Start up: Gov.uk vetoes apps, Buzzfeed nixes Trump ads, Twitter’s growth trouble, and more

We’ve got some bad news about the BlackBerry Priv. Photo by liewcf on Flickr.

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

Why Britain banned mobile apps • GovInsider

Joshua Chambers spoke to Ben Terrett, former design chief at the UK’s Government Digital Service, which often acted as a sort of “tiger team” to fix big or little projects that had got bogged down in spec-land:

»Key to the GDS’ approach is designing for user needs, not organizational requirements, Terrett says. “That is how good digital services designed and built these days. That is how everyone does it, whether that’s google or facebook or British Airways or whoever.”

The problem is that public sector agencies tend not to design with citizens in mind. “Things are just designed to suit the very silos that the project sits in, and the user gets lost in there,” Terrett adds.

For example, opening a restaurant might require multiple permits from different agencies. A good digital service should combine them all in one place.

Focusing on user needs also needs officials to cut bad ideas out. Most Ministers might want there to be sharing options on websites so that citizens can easily promote government on Facebook and Twitter. But the GDS tested this, and found that only 0.1% of citizens ever clicked on them. These stats allowed officials to remove them from the design, making the site simpler, cleaner and quicker to load.

«

The mobile apps stuff? Because then you have to update them for each version of each platform. Responsive websites are better.
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BlackBerry Priv is faring worse than expected • CNET

Roger Cheng:

»”The BlackBerry Priv is really struggling,” the high-level executive [at AT&T], who asked not to be named, said last week. “We’ve seen more returns than we would like.”

Wireless carriers are seldom publicly critical of their handset partners, and the sobering comments offer a rare glimpse into the troubles BlackBerry faces with the Priv, which is the first of its phones to run on Google’s Android software. BlackBerry, once a global leader in smartphones, hoped the Priv, which features a slide-out physical keyboard, would at least get the company back on its feet in the mobile devices business…

…BlackBerry and the carrier expected to see demand for an Android phone with a physical keyboard. Instead, most of the buyers were BlackBerry loyalists, the executive said. Those faithful, however, struggled with the transition from the BlackBerry operating system to the Android operating system, leading to a higher-than-expected rate of return.

BlackBerry’s decision to market the phone as a high-end device also hurt its prospects, the executive said. The Priv initially sold unlocked for $699, above the starting price of the iPhone 6S, which sells for $650. Few premium phones have fared well beyond devices from Apple and Samsung.

“There isn’t much volume growth in the premium segment, where Apple and Samsung dominate,” the executive said.

«

The Priv camera app on the Google Play store still has fewer than 500,000 downloads globally, having launched in November. That’s seven months on sale. BlackBerry’s hardware division is a money pit. (BlackBerry’s fiscal first quarter ran to the end of May. Results later this month.)
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Why the economic payoff from technology is so elusive • The New York Times

Steve Lohr:

»for several years, economists have asked why all that technical wizardry seems to be having so little impact on the economy. The issue surfaced again recently, when the government reported disappointingly slow growth and continuing stagnation in productivity. The rate of productivity growth from 2011 to 2015 was the slowest since the five-year period ending in 1982.

One place to look at this disconnect is in the doctor’s office. Dr. Peter Sutherland, a family physician in Tennessee, made the shift to computerized patient records from paper in the last few years. There are benefits to using electronic health records, Dr. Sutherland says, but grappling with the software and new reporting requirements has slowed him down. He sees fewer patients, and his income has slipped.

“I’m working harder and getting a little less,” he said.

The productivity puzzle has given rise to a number of explanations in recent years — and divided economists into technology pessimists and optimists…

…Some economists insist the problem is largely a measurement gap, because many digital goods and services are not accurately captured in official statistics. But a recent study by two economists from the Federal Reserve and one from the International Monetary Fund casts doubt on that theory.

«

So much doubt, so little clarity. The most likely explanation? Technology actually hasn’t gotten that far into the economy.

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BuzzFeed pulls out of $1.3M advertising deal with RNC over Donald Trump • POLITICO

Hadas Gold, Mike Allen and Alex Spence:

»In an email to staff on Monday, BuzzFeed founder and CEO Jonah Peretti explained that in April, the RNC and BuzzFeed signed an agreement to “spend a significant amount on political advertisements slated to run during the Fall election cycle.” But since Trump became the nominee his campaign has proven themselves to be “directly opposed to the freedoms of our employees in the United States,” because of proposed bans on Muslim immigration and comments about descendants of immigrants, among other policies.

“We don’t need to and do not expect to agree with the positions or values of all our advertisers. And as you know, there is a wall between our business and editorial operations. This decision to cancel this ad buy will have no influence on our continuing coverage of the campaign,” Peretti said in the memo, a copy of which was obtained by POLITICO.

“We certainly don’t like to turn away revenue that funds all the important work we do across the company,” Peretti wrote. “However, in some cases we must make business exceptions: we don’t run cigarette ads because they are hazardous to our health, and we won’t accept Trump ads for the exact same reason.”

«

Peretti knows Buzzfeed’s audience, though, and knows accepting the ads would be bad for the site’s long-term health.
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How to vote in the EU referendum • Martin Lewis’ Blog…

Lewis is an ex-Financial Times journalist who set up the Moneysavingexpert.com website, which has brought him great respect from the wider public as someone who understands money, understands the economy, and isn’t in anyone’s pockets. So his post on this was greatly anticipated:

»My mailbag’s been drowning with questions and concerns. The biggest being: “Please just tell us the facts, what’ll happen if we leave?” I’m sorry, but the most important thing to understand is: there are no facts about what happens next.

Anyone who tells you they KNOW what’ll happen if we leave the EU is a liar. Predicting exact numbers for economic, immigration or house price change is nonsense. What’s proposed is unprecedented. All the studies, models and hypotheses are based on assumptions – that’s guesstimate and hope.

So accept the need to wrestle with uncertainty. The EU referendum is far from a black and white issue; there are more shades of grey than E L James’s bookshelf.

Frustratingly though, most politicians try to come across as doubt-free. Those pro-EU pout that all elements are good, while those against frown at them. Yet like life, it’s a mix, and the debate would be better if both sides admitted that.

«

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A statement on my position • Jacob Appelbaum

Writing in Berlin, Appelbaum, who left the Tor project last week, says:

»Vague rumors and smear campaigns against me are nothing new. As a longtime public advocate for free speech and a secure internet, there have been plenty of attempts to undermine my work over the years.

Now, however, these unsubstantiated and unfounded attacks have become so aggressive that I feel it’s necessary to set the record straight. Not only have I been the target of a fake website in my name that has falsely accused me of serious crimes, but I have also received death threats (including a Twitter handle entitled ‘TimeToDieJake’).

I think it’s extremely damaging to the community that these character-assassination tactics are being deployed, especially given their ugly history of being used against fellow members of the LGBT community. It pains me to watch the community to which I’ve dedicated so much of my life engage in such self-destructive behavior. Nonetheless, I am prepared to use legal channels, if necessary, to defend my reputation from these libelous accusations.

I want to be clear: the accusations of criminal sexual misconduct against me are entirely false.

«

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New York Times ‘exploring’ ad-free digital subscription • AdAge

Jeremy Barr:

»The New York Times is “exploring the possibility” of selling an ad-free digital subscription package, chief executive Mark Thompson said at the IAB Ad Blocking & User Experience Summit Monday.

“We do want to offer all of our users as much choice as we can, and we recognize that there are some users — both subscribers and non-subscribers — who would prefer to have an ad-free experience,” he said, according to a copy of his remarks provided in advance to Ad Age. (The all-day summit, which is intended for publishers, is not open to the press.)

«

Love the irony in that last sentence. The article’s conclusion:

»Generally speaking, Mr. Thompson said marketers “need to think like programmers rather than as traditional advertisers,” by “offering consumers content which actually has value to them.”

Advertising will always be a vital revenue source for the Times, he said, pointing out that some 107 million of the 110 million people who access the Times are not paid subscribers.

«

Hm.
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Twitter’s anti-Semitism problem is exactly why Twitter has a growth problem — Quartz

Paul Smalera:

»[New York Times reporter Jonathan] Weisman, in his story about being attacked [by anti-Semites], writes that, “An official at Twitter encouraged me to block the anti-Semites and report them to Twitter.” In other words, Twitter’s advice to users is that they police the hate themselves. It’s not an awful idea to ask users to report abuse, but the problem is that Twitter trolls can open up new accounts just as fast as Twitter closes down old ones. And with the power of search, newly opened accounts can quickly regain the followers and reach that shuttered ones had.

I haven’t signed up for Twitter or Facebook accounts for years, so I quickly opened up a browser in anonymous mode and went through the signup processes for each. Facebook stopped me several times, prompting me to use my real name. I had put in “Bad Guy” as my name, and eventually had to change it to “Badrick Guyowski” to get the service to let me in. Even when I was able to create an account, Facebook access was limited until I confirmed my email address–which was impossible for me to do, since I had entered a fake one. In essence, Mark Zuckerberg’s social network is inaccessible to someone who is not willing to part with at least some pieces of information that can be tied back to a real world identity.

Meanwhile, Twitter accepted these credentials to allow me to create an account, without protest, and without a phone number.

«

Because Twitter has a growth problem, though, it can’t tackle its anti-Semitism problem. Wall Street is worried about its growth, so anything it does that might slow that “growth” looks bad, even if it improves the quality of the network, and so its attractiveness to the users who are already there, or aren’t there.
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A May 2016 look at Big Five ebook pricing Author Earnings

“Data Guy”:

»One of the key points we made in our recent DBW presentation was that higher ebook prices end up hurting newer debut authors far more than they hurt long-established authors, who already have existing fanbases and sustainable writing careers — especially those perennial bestsellers who have managed to become household names. We could see in our data clear indications that, between 2014 and 2016, higher prices had progressively damaged the earnings of new Big Five debuts, and even more crucially, crippled their *discoverability* — that all-important key to establishing the brand-new readership and fanbase necessary to establishing a long-term writing career. The triptych of slides below make that case with glaring starkness: in them, we can see Big Five debut authors dropping from 22% of ebook sales by debut authors in early 2014, down to barely 9% of those vital, career-launching initial sales in early 2016.

«

I wonder if ebooks have some lessons for app stores – as ebooks have been around for slightly longer, though with less volume, and so might have worked out the trends that app stores are revealing. Discoverability matter, but people won’t spend on things they’re not familiar with already.
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Google misfires as it aims to turn Star Trek fiction into reality • Stat

Charles Piller:

»Google employees, squeezed onto metal risers and standing in the back of a meeting room, erupted in cheers as newly arrived executive Andrew Conrad announced they would try to turn science fiction into reality: The tech giant had formed a biotech venture to create a futuristic device like Star Trek’s iconic “Tricorder” diagnostic wizard — and use it to cure cancer.

