Start up: Safe Harbour’s failure, Google Photos grows, Android Doze, Theranos redux, and more


Guess what sort of things Facebook’s “M” assistant gets asked to do. Photo by PeterThoeny on Flickr.

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

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

The collapse of the US-EU Safe Harbor: solving the new privacy Rubik’s Cube » Microsoft on the Issues

Brad Smith, Microsoft’s chief legal officer:

On Oct. 6, the Court of Justice of the European Union struck down an international legal regime that over 4,000 companies have been relying upon not just to move data across the Atlantic, but to do business and serve consumers on two continents with over 800 million people.

The decision made clear what many have been advocating for some time: Legal rules that were written at the dawn of the personal computer are no longer adequate for an era with ubiquitous mobile devices connected to the cloud. In both the United States and Europe, we need new laws adapted to a new technological world.

As lawyers and officials scurry to assess the situation, it’s apparent that both a variety of smaller steps and a more fundamental long-term change will be needed. We need to focus on both of these aspects.

Haven’t seen a blogpost from Google on this. Have I missed it?
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Google Photos cloud storage service hits 100 million monthly users » Re/code

Mark Bergen:

Love for Google Photos inside the Googleplex overfloweth. At conferences, on earnings calls, in cocktail parties, Google execs shower praise on the cloud photo storage and sharing service it launched back in May. For good reason: It’s a simple, practical product that shows off Google’s machine learning prowess without any of the baggage of Google+, from which it was born.

And people are using it. On Tuesday, the search giant announced that Photos, in its first five months, has crossed 100 million monthly active users.

Google+: launched June 2011, claimed 100m users by September 2012. So this is faster – and surely a lot more engaging. Everyone loves their own photos, as opposed to everyone else’s opinions.
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Facebook M assistant’s top requests include restaurant suggestions and shopping help » TechCrunch

After an early report from The Information, Facebook provided official details on its M project in August. Built into Messenger, M lets users text in almost any request, from assistance with online chores to booking real-world services or making purchases on their behalf. Requests are currently fielded by a combination of Facebook workers and artificial intelligence.

The hope is that over time, the humans will teach the AI to do more and more complicated tasks on their own. If M succeeds and can be affordably rolled out, it could make people’s lives easier while strengthening their loyalty to Facebook Messenger amid intense competition between chat apps. Though if it’s too costly to scale, Facebook could burn a lot of money on the project.

M could potentially earn revenue itself by taking a margin on top of purchases or services booked for people. But the big opportunity is for Facebook to lock users further into its ecosystem where it makes ample money on News Feed ads. One day, Facebook could even sell ads that convince you to initiate an M request that involves an advertiser’s business.

Right now, Facebook tells me the No. 1 type of request is for restaurant suggestions and reservations. People might know their desired food type, distance, price range, or some quality they’re looking for in a restaurant, and M helps find them the one that fits and gets them a table.

Not so different from what Siri or Google Now or Cortana can do – “find me Mexican restaurants within three minutes’ walk.” Baby steps. But really interesting ones.
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Deutsche Telekom said to weigh new antitrust complaint against Google » The New York Times

Mark Scott:

Deutsche Telekom, which owns a controlling stake in T-Mobile US, the cellphone carrier, appears ready to get involved in Europe’s investigation into Google’s Android mobile software as well. Deutsche Telekom is expected to file a formal complaint with European competition authorities in the coming weeks, according to several people with direct knowledge of the discussions.

The complaint, which may be submitted by early November, focuses on whether Google uses its Android mobile operating system to unfairly promote its own products like Google Maps and online search over those of rivals, the people said. They would speak only on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly.

This is separate from the search antitrust investigation (which is principally looking at desktop).
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Google will require OEMs to include unmodified Doze Mode in Android 6.0 » Android Police

Ryan Whitwam:

For years Android has struggled with battery life due to apps running in the background when they aren’t supposed to, and Marshmallow could finally put a stop to it. To make sure device makers play ball, Google’s Android 6.0 Compatibility Definition Document (CDD) explicitly requires Marshmallow phones to include Doze, and OEMs aren’t allowed to monkey around with it.

