«

link to this extract

 


Reformed LulzSec hacktivist joins payments firm » The Register

John Leyden:

»A payments firm has hired reformed LulzSec hactivist Mustafa Al-Bassam (formerly known as tFlow) for a new blockchain research project.

London-based payments group Secure Trading has taken on Al-Bassam to help develop a platform that applies the verification benefits of blockchain technology in order to improve the visibility and security of online payments. Codenamed “Trustery”, the project aims to create a commercial platform.

Secure Trading approached Al-Bassam, who agreed to work for the firm part time while continuing his computer science degree at King’s College London.

«

Smart move: al-Bassam is a clever guy.
link to this extract

 


Crypto-ransomware spreads via poisoned ads on major websites » Tripwire

Graham Cluley:

»Some of the world’s most popular news and entertainment websites have been spreading poisoned adverts to potentially hundreds of thousands of visitors, putting innocent readers at risk of having their computers hit by threats such as ransomware.

Famous sites which displayed the malicious ads and endangered visiting computers include MSN, bbc.com, the New York Times, AOL and Newsweek.

As a result, researchers at Malwarebytes say that they saw a “huge spike in malicious activity” over the weekend.

Security analysts at TrendLabs and Malwarebytes report that the attack is one of the largest ransomware campaigns seen in years, taking advantage of a recently-updated version of the notorious Angler Exploit Kit to spread malware.

Just last month the Angler Exploit Kit was found to be targeting PCs and Macs after it was updated to take advantage of a known vulnerability in Microsoft Silverlight…

…It seems glaringly apparent to me that there is so much malicious advertising on the internet that anytime you surf even legitimate sites without an ad blocker in place, you are putting your computer’s data at risk.

«

link to this extract

 


Why is the Nokia 105 cellphone a favourite among ISIS fighters? » NBC News

Alexander Smith:

»The must-have cellphone for ISIS fighters in Iraq doesn’t have apps or a camera, and ships for less than $30.

The small and simple Nokia model is frequently used as a trigger device to set off ISIS’ improvised explosive devices, known as IEDs, according to a Conflict Armament Research report released last month.

As part of a study looking at civilian components in ISIS bombs, CAR documented 10 of the phones captured from members of the terror group in Iraq in December 2014.

The research showed the terror group “consistently” used the Nokia 105 above all others “in the manufacture of a specific type of remote controlled IED.”

Two phones are used in the bomb-making process: one to call the other, which then sends a signal to a circuit board and sparks the explosion.

There are plenty of other cheap, durable phones with long battery life that ISIS fighters could use — and yet this particular model, also branded as the Microsoft Mobile 105 after the tech giant bought Nokia in 2014, shows up again and again.

«

I’m sure there’ll be widespread condemnation of Microsoft for aiding terrorists any moment now.
link to this extract

 


Why Sony will win first in VR » Jon Peddie Research

The aforenamed Mr Peddie:

»Now that Oculus has revealed its consumer version of the Rift HMD, consumers can start planning how they might engage with VR, and they have a choice—a DIY rig with a PC and Rift, or a turn-key system with Sony.

Sony’s HMD will be about 30% less expensive than the Oculus HDM. And Sony buyers probably already have a PS4, and possibly PS4 accessory controllers. Most importantly, Sony also has content.

«

So, first couple of rounds to Sony.
link to this extract

 


The best things in Android are free — with in-app purchases » Medium

The iA team:

»A year ago, iA Writer for Android entered the Play Store. So far, we have sold a little more than 6’000 apps. At a price of 1 to 5 Dollars, this doesn’t cover much more than one month of app development. So we decided to go free and add in app purchases later.

We are not sure why apps sell in the Apple universe but not in the Android world. It just seems to be a hard cold fact:


Worldwide App Downloads by Store vs Worldwide App Revenue by Store

Looking at the sales numbers of paid Android apps it becomes apparent that plain paid offerings just do not get traction on Android. Why? We are not sure. Here is what we have learned.

«

There’s a point in there about price elasticity which is remarkable. But also that stuff with an upfront price tag does not sell.
link to this extract

 


Windows 10 Store will continue to support bitcoin » Softpedia

Bogdan Popa:

»while there was a lot of speculation online regarding the removal of Bitcoin support for new deposits in the Windows Store – some people said it’s because of the limited adoption of Bitcoin – it appears that the change made to the FAQ page was just “a mistake.”

In other words, Microsoft will continue to support Bitcoin in the Windows Store, so you can keep on using the digital currency for new deposits. A statement we received from a Microsoft spokesperson a few minutes ago provides us with some details on this:

“We continue to support Bitcoin for adding money to your Microsoft Account which can be used for purchasing content in the Windows and Xbox stores. We apologize for inaccurate information that was inadvertently posted to a Microsoft site, which is currently being corrected.”

«

Would love to know what volume of transactions they see.
link to this extract

 


Top NFL official acknowledges link between football-related head trauma and CTE for first time » ESPN

Steve Fainaru:

»The NFL’s top health and safety officer acknowledged Monday there is a link between football-related head trauma and chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, the first time a senior league official has conceded football’s connection to the devastating brain disease.

The admission came during a roundtable discussion on concussions convened by the U.S. House of Representatives’ Committee on Energy and Commerce. Jeff Miller, the NFL’s senior vice president for health and safety, was asked by Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., if the link between football and neurodegenerative diseases such as CTE has been established.

“The answer to that question is certainly yes,” Miller said.

