Start up: Apple on software, 1970 reporting, Microsoft leaves ICOMP?, cycling’s new doping scandal, and more

Voters at the Iowa caucus were profiled and tracked via their phones – perhaps without knowing. Photo by ellenmac11 on Flickr.

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

A selection of 13 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

(To help formatting on the email, I’ve added » and « on the blockquotes to make it clearer what is quoted, and what is my commentary.)

The Talk Show ✪: Ep. 146, with very special guests Eddy Cue and Craig Federighi » Daring Fireball

John Gruber:

»
Very special guests Eddy Cue and Craig Federighi join the show. Topics include: the new features in Apple’s upcoming OS releases (iOS 9.3 and tvOS 9.2); why Apple is expanding its public beta program for OS releases; iTunes’s monolithic design; how personally involved Eddy and Craig are in using, testing, and installing beta software; the sad decline of Duke’s men’s basketball team; and more.
«

This is, what, the second or third time I’ve recommended a podcast? This is an hour, and fascinating (with data points: iMessage peaked at 200,000 per second, there are 782m iCloud users – v 1bn devices in use, so do the maths – and 11m Apple Music subscribers, up from 10m in December).

Federighi’s point about how they tracked Bluetooth keyboard use for the Apple TV, and which calendar week it dwindled to zero, made me laugh aloud.

You can consider *why* Apple made Cue and Federighi available to Gruber, and it’s pretty obvious: they’re aiming to get their message out about Apple’s software and services quality, after all sorts of criticism lately. And that performance turns out to be pretty impressive – hundreds of millions of users who turn them on straight away that it goes live, such as iOS 9.0, iCloud Drive, and so on. Are they perfect? No. But they iterate to improvement pretty fast, given their scale.
link to this extract

 


Cycling’s mechanical-doping scandal » Business Insider

Daniel McMahon:

»
In the days that followed, the UCI said it had tested more than a hundred bikes at the world championships — and that it would be testing a lot more going forward:

»
The Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) has taken the issue of technological fraud extremely seriously for many years. It has been clear for some time that the equipment exists to enable people determined to cheat to do so by installing devices hidden in bikes. That is why we’ve invested considerable time and financial resources in organising unannounced tests at races and have recently been trialing new methods of detection. We’ve also been using intelligence gathered from the industry and other information given to us. We tested over 100 bikes at the 2016 UCI Cyclo-cross World Championships in Heusden-Zolder and will continue to test large numbers of bikes at races throughout the season.
«

And sure enough, on Friday, February 12, the UCI announced it had tested another 90 bikes for motors, but this time at a road race in France.
«

This is weird. Motors in bicycles is A Thing. A Doping Thing.
link to this extract

 


64-bit iPhones and iPads get stuck in a loop when set to January 1, 1970 » Ars Technica

Peter Bright:

»
Take a 64-bit iOS device—iPhone 5S or newer, iPad Air or newer, iPad Mini 2 or newer, sixth generation iPod touch or newer—laboriously set its date to January 1, 1970, and reboot. Congratulations: you now have a shiny piece of high-tech hardware that’s stuck at the boot screen, showing nothing more than the Apple logo… forever.
«

From the highest-rated comment on the comments below the story:

»
It appears to solve itself when the internal clock is allowed to advance normally to a point when «current time» minus time zone is greater than zero.

(This may be why people are seeing a battery drain fix it or see it fixed when inserting a SIM card that supports carrier time information)
«

Versions of Bright’s story, all written from the same YouTube video, are all over the web. More informed (and stupider) comments can be found beneath them (where they allow comments). The more informed ones point out the errors.

It’s quite the problem for journalists: news editors clamour for the story now, but it’s hard to check all the details, and especially the causes. This isn’t a “forever” bug. But you need to get the story written. That lack of time to research and check erodes trust in outlets which have been quick to follow a YouTube video. It’s not “permanent”, it’s not “bricked”, it’s not “forever”.