Conrad, recalled an employee who was present, displayed images on the room’s big screens showing nanoparticles tracking down cancer cells in the bloodstream and flashing signals to a Fitbit-style wristband. He promised a working prototype of the cancer early-detection device within six months.

That was three years ago. Recently departed employees said the prototype didn’t work as hoped, and the Tricorder project is floundering.

Tricorder is not the only misfire for Google’s ambitious and extravagantly funded biotech venture, now named Verily Life Sciences. It has announced three signature projects meant to transform medicine, and a STAT examination found that all of them are plagued by serious, if not fatal, scientific shortcomings, even as Verily has vigorously promoted their promise.

The Tricorder, as Conrad and others at Verily call the device, is “in the realm of not only science fiction, but beyond that — science fantasy,” said David Walt, a Tufts University chemistry professor and nanoscience expert who met with Verily scientists and engineers last year to share his concerns. “And I’m not sure it will ever be science reality.”

The company has also touted a glucose-sensing contact lens as a substitute for frequent blood tests on diabetics, but independent experts said it is scientifically dubious at best.

It claims a billion-dollar “Baseline” study of human health will define what it means to be healthy and help identify early signs of disease. But researchers said design weaknesses make these lofty goals far-fetched.

Largely through Verily, Google has positioned itself to be a giant in life sciences by marrying technology and big data with science to cure diseases that have, so far, defied the best minds. But its setbacks and prominent scientists’ skepticism call into question this vision of the future of medicine.

«

Piller has gone into this thoroughly. Verily starts to look like a clunker. (They’ve featured here before, also through Piller, who noted that Conrad was “divisive”. Sounds familiar somehow.)
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Nest’s time at Alphabet: A “virtually unlimited budget” with no results • Ars Technica

Ron Amadeo peers over the smoking ruins:

»It’s hard to argue with the decision to “transition” [founder and chief executive Tony] Fadell away from Nest. When Google bought Nest in January 2014, the expectation was that a big infusion of Google’s resources and money would supercharge Nest. Nest grew from 280 employees around the time of the Google acquisition to 1200 employees today. In Nest’s first year as “a Google company,” it used Google’s resources to acquire webcam maker Dropcam for $555m, and it paid an unknown amount for the smart home hub company Revolv. Duffy said Nest was given a “virtually unlimited budget” inside Alphabet. Nest eventually transitioned to an Alphabet company, just like Google.

In return for all this investment, Nest delivered very little. The Nest Learning Thermostat and Nest Protect smoke detector both existed before the Google acquisition, and both received minor upgrades under Google’s (and later Alphabet’s) wing. A year after buying Dropcam, Nest released the Nest Cam, which was basically a rebranded Dropcam. Two-and-a-half years under Google/Alphabet, a quadrupling of the employee headcount, and half-a-billion dollars in acquisitions yielded minor yearly updates and a rebranded device. That’s all.

«

Didn’t make an “audio device”, didn’t come up with a home hub language or door sensor or window sensor. Too much money can be bad for a startup.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida:

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


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

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

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

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

Nandita Bose:

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

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

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

«

Becoming totally quotidien. My only thought when watching Top Gear is how many of the aerial shots have been done using a drone.
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Google: new concerns raised about political influence by senior ‘revolving door’ jobs • The Guardian

Jamie Doward:

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

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

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

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

«

The response from some people? “Who funds the CfA – I bet it’s some company that doesn’t like Google.” Rather than “why is there an echelon of people who just shift from policy job to policy job?”
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How Mark Zuckerberg led Facebook’s war to crush Google Plus • Vanity Fair

Antonio García Martínez:

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

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

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

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

«

From a forthcoming book by this ex-Facebooker.
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Bait and switch: the failure of Facebook advertising — an OSINT investigation • Medium

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

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

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

«

It’s just three lines of code, though I think it would screw up a lot of ads which go through third-party ad-tech systems.
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A few thoughts on True Tone – the 9.7″ iPad Pro review • Anandtech

Brandon Chester:

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

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

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

«

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

Laura Hazard Owen:

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

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

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

«

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

Jeremi Gosney:

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

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

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

«

Two-factor authentication for everything?
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Jacob Appelbaum, digital rights activist, leaves Tor amid sexual misconduct allegations • Mic.com

Jack Smith:

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

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

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

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

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

«

The accusations made in the article and on Twitter against Appelbaum are very serious; remains to be seen if and where any charges will be laid.
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Software now to blame for 15% of car recalls • Popular Science

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

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

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

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

SSR points to the sheer volume of software code that interfaces vehicle components, many of them developed to different protocols. While there are about 9 million lines of code in an F-35 fighter jet, today’s cars can contain up to 100 million lines, the firm says.
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Tony Fadell defends his record and methods • Bloomberg

Ashlee Vance got the exit interview:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

«

That’s not quite a strong boost he’s giving Page and Brin, to my mind. Also: Google’s multi-billion hardware acquisitions – Motorola, Nest, Boston Dynamics – haven’t worked out too well, have they?
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Reuters finds readers want quality news, but aren’t willing to pay for it • Digiday

Jessica Davies:

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

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

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

«

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

The latest great savious: news on VR. Bet you people won’t pay for the news itself there.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida:

Start up: the stuck smart home, McAfee’s hack trick, ICO probes Deepmind deal, Flash the zombie, and more


Yes, Runkeeper tracks your runs. But Norway’s consumer council thinks it tracks more than that. Photo by Gordon 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. Ain’t that something? I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

The smart home is stuck • Tech.pinions

Jan Dawson:

»The challenge, then, is the addressable market for most smart home technology is pretty small, composed of innovators and early adopters in the classic technology diffusion curve. As a result, many products are attempting to squeeze every opportunity out of these small markets until they’re maxed out. Nest has been criticized for not innovating more around its original product but I suspect this is the result of a deliberate strategy to saturate many individual product markets rather than focus on ongoing significant improvements in a single market. This helps to explain Nest’s acquisition of Dropcam, its smoke and carbon monoxide detector, and the other products it’s been rumored to be working on. There’s more mileage in opening up new markets than there is in squeezing incremental value out of existing markets already nearing saturation.

I see some people referring to Amazon’s Alexa as a more mainstream smart home or home automation product, and I think that’s actually a red herring. Yes, it can be used to control smart home devices but I suspect (a) only a subset of Alexa devices are used for this purpose and (b) such a focus would limit its appeal to a niche within that smart home early adopter category. I think Alexa’s potential is much broader than that and it’s precisely because it isn’t just a smart home controller. Alexa isn’t extending the smart home market – it’s more mainstream precisely because it’s not limited to that small and limited opportunity.

«

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Mobile traffic dominates among the web’s most popular sites • The Atlantic

Adriene Lafrance:

»More than half of Facebook’s roughly 1.7 billion monthly users visit the site exclusively from their smartphones—that’s 894 million mobile-only users each month, up from 581 million such users last year and 341 million mobile-only users in 2014, according to the company’s latest earnings report.

Google confirmed last year that more searches come from mobile devices than computers in 10 countries, including the United States. Over the holiday season, Amazon said more than 60% of shoppers used mobile. And Wikipedia, which recently revamped the way it tracks site traffic, says it’s getting more mobile than desktop visits to its English language site.

In April, Wikipedia had about 361 million unique visits from smartphones and tablets compared with some 229 million from desktops—meaning roughly 61% of traffic to the English-language version of Wikipedia came from mobile devices, according to data provided by a spokeswoman.

«

Didn’t know the Wikipedia stat, but that’s really persuasive.
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John McAfee apparently tried to trick reporters into thinking he hacked WhatsApp • Gizmodo

William Turton:

»McAfee has a history of being shifty with the press about his alleged cybersecurity exploits. In March, for instance, during a media tour that included appearances on CNN and RT, McAfee claimed he would be able to hack into the phone of San Bernadino terrorist Syed Farook. McAfee never proved his claims, and later admitted that he was lying in order to garner a “shitload of public attention.” And earlier this year, McAfee hedged on his terrorism-prevention ideals for America during an interview with CNN about his Libertarian candidacy for president, saying that his strategy for preventing homegrown terrorism was “difficult to explain.”

Now, it seems McAfee has tried to trick reporters again, by sending them phones pre-cooked with malware containing a keylogger, and convincing them he somehow cracked the encryption on WhatsApp. According to cybersecurity expert Dan Guido, who was contacted by a reporter trying to verify McAfee’s claims, McAfee planned to send this reporter two Samsung phones in sealed boxes. Then, experts working for McAfee would take the phones out of the boxes in front of the reporters and McAfee would read the messages being sent on WhatsApp over a Skype call.

«

Pointless.
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ICO probes Google DeepMind patient data-sharing deal with NHS Hospital Trust • Computer Weekly

Caroline Donnelly:

»The Information Commissioner’s Office, the data protection watchdog, confirmed an investigation into the arrangement is underway, on the back of at least one complaint from the general public.

The deal gives DeepMind access to the healthcare records of 1.6 million patients that pass through three hospitals in North London, which fall under the care of the Royal Free Hospital Trust.

The complaint, seen by Computer Weekly, questions whether DeepMind will be expected to encrypt the patient data it receives when at rest.

“Whilst the information-sharing agreement insists that personally identifiable information – such as name, address, post code, NHS number, date of birth, telephone number, and email addresses, etc – must be encrypted whilst in transit to Google, it does not explicitly prohibit that data being unencrypted at the non-NHS location,” the complaint read.

«

First there’s a deal; then it turns out it’s not directly approved. The complaint is essentially that individuals at Google/Deepmind might access personal data. This is the essential battleground of the coming years: how compatible is tight data regulation with data mining?
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Let’s talk about Amazon reviews: how we spot the fakes • The Wirecutter

Lauren Dragan:

»Amazon has a history of trying hard to deal with offenders and shut them down. In fact, in April, Amazon sued another round of companies that are accused of selling fraudulent reviews. But by the time those companies are caught, their clients have already made a bunch of sales, and the fraudulent reviewers will likely pop up again under new names to repeat the process.

(Want to know more? Wirecutter headphones editor Lauren Dragan talks to Marketplace Tech about compensated Amazon reviews and how to tell real crowdsourced opinions from astroturfing.)

You have a few ways to suss out what may be a fake review. The easiest way is to use Fakespot. This site allows you to paste the link to any Amazon product and receive a score regarding the likelihood of fake reviews.