Doze mode is Google’s answer to the sometimes terrible standby time of Android devices. If a phone or tablet hasn’t been used for a while, the system goes into Doze mode—apps remain asleep and wakelocks are ignored. Important cloud message pings still get through and the device wakes up briefly on occasion to sync, but that’s it…

If you go into the power optimization settings in Android 6.0, you can see which apps are exempt from Doze. On stock Android that’s just Play Services and device manager, but Google will require OEMs to show users anything else they choose to exempt from Doze in that list. That doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be able to remove the exemption, but you’ll at least know what’s been given special treatment.

It was all going so well until that last sentence. But good to see Google tightening up on this stuff; user experience counts.
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City AM becomes first UK newspaper to ban ad blocker users » The Guardian

Mark Sweney:

City AM is launching a trial from Tuesday that will blur out text of stories on cityam.com for desktop users of Firefox browsers who are detected using ad blocking software.

Readers will be encounter a message saying: “We are having trouble showing you adverts on this page, which may be a result of ad blocker software being installed on your device. As City AM relies on advertising to fund its journalism, please disable any adblockers from running on cityam.com to see the rest of this content.”

Martin Ashplant, the digital director at City AM, said about 8% of the site’s 1.2 million monthly browsers use Firefox on desktop and around 20% of those have ad blocking software installed.

The trial currently does not include any other browser types or non-desktop devices such as mobile phones and tablets.

Let’s see if we can guess: adblocker users will move to different browsers? Also, it’s doing this for 1.6% of its users – ie 19,200 people? Perhaps trying to get the thin end of the wedge in there.
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Theranos trouble: a first-person account » Monday Note

Jean-Louis Gassée tried them because he has some skin (well, blood) in the game:

It seems a Hungarian forebear passed down an errant JAK2 gene that trips bone marrow into polycythemia vera (PCV), a fancy name for “too many blood cells” — and potential clots, especially as one’s vessels degrade with age. There’s no cure, yet, but with frequent attention the treatment is simple: Hydroxyurea, an inexpensive 19th century urea derivative, slows bone marrow output.

In homage to my ancestor, I perform a decade-old routine, a stroll to Stanford Hospital’s Hematology Lab to give blood samples that are tested for Complete Blood Count (CBC) and Metabolites. My numbers haven’t fluctuated much since my last visit and the kind hematologist pronounces me “medically boring” (Pourvu que ça dure! ). Good for me: If the hematocrit (HCT) number crosses the 45% threshold, I get to meet the vampire and “donate” 500ml of blood. (After which this perfectly good pint of blood must be tossed. Regulations. Sigh…)

On my way back to my University Avenue office, a thought pops up: Why not try Theranos for comparison?

His experience is a tad worrying; the comments below the post from people in the lab/testing industry are pretty eye-opening too. You don’t come away thinking the noise around Theranos is nonsense.
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Some tech investors sure seem to be getting defensive lately … » Business Insider

Matt Rosoff with a well-argued counterpoint to the venture capitalists who – while lacking any detailed knowledge – complain about exposés such as the NYT’s on Amazon, or the WSJ’s on Theranos:

Journalists don’t set out to write takedowns of companies. But when a journalist begins investigating a company and finds something is amiss, and the story is well vetted and fairly reported, the venture community should welcome that reporting.

Because every faker, every charlatan, and every company whose product just isn’t good enough to win is taking money that could have been invested in other companies that have a better chance. 

(One more thing. Journalists are happy to hear companies defend themselves. But when a company refuses to share any data that could bolster its case, and refuses to let anything they say privately be used publicly — that’s “off the record” in journalism-speak — it’s awfully hard to take these defenses seriously.)

