Start up: FTC rebuts critics, Mars One or Capricorn One?, failures of tech criticism, how open is ResearchKit?, and more

Flooded view in Oxford. Photo by the.approximate.photographer on Flickr.

A selection of 9 links for you. None includes Jeremy Clarkson or One Direction. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Statement of Chairwoman Edith Ramirez, and Commissioners Julie Brill and Maureen K. Ohlhausen regarding the Google Investigation » Federal Trade Commission

The Federal Trade Commission conducted an exhaustive investigation of Google’s internet search practices during 2011 and 2012. Based on a comprehensive review of the voluminous record and extensive internal analysis, of which the inadvertently disclosed memo is only a fraction, all five Commissioners (three Democrats and two Republicans) agreed that there was no legal basis for action with respect to the main focus of the investigation – search. As we stated when the investigation was closed, the Commission concluded that Google’s search practices were not, “on balance, demonstrably anticompetitive.”

Contrary to recent press reports, the Commission’s decision on the search allegations was in accord with the recommendations of the FTC’s Bureau of Competition, Bureau of Economics, and Office of General Counsel.

Some of the FTC’s staff attorneys on the search investigation raised concerns about several other Google practices. In response, the Commission obtained commitments from Google regarding certain of those practices.  Over the last two years, Google has abided by those commitments.

I’d just like the full report published. Or reports – there seem to have been one from the competition bureau and one from the economic bureau.

Winter testing of the Oxford Flood Network » Nominet R&D blog

Bryan, who helped build it:

It’s been an extremely useful period for us all and in particular we’ve learnt a great deal about deploying devices in real conditions.

There are the hardware considerations: dull but important issues such as fixings become all important; how exactly do you fix a sensor to a disused 60cm cast iron pipe? (see photo below for the answer)

There are the radio considerations: how do you realistically achieve a 250m connection across wooded areas?

There are system deployment considerations: how do you remotely reboot a Raspberry PI gateway that is held securely in someone else’s property?

And there are some basic user interface considerations: how big do the buttons on a mobile app need to be when your fingers have gone numb from standing in a wet muddy field in December? 

The key thing to remember about the Internet of Things is that it is where the physical world meets the digital world. The physical world is complex and messy. A warm, protected office (where applications are inevitably built) can hide that messy world.

I find this enormously encouraging. Flood level and river data is the one key public dataset that the Environment Agency still won’t make publicly available for free commercial reuse; it’s been a sticking point for the Free Our Data campaign (nine years old this month, but pretty much sorted since 2010). Let’s get it sorted.

Mars One finalist speaks out, says Dutch non-profit likely scamming its rubes » Ars Technica

Megan Geuss:

there was an insidious side to the dream that Mars One put forward. So much of it didn’t add up. The $6 billion budget seemed ridiculously low, and the company was light enough on details and partnerships to suggest that something was either very secret or very suspect.

[Joseph] Roche [a professor at Dublin’s Trinity School of Education, with a PhD in physics and astrophysics, and a Mars One finalist] now seems to think it’s the latter, saying that not once did he ever meet with someone from Mars One in person, despite the fact that he was selected to be one of the “Mars One Hundred”—the lucky 100 people who advanced to the next level in the competition over spaceship seats.

The professor told Keep that ranking within Mars One is points-based; when you are selected to advance through the application process, you join the “Mars One Community,” and you are given points as you move through each next level. The points are arbitrary and have nothing to do with ranking, but “the only way to get more points is to buy merchandise from Mars One or to donate money to them,” Roche told Keep. So, in essence, people are likely paying their way to a final round.

Even so, that’s not going to raise $6bn, unless they’ve got Bill Gates aboard. (Have they?)

BlackBerry is about to hit bottom » Quartz

Dan Frommer:

BlackBerry’s turnaround strategy—focusing on software as its smartphone business has declined—has not been pretty. But the worst may be here.

When BlackBerry reports its fourth-quarter results on Mar. 26, it could post its lowest revenue number in nine years. That’s the warning from RBC analyst Mark Sue in a research note this week.