«

A bit like boxing: does it mean people will be put off the potentially fabulous riches? But equally: will parents be less likely to put their children into it? The public admission is important.
link to this extract

 


Teenager wins $250,000 in biggest drone race yet » The Verge

Rich McCormick:

»The sport has already attracted investment from the likes of NFL team owners, but it still has some way to go before it breaks into the mainstream. Particularly difficult is the question of how to actually observe the races. Drone pilots fly their racing craft in first-person, using special headsets to see as the drone sees, but for observers the footage can feel — and sound — like being strapped to the front of a particularly excitable wasp. A second camera following the action might help human brains contextualize the movements in space, but some of the nascent racing leagues set their courses inside buildings, making a chase camera’s operation difficult. Still, though, the speed of the craft and the deftness of his control make watching [15-year-old winner] Luke [Bannister]’s victory from Dubai an exhilarating — if slightly nauseating — experience.

«

Dubai, of course.
link to this extract

 


Music streaming has a nearly undetectable fraud problem » Quartz

Amy X Wang:

»For an in-depth look into how click fraud works, there’s Sharky Laguana’s thorough explanation here. Laguana—a music industry veteran who now owns a rental company—tells Quartz it certainly wouldn’t be hard to run the “perfect” scheme to con Spotify. First, set up a couple hundred fake artists. Next, upload some auto-generated tunes—mediocre dance music is particularly easy to “produce” online—and just make sure your bots click on an array of songs both real and fake, so no one gets suspicious. (He uses Spotify as an example because of its size, but the scheme could theoretically work for any music subscription service.)

“If it’s done properly, it’s nearly impossible to detect,” says Laguana. “There’s no way to know why somebody chose to click on something.”

«

Should we just turn off the internet?
link to this extract

 


Donald Trump, America’s own Silvio Berlusconi » The Intercept

Alexander Stille:

»Neither Trump nor Berlusconi has a real political program; what they are selling is themselves. Berlusconi used to say that what Italy needs is more Berlusconi. I recall a very telling moment in his first election campaign: During a TV debate, his opponent, the economist Luigi Spaventa, was pointing out the holes and inconsistencies in Berlusconi’s economic program, and Berlusconi stopped him mid-sentence and pointed to the victories of his soccer club, AC Milan: “Before trying to compete with me, try, at least, winning a couple of national championships!” The remark had the air of unassailable truth — however irrelevant it might be to Berlusconi’s fitness to govern. Similarly, when asked how he is going to get Mexico to pay for a giant wall between its country and ours, Trump simply responds, “Don’t worry, they’ll pay!”

Yet there is another element — a systemic one — that helps explain why Italy and the U.S. are the only major democracies in which a billionaire circus has raised its tent: the almost total deregulation of broadcast media.

«

The latter matters, as Stille explains. (Via @papanic.)
link to this extract

 


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida:

Start up: Xiaomi’s money trouble, instructing Alexa, the App Store problem, Uber’s sick loophole, and more

The final position of AlphaGo’s third win in a five-game match Lee Sedol, the top Go professional. But what does that mean for human competition? Screenshot by kenming_wang 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 15 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

I stayed in a hotel with Android lightswitches and it was just as bad as you’d imagine » mjg59

The “switches” were Android tablets. He hooked up an Ethernet connection to see what was going on:

»wireshark revealed that [the data protocol] was Modbus over TCP. Modbus is a pretty trivial protocol, and notably has no authentication whatsoever. tcpdump showed that traffic was being sent to 172.16.207.14, and pymodbus let me start controlling my lights, turning the TV on and off and even making my curtains open and close. What fun!

And then I noticed something. My room number is 714. The IP address I was communicating with was 172.16.207.14. They wouldn’t, would they?

I mean yes obviously they would.

It’s basically as bad as it could be – once I’d figured out the gateway, I could access the control systems on every floor and query other rooms to figure out whether the lights were on or not, which strongly implies that I could control them as well. Jesus Molina talked about doing this kind of thing a couple of years ago, so it’s not some kind of one-off – instead, hotels are happily deploying systems with no meaningful security, and the outcome of sending a constant stream of “Set room lights to full” and “Open curtain” commands at 3AM seems fairly predictable.

We’re doomed.

«

link to this extract

 


MIT unveils 3D solar arrays that produce up to 20 times more energy » 3tags

»Intensive research around the world has focused on improving the performance of solar photovoltaic cells and bringing down their cost. But very little attention has been paid to the best ways of arranging those cells, which are typically placed flat on a rooftop or other surface, or sometimes attached to motorized structures that keep the cells pointed toward the sun as it crosses the sky.

Now, a team of MIT researchers has come up with a very different approach: building cubes or towers that extend the solar cells upward in three-dimensional configurations. Amazingly, the results from the structures they’ve tested show power output ranging from double to more than 20 times that of fixed flat panels with the same base area.

«

They’re not pretty, but they are efficient.
link to this extract

 


Fanfare for the Common Man – Emerson, Lake & Palmer (Olympic Stadium Montreal) » YouTube

Bloody cold (snow all over the ground) and they must have been shooting the video for at least five hours, judging by the clocks you can see at various points. This is shorter than that. The first use of the polyphonic synthesiser (able to play more than one note at a time) in a rock song. Farewell, Keith Emerson.
link to this extract

 


Listen up: your AI assistant goes crazy for NPR too » KWBU

Rachel Martin (in a transcript from her radio program on NPR:

»OK. Go ahead and turn up the volume because this update is for you, Alexa. Last week, we talked about Alexa, the voice-activated assistant that operates on a speaker sold by Amazon called the Echo. The technology is Amazon’s way of connecting to your home as part of a future where you walk into your house and you say – out loud – turn off the alarm. Dim the lights. Preheat the oven. Well, some of you out there already own an Amazon Echo, and our story activated your Alexas. I guess her ears were burning.

