Start up: inside a content factory, US reacts to Safe Harbour sinking, why Surface?, Android lemons and more


In China, such literalism might really happen. Photo by GotCredit on Flickr.

A selection of 8 links for you. Fee fi fo fum. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

The Chicago End-Times » The Awl

Sam Stecklow on the “content factory” at the Chicago Sun-Times, churning out meaningless content because ads:

Network staffers were concerned with the quality of work they were being asked to do, too. Marty Arneberg, a former intern, told me, “When I was applying to jobs, I would send very few Sun Times Network articles. I would mention in my résumé, forty hours a week I worked here, but I would not send them any examples. Because it was such a content factory, you just had to pump stuff out all the time. It was just like, get it out there, we need some pageviews now.” A former editor told me, “I wouldn’t read most of what I wrote if given the choice.” He added, “Spending more than thirty minutes on any article was generally frowned upon.” Arneberg told me that a “post got me the most pageviews of any post that I wrote and it was complete bullshit. It was a total hoax,” he said. “The weird thing is, when it came out that that was a hoax, nobody spoke to me. Nobody said anything, like, ‘Hey, you gotta watch out for that.’ It was just ignored.”

The question of whom, exactly, Sun Times Network is supposed to be for is one I asked everyone I interviewed for this story, and none of them could provide a good answer. I can’t either.

Stecklow’s descent into the toxic hellstew is well-described; it’s like a modern version of The Jungle. This is where content is heading. And not long after that, the stories will be “written” by computers, and you’ll wonder why we don’t just get computers to read them too, and go and do something more worthwhile, such as digging ditches. Oh, and reading The Awl.
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The company behind Relish wireless broadband makes a big loss » Engadget

Nick Summers:

Relish’s dream to connect London homes with wireless broadband, rather than traditional landlines, could be in trouble. UK Broadband, the company behind the service, has reported losses of £37.5m for 2014 – almost four times what it was the year before. To make matters worse, turnover slipped from roughly £2m to £1.5m over the same period. Relish was launched in June 2014 as a simpler, but capable broadband alternative to the likes of BT, Sky and Virgin Media. Instead of copper and fibre cables, the company relies on 4G connections to deliver the internet to its customers. The advantages are plentiful — you don’t need to pay for a landline, and because Relish’s network is already up and running, you don’t need an engineer to install anything. Once you’ve signed up, a router is sent round within the next working day and you can instantly get online. The concept is similar to the mobile broadband packages offered by EE, Three and other UK carriers, although here there are no restrictive data allowances. So what’s gone wrong?

Nobody, it seems, knows.
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China is building the mother of all reputation systems to monitor citizen behaviour » Co.Exist

Ben Schiller:

“They’ve been working on the credit system for the financial industry for a while now,” says Rogier Creemers, a China expert at Oxford University. “But, in recent years, the idea started growing that if you’re going to assess people’s financial status, you should equally be able to do that with other modes of trustworthiness.”

The document talks about the “construction of credibility”—the ability to give and take away credits—across more than 30 areas of life, from energy saving to advertising. “It’s like Yelp reviews with the nanny state watching over your shoulder, plus finance, plus all of these other things,” says Creemers, who translated the plan.

The system, overseen by the State Council, is made possible by two factors. One, it’s now possible to gather information about behavior as never before. As we use the Internet and different devices, we’re leaving behind a huge footprint of data. Second, the Chinese government sees no reason to safeguard its citizens’ data rights if it thinks that data can benefit them, says Creemers.

“In Europe and the U.S., there’s a notion that the state should be constrained, that it’s not right to intervene in people’s lives, unless for justified reasons. In China, the state has no qualms about that. It says ‘data allows us to make society for better, so we’re going to use it,'” he says.

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Behind the European privacy ruling that’s confounding Silicon Valley » NYTimes.com

Robert Levine:

American technology firms are especially worried because they routinely transfer so much information across the Atlantic. “International data transfers are the lifeblood of the digital economy,” said Townsend Feehan, chief executive of IAB Europe, which represents online advertising companies including Google as well as small start-ups. The ruling “brings with it significant uncertainty as to the future possibility for such transfers.”

As Mr. Schrems sees it, however, what is at stake is a deeper conflict between the European legal view of privacy as a right equivalent to free speech and that of the United States, where consumers are asked to read and agree to a company’s terms of service and decide what’s best for themselves. “We only do this in the privacy field — dump all the responsibility on the user,” Mr. Schrems said. He pointed out that consumers are not expected to make decisions about other complex issues, like food or building safety. “In a civilized society,” he said, “you expect that if you walk into a building it’s not going to collapse on your head.”

But if it collapses on your head and kills you, then you sue! No, hang on. (Bonus point to Levine for the handwringing quote from the advertising industry.)
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Microsoft Surface: from cross-bearer to standard-bearer » Fast Company

Ross Rubin:

As the Surface Pro customer base has grown, it’s likely that Microsoft is just accommodating potential customers who prefer a more laptop-like device than the Surface Pro 4, which is still a tablet propped up with a kickstand.

While Microsoft is quick to compare its “ultimate laptop”—which starts at $1,500 and goes way, way up—to Apple’s portables, it will walk a far narrower tightrope in competing with its own hardware partners with the Surface Book. Not only does the first model stand to do battle with the best that HP, Dell, Acer, and Lenovo have to offer, but the company is poised to come downmarket with a lower-priced mainstream version, as it did with the $500 Surface 3.

The Surface experience story isn’t quite as good as it looks on paper. Even with the considerable reconciliation of Windows 10 and the arrival of a touch-optimized Office as well as other universal apps, Windows’ interface is still in transition. Many people with Surfaces spend much of their day working not so differently than they would with a no-touch Windows 7 laptop. Even on the marketing side, Microsoft needs to rethink the Surface Pro, which it’s been promoting as the tablet that can replace your laptop. Now that the company wants to sell you a laptop, where does that leave the Surface Pro?

This is slightly the problem: why Surface Pro, if there’s Surface Book? Rubin also thinks there’s a Surface iMac (for want of a better name) brewing in Redmond. This seems unlikely though – the sales figures would be so miniscule it would never make money for anyone. Speaking of which…
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Why Apple is still sweating the details on iMac » Medium

Steven Levy was given access to Apple’s Ergonomic Design Lab to get the inside story of how the new iMacs and Magic Mouse and so on were built. But what are they for? Phil Schiller, Apple’s head of marketing, explains:

“The job of the watch is to do more and more things on your wrist so that you don’t need to pick up your phone as often. The job of the phone is to do more and more things such that maybe you don’t need your iPad, and it should be always trying and striving to do that. The job of the iPad should be to be so powerful and capable that you never need a notebook. Like, Why do I need a notebook? I can add a keyboard! I can do all these things! The job of the notebook is to make it so you never need a desktop, right? It’s been doing this for a decade. So that leaves the poor desktop at the end of the line, What’s its job?”

Good question. And the answer?

“Its job is to challenge what we think a computer can do and do things that no computer has ever done before, be more and more powerful and capable so that we need a desktop because it’s capable,” says Schiller. “Because if all it’s doing is competing with the notebook and being thinner and lighter, then it doesn’t need to be.”

But – take note – no intention of introducing a touchscreen iMac. None at all, says Schiller: “The Mac OS has been designed from day one for an indirect pointing mechanism. These two worlds are different on purpose.”
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​Android security a ‘market for lemons’ that leaves 87% vulnerable » ZDNet

Liam Tung:

“The difficulty is that the market for Android security today is like the market for lemons,” Cambridge researchers Daniel Thomas, Alastair Beresford, and Andrew Rice note in a new paper.

“There is information asymmetry between the manufacturer, who knows whether the device is currently secure and will receive security updates, and the customer, who does not.”

Their analysis of data collected from over 20,000 Android devices with the Device Analyzer app installed found that 87% of Android devices were vulnerable to at least one of 11 bugs in the public domain in the past five years, including the recently discovered TowelRoot issue, which Cyanogen fixed last year, and FakeID.

The researchers also found that Android devices on average receive 1.26 updates per year.

“The security community has been worried about the lack of security updates for Android devices for some time,” Rice said.

The “security community” hasn’t had much effect, then. The study was part-funded by Google.
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US says Apple e-books antitrust monitor no longer needed » Reuters

Nate Raymond:

The US Justice Department has determined that Apple Inc has implemented significant improvements to its antitrust compliance program and that a court-appointed monitor’s term does not need extended, according to a court filing.

The Justice Department in a letter filed late Monday in Manhattan federal court said its recommendation was despite Apple’s “challenging relationship” with Michael Bromwich, who was named monitor after the iPad maker was found liable for conspiring to raise e-book prices.

The Justice Department said its decision to not recommend extending the monitorship beyond its two-year term was “not an easy one,” as Apple “never embraced a cooperative working relationship with the monitor.”

But the department said it was giving greater weight to Bromwich’s “assessment that Apple has put in place a meaningful antitrust compliance program than to the difficult path it took to achieve this result.”

Apple is still considering an appeal to the Supreme Court. The antitrust thing must feel like a stain.
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Start up: Facebook’s dwindling teens, Safe Harbour or balkanisation?, the privacy tsunami, and more


No, really, no difference. Move along there and find another story. Photo by Bob Jouy on Flickr.

A selection of 9 links for you. Soluble in alcohol. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Facebook is big, but big networks can fall » Bloomberg View

Megan McArdle:

Looking at the most recent Pew study on Internet usage among young people,  I see that 71% of teens use Facebook, with the median user having slightly less than 150 friends; 41% of them report that they use Facebook most often. But when I look at a similar Pew study from 2013, it looks to me as if 76 percent of teens were using Facebook, with a median number of 300 friends, and 81% of social media users reported that they used Facebook most often. If I were Facebook, those numbers would keep me awake at night – not because Facebook can’t survive with only 70% of the market, but because a network that is getting smaller and less valuable to its users is a network that is very vulnerable to disruption.

What’s actually astonishing is just how evanescent such strategic advantages have proven. Fifteen years ago, people worried that Microsoft’s network-effect advantages made it unstoppable; now it’s an also-ran in everything new-market except gaming consoles. The rotting corpses of old social media sites litter the landscape. And of course, finding a place to send Aunt Maisie that birthday telegram is getting darned hard.

She also makes a point about network effects: the thing about “all your photos are in Facebook” isn’t a network effect, but a switching cost – a quite different thing.
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Apple says battery performance of new iPhone’s A9 chips vary only 2-3% » TechCrunch

Matthew Panzarino:

In a statement to TechCrunch, Apple said that its own testing and data gathered from its customers after a few weeks with the device show that the actual battery life of both devices varies just 2-3%. That’s far, far too low to be noticeable in real-world usage.

With the Apple-designed A9 chip in your iPhone 6s or iPhone 6s Plus, you are getting the most advanced smartphone chip in the world. Every chip we ship meets Apple’s highest standards for providing incredible performance and deliver great battery life, regardless of iPhone 6s capacity, color, or model.

Certain manufactured lab tests which run the processors with a continuous heavy workload until the battery depletes are not representative of real-world usage, since they spend an unrealistic amount of time at the highest CPU performance state. It’s a misleading way to measure real-world battery life. Our testing and customer data show the actual battery life of the iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus, even taking into account variable component differences, vary within just 2-3% of each other.

Though there have been a bunch of articles and videos about how much power one chip or the other uses, the tests have largely been what Apple calls ‘manufactured’. Basically, they are unrealistic machine-driven tests that do not and can not reflect real-world usage.

So this year’s iPhonegate lasted slightly less than 24 hours. Apple is even managing to balance supply and demand here too.
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EU Safe Harbour ruling a ‘nightmare’: Wikipedia founder » CNBC

Arjun Kharpal:

Jimmy Wales, the founder of Wikipedia, said the regulatory issues that could come with this might be a problem for some businesses.

“You want your data to be secure, you don’t really care or you shouldn’t have to care where it sits,” Wales told CNBC in an interview at IP EXPO Europe in London.