Sue predicts that BlackBerry’s fourth-quarter sales could drop to $661m, down 32% year-over-year and well below the Wall Street consensus of around $800m. BlackBerry hasn’t reported revenue that low since 2006, just as the smartphone industry was set to explode.

But after you hit bottom, you rise. At least that’s what RBC is forecasting, along with 1.3m phones shipped and perhaps a little profit in the future. (BlackBerry’s results are on Friday.)

The Taming of Tech Criticism » The Baffler

Evgeny Morozov reviews Nick Carr’s new book “The Glass Cage”, and makes many insightful points about how much technology criticism (including, he argues, Carr’s) can’t see the wood for the trees:

Take our supposed overreliance on apps, the favorite subject of many contemporary critics, Carr included. How, the critics ask, could we be so blind to the deeply alienating effects of modern technology? Their tentative answer—that we are simply lazy suckers for technologically mediated convenience—reveals many of them to be insufferable, pompous moralizers. The more plausible thesis—that the growing demands on our time probably have something to do with the uptake of apps and the substitution of the real (say, parenting) with the virtual (say, the many apps that allow us to monitor kids remotely)—is not even broached. For to speak of our shrinking free time would also mean speaking of capital and labor, and this would take the technology critic too far away from “technology proper.”

It’s the existence of this “technology proper” that most technology critics take for granted. In fact, the very edifice of contemporary technology criticism rests on the critic’s reluctance to acknowledge that every gadget or app is simply the end point of a much broader matrix of social, cultural, and economic relations. And while it’s true that our attitudes toward these gadgets and apps are profoundly shaped by our technophobia or technophilia, why should we focus on only the end points and the behaviors that they stimulate? Here is one reason: whatever attack emerges from such framing of the problem is bound to be toothless—which explains why it is also so attractive to many.

I think Morozov has by far the better perspective on this than Carr, because he isn’t grounded in an American social view.

ResearchKit and open source » Rusty Rants

Russell Ivanovic looks more closely and queries where the “open source” bit is:

ResearchKit, just like most other iOS frameworks, is a set of tools for building an iOS app that simplifies some of the things you’d need to do to collect patient data. The intention of open sourcing this part of it seems to be to encourage developers to build modules for it which would all be iOS only as well. Apple states as much in their technical document:

…developers are encouraged to build new modules and share them with the community

So, currently at least, there’s no open source server components, no open format for exchanging data and an iOS only open source framework that Apple want developers to build modules for. Don’t get me wrong, this still sounds like a huge step forward for medical research data collection. What it doesn’t sound like though is Apple’s altruistic gift to the world from which they receive no benefits.

China market buoying iPhone shipments » Digitimes

Cage Chao and Jessie Shen:

In China, sales of Apple’s iPhone 6 reached 15-20m units in the fourth quarter of 2014, the sources noted. China-sales of the 6-series are set to remain at similar levels in the first quarter of 2015, the sources said.

Judging from current order visibility, the sources estimated that 45-50m iPhone 6 devices would be shipped worldwide in the second quarter of 2015 with China contributing one-third of total shipments…

…While sales of Apple’s iPhone 6 series have been strong since launch, sales of Android-based smartphones have not picked up, according to industry sources. Except Samsung Electronics, which has started to enjoy growth in sales of its recently-announced Galaxy S6, other Android phone makers have seen their sales thus far in 2015 lower than a year earlier, the sources indicated.

Sources at Taiwan-based IC design houses have revealed that orders placed by their Android device customers have been weaker than expected which may affect their sales performance in the first quarter. The IC design houses said they are also cautious about orders placed by Android phone makers for the second quarter.

The iPhone figures feel like lowballing – Apple will probably pass 50m units for the quarter. It’s the part about Android phones that is intriguing. Is it just the Taiwan IC houses feeling the pinch?

What happened, and what’s going on » AllCrypt Blog

Read this, and feel the hairs stand up on the back of your neck:

We are not sure if AllCrypt was targeted, or if it was a “fortunate” thing for the hacker. Our hypothesis is this: The user’s email account was breached, and in looking through the emails, saw that he had some admin rights for In that account were emails from myself and our MD. After playing on AllCrypt for some time, the hacker tries to do a WordPress password reset for all of the allcrypt related emails he sees. My personal email was not the email for the main admin blog account, and either was the user who’s email was breached. Our MD, however, did use his personal email. A password reset was issued, and sent to the MD.