For example, we ran an analysis on some headphones we found during a recent research sweep for our guide about cheap in-ear headphones. You can see from the results below that the headphones’ reviews didn’t score so well.

«

Hadn’t come across Fakespot before; it seems pretty useful.

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The real cost of big tech’s accounting games • FT.com

Jonathan Ford:

»How much did LinkedIn make over the past three years? Sounds a simple enough question doesn’t it? But it is also one that is capable of being answered in multiple and very diverse ways.

First, let’s look at the figure the US online networking site wants you to focus on. That’s a mouthful called adjusted earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation (ebitda), and the total there between 2013 and 2015 came in at a positive $1.7bn.

Sounds pretty hunky dory? Well, now check out the operating profit line for the business — the one calculated according to the generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP) that companies must present but often don’t emphasise. Over the same period, LinkedIn racked up a $67m loss.

What explains the yawning $1.8bn difference between those two figures? It isn’t simply the depreciation and amortisation charges the company took against the value of its assets. Those, while pretty hefty, came to just $791m. No, the biggest single reason for the negative swing was the $1bn cost of the stock LinkedIn stuffed into its employees’ pay packets over those three years.

«

Why does it matter if the company gives stock to employees? As Ford explains, it’s because by doing that

»the firm denies itself the chance to sell those shares or options for value in the market. Failing to recognise that forgone cash effectively understates the cost the company has incurred in employing those individuals.

«

So stock grants are a cost. So they come off the bottom (operating) line. I’m constantly surprised by how many companies’ non-GAAP results are reported as if they were the ones to compare.
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Google faces record-breaking fine for web search monopoly abuse • Sunday Telegraph

Christopher Williams:

»Google faces a record-breaking fine for monopoly abuse within weeks, as officials in Brussels put the finishing touches to a seven-year investigation of company’s dominant search engine.

It is understood that the European Commission is aiming to hit Google with a fine in the region of €3bn, a figure that would easily surpass its toughest anti-trust punishment to date, a €1.1bn fine levied on the microchip giant Intel.

Sources close to the situation said officials aimed to make an announcement before the summer break and could make their move as early as next month, although cautioned that Google’s bill for crushing competition online had not been finalised.

The maximum possible is around €6.6bn, or a tenth of Google’s total annual sales.

It will mark a watershed moment in Silicon Valley’s competition battle with Brussels. Google has already been formally charged with unlawfully promoting its own price comparison service in general search results while simultaneously relegating those of smaller rivals, denying them traffic.

«

I’m hearing the same about the timing and intention from my sources; the fine, meanwhile, is indeterminate.
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This fitness app tracks you too much, consumer advocates claim • Fortune

David Meyer:

»According to the Norwegian Consumer Council, which has lodged a complaint with the country’s data protection authority, Runkeeper transmits data about its users all the time, not just when the app is in use.

The Norwegian data protection commissioner, Bjørn Erik Thon, confirmed to Fortune that his office has received the complaint and will now look into it.

“Everyone understands that Runkeeper tracks users while they exercise, but to continue to do so after the training session has ended is not okay,” said Finn Myrstad, the consumer council’s technical director.

The data in question includes timestamped location information, as well as Google advertising IDs that can be used to identify the individual.

“Our users’ privacy is of the utmost importance to us, and we take our obligation to comply with data protection laws very seriously,” Runkeeper CEO Jason Jacobs told Fortune. “We are in the process of reviewing the issues raised in the complaint, and we will cooperate with the Norwegian [data protection authority] if it has any questions arising out of the complaint.”

According to the council, Runkeeper’s terms and conditions do not explain how regularly data is transmitted, and users do not give consent to being monitored in this way. The council claims this breaches Norwegian and EU data protection laws.

«

Here’s Runkeeper’s privacy policy. It’s astonishingly vague (though in that respect, probably not so different from other privacy policies). What intrigues me is why the Runkeeper CEO didn’t just say “nah, we don’t collect data after your run.”
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Five things you can get in India with a missed call • WSJ

Shefali Anand:

»Want to transfer funds from your account? Give your bank a missed call. Want to hear Bollywood music? Dial a number and hang up.

Making a missed call by calling a number and letting it ring is a popular way of communicating in India because the caller doesn’t have to spend money. Marketing companies, politicians, banks and others now use this practice to reach millions who have cellphones but limited means.

«

Brilliant. Recalls how, in the days when long-distance calls were expensive, kids on their travels would call the operator and ask to set up a reverse-charge call to their parents. Parent’s phone rings: “Alley Okey is calling from Wichita, Kansas. Will you accept the charge?” Parent: “No.” Conversation ends, with parent knowing that the kid is OK and presently in Wichita.
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Chinese smartphone market has slowed, but Huawei, Oppo & Vivo have not • Counterpoint Technology

»According to the latest research from Counterpoint’s Market Monitor service, the demand for smartphones in China softened during Q1 2016 (Jan-Mar) as the smartphone shipments were down 2% annually and 13% sequentially.

Commenting on the results, Research Director, Neil Shah, said: “In spite of the Chinese holiday season quarter, the Chinese smartphone market demand reached a standstill. This has led to intense competition between the players as they struggle to take share away from each other. In a market with hundred of brands, growth is now limited to a handful of players with the greatest marketing budgets and headturning designs, and available at competitive price points.

“Only five brands registered healthy growth during the quarter. Oppo, Huawei and Vivo drove the majority of the volume, capturing a combined 40% of the total Chinese smartphone market. Demand for rest of the brands declined, especially Apple after the strong demand for iPhone 6 & 6 Plus in the quarter a year ago, and lacklustre performance from Lenovo, ZTE and Coolpad.”

The Chinese smartphone market saw a lull in the first two months of 2016, however sales for smartphones started to pick up in March, with the largest sales contribution from Huawei, Oppo and Vivo, the new leaders in Chinese domestic market.

«

Other notable points: 98% of phones sold were smartphones (hence Microsoft’s 90% year-on-year drop); the “premium” segment of RMB3000+ ($450+) makes up a fifth of the market, with Apple, Samsung and Vivo dominating.
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HTML5 by default: Google’s plan to make Chrome’s Flash click-to-play • Ars Technica UK

Peter Bright:

»In a plan outlined last week, Flash will be disabled by default [in Google Chrome] in the fourth quarter of this year. Embedded Flash content will not run, and JavaScript attempts to detect the plugin will not find it. Whenever Chrome detects that a site is trying to use the plugin, it will ask the user if they want to enable it or not. It will also trap attempts to redirect users to Adobe’s Flash download page and similarly offer to enable the plugin.

«

Great!

»

There will be a few exceptions to this policy, with Google planning to leave Flash enabled by default on the top 10 domains that depend on the plugin. This list includes YouTube, Facebook, Twitch, and Amazon.

«

Crap.

»

Even this reprieve is temporary. The plan is to remove sites from the list whenever possible—Twitch, for example, is switching to HTML5 streaming, so should start to phase out its use of Flash—and after one year the whitelist will be removed entirely. This means that after the fourth quarter 2017, Flash will need to be explicitly enabled on every site that tries to use it.

«

“After the fourth quarter of 2017”, aka 2018. Flash, the desktop web’s malware zombie. (Notice that all those sites somehow muddle through on mobile, which is far bigger, without Flash.)
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified.

Start up: deeper inside Nest, slower smartphone sales, smaller Yahoo, ransomware spreads further, and more

Fight!

Just another meeting between Nest and Dropcam. Creative Commons-licensed photo by Steve Liddle on Flickr.

You can now sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email (though you won’t see any instalments for a week, because I’ll be away). You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

A selection of 9 links for you. There are no April Fools in this, thank God. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.


Please note: next week The Overspill will be on a spring break.

Service resumes on 11 April.


 

Nest revenue around $340m last year, but budget troubles ahead » Re/code

Mark Bergen with a remarkable scoop:

»Nest generated about $340m in sales last year, according to three people with knowledge of the matter. That’s an impressive figure for a company in the very nascent market of Internet-connected devices.

But it’s below the initial expectations Google had set for Nest when it bought the startup in 2014 for a whopping $3.2bn. The company’s sales performance may face even deeper scrutiny inside Google’s new parent company, Alphabet, where Nest now sits, as the hardware maker faces its most critical year ever.

Nest’s plight is a far cry from two years ago, when it was brought on as one of Google’s biggest acquisitions as a vehicle to compete with Apple in the growing smart-home market. Google also brought on CEO Tony Fadell, a former Apple exec, to inject Google with Apple’s hardware sensibility. But now its future is up in the air, as it’s clearly fallen short of those lofty expectations…

…To keep employees from leaving after the acquisition, Google created a vesting schedule that prevents Nest’s executives from cashing out their shares before a certain date — that date could come as soon as this year. In addition, according to sources, as part of the acquisition, Nest and Google agreed on a sales target for the company: $300m annually.

Two years later, Nest still could not hit that target alone — it did it only after adding sales from Dropcam, which Nest acquired for $555m six months after joining Google.

«

It’s pretty clear from the past week, starting with Reed Albergotti’s amazing piece for The Information, that there’s almost open warfare between Nest and Dropcam. The last detail, about Dropcam making up the sales number, could only have come from a senior Dropcam source who knows the revenues in some detail.

The question now is, what will Larry Page – chief executive of Alphabet, and so Nest – do?

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Gartner says global smartphone sales to only grow 7 per cent in 2016

»Gartner, Inc. said global smartphone sales will for the first time exhibit single-digit growth in 2016. Global smartphone sales are estimated to reach 1.5bn units in 2016, a 7% growth from 2015. The total mobile phone market is forecast to reach 1.9bn units in 2016.

Worldwide combined shipments for devices (PCs, tablets, ultramobiles and mobile phones) are expected to reach 2.4bn units in 2016, a 0.6% increase from 2015. End-user spending in constant US dollars is estimated to decline by 1.6% year on year…

…”The double-digit growth era for the global smartphone market has come to an end,” said Ranjit Atwal, research director at Gartner. “Historically, worsening economic conditions had negligible impact on smartphone sales and spend, but this is no longer the case. China and North America smartphone sales are on pace to be flat in 2016, exhibiting a 0.7% and 0.4% growth respectively.”

While smartphone sales will continue to grow in emerging markets, the growth will slow down. Gartner predicts that, through 2019, 150 million users will delay upgrades to smartphones in emerging Asia/Pacific, until the functionality and price combination of a low-cost smartphone becomes more desirable.

“Prices did not decline enough to drive upgrades from low-end feature phones to low-end smartphones,” said Annette Zimmermann, research director at Gartner. “Vendors were not able to reduce the price of a ‘good enough to use’ smartphone lower than $50.”