Though they then get a second bite of the cherry with “how to fix” articles. (Answer: let the battery run down.)
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This company tracked Iowa caucusgoers through their phones » Fusion

Kashmir Hill:

»
What really happened is that Dstillery gets information from people’s phones via ad networks. When you open an app or look at a browser page, there’s a very fast auction that happens where different advertisers bid to get to show you an ad. Their bid is based on how valuable they think you are, and to decide that, your phone sends them information about you, including, in many cases, an identifying code (that they’ve built a profile around) and your location information, down to your latitude and longitude.

Yes, for the vast majority of people, ad networks are doing far more information collection about them than the NSA–but they don’t explicitly link it to their names.

So on the night of the Iowa caucus, Dstillery flagged all the auctions that took place on phones in latitudes and longitudes near caucus locations. It wound up spotting 16,000 devices on caucus night, as those people had granted location privileges to the apps or devices that served them ads. It captured those mobile ID’s and then looked up the characteristics associated with those IDs in order to make observations about the kind of people that went to Republican caucus locations (young parents) versus Democrat caucus locations. It drilled down farther (e.g., ‘people who like NASCAR voted for Trump and Clinton’) by looking at which candidate won at a particular caucus location.
«

Deeply disturbing. You can bet that tons of those people had no idea that they were being profiled, or that their data was even being shared in that way.
link to this extract

 


Douglas Rushkoff: ‘I’m thinking it may be good to be off social media altogether’ » The Guardian

»
Ian Tucker: What do you find most objectionable about the kind of economy that technology appears to create?

Douglas Rushkoff: What’s most pernicious about it is that we are developing companies that are designed to do little more than take money out of the system – they are all extractive. There’s this universal assumption that we have to turn working currency into share price.
«

link to this extract

 


Microsoft looks to be retreating from EU antitrust fight against Google » Ars Technica

Quite a scoop from Kelly Fiveash:

»
Ars has learned that members including UK-based price comparison site Foundem—the original complainant in the antitrust case against Google—resigned from ICOMP after Microsoft backed away from what had been a dogged campaign against its search rival in Europe. ICOMP was founded in 2008 to fight for an “online competitive marketplace.”

One source told us that Microsoft had agreed to prop up ICOMP’s food, travel, and accommodation expenses without having any active involvement in the group.

In a letter from Foundem to ICOMP—seen by Ars—the company said: “In our view, an ICOMP that is prohibited from commenting on Google’s immensely damaging business practices is an ICOMP working against, rather than for, the interests of a fair, competitive online marketplace.”

Foundem added in its December 2 missive: “As a leading complainant in the European Commission’s ongoing competition investigation into Google’s search manipulation practices, Foundem cannot be a member of an organisation that has turned its back on such an important issue.”

Ars asked Microsoft to comment on this issue to confirm claims that its fight against Google on search in the EU was effectively over. It did not respond directly to that question, however. Instead we were told that Microsoft’s complaint against Google in the European Commission had not been withdrawn.
«

Fiveash has been covering the Google/Microsoft proxy battle for years since she was at The Register. But it sounds as though Satya Nadella, having gotten rid of the vicious ex-political lobbyist Mark Penn, is dialing down the quiet lobbying.
link to this extract

 


How to gain unauthorized fingerprint access to an LG V10 » AndroidAuthority

John Dye:

»
If this person isn’t running Nova Launcher, the game’s up here. This vulnerability is only known to work on this particular launcher so far, so if your quarry is operating Google Now then they are safe from your malicious intent. However, if they are running Nova Launcher, you can tap the Home button while on the main home screen, then tap the Widgets option. Add a Nova Action widget to the home screen, and then choose the activity “com.lge.fingerprintsettings.”

Pause here for a second, because this is where the vulnerability exists. Through the normal Settings menu, it’s impossible to access this particular activity before going through a security checkpoint and confirming either a fingerprint or PIN. However, since Nova is able to ignore the normal menu flow that leads to this screen, it creates a situation where a user can add their own fingerprint to the list of allowed fingerprints without ever proving that they have authorized access to the device.

The widget on the homescreen will now lead directly to fingerprint settings, and you can add your own fingerprint before deleting the widget, leaving little trace of your actions.
«

Nova Launcher presently has more than 10m downloads, so it’s possible you’d find it on a high-end phone. Commenters suggest it can be done on a Samsung Galaxy S5 and S6 too.