The massive screwup that led to the loss of funds is when the MD forwarded that email to myself and the tech team member. He forwarded the password reset link. To the breached email account.

The hacker reset the MD’s password, and had administrative access to the blog. Access which allows uploading of new files/plugins for WordPress.

The hacker first uploaded a file, class.php. After we examined it, we discovered that it grants web-based command line access to any files the web user has access to. Namely, the entire http tree. Quick looks through the web source files is all it takes to see the hostnames, login names, and passwords for the database. The database credentials WERE protected in a ‘hidden’ file in a non-www accessible directory, however, anyone smart enough to read code can find the include lines that point to that file. The www user must have read access to that file, so the class.php the hacker uploaded also had read access.

Then, using WordPress, he uploaded adminer.php – a web based database management tool similar to PHPMyAdmin. It was a simple task to then query the database.

The hacker created a new user account on AllCrypt, used adminer.php to UPDATE userbalances SET balance=50 WHERE userid=whatever AND symbol=BTC to set his balances to whatever he wanted. Then he began to issue withdrawals. Lots of them.

You hosted WordPress and your bitcoin exchange on the same server. Also includes “Angry questions and contrite answers” section.

Samsung beaten by local smartphone brand in the Philippines » Tech In Asia

Judith Balea:

Philippine budget phone maker Cherry Mobile beat South Korean giant Samsung as the leading smartphone brand in the Philippines in 2014, IDC said today. It was the second straight year that Cherry has whipped Samsung in the nation.

According to the research firm, Cherry cornered 21.9% of the Philippine market in terms of volume of smartphones shipped in 2014, overtaking Samsung, whose share declined further to 13.3%.

Cherry has held the spot as the number one smartphone vendor in the Philippines since 2013. That year, it captured 24.3% of the market, and Samsung held 19.9%, based on data provided by IDC to Tech in Asia.

However, the smartphone market expanded by 76% yoy (from 7.2m to 12.6m), so Samsung’s shipments actually increased by 17.6% (from 1.42m to 1.68m). Big headline, but pretty much a rounding error for Samsung.

Start up: Google checks apps, Nintendo’s app strategy?, Galaxy S6 review, why 4Chan is for sale, and more

Google will check your app now. Photo by nateOne on Flickr.

A selection of 8 links for you. Contains nuts. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Gacha: explaining Japan’s top money-making social game mechanism » Kantan Games

Serkan Toto outlines a tactic that just might be the one Nintendo uses when it releases its mobile games:

Pricing varies depending on the title: some games charge 100 Yen [about $1] per turn, others 300 yen. The more expensive gacha contain particularly rare cards, but the element of luck is always there.

A lot of makers offer playing gacha once per day for free in order to a) get users “addicted” and b) to boost retention/the number of log-ins. Makers also offer discounts (for example during a special sales campaign), or limited-edition items (for example during seasonal events like Christmas or Halloween).

And gacha work well – extremely well: from some makers, I am hearing that up to 50% of their overall sales come from these machines. People just can’t stop paying money (in the form of paid virtual coins or tokens) to be able to go for another round.

Google X boss says company should have curbed Glass hype » Yahoo Finance

Alexei Oreskovic:

The Internet company did not do enough to make clear that the $1,500 computer that mounts to a pair of eyeglasses was merely a prototype and not a finished product, Google’s Astro Teller said during a talk at the South by Southwest Interactive conference in Austin.

“We allowed and sometimes even encouraged too much attention for the programme,” said Teller, whose official title at Google is Captain of Moonshots, during a talk that focused on how his group has learned from some of its failures.

Uh-huh. And now recall this, from February 2013 (in Nick Bilton’s story that was probably the first to source Apple working on the Watch):

While Apple continues its experiments with wearables, its biggest competitor, Google, is pressing ahead with plans to make wearable computers mainstream.

According to a Google executive who spoke on the condition that he not be named, the company hopes its wearable glasses, with a display that sits above the eye, will account for 3% of revenue by 2015.