«

So $50 seems to be the baseline price that smartphones can’t go below. Still, they’ll make up 79% of sales; that only leaves 400m featurephones to be sold.
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3 in 10 would consider buying an iPhone » Global Web Index

Jason Mander:

»With many seeing Apple’s more affordable iPhone SE handset as an attempt to win new customers in fast-growth markets, today we look at where the iPhone name resonates the most strongly.

Globally, it’s almost 3 in 10 internet users who say they would consider purchasing an iPhone – putting Apple at the top of the table, just ahead of Samsung on 24%.

But split this by country and it’s clear that the iPhone has its biggest appeal in emerging markets. Although as many as 25% in places like the UK and USA as well as 20% in Japan would consider getting one, fast-growth markets occupy 14 of the top 15 slots (including China and India, which are particularly key given their booming numbers of internet users).

«

“Would consider” is a long way from “will buy” which is some distance from “bought”. But it shows Apple’s power as an aspirational brand that it’s emerging markets where people want it.
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Security researchers warn of server-attacking ransomware » Computer Weekly

Warwick Ashford:

»As a growing number of US hospitals report ransomware attacks, researchers are warning of a new strain of ransomware targeting the healthcare sector that attacks servers in order to lock up entire networks.

Unlike most other malware that encrypts data and demands ransom for its release, the Samas strain of ransomware does not rely on user-focused attack vectors such as phishing emails.

Instead, Samas – also known as Samsam and MSIL.B/C – is distributed by compromising servers and using them to move laterally through networks to encrypt and hold multiple data sets to ransom.

«

Interesting evolution of this malware: clearly it has staying power.
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Web scraping to create open data » The Scrapinghub Blog

Lluis Esquerda:

»When I started this project, I sought to make a difference in Barcelona. Now you can find tons of bike sharing apps that use our API on all major platforms. It doesn’t matter that these are not our own apps. They are solving the same problem we were trying to fix, so their success is our success.

Besides popular apps like Moovit or CityMapper, there are many neat projects out there, some of which are published under free software licenses. Ideally, a city council could create a customization of any of these apps for their own use.

Most official applications for bike sharing systems have terrible ratings. The core business of transportation companies is running a service, so they have no real motivation to create an engaging UI or innovate further. In some cases, the city council does not even own the rights to the data, being completely at the mercy of the company providing the transportation service.

When providing public services, city councils and companies often get lost in what they should offer as an aid to the service. They focus on a nice map or a flashy application, rather than providing the data behind these service aids. Maps, apps, and websites have a limited focus and usually serve a single purpose. On the other hand, data is malleable and the purest form of representation. While you can’t create something new from looking and playing with a static map (except, of course, if you scrape it), data can be used to create countless different iterations, help with research. It can even provide a bridge that will allow anyone to participate, improve and build on top of these aids to public services.

«

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Report: Yahoo’s ad revenue to drop 14 percent this year » Digiday

Jordan Valinsky:

»Yahoo’s ad revenues are forecasted to drop 14% this year while its competitors, including Google and Facebook, are expected to grow.

According to a new eMarketer report on ad spending, Yahoo’s global ad revenues will dip to $2.8 billion this year, down from $3.3bn last year. Its overall share of the ad market will shrink from 2.1% to 1.5%.

That’s more bad news for the Marissa Mayer-led company. In an attempt to cut $400m, Yahoo announced last month that it’s in the process of shuttering offices, slashing 15% of its workforce and is backing away from its once-ambitious content efforts by closing down a number of its verticals, like Travel and Autos. All of this is happening while rumors swirl that Yahoo is considering selling itself.

«

Yahoo is the BlackBerry of the online ad business.
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Why I got rid of Adblock Plus » David Hewson

Hewson is a novelist and journalist:

»Ad blockers take away important revenue streams from companies that need them. Only last week the Independent, where I worked during its launch thirty years ago, shut up shop as a print title. I don’t suggest for one moment it would have survived if ad blockers didn’t exist. But it might have done a little better. The Guardian now, like more and more titles, nags you to turn off its ad blocker these days. Given the phenomenal losses it’s incurring — £53m last year — who can blame it? If things don’t turn round it could be the next to go — and what a loss that would be.

So turning off the ad blocker pays a little towards the news I read for free and I’m happy to go along with that idea. But something else changed my mind too, and it was, oddly enough, a speech by the Culture Secretary, John Whittingdale, in which he described ad-blocking as ‘a modern-day protection racket’. Nor is he the only one to think this.

«

Whittingdale’s ire was actually aimed at Eyeo (purveyor of Adblock Plus); there are however other adblocking solutions which don’t use Eyeo’s systems. The problems at The Guardian and The Independent aren’t caused by adblocking, though.
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Where’s the lane? Self-driving cars confused by shabby U.S. roadways » Reuters

Alexandria Sage:

»Volvo’s North American CEO, Lex Kerssemakers, lost his cool as the automaker’s semi-autonomous prototype sporadically refused to drive itself during a press event at the Los Angeles Auto Show.

“It can’t find the lane markings!” Kerssemakers griped to Mayor Eric Garcetti, who was at the wheel. “You need to paint the bloody roads here!”

Shoddy infrastructure has become a roadblock to the development of self-driving cars, vexing engineers and adding time and cost. Poor markings and uneven signage on the 3 million miles of paved roads in the United States are forcing automakers to develop more sophisticated sensors and maps to compensate, industry executives say.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk recently called the mundane issue of faded lane markings “crazy,” complaining they confused his semi-autonomous cars.

An estimated 65% of U.S. roads are in poor condition, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation, with the transportation infrastructure system rated 12th in the World Economic Forum’s 2014-2015 global competitiveness report.

«

Make America Navigable By Autonomous Cars Agai.. um, For The First Time.
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Citymapper launches seamless routing between cabs and public transit » TechCrunch

Mike Butcher:

»Citymapper is making a significant change to its routing app with the news that it has added what it is calling a “SuperRouter” capability. This effectively combines public transit with cabs to create completely new integrated routes. In simple terms, it means you could ask Citymapper’s app to come up with a route, and it would give you options both a cab service like Uber and a train or tram in a fully integrated route, with all the timetables. That could be transformational for people in cities, and something no other platform has tried to date, as far as we know. The change will apply to every city Citymapper is launched in right now, which includes New York, San Francisco, LA, London, Paris, Berlin, Rome, Madrid, Tokyo and many other global cities.

In normal circumstances it’s basically impossible to plan a journey across public and private car transport. That leads to what you might call unfair discrimination between these transport modes. But in the 21st century, where private cars can be tracked on a map, there is simply no reason for this separation to exist.

«

None at all! Except that it’s difficult.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida:

Start up: the $200k iPhone hack, sleep robot axed, the criminal who wrote Truecrypt, If This Then No, and more

Dropcam’s founder gives you fresh insight into what happened at Nest. It’s not pretty. Photo by Ravi Shah 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 13 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

The Dropcam Team » Medium

Former Dropcam CEO Greg Duffy proves that revenge is a dish that you can savour at any temperature, as he hits back as Tony Fadell’s claims that the Dropcam team (acquired by Google, folded into Nest) “weren’t up to much”:

»I can’t publish Dropcam’s revenue, but if you knew what percentage of all of Alphabet’s “other bets” revenue was brought in by the relatively tiny 100-person Dropcam team that Fadell derides, Nest itself would not look good in comparison. So, if Fadell wants to stick by his statement, I challenge him to release full financials (easy prediction: he won’t).

The ~50 Dropcam employees who resigned did so because they felt their ability to build great products being totally crushed. All of us have worked at big companies before, where it is harder to move fast. But this is something different, as evidenced by the continued lack of output from the currently 1200-person team and its virtually unlimited budget. According to LinkedIn, total attrition to date at Nest amounts to nearly 500 people, which suggests that we were not alone in our frustrations.

«

On Medium, this is covered in highlights by people who went “ooh! This bit! Ooh! This bit too!” It’s an amazing takedown of Fadell.
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Google is completely redesigning AdWords: Offers first peek » Search Engine Land

Ginny Marvin:

»“The reason we’re rebuilding AdWords is because the world has changed so much in the past two years. AdWords is now over 15 years old and launched when Google was just figuring out what search advertising was. We rebuilt it several years ago for a desktop world — smartphones were only [a] year old. Now we are in probably the biggest shift since AdWords was introduced (and I’d argue perhaps ever) with mobile,” said [AdWords product management director Paul] Feng, “And there is now increased demand on marketers and on AdWords as a platform — advertisers are running ads in search, display, shopping, mobile, video. Ultimately, that’s why we’re re-imagining AdWords.”

Feng said the redesign has been informed largely by talking to advertisers across the spectrum. Three common themes emerged. First, advertisers said it felt like AdWords has been built around products and features, rather than marketers’ needs and objectives. “How the navigation is laid out can be un-intuitive and comes with a high learning curve,” said Feng.  Second, the platform has grown complex, with hundreds of features launching every year that stack up on each other. And third, the basic design looks and feels kind of dated. “The goal is to create a flexible platform for the future,” added Feng.

«

Amazing that it was last redesigned in 2008, which is basically pre-mobile. Quite a challenge to get that legacy code to look and work right.
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Top talent leaves Google startup Verily under divisive CEO » STAT

Charles Piller:

»Google’s brash attempt to revolutionize medicine as it did the Internet is facing turbulence, and many leaders who launched its life sciences startup have quit, STAT has found.

Former employees pointed to one overriding reason for the exodus from Verily Life Sciences: the challenge of working with CEO Andrew Conrad.

Verily, one of Google’s “moonshots,” pursues ambitious, even radical, ideas that could take years to pay off. The emerging Silicon Valley juggernaut has attracted elite scientists, engineers, and data crunchers, and inspired buzz about its futuristic projects — as well as envy among competitors nervously eyeing this upstart with a seemingly unlimited bankroll.

The three-year-old venture has operated largely out of public view and carefully manages its image; employees said talking to a reporter without permission is a firing offense.

But people who know Conrad or have worked with him said in interviews that Google has entrusted its life sciences initiative to a divisive and impulsive leader whose practices are driving off top talent and leaving openings for competitors. They said many employees in key jobs were dispirited, and described a lack of focus and clear priorities that is unusual even in the chaotic culture of startups.

«

Trying to sell Boston Dynamics, got a fire in Nest, and now this. Alphabet is finding that being the second GE requires a second Jack Welch. Great reporting by Piller.
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It’s game over for the robot intended to replace anesthesiologists » The Washington Post

Todd Frankel:

»the Sedasys machine was being used in just four hospitals, including the one we visited in Toledo. We watched as the Sedasys device provided basic anesthesiology services to a series of patients undergoing routine endoscopies and colonoscopies.