Sure that this will be all over news sites in a day or so of course with hundreds of comments. No?
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Researcher illegally shares millions of science papers free online to spread knowledge » ScienceAlert

»
A researcher in Russia has made more than 48 million journal articles – almost every single peer-reviewed paper every published – freely available online. And she’s now refusing to shut the site down, despite a court injunction and a lawsuit from Elsevier, one of the world’s biggest publishers.

For those of you who aren’t already using it, the site in question is Sci-Hub, and it’s sort of like a Pirate Bay of the science world. It was established in 2011 by neuroscientist Alexandra Elbakyan, who was frustrated that she couldn’t afford to access the articles needed for her research, and it’s since gone viral, with hundreds of thousands of papers being downloaded daily. But at the end of last year, the site was ordered to be taken down by a New York district court – a ruling that Elbakyan has decided to fight, triggering a debate over who really owns science.

“Payment of $32 is just insane when you need to skim or read tens or hundreds of these papers to do research. I obtained these papers by pirating them,” Elbakyan told Torrent Freak last year. “Everyone should have access to knowledge regardless of their income or affiliation. And that’s absolutely legal.”…

… She also explains that the academic publishing situation is different to the music or film industry, where pirating is ripping off creators. “All papers on their website are written by researchers, and researchers do not receive money from what Elsevier collects. That is very different from the music or movie industry, where creators receive money from each copy sold,” she said.
«

The journals’ argument is that they add value by getting papers peer-reviewed, and edited, and choosing the important ones to publish. The existence of free unpeered sites such as Arxiv hasn’t noticeably dented their business.

But it always feels wrong when publicly funded research in particular ends up behind giant paywalls. If the public pays for the research, the public should be able to see its fruits.
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Evidence suggests the Sony hackers are alive and well and still hacking » WIRED

Kim Zetter:

»
According to new data released this week by Juan Andrés Guerrero-Saade, senior security researcher with Kaspersky Lab’s Global Research and Analysis Team, and Jaime Blasco who heads the Lab Intelligence and Research team at AlienVault Labs, the hackers behind the Sony breach are alive and well…and still hacking. Or at least evidence uncovered from hacks of various entities after the Sony breach, including South Korea’s nuclear power plant operator, suggests this later activity has ties to the Sony case.

“[T]hey didn’t disappear…not at all,” Guerrero-Saade said during a presentation with Blasco this week at the Kaspersky Security Analyst Summit in Spain.

If true, it would mean the hackers who demonstrated an “extremely high” level of sophistication in the Sony attack have been dropping digital breadcrumbs for at least the last year, crumbs that researchers can now use to map their activity and see where they’ve been. The clues include—to name a few—re-used code, passwords, and obfuscation methods, as well as a hardcoded user agent list that showed up repeatedly in attacks, always with Mozilla consistently misspelled as “Mozillar.”
«

link to this extract

 


So who’s going to buy Pandora? » Music Business Worldwide

Tim Ingham:

»
the US public company has reportedly begun talking to Morgan Stanley about finding a potential buyer.

As we stand, Pandora, for all its historical global licensing issues and growing annual net losses, looks a little like a bargain.

The company has lost $7bn in market cap valuation over the past two years. It’s currently sitting at $1.9bn – less than a quarter of Spotify’s latest private valuation.

However, there are other reasons why possible acquirers may cool their jets on Pandora – not least the fact that its active listener base is dropping, down year-on-year in Q4 2015 to 81.1m.

In addition, the firm’s acquisition of Rdio’s assets means an entry into the hugely competitive space of interactive music streaming is an inevitability, while it paid a scary $450m to buy Ticketfly last year – a sister operation that contributed just $10m to the bottom line in Q4.