If you’re a journalist, you’ve surely had the latter experience. Rosoff’s piece really does need to be read in full.
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Intel has 1,000 people working on a chip for iPhone? Of course they do » DIGITS to DOLLARS

Jonathan Greenberg (who has a lot of valuable experience in the chip industry):

I would argue that Intel has a lot of levers they can pull to win Apple as a wireless customer. They can offer a bundled deal which includes processors for the MacBook, and even cut Apple a deal to serve as their foundry for future versions of Apple’s A-Series of processors. I have no idea if any of these will ever happen, but I want to point out that this is a complex negotiation environment.
And, of course, there is Apple itself to reckon with. The post makes a big deal about the fact that Apple hired a big team of people from Infineon, but that started years ago, and that team has been using Qualcomm modems for a long time. More intriguing is the idea that Apple just wants to license the modem software from Intel and then design their own chip. That rumor has been circling for a long time. And I think it is important to remember that. Apple wants to manage their suppliers for its own ends. They now have two foundry partners to fight over iPhone share. For the past few years Apple has had little choice but to use Qualcomm for modems, so it is only natural for them to want a second source. When (if?) Intel finally gets its LTE modem working, Apple will have that second source. My guess is that Apple really does not want to design its own modems. That requires a lot of labor intensive software work to keep up with those standards mentioned above.

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Tim Cook gets passionate about privacy at “The Wall Street Journal” tech conference » Fast Company

Harry McCracken:

The conversation was more fun when Cook spoke about the new Apple TV. He pushed back on Baker’s contention that the streaming box wasn’t much of a disruptor, and went on an entertaining rant against TV as it’s existed for decades. (“Why does a channel even exist? Think about it. My nephew asked me once, and I couldn’t even answer.”)

But the liveliest portion of the session by far involved privacy. It’s been a big talking point for Cook for a while now. And onstage, he got worked up talking about it in a way that was strikingly different from his normal, preternaturally calm, on-point manner.

“Privacy is a key value of our company,” Cook began, in a manner similar to his previous statements on the topic. “We think it will become increasingly important to more and more people over time as they realize that intimate parts of their lives are in the open and being used for all kinds of things.” He explained that Apple encrypts personal information and keeps it on your phone, drawing an unstated contrast with Google, whose fundamental business model involves storing personal data in the cloud where the company can slice it, dice it, and monetize it with advertising.

But when the discussion turned to government monitoring of the digital world—National Security Agency director Michael Rogers having preceded Cook onstage—Baker said there were basic tradeoffs between privacy and national security. And Cook didn’t buy it. “I don’t agree,” he said. “I think that’s a copout.”

Cook also objected to Baker’s what-if scenario involving a back door that would have let government agents override encrypted data and foil the 9/11 plot before it was carried out: “No one should have to decide, privacy or security. We should be smart enough to do both.”

That point about channels should have been in Cook’s introduction of the new Apple TV in September – except the answer is easy: it’s to give you a predictable experience, just as a newspaper does. Apple lacks a good storyteller at present. (You can read the liveblog on the WSJ Digits blog.)
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Start up: Russia v Android, Citymapper and Crosslink, the Windows 10 problem, and more


Android Marshmallow is out. What’s inside? Photo by Waleed Alzuhair on Flickr.

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

A selection of 11 links for you. Hydrated for greater comfort. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Russian antitrust officials give Google deadline on Android bundling » Re/code

Mark Bergen:

Here’s the edict from the Russian antitrust agency (pulled from Google Translate, since it has yet to update its English site): “In order to restore competition in the market … Google [must] adjust the agreements with the manufacturers of mobile devices to exclude from the agreements anticompetitive requirements limiting the installation of applications and services to other developers.”

Google declined to comment. It could face a fine, according to the Russian agency, of up to 15% of the revenue from the preinstalled apps. Morgan Stanley has estimated that Russia accounts for about $560m of Google’s annual revenue, or roughly 1%.

