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: Spotify hits 30m, Google’s Syria wish, Apple’s iPhone aim, the truth behind Powa, and more

Is it really a good idea to do a charity parachute jump? Photo by puritani35 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.

Spotify hits 30 million subscribers » The Verge

Micah Singleton:

»Spotify has 30 million paid subscribers, CEO Daniel Ek announced today in a tweet. This is the first subscriber update Spotify has given out since it announced it had 20m subscribers days before Apple Music hit the market last June, and shows the increased competition has had little to no effect on Spotify’s growth.

In the nine months that Apple Music has been available, the service has picked up 11 million subscribers. Spotify has added 10m paid subscribers in the same time.

The Swedish streaming service is now adding an average of 10m paid customers a year — it only had 10m subscribers total in 2014— a growth rate it will need to maintain as it goes up against Apple Music and its substantial marketing war chest.

What’s also notable is the flood of exclusive content put out by Apple Music and Tidal over the past few months seemingly hasn’t harmed Spotify’s user retention.

«

It was going so well until that last sentence. Singleton has no idea what has happened to Spotify’s user retention; it might be seeing colossal churn (people joining while others leave) or be rock steady. The raw numbers don’t tell you. It’s a reasonable guess, but that’s all it is – a guess.

That might seem like nitpicking, but it matters: it’s key to knowing whether Spotify really does have loyal users, or just fly-by-nights. And it’s also a bad idea to state things as fact that you don’t know directly.
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Apple: the mother of all iPhone installed base models, via Stifel » Barrons.com

Tiernan Ray:

»After combining the installed base numbers, churn, new sales, upgrade rates, and such, Rakers arrives at a “guesstimate model” for how the Apple installed base may expand, and how that trickles down to potential iPhone sales.

That results in numbers that would be above his own estimates. For example, Rakers figures if Apple’s installed base total 625m units in 2015, if Apple maintains an 18.8% share of the global smartphone market this year, which is projected to be 3.958bn units, and it if gets 19.6% of the expansion of that total smartphone market, it would bring Apple’s installed base to 744m units.

Rakers then backs out of that an “implied gross change” of 144m units, backs out of that refurbished sales of 95 million, and comes up with 49 million “implied net new iPhone installed base shipments.” He then combines that with “new iPhone shipments into prior year installed base,” and comes up with a potential sales level of 239m iPhones this year.

That’s above Rakers’s own estimate for 217.4m units, and above what he deems Street consensus of 208m units. It would also be growth from last year, versus the decline everyone’s expecting this year.

«

The pricing for the new iPhone SE, lower than any new iPhone, could make a difference there.
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US top court agrees to hear Samsung-Apple patent fight » Reuters

Lawrence Hurley and Andrew Chung:

»The US Supreme Court on Monday stepped into the high-profile patent fight between the world’s two fiercest smartphone rivals, Apple and Samsung, agreeing to hear Samsung’s appeal of what it contends were excessive penalties for copying the patented designs of the iPhone.

Samsung Electronics paid Apple more than $548m in December related to a jury verdict from 2012. It is seeking to pare back the $399m of that amount that was awarded for infringing on the designs of the iPhone’s rounded-corner front face, bezel and colorful grid of icons, saying they contributed only marginally to a complex device.

Apple sued in 2011, claiming the South Korean electronics company stole its technology and ripped off the look of the iPhone.

«

The Jarndyce and Jarndyce of the digital world. But it also matters (notes Neil Cybart) because it affects how one values design. Google and Facebook wanted the Supreme Court to hear it; Apple didn’t, he says.
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Trump supporters aren’t stupid » Medium

Emma Lindsay with a terrific insight:

»Normally, when liberals talk about racism, they use “racist” as an end point. “Trump is racist” is, by itself, a reason not to vote for him, and “being racist” is an indicator of a person who is morally deficient.