Listener Roy Hagar wrote in to say our story prompted his Alexa to reset his thermostat to 70 degrees. It was difficult for Jeff Finan to hear the story because his radio was right next to his Echo speaker, and when Alex heard her name, she started playing an NPR News summary. Marc-Paul Lee said his unit started going crazy too and wrote in to tell us this – let’s just say we both enjoyed the story. So Alexa, listen up – we want you to pledge to your local member station. You hear me? Lots and lots of money. Did you get that, Alexa?

«

link to this extract

 


Xiaomi – hard life » Radio Free Mobile

Richard Windsor is a sceptic about the prospects of the venture capitalistis’ starry-eyed kid:

»Xiaomi owns 30% of Xunlei and has incorporated its acceleration technology into its ecosystem from MIUI6 (2014) going forward. As a result of this, the performance of Xunlei’s advertising revenues gives some indication of how usage is faring within Xiaomi’s ecosystem and the numbers are not encouraging.

Xunlei’s Q4 2015A revenues declined 1.1% to US$35m however within that online advertising revenues were $1.7m growing 24% YoY with mobile advertising making a contribution for the first time.

Xiaomi claims to have 170m MIUI users all of which have the Xunlei technology but if Xunlei can only generate $1.7m from those users, difficult questions have to be asked with regards to engagement. This makes me concerned that although Xiaomi devices register strong usage, much of that usage may be occurring within the services of its rivals rather than its own…

…if all Xiaomi is doing is providing nicely specified devices at rock bottom prices then it is in fact helping its competitors rather than itself. This is exactly the same problem that other Android handset makers have outside of China. These handset makers slash each other’s throats to put better and better devices in the hands of users but it is Google that reaps all of the benefit from the subsequent usage increases.

«

link to this extract

 


Yahoo announces plans to kill off Games, Livetext, Boss, and more regional sites » VentureBeat

Eil Protalinski:

»Yahoo today announced its Q1 2016 progress report, highlighting the closure of several products and regional sites. As shared in its last earnings call, the company wants to focus on just seven core consumer products: Mail, Search, Tumblr, News, Sports, Finance, and Lifestyle.

First off, the company is shutting down its Yahoo Games site (first launched in 1998!) and publishing channel on May 13, 2016. This impacts all territories: Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, the U.K., and the U.S.

Starting March 14, 2016, users will no longer be able to make in-game purchases on the Yahoo Games site. Yahoo says it has reached out to game publishers and asked them to develop a transition plan for players who have made in-game purchases.

Next, Yahoo Livetext is being shut down at the end of March 2016. The company launched the silent video chat app in July 2015 — we weren’t crazy about the app when we tried it out. As you might expect, Yahoo says Livetext let the company “experiment with new user experiences and features,” which it will try to incorporate into its existing products. Specifically, the company said Yahoo Messenger will have the most to gain here.

«

It’s also closing Yahoo Astrology in the UK, France, Germany, Spain and India. I’m sure they saw it coming though. As for Yahoo, its fate seems to be to pare off more and more of its sites until there’s just a nameplate on an office somewhere in Delaware.
link to this extract

 


A typo stopped hackers siphoning nearly $1bn out of Bangladesh » The Register

John Leyden:

»At least 30 transfer requests were made on 5 February using the Bangladesh Bank’s SWIFT code, out of which five resulted in successful transfers, AP reports, citing Bangladeshi newspaper reports.

If all the transfers were effected thieves would have made off with $950m. However, a spelling mistake in the name of one recipient led Deutsche Bank, which was involved in routing funds, to raise a query. The Federal Reserve Bank of New York flagged up the unusual transfer of funds to private accounts to the Bangladesh central bank at around the same time.

“Four requests to transfer a total of about $81m to the Philippines went through, but a fifth, for $20m, to a Sri Lankan non-profit organisation, was held up because the hackers misspelled the name of the NGO, Shalika Foundation,” Reuters reports.

The crooks misspelled “foundation” in the NGO’s name as “fandation”, prompting the query from Deutsche Bank.

«

link to this extract

 


How would you fare at the global negotiating table? » World Economic Forum

Donald Armbrecht:

»You’re a great negotiator at home, but how would you fare on the world stage? Strong negotiating skills in one culture can actually be a disadvantage in another, according to Erin Meyer, author of Getting to Si, Ja, Oui, Hai and Da.

Some cultures are emotionally expressive, even in the meeting room. Laughing, raising your voice or physical contact beyond a handshake can be considered normal in countries such as Italy and Spain. Whereas in the United States there’s a level of friendliness with limits. Meanwhile, business cultures in countries like Germany and Japan can find such behaviour inappropriate or unprofessional.

«

Also needs “what do phrases actually mean?” – given that when a Briton says “really?” they usually mean “that’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard”.
link to this extract

 


What no indie developer wants to hear about the App Store » iMore

Rene Ritchie:

»I hate hearing it as much as I hate writing it. It’s far easier to simply blame platform owners for failing to pull levers and influence economies; for treating Facebook or HBO better than they treat the 76th Notes app to launch this year.

If the absolutely capricious and often maddening [Apple App STore] review process and lack of attention really did chill innovation, though, it should be easy to point to Google Play and its over half-a-decade of relatively lax approval policies, and see year after year of ground-breaking, platform-making, device-selling apps that would never come to market on the App Store.

That would be the fastest way to get Apple to change review policies — force them to scramble into recovery mode, show the company rather than tell. But there’s nothing to show. Google Play isn’t full of universe-denting mobile software that iPhone and iPad owners simply can’t get. It has a few things like custom launchers, but those remain incredibly niche.

All the truly important apps of the last few years, from Instagram to Uber, all work just fine on the iPhone. In fact, they often work sooner and better.