No longer did you need a trained anesthesiologist. And sedation with the Sedasys machine cost $150 to $200 for each procedure, compared to $2,000 for an anesthesiologist, one of healthcare’s best-paid specialties.  The machine was seen as the leading lip of an automation wave transforming hospitals.

But Johnson & Johnson recently announced it was pulling the plug on Sedasys because of poor sales.

«

Why? Humans campaigned against it.
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He always had a dark side » The Atavist

Evan Ratcliff:

»Before encryption was a mainstream idea, before Apple defied a U.S. government request to provide a method to unlock our phones, this Le Roux had written the underlying code of a program that, a decade and a half later, the National Security Agency still could not break.

The question was: Could the Le Roux who politely answered jargon-laden posts about encryption software be the same one who ordered the murder of a real estate agent over a bad deal on a beach house? At first I thought I would never know. The former Paul Le Roux seemed to have disappeared from the Internet in 2004. Encryption experts I contacted had no idea what had become of that Le Roux, and there was no evidence linking him to the man known for drugs and gun running.

One night in October, I had been at the computer for hours when I finally found the missing link. It was a website once registered to the encryption Le Roux, in the early 2000s, and later transferred to a Philippine company controlled by the crime-boss Le Roux. My immediate reaction upon discovering this connection was a sudden and irrational fear…

«

You can already see why. Le Roux seems to have written TrueCrypt, which has near-mythic status in encryption circles.
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Met police chief blaming the victims » Light Blue Touchpaper

Ross Anderson, professor of security engineering at the University of Cambridge, wrote a letter to The Times:

»[Met Police commissioner] Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe argues that banks should not refund online fraud victims as this would make people careless with their passwords and anti-virus software (p1, March 24, and letters Mar 25 & 26). This is called secondary victimisation. Thirty years ago, a chief constable might have said that rape victims had themselves to blame for wearing nice clothes; if he were to say that nowadays, he’d be sacked. Hogan-Howe’s view of bank fraud is just as uninformed, and just as offensive to victims.

About 5 percent of computers running Windows are infected with malware, and common bank fraud malware such as Zeus lets the fraudster redirect transactions. You think you’re paying £150 to your electricity bill, while the malware is actually sending £9000 to Russia. The average person is helpless against this; everything seems normal, and antivirus products usually only detect it afterwards.

Much of the blame lies with the banks, who let the users of potentially infected computers make large payments instantly, rather than after a day or two, as used to be the case. They take this risk because regulators let them dump much of the cost of the resulting fraud on customers.

«

Hogan-Howell really put his foot in it, but it’s the inertia that he represents – and the attempt to shift the blame – which is the most insidious.
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Who unlocked the San Bernardino iPhone? » Perizie Informatiche Forensi

Paolo Dal Checco:

»Yesterday, Monday, March 28th, FBI purchased from Cellebrite $218.000 of “INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY SUPPLIES”  [WBM].

It might be a simple coincidence, but if we issue the query  «CONTRACTING_AGENCY_NAME:”FEDERAL BUREAU OF INVESTIGATION” VENDOR_FULL_NAME:”CELLEBRITE USA CORP“» on the FPDS search engine, in the EZ Search section, we can see and download the full history of purchase orders issued by “FEDERAL BUREAU OF INVESTIGATION” to “CELLEBRITE USA CORP”. We can observe that since September 2009 Cellebrite was given 187 purchase orders, but the purchase order issued yesterday, with ID “DJF161200G0004569”, is rather unique in that:

• it’s the only one with an action obligation of more than $ 200.000 issued with “CELLEBRITE USA CORP” (the average for purchase orders is about  $11.000);
•it’s the only one with the “INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY SUPPLIES” description and PSC type “7045”;
• it was issued yesterday, when the US Government published a note informing that the San Bernardino iPhone was successfully unlocked and data was successfully accessed, presumably by an “outside party” as they said in the previous note.

In conclusion, we don’t know if Cellebrite was involved in San Bernardino iPhone PIN unlocking, we know that Cellebrite is able to unlock iPhons up to iOS 7 and iOS8 with 32bit processors and on iPhone 4s/5/5c, iPad 2/3/4, iPad Mini 1 and… the coincidence of yesterday’s purchase order is rather weird.

«

So that’s wrapped up: Cellebrite is licensing the unlock technique to the FBI. (Jonathan Zdziarski reckons the $200,000 price is too low to be a complete sale, but high enough to suggest it works against lots of models.)
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Apple acknowledges iOS 9 crashing bugs when tapping links, fix coming ‘soon’ with a software update » 9to5Mac

Benjamin Mayo:

»Since posting our original story, we have heard from a lot of readers that are affected by iOS 9 crashes or app hangs when tapping links, spanning multiple iOS versions (not just 9.3) and devices. In a statement, Apple has now confirmed that they are working on a fix for the problem, coming in a software update (presumably iOS 9.3.1).

»

“We are aware of this issue, and we will release a fix in a software update soon.”

«

A temporary workaround is still unknown, although community investigations have revealed why the bug has arisen. It is based on what apps the user has installed and how those apps handle universal links.

Previously, we pinpointed Bookings.com as a cause of the bug, although noting it affects other apps as well. On Twitter, it was found that their website association file, used by the system for the universal links feature introduced with iOS 9, was many megabytes, grossly oversized. This would essentially overload the daemon that had to parse these files, causing the crashing.

«

Linked yesterday. There is a workaround, involving toggling Airplane mode, deleting the offending app, restarting and so on. Not much fun.
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David Cameron drops bombshell privatisation announcement then catches a plane to Lanzarote » The Canary

Kerry-Anne Mendoza:

»The government is selling off the Land Registry to private, profit making interests.

The government has also ordered local authorities to transfer up to 90% of brown field sites (previously developed sites that have become vacant, contaminated but could be reused) into the hands of the Homes and Communities Agency (the latest quango) where Eric Pickles (and his successors) and just two inspectors will control the planning decisions.

The Infrastructure Bill contains a clause which will allow ALL public land to be privatised. There’s no need to reference the Forestry Act 1967, the Countryside Rights of Way Act or any other protective law, because Schedule 3 of the Bill states that “the property, rights and liabilities that may be transferred by a scheme include… property, rights and liabilities that would not otherwise be capable of being transferred or assigned.”

In plain English, this means all preceding regulations, legislation and other protections for this site are null and void – fill your boots.

«

First the Land Registry, now this. It would be great if there were an effective political opposition in the UK.
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Presentation: Mobile ate the world » Benedict Evans

»Updated for spring 2016, this is a snapshot of why mobile matters, where it is and where it’s going. I’ve written quite a lot of blog posts discussing these issues, which I collated in this [other] post.

«

76-slide presentation, with lots of subtle points in it to absorb; I think that AI will play a more important role than is immediately obvious, because it can be subsumed into the device. That, though, isn’t what the platform opportunity is about.
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My heroic and lazy stand against IFTTT » Pinboard Blog

Maciej Ceglowski:

»A service like IFTTT [If This Then That] writes “shim code” that makes it possible to connect online services together like Lego. Everything slots into everything else. This is thankless, detailed work (like developing TurboTax or Dropbox) that when done right, creates a lot of value.

IFTTT has already written all this shim code. They did it when they were small and had no money, so it’s difficult to believe they have to throw it away now that they have lots of staff and $30m.

Instead, sites that want to work with IFTTT will have to implement a private API that can change without warning.

This is a perfectly reasonable business decision. It is always smart to make other people do all the work.

However, cutting out sites that you have supported for years because they refuse to work for free is not very friendly to your oldest and most loyal users. And claiming that it’s the other party’s fault that you’re discontinuing service is a bit of a dick move.

I am all for glue services, big and small. But it’s better for the web that they connect to stable, documented, public APIs, rather than custom private ones.

And if you do want me to write a custom API for you, pay me lots of money.

«

Ceglowski’s laconic humour is also razor-sharp; his tweets (on @pinboard) are worth a read, such as one from August 2014 after IFTTT got some venture funding: “Right now the IFTTT business model is to charge one user $30M, rather than lots of users $2. The challenge will be with recurring payments.” Ceglowski yesterday quoted his own tweet, and added “That man was a prophet.” (I use Pinboard to generate Start Up.)
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The new iPhone may have a China problem » CNBC

Eunice Yoon:

»Apple’s new iPhone SE launches on Thursday and preliminary numbers at Chinese retailers suggest decent demand — but the black market tells a more mixed story.

The US tech giant started taking pre-orders for the smartphone on March 24 and has not released official figures. However, as of Monday in Beijing, total pre-orders on three retailing sites exceeded 3.4 million.

Despite the brisk pre-orders, though, Chinese vendors and scalpers are uncertain if the iPhone SE will be a sure bet like previous models.

“The new iPhone SE has no revolutionary update,” one distributor in Henan Province told CNBC. “I don’t think the demand will be as strong as the iPhone 6 and 6S.” He is offering the iPhone SE at a $20 discount to the official price in China.

In the past, scalpers have been able to charge a premium of roughly $300 over the official price for a newly released iPhone, but one Hong Kong smuggler who refused to be named said he expected to charge just $30 above the listed price for the iPhone SE.

«

First time I’ve heard 3.4m pre-orders described as a problem. (Any Android OEM’s CEO would gnaw off her/his arm to get that many pre-orders for a 4in phone.) And the black market angle has become less and less relevant in China over time, now that all the main networks and lots of retailers, sell iPhones.
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The Next 40 » Asymco

Apple has hit 40 years old; Horace Dediu reflects on what successful (as in, long-lived) companies are, or do:

»we must search for other names to call a company that delivers an enabler that may lead to progress. Crude categorization like the reporting of finances leads to self-deception and a loss of opportunity to understand. Firms are often victims of this self-deception because they start believing that customers buy the things they sell. They start to believe that what is on their financial reports is a reflection of the value they create. It’s a simple mistake to make, but a mistake which leads to catastrophe. If its data is mis-categorized, by chasing numbers the company runs away from opportunity, leaving it to competitors otherwise unencumbered with knowledge of numbers.

Assuming Apple avoids mis-categorizing what it does, will it be a “solutions” or “services” or “brand” company? Is it, as I used to say, a “blockbuster manufacturing line”?

Yes, and still that’s not all it could be. Nor is it enough to understand what will come.

My simple proposal is to think of Apple (and actually any company) as a customer creator. It creates and maintains customers. The more it creates, the more it prospers. The more customers it preserves the more it’s likely to persevere. This measure of performance for a company is not easy to obtain. It’s not a line item in any financial report.