“If I’m in Europe I hope they are near me on a server in Europe, but other than that I want them to provide the best technical experience for me. And if they suddenly have all those requirements and have to keep certain pictures in certain places, it just sounds like a nightmare, so I like the idea of uniformity in the law so that we can all not worry about it.”

Wales added in a separate session with reporters that the ECJ ruling could lead to a “balkanized era where data has to be secure very specifically across many many different jurisdictions”.

Great point. So does this mean he’ll be lobbying the US to implement strong data protection rules that match those of Europe? I do hope so. I mean, that’s the best way to protect everyone’s interests, isn’t it, Mr Wales?
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Why is it so hard to convince people to care about privacy? » The Guardian

Cory Doctorow:

The only way to be sure you don’t leak data is to not collect or retain it, and Big Data’s hype and the cheapness of hard drives has turned every pipsqueak tech company into a Big Data packrat with a mountain of potentially toxic personal info on millions of people, all protected by a password that’s simple enough for a CEO to remember it.

Every week or two, from now on, will see new privacy disasters, each worse than the last. Every week or two, from now on, will see millions of people who suddenly wish there was more they could do to protect their privacy.

For privacy advocates in 2015, the job is clear: have a plan in your drawer. A plan: how to safeguard your privacy, how to understand your privacy, how to understand the breach. A plan that explains that your lack of security isn’t a fact of nature, it’s the result of conscious decisions made by people who were either hostile or indifferent to your wellbeing, who saved or made money through those decisions. A plan that shows you what you can do to keep you and yours safe – and whose head your should be demanding on a pike.

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Get AMP’d: Here’s what publishers need to know about Google’s new plan to speed up your website » Nieman Lab

Joshua Benton:

What’s it all mean for publishers?

As I said, AMP [Accelerated Mobile Pages] is full of terrific ideas. It really does speed up load times.

But that success comes with tradeoffs. For most publishers, you’re being asked to set up two parallel versions of your stories. (Unless you really think you won’t need to ever do anything outside what AMP allows on any page, which is unrealistic for most.) That takes significant time and resources. You’re being asked to set aside most or all of the ad tech and analytics that you use. You’re trading in open web standards for something built by Google engineers who, despite what I don’t doubt are the best of intentions, have incentives that don’t line up perfectly with yours. And you’re becoming an disempowered actor in a larger Silicon Valley battle over ad tech. (Google advocating something that blocks enormous slices of contemporary ad tech can’t be viewed in isolation from the fact Google is the dominant force in online advertising, and as interested as any company is in extending its power.)

And it’s yet another case of a technology company coming along to promise a better experience for users that takes one more bit of power away from publishers.

The fact that publishers’ interests aren’t exactly aligned with Google’s shouldn’t be overlooked. And Google’s interests aren’t aligned with third-party ad networks at all, except that they all want to serve up ads. (Meanwhile, iOS 9 content blockers still block ads on the AMP demo.)
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This is why Android Pay is asking you for a ‘Google Payments PIN’ when making purchases » Android Central

Andrew Martonik:

when you have a card from one of these supported banks (check the latest list from Google here) in Android Pay, it’s amazingly seamless to make payments. Just unlock your phone, tap the terminal and you just paid.

Confusingly, though, Android Pay actually lets you add unsupported cards to the app as well.

This is a hold over from the old days of Google Wallet, which had an entirely different system that worked without the cooperation of the banks. With Google Wallet, every time you made a transaction it actually made that purchase with a virtual prepaid debit card from “Bancorp Bank” and then that same amount was subsequently charged to your own bank. It was clunky, less secure and downright confusing to everyone involved — and the most annoying user-facing part of this system is the need for an extra PIN code to make a payment.

As Google Wallet hands the reigns over to Android Pay in this transition of mobile payments, this legacy system of using an unsupported card is actually still baked into Android Pay — though Google isn’t exactly promoting it as such. This is partially due to the fact that you can bring previously-used debit and credit cards from Google Wallet into Android Pay, and partially because Android Pay just doesn’t support that many banks yet — just 10 at the time of writing.

My first reaction was that this is a poor user experience; why make people who are new to Android Pay have to use a PIN? Then I realised that most Americans aren’t used to PINs for purchasing, and are just adjusting to chip-and-sign. So this might be faster. (The fact that you might have two cards, and one will require a PIN and one won’t, seems like bad design though.)
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Former Reuters journalist Matthew Keys found guilty of three counts of hacking » Motherboard

Sarah Jeong:

In 2010, Keys posted login credentials to the [his then former employer] Tribune Company content management system (CMS) to a chatroom run by Anonymous, resulting in the defacement of an LA Times article online. The defacement was reversed in 40 minutes, but the government argued the attack caused nearly a million dollars in damage…

…”This is not the crime of the century,” Segal said, adding that nonetheless Keys should not get away with his acts. At minimum, he may receive probation. Sentencing is scheduled for January 20, 2016.

Keys said he was disappointed with the verdict, and worried about the sentence affecting his ability to work. However, he also expressed his intention to appeal the conviction, and was optimistic it would be overturned.

Keys added that a few months after his first story about Anonymous, he was approached by the FBI, but Keys refused to allow them to scan his computer. He was indicted a couple of years later.

In order to be convicted under the CFAA, the damage had to exceed $5,000. The government claimed that Keys caused $929,977.00 worth of damage. During the trial, the defense tried to cast doubt on the total damages, claiming that the expenditures in response to the hack were not reasonable, and Tribune employees had grossly inflated the hours spent on incident response.

Lesson 1: change passwords ex-employees had access to. Lesson 2: don’t post passwords of companies that you used to work for on Anonymous chatboards.
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Will digital books ever replace print? » Aeon

Craig Mod used to read only ebooks (on Kindle) but now finds he has fallen out of love with it in favour of the physical form again:

Take for example the multistep process of opening a well-made physical edition. The Conference of the Birds (2009), designed by Farah Behbehani and published by Thames and Hudson, is a masterclass in welcoming the reader into the text.

The object – a dense, felled tree, wrapped in royal blue cloth – requires two hands to hold. The inner volume swooshes from its slipcase. And then the thing opens like some blessed walking path into intricate endpages, heavystock half-titles, and multi-page die-cuts, shepherding you towards the table of contents. Behbehani utilitises all the qualities of print to create a procession. By the time you arrive at chapter one, you are entranced.

Contrast this with opening a Kindle book – there is no procession, and often no cover. You are sometimes thrown into the first chapter, sometimes into the middle of the front matter. Wherein every step of opening The Conference of the Birds fills one with delight – delight at what one is seeing and what one anticipates to come – opening a Kindle book frustrates. Often, you have to swipe or tap back a dozen pages to be sure you haven’t missed anything.

Because the Kindle ecosystem makes buying books one-click effortless, it can be easy to forget about your purchases. Unfortunately, Kindle’s interface makes it difficult to keep tabs on those expanding digital libraries: at best, we can see a dozen titles at a time, all as inscrutably small book covers. Titles that fall off the first-page listing on a Kindle cease to exist. Compare that with standing in front of a physical bookshelf: the eye takes in hundreds of spines or covers at once, all equally at arm’s length. I’ve found that it’s much more effortless to dip back into my physical library – for inspiration or reference – than my digital library. The books are there. They’re obvious. They welcome me back.

The pile of unread books we have on our bedside tables is often referred to as a graveyard of good intentions. The list of unread books on our Kindles is more of a black hole of fleeting intentions.

The comparison of a bookshelf to the limited real estate on a screen is so important in many contexts: when we got into a supermarket or bookshop we can scan hundreds of items at once. How many on a screen when you don’t know what you’re searching for?
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Sony buys Belgian image sensor technology firm » Reuters

Ritsuko Ando:

Japan’s Sony Corp said it bought Belgian image sensor technology company Softkinetic Systems for an undisclosed sum, stepping up investment in an area that has become one of its strongest amid weak sales of its TVs and smartphones.

Softkinetic specializes in a type of technology that helps measure “time of flight”, or the time it takes for light to reflect off an object and return to an image sensor, Sony said.

Put like that, it sounds like “you’re measuring light round trips? Those are nanoseconds, right?”. Judging from the site, though, it’s more about location in 3D and general position sensing and mapping in domestic environments. So does this mean we’ll go to 3D photos next?
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Start up: Samsung Pay to win?, Apple on Siri/Photos privacy, mystery ministry mujahadeen hack, and more


Scanning the content is only half the battle. Photo by JonathanCohen on Flickr.

A selection of 12 links for you. Not valid in Montana. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Lockpickers 3D print TSA master luggage keys from leaked photos » WIRED

Andy Greenberg:

If you have sensitive keys—say, a set of master keys that can open locks you’ve asked millions of Americans to use—don’t post pictures of them on the Internet.

A group of lock-picking and security enthusiasts drove that lesson home Wednesday by publishing a set of CAD files to Github that anyone can use to 3-D print a precisely measured set of the TSA’s master keys for its “approved” locks—the ones the agency can open with its own keys during airport inspections. Within hours, at least one 3-D printer owner had already downloaded the files, printed one of the master keys, and published a video proving that it opened his TSA-approved luggage lock.

Those photos first began making the rounds online last month, after the Washington Post unwittingly published (and then quickly deleted) a photo of the master keys in an article about the “secret life” of baggage in the hands of the TSA. It was too late.

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Samsung Pay: the mobile wallet winner? » Mobile Payments Today

Will Hernandez:

During a panel discussion about the current state of ATMs, bitcoin, and mobile wallets, ATM Industry Association CEO Mike Lee unapologetically threw his support behind Samsung Pay as the mobile wallet that will “win.”

Lee’s Samsung Pay endorsement can be boiled down to a single feature that is supposed to separate it from other mobile wallet providers: magnetic secure transmission technology support on the device itself. 

Samsung acquired the rights to the technology when it bought LoopPay earlier this year, and has since embedded it into Galaxy S6 and Galaxy S6 Edge smartphones. The devices still rely on NFC chips to enable users to conduct tap-and-pay transactions at contactless-enabled point-of-sale terminals. Should contactless be unavailable, MST can “communicate” with the magnetic stripe reader currently present on all terminals in the United States. Samsung Pay will sense which option is available and transact accordingly.

But whether MST is really that true game changer in the industry remains to be seen.

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Apple addresses privacy questions about ‘Hey Siri’ and Live Photo features » TechCrunch

Matt Panzarino:

With ‘Hey Siri’, “In no case is the device recording what the user says or sending that information to Apple before the feature is triggered,” says Apple.

Instead, audio from the microphone is continuously compared against the model, or pattern, of your personal way of saying ‘Hey Siri’ that you recorded during setup of the feature. Hey Siri requires a match to both the ‘general’ Hey Siri model (how your iPhone thinks the words sound) and the ‘personalized’ model of how you say it. This is to prevent other people’s voices from triggering your phone’s Hey Siri feature by accident.

Until that match happens, no audio is ever sent off of your iPhone. All of that listening and processing happens locally.

Live Photos:

Because Live Photos record motion before your still image, they are continuously buffered beginning the moment you open your camera app and see the Live icon (orange circle) at the top of your screen. Apple says that this 1.5 second recording only happens when the camera is on, and this information is not permanently saved until you take a picture, period.

“Although the camera is “recording” while you’re in Live Photo mode, the device will not save the 1.5 seconds before until you press the camera button,” says Apple. “The pre-captured images are not saved to the user’s device nor are they sent off the device.”

The 1.5 seconds after the still capture are also recorded because you’ve tapped the camera button in live mode.

From what we’ve gleaned, Live Photos are a single 12-megapixel image and a paired motion format file, likely a .mov. They are presented together by iOS but are actually separate entities tied to one another.

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With iOS 9, ‘Hey Siri’ gains a new setup process tailored to your voice » Apple Insider

“Appleinsider Staff”:

Setting up “Hey Siri” is a simple, five-step process where users must speak a number of commands. If the iPhone or iPad does not properly hear the user, they are instructed to speak again.