If Apple did provide for trials and upgrade pricing and allowed more direct customer relationships, it’s uncertain how much that would really change things either. We live in an age of venture capital and mega corporations who can easily afford to release high-quality apps frequently and for free.

«

It is an unbeatable riposte to “trials would make all the difference” to say “well, it hasn’t for developers on Android”. Now read on..
link to this extract

 


Life and death in the App Store » The Verge

Casey Newton:

»Last month, Apple announced it had paid $40 billion to developers since the App Store opened, saying the store was responsible for “creating and supporting” 1.9 million US jobs. More than half a million iOS developers have created apps; the company’s Worldwide Developer Conference is so popular that tickets have to be distributed via a lottery. “[Apple] made our company,” Sykora says. “If Apple didn’t exist, we wouldn’t have a company at all.” And the market for apps is growing: between iOS, Android, and smaller platforms, apps could generate $101 billion annually by 2020, according to market research firm App Annie.

But the App Store’s middle class is small and shrinking. And the easy money is gone.

For a time, Pixite was a shining example of the businesses made possible by the app economy. Like thousands of other developers, Pixite’s founders took what had been a side project and turned it into a full-fledged career. But the company’s recent financial problems illustrate a series of powerful shifts in the industry toward consolidation and corporatization.

«

The death of the middle class here reflects wider changes in the outside world – but with evolution speeded up thousands of times. In passing, this article by Newton, and the interview below by Sam Byford, are two excellent pieces of journalism: as long as they need to be, well-researched, intimate, illuminating.
link to this extract

 


Artificial intelligence: Google’s AlphaGo beats Go master Lee Se-dol » BBC News

»A computer program has beaten a master Go player 3-0 in a best-of-five competition, in what is seen as a landmark moment for artificial intelligence.

Google’s AlphaGo program was playing against Lee Se-dol in Seoul, in South Korea.
Mr Lee had been confident he would win before the competition started.

The Chinese board game is considered to be a much more complex challenge for a computer than chess.

“AlphaGo played consistently from beginning to the end while Lee, as he is only human, showed some mental vulnerability,” one of Lee’s former coaches, Kwon Kap-Yong, told the AFP news agency.

«

This is what people overlooked in thinking that Se-dol would be able to pull things back even if he lost the first game. There’s no emotion in the machine; it just slogs on (and like chess, Go gets easier to compute towards the end). The human feels the pressure of being behind, and the pressure to win. The machine won’t blunder. The human can. I’m certain it will be a 5-0 result.
link to this extract

 


DeepMind founder Demis Hassabis on how AI will shape the future » The Verge

Sam Byford, in a terrific wide-ranging, intelligent interview:

»SB: So let’s move onto smartphone assistants. I saw you put up a slide from Her in your presentation on the opening day — is that really the endgame here?

DH: No, I mean Her is just an easy popular mainstream view of what that sort of thing is. I just think we would like these smartphone assistant things to actually be smart and contextual and have a deeper understanding of what you’re trying to do. At the moment most of these systems are extremely brittle — once you go off the templates that have been pre-programmed then they’re pretty useless. So it’s about making that actually adaptable and flexible and more robust.

SB: What’s the breakthrough that’s needed to improve these? Why couldn’t we work on it tomorrow?

DH: Well, we can — I just think you need a different approach. Again, it’s this dichotomy between pre-programmed and learnt. At the moment pretty much all smartphone assistants are special-cased and pre-programmed and that means they’re brittle because they can only do the things they were pre-programmed for. And the real world’s very messy and complicated and users do all sorts of unpredictable things that you can’t know ahead of time. Our belief at DeepMind, certainly this was the founding principle, is that the only way to do intelligence is to do learning from the ground up and be general.

«

This is a must-read; Hassabis is thinking so far ahead, but also so clearly. (I’ve previously said that I think the AI capabilities of phones will feed into the next pervasive thing – a bit like the selfie.)
link to this extract

 


What do games tell us about intelligence? » Medium

Johan Ugander is an assistant professor of management science and engineering at Stanford. The whole essay is terrific – he describes AlphaGo as “moving past the horizon of human Go ability” (chess programs have long since vanished over it) – but this part really makes you think:

»Imagine organizing a “Turing tournament” where all the subjects were human, but an interrogator was told that half of the subjects were machines. Tasked to determine which subjects were human and which were machine, the interrogator would be forced to choose which subject was “more human.” As a result, it is therefore possible to measure “how human” each human is. Or at least: how well each human performs human intelligence.

The next natural step is that there’s no reason to believe that computer programs can’t “out-human” us, achieving Elo ratings in the imitation game much higher than any human. This observation is particularly true if the interrogator in the game is human; the natural next step would be to put in place a machine interrogator, who would probably be able to discern the difference between subjects better than any human. As a first step in this direction, research on CAPTCHAs targets precisely this task of discriminating between machines and humans.

But beyond CAPTCHAs, at what point can a machine no longer tell the difference between a human and a machine?

«

link to this extract

 


One of the greatest art heists of our time was actually a data hack » Ars Technica

You already knew that it wasn’t a guerrilla 3D scan with a Kinect, because you read it here last week. Annalee Newitz has a neat followup, though:

»the true story of how the artists got their scan might actually be more revealing than the Kinect hoax. [Cosmo] Wenman [who has used high-quality photos to create scans] points out that many museums have high-quality scans of their artwork that they refuse to release to the public. He writes:

»

I know from first-hand experience that people want this data, and want to put it to use, and as I explained to LACMA in 2014, they will get it, one way or another. When museums refuse to provide it, the public is left in the dark and is open to having bogus or uncertain data foisted upon it.