«

The point that companies believe customers buy the things they sell is a mistake you see again and again.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida:

Start up: Nest’s cuckoo, TayAI gets shut up, Pebble cuts staff, how mobile games rely on whales, and more

Cat

Cat parasites could make humans aggressive and clumsy. Honest. Photo by chaosphoenx on Flickr.

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

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

Inside Tony Fadell’s struggle to build Nest » The Information

Reed Albergotti on the wrangling between Nest and Dropcam, which Google bought for $555m and then folded into Nest:

»In one meeting, [Dropcam co-founder Greg] Duffy witnessed [Nest founder Tony] Fadell berate a former Google engineer who was working on computer vision for the Nest Cam. The engineer began to explain the challenges in deciphering the different types of movement that might be captured by cameras.

In front of about 20 other people, Mr. Fadell blew up at the employee for getting off topic, Mr. Duffy recalled. Mr. Fadell told the employee to pull the algorithm from Photoshop, according to Mr. Duffy. He went on to question what the engineer had accomplished and to declare results had to be forthcoming or there would be trouble, Mr. Duffy recalled.

In Mr. Duffy’s view, Mr. Fadell’s Photoshop suggestion demonstrated that Mr. Fadell didn’t understand the technology he was trying to build and that the engineers working underneath Mr. Fadell didn’t feel empowered to forcefully push back when Mr. Fadell was wrong.

Through a spokeswoman, Mr. Fadell said he told the engineer to look at Photoshop, which offered a tool similar to what Nest was trying to accomplish, in order to learn how to implement the technology.

More than half of the 100 Dropcam employees hired by Nest have now left. In an interview with The Information, Mr. Fadell blamed the Dropcam team for the problems with the acquisition. “A lot of the employees were not as good as we hoped,” he said. It was “a very small team and unfortunately it wasn’t a very experienced team.”

«

Dropcam has run into the sand inside Nest, essentially.
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France fines Google over ‘right to be forgotten’ » WSJ

Sam Schechner:

»France’s data-protection regulator has slapped a fine on Alphabet Inc.’s Google for not implementing Europe’s “right to be forgotten” globally, rejecting a compromise offered by the search firm and setting up a court battle over the scope of the divisive rule.

France’s Commission Nationale de l’Informatique et des Libertes, or CNIL, said Thursday that the search engine had violated a formal order last year ordering it to apply the new right to be forgotten to “all domain names” of the search engine, including google.com, and fined the company €100,000 ($112,000).

As part of its decision, the regulator rejected a compromise offered by Google, in which it would apply the rule to all of its sites when they were accessed from an European Union country where a removal-request originated… For example, links about a French person that are removed under the right to be forgotten would also be removed from all Google sites when the searcher is in France—but not if the searcher is in Germany or outside the EU.

«

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Builder’s life saved by Apple Watch » The Sun

Daniel Jones:

»A builder who was suffering a heart attack had his life saved by his Apple Watch.

When Dennis Anselmo started to “feel terrible” he thought it was because he was coming down with a fever.

But when the 62-year-old glanced down at his Apple gadget he saw that his heart rate was more than 210 beats a minute.

Doctors who later cleared the blockage in his arteries told him if he had gone home and slept he would have likely had a second, fatal attack, in the middle of the night.

«

Happens that he was fascinated with checking his heart rate, but maybe it should flash a warning if your heart rate goes over something safe? Also of note: he owns 35 other watches. (He now doesn’t wear them.)

Pretty priceless advertising for Apple – this is the second case I’ve seen in the media where a heart problem has been highlighted by the Watch.
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Explosive road rage-like anger linked to parasite spread by cats » New Scientist

Brian Owens:

»Infection with Toxoplasma gondii, a protozoan parasite carried by cats, has been linked to a human psychiatric condition called intermittent explosive disorder. People who have IED typically experience disproportionate outbursts of aggression, like road rage. T. gondii is already known to change the behaviour of the organisms it infects. By making rodents bolder and more adventurous, the parasite makes them more likely to be caught and eaten by a cat, allowing the parasite to complete its life cycle.

It can also infect humans, through contact with cat faeces, poorly cooked meat or contaminated water, and as many as one-third of the world’s population may be infected. The protozoan doesn’t make us feel sick, but forms cysts in the brain where it can remain for the rest of a person’s life. Such infections have been linked to psychiatric conditions including schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and suicidal behaviour. People infected with T. gondii also have slower reaction times and are more likely to be involved in car accidents.

«

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Smartwatch company Pebble is laying off 25% of its staff » Tech Insider

Steve Kovach:

»Pebble, the buzzy startup credited for being one of the first companies to launch a modern smartwatch, is laying off 40 employees this week, CEO Eric Migicovsky told Tech Insider in an interview. That’s about 25% of its total staff.

Migicovsky also said the company has raised $26m over the last eight months on top of its $20m Kickstarter campaign that started in February 2015. He wouldn’t disclose the investors, but did say Pebble has raised a mix of debt and venture capital from private investors.

Migicovsky blamed a chilly fundraising environment in Silicon Valley for the layoffs.

“We’ve definitely been careful this year as we plan our products,” Migicovsky said. “We got this money, but money [among VCs in Silicon Valley] is pretty tight these days.”

«

Note that: debt and VC. Debt is potentially toxic to a company struggling with cashflow because it can be called in, and it also usually imposes an ongoing cost. Pebble has problems, like a lot of wearables makers.
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Tay, Microsoft’s AI chatbot, gets a crash course in racism from Twitter » The Guardian

Elle Hunt:

»The bot uses a combination of AI and editorial written by a team of staff including improvisational comedians, says Microsoft in Tay’s privacy statement. Relevant, publicly available data that has been anonymised and filtered is its primary source.

Tay in most cases was only repeating other users’ inflammatory statements, but the nature of AI means that it learns from those interactions. It’s therefore somewhat surprising that Microsoft didn’t factor in the Twitter community’s fondness for hijacking brands’ well-meaning attempts at engagement when writing Tay. Microsoft has been contacted for comment.

Eventually though, even Tay seemed to start to tire of the high jinks.

»

— TayTweets (@TayandYou)
March 24, 2016
@brightonus33 If u want… you know I’m a lot more than just this.

«

Late on Wednesday, after 16 hours of vigorous conversation, Tay announced she was retiring for the night.

Her sudden retreat from Twitter fuelled speculation that she had been “silenced” by Microsoft, which, screenshots posted by SocialHax suggest, had been working to delete those tweets in which Tay used racist epithets.

«

Honestly – I noted its existence, went to sleep and woke up to find it had run amok. Neatly proving that Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein was a parable for all the ages.
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Google and Obama administration connect over Cuba » WSJ

Brody Mullins and Carol Lee:

»When President Barack Obama was working secretly to restore diplomatic and business relations with Cuba two years ago, he got some help from an unlikely place.

Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt and other company executives, with encouragement from the White House, traveled to Havana in June 2014 to talk with the Cuban government about the benefits of Internet access. When he returned, Mr. Schmidt called for an end to the trade embargo.

The White House didn’t tell Google, now a unit of Alphabet Inc., about the secret negotiations with Cuba. But by the time Mr. Obama announced that December the U.S. would restore diplomatic ties, Google had established a toehold in the island nation by rolling out versions of its popular search engine and other Internet offerings.

On Monday, during the first full day of Mr. Obama’s historic trip to Havana, the president announced that Google had reached a deal to open a temporary demonstration project in Havana to showcase some of its Internet products.

«

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The mobile games industry is kept afloat by less than 1% of users » The Next Web

Amanda Connolly:

»game creators often use a free-to-play model, allowing users to play a good chunk of the game before having to pay for access to additional levels or features. However, that’s risky business because there is no guarantee that the users will ever pay.

A new report is highlighting that risk, showing that almost half of all the revenue generated in mobile gaming comes from just 0.19% of users.

That means the other 99.81% of users aren’t worth anything money-wise to the creators. Of course, high user numbers are never bad and advertising also plays a key role in generating cash but it’s the people who play the games that dictate the success.

Of the 0.19% who are spending money, very few of these are doing it often; 64% are making just one paid in-game purchase per month, while it’s just 6.5% making five or more paid in-game purchases, with the average spend per player being $24.33.

Conducted by marketing firm Swrve, the report looked at over 40 free-to-play games through February 2016, analyzing the uses of more than 20 million players.

It makes for a stark look at how such a big industry, worth more than $10bn, is so reliant on a few hardcore users for revenue.

«

From 20 million players, 0.19% is 38,000 people; and 6.5% of them is 2,470. As the $24.33 figure relates to the 38,000, then the revenue from those 20 million players is $0.92m, across 40 F2P games in a month. Average per game: $23,110 in a month. But it will be skewed – one game probably gets 80% of the revenue. That means the remaining 39 would get an average of $4,741 in the month (while the big one gets $740,000).
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Samsung says S7 sales exceed forecast » Korea Times

Kim Yoo-chul:

»”Samsung is satisfied to see good sales of Galaxy S7,” Ko Dong-jin, head of the company’s mobile business division, told local reporters. “Yes, the initial shipment numbers are looking good.”

The remarks came on the sidelines of Ko’s participation in the weekly meeting with top executives of Samsung Group affiliates in Seocho Samsung Tower, southern Seoul.

The mobile boss, however, remained tightlipped about how many S7s have so far been sold since the devices became available for preorder on March 11.

Market analyst said that sales and preorders of the S7s have exceeded earlier forecasts in China, Europe and India. Specifically in Europe, it is said that the company saw a 250 percent increase in combined preorder sales.

«

Studiedly vague. It was only a couple of years ago that Samsung used to give precise numbers for preorders.
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Vice CEO Shane Smith on dealing with agencies: ‘We want to make great shit but it’s a war.’ » Digiday

Shareen Pathak reporting on the 4A Transformation conference on Tuesday:

»The issue of “not rocking the boat” is a consistent charge leveled at ad agencies. Last week, a top buyer at a media agency told Digiday that agencies are often afraid of starting from scratch to solve client problems because it’s too hard. And that kind of mindset has helped fuel to the rise of innovative branded content at publishers like Vice and the New York Times. [NYT chief executive Mark] Thompson said the [NY] Times’s brand content arm, T-Brand Studio, now has 70 employees and is doing $60m in revenue.

Of course, the pressure is also on publishers: Thompson said the talk of “disruption” happening at the agency-oriented conference this week is old news to publishers and journalism organizations, which have now realized that ads and subscription-based businesses are not going to cut it. “In the digital publishing and legacy publishing business, winter is coming,” he said. “A lot of people have bet their futures on very large, wide and thin digital audiences, monetized through commoditized display advertising. I think a lot of people are going to go out of business.”