But, if you don’t take this as an end point — if you instead ask “what do people get out of being racist?” — you’ll start to unravel the emotional motivations behind it. One of the best unpacking of this I have read is Matt Bruenig’s piece Last Place Avoidance and Poor White Racism. To summarize, no one wants to occupy the “last” place in society. No one wants to be the most despised. As long as racism remains intact, poor white people are guaranteed not to be “the worst.” If racism is ever truly dismantled, then poor white people will occupy the lowest rung of society, and the shame of occupying this position is very painful. This shame is so painful, that the people at risk of feeling it will vote on it above all other issues.

«

And as she also points out, “America is terrible at giving its citizens dignity and meaning.” This should be required reading in many places.
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Parachuting for charity: is it worth the money? » PubMed

»All parachute injuries from two local parachute centres over a 5-year period were analysed. Of 174 patients with injuries of varying severity, 94% were first-time charity-parachutists. The injury rate in charity-parachutists was 11% at an average cost of 3751 Pounds per casualty. 63% of casualties who were charity-parachutists required hospital admission, representing a serious injury rate of 7%, at an average cost of £5,781 per patient. The amount raised per person for charity was £30. Each pound raised for charity cost the NHS £13.75 in return.

«

Caveat: it’s from 1999. Even so, you can’t be too careful. (You can read the paper in full for $31.50. Perhaps raise the money through a sponsored parachu..? OK then.)
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Why we should fear a cashless world » The Guardian

Dominic Frisby:

»We already live in a world that is, as far as the distribution of wealth is concerned, about as unequal as it gets. It may even be as unequal as it’s ever been. My worry is that a cashless society may exacerbate inequality even further.

It will hand yet more power to the financial sector in that banks and related fintech companies will oversee all transactions. The crash of 2008 showed that, when push comes to shove, banks have already been exempted from the very effective regulation that is bankruptcy – one by which the rest of us must all operate. Do we want this sector to have yet more power and influence?

In a world without cash, every payment you make will be traceable. Do you want governments (which are not always benevolent), banks or payment processors to have potential access to that information? The power this would hand them is enormous and the potential scope for Orwellian levels of surveillance is terrifying.

Cash, on the other hand, empowers its users. It enables them to buy and sell, and store their wealth, without being dependent on anyone else. They can stay outside the financial system, if so desired.

«

The two opposing viewpoints are: in a world where corporations try to avoid tax and there might be a dwindling workforce, it’s important to have visibility of every transaction so that the taxable ones are visible. Alternatively, as Frisby argues, the ability to spend shouldn’t depend on access to technology which can be denied, or surveilled at will.
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Clinton email reveals: Google sought overthrow of Syria’s Assad » Washington Examiner

Rudy Takala:

»Google in 2012 sought to help insurgents overthrow Syrian President Bashar Assad, according to State Department emails receiving fresh scrutiny this week.

Messages between former secretary of state Hillary Clinton’s team and one of the company’s executives detailed the plan for Google to get involved in the region.

“Please keep close hold, but my team is planning to launch a tool … that will publicly track and map the defections in Syria and which parts of the government they are coming from,” Jared Cohen, the head of what was then the company’s “Google Ideas” division, wrote in a July 2012 email to several top Clinton officials.

“Our logic behind this is that while many people are tracking the atrocities, nobody is visually representing and mapping the defections, which we believe are important in encouraging more to defect and giving confidence to the opposition,” Cohen said, adding that the plan was for Google to surreptitiously give the tool to Middle Eastern media.

«

The headline is overwritten: Google wasn’t seeking Assad’s overthrow. It was seeking to provide help to those inside Syria who wondered how many were really defecting. As the story points out, though, the anti-Assad movement helped create the conditions for ISIS to become strong.

And it’s really not good for Google to be visible as having tried to influence the internal affairs of a Middle Eastern state – even in this roundabout way. Now one begins to wonder where else it might have tried to be “helpful”.
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Powa: The start-up that fell to earth » BBC News

Rory Cellan-Jones spoke to multiple people who had worked for Powa, a British company run by Dan Wagner which once claimed a $2.7bn valuation but collapsed into administration in February:

»What those people have told me is that Powa was an almost textbook case of how not to run a company – no clear strategy, directionless management, overblown claims about the technology and a reckless attitude to money.