Oh, Nick. Name that executive. Go on go on go on.

The inside story of how Apple’s new medical research platform was born » Fusion

Kashmir Hill has the exclusive:

A few months earlier, Apple had poached [Michael] O’Reilly from Masimo, a Bay Area-based sensor company that developed portable iPhone-compatible health trackers. Now, [as the new VP for medical technologies at Apple] he was interested in building something else, something that had the potential to implement Friend’s vision of a patient-centered, medical research utopia and radically change the way clinical studies were done.

After[Dr Stephen] Friend’s talk, O’Reilly approached the doctor, and, in typical tight-lipped Apple fashion, said: “I can’t tell you where I work, and I can’t tell you what I do, but I need to talk to you,” Friend recalls. Friend was intrigued, and agreed to meet for coffee.

Gotta love that introduction. It’s either the CIA or Apple, basically.

Samsung Galaxy S6 review: in depth » Recombu

Chris Barraclough got his hands on one. I found this section surprising:

The Galaxy S6 rocks Samsung’s own Exynos chipset, an octa-core processor comprised of two quad-core chips running at 1.5GHz and 2.1GHz. For everyday use, this provides solid all-round performance. I saw only the occasional tiny judder when multitasking with apps, while the latest games ran perfectly and HD movies streamed without stutter. The phone also admirably handles some intense camera use, including 4k and Full HD 60fps video recording.

The Galaxy S6 (and the Edge) does get a little toasty at times, if you’re doing a lot of downloading or shooting video. However, it never reaches alarming or uncomfortable levels and I never saw any adverse effects like the phone shutting down or spurting errors.

Battery life is actually pretty good too, considering that bright, super-crisp power-sucking screen. If you mess around shooting high-def video and generally thrashing the Galaxy S6, it won’t last anywhere near a full day. However, if you’re more conservative and limit yourself to occasional web browsing, email checks and piddling around with apps, you should easily make it to bed before the S6 dies.

Occasional judder? Toasty?


The camera interface is a little cluttered, especially after slick, clean efforts like the LG G3’s, but anyone who likes fiddling with manual controls will enjoy.

When will UX designers learn that people don’t want to mess around with manual controls? Though the camera seems pretty good. However, there’s no comparison with any other phone here, apart from via benchmarking. That’s a poor service to readers.

How Bluebox fell for a counterfeit Xiaomi Mi 4 to claim it came with pre-installed malware » BGR India

Rajat Agrawal:

Over the past few days, a little known but well funded mobile security firm, Bluebox, published a report claiming Xiaomi was pre-installing malware on its Mi 4 smartphone. The report also claimed that Xiaomi was shipping the Mi 4 with a rooted ROM and came pre-installed with tampered versions of popular benchmarking apps. It also claimed that Xiaomi’s own identifier app showed that the phone was a legitimate Xiaomi product, raising questions on the security of products made by one of the fastest rising smartphone brand in South East Asia. However, as it turns out, the smartphone Bluebox had acquired through an unofficial source in China was nothing more than a sophisticated counterfeit. But how did a startup, with $27.5 million in funding from Andreessen Horowitz, Tenaya Capital, and Andreas Bechtolsheim fall for a counterfeit product?

Because it was fake, and they didn’t twig it.

Creating better user experiences on Google Play » Android Developers Blog

Eunice Kim, product manager for Google Play:

Several months ago, we began reviewing apps before they are published on Google Play to better protect the community and improve the app catalog. This new process involves a team of experts who are responsible for identifying violations of our developer policies earlier in the app lifecycle. We value the rapid innovation and iteration that is unique to Google Play, and will continue to help developers get their products to market within a matter of hours after submission, rather than days or weeks. In fact, there has been no noticeable change for developers during the rollout.

To assist in this effort and provide more transparency to developers, we’ve also rolled out improvements to the way we handle publishing status. Developers now have more insight into why apps are rejected or suspended, and they can easily fix and resubmit their apps for minor policy violations.

Let’s be clear: this is a good move which can only benefit users. It’s only going to be uncomfortable for those who insisted that Google Play is somehow superior to Apple’s App Store because it didn’t have any checking.