Users say the words “Hey Siri” three times, then “Hey Siri, how’s the weather today?” followed by “Hey Siri, it’s me.” Once this is completed, iOS 9 informs the user that “Hey Siri” is ready to use.

Previously, in iOS 8, “Hey Siri” was enabled without a setup process. On occasion, the voice-initiated function would not work properly and took multiple tries. Presumably Apple’s new setup process will address some of those issues from iOS 8.

Smart to personalise it, if that is what this is. I’ve had Siri go off while plugged in and the radio’s on: stories about Syria tend to be the cause. Not sure this will help any iPhone-owning newsreaders, though.
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App Programming Guide for tvOS: On-Demand Resources » Apple Developer Documents

On-demand resources are app contents that are hosted on the App Store and are separate from the related app bundle that you download. They enable smaller app bundles, faster downloads, and richer app content. The app requests sets of on-demand resources, and the operating system manages downloading and storage. The app uses the resources, and then releases the request. After downloading, the resources may stay on the device through multiple launch cycles, making access even faster.

Each app stored on Apple TV is limited to a maximum of 200MB. In order to create an app greater than this amount, you must break up your app into downloadable bundles. In Xcode, create tags and attach them to the required resources. When your app requests the resources associated with a tag, the operating system downloads only the required assets. You must wait until the assets are downloaded before you can use them in your app.

So many people saw the headline that each app is limited to 200MB and thought that that is the upper limit for everything related to an app on AppleTV. As this clearly says, it isn’t – and note also that point about “After downloading, the resources may stay on the device through multiple launch cycles, making access even faster.”

But reading dev documents takes effort. Tweeting “200MB OMG” is much simpler.
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Whatever happened to Google Books? » The New Yorker

Tim Wu on the project that has been stalled since 2011:

There are plenty of ways to attribute blame in this situation. If Google was, in truth, motivated by the highest ideals of service to the public, then it should have declared the project a non-profit from the beginning, thereby extinguishing any fears that the company wanted to somehow make a profit from other people’s work. Unfortunately, Google made the mistake it often makes, which is to assume that people will trust it just because it’s Google. For their part, authors and publishers, even if they did eventually settle, were difficult and conspiracy-minded, particularly when it came to weighing abstract and mainly worthless rights against the public’s interest in gaining access to obscure works. Finally, the outside critics and the courts were entirely too sanguine about killing, as opposed to improving, a settlement that took so many years to put together, effectively setting the project back a decade if not longer.

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Who controls the off switch? » Light Blue Touchpaper

Ross Anderson (who leads some of the UK’s best academic security researchers:

We have a new paper on the strategic vulnerability created by the plan to replace Britain’s 47 million meters with smart meters that can be turned off remotely. The energy companies are demanding this facility so that customers who don’t pay their bills can be switched to prepayment tariffs without the hassle of getting court orders against them. If the Government buys this argument – and I’m not convinced it should – then the off switch had better be closely guarded. You don’t want the nation’s enemies to be able to turn off the lights remotely, and eliminating that risk could just conceivably be a little bit more complicated than you might at first think. (This paper follows on from our earlier paper On the security economics of electricity metering at WEIS 2010.)

Anderson doesn’t need to scare people for money. But what he points to is often worrisome.
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Cabinet ministers’ email hacked by Isil spies » Telegraph

So this is how modern media – well, I use the word “modern” in its loosest sense – works. Writing this story took four journalists, so please stand up, Claire Newell, Edward Malnick, Lyndsey Telford and Luke Heighton, for this 22-paragraph story which begins:

Jihadists in Syria have hacked into ministerial email accounts in a sophisticated espionage operation uncovered by GCHQ, the Telegraph can disclose.

I know! Blimey, you think. Hacked in to their accounts? They must have found a ton of stuff there, right?

You then plough on through tons of paragraphs about drone strikes and various bits of handwaving, but no detail. You carry on, and eventually – in the 13th paragraph – there’s this:

The recent cyber threat first emerged in a warning to Whitehall security officials in May and it is understood that the plans to attack Britain were exposed by the GCHQ investigation.

It is unclear what information the extremists were able to access, but it is understood that no security breaches occurred. However, officials were told to tighten security procedures, including changing passwords.

And that’s it. No more detail. So what do we think actually happened? Based on this very thin gruel, my guess is that the ministerial email had two-factor authentication, and someone got phished, and it set all sorts of alarm off in Cheltenham (where GCHQ is). No breach, but someone had been very stupid.

And of course “hacked” in the headline is overplayed. “Targeted” might work. Classic Sunday journalism: no paper will be able to follow this up for a Monday story, because there aren’t any facts to it. The story falls apart in your hands.
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Ten years later, this is how Techmeme has avoided clickbait, autoplay ads, and more » LinkedIn

Gabe Rivera, the site’s chief executive and frequent editor:

In 2015, supporting an online news operation with advertising when your page view and unique visitor numbers aren’t massive is always an uphill battle. Media sites in this predicament are often tempted to run ads units that pay more but repel and infuriate readers.

Fortunately what Techmeme does have is the attention of the people who lead the tech industry. (Ask your CEO “where do you get your tech news?”) When a news destination is a hub for industry decision-makers, companies will want to reach its readers, making it possible to sell the far more welcome form of “ads” that Techmeme does include. These include posts from sponsors’ blogs, catchy taglines from companies that want you to check out their job openings, and events that companies want you to consider attending. While not all companies are used to making these sorts of marketing buys, many are learning how, and Techmeme is here to serve them.

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FBI says ‘Australian IS jihadist’ is actually a Jewish American troll named Joshua Ryne Goldberg » Brisbane Times

Elise Potaka and Luke McMahon:

The Australi Witness persona fooled members of the international intelligence community as well as journalists, with well-known analyst Rita Katz of SITE Intelligence Group saying the “IS supporter” held a “prestige” position in online jihadi circles and was “part of the hard core of a group of individuals who constantly look for targets for other people to attack”.

Ms Katz has previously acted as a consultant for US and foreign governments and testified before Congress on online terrorist activities.

The Australian Federal Police were unaware of Australi Witness’s real identity as Goldberg until contacted by journalists working on behalf of Fairfax Media.

On the internet, nobody knows you’re a troll.
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Why Xbox Kinect didn’t take off » Business Insider

Matt Weinberger:

The Kinect also introduced voice commands and a gesture interface to the Xbox 360 itself. You could pause a movie with your voice, or log in to your account on the console by standing in front of the camera.

But as cool as that all sounded, the Kinect was still a new technology, and there were some glitches with those cool new interface tricks.

“It does do magic, but only 85% correctly. When you encounter the 15%, it’s frustrating,” the former Xbox insider said.

Serious gamers care about precise movements, like landing a perfect Super Combo in “Street Fighter IV” or nailing a headshot in “Call of Duty.” Similarly, if you have voice controls for a movie, it had better work the first time, or else you’re just shouting “pause” at your TV over and over.

In both cases, it wasn’t quite the totally accurate experience that people wanted.

“It’s essentially a less precise replacement for a lot of things which, once the novelty wears off, is not valued by the market. So it’s real value is for new experiences impossible before without it. There isn’t enough interest or investment in those,” the ex-insider says.

Worse, the longer people used Kinect, the more they found places and situations where it just fell short and didn’t work as well as it should have.

In my apartment, playing a Kinect game requires moving furniture around to give the sensor the field of view that it needs to work well. It’s a big problem for lots of gamers, since you need 6 to 10 feet between you and the sensor.

Try playing that in a dorm room or small apartment.

Yes, precisely.
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iPad Pro won’t replace the PC any time soon » Teschspective

Tony Bradley:

Perhaps the biggest change that has occurred over the past few years that makes the iPad Pro viable as a potential PC replacement is Microsoft. The shift in strategy by Microsoft to embrace the cross-platform ecosystem and make Microsoft Office and other key Microsoft products available across rival devices removes one of the biggest obstacles for the iPad as a laptop replacement. Microsoft was at the Apple event this week and stood on stage to reveal that it has improved apps developed specifically for iOS 9 and the iPad Pro that will make Microsoft Office arguably better on the iPad Pro than it is on a standard Windows PC or even on the Surface Pro 3 itself.

The flip side of that, though, is that the iPad Pro still runs iOS. It is still primarily a mobile device trying to be a PC—whereas the Surface Pro tablet is a PC trying to be a mobile device. Not much has changed since my experience using the iPad as a laptop replacement for 30 days. It is still a suitable device for a limited range of tasks and applications. It still won’t work as well as a traditional PC for a number of specific functions.

More importantly—at least as it relates to the ability of the iPad Pro to compete with Windows PCs in a business environment—it can’t run the software that organizations have already invested in and rely on to get things done.

Thus you have the bear (pessimist) case on the iPad Pro. But it’s that last sentence which betrays the flaw in the argument. Lots of organisations can’t get the new things done they want to on older systems. An iPad begins as a mobile device; the Surface yearns to be a laptop (just look at its screen ratio).
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Start up: wearables grow, adblocking as chemo?, how silent calls lead to fraud, Acer woes, and more


Replace “George Davis” with “Google” and you get its message. Photo by ross mcross on Flickr.

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

Apple debuts at the number two spot as the worldwide wearables market triples in 2Q15 » IDC

In its first appearance in the wearables market, Apple finds itself within striking distance of the established market leader, Fitbit. According to the International Data Corporation (IDC) Worldwide Quarterly Wearable Device Tracker, Apple shipped a total of 3.6 million units in the second quarter of 2015 (2Q15), just 0.8m units behind Fitbit’s 4.4m units. Total shipment volume for the quarter came to 18.1m units, up 223.2% from the 5.6m units shipped in 2Q14.

“Anytime Apple enters a new market, not only does it draw attention to itself, but to the market as a whole,” noted Ramon Llamas, Research Manager for IDC’s Wearables team. “Its participation benefits multiple players and platforms within the wearables ecosystem, and ultimately drives total volumes higher. Apple also forces other vendors – especially those that have been part of this market for multiple quarters – to re-evaluate their products and experiences. Fairly or not, Apple will become the stick against which other wearables are measured, and competing vendors need to stay current or ahead of Apple. Now that Apple is officially a part of the wearables market, everyone will be watching to see what other wearable devices it decides to launch, such as smart glasses or hearables.”

This rather mixes oranges and.. um, because the Fitbit is not a “watch”. I’d prefer to see “watches” and “bands” separated, but that might be tricky. Telling that none of the Android Wear watches did more than 0.6m; and that Samsung’s early lead hasn’t translated into, well, anything. The figure for Apple Watches feels high, though.

Also: “hearables”?
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The realities of a $50 smartphone » Engadget

Daniel Cooper:

“If you had asked me this a year ago, I would have said that it was impossible.” Wayne Lam is the principal telecoms analyst for IHS, a market intelligence firm that looks at the technology market. As part of the experiment, he offered to cook up a hypothetical device that, if someone built it today, could probably be mass-produced for under $50. He worked out that the upper limit for a bill of materials would be around $42, and worked backward to build out a spec list from there. It wasn’t pretty, since “any time you put a constraint on the design, like a maximum price, you end up having to make compromises.”

Really impressive. Of course, that doesn’t leave any margin for distribution, marketing, or R+D, but it’s amazing the market has come so far in just eight years.
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Dark patterns : user interfaces designed to trick people

Harry Brignull and others:

Normally when you think of “bad design”, you think of the creator as being sloppy or lazy but with no ill intent. This type of bad design is known as a “UI anti-pattern”. Dark Patterns are different – they are not mistakes, they are carefully crafted with a solid understanding of human psychology, and they do not have the user’s interests in mind. We as designers, founders, UX & UI professionals and creators need to take a stance against Dark Patterns.

You can send them your examples via the site.