Yandex, which brought the case, said in a statement it was “satisfied” with the decision. “Our goal is to return fair play to the market – when apps are preinstalled on mobile devices based on how good or how popular they are rather than due to restrictions imposed by the owner of the operating system,” the company added.

As I read it, that would only apply to devices sold inside Russia after the November 18 deadline. Wonder what it means for grey imports. Obviously it can’t be retrospective.
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Learning more about Google’s self-driving cars made me terrified to ever drive again » Business Insider

Jillian D’Onfro:

less than 24 hours after Google’s presentation… I had to drive to and from Los Altos, California. What would otherwise have seemed like a completely typical trip suddenly made me realize just how pathetic a driver I am compared to one of Google’s cars.

Although I didn’t commit the cardinal sin of texting while driving, I was for the first time hyper-conscious of how often I let me eyes drift from the road, whether to check Google Maps on my phone or change the radio station. At one point, I needed to slam the brakes: I had been watching traffic, but deep in thought, making my reaction time slower than it should have been.

Suddenly, I couldn’t wait to get out of that car. The person driving next to me, yapping on her phone, immediately seemed like a threat. As did the fact that I was taking my eyes away from the road ahead to look at her. I have never loved driving, but recognizing all the normal minutiae as potentially dangerous distractions makes me hate it. 

I think there are going to be two reactions to SDCs: those like D’Onfro, and those who enjoy the chance to beat the slowpoke super-cautious SDCs by driving aggressively.
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Building a city without open data » Medium

Citymapper explains how it began with open data for its travel planning service, but is now working on cities which don’t:

We’ve learned that the goal is not just to launch cities and win fancy prizes, although that’s fun. It’s about maintaining and improving data so that citizens and travellers can trust us to give them the best information when and where they need it.

And this is hard. The largest cities of our planet are complicated and evolve over time. They require dedicated focus. And we’ve found that open data is not enough to satisfy the information demands of the ever wanting smartphone user.

So we’ve been fixing data. And we’ve been improving data. And we’ve been adding data. And in the process of doing so we’ve developed a number of tools to help us scale and solve problems faster. And to empower our heroes to fix things and solve problems without the need for engineering.

We’ve done a lot with these tools. Well for one, we’ve used them to create some fake data…

They can show you what travel in London is going to be like with Crossrail. Terrific.
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Android 6.0 Marshmallow, thoroughly reviewed » Ars Technica

Ron Amadeo:

Google says that the new release has a “back to basics” motif with a focus on “polish and quality.” Marshmallow makes many long-requested features a reality with selectable app permissions, a data backup system that actually works, and the ability to format SD cards as Ext4, allowing the system to treat cards just like internal storage. Marshmallow is also prepared for the future with support for USB Type-C’s power delivery spec, a Fingerprint authentication API, and 4K display support. And, as with any Android release, there’s also lots of new Googley stuff—a slick new search interface and a contextual search mode called “Google Now on Tap,” for example.

While this is a review of the final build of “Android 6.0,” we’re going to cover many of Google’s apps along with some other bits that aren’t technically exclusive to Marshmallow. Indeed, big chunks of “Android” don’t actually live in the operating system anymore. Google offloads as much of Android as possible to Google Play Services and to the Play Store for easier updating and backporting to older versions, and this structure allows the company to retain control over its open source platform. As such, consider this a look at the shipping Google Android software package rather than just the base operating system. “Review: New Android stuff Google has released recently” would be a more accurate title, though not as catchy.