For the last couple of years, I’ve been receiving emails from Powa’s PR agency urging me to cover the company’s ground breaking technology the PowaTag which “allows users to purchase anytime, anywhere in just three seconds by simply scanning an item or advertisement with their smartphone”.

Eventually, the company claimed that it had 1,200 businesses signed up to use the PowaTag.

I was not particularly impressed. I saw little evidence that the technology was being used, but one investor did bite. A Boston-based firm Wellington Management invested a sizeable sum in Mr Wagner’s venture. Eventually they along with other investors poured more than $200m into Powa.

It seems likely they were told the same story that was peddled to journalists – that the PowaTag was going to be used by some of the world’s leading brands including L’Oreal and Carrefour.

But what’s emerged since the collapse of the business is that none of those companies had signed contracts, merely “letters of intent”, which did not commit them to anything. One senior figure in the company told me that young inexperienced sales staff were rewarded with a £2,000 bonus every time one of these letters was signed “so they weren’t particularly concerned about the quality of the deal”.

«

Textbook piece of investigative journalism where you talk to people and gather facts and talk to more people. (The headline is also clever – read all the way to the article’s end to find out why.) I bet there’s plenty more that Cellan-Jones couldn’t include because the BBC’s lawyers wouldn’t let it past. (Notably, FT Alphaville puts Powa’s real value at $106m, based on court documents filed in the US.) None of it looks good for Dan Wagner. Speaking of whom..
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Talk:Dan Wagner » Wikipedia

From the Talk (discussion about editing/content) page relating to Wagner:

»Wikipedia definition of Vandalism = Vandalism is any addition, removal, or change of content, in a deliberate attempt to compromise the integrity of Wikipedia. [[2]]

The amends I made that Techtrek has reverted as being “vandalism” were externally sourced, and links provided. I ask Techtrek to explain on what basis they consider them to be vandalism? It has been requested that any changes are raised and can be discussed on here so that we can get consensus.

It is my belief that by reverting any negative and independantly verified and sourced updates Techtrek is responsible for vandalism as they are deliberately attempting to compromise Wikipedias integrity. They have made a number of unsourced claims to the re-write and repeatedly used language that is not in keeping with Wikipedias guidelines [3]. It has been claimed on User talk:Techtrektalk page the they are Flame PR [[4]] if so then this must be disclosed. I ask Techtrek to please respond otherwise I will revert the change. Ol king col (talk) 09:26, 21 June 2014 (UTC)

«

That’s a busy PR company if it’s burnishing a client’s personal Wikipedia page. Wonder how much of the VC money went to Flame PR? Though the fact that the Wikipedia user only edits Wagner’s page is… notable.
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An iCloud scam that may be worse than ransomware » Malwarebytes Labs

Thomas Reed was contacted by a woman who said her iMac was hit by “ransomware”:

»From the screenshots she sent me, it soon became clear what had happened. The hacker had somehow gotten access to Ericka’s iCloud account.

Using this, he was able to remotely lock her computer using iCloud’s Find My Mac feature, with a ransom message displayed on the screen. (For some reason, the iPhone did not actually end up locked, but displayed the same message.)

The message read: “Contact me: hblackhat(at)mail.ru All your conversation sms+mail, bank, computer files, contacts, photos. I will public + send to your contacts.”

She also received an e-mail message, in similarly broken English, from her own iCloud address. The message said he had access to all her bank accounts, personal information, etc, and would publish it if she didn’t respond within 24 hours.

This is a pretty serious threat, and quite different from the typical Windows malware. Unfortunately, the story doesn’t end there. Apple designed Find My Mac/iPhone as an anti-theft feature. It is intended to allow you to take a number of actions on a lost or stolen device, including displaying a message, locking it, locating it physically and even remotely erasing it.

«

As Reed points out, the same happened previously in Australia in 2014. Perils of the connected world: do you want to be able to find your machine if it’s stolen? But then, how secure is your cloud account?
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What Americans don’t understand about Nordic countries » Business Insider

Anu Partanen moved to the US seven years ago:

»Americans are not wrong to abhor the specters of socialism and big government. In fact, as a proud Finn, I often like to remind my American friends that my countrymen in Finland fought two brutal wars against the Soviet Union to preserve Finland’s freedom and independence against socialism. No one wants to live in a society that doesn’t support individual liberty, entrepreneurship, and open markets.