So who might cough up and buy Pandora if (and it’s a big if) its shareholders agree to push for a sale?
«

Suggestions: Google, Apple, IHeartMedia, Samsung. Can’t honestly see any of them wanting it, rather than just waiting for it to vanish.
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Why mobile is different » The Economist

Anonymous, as ever with The Economist:

»
the combination of personalisation, location and a willingness to pay makes all kinds of new business models possible. Tomi Ahonen, head of 3G Business Consulting at Nokia, gives the example of someone waiting at a bus stop who pulls out his Internet-capable phone to find out when the next bus will arrive. The information sent to the phone can be personalised, reflecting the fact that the user’s location is known, and perhaps his home address too; so bus routes that run from one to the other can appear at the top of the list, saving the user from having to scroll and click through lots of pages and menus. A very similar service, which allows users to find out when the next bus is due by sending a text message from a bus stop, is already available in Italy.

Would-be providers of mobile Internet services cannot simply set up their servers and wait for the money to roll in, however, because the network operators—who know who and where the users are, and control the billing system—hold all the cards. This has changed the balance of power between users, network operators and content providers. On the fixed Internet, the network access provider acts as a “dumb pipe” between the user’s PC and, say, an online bookstore or travel agent. The access provider will not know how the connection has been used, and there is no question of claiming a commission. Mobile network operators, on the other hand, are in a far more powerful position. “Wireless is a smarter pipe,” says Chris Matthiasson of BT Cellnet. This means that operators are much less likely to be disintermediated.
«

The sharp-eyed will have started in the second sentence; others, in the second paragraph. That’s because this piece is from October 2001. It took a while, but the operators are pretty thoroughly disintermediated now.
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TfL social media: adapting to Twitter’s changes » TfL Digital blog

Steven Gutierrez of Transport for London, which runs London’s buses and underground services:

»
in the last few years, Twitter has introduced various changes to the way it serves content to its users, and these have impacted upon our ability to reliably deliver these real-time status updates to our followers.

Now selected content on Twitter is shown out of sequence, we will reduce the amount of minor alerts and focus on providing up-to-the-minute alerts for major issues, as well as a renewed focus on customer service across our various accounts.

Our teams will continue to work day and night to support customers including First Contact who take care of the Tube line Twitter feeds as well as CentreComm and LSTCC who have access to everything from iBus (our system for tracking London Buses) to police helicopters monitoring London from above.
«

Wow: you think Twitter is a static thing, but these changes really do affect what happens. The point about image search shows it’s not trivial either.
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Artificial intelligence offers a better way to diagnose malaria » Technology Review

Anna Nowogrodzki:

»
For all our efforts to control malaria, diagnosing it in many parts of the world still requires counting malaria parasites under the microscope on a glass slide smeared with blood. Now an artificial intelligence program can do it more reliably than most humans.

That AI comes inside an automated microscope called the Autoscope, which is 90 percent accurate and specific at detecting malaria parasites. Charles Delahunt and colleagues at Intellectual Ventures Laboratory—the research arm of Nathan Myhrvold’s patent licensing company Intellectual Ventures in Seattle—built the system with support from Bill and Melinda Gates through the Global Good Fund. The Autoscope was tested in the field at the Shoklo Malaria Research Unit on the Thailand-Myanmar border during malaria season in December 2014 and January 2015. The results were published in December.
«

If I’m reading the results correctly, it got about 95% accuracy. (Correct me if I’m wrong.)

My own forecast is that “an [AI] algorithm for..” will be the “listen to this!” phrase of 2016, and utterly commonplace in 2017.
link to this extract

 


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: None noted.

Start up: periodic Health, iPods not guilty, Xiaomi’s reprieve, Samsung’s pay plan, Sony’s TV squeeze, and more


NOT GUILTY YOUR HONOUR. Photo by Jacob Christensen on Flickr.

A selection of 9 links for you. Do not return after lighting. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

How self-tracking apps exclude women >> The Atlantic

Rose Eveleth:

[Menstruation-tracking site] Monthly Info was really designed for Rivers, but she added a user signup system mostly because it was easy. And people signed up. A lot of people. “It kind of took off on its own from there and grew to over 100,000 users,” she said. “There was apparently a need for something like this, because it didn’t take much energy to make or grow.” Now, there are hundreds of period-tracking apps on the market. Considering the gender imbalance in tech, it’s fair to guess most of them are made by men. Rivers joked that it’s not hard to spot a fertility-tracking app designed by a man. They focus on moods (men want to know when their girlfriends are going to be grouchy) and treat getting pregnant like a level in a video game. “It feels like the product is mansplaining your own body to you,” said Rivers, who is now an engineer working on other projects. “‘We men don’t like to be blindsided by your hormonal impulses so we need to track you, like you’re a parking meter.’”

