Start up: infected airplanes, Samsung gets VR-y, the real counterfeiters, Youtube’s unstoppable ads, and more


Facial recognition is being used for unsavoury purposes in Russia. (This is an example from Iran, at SXSW.) Photo by TheSeafarer 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 9 links for you. Suits you. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Europe’s web privacy rules: bad for Google, bad for everyone » NYTimes.com

Daphne Keller and Bruce Brown on the “right to be forgotten” [more correctly, “delisted from search”] laws in Europe, which now applies to google.com accessed inside Europe:

»News outlets should have particular cause for alarm about geo-blocking. Journalists rely on global networks to investigate and report on international stories, like the recent Panama Papers revelations. They themselves are often the first targets when governments seek to control the flow of information to their citizens. Protection exists in European Union privacy law for journalistic activities, so the news media is not directly in the cross hairs of the “right to be forgotten.” But American news organizations have faced libel actions in hostile foreign courts — and when plaintiffs start asking for geo-blocking in those cases, journalists will be on the front lines.

Privacy is a real issue, and shouldn’t be ignored in the Internet age. But applying those national laws to the Internet needs to be handled with more nuance and concern. These developments should not be driven only by privacy regulators. State departments, trade and justice ministries and telecom regulators in France and other European countries should be demanding a place at the table. So should free-expression advocates.

One day, international agreements may sort this all out. But we shouldn’t Balkanize the Internet in the meantime. Once we’ve erected barriers online, we might not be able to tear them down.

«

There’s a wonderful unspoken cultural imperialism about this approach: whatever the prevailing thought in the US is about [topic], well, that should be the approach to [topic] everywhere. Applying US laws to the internet is just as misguided as applying any other national laws. The Panama Papers is a complete red herring in this context.

You might wonder if Keller and Brown are unaware of their imperial approach. Keller, as it happens, used to be a lawyer at Google.
link to this extract


Uh-oh, Apple — Samsung has a bona fide ecosystem around virtual reality » Re/code

Ina Fried:

»For a long time, Samsung’s phones have gone head to head with the iPhone, but when it came to having an ecosystem of different devices, Apple was the hands-down winner.

Sure, Samsung had its own tablets and watches, but it was Apple that was able to build loyalty, convincing customers to make purchase after purchase.

With virtual reality, though, Samsung is off to the early lead. Alongside Sunday’s debut of the Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge at the Mobile World Congress 2016 in Barcelona, the company is announcing the Gear 360 — a consumer camera for capturing virtual-reality content. That completes the VR circle, with its Gear VR headset, already the most accessible way to consumer virtual-reality content outside of Google’s ultra-cheap cardboard viewer, which is more for getting a taste of VR than long-term consumption.

The Gear 360 isn’t due out until the second quarter — and Samsung won’t say how much the orb will cost — but it looks small, simple and powerful, at least at first glance.

«

VR is coming.
link to this extract


German nuclear plant infected with computer viruses, operator says » Reuters

Christoph Steitz and Eric Auchard:

»Mikko Hypponen, chief research officer for Finland-based F-Secure, said that infections of critical infrastructure were surprisingly common, but that they were generally not dangerous unless the plant had been targeted specifically.

The most common viruses spread without much awareness of where they are, he said.

As an example, Hypponen said he had recently spoken to a European aircraft maker that said it cleans the cockpits of its planes every week of malware designed for Android phones. The malware spread to the planes only because factory employees were charging their phones with the USB port in the cockpit.

Because the plane runs a different operating system, nothing