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Acer honourary chairman Shih would ‘welcome’ takeover bid » The Register

Paul Kunert:

The major players, such as HP, Lenovo and Dell, would gain nothing on the technology front from buying Acer – which derived 65% of its revenues from PCs last year – save for perhaps some low-margin market share.

Surely it would be cheaper to let the company continue to wither on the vine?

More than a decade ago, Acer said it was the PC maker of the future, based partly on the relatively tiny workforce – it employs 7,000 heads, which is fewer than some vendors employ in their country operations.

As we pointed out recently, Acer is running out of runway and something has to give. We doubt any of the majors in the industry will want to buy the business, and the politics involved in merging with Taiwanese rivals HTC or Asus make such a move unlikely, though not entirely implausible.

Becoming a question of whether Acer or HTC will be forced into someone else’s arms first. Acer is bigger, but shrinking fast.
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Handling App Transport Security in iOS 9 » Google Ads Developer Blog

Tristan Emrich, mobile ads developer relations:

All iOS 9 devices running apps built with Xcode 7 that don’t disable ATS [App Transport Security, which forces HTTPS connections] will be affected by this change. The following log message appears when a non-ATS compliant app attempts to serve an ad via HTTP on iOS 9:

“App Transport Security has blocked a cleartext HTTP (http://) resource load since it is insecure. Temporary exceptions can be configured via your app’s Info.plist file.”

While Google remains committed to industry-wide adoption of HTTPS, there isn’t always full compliance on third party ad networks and custom creative code served via our systems. To ensure ads continue to serve on iOS9 devices for developers transitioning to HTTPS, the recommended short term fix is to add an exception that allows HTTP requests to succeed and non-secure content to load successfully.

Publishers can add an exception to their Info.plist to allow any insecure connection.

Translation: ads are insecure, and trackable, but let them through. (Obviously, many app developers will need to for revenue.) Once again, Apple is forcing the pace on advertisers.
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Why phone fraud starts with a silent call » All Tech Considered : NPR

Aarti Shahani:

Maybe you gave your number to Target or some other big retailer that got hacked. Maybe you entered an online raffle to win a free iPhone.

According to the Federal Trade Commission, these robocalls are on the rise because Internet-powered phones make it cheap and easy for scammers to make illegal calls from anywhere in the world.

That initial call you get, with silence on the other end, “[is] essentially the first of the reconnaissance calls that these fraudsters do,” Balasubramaniyan says. “They’re trying to see: Are they getting a human on the other end? You even cough and it knows you’re there.”

The next step is gathering information about your bank or credit card account. You get a call with a prerecorded voice that tells you, for example, “[we’re] calling with an important message about your debit card. If you are the cardholder please stay on the line and press 1. Otherwise please have the cardholder call us at 1-877…”

If you’re thinking about ignoring it, the message tries to scare you into paying attention with a warning: “A temporary hold may have been placed on your account and will be removed upon verification of activity.”

That number leads to another automated system that prompts you to share personal details like your date of birth, your card number and secure PIN, the expiration date, your Social Security number.

It can be tricky because many real banks have a similar system.

Foolish of the banks, really.
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Improving quality isn’t anti-competitive » Google Europe Blog

Kent Walker, Google’s general counsel:

The response we filed today [to the EC] shows why we believe those allegations [of stifling competition] are incorrect, and why we believe that Google increases choice for European consumers and offers valuable opportunities for businesses of all sizes.

The Statement of Objections [SO] says that Google’s displays of paid ads from merchants (and, previously, of specialized groups of organic search results) “diverted” traffic away from shopping services. But the SO doesn’t back up that claim, doesn’t counter the significant benefits to consumers and advertisers, and doesn’t provide a clear legal theory to connect its claims with its proposed remedy.

Our response provides evidence and data to show why the SO’s concerns are unfounded. We use traffic analysis to rebut claims that our ad displays and specialized organic results harmed competition by preventing shopping aggregators from reaching consumers. Economic data spanning more than a decade, an array of documents, and statements from complainants all confirm that product search is robustly competitive. And we show why the SO is incorrect in failing to consider the impact of major shopping services like Amazon and eBay, who are the largest players in this space.

Funny thing: I’ve skim-read the SO (it’s long – 100+ pages) and it picks away at lots of these traffic analysis claims (which were themselves dismantled thoroughly by Foundem, one of the complainants to the EC). Among the SO’s complaints was that Google didn’t provide enough data about shopping traffic. I don’t think the EC is going to roll over on this one. Nor, evidently, is Google. Though in arguing “choice for consumers” it’s using the wrong antitrust doctrine – that applies in the US, but not the EU.

Can’t find where Google has published its response, either. Surely it would want that public too? Also: an analysis of Google’s blogpost by “Focus On The User” (anti-Google, not involving Microsoft).
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Apple’s content blocking is chemo for the cancer of adtech » Doc Searls Weblog

Searls calls “tracking” ads (eg Doubleclick etc) “adtech”, as opposed to simple brand ads:

• Apple’s iAd is for brand advertising, not adtech. At least that’s what I gather from Apple’s literature. This puts them on the side of [advertising] wheat, and Apple’s competitors — notably Google, Facebook and all of adtech — on the side of chaff.

• Apple has put a big stake in the ground on the subject of privacy. This is clearly to differentiate itself from adtech in general, and from Google and Facebooks in particular.

• Brand advertising is more valuable to publishers than adtech. Its provenance and value are clear and obvious, it sells for better prices, and — while some of it may be annoying — none of it shares its business model with spam, which adtech does. Nor is brand advertising corrupted by fraud, which is rampant in adtech. So rampant, in fact, that T.Rob Wyatt, a security expert, calls adtech “the new digital cancer.”

This is why content blocking is chemo for the cancer of adtech. It is also why it is essential for everybody involved in the advertising-funded online ecosystem to start separating the wheat from the chaff, and to make clear to everybody that the wheat — plain old brand advertising — is (to mix metaphors) the baby in the advertising bathwater.

(Searls was taken to task for using “chemo” and “cancer”; he pointed out that he has had loved ones die of cancer, and “I’m not sure they would have disapproved of the metaphor.”)

As bandwagons go, the anti-adtech one is rolling downhill at top speed. I’ve already got three different ones I’m testing on an iOS 9 phone.
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The Labour Purge…. and social media privacy. » Paul Bernal’s Blog

Bernal notes that the Labour Party is trawling social media to try to find out if newly joined members really “support” the party:

We should not expect people to have social media profiles – let alone identifiable social media profiles. What is more, this is particularly important for some of the people that Labour should care about and support the most. People may be ‘digitally excluded’, for a start – but they might also have extremely valid reasons to be pseudonymous on the internet. Vulnerable people, in particular, might need pseudonymity to protect them from those to whom they are vulnerable. Whistleblowers. People with abusive spouses. People with abusive or manipulative employers. Trade unionists, for example, might have that status used against them – there’s a reason that Trade Union membership is considered ‘sensitive personal data’ under the Data Protection Act. People might wish not to have their religion revealed to all and sundry. People might wish to separate their personal and professional lives for perfectly good reasons.

There is much more to say on this subject – but the underlying issue is the one that is most disturbing. What the Labour Party is doing may well breach the Data Protection Act – there is a discussion to be had here – but it is certainly at least verging on the creepy.

The Labour Party has long had a problem with privacy; it tried really hard to introduce ID cards (with biometrics!), and was only stopped by losing an election.
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Start up: Second Life higher ed, killing more comments, Spotify’s hari-kiri, and more


BT could have had fibre everywhere already – if not for Maggie. Photo by Craig A Rodway.

Welcome back! It’s been three weeks, you’ve been wonderfully patient, news-y things have come and gone (AGoogleZ, Galaxy Note 5) and we’re probably a couple of weeks away from new iPhones, new iOS software and a new Apple TV. So here’s a big Monday morning chunk o’fun for you.

A selection of 14 links for you. Don’t overdose. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Second Life college campuses: A tour of abandoned worlds » Fusion

Patrick Hogan:

Colleges were among those that bought the hype of the Linden Lab-developed virtual world. Many universities set up their own private islands to engage students; some even held classes within Second Life.

Most of these virtual universities are gone –– it costs almost $300 per month to host your own island –– but it turns out a handful remain as ghost towns. I decided to travel through several of the campuses, to see what’s happening in Second Life college-world in 2015

First, I didn’t see a a single other user during my tour. They are all truly abandoned.

Second, the college islands are bizarre. They mostly are laid out in a way to evoke stereotypes of how college campuses should look, but mixed in is a streak of absurd choices, like classrooms in tree houses and pirate ships. These decisions might have seemed whimsical at the time, but with the dated graphics, they just look weird.

And weird is the overall theme of this trip, which begins in Arkansas.

So, so weird. And such a great idea to investigate.
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Why we’re killing our comments section » Daily Dot

Austin Powell and Nicholas White:

In the wake of Gamergate, Celebgate, and the Reddit Meltdown of 2015, both publishers and social networks are grappling with the same fundamental issue: how to foster engagement and dialogue without inadvertently feeding the trolls in the process. The general consensus is that we need to detoxify the Web—to make it a cleaner, nicer, safer, and more inclusive place to live and work. Of course, at the Daily Dot, we would like to see a more civil, compassionate Web, but we want to be careful that in the name of fostering civility, we do not inadvertently kill all dissention. It is the cacophony of the Web—the voices from every point in the spectrum that give it its vibrancy—that make it the community we love. No one has quite figured out how to thread that needle yet, even those who have invested significantly in their own internal systems.

Yeah, it’s because the people who have worthwhile comments get drowned out by the idiots who don’t, who have a lot more time to spare. As I previously explained. The number of sites that have turned off comments (to a greater or lesser extent) is only growing.
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Some thoughts on the Project Ara delay » PHONEBLOKS.COM

Dave Hakkens:

When I shared Phonebloks it was just an idea, something I thought would make sense to reduce e-waste. It was a future vision, something that would hopefully be made in 5-10 years.

Some companies are trying to make a modular phone. Of all those companies Google is taking the biggest leap. They have an insane amount of resources/smart guys and set a 2 year timeframe for themselves to get it done. Seemed unrealistic and turns out it is. They are delayed for over a year!

However this is not bad. Sure the sooner it would be in our hands the better since we could save e-waste.

There will never be a useful phone using phonebloks. The premise might work for some lab/testing/environmental equipment, but the price and size will make it pointless when you can get a pocket supercomputer with phone functions for $50.

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Is this really the beginning of the end for web ads? – The Guardian » Android & iPhones Information

I got a ping back to my blog because this piece has (somewhere) a link to my piece about adblocking. Read for a while and see if anything strikes you:

Mail Online is among the world’s many popular news websites and it’s free: no paywall. Yet my browser has actually a plug-in routine called Ghostery, which will certainly scan any sort of web page you visit and tell you exactly how several “third-celebration trackers” it has actually located on it. These are small pieces of code that advertisers and ad-brokers put on pages or in cookies in order to monitor just what you’re executing on the web and where you’ve been prior to hitting the most up to date page.

“Third-celebration trackers”? Oh, third-party trackers. It’s the Guardian’s article (from Sunday) but with a thesaurus applied. What’s puzzling about the page is that there are no ads – so I don’t see how it’s monetising. It’s crap, through and through, and it would be great to wipe this sort of third-pa.. third-celebration crap off the web. Not sure how you’d do it, though.
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How Thatcher killed the UK’s superfast broadband before it even existed » TechRadar

Jay McGregor, who was told by BT’s former R+D chief Peter Cochrane:

“In 1986, I managed to get fibre to the home cheaper than copper and we started a programme where we built factories for manufacturing the system. By 1990, we had two factories, one in Ipswich and one in Birmingham, where were manufacturing components for systems to roll out to the local loop”.

At that time, the UK, Japan and the United States were leading the way in fibre optic technology and roll-out. Indeed, the first wide area fibre optic network was set up in Hastings, UK. But, in 1990, then Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, decided that BT’s rapid and extensive rollout of fibre optic broadband was anti-competitive and held a monopoly on a technology and service that no other telecom company could do.