This is largely being automated; Google admits to TechCrunch that its system may not be “as robust” as “rivals”. Assume 100 new apps per day, and it probably takes, what, 20 people working flat out? You could easily triple or quadruple that without Google noticing the cost. And follow the discussion on Android Developers on G+. Plus Russell Ivanovic is not enamoured: “file under things I never thought I’d see in my lifetime”.

Considering all of which, why does it take Apple so long to approve an app?

4chan’s overlord Christopher Poole reveals why he walked away » Rolling Stone

David Kushner on Chris Poole’s decision to put the site up for sale:

last year, he undertook what he calls “the summer of Chris.” He went to Europe and Asia, reread The Little Prince, and took classes in cooking and ballroom dancing. He began to unplug — leaving behind his laptop and weaning himself off social media. “Why am I so concerned about what’s going on back in New York?” he thought at one point while in a cafe overseas. “It’s taking me out of this really great moment, this new experience.”

But the good times didn’t last. On the evening of August 31st, Poole was thumbing through his phone in bed when a CNN report caught his eye. Hackers leaked nude photos of dozens of celebrities, including Kate Upton and Jennifer Lawrence. One of the main hubs for the pictures was 4chan. Poole complied with takedown notices from Hollywood lawyers, which 4channers expected. But then he went further. In the wake of the leaks, he decided to post the Digital Millennium Copyright Act policy on his site for the first time — something he’d never gotten around to doing before. Some 4channers cried sellout. “Is this the end of everything?” one posted.

The same week news of the Fappening broke, so did Gamergate.

Gamergate turned out to be the final straw. Now 4chan is up for sale. Question is, who would want it?

How will Apple Watch teach people to love watches? » aBlogtoWatch

Ariel Adams points out that Apple has put a lot more, well, love into its watches than Android Wear rivals:

While the Samsung Gear models have some traditional looking watch dials, they clearly didn’t put the effort or apply the same type of understanding to the watch world as Apple did in their hardware. With that said, is passion and a love of watches by some key Apple employees why the Apple Watch is so much like a traditional watch? I think there are more practical reasons than that, and here is where Apple confuses so many of the journalists who traditionally cover the brand. Things people wear are part of fashion, a category that tech writers tend to not cover too much. Fashion is what gets people to wear something, and technology is what gets people to use something.

Start up: Intel stutters, Google goes retail, why Apple Watch?, what people really want in news apps, and more

The view for too many small businesses, in Intel’s opinion. Photo by Ella’s Dad on Flickr.

A selection of 7 links for you. To read. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Why is Apple making a gold watch? » Benedict Evans

Apple stores are huge rich-media billboards on every major shopping street in the developed world: I can’t think of any other company that has shops as big as that in such premium locations in as many places. Apple retail is a self-funding marketing operation. So too, perhaps, is the gold watch. Apple might only sell a few tens of thousands, but what impression does it create around the $1,000 watch, or the $350 watch? After all, the luxury goods market is full of companies whose most visible products are extremely expensive, but whose revenue really comes from makeup, perfume and accessories. You sell the $50k (or more) couture dress (which may be worn once), but you also sell a lot of lipsticks with the brand halo (and if you think Apple’s margins are high, have a look at the gross margins on perfume). 

Meanwhile, though other companies are already making metal smart watches, I struggle to imagine Samsung making solid gold watches. Apple’s brand might or might not work there, but no other CE company’s does. That is, if this is marketing, and if it works, it’s marketing that no-one else can do. 

On another tack, perhaps the biggest message that this sends is that the Apple watch is not a technology product. It’s a post-‘feeds and speeds’ product. Today we have prices and release dates for the watch but no tech specs at all – because they’re irrelevant to the user experience.

Perfume margins are amazing. And yes, consider how sales of a Samsung gold smartwatch would go.

An incredibly shrinking Firefox faces endangered species status » Computerworld

Gregg Keizer:

Mozilla’s Firefox is in danger of making the endangered species list for browsers.

Just two weeks after Mozilla’s top Firefox executive said that rumors of its demise were “dead wrong,” the iconic browser dropped another three-tenths of a percentage point in analytics firm Net Applications’ tracking, ending February with 11.6%.