But the truth is that free-market capitalism and universal social policies go well together—this isn’t about big government, it’s about smart government. I suspect that despite Hillary Clinton’s efforts to distance herself from Sanders, she probably knows this. After all, Clinton is also endorsing policies that sound an awful lot like what the Nordics have done: paid family leave, better public schools, and affordable day care, health care and college for all.

The United States is its own country, and no one expects it to become a Nordic utopia. But Nordic countries aren’t utopias either. What they’ve done has little to do with culture, size, or homogeneity, and everything to do with figuring out how to flourish and compete in the 21st century.

«

The article originally appeared at The Atlantic, but the comments at BusinessInsider show how incredibly difficult Americans find it to grasp the idea of everyone benefiting from everyone paying more general taxes. While they defend their terrible healthcare system. And overlook the products that the Nordics have produced, such as Ikea and Lego and Linux.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified.

Start up: Monumental confusion, obligatory (useless) 4K, drone cost surprise, Yahoo’s search inroad, ereaders stall, and more


However, it’s rather difficult to define quite what constitutes “piracy” in some situations. Photo from robotson on Flickr.

A selection of 11 links for you. Not valid in Ohio. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Mobile game piracy isn’t all bad, says Monument Valley producer (Q&A) » Re/code

Remember the remarkable “95% unpaid installs on Android, 60% on iOS” stat from Us Two Games? Here’s a followup:

Re/code: First off, how was that 95 percent statistic determined?

Dan Gray: Five percent are paid downloads, so the ratio is 9.5 to 1, but a portion of those are people who have both a phone and a tablet, people who have more than one Android device with them. So a small portion of that 95 percent is going to be taken up by those installs.

Q: Do you know how big that portion is?

A: It’s impossible for us to track that data. The only thing we can do is, two bits of data: One, how many purchases we have and, two, how many installs we’ve got. And we just leave people to draw conclusions from that as they wish, because we can’t clarify any further than that…

…When you compare the most affluent regions, obviously that kind of slants it toward developing markets and Android devices, where people are less inclined to spend $4 on a game. Let’s say you take U.S. only: those paid rates for Android and iOS are actually considerably closer. They’re closer than five and 40%.


The TidBITS Wishlist for Apple in 2015 » TidBITS

Though Apple fulfilled many user wishes in 2014, there is still more to be done. Here are some of what the TidBITS crew would like to see from Apple in 2015. We’ll circle back to this article at the end of the year to see what changed.

Tidbits is a longstanding online Mac weekly newsletter/site, and all the points made here – too many to enumerate briefly – are spot-on. This ought to be circulated within Apple.


4K TVs are coming for you, even if you don’t want them » Yahoo Tech

Rob Pegoraro, pointing out that manufacturers are pushing 4K resolution as hard as they can, despite the lack of bandwidth to transmit it or content to show. And there’s another thing:

Will you see that added resolution from your couch? You will on the CES show floor, where the crowds force you to within a few feet of sets that span from 50 to more than 100in across. From that perspective, 4K TVs almost always look spectacular.

Things change when you’re gazing at a 4K screen smaller than 55 inches (Samsung’s start at 48 inches and Sharp’s at 43 inches) from across the living room. In many cases, your existing set already shows all the resolution you can discern with 20/20 vision.

How close will you need to sit to see all those extra pixels? A Panasonic rep said the company recommends a viewing distance of 3.5 feet for a 50in 4K set, the smallest it will sell this year. That’s cozy even by Manhattan-apartment standards.

The average screen size has crept up — the NPD Group says 50 to 64in now represents the mainstream of the market — but the math of visual acuity suggests that to get sufficient benefit from 4K, you’re best off buying at the upper end of that scale.

I’ve seen the point made repeatedly that you won’t get any benefit from 4K across the average living room. This isn’t going to prevent a spec-based marketing push though.