Utterly brilliant article. To my great embarrassment, I’d never noticed that Apple’s Health app doesn’t include an option to record days when you menstruate – which for 50% of the population is a really big deal, and a significant omission. (And nobody pointed it out to me, until now.)

But as Eveleth shows, it’s a problem that’s common across the whole “tracking” field. (Also: 420 comments. None of the ones I scanned worth any of your time.)


Jury finds Apple not guilty of harming consumers in iTunes DRM case >> The Verge

An eight-person jury has decided that Apple is not on the hook for what could have been more than $1bn in a trial centering on extra security measures the company added to iTunes and iPods starting in 2006.

Delivering a unanimous verdict today, the group said Apple’s iTunes 7.0, released in the fall of 2006, was a “genuine product improvement,” meaning that new features (though importantly increased security) were good for consumers. Plaintiffs in the case unsuccessfully argued that those features not only thwarted competition, but also made Apple’s products less useful since customers could not as easily use purchased music or jukebox software from other companies with the iPod.

The decision means Apple did not violate antitrust laws, something that would have potentially led to damages of more than $1bn.

Plaintiff’s (singular) attorney planning an appeal. Here’s part of what his summing up against Apple said:

I’ve been trying to think of an analogy, and I’ve been living on Snickers bars for the past couple weeks. Now if the Snickers bar was bigger, or contained more chocolate, that would be better. But if that Snickers bar had a preservative in it that was toxic — that was lethal — that would not be an improved Snickers bar.

This probably had the effect of making the jury both hungry and unsure if he was all there.


Xiaomi’s India ban partially lifted >> Tech In Asia

Last week, Chinese phone maker Xiaomi was hit with a sales ban in India. Today, that has been partially lifted by the Delhi High Court, reports The Hindu.

Today’s ruling allows Xiaomi to sell only Qualcomm-powered smartphones in India, and only until January 8, 2015. This allows Xiaomi to sell three of the four models it had launched in India – the Redmi Note 4G, the Mi3, and the Redmi 1S. The MediaTek-powered Redmi Note remains fully banned.

This is a temporary reprieve for Xiaomi – its intellectual property battle in India is far from over. We’ve contacted Xiaomi to ask when its online sales will recommence (Update: No comment for now).


Google faces €15m fines over privacy breaches in Netherlands >> The Guardian

Chris Johnston:

The search company is failing to abide by the data protection act in the Netherlands by taking users’ private information such as browsing history and location data to target them with customised ads, according to the country’s Data Protection Authority (DPA).

The Dutch regulator has given Google until the end of February to change how it handles the data it collects from individual web users.

Google has also been under investigation in Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Spain for its handling of user data since introducing new company guidelines two years ago.

Jacob Kohnstamm, DPA chairman, said: “This has been ongoing since 2012 and we hope our patience will no longer be tested.”

Holland isn’t alone – other European countries are looking to fine Google over this. The amounts, though, are piddling compared to its profits.


Samsung in talks with LoopPay for wireless phone payments >> Re/code

Jason Del Rey:

Samsung has discussed a deal with a payments startup that would help the smartphone maker unveil a wireless mobile payments system in 2015 to rival Apple, according to multiple sources.

The technology would allow people with certain Samsung phones to pay in the vast majority of brick-and-mortar stores by waving their phones instead of swiping with a credit card or cash.

It is not yet clear if Samsung has reached a deal with the startup, Burlington, Mass.-based LoopPay. One source said the deal could still fall apart. A prototype of the payments system working on a Samsung phone has been created, the other source said…

…LoopPay’s technology can wirelessly transmit the same information stored on a debit or credit card’s magnetic stripe to a store’s checkout equipment without swiping a card.

1) It’s a copy of the credit/debit card details, so not as secure as Apple Pay (which sends a one-time encrypted version, aka “tokenisation”). LoopPay “hopes” to use tokenisation.