“Unfortunately, the Thatcher government decided that it wanted the American cable companies providing the same service to increase competition. So the decision was made to close down the local loop roll out and in 1991 that roll out was stopped. The two factories that BT had built to build fibre related components were sold to Fujitsu and HP, the assets were stripped and the expertise was shipped out to South East Asia.

“Our colleagues in Korea and Japan, who were working with quite closely at the time, stood back and looked at what happened to us in amazement. What was pivotal was that they carried on with their respective fibre rollouts. And, well, the rest is history as they say.

I’d have to say that Thatcher’s instinct made sense, given the way BT was privatised: it could have demanded monopoly rents on the infrastructure. However, if BT Openreach (as is now) had been spun off and ISPs then competed, you’d have a working model.
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San Antonio city employee with email address linked to Ashley Madison committed suicide » San Antonio Current

Albert Salazar:

Reports surfaced yesterday of three City of San Antonio employee email accounts that were exposed in this week’s Ashley Madison account leak. One of those email accounts belongs to an employee who committed suicide on Thursday. 

It’s unclear at this time if the Ashley Madison hack had anything to do with the employee’s death, the San Antonio Express-News reports.

Two @sanantonio.gov accounts exposed this week belonged to a detective and captain with the San Antonio Police Department. The third belonged to a former city employee. None have been publicly identified, and the City did not confirm whether the employees were informed that their email addresses were leaked in the hack.

(I linked to this report because it’s more clearly written.) There were 99,170 accounts located to San Antonio, which has a population of about 1.4m. Perhaps there are lots of unhappy marriages there; and perhaps unhappy people. The link between the hack and the death isn’t definite. But both the hacker(s) and Ashley Madison might be wondering who’s liable if there is a link.
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Spotify’s chief executive apologises after user backlash over new privacy policy » The Guardian

Alex Hern and Jennifer Rankin:

The chief executive of music service Spotify has apologised to users after anger over sweeping changes to its privacy policy that give the company much greater access to personal data on users’ phones.

As well as collecting personal information, such as email addresses and birthdays, Spotify will be able to sift though users’ contacts, collect their photos and in some cases, even check their location and determine how quickly they are moving. Depending on the device being used, Spotify said it may be able to collect sensor data, such as “data about the speed of your movements, such as whether you are running, walking, or in transit”.

Some information would also be shared with advertisers, although Spotify did not spell out exactly what data it would pass on.

“Hey, Apple has a big rival service coming out which might challenge us. They’re really hot on privacy. How can we really screw this up?” In addition, the exchange between Daniel Ek of Spotify and Markus Persson (ex-Minecraft) is epic in its directness.

Short version: Spotify completely screwed up its messaging and is likely to pay a price.
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Google Groups and the Right to be forgotten | Removing Usenet search results » Agent Privateur

An anonymous European:

European citizens, have, since May 2014, had “the right to be forgotten.” This means that they can request that Google remove search results from searches for their name or a name by which they are known, if the results are “inadequate, irrelevant, or no longer relevant for the purposes for which they were processed.” In this blog post, I will explain why Google is handling the delinking requests they receive in an irresponsible manner, arguably leading to censorship of pages that shouldn’t be removed as well as a lack of proper treatment and rights for those who do have a valid claim…

The postings Google agreed to delink contain controversial, personally revealing and embarrassing things I posted in the mid-90s in Usenet newsgroups. I was still formally a child at the time. And I had no idea that it would be shoved in everyone’s face everywhere 20 years later. People hardly knew what a search engine would be capable of in the future. I had been to an Internet Trade Fair in California around that time, and was introduced by Altavista to a new concept: a “web spider” that could crawl the web and index information. The idea was, in fact, new to most of the people at that trade fair. Yes, really, it was.

Now read on (though the next case isn’t, as far as I know, the same.)
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Google ordered to remove links to stories about Google removing links to stories » Ars Technica UK

Glyn Moody:

The UK’s Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has ordered Google to remove links from its search results that point to news stories reporting on earlier removals of links from its search results. The nine further results that must be removed point to Web pages with details about the links relating to a criminal offence that were removed by Google following a request from the individual concerned. The Web pages involved in the latest ICO order repeated details of the original criminal offence, which were then included in the results displayed when searching for the complainant’s name on Google.

Understandably, Google is not very happy about this escalation of the EU’s so-called “right to be forgotten”—strictly speaking, a right to have certain kinds of information removed from search engine results. According to the ICO press release on the new order, Google has refused to remove the later links from its search results: “It argued these links were to articles that concerned one of its decisions to delist a search result and that the articles were an essential part of a recent news story relating to a matter of significant public importance.”

People are throwing around the words “censorship” about this, happily ignoring the fact that the information is still there on the web – and also that 95% of people who ask for information to be delinked are just trying to protect personal information, as above.
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iSight camera replacement program for iPhone 6 Plus » Apple Support

Apple has determined that, in a small percentage of iPhone 6 Plus devices, the iSight camera has a component that may fail causing your photos to look blurry. The affected units fall into a limited serial number range and were sold primarily between September 2014 and January 2015.

If your iPhone 6 Plus is producing blurry photos and falls into the eligible serial number range, Apple will replace your device’s iSight camera, free of charge.

The iSight camera is located on the back of your iPhone 6 Plus.

Odd, since the iSight cameras used to be the ones that looked at you, not away from you. The page has a serial number checker.

Given the date range, that would be about, what, many millions of potentially affected lenses? So why has it taken so long to surface? Perhaps it really is a small percentage. Note how Apple hasn’t given any of the serial ranges, which it has for other product problems.
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All-in-one PC demand from China Internet cafes rising » Digitimes

Monica Chen and Joseph Tsai:

Despite the PC market’s weak performance, all-in-one (AIO) PCs have become popular in China’s Internet cafe market after the China government relaxed the restrictions on Internet cafes.

Now regular cafes, restaurants and karaoke houses are all eligible to apply for Internet cafe permits, and orders have started to surge for all-in-one PCs that are thin and light in form factors.

China’s all-in-one PC market is able to achieve shipments of about 13-14 million a year with Lenovo, Apple and Hewlett-Packard (HP) together contributing 70% of the volume, while Dell, Acer, Micro-Star International (MSI), Asustek Computer and others have also been aggressively trying to expand their presence in the market.

In the past, China’s Internet cafes used to procure their PCs via PC DIY channels, but they have now turned to all-in-one PCs that take up less space.

Bad for motherboard makers, good for PC makers.
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Botched Google Stagefright fix won’t be resolved until September » The Register

John Leyden:

Google released a six-pack update to resolve the Stagefright vulnerability last week, but it quickly emerged that one of the components was incomplete, so that even patched devices were still at risk.

These shortcomings have put back the whole security remediation process by weeks.

Tod Beardsley, security engineering manager at Rapid7 – the firm behind the Metasploit pen-testing tool – commented: “The problem Google is facing is not so much shipping security vulnerabilities in popular software products: everyone ships bugs, it happens. The real problem we’re seeing today is a breakdown in the Android patch pipeline.”

There was a patch pipeline?
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SSL malvertising campaign continues » Malwarebytes Unpacked

Jerome Segura:

The actors behind the recent Yahoo! malvertising attack are still very much active and able to infect people who browse popular websites.

We have been tracking this campaign and noticed that is has recently moved to a new ad network used by many top publishers.

drudgereport.com 61.8M visits per month
wunderground.com 49.9M visits per month
findagrave.com 6M visits per month
webmaila.juno.com 3.6M visits per month
my.netzero.net 3.2M visits per month
sltrib.com 1.8M visits per month

OK, so this really is a reason to use an adblocker: this stuff is nasty, and hitting millions of people. This isn’t like a rogue app on an app store; it’s as if a basic app on a phone were rogue.

I’m presently testing Crystal, a content blocker for Safari on iOS by Dean Murphy. Some sites really look a lot different. (Via IvanIvanovich.)
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Japan’s Sharp to exit Americas TV market after deep first quarter loss » Reuters

The company, which sought a bank-led bailout in May, said it would sell its TV manufacturing plant in Mexico and license its Aquos brand in the Americas to China’s Hisense, effectively withdrawing from the region’s TV market.

“Sharp has not been able to fully adapt to the intensifying market competition, which led to significantly lower profits compared to the initial projections for the previous fiscal year, and has been suffering from poor earnings performance,” Sharp said in a statement explaining the TV deal.

Osaka-based Sharp, which gains much of its revenue from liquid crystal displays and TV sets, has focused on high-end screens to protect profit margins and avoid directly competing with cheaper Chinese and South Korean rivals.

But it has struggled to innovate sufficiently to keep commanding significant premiums. In addition to Chinese competitors, it has also faced strong competition from Japan Display Inc in smartphone screens.

Second-quarter operating loss of 28.8bn ($233m), yet thinks it’s going to generate 80bn yen ($644m) of operating profit for the year. Not so sure about that.
link to this extract


Start up: Oculus here!, when cashless fails, what Twitter needs now, EC’s ebook probe, and more


Musical toast? Photo by revedavion.com on Flickr.

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

April 2015: Twitter needs new leadership » Stratechery

Ben Thompson nailed it months ago:

I believe it’s time for Twitter’s leadership, in particular CEO Dick Costolo, to make way for new leadership that has improved credibility with Wall Street, with developers, and within Twitter itself…

…Twitter would be better off retooling their API and developer agreements to ensure they are learning from every application they interact with, and in return sharing their graph along with advertising in the form of their MoPub or Namo Media-derived offerings. The advantage of this approach is that the imagination and ingenuity of a massive developer ecosystem will always be far faster and more innovative than anything any one company can do on its own — just ask Apple.

Worth reading (or re-reading). The accompanying podcast nails it too.


Apple Music » Lefsetz Letter

Bob Lefsetz has a typically nuanced take on Apple’s new offering:

It’s toast.

Its success was based upon eliminating free. But that positively non-techie entity known as the government put the kibosh on that. Now the labels and Apple are too scared to enact their plan of eliminating freemium. So while the techies leap ahead, creating solutions to problems we didn’t even know we had, those in the music business stay mired in the past, believing backroom dealings and brawn will get them what they want.

But it won’t in the new world.

What I find puzzling is that nobody at the record labels has heard of the Laffer curve.


Oculus teams up with Microsoft on Rift VR headset » FT.com

Tim Bradshaw:

Oculus faces mounting competition from Sony PlayStation’s Project Morpheus and games software maker Valve’s Vive headset, made by HTC. Google is also investing heavily in VR, after unveiling updates to its low-cost Cardboard headset last month, including its Jump 360-degree video system.

Oculus emphasised its headset’s ease of use and a familiar video-gaming content for its launch.

“It rests comfortably right on your brow,” Mr Iribe said of the Rift. “You’re going to put it on like a baseball cap. It’s going to be simple and easy . . . The goal is you put it on and it goes away, it disappears.”


Download Festival-goers left hungry as cashless system goes to Borksville » The Inquirer

Chris Merriman:

Festivalgoers are ready to throw a Five Finger Death Punch at organisers after a cashless society model involving digital currency failed.

The Download Festival at Castle Donington is completely cashless this year, and visitors are being issued with a dog-tag At the Gates.

However, the system for topping up the dog-tags with currency has failed, and there’s no back up, leaving many people complaining of being unable to eat or drink.

This is a huge embarrassment for cashless as the future of money in the week that Apple Pay was announced for the UK market.

Download proudly hailed itself as the first major festival to use RFID technology to replace cash, but the Utopian dream seems to have turned into a nightmare as festival goers are not only unable to eat, but face the prospect of seeing Slipknot sober.

Test, and then test. Then test it again. Then pull out something essential. Test.


Who’s afraid of DNS? Nominet’s ‘turing’ tool visualises hidden security threats » Techworld

John Dunn:

UK domain registry Nominet has shown off a striking new visualisation tool called ‘turing’ that large organisations can use to peer into their DNS traffic to trace latency issues and spot previously invisible botnets and malware.