The privacy tool that wasn’t: SocialPath malware pretends to protect your data, then steals it » Lookout Blog

Lookout recently discovered SocialPath, a piece of malware that advertises itself as an online reputation management tool. It claims that it will alert its users any time their photo is uploaded somewhere on the Internet. Instead, it steals the victim’s data.

We found one variant associated with this family in Google Play. We alerted Google to the malware and it has since been removed. This app offers a slightly different service — it promises to act as a backup service saving your contacts. It says it will also soon add features for saving your photos, videos, and other data “so if you lose your phone, you will not lose its contents.”

SocialPath targets Sudan predominantly — a region that has been rife with political unrest since the country split when an oil-rich South Sudan seceded.

Unclear whether it’s a nefarious government scheme – seems unlikely, but just possible. However then we come to Lookout’s advice:

You should always:
• Download apps from trusted developers — read reviews, research the developers, make sure you’re choosing a trustworthy product, especially if this tool is promising to help you protect sensitive information
• Don’t download apps from third party marketplaces

But this was on Google Play, at least in one variant. How do you decide in that situation?


Can drones deliver? (PDF) » IEEE Xplore

A guest editorial on the economic viability (or otherwise) of Amazon’s drone delivery, by Rafaeillo D’Andrea, formerly of Kiva:

A high-end lithium-ion battery costs roughly $300/kW h, and can be cycled about 500 times, resulting in a cost of roughly 0.8 cents per km for a 2 kg payload. The total cost of batteries and power is thus 1 cent per km for a 2 kg payload.

So, is package delivery using flying machines feasible? From a cost perspective, the numbers do not look unreasonable: the operating costs directly associated with the vehicle are on the order of 10 cents for a 2 kg payload and a 10 km range. I compare this to the 60 cents per item that we used over a decade ago in our Kiva business plan for the total cost of delivery, and it does not seem outlandish.

This seems surprising, and it would be helpful to know what proportion of Amazon deliveries are 2kg or less. There’s a non-PDF version with more discussion at Robohub.


Xiaomi’s Ambition » stratechery

Ben Thompson, explaining how demographics and non-renting in China works in Xiaomi’s favour as it expands its portfolio with super-keen fan buyers:

This, then, is the key to understanding Xiaomi: they’re not so much selling smartphones as they are selling a lifestyle, and the key to that lifestyle is MiUI, Xiaomi’s software layer that ties all of these things together.

In fact, you could argue that Xiaomi is actually the first “Internet of Things” company: unlike Google (Nest), Apple (HomeKit), or even Samsung (SmartThings), all of whom are offering some sort of open SDK to tie everything together (a necessity given that most of their customers already have appliances that won’t be replaced anytime soon) Xiaomi is integrating everything itself and selling everything one needs on Mi.com to a fan base primed to outfit their homes for the very first time. It’s absolutely a vertical strategy – the company is like Apple after all – it’s just that the product offering is far broader than anything even Gene Munster [proponent for years of a TV set from Apple] could imagine. The services Lei Jun talks about sell the products and tie them all together, but they are all Xiaomi products in the end.

Just bear in mind that there are about a billion people in China, and the one-child rule is being relaxed, and you begin to glimpse how big Xiaomi could be. “A computer on every desk”? Pah. A Xiaomi device in every room in all of China and beyond, more like.


“Best” Apple Mac mini (Late 2014) 2.8GHz review » Macworld UK

Andrew Harrison:

one thing we don’t ordinarily expect is for a newly revised computer to appear which computes more slower than the model that it replaces. Particularly when there’s been not one but two long years between the now-obsolete and shiny new editions.

That’s exactly what’s happened with Apple’s 2014 model of the Mac mini though. Today’s 2014 Mac mini range is in many respects slower than the 2012 range it replaces. Read: 2014 Mac mini v 2012 Mac mini comparison review.

Utterly amazing. It doesn’t offer a quad-core option, the RAM is soldered in place, and changing the disk drive is nigh on impossible. It’s like the worst sort of con job that Apple used to pull when Steve Jobs was in charge. I’d love to hear the reasons for these changes-that-aren’t-improvements.