2) How long before Google shows up at Samsung’s door and tells it to quit harshing on Google Wallet’s mellow?


When does your OS run? >> Gustavo Duarte

Here’s a question: in the time it takes you to read this sentence, has your OS been running? Or was it only your browser? Or were they perhaps both idle, just waiting for you to do something already?

These questions are simple but they cut through the essence of how software works. To answer them accurately we need a good mental model of OS behavior, which in turn informs performance, security, and troubleshooting decisions. We’ll build such a model in this post series using Linux as the primary OS, with guest appearances by OS X and Windows. I’ll link to the Linux kernel sources for those who want to delve deeper.

The fundamental axiom here is that at any given moment, exactly one task is active on a CPU.

A good introduction for just what your computer is up to when you aren’t looking. Or are looking. Educational value: high.


Russia – heading for recession, mobile market will contract >> Counterpoint Technology Market Research

Peter Richardson:

The Russian mobile device market has held up surprisingly well in 2014. However device manufacturers, who have been swallowing price rises to a substantial degree so far, cannot hold out much longer. OEM’s supply chains are dollar denominated. We fully expect handset OEMs will start passing on the higher Ruble prices to their channels and likely to the end consumer. A device with an ex-factory price of $100 this time last year would have translated to 3300 Rubles. Today (16th December 2014), the same device costs over 7100 Rubles. Given how tight margins are, no OEM can swallow that rate of change.

Most consumers will tend, on average, to pay approximately the same amount when they change their mobile phone. Given the rapid advance in technology this means that someone upgrading after two years will be able to buy a substantially better product than the one they have been using. Displays, processors, memory size, camera sensors and other parts of the phones improve at greater or lesser speeds, but all do improve.

However for the Russian consumer in 2015, this will no longer hold true.

He forecasts a total market of about 40-44m devices in 2015, down from 51m or so in 2014. “Super-premium” products won’t be affected as much – the rich tend to stay rich (or are non-ruble-denominated, so they actually get richer).


Comments aren’t dead. They’re just broken. — Medium

Mat Yurow (of the New York Times’s audience development team):

Currently, comment threads do a lousy job of surfacing the best content — paving the way for vitriol to rise to the top. Again, much of this can be attributed to design.

As previously stated, comments about an article are typically aggregated in a single module at the bottom of the page. But what exactly is someone supposed to comment on at the bottom of the article? A specific passage, the article as a whole, the weather? Without any sort of direction, it’s easy to image how things can spiral out of control.

Conversation requires context. Context provides the connectivity and relevance that users have come to expect on the internet. In an era of algorithms, we are conditioned to expect a personalized and finely-curated experience across the web.

Medium’s method of putting “comments” out of sight beside the actual article is better, but still doesn’t answer the argument – which also arises – of how, exactly, comments are meant to feed into the story above/beside. Is the story meant to change because of the comments? What’s their purpose, other than to show that people have fingers and keyboards?


Sony’s TV business mends, but will it be enough? – WSJ

Eric Pfranner and Takashi Mochizuki:

In the third quarter of this year, Sony had an 8% share of TV revenue world-wide, well behind Samsung Electronics Co. at 27% and LG Electronics Inc., another South Korean manufacturer, at 15%, according to research firm DisplaySearch. Sony predicts sales in its home entertainment and sound segment, which includes TVs as well as hi-fi systems, DVD players and other audiovisual devices, will shrink to around ¥1.1trn ($9.2bn) in its fiscal year ending in March 2018. For the current year, the company is expecting segment sales to rise slightly to ¥1.2trn.

The TV unit will post a slim operating profit for this year, with the margin rising to between 2% and 4% by fiscal 2018, Sony forecasts.

Some analysts say that short of a 5% margin, it makes little sense for Sony to keep making TVs, and the company should focus instead on its more promising operations, including PlayStation videogames, smartphone camera sensors, movies and television programming.

The TV set business is so cut-throat that it’s incredible. Sony’s business, meanwhile, is suffering death by a thousand cuts: first the PC, then the TV, until it has just the Playstation, components and Sony Pictures Entertainment to bolster it. And the latter isn’t having a great time lately.