In development for four years, and used internally by Nominet for the last two, at core turing is about representing DNS traffic in visual form, allowing administrators to ‘see’ patterns in real time that would normally be impossible to detect let alone understand.


EU opens investigation into Amazon’s e-book selling » Reuters

Julia Fioretti:

The investigation adds to the pressure on the online retailer in Europe, where it is already being investigated for the low tax rates it pays in Luxembourg.

The Commission said it would look in particular into certain clauses included in Amazon’s contracts with publishers.

These clauses, it said, required publishers to inform Amazon about more favorable or alternative terms offered to Amazon’s competitors, a means to ensure Amazon is offered terms at least as good as those of its competitors…

…”Amazon has developed a successful business that offers consumers a comprehensive service, including for e-books,” Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager said in a statement.

“Our investigation does not call that into question. However, it is my duty to make sure that Amazon’s arrangements with publishers are not harmful to consumers, by preventing other e-book distributors from innovating and competing effectively with Amazon.”

Similar in that sense to Apple’s bad action in the “most favoured nation” clause for ebooks it sought from publishers.


Google’s Android One may go down as an interesting idea that bombed » ETtech

Gulveen Aulakh:

Google’s first set of phone-making partners Micromax, Karbonn and Spice have no development roadmap for the platform’s next batch of devices. Some are clearing available stock at discounts, executives told ET. Intex, Lava and Xolo, which were to join the above three, no longer seem to be keen, leading some to question whether the search giant is planning to drop the Android One project altogether.

Google insisted it’s still committed to the product. “We’re not backing away from the programme,” Caesar Sengupta, vice president of product management at Google, told ET. “We’ve learnt a lot from the initial round with our partners and they have learnt in terms of device availability, in channel and others. Over time, as we work with our partners, we will keep working on making sure that we do things much better.” But with the products not doing too well, executives at the three partners said they weren’t working on the next lot of Android One devices.

The problem with Android One being that it tried to force a uniform experience – which left the OEMs no way to differentiate. Who benefits? Only Google.


jansoucek/iOS-Mail.app-inject-kit » GitHub

Jan Soucek:

Back in January 2015 I stumbled upon a bug in iOS’s mail client, resulting in HTML tag in e-mail messages not being ignored. This bug allows remote HTML content to be loaded, replacing the content of the original e-mail message. JavaScript is disabled in this UIWebView, but it is still possible to build a functional password “collector” using simple HTML and CSS.

It was filed under Radar #19479280 back in January 2015, but the fix was not delivered in any of the iOS updates following 8.1.2. Therefore I decided to publish the proof of concept code here.

Here’s the Youtube video:

It uses a targeted email to capture the person’s iCloud password (if their iCloud email is the same email). The prime weakness is the way iOS 8 keeps popping up dialogs asking you to sign into the App Store. Secondary weakness may be loading images in Mail; I don’t know whether turning off “load images” guards against this.

Bad that it has taken Apple six months not to do anything for a potential targeted phishing attack.


The mobile to machine learning era: privacy in the new age. » Praxtime

Nathan Taylor on Apple, privacy and machine learning:

there’s a risk that inside the company Apple could cripple their machine learning efforts by overcommitting to their own marketing and privacy ideology. I noticed Apple’s Phil Schiller was on message last night about privacy on John Gruber’s The Talk Show. It’s hard to be certain of Apple’s motivation here. It’s likely some mix of being out of touch with recent trends so being overly creeped out by machine learning, spinning their backwardness in cloud and machine learning in the best light, having some real and serious moral concerns about privacy, plus some very cynical distancing from Google. The latter since they know Google will be the one to bear the brunt of the lawsuits and tech regulations around privacy as machine learning explodes. And then Apple can follow serenely behind in their wake…

…What I noticed and liked about the Apple keynote at WWDC this week is Craig Federighi clearly loved all the new cool features based on machine learning and searching with natural language. He has an infectious enthusiasm. It’s great to see. Apple clearly takes machine learning very seriously. They just want to do it their own quirky and backhanded way.

The point about lawsuits and regulation is one I hadn’t seen raised before. But once it’s said, it feels inevitable.


Start up: find a doppelgänger!, privacy woes, voice input’s promise, Brazil’s smartphone boom, and more


Like this, but online. Photo by pvantees on Flickr.

A selection of 9 links for you. Spreadable from the fridge. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

How my doppelgänger used the Internet to find and befriend me » Fusion

Kashmir Hill:

For some reason, we’re obsessed with the idea of finding people in the world who look like us and the wondrousness of looking into a flesh-and-blood mirror. It’s fascinating enough that Canadian photographer Francois Brunelle has spent the last 14 years finding doppelgängers and taking their portraits. He told CBS News he loves capturing the shock that happens when they meet, and that he endlessly gets emails from people who want him to help them find their look-alike. I asked him why he finds face-twins so compelling. “I don’t really know,” he responded by email. “The fascination of seeing two same-looking people side by side.” With the rise of facial recognition, having a doppelgänger can sometimes be problematic. In 2011, a Massachusetts man had his license revoked because an anti-fraud system that scanned people’s photos decided he looked too much like another driver.


My ears, my eyes, my Apple Watch » Living with Usher Syndrome

Molly Watt:

On leaving the ReSound Offices [where she was fitted with hearing aids that connect directly her iPhone] and within 15 minutes I had my Apple Watch set up and it was a real “WOW” moment when I made my first call to my Dad, via my Apple Watch, his voice came straight into my ears, he sounded different, so much clearer than before, it dawned on me, I’d never heard my Dad’s real voice before, my Mum, ever faithful support and chauffeur sat beside me sounded totally different, even I sounded different to myself, it was strange, very strange, hard to process but it made me feel so emotional that day, day one, I was experiencing so much, new things for the first time ever!

I’ve linked to Watt before; her posts are such wonderful examples of how technology can enable people who would otherwise be excluded from so much.


Meet Apple PR’s worst nightmare » Fortune

Philip Elmer-DeWitt:

it’s at WWDC that Gurman’s shoe-leather reporting shines brightest, and he’s worked this year’s event harder than ever. If you want to know what’s coming Monday — or at least what’s expected — you might as well start with the round-up Gurman published Friday. It’s the post everybody else is linking to, including Wall Street analysts. I caught up to Gurman on Saturday at his parents’ home in Los Angeles where, lacking an invitation from Apple, he will watch Monday’s keynote remotely. He’s got one more year in Michigan, where he’s taking a lot of technical courses — software design, server structure, data analysis — at the School of Information. To carve out more time for coursework he cut back this year on day-to-day rumors to focus on the big scoops. After graduation he’s thinking about business school — he likes Stanford — and relocation to San Francisco or New York.

Gurman has got more and more things exactly right as time has gone on.


Talking computers pose a threat to current Apple versus Google market segmentation. Beyond Peak Google. » Praxtime

Nathan Taylor:

Google Now is already shipping and riding a technological tidal wave of machine learning. Let’s tie this back to the discussion on native ads. If Google owns the voice interaction channel to the internet, and can do branded “native ads” whenever someone talks into their phone or watch, then Peak Google is solved. Google will be launched into the next wave without being eclipsed. Billions are (potentially) at stake. Where’s the closest restaurant I’ll enjoy? What’s the best toothpaste to buy? How much are tickets to the game? What apartment can I afford to rent? What kind of car should I buy? Who should I marry? Except for that last question, I’m sure Google will eventually be capable and quite happy to answer. With proper brand product placement of course. And a small finder’s fee owed by the end vendor for any purchase. As Google becomes the front end to a potentially huge new voice interaction distribution channel, they’ll take their cut.


A complete taxonomy of internet chum » The Awl

John Mahoney on those annoying boxes that try to tempt you to click somewhere else, which he calls “chumboxes”:

Like everything else on the internet, traffic flowing through chumboxes must be tracked in order for everyone to be paid. Each box in the grid’s performance can be tracked both individually and in context of its neighbors. This allows them to be highly optimized; some chum is clearly better than others. As a byproduct of this optimization, an aesthetic has arisen. An effective chumbox clearly plays on reflex and the subconscious. The chumbox aesthetic broadcasts our most basic, libidinal, electrical desires back at us. And gets us to click.

Come and meet “Skin Thing”, “Old Person’s Face”, “Miracle Cure Thing” and the rest.


Global markets foreshadow low-cost smartphone opportunity in Brazil » Jana Blog

137 million people in Brazil own a mobile phone, and one-third [41m] of them own a smartphone. Brazil is the second largest country for downloads within the Google Play Store, and its citizens are some of the most eager app consumers. Brazil’s active Android smartphone market presents a huge opportunity for device manufacturers to capture the other 91 million mobile subscribers as they make their first ever smartphone purchase. In recent years, other countries have seen a massive adoption of smartphones thanks to a rush of competing brands entering the market and driving down handset costs. The smartphone market in Brazil is big, but could it be bigger?

Main installed base players: Samsung (50%), Motorola (21.1%) and LG (17%).


Exclusive: In ‘year of Apple Pay’, many top retailers remain skeptical » Reuters

Nandita Bose worked through the top 100 retailers in the US asking whether they would support Apple Pay:

Many companies that accept Apple Pay report that they and their customers are happy with it. Whole Foods spokesman Michael Silverman said that Apple Pay transactions accounted for 2% of its sales dollars as of March and that it expects use to rise. “Our shoppers are really enjoying the speed, convenience and security of Apple Pay,” he said. But for other retailers and consumers, Apple has yet to answer the question “what is in it for us if we use Apple Pay?” said Alberto Jimenez, program director for mobile payments at IBM, which provides technology to mobile wallet makers and retailers. Jimenez would not say whether Apple is among their customers. The program doesn’t offer loyalty rewards to customers, as companies such as Starbucks do with their mobile applications, nor does it provide customer information to retailers about Apple Pay users. For 28 of the retailers surveyed by Reuters, lack of access to data about customers and their buying habits is a key reason they don’t accept Apple Pay. “One of the biggest concerns is data control,” said Mario De Armas, senior director, international payments at the world’s largest retailer, Wal-Mart Stores Inc.

Apple is expected to provide some sort of way for retailers to collect loyalty data about customers – although this seems contrary to its point about not tracking your purchases. Clearly though there’s a tension between retailers and Apple over this. Now read on…


The online privacy lie is unraveling » TechCrunch

Natasha Lomas:

The [US] report, entitled The Tradeoff Fallacy: How marketers are misrepresenting American consumers and opening them up to exploitation, is authored by three academics from the University of Pennsylvania, and is based on a representative national cell phone and wireline phone survey of more than 1,500 Americans age 18 and older who use the internet or email “at least occasionally”. Key findings on American consumers include that — • 91% disagree (77% of them strongly) that “If companies give me a discount, it is a fair exchange for them to collect information about me without my knowing”
• 71% disagree (53% of them strongly) that “It’s fair for an online or physical store to monitor what I’m doing online when I’m there, in exchange for letting me use the store’s wireless internet, or Wi-Fi, without charge.”
• 55% disagree (38% of them strongly) that “It’s okay if a store where I shop uses information it has about me to create a picture of me that improves the services they provide for me.”


HMRC ditches Microsoft for Google, sends data offshore » The Channel

Kat Hall:

Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) is the first major department to move to Google Apps, part of an apparent loosening of Microsoft’s stranglehold on the government’s software services. The department will join the Cabinet Office and Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) in deploying the fluffy white stuff. HMRC has 70,000 staff, and as such will be Whitehall’s first mass deployment of Google’s cloud services. The Cabinet Office currently has 2,500 users on Gmail. The government said in March the Google Apps suit best met the user needs for the Cabinet Office and DCMS. “Other solutions (e.g Microsoft 365) also scored highly, but the advanced collaboration and flexible working features of Google Apps were the best fit for our needs,” it said at the time.