«

“Winter is coming”. Related: IBT Media, which publishes International Business Times and Newsweek, has laid off at least 15 people (perhaps more?) in New York and California.
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Why you should try that crazy virtual reality headset » WSJ

Joanna Stern provides a number of examples – with 360-degree video – to show how VR can have real-world applications:

»By visiting places in the real world that I’d already seen in VR, I came to realize that these silly headsets can be magical. They also have a dark side: It’s easy to end up nauseous, and—more frighteningly—virtual experiences can sometimes get too real. More often than I imagined, the line between the two realities starts to blur.

I’m walking into the master bath of a $7.3M penthouse that just hit the market. The blue tub that backs up to a stunning view of downtown San Francisco is perfect. While examining the square showerhead, I feel something I never have before, a newfangled sort of déjà vu. Though my physical body has never been here, I remember it. In my office just two days ago, I was staring at the same brass spigot, via a VR headset.

The first person you try VR with could be a realtor rather than a Best Buy employee. San Francisco realtor Roh Habibi now keeps a Samsung Gear VR headset in his car. “I’ve locked in showings just after having a client put on the headset,” he says. Sales gimmick or no, when I set foot in that house, I knew exactly how to get to that bathroom.

«

(Though the examples are, when viewed just on a browser, pretty much a recap of Quicktime VR, which dates back to 1994.)
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida:

Start up: Apple’s conundrum, watch birds migrate!, the 5am startup, and more

A Go endgame: where would you play next? DeepMind’s systems would know. Photo by chadmiller on Flickr.

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

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

Apple wants to be a services company » Business Insider

Jay Yarow with a neat summary of Apple’s conundrum:

So, Apple is in this weird cycle: It wants to grow services revenue, but services revenue depends on iPhone sales. Currencies are falling because the global economy is weak relative to the US economy, which is leading Apple to raise prices on the iPhone, which is hurting iPhone sales, which will limit services revenues.

Apple could lower prices of the iPhone to sell more units and then grow services, but it doesn’t seem to want to do that.

Cook said Apple already had a variety of price points, from the low-tier iPhone 5s to the high-end iPhone 6s Plus.

“I don’t see us deviating from that approach,” Cook said.

This makes sense since Apple is a hardware company. If it were a services company, it would lower prices, go for smartphone unit volume, then get more money from that. But it is not a services company.

It is not principally a services company. The money it does make from services is actually pretty substantial, and threatens to overtake iPad revenue. Poor iPad.
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iPhone Headwinds » Tech-Thoughts

Sameer Singh:

Apple also increased iPhone channel inventory by 3.3m over the quarter compared to a decline of 0.2m in the same quarter last year. Keeping in mind that Apple reports sell-in (shipments), not sales to end users, this implies that iPhone sell-through actually declined by 4.3% YoY, from 74.7m to 71.5m units. This is the first such decline in the history of the product.

In addition to this sell-through decline, Apple’s revenue guidance for the next quarter implies a steeper YoY decline in unit sales. And finally, this was accompanied with a YoY increase in average selling price (ASP) which suggests that the iPhone mix is shifting towards higher end models…

…As Clay Christensen is fond of saying, “Disruption is a process, not an event”. The mechanics of low-end disruption have been working ever since the first Android smartphone was unveiled in 2008. The key test for the iPhone will be the iPhone 7 cycle, starting in fiscal Q1 [Oct-Dec] 2017. In a “redesign year”, it will be easier to gauge whether meaningful product improvements can continue to generate increased demand or if today’s smartphones have already reached “good enough” territory.

The sell-through point is valid (only BlackBerry also gives the same data). The odd thing is that rising ASP: it points to people having the disposable income to buy the pricier models, which argues against the “low-end disruption” thesis.

But the gap between the average selling price of an Android handset and the average selling price of an iPhone has never been larger. That must have knock-on effects. But what?
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Google AI algorithm masters ancient game of Go » Nature

Elizabeth Gibney:

DeepMind’s program AlphaGo beat Fan Hui, the European Go champion, five times out of five in tournament conditions, the firm reveals in research published in Nature on 27 January. It also defeated its silicon-based rivals, winning 99.8% of games against the current best programs. The program has yet to play the Go equivalent of a world champion, but a match against South Korean professional Lee Sedol, considered by many to be the world’s strongest player, is scheduled for March. “We’re pretty confident,” says DeepMind co-founder Demis Hassabis.

“This is a really big result, it’s huge,” says Rémi Coulom, a programmer in Lille, France, who designed a commercial Go program called Crazy Stone. He had thought computer mastery of the game was a decade away.

The IBM chess computer Deep Blue, which famously beat grandmaster Garry Kasparov in 1997, was explicitly programmed to win at the game. But AlphaGo was not preprogrammed to play Go: rather, it learned using a general-purpose algorithm that allowed it to interpret the game’s patterns, in a similar way to how a DeepMind program learned to play 49 different arcade games.

This means that similar techniques could be applied to other AI domains that require recognition of complex patterns, long-term planning and decision-making, says Hassabis. “A lot of the things we’re trying to do in the world come under that rubric.” Examples are using medical images to make diagnoses or treatment plans, and improving climate-change models.

This is a gigantic result; being good at Go requires a subtle intuition and feel for space. (At least, for a human.) It’s far, far more complex than chess. And that this was done by a non-specific program has colossal implications.

As Nature’s leader on the topic comments, as these systems spread into our lives, “The machine becomes an oracle; its pronouncements have to be believed… Intuitive machines will need more than trust: they will demand faith.”

As a side note, DeepMind looks like one of Google’s smartest purchases – perhaps after YouTube.
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Nest thermostat goes from ‘Internet Of Things’ darling to cautionary tale » Techdirt

Karl Bode:

[Tech writer Stacey Higginbotham’s] Nest device began trying to cook her family in the middle of the night, something Nest first tried to blame on her smart garage door opener, then tried to blame on her Jawbone fitness tracker (Nest never did seem to pinpoint the cause). Her report suggests that an overall culture of “arrogance” at Nest shockingly isn’t helping pinpoint and resolve bugs:

“One Nest partner, who declined to be named to preserve his business relationship with the company, said that Nest being quick with the blame didn’t surprise him, citing a culture of arrogance at the company. When something went wrong during integration testing between his device and Nest’s, problems were first blamed on his servers and team.”

And fast-forward to last week, when researchers putting various internet of thing devices through tests found that the Nest thermostat was one of many IOT devices happily leaking subscriber location data in cleartext (with Nest, it’s only the zip code, something the company quickly fixed in a patch). Granted Nest’s not alone in being an inadvertent advertisement for a product’s “dumb” alternatives. In 2016, smart tea kettles, refrigerators, televisions and automobiles are all busy leaking your private information and exposing you to malicious intrusion (or worse).

It’s a fascinating, in-progress lesson about how our lust for the sexy ideal of the connected home appears to be taking a brief pit stop in reality.

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Vigilant solutions and the spread of police surveillance » The Atlantic

Conor Friedersdorf:

Throughout the United States—outside private houses, apartment complexes, shopping centers, and businesses with large employee parking lots—a private corporation, Vigilant Solutions, is taking photos of cars and trucks with its vast network of unobtrusive cameras. It retains location data on each of those pictures, and sells it.

It’s happening right now in nearly every major American city.

The company has taken roughly 2.2bn license-plate photos to date. Each month, it captures and permanently stores about 80m additional geotagged images. They may well have photographed your license plate. As a result, your whereabouts at given moments in the past are permanently stored. Vigilant Solutions profits by selling access to this data (and tries to safeguard it against hackers). Your diminished privacy is their product. And the police are their customers.

Sounds a bit similar to the UK police’s Automatic Number Plate Reader network, which extends around the UK, except this is historic too. (Then again, the UK’s ANPR system probably is too.)
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How to wake up at 5am and build your startup » Medium

Patrick Park (once he’s got past the stuff about how to, you know, get up at 5am, and gets on to the stuff about building your startup):

It’s hard to admit, but no one really knows what they’re doing at first. Even the largest startup unicorns in the world, took a long time to find their footing. AirBnb survived by selling political themed cereal Obama O’s and Cap’n McCain’s. #Slack came out of a failed game “Glitch.” Even YouTube began as a video dating service “Tune in Hook Up.”

Micro-startups work well with the Lean Startup methodology. Not only are micro-startups easier to implement, but provide a shorter feedback loop that keeps you more in touch with your audience. With 75% of all startups failing, would you rather spend 100 days in a basement building a product your customers “might” like or connect with your audience everyday “while” you adapt your startup to address your customer’s pain-points? Don’t build another Blockbuster.

Start with the assumption that you’re wrong. Constantly validate your theories through micro-experiments. When I first started “Krown.io”. I explained the service as an “Annotation Blogging Platform.” That was, until I found out the majority of people have no idea what “Annotations” are. We tried a variation of “Smart Blogging,” “Highlight Blogging,” “Feedback Blogs,” and “Contextual Blogging Platform.” Which surprise, surprise. People still had no idea what we were talking about. So we added a bare-to-the-bones explanation, “Highlight a text and add comments directly on the highlighted text.” Validate your hypothesis.

The startup advice is fine. Waking up at 5am isn’t that hard, but he makes it sound like one of the 12 tasks of Hercules.
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Lenovo used 12345678 as hard-coded password in SHAREit for Windows » Graham Cluley

Cluley is amazed – as you will be:

The first vulnerability [of four, all of which could be exploited remotely] (CVE-2016-1491) is perhaps the most infuriating. CoreLabs discovered that whenever SHAREit for Windows is configured to receive files, this process creates a Wi-Fi hotspot that is ‘protected’ by the password “12345678”.

Not surprisingly, this password just recently earned a top spot on the latest list of worst passwords you could possibly choose.

What is surprising is the fact that Lenovo would incorporate such an insecure password into its application — and one that does not change, no less!

Then again, I suppose the issue could be worse. In the second vulnerability (CVE-2016-1492), which applied only to SHAREit for Android, there is no password set up to protect the Wi-Fi hotspot when the app is configured to receive files.

To be sure, it doesn’t say much when Lenovo could have mitigated two separate vulnerabilities by adhering to the most basic principles of password security.

But moving right along. The third vulnerability (CVE-2016-1490) discovered by CoreLabs builds upon the insecure Windows password issue discussed above

When elephants do software while dancing. Yes, it was Lenovo which preinstalled Superfish.
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Mesmerizing migration: watch 118 bird species migrate across a map of the western hemisphere » All About Birds

Pat Leonard:

For the first time, scientists at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology have documented migratory movements of bird populations spanning the entire year for 118 species throughout the Western Hemisphere. The study finds broad similarity in the routes used by specific groups of species—vividly demonstrated by animated maps showing patterns of movement across the annual cycle.