Museums should not be repositories of secret knowledge, but unfortunately, as I’ve noted elsewhere, Neues is not alone in keeping their scan data to themselves. There are many influential museums, universities, and private collections that have extremely high quality 3D data of important works, but they are not sharing that data with the public.

«

He lists dozens of high-quality scans that are being hoarded by museums, from famous Rodin and Michelangelo sculptures, to Assyrian reliefs that are thousands of years old. If the artists behind The Other Nefertiti would come clean about where their scan came from, they might inspire other artists to force museums to open up their archives and allow many other artworks to return home— or come into our homes, making art part of our everyday lives.

«

There’s the scent of a novel in this. Which is real, the scan or the “original”?
link to this extract

 


Uber riders say they were charged massive cleaning fees for messes they never made » BuzzFeed News

Leticia Miranda:

»Uber customers are warning others to be wary of using the ride-hailing app after they say they were charged hundreds in vehicle cleaning fees for messes they claim they never made.

Jordan Hunter, a 22-year-old senior at University of Texas, says she and a group of friends were left stunned after a six-mile Uber ride in Austin left them with a triple-digit bill for what Uber said were cleaning purposes.

The group of six friends took an Uber home early on Saturday, Feb. 7, Hunter told BuzzFeed News. The friends were irritated by the surge pricing, but were willing to cough up the $68 it would cost to get home safely.

After arriving home, the friends were shocked to see they had been charged an additional $100 for a cleaning fee.

«

Sounds like drivers figuring out a way to make some extra cash on the side. If there’s a wrinkle, people will find it.
link to this extract

 


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida:

Start up: Bitcoin’s nightmare, the cheating economy, how Snapchat took off, Oculus spurns Macs, and more

SIM swaps are leading to bank fraud. Photo by mroach 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.

How Snapchat built a business by confusing olds » Bloomberg BusinessWeek

Max Chafkin and Sarah Frier:

»Compared with Twitter or Facebook, Snapchat can seem almost aggressively user-unfriendly. If you’re new to the app and looking for posts by your kid, your boyfriend, or DJ Khaled, good luck. It’s hard to find somebody without knowing his or her screen name. This is by design. “We’ve made it very hard for parents to embarrass their children,” [Snapchat founder Evan] Spiegel said at a conference in January. “It’s much more for sharing personal moments than it is about this public display.”

Spiegel, who declined to be interviewed, has been cagey about Snapchat’s business prospects. Its annual revenue is small—perhaps $200m, according to several press reports—but it has already drawn many big-name advertisers. Earlier this year, PepsiCo, Amazon.com, Marriott International, and Budweiser paid more than $1m to have their ads appear within the company’s Super Bowl coverage, according to a person familiar with the deals. And because Snapchat has yet to really try to sell ads to the small and midsize businesses that make up most of Google’s and Facebook’s customer base, there’s a lot of potential.

As Facebook has transformed from a slightly wild place to a communications tool for parents, teachers, and heads of state, Snapchat’s more playful ethos, and the fact that anything posted on it disappears in 24 hours, has made it the looser, goofier social network. “You’re sending this ephemera back and forth to your friends,” says Charlie McKittrick, the head of strategy at Mother New York, an ad agency. “It’s the detritus of life. But it’s really funny.” Last September, while Mark Zuckerberg hosted Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Facebook’s campus, the big news at Snapchat’s offices in Venice was a feature called Lenses, which makes your selfies look like you’re vomiting a rainbow.

«

link to this extract

 


We’re moving away from torrents, so whats next? » Strike

“Andrew”:

»As you can see if just a teeny bit taxing on my server, so as of today I wanted to officially annouce that Strike will no longer focus on torrents, in fact I’ve decided to phase Strike into creating open source utilities that help every day life. Our first project is already under development and called Ulterius, an open source C# based framework that allows you to remotely manage windows based systems, all from any HTML5 enabled browser…

…Q: Will you ever do torrent related things again?

A: Most likely not. It’s easier to create completely original content than to attempt to ride the tails of existing content. While I found P2P technology fun, and I’ll continue to follow it and maybe develop stuff around it. I don’t foresee myself ever hosting Anything as a service in the future.

«

Combination of lawsuits against others, and the gigantic bandwidth demand on his site. Mostly the bandwidth, it seems.
link to this extract

 


Will we compile? » ROUGH TYPE

Nick Carr:

»Getting machines to understand, and speak, the language used by people — natural language processing — has long been a central goal of artificial intelligence research. In a provocative new interview at Edge, Stephen Wolfram turns that goal on its head. The real challenge, he suggests, is getting people to understand, and speak, the language used by machines. In a future world in which we rely on computers to fulfill our desires, we’re going to need to be able to express those desires in a way that computers can understand…

…Computers can’t choose our goals for us, Wolfram correctly observes. “Goals are a human construct.” Determining our purposes will remain a human activity, beyond the reach of automation. But will it really matter? If we are required to formulate our goals in a language a machine can understand, is not the machine determining, or at least circumscribing, our purposes? Can you assume another’s language without also assuming its system of meaning and its system of being?

«

Very deep questions underlying this. And speaking of controlling machines through spoken language..
link to this extract

 


Amazon adds the $130 Amazon Tap and the $90 Echo Dot to the Echo family » Techcrunch

Sarah Buhr:

»The Echo has received more than 33,000 Amazon reviews at a nearly five-star rating since launching in late 2014 and was one of the best-selling items going for more than $100 over the holidays. Amazon has not released sales figures for Echo, but its rise in popularity and the ability to build upon and integrate with the companion Alexa API have moved the Echo front and center as a must-have device for the smart home.

Amazon is now introducing two new members to the Echo family with slightly different uses in hopes of achieving a similar reaction: Amazon Tap is a portable version of the original Echo, and Echo Dot is a tiny, hockey-puck-sized version that includes a built-in line-out connector to hook into your choice of speaker.