Wow. That’s a huge blow to Microsoft, huge win for Google.


Start up: costing Apple’s Watch, why Glass flopped, evaluating Fitbit, with Android’s permission?, and more


“Yeah, I think my Fitbit fell out of my trousers during this, so I bought another…” Photo by betta design on Flickr.

A selection of 8 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

No, the Apple Watch does *not* cost $84 to make » Mobile Forward

Hristo Daniel Ushev:

Here are two examples. These firms looked at the (1) hardware and (2) manufacturing costs of the Apple Watch.

IHS’ estimate for the 38mm Sport version: $83.70.
TechInsights’ estimate for the 42mm Sport version: $138.50.
Can both be correct?  No. “But they looked at different-sized models” one might say. Nah; that’s almost irrelevant.

From my experience working with product and cost experts at a well-known mobile device company, I can tell you:  Apple Watch does not cost $84 in hardware and manufacturing. It costs meaningfully more. Probably more than 2X that. And I’ll tell you why. Maybe I’ll even give you my estimate.

(By the way congrats to the TechInsights crew for having a reasonable estimate, in my view.)

First, it’s not for the reasons you see in the comments on the articles that re-publish these estimates. In those articles, you’ll typically see well-intentioned commenters say that one needs to account for research and development, sales and marketing, corporate income taxes, etc. None of that is accurate.

(Ushev used to work at Motorola. He points out so many ways in which costs are higher that you begin to wonder how Apple makes such big gross margins.)


The debacle of Google Glass » Tech.pinions

Tim Bajarin:

the bottom line is most technology gets started and refined in what we call vertical markets well before they get perfected and priced low enough for consumers.
When Google introduced their Google Glass, this was the first thing that came to mind about this project. I wondered if Google even had a clue how tech adoption cycles develop. While it is true glasses had been used in vertical markets since 1998, even after all of this time, we saw no interest by consumers. Google’s decision to aim Glass at consumers first, yet price them as if they were going to vertical markets, stumped me. Even the folks who had spent decades making specialized glasses for use in manufacturing, government applications, and transportation were dumfounded by Google’s consumer focus with Google Glass, priced at $1500.
Apparently, Google found out the hard way how tech products get adopted…

…I was a Google Glass Explorer and the experience was horrible from the start. Google Glass now sits in my office museum of failed products. The UI was terrible, the connection unreliable, and the info it delivered had little use to me. It was the worst $1500 I have ever spent in my life. On the other hand, as a researcher, it was a great tool to help me understand what not to do when creating a product for the consumer.

Google’s go-to-market strategy with Glass always puzzled me. It obviously had, and has, applications in business (medical, etc). Yet as Bajarin says, the marketing suggested a consumer product. Result: failure.


LG Watch Urbane review: $350 buys you the nicest Android Wear watch yet, if that’s something you want » Android Police

David Ruddock:

For a lot of people, there’s probably going to be something at least remotely interesting about Wear.

For me, it’s managing emails and messages. Don’t want to read that work email while I’m in the middle of typing up an article or otherwise engaged? Quickly skim the subject on the watch, and dismiss or archive it. I’ve even started using the voice replies for SMS and Hangouts when I’m in my own home (frankly, it weirds me out voice messaging somebody on my watch in public for some reason???), because it’s less disruptive than pulling out my phone, unlocking it, opening the app, and typing out a reply. It’s also great for quick Google searches, turn-by-turn navigation (especially when you’re walking), music controls, and activity tracking.

Of course, our smartphones do most of this stuff, too, so I’m not about to claim there’s actually a compelling economic argument for smartwatches yet – there isn’t.

In places, Ruddock sounds bored beyond belief with the whole concept of a smartwatch. You’d certainly struggle to find any enthusiasm at all for it.


Thoughts on the Fitbit IPO filing » Beyond Devices

Jan Dawson digs into the numbers; he finds that the best model for usage is that on average, a Fitbit is used for about six months:

So, how important is this abandon rate information to our evaluation of Fitbit’s prospects going forward? Well, one could argue that at just 10 million sales per year, there’s tons of headroom, especially as Fitbit expands beyond the US (the source of around 75% of its revenues today). But in most consumer electronics categories, there’s a replacement rate for devices, which continues to drive sales over time even as penetration reaches saturation. The biggest worry in the data presented above is twofold: one, very few Fitbit buyers have yet bought a second device; and two, many don’t even use the first one they bought anymore. Once Fitbit maxes out its addressable market, it’s going to have a really tough time continuing to grow sales.

This may be a factor for all wearables, unless they can show some compelling reason to upgrade from the previous one.


Upon this wrist » Medium

Craig Mod, channelling Hemingway:

Oh, they are so downtrodden now, those who asked about the thing, the thing on the wrist. I am the harbinger of technodoom. Knower of useless celestialisms. And I can see in their eyes that they want to hear some accolades. Some uplifting remark. Nothing gibbous. And so I say a single word: Exercise. Like I am selling plastics in 1930. Exercise, I say. And I smile. That is what it does best. But I have to caveat, slumping back into my chair, my posture as the worst salesman ever — Well, I mean, it’s good, or, rather, it has potential. But presently it is very dumb.


LG G4: the best Android smartphone camera » WSJ

Nathan Olivarez-Giles:

My colleague Joanna Stern already covered the merits of Samsung’s Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge, and sung the praises of their 16-megapixel rear cameras. So I was surprised to find that LG’s new flagship phone has an even better camera.

After putting the Galaxy S6 Edge, the iPhone 6 Plus and the LG G4 through a series of photo tests, I found that not only did the G4 keep up in most conditions, it took better low-light and night photos. LG says one reason is the f/1.8 aperture lens on the G4’s 16-megapixel camera. It lets in more light than any other smartphone on the market. This camera system also bumps up the exposure, so that these low-light settings come off brighter than comparative shots — and even brighter than what the naked eye sees.

It’s all about the camera; the review barely touches any other topic.


The women working in NYC’s nail salons are treated more terribly than you can imagine » VICE

Allie Conti shows how the NYT exposé of treatment of workers in these salons got made. It’s impressive.

VICE: Did you ever just go from nail salon to nail salon, or was that too risky?
Sarah Maslin Nir: I started doing that toward the end, because it’s a very collusive industry. Everybody conspires. The experts I’ve spoken to say the owners teach each other the methods of how to exploit the workers and how to avoid prosecution. So I was afraid if I started going from salon to salon, an owner would catch me and tell all the others, and it would all get shut down. So only toward the end would I go to salons, and I’d actually go get a manicure and talk with the women, sometimes with a translator sitting next to me, and just have these quiet conversations.

One of the most interesting things about the story is I learned how to ask questions. At the beginning, I’d ask, “Where do you live?” And they’d say, “Oh, I live in a one-bedroom in Flushing, Queens.” And then I realized that when they live in a one-bedroom, they lived with six to eight other people. So my questions changed. I would say, “How many people do you live with?” and they’d say, “Oh, twelve.”

Amazing, detailed work about something that’s been sitting in front of people for ages.


Google said ready to give Android users more privacy controls » Bloomberg Business

Brian Womack and Lulu Yilun Chen:

Google is planning to give its mobile users more control over what information applications can access, people familiar with the matter said.
Google’s Android operating system is set to give users more detailed choices over what apps can access, according to the people, who asked not to be identified because the matter remains private. That could include photos, contacts or location. An announcement of the change, which would put Android closer in line with Apple’s iOS, is expected for Google’s developer’s conference in San Francisco this month, one of the people said.

Long overdue. Apple introduced it to iOS in September 2012. And it was actually included – against Google’s intent – in Android 4.3 in July 2013, though you had to download a separate app to enable it, but then removed three weeks later. Also, we know it will take years for any substantial proportion of people to get this if it’s included in Android ‘M’ (Marzipan?). Though there are some suggestions that this will only apply to Chrome, not across Android.


Start up: why Google lost its Safari appeal, US gov trumps Kim Dotcom, S6 still bloated?, and more


But also for your “we’d like to be in VR now that it’s hip (again)” moments. Photo by TORLEY on Flickr.

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

Second Life is still around and getting ready to conquer virtual reality » Business Insider

Matt Weinberger:

although you probably haven’t heard much about it lately, Second Life hasn’t gone anywhere. With 900,000 active users a month, who get payouts of $60m in real-world money every year, and a virtual economy that has more than $500m in GDP every year, Second Life is still a world of opportunity. 

Today, the rising tide of virtual reality — with companies like Facebook, HTC, and Sony betting big on immersive 3D technology — means that Second Life’s time may have come around.

“Now the world is waking up again,” Ebbe Altberg, CEO of Second Life developer Linden Lab, which now has over 200 employees, told Business Insider.

Linden Lab is marshalling its expertise and experience in building immersive, functional virtual worlds to make a proper successor to the Second Life platform and take advantage of the bold new world of immersive VR. Specifically, Linden sees a huge opportunity in making it easier for people to build and share cool virtual reality experiences. 


Holway says RIP to his Blackberry Bold » TechMarketView

Richard Holway is yet another of those moving on, having used a BlackBerry since the year dot:

I loved – still love – my Blackberry Bold. It is the best email sender/receiver ever invented. Its physical qwerty keyboard is still better than the puny iPhone 6 touchscreen. Its battery lasts for days too. But, it can’t really do anything else.

And that last sentence is the key thing, isn’t it?


Driverless cars need to be spy machines so they don’t kill you » Fusion

Daniela Hernandez:

For instance, an app that controls the [self-driving Mercedes] F 015 can also turn the cameras it uses to see the road as remote prying eyes. Through the app, you can connect to the car’s cameras to spy on the car’s surroundings through your phone. It effectively turns your car into a lurking Dropcam that can be used to watch unknowing passersby, anywhere, anytime. Or as another journalist on the junket put it, it turns every single vehicle into a Google Street View car. The privacy implications will be huge.

But it doesn’t stop there. Just like your iPhone or Android device, your car will communicate with other internet-connected devices in your life. It’ll learn your habits and adapt to your needs. For instance, say your car “realizes” you’re on your way home at dinner time. It “knows” your smart fridge is stocked with nothing but booze, so it prompts you to go to the grocery store or local eatery to pick up some grub. It’ll pull up the number of your favorite restaurant or suggest a new one based on your preferences. While you call, your robo-butler adjusts its course to take you where you need to go. By the time you arrive for curbside pickup, your credit card will already have been charged.

“We call it predictive learning,” said Mercedes’ Tattersall. “This will be something not so far away.”


Google Inc v Vidal-Hall & Ors [2015] EWCA Civ 311 (27 March 2015) » Bailii

“Bailii” is the British and Irish Legal Information Institute; it collects written judgements from courts in those countries. This is the key passage in the decision by the court of appeal on the “Safari hack” by Google of three complainants:

We come back then to the question we have to decide. Against the background we have described, and in the absence of any sound reasons of policy or principle to suggest otherwise, we have concluded in agreement with the judge that misuse of private information should now be recognised as a tort for the purposes of service out the jurisdiction. This does not create a new cause of action. In our view, it simply gives the correct legal label to one that already exists. We are conscious of the fact that there may be broader implications from our conclusions, for example as to remedies, limitation and vicarious liability, but these were not the subject of submissions, and such points will need to be considered as and when they arise.

(A “tort” is a legal wrong.) Google has fought this case all the way – particularly because the original judge, Tugendhat, decided that hacking someone’s device to follow them to collect data about what they look at online is a tort. Google will probably appeal this to the UK supreme court.

The full decision is twisty, so don’t rush it.


US government wins dozens of millions from Kim Dotcom » TorrentFreak

“Ernesto” (TorrentFreak’s founder):

A few hours ago District Court Judge Liam O’Grady ordered a default judgment in favour of the US Government. This means that the contested assets, which are worth an estimated $67m, now belong to the United States.

“It all belongs to the US government now. No trial. No due process,” Dotcom informs TF.