There’s also a version showing which species is which.
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Apple India enterprise head Sharad Mehrotra quits, starts up with Hyve Mobility » timesofindia-economictimes

Muntazir Abbas:

Sharad Mehrotra, iPhone maker Apple’s enterprise mobility head in India, has quit and set up a handset company to compete in the world’s fastest-growing smartphone market. Mehrotra, who was with Apple India since October 2007, has cofounded Hyve Mobility , which will launch smartphones using Android, the operating system that rivals Apple’s iOS, by March.

“While consumers today have a lot of options to choose a smartphone, the element of customer delight is seriously missing,” he told ET, adding that it was high time to get into the smartphone market…

…”In the current Android scenario, no brand enjoys customer loyalty and we want to bring the change with our path-breaking products portfolio and service offerings,” said [Aditya] Agarwal, MD of Hyve Mobility.

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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none noted.

Start up: inside the Fire Phone debacle, a selfie stick successor, CES beats the bedroom, CNN’s last-ever video, and more


The Mayday button on the Amazon Fire Phone. Perhaps should have been used before it went on sale. Photo by TechStage on Flickr.

A selection of 8 links for you. Do not use as a flotation device. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

The real story behind Jeff Bezos’s Fire Phone debacle and what it means for Amazon’s future » Fast Company

Austin Carr, in a terrific long read, explaining how the Fire Phone project began in 2010, and had Bezos as a micro-manager:

Some designers bristled at Bezos’s presence and privately questioned his taste, while others who were wowed by his wide-ranging insights loved his approach. Regardless, Bezos’s heavy hand certainly took getting used to, even for Chris Green, Lab126’s VP of industrial design. “In the beginning, Chris would take Jeff’s feedback a bit literally,” says Randall, the former Lab126 VP, “and there was many an evening spent over beers and sushi counseling him, saying, ‘Calm down, it’s going to get better.’”

Bezos drove the team hard on one particular feature: Dynamic Perspective, the 3-D effects engine that is perhaps most representative of what went wrong with the Fire Phone. Dynamic Perspective presented the team with a challenge: Create a 3-D display that requires no glasses and is visible from multiple angles. The key would be facial recognition, which would allow the phone’s cameras to track a user’s gaze and adjust the 3-D effect accordingly. After a first set of leaders assigned to the project failed to deliver, their replacements went on a hiring spree. One team even set up a room that they essentially turned into a costume store, filling it with wigs, sunglasses, fake moustaches, and earrings that they donned for the cameras in order to improve facial recognition. “I want this feature,” Bezos said, telling the team he didn’t care how long it took or how much it cost.

Turns out Bezos isn’t as good a micro-manager for building a phone as Steve Jobs. Result:

According to three sources familiar with the company’s numbers, the Fire Phone sold just tens of thousands of units in the weeks that preceded the company’s radical price cuts.

Was it perhaps somewhere around the 35,000 that I estimated in August? My range was between 26,000 and, generously, 35,000. I’d love to hear the actual figure.

The whole piece, though, gives terrific insight into how Bezos can get it wrong. He thought a single phone – one piece of hardware – could reshape Amazon’s brand, and turn it from a “get stuff cheap online” one, into a “we customers love you, take our money” brand. The two aren’t the same.


February 2014: What the world really needs: A telescopic SELFIE STICK » The Register

Simon Rockman in February 2014:

Mobile World Congress is often as interesting for the silly gadgets as it is for the mainstream announcements.

This (right) is the Selfie Stick, an extendable pole with a Bluetooth control for your phone.

The Selfie comes in two versions: a general one and one for Samsung phones where you have focus control.

Hahahahahawhatdo you mean they’re sold out everywhere?


The first wearable camera that can fly » Nixie

Wearable and flyable

The first wrist-band camera quadcopter.
Nixie flies, takes your photo, and comes back to you.

This feels like it could easily be one of those Great Ideas that is too easily bungled in the execution, but if it works well it could put selfie sticks out of business. Until selfie stick owners swat them out of the sky.


CES, the World’s Largest Trade Show, Is Too Big for Vegas » Bloomberg

The Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas has a problem that many events would love to have: It’s become too big. And it doesn’t want to get any bigger.

With as many as 160,000 visitors to CES—the world’s largest annual trade show—the Nevada city’s sprawling hotels are stretched to the limit. Last January’s gathering of gadget-loving geeks somehow packed in a full 10,000 more people than Las Vegas has rooms for them to sleep in.

The Consumer Electronics Association, the folks who put on the conference and expo, says CES 2015 will have the equivalent of 35 football fields, or about 2 miles of floor space, filled with phones, televisions, smartwatches, washing machines and throngs of people trying to see it all. “In order to enhance the experience for our attendees, we aim to keep attendance between 150,000 and 160,000 so that everyone can get where they need to go,” says CEA Vice President Karen Chupka.

That’s OK – they can sleep in the lines for press conferences showing off LG’s new dishwasher. Actually, the graph with the story suggests that attendees has exceeded the number of available hotel rooms since 2012. I’m pretty sure I slept there in 2012. Could it be that, shock, some people share rooms? Also, how’s AirBnB coming along there? And might some attendees, um, live in Vegas?


The weirdly-synched life of the Google Nest household » The Register

Richard Chirgwin:

At first glance it looks like the typical Utopian vision of Silicon Valley, but Vulture South took a second look and asked ourselves: “what kinds of life does Google think we live?”

The short answer: wealthy, lazy, and either lonely or in a strange 1950’s-sitcom family synchronisation. Everybody rises and sleeps at the same time, everybody leaves and arrives together, and we’re rich enough to have ‘leccy cars but too poor to charge them.

The most obvious believer in the synchronised family is appliance giant Whirlpool. Its Nest integration can “let your washer and dryer know when you’re home and they will automatically switch to quiet mode”. Unless only one occupant is recognised, that means the only time the appliances are allowed to let their hair down and party is when everyone’s away.

The August Smart Lock will tell Nest to change your thermostat settings when you arrive (warm the house up) or leave (switch off the heating) – which begs the question “what if I lock the front door while other people are still at home?” At least the Kwikset Kevo smart lock understands that more than one person might be in a household.

The Withings Sleep System: when you go to sleep it will “let your Nest Thermostat to a comfortable nighttime temperature. Wake up and it will tell Nest you’re ready to start the day.” Once again, the idea that a household might have sleep and wake times staggered by hours seems alien to the developer.

This is my general objection to “internet of things” and “homes of the future” visions: they don’t account for how we actually live. Them: Look, you’ll be able to get your coffee maker to make coffee before you get out of bed! Me: so I’ll have had to put the coffee in the night before. As I have to go downstairs to get the coffee, why not just make it fresh while I’m there?

And so on. Most IOT/HOTF concepts seem to come from 20-somethings who have no concept of running a household. Hence, I think, their limited success.


This is the video CNN will play when the world ends » Jalopnik

Michael Ballaban, who unearthed this Holy Grail-style rumoured-but-until-now-never-confirmed video, which has the notice:

“HFR till end of the world confirmed.”

Hold for release. CNN, once ever so thorough in its factchecking, knew that the last employee alive couldn’t be trusted to make a call as consequential as one from the Book of Revelation. The end of the world must be confirmed.

That leaves open a whole host of unanswered questions. If this is the last CNN employee alive, in the last CNN bureau on Earth, who do they confirm it with? What does confirmation look like? Who can be the one to make that determination, to pronounce the universe itself dead? Is it Wolf Blitzer himself, ever a fan of the Washington Wizards, and thus a man who would know death when he saw it? Would it be Rick Davis, CNN’s head of standards of practices, who has been with the company since its birth and who thus would know CNN’s journalistic practices better than anyone?

Or would it be some sort of living embodiment of CNN itself, ready to proclaim its own demise, as Judgment Day is truly the only thing able to bring about the long-anticipated death of cable news?

And who would be around to watch it?

Um.. that CNN employee? The machines grinding us into nanoparticles to feed into their hoppers? Take your pick.


Breach puts Morgan Stanley client data up for sale » NYTimes.com

Nathaniel Popper:

the bank traced the breach to a financial adviser working out of its New York offices, a 30-year-old named Galen Marsh, according to a person involved in the investigation who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Mr. Marsh, who had been with Morgan Stanley since 2008, was quickly fired and is currently the subject of a criminal investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, a person briefed on the investigation said. The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority is also examining the matter.

Morgan Stanley said on Monday that it had determined that Mr. Marsh took data on about 10% of its 3.5 million wealth management customers, including transactional information from customer statements.

The bank said that Mr. Marsh did not take any sensitive passwords or Social Security numbers, and that it had not found any evidence that the breach resulted in any losses to customers. A lawyer for Mr. Marsh, Robert C. Gottlieb, acknowledged on Monday that his client did take the information in question but said that he did not post it online, share it or try to sell it.

Afghanistan war logs: insider breach. NSA/GCHQ documents: insider breach. Morgan Stanley: insider breach. Sony Pictures..?


Hit mobile game Monument Valley and piracy: ‘Only 5%’ of Android players paid for it » VenureBeat

Jeff Grubb:

Piracy is still a big problem on Android.

Developer Ustwo had one of the break out mobile hits in 2014 with its isometric puzzler Monument Valley, but a successful game is not impervious to piracy. The studio confirmed on Twitter today that Monument Valley has had an especially tough time with “unpaid installs” on Android. The company said that 95% of the people playing the game on Google’s mobile operating system did not buy it — although, Ustwo did explain that a small number of those installs are legitimate and were not illegally downloaded. This makes a big dent in Ustwo’s earnings since Monument Valley is a premium-priced game that does not have in-app purchases like Candy Crush Saga or other lucrative mobile releases. Gaming on smart devices surpassed $21bn last year, but it potentially could have more if it weren’t for piracy.

The paid rate was much better on iOS, but it’s still alarming. Ustwo said that 40% of the people who have the game on an Apple mobile device paid for it. Again, that means the majority did not give the developer money.

Depressing numbers, for a game that costs just $4. There’s certainly piracy on iOS – but the astronomical amount on Android really isn’t good news. Does this get factored into the quotes about “revenues from app stores” we see?

There is some confusion over the iOS figure though: it’s not clear whether someone who buys on the iPhone and then downloads to their iPad counts as an “unpaid install”. We also don’t know if that’s how it works on Android – though do 95% of Android owners have multiple devices?