The 23rd version of Android, though I’m guessing that includes hundredth-decimal point updates. Amadeo’s predictions about how developers will abuse the battery-saving Doze mode are worth reading (as the whole thing is – allow plenty of time). Finally fixed permissions, eh? Only been waiting since 2012. And definitely read the last page if nothing else.
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Carriers are making more from mobile ads than publishers are » Medium

Rob Leathern crunched the numbers, based on the NY Times article about sites’ ad heft:

For each site, take Mb/minute x Avg per/Mb mobile data cost, and weight the average by each site’s monthly unique mobile visitors (so heavier data-using sites get more weight in our calculation) and normalize to one minute of time on each site, for a value ranging from $0.01 to $0.24 per minute. Compare that figure to our average revenue of $0.15/hour = $0.0025/minute and weight the average to get the result:

16.6x more in data costs to the user than mobile ad revenue to these top 50 news sites on average

Even if it isn’t exactly accurate, it’s showing an order of magnitude difference. Publishers get an absolute pittance from ads. Then again, people spend very little time on them – Leathern’s data (from public sources) says it’s about 3.5 minutes per month.
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We’re replacing comments with something better » Motherboard

Derek Mead, editor-in-chief of Motherboard:

Comment sections inspire quick, potent remarks, which too easily veer into being useless or worse. Sending an email knowing that a human will actually see it tends to foster thought, which is what we want. So in addition to encouraging that you reach out to our reporters via email or social media, you can now also share your thoughts with editors via letters@motherboard.tv. Once a week or thereabouts we’ll publish a digest of the most insightful letters we get.

The argument for comments has long been that a well-moderated section lowers the barrier to entry for readers to share their thoughts, positive or otherwise. In a vacuum, that sounds like a dream, but the key there is “well-moderated.” Good comment sections exist, and social media can be just as abrasive an alternative. But for a growing site like ours, I think that our readers are best served by dedicating our resources to doing more reporting than attempting to police a comments section in the hopes of marginally increasing the number of useful comments.

Ah, another one. Gresham’s Law continues to apply.
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Microsoft lowers its expectations for phones » WSJ

Shira Ovide on the forthcoming launch of new (high end?) Lumia phones:

Microsoft is betting that shoppers and mobile-application developers will find it alluring to buy Windows smartphones, or write applications for them, in tandem with Windows PCs. To lure app makers who have treated Windows smartphones as an afterthought, Microsoft has made it easier to repurpose their iPhone or Android apps for Microsoft phones.

People close to Microsoft say success at proliferating Windows 10—the company aims to have it installed on 1 billion devices by mid-2018—would give a huge lift to Windows smartphones. That would likely invert the pattern set by Apple, which found that people who bought iPhones were more willing to buy a Mac computer.

“The best thing for Windows phone devices is Windows 10 use,” said a person familiar with Microsoft’s strategy.

Microsoft executives hoping for a smartphone turnaround can point to a precedent: the company’s Surface line of tablet-plus-PC devices, a once-struggling hardware business that found its groove even without blockbuster sales.

“Let’s write an Uber app for the desktop!”
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I once was in Maps, but now I’m found » Unauthoritative Pronouncements

Joe Steel has some worthwhile objections to Apple Maps:

One of the things I’ve found puzzling about the design of the Apple Maps interface is that you can see traffic, and travel estimates supposedly influenced by traffic, in the route overview, but no traffic information is provided when turn-by-turn is on. All the roads are tranquil, neutral tones, and a serene blue path flows before you. It’s as if you’re in a kayak, on a river, being gently pulled along by the flow of water.

That’s not true, of course, because why would there be that much water in Los Angeles?

At heavy intersections, like Highland Ave. and Franklin Ave., you see no information about the flow of traffic in any direction. Instead of blue, you should see the streets run red with the blood of the Traffic God. Woe betide thee that commute on his most sacred of poorly designed intersections!

Tonight, Apple Maps routed me down Cahuenga to Highland. That sent me past the large, somewhat famous, amphitheater known as The Hollywood Bowl. Not a big deal, unless there’s an event at The Bowl. Guess what? There was an event! Van Halen! There were orange, safety cones and traffic cops directing at intersections. Apple Maps just herp-derped me through that. The only difference in the display was the estimated arrival time slowly ticking upward as I crawled.