Yahoo achieves highest US search share since 2009 » StatCounter Global Stats

In December Yahoo achieved its highest US search share for over five years according to the latest data from StatCounter, the independent website analytics provider. Google fell to the lowest monthly share yet recorded by the company*. These December stats coincide with Mozilla making Yahoo the default search engine for Firefox 34 users in the US.

StatCounter Global Stats reports that in December Google took 75.2% of US search referrals followed by Bing on 12.5% and Yahoo on 10.4%.

If you allow that StatCounter’s numbers are correct, Yahoo moved from 8.2% of US search in November 2014 to 10.4% in December. How many Firefox users does that represent? How many have yet to move to version 34? How many have/will switch their default from Yahoo back to Google? One to watch.


Kindle sales have ‘disappeared’, says UK’s largest book retailer » Telegraph

Waterstones, which expects to break even this year. plans to open at least a dozen more shops this year as the ebook revolution appears to go in reverse.

Amazon launched the Kindle, which is now in its seventh generation, in 2007. Sales peaked in 2011 at around 13.44m, according to Forbes. That figure fell to 9.7m in 2012, with sales flat the following year. It is estimated that Amazon has sold around 30m Kindles in total.
At the same time, British consumers spent £2.2bn on print in 2013, compared with just £300m on ebooks, according to Nielsen.

London bookstore Foyles has reported a surge in sales of physical books over Christmas.
US book giant Barnes & Noble is looking to spin off its Nook ereader business, which is estimated to be losing $70m a year. Meanwhile, core sales, excluding Nook, rose 5pc in the most recent quarter.

It seems that e-readers had a natural ceiling on adoption, which was far short of 100% (or even 90%). That in turn means that ebooks aren’t going to take over the world. Physical books, meanwhile, are pretty much guaranteed a readership somewhere. Now the challenge for publishers is working out the correct balance of effort and investment to put into ebooks and physical ones.


A&E in crisis: a special report » Daily Telegraph

Robert Colville:

here’s where I’m going to start: in a small green-painted room off one of the main corridors of that same hospital, where 10 women and two men are studying the spreadsheet projected on the walls and firing jargon back and forth.

“Four in urology with a decision to admit.” “306 is gone, 728 still waiting.” “With all that agreed, does that give you any ITU capacity?” “They’re desperate to bring the liver over from Worcester.” “Time to be seen is at 1hr 54.”

This is the “Ops Centre” of one of the country’s biggest hospitals, where I am spending the week as a fly on the wall. At this and other daily bed meetings, the senior nurses and managers get together to work out who is in the hospital, and where they need to go next.
They go through, ward by ward, listing spare beds and allocating them to the people in A&E. They can see who’s been waiting longest, where the pressure points are, and what needs to be done to resolve them.

This, then, is the story about the NHS that I want to tell. It’s the story of the NHS as a system – a system that takes millions of patients through from the GP surgery and A&E department to treatment, recovery and discharge.

This is a tour de force from Colville, in a piece so long and deep it could have come from the New Yorker (of the 1980s). If you want to understand the pressures on the UK’s NHS emergency services – which are clearly shown here not to be just about “money” – this is the single article to read.


Reporting on cyberattacks: the media’s urgent problem » Medium

Dave Lee is a (terrific) BBC technology writer, here writing in a personal capacity about the impossibility of knowing what’s really going on in some stories:

Let’s take an active story. The hack on Sony Pictures raises many issues about the reporting of hack attacks, and the coverage so far carries worrying implications.

Experts are queueing up to dispute the FBI’s confident claim that it was North Korea — mainly because the evidence pointing the finger at Kim Jong-un is either a) flakey at best or b) top secret, and therefore not open to scrutiny, journalistic or otherwise.

The result of this political back-and-forth is far-reaching, and one that from here on in is being reported on without anyone having any real clue whether the basis of the story — that it was North Korea — is in any way accurate.

We simply don’t know who did it — and yet the atmosphere created by the coverage means the US is considering reclassifying North Korea as a terrorist state. That move would open the door significantly when it comes to what the US considers a “proportional response” to the attack on Sony.