«

link to this extract

 


Online break-in forces bank to tighten security » BBC News

Shari Vahl:

»Two major high street banks will change security procedures after journalists from BBC Radio 4’s You and Yours programme broke into an account online and removed money.
Recently bank customers accounts have been successfully attacked by criminals who divert mobile phone accounts.

Criminals persuade phone providers to divert mobile phone numbers in what is sometimes called “SIM swap fraud”.

Some banks text security details when customers forget their details.

The activation codes sent by text to mobile phones also allow payments to be made from an account.

The scam works by blocking the genuine phone. The owner is unaware of why the phone has been blocked and allows the criminal – who now has control of their phone – to syphon money from their bank account.

You and Yours has been contacted by dozens of people affected by the scam. All say they have never revealed their security details to anyone, and the that first they knew something was wrong was their mobile phone going dead.

«

Wow.
link to this extract

 


Chinese ISPs caught injecting ads and malware into web pages » The Hacker News

Rakesh Krishnan:

»Chinese Internet Service Providers (ISPs) have been caught red-handed injecting advertisements as well as malware through their network traffic.

Three Israeli researchers uncovered that the major Chinese-based ISPs named China Telecom and China Unicom, two of Asia’s largest network operators, have been engaged in an illegal practice of content injection in network traffic.

Chinese ISPs had set up many proxy servers to pollute the client’s network traffic not only with insignificant advertisements but also malware links, in some cases, inside the websites they visit.
If an Internet user tries to access a domain that resides under these Chinese ISPs, the forged packet redirects the user’s browser to parse the rogue network routes. As a result, the client’s legitimate traffic will be redirected to malicious sites/ads, benefiting the ISPs.

«

link to this extract

 


TensorFlow for Poets » Pete Warden’s blog

»I want to show how anyone with a Mac laptop and the ability to use the Terminal can create their own image classifier using TensorFlow, without having to do any coding.

I feel very lucky to be a part of building TensorFlow, because it’s a great opportunity to bring the power of deep learning to a mass audience. I look around and see so many applications that could benefit from the technology by understanding the images, speech, or text their users enter. The frustrating part is that deep learning is still seen as a very hard topic for product engineers to grasp. That’s true at the cutting edge of research, but otherwise it’s mostly a holdover from the early days. There’s already a lot of great documentation on the TensorFlow site, but to demonstrate how easy it can be for general software engineers to pick up I’m going to present a walk-through that takes you from a clean OS X laptop all the way to classifying your own categories of images. You’ll find written instructions in this post, along with a screencast showing exactly what I’m doing.

«

Warden was at Jetpac, which was bought by Google because of its expertise at machine learning and image classification. This is the one to follow to dive into deep learning (aka machine learning, aka AI).
link to this extract

 


Oculus’ Palmer Luckey will consider Mac support if Apple ‘ever releases a good computer’ » Shacknews

Daniel Perez:

»We spoke to Oculus VR founder Palmer Luckey recently during an Xbox press event where we took the opportunity to ask him some questions regarding the future of his company, and his product, the Oculus Rift.

One question we were dying to ask is he sees a future for the Oculus Rift with Apple computers. When asked if there would ever be Mac support for the Rift, Palmer responds by saying “That is up to Apple. If they ever release a good computer, we will do it.”

Palmer continues to clarify what he meant by that blunt statement by saying “It just boils down to the fact that Apple doesn’t prioritize high-end GPUs. You can buy a $6,000 Mac Pro with the top of the line AMD FirePro D700, and it still doesn’t match our recommended specs. So if they prioritize higher-end GPUs like they used to for a while back in the day, we’d love to support Mac. But right now, there’s just not a single machine out there that supports it.”

«

There aren’t that many Windows PCs that support it, either. Wonder if this is a high priority for Apple just now.
link to this extract

 


The cheating economy » Medium

Doug Bierend on Studypool, which lets students “hire” tutors for “help understanding their homework” – which the students of course translate into “doing their homework”, and give bad grades to those tutors who don’t comply:

»Rarely is the sharing model of enterprise, epitomized by the likes of Uber and Airbnb, sensitive to the costs incurred by its host system — those two companies are hardly compelled to preserve the integrity of the “legacy” cab companies and hoteliers they are undercutting. Likewise, success for this platform isn’t determined by whether it actually helps people learn. After all, optimizing and reducing the latency in busing information from one place to another makes sense — a lot of sense — for servers and data, but where brains and ideas are concerned, learning isn’t always efficient. And any approach that offers a backdoor — knowingly or not—where intellectual honesty is concerned is bound to reap the patronage of the many people willing to buy an answer or grade rather than earn it.

«

A passing thought: Bierend is a professional journalist (it shines through in this piece – read it all), and this appeared in “Bright” – which is funded by the Gates Foundation, and subsumed into Medium. The brave new world where a non-profit created from the money out of a brief technology monopoly pays for journalism published on a site created from the money paid to the creator of free publishing platforms (Blogger and Twitter) that were funded by advertising. Who says there aren’t new business models for journalism?
link to this extract

 


Bitcoin’s nightmare scenario has come to pass » The Verge

Ben Popper:

»Over the last year and a half a number of prominent voices in the Bitcoin community have been warning that the system needed to make fundamental changes to its core software code to avoid being overwhelmed by the continued growth of Bitcoin transactions. There was strong disagreement within the community, however, about how to solve this problem, or if the problem would ever materialize.

This week the dire predictions came to pass, as the network reached its capacity, causing transactions around the world to be massively delayed, and in some cases to fail completely. The average time to confirm a transaction has ballooned from 10 minutes to 43 minutes. Users are left confused and shops that once accepted Bitcoin are dropping out.