On exactly one occasion I had Apple Maps present me with a yellow bar across the top, and Siri’s voice notified me that there was a delay due to an accident. (No alternate routing was provided on this occasion.) Waze has a leg up on Apple and Google when it comes to accident notifications. You even get notified about which lane the accident is in. Google sources some Waze data, but isn’t as specific. On the 101 N last night there was a very sudden slowdown, without warning, at a time of night when there shouldn’t be traffic at all. I waited patiently for Apple Maps to let me know what it was, and Apple Maps was oblivious to it. There was apparently a car accident that closed two lanes, and the car was being loaded on to a flatbed truck, so it wasn’t recent. Why Apple Maps kept silent about it, I don’t know.

The “not showing traffic when you’re en route” question puzzles me too. And TomTom, which is Apple’s data provider, does offer a (paid) service with alerts about traffic. I don’t think Apple’s privacy approach (it splits the route halfway and runs it under another random ID) is the cause, but it seems odd not to feed in traffic data in from other devices on the same route ahead of you.
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The death of advertising and the future of advertising » Tech.pinions

Ben Bajarin:

our research indicates the extremely valuable 18-35 yr old demographic ranks highest in our surveys of those who use an ad blocker. In the US particularly, 4 in 10 millennials admit to blocking internet advertising. Anyone in marketing will tell you this age bracket is highly sought after by marketers. In follow-up interviews I’ve had with this demographic, one of the driving motivations for use of an ad blocker is so they can block ads on YouTube. Watching videos on YouTube is a hefty part of millennials’ weekly activity and many indicated to me their desire to skip ads and get right to the video was centered on their feeling ads were a waste of time. They were going to YouTube to see a short video and did not feel a 5 or 15-second ad before a video was an efficient use of their time. I also asked millennials how they found out they could block ads on the web and the most common answer was from a friend. It seems ad blockers are going viral with many US millennials and it is unlikely this trend loses steam any time soon.

Remember too that those young millennials are highly likely to be using an iPhone – where they can now get an adblocker too.
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Reverse engineering proves journalist security app is anything but secure » Motherboard

JM Porup:

On Friday, Motherboard reported that the new Reporta app, billed as “the only comprehensive security app available worldwide created specifically for journalists,” may not be secure at all.

After we published our story, Frederic Jacobs, Open Whisper Systems’s lead developer for their secure messaging app, Signal, spent his Friday night at home reverse engineering the Reporta binary for iOS. He published the results here. His conclusion was, in a tweet, “Sloppy engineering. Reporta is forensics & analytics rich.”

“Every action is logged,” he wrote in his report. Google Analytics is built into the app, which stores the logs in a local cache before uploading them to Google’s servers. Reporta also uses Twitter’s Crashlytics crash-reporting framework, he explained.

“If you’re building an app for journalists in ‘potentially dangerous conditions,’” Jacobs wrote in a Twitter direct message, “you shouldn’t be tracking your users that much. And certainly not giving out that information to third parties without asking for consent of their users.”

Also has variable use of https and on-device encryption.
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Windows 10 does not change the PC’s fate » Gartner

John Lovelock:


The market is still rebalancing. PC sales continue to decline, and tablets are the preferred consumption device. But new lightweight PCs have emerged that can compete with tablets as an all-day carry device. Made possible by Ivy Bridge architecture in 2013, which has improved steadily since, the new ultramobile premium devices, such as Microsoft’s Surface, now compete with tablets on four fronts; mobility, light weight, all-day batteries and lower price. Windows 10 is targeted at the last of the tablet’s differentiators – ease of use and empowering users.

The global installed base for desktops and laptops will decline for at least five more years, nothing changes that. However, the PC ecosystem now has a Windows 10 device that can re-engage users in the thin, light, all-day ultramobile devices that pack the power of a PC. Ultramobile premium devices halt the decline in PC shipments in 2017 and halt the decline of the PC installed base in 2019.

If you’re into webinars, Gartner is doing a free one at 11am EDT today (Tues October 6) on the PC market’s impact on overall IT spending. “Webinar”. Hmm.
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