That was Firefox’s lowest share since July 2006, when the browser had been in the market for less than two years…

…In the last 12 months, Firefox’s user share – an estimate of the portion of all those who reach the Internet via a desktop browser – has plummeted by 34%. Since Firefox crested at 25.1% in April 2010, Firefox has lost 13.5 percentage points, or 54% of its peak share.

“Hello? It’s Marissa. Now, about that refund clause..”

Intel lowers first-quarter revenue outlook » Intel Newsroom

Intel Corporation today announced that first-quarter revenue is expected to be below the company’s previous outlook. The company now expects first-quarter revenue to be $12.8bn, plus or minus $300m, compared to the previous expectation of $13.7bn, plus or minus $500m.
The change in revenue outlook is a result of weaker than expected demand for business desktop PCs and lower than expected inventory levels across the PC supply chain. The company believes the changes to demand and inventory patterns are caused by lower than expected Windows XP refresh in small and medium business and increasingly challenging macroeconomic and currency conditions, particularly in Europe.

The XP refresh is/was still going on? Amazing. (During the same period last year, Intel’s revenue was $12.7bn. So it might be very close to zero growth.)

What do people want from a news experience? » Tales of a Developer Advocate

Paul Kinlan was building a news app:

I posited that users want (in order of priority):

• Notifications of important news as it happens
• An icon on the launcher so it can be loaded like an app
• News available to them offline (i.e, when they are in the tube)
• A fast site

My own intuition of an industry I am not too heavily involved in probably can’t be trusted as much as I think it can, so I sent out a terribly worded tweet.

What happened next will inform and entertain you. (No really, it will.) It did him.

Thousands have already signed up for Apple’s ResearchKit » Bloomberg Business

Michelle Fay Cortez and Caroline Chen:

Stanford University researchers were stunned when they awoke Tuesday to find that 11,000 people had signed up for a cardiovascular study using Apple Inc.’s ResearchKit, less than 24 hours after the iPhone tool was introduced.

“To get 10,000 people enrolled in a medical study normally, it would take a year and 50 medical centers around the country,” said Alan Yeung, medical director of Stanford Cardiovascular Health. “That’s the power of the phone.”

That’s people who would have had to download the update and opt in. Some fret about the quality of data (biased selection) but:

The data may not be perfect, but many concerns about ResearchKit – such as whether the patient sample is representative – are issues with traditional clinical trials as well, said Todd Sherer, CEO of the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research, which has collaborated with nonprofit group Sage Bionetworks on one of the apps.

Forking hell! Baidu gives up on its Android-based OS » Tech In Asia

Steven Millward:

No news means bad news when it comes to tech companies. If they’ve nothing to boast about, the ensuing silence looks suspicious. That’s been the case with Baidu’s version of Android (pictured above), which launched in late 2011.

Despite a high-profile and promising start as Dell made use of Baidu’s Android-based Yun OS for a new China-only phone, the Chinese search giant’s OS thereafter didn’t show any signs of finding favor with the nation’s smartphone shoppers. Yesterday, Baidu confirmed in its Yun OS forums that the Android skin will not get any more updates. The project is now suspended.

Had its own product suite, but missed the boat for this. However, has 500m monthly active users for its mobile search and 200m MAUs for its maps product. Might struggle by.

Google opens its first Google-branded store-in-a-store, in London » WSJ

Saabira Chaudhuri:

Google has opened in London its first Google-branded store-in-a-store selling space.

Housed within Dixons Carphone DC.LN -0.41%’s Currys PC World store on Tottenham Court Road, the Google Shop will give Google the opportunity to show off its range of Android phones and tablets, Chromebook laptops and Chromecasts.

“The pace of innovation of the devices we all use is incredible, yet the way we buy them has remained the same for years. With the Google Shop, we want to offer people a place where they can play, experiment and learn about all of what Google has to offer,” said James Elias, the U.K. marketing director for Google.

In some ways, the Google Shop is more of a branding exercise than an approximation of a standalone store. All sales from the store go to Dixons Carphone.

So it’s to sell.. Chromebooks? Chromecast? And – Google needs branding? Seriously?