«

Remember how Mike Hearn, who saw this problem coming and proposed an increase in block size which would have headed it off, was criticised to hell and back for being “misleading”? I bet he’s feeling vindicated now. Wonder how his then-critics feel. (Update: not great, apparently, since the Pond Politics page I referenced has been deleted in the meantime.)
link to this extract

 


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified.

Start up: VR porn!, privacy and the FBI, Baidu’s data grab, why Trump?, and more

A Nissan Leaf charging. But you’d know that if you were to plug its VIN into a public API. Photo by Janitors on Flickr.

Don’t be late! 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.

Controlling vehicle features of Nissan LEAFs across the globe via vulnerable APIs » Troy Hunt

Someone in one of Hunt’s classes discovered how to find out the battery status of Nissan’s popular electric car – and also turn its air conditioning on or off. For any LEAF. Without authorisation. Via API. From anywhere. And Nissan didn’t listen, and four different groups have discovered it independently:

»Nissan need to fix this. It’s a different class of vulnerability to the Charlie Miller and Chris Valasek Jeep hacking shenanigans of last year, but in both good and bad ways. Good in that it doesn’t impact the driving controls of the vehicle, yet bad in that the ease of gaining access to vehicle controls in this fashion doesn’t get much easier – it’s profoundly trivial. As car manufacturers rush towards joining in on the “internet of things” craze, security cannot be an afterthought nor something we’re told they take seriously after realising that they didn’t take it seriously enough in the first place. Imagine getting it as wrong as Nissan has for something like Volvo’s “digital key” initiative where you unlock your car with your phone.

By pure coincidence, this week Nissan unveiled a revised LEAF at the GSMA Mobile World Congress. Clearly, like many car makers, their future involves a strong push for greater connectivity in their vehicles:

»

In a fully connected, fully mobile world, in-vehicle connectivity is an absolute must for today’s drivers.

«

«

Perhaps not an “absolute must”, actually.
link to this extract

 


I got hacked mid-air while writing an Apple-FBI story » USAToday

Steven Petrow works for USA Today, and was writing and sending emails via Gogo Wi-Fi on a flight to Raleigh, Virginia. On touchdown, the guy in the seat behind him explained that he had hacked him, and “most people on the flight”:

»“That’s how I know you’re interested in the Apple story,” he continued. “Imagine if you had been doing a financial transaction. What if you were making a date to see a whore?” My mind raced: What about my health records? My legal documents? My Facebook messages?

And then the kicker:

“That’s why this story is so important to everyone,” he told me. “It’s about everyone’s privacy.”

Then he headed down the escalator and I headed out the front door. I may have been wearing my jacket, but I felt as exposed as if I’d been stark naked…

…[He then called Alex Abdo, a civil rights lawyer]: who is in actual danger here? The answer, apparently, is pretty much all of us. “Anyone who relies on the security of their devices,” Abdo told me.

It should be up to each of us to decide what to make public, and what to keep private, he continued. For me, I felt as though the stranger on the plane had robbed me of my privacy — as was explicitly his intent. He took the decision of what to share out of my hands. He went in through the back door of the GoGo connection.

«

link to this extract

 


Microsoft has acquired Xamarin » Petri

Brad Sams:

»Xamarin is one of the leading platforms for mobile app development and provides a robust platform that helps developers build mobile apps using C# and deliver fully native mobile app experiences to all major devices, including iOS, Android, and Windows. Seeing as Microsoft is a productivity focused company whose Visual Studio product is used by millions around the globe, this acquisition will fit nicely into their portfolio of products.

With more than 15,000 customers in 120 countries, of which 100 are Fortune 500 firms, Xamarin has become a leader in this space. Companies like Alaska Airlines, Coca-Cola Bottling, Thermo Fisher, Honeywell and JetBlue all use the software to develop their apps.

«

Apparently MSDN devs want to know if they’ll get it for free.
link to this extract

 


Solid support for Apple in iPhone encryption fight: poll » Reuters

Jim Finkle:

»Nearly half of Americans support Apple Inc’s (AAPL.O) decision to oppose a federal court order demanding that it unlock a smartphone used by San Bernardino shooter Rizwan Farook, according to a national online Reuters/Ipsos poll.

Forty-six percent of respondents said they agreed with Apple’s position, 35 percent said they disagreed and 20 percent said they did not know, according to poll results released on Wednesday.

Other questions in the poll showed that a majority of Americans do not want the government to have access to their phone and Internet communications, even if it is done in the name of stopping terror attacks.

«

Wait, I thought half supported the FBI? Oh god I’m so confused. As are the people being asked subtly different questions about the same topic.
link to this extract

 


Apple-FBI fight asks: is code protected as free speech? » Bloomberg Business

Adam Satriano:

»There’s some precedent for arguing that code is protected legal speech. In the 1990s, a graduate student at the University of California at Berkeley wrote an encryption program for his own research that he wanted to make public. Under federal regulations, a coder must get a license to publish cryptography tools, and the government denied the student’s license. In 1999, the U.S. Court of Appeals in San Francisco ruled for the first time that source code was protected as speech, and the student, Dan Bernstein, who is now an instructor at the University of Illinois at Chicago, was allowed to share the code freely.

The case, Bernstein v. U.S. Department of Justice, has been highlighted by those who favor less regulation of the Internet. But judges have also ruled that free speech protections don’t apply to code. Courts have been especially skeptical in cases involving piracy of music and movies.
The law “is murky in this area,” said Michael Froomkin, a law professor at the University of Miami — and that’s why Apple’s case could break new ground.