More than a dozen Hong Kong and New Zealand bank accounts have now been forfeited (pdf) including some of the property purchased through them. The accounts all processed money that was obtained through Megaupload’s alleged illegal activities.

The list of forfeited assets further includes several luxury cars, such as a silver Mercedes-Benz CLK DTM and a 1959 pink Cadillac, two 108″ Sharp LCD TVs and four jet skis.

The wheels of justice grind slow…


The Samsung Galaxy S6 has as much bloatware as ever » Gizmodo

Eric Limer:

At first glance, the new S6 and S6 Edge appear to be less cluttered, but you’ll actually find some 56 applications pre-installed. That’s 6 more than the 50 you’ll find on the Galaxy Note 4! Between the Google Apps you’ll find on every phone (Play Newstand? Come on), Samsung’s apps like S Voice and S Health, the new Microsoft apps like OneDrive (intended to soften the blow of no microSD slot), assorted social apps like Whatsapp and Instagram, and carrier apps (6 on T-Mobile), there’s a ton of cruft. A Moto G I have hanging around — which runs near stock Android — starts with just 33.

And despite statements from Samsung that “Samsung has allowed users to remove the pre-installed applications on Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge,” the most severe action you can take is “disabling” them. This removes them from the app drawer and the homescreen, but not from the phone entirely. You’re basically opting instead to put them in a sort of stasis, out of sight but not out of storage.

They don’t take much storage – Limer suggests about 100MB – but it’s the principle, really. Will the reviewers find the S6 “stripped back” even so?


HTC’s lead designer leaves after less than a year » Engadget

Richard Lai:

For a tech company that places so much emphasis on design, we can’t help but think something’s up when one of the key designers leaves. Today, we bring you the sad news that HTC’s VP of Industrial Design, Jonah Becker, has announced his departure on Twitter. To our surprise, that’s less than a year after he picked up from where his predecessor Scott Croyle left off.

It’s not “sad” news. It’s news. The more interesting part:

we have learned from our sources that there is an ever increasing power struggle between the design team and sales team these days. Another source told us the switch from the M8’s UltraPixel main camera to the M9’s 20-megapixel counterpart is an example of such.

HTC is in so much flux, yet clings on doughtily to existence.


Six surprising facts about who’s winning the operating system and browser wars in the U.S. » ZDNet

Ed Bott:

What I love about this data is that we finally have statistically meaningful details about which technologies people are using in the United States today. The database is enormous, and it should be broadly representative of the U.S. population, with a mix of consumers and businesses represented. (The data reported here is not strictly limited to the United States, of course. People from foreign countries occasionally need information from the United States government. But for the sake of this article one can consider the data to be an accurate snapshot of the U.S.)


Google investors will love these charts. Android developers will hate them. » Business Insider

Jillian D’Onfro:

As investors and analysts panic about how Google’s search advertising revenue growth is slowing because it can’t charge as much for mobile ad clicks as desktop ad clicks, this move gives Google another huge avenue for mobile monetization. 

“We view this move as akin to when the company first introduced 
sponsored links in the search engine results page,” analysts from Credit Suisse wrote in a note Friday morning.

Credit Suisse included two charts in its note that perfectly underscore exactly why investors and analysts love this move and why it could have negative effects for Android developers. 

Because they’ll have to pay for advertising, which is 20% of revenues – so after the 30% cut, that means Google gets 50% of revenues. #savedyouaclick


You’ll soon get 10TB SSDs thanks to new memory tech » Engadget

Steve Dent:

SSDs and other flash memory devices will soon get cheaper and larger thanks to big announcements from Toshiba and Intel. Both companies revealed new “3D NAND” memory chips that are stacked in layers to pack in more data, unlike single-plane chips currently used. Toshiba said that it’s created the world’s first 48-layer NAND, yielding a 16GB chip with boosted speeds and reliability. The Japanese company invented flash memory in the first place and has the smallest NAND cells in the world at 15nm. Toshiba is now giving manufacturers engineering samples, but products using the new chips won’t arrive for another year or so.

I can wait a year, though I haven’t managed to fill the 512GB drive on my laptop in three years.


Start up: Snapchat discovers media, Google v privacy, that Jony Ive interview, Russia’s phone market and more


OK, not all mobile phones in Russia are smartphones. Photo by thejamo on Flickr.

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

Snapchat Discover could be the biggest thing in news since Twitter » Fusion

Kevin Roose:

A few weeks ago, Snapchat updated its app. The new version had a little purple dot in the upper-right corner of the app’s Stories screen. If you’re a normal, casual Snapchat user who uses the app to send goofy selfies to your friends, you might not have noticed the dot at all. Or you might have tapped it, seen an unfamiliar menu with a panoply of weird logos on it, and gone back to your selfie-taking.

But if you’re a media executive, that little purple dot — the gateway to Snapchat’s new Discover platform — might represent a big shift in your thinking.

There’s a ton of chatter in the media world about Snapchat’s foray into news. And the media is right to gossip: Snapchat Discover is huge. I’m not privy to Fusion’s Snapchat metrics (and even if I were, they wouldn’t be representative of the platform as a whole, since we’re only on the non-US, non-UK versions of Discover) and Snapchat isn’t giving out any specifics. But from speaking to people at several other news organizations, I can tell you secondhand that the numbers, at least for the initial launch period, were enormous. We’re talking millions of views per day, per publisher.

Social starts to make an impact on mobile.


China Internet a really big grid with 649m users, majority on mobile » Mobile Marketing Watch

J Barton:

Recent data from The China Internet Network Information Center, the number of Internet users grew 5% in 2014 to about 649m. That means nearly half of China’s population (47.9%) is now firmly on the grid.

“More Chinese now access the Internet on their mobile phones than PC desktops,” notes a blog post by financial publisher Barron’s. “The mobile penetration rate is now at 85.8%, up from 81% a year ago, to 557m users. Meanwhile, the desktop PC penetration is only 70.8%.”

Well, it means that most people who are online have both PC and mobile access, but some don’t.


Google’s lip service to privacy cannot conceal that its profits rely on your data » The Conversation

Eerke Bolten, who is senior lecturer of computing and director of the Interdisciplinary Cyber Security Centre at the University of Kent:

The [ECJ] court ruling demonstrated the law catching up with privacy ethics: an ethical approach would be to implement it according to the spirit rather than the letter of the law. But in many places in this report [from Google’s handpicked advisory council on how to implement the ruling], privacy ethics wins out only where it has the law on its side – where it doesn’t, Google’s business interests (bolstered by appeals to freedom of expression) prevail. In doing so Google invents bizarre new “freedoms”, such as the right to use different national versions of Google search…

…What if the politicians get wind of another form of cyberbullying, namely “doxing” – the publishing online of someone’s personal information (and specifically their address) in order to harass and annoy?

Any attempt to legislate against that would run into a certain large internet company through whose website such information is inevitably found. Interesting times ahead, that is certain.

Bolten points out that the report never examines how Google actually goes about delisting, even though it was recommended to by people on and off the council. Something feels odd about this report. But that final situation might be the collision point for Google and governments.


Jonathan Ive and the future of Apple » The New Yorker

A terrific (long) piece by Ian Parker, who was given access to Apple’s holy of holies, its design studio:

Each table serves a single product, or product part, or product concept; some of these objects are scheduled for manufacture; others might come to market in three or five years, or never. “A table can get crowded with a lot of different ideas, maybe problem-solving for one particular feature,” Hönig, the former Lamborghini designer, later told me. Then, one day, all the clutter is gone. He laughed: “It’s just the winner, basically. What we collectively decided is the best.” The designers spend much of their time handling models and materials, sometimes alongside visiting Apple engineers. Jobs used to come by almost every day. Had I somehow intruded an hour earlier, I would have seen an exhibition of the likely future. Now all but a few tables were covered in sheets of gray silk, and I knew only that that future would be no taller than an electric kettle.

The cloth covering the table nearest the door was curiously flat. “This is actually complicated,” Ive said, feeling through the material. “This will make sense later. I’m not messing with you at all, I promise.”

By my analysis of the piece Parker had four fairly short meetings with Ive, and one with Tim Cook. What’s not obvious (but I can see, with my journalist’s hat on) is that he must have done dozens of other interviews, of unknown length, with other people inside and outside Apple, some of which result in just a single throwaway line in the piece. That’s thoroughness. He also has a deliciously ironic touch – see his comment about how Tim Cook is alerted to the progress of a meeting.

(Of course it’s been published just as everyone is thinking APPLE IS MAKING CARS OMG. No hint of that in the design studio, it seems.)


Russia smartphone sales to stall on iPhone slowdown, IDC says » Bloomberg Business

Ilya Khrennikov:

Apple doubled iPhone shipments to Russia to 3.25m last year, garnering $2.14bn in sales, according to the researcher’s Worldwide Mobile Phone Tracker.

While Samsung Electronics Co. remained the market leader, shipping more than 6m smartphones last year, its revenue share was overtaken by Cupertino, California-based Apple.
In the fourth quarter, when Russians rushed to spend their tumbling rubles on big-ticket items including premium handsets, iPhone sales reached $827m, or a record 46% share in the Russian smartphone market, versus Samsung’s 18% slice, according to IDC.

There’s a table of data, with shipments and revenues for the top seven companies (Samsung, Apple, LG, Lenovo, HTC, Sony, Nokia). The fascinating details: Samsung and HTC sales fell; Apple, LG, Lenovo (x4!) and Nokia grew. But of all of them, only LG grew its ASP (average selling price) from 2013 to 2014, though even that (at US$224) was below the ASP of US$230. (I calculated the ASPs; they aren’t on the sheet.)


HTC and other vendors to launch non-Android Wear smart devices » Digitimes

Although Sony Mobile Communications, LG Electronics, Motorola Mobility and Asustek Computer have launched Android Wear-based smartwatches, Samsung Electronics, HTC and some China-based makers are likely to release comparable models running on their own platforms initially, according to industry sources.

A lack of efficient ecosystem and supporting environment for Chinese such as a Chinese-language interface, are the main reasons HTC and China’s handset makers are developing wearable devices based on in-house platforms, said the sources.

Surprising omission if Android Wear doesn’t have Chinese character support.


Why is my smart home so fucking dumb? » Gizmodo

Adam Clark Estes:

I unlocked my phone. I found the right home screen. I opened the Wink app. I navigated to the Lights section. I toggled over to the sets of light bulbs that I’d painstakingly grouped and labeled. I tapped “Living Room”—this was it—and the icon went from bright to dark. (Okay, so that was like six taps.)

Nothing happened.

I tapped “Living Room.” The icon—not the lights—went from dark to bright. I tapped “Living Room,” and the icon went from bright to dark. The lights seemed brighter than ever.

“How many gadget bloggers does it take to turn off a light?” said the friend, smirking. “I thought this was supposed to be a smart home.”

This is where voice control (Siri, Google, Cortana) would be ideal. Always assuming it dims the lights in the correct room. This experience also points to why “smart control” isn’t necessarily what you want; smart feedback (what lights etc are on) could be more useful. Still requires installing stuff, though.


Why science is so hard to believe » The Washington Post

Joel Achenbach:

In the United States, climate change has become a litmus test that identifies you as belonging to one or the other of these two antagonistic tribes. When we argue about it, Kahan says, we’re actually arguing about who we are, what our crowd is. We’re thinking: People like us believe this. People like that do not believe this.

Science appeals to our rational brain, but our beliefs are motivated largely by emotion, and the biggest motivation is remaining tight with our peers. “We’re all in high school. We’ve never left high school,” says Marcia McNutt. “People still have a need to fit in, and that need to fit in is so strong that local values and local opinions are always trumping science. And they will continue to trump science, especially when there is no clear downside to ignoring science.”

That’s the key point: you can be an idiot, and it doesn’t have any effect. Well, apart from vaccination, and if you’re in charge of the country. (With luck, most of the commenters on the article will never be in a position where they can make any difference to anything.)