«

link to this extract

 


I tried VR porn, and I liked it » Ars Technica UK

Sebastian Anthony:

»You will probably be unsurprised to hear that VR porn is awesome. It’s like porn, but better. The porn I was sampling—made by Naughty America—was essentially a standard first-person-perspective film, but with the ability to look around. Unlike some VR experiences that are just two-dimensional 360-degree panoramas, Naughty America’s porn is stereoscopic; stuff actually sticks out, or comes flying at you. You really do want to reach out and touch things.

I watched three different scenes as I sat there in the cafe. In all three of them, “I” (a male actor) was reclining on some kind of sofa, looking down at my muscular physique and giant appendage. In some scenes, other people did things to me—in other scenes, I was much more proactive.

To be honest, it was a bit weird, looking down and seeing someone else’s body. But, after a few minutes of watching, I began to feel a sense of agency; I began to feel that yes, those rippling muscles were mine; I began to feel that it was me being tended to by two other beautiful people.

And of course, just as I was starting to get into it, the demo ended and I found myself back in the real world, being grinned at by a couple of guys from Naughty America. “Pretty cool, eh?”

All I can do is nod. Why did the demo have to end so soon?

Right now Naughty America’s films only allow have a 180-degree field of view, primarily because a standard porn scene doesn’t require anything greater, but also because it’s technologically quite challenging as well. Different varieties of porn—orgies and the like—would require a 360-degree field of view, but it doesn’t seem that Naughty America is working on that just yet.

When I asked Ian Paul, the company’s CIO, about how they actually film the VR scenes, he refused to tell me anything. “I can’t give away anything right now.” Basically, according to Paul, it’s quite hard to shoot a 3D VR film from an actor’s perspective, and lots of porn studios are currently trying to find the optimal setup.

«

You think kids playing video games is a problem now? Wait until this stuff becomes easily available.
link to this extract

 


Trump shatters the Republican Party » Politico

Shane Goldmacher:

»While Cruz has tried to tap into frustrated voters via ideology, Rubio has been far more reticent to amplify the angriest voices, saying repeatedly, “It is not enough to simply nominate someone who is angry.”

In South Carolina last week, when a voter shouted out that Hillary Clinton was a “traitor,” Rubio interjected gently, “I wouldn’t go that far, sir.” And last month, in Iowa, when another voter worried about Islamic sharia law coming to America, Rubio rebutted, “Guys, that’s not going to happen.”

While Rubio dances around the electorate’s resentments, Trump revels in them. On primary night in South Carolina, he tapped into their nationalism as he whacked at Mexico and China. “They’ve taken out jobs, they’ve taken our money, they’ve taken our everything,” he declared.

The crowd cheered wildly. “I showed anger and the people of our country are very angry!” Trump later tweeted about his South Carolina victory.

Perkins, the evangelical leader, described the Trump phenomenon’s lack of ideology this way: “You can’t be fearful and thoughtful at the same time.”

«

I remain fascinated by Trump’s rise (from the relatively safe distance of a few thousand miles of ocean). What I don’t know, and nobody seems to be saying much, is: how does Trump play with the broader electorate? If it’s Trump v Clinton (as seems likely), how does that play out?
link to this extract

 


Huawei Watch: Android Wear burn-in prevention 4K lapse [N5X] » YouTube

»

Quick 4K time lapse of Android Wear burn in prevention on the Huawei Watch. Captured with Framelapse Pro using a Nexus 5X.

«

That moves around quite a bit. Which prompts the thought – how long will always-on screens survive before they’re burnt out? Something to consider with wearables.
link to this extract

 


Announcing Spotify Infrastructure’s Googley future » News

Nicholas Harteau:

»in a business growing quickly in users, markets and features, keeping pace with scaling demands requires ever increasing amounts of focus and effort. Like good, lazy engineers, we occasionally asked ourselves: do we really need to do all this stuff?

For a long time the answer was “yes.” Operating our own data-centers may be a pain, but the core cloud services were not at a level of quality, performance and cost that would make cloud a significantly better option for Spotify in the long run. As they say: better the devil you know…

Recently that balance has shifted. The storage, compute and network services available from cloud providers are as high quality, high performance and low cost as what the traditional approach provides. This makes the move to the cloud a no-brainer for us. Google, in our experience, has an edge here, but it’s a competitive space and we expect the big players to be battling it out for the foreseeable future.

«

Lots of people are interpreting this as the first step to Spotify’s entirely Googley (ie Google-owned) future, and it’s hard not to see this that way.
link to this extract

 


Thousands of apps running Baidu code collect, leak personal data: research » Reuters

Jeremy Wagstaff and Paul Carsten:

»Thousands of apps running code built by Chinese Internet giant Baidu have collected and transmitted users’ personal information to the company, much of it easily intercepted, researchers say.

The apps have been downloaded hundreds of millions of times.

The researchers at Canada-based Citizen Lab said they found the problems in an Android software development kit developed by Baidu. These affected Baidu’s mobile browser and apps developed by Baidu and other firms using the same kit. Baidu’s Windows browser was also affected, they said.

The same researchers last year highlighted similar problems with unsecured personal data in Alibaba’s UC Browser, another mobile browser widely used in the world’s biggest Internet market.

Alibaba fixed those vulnerabilities, and Baidu told Reuters it would be fixing the encryption holes in its kits, but would still collect data for commercial use, some of which it said it shares with third parties. Baidu said it “only provides what data is lawfully requested by duly constituted law enforcement agencies.”…

…”It’s either shoddy design or it’s surveillance by design,” said Citizen Lab director Ron Deibert.

«

Tricky choice.
link to this extract

 


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: yesterday’s web page headline briefly said that it was Acer’s routers, not Asus’s, which had been found to be full of holes by the FTC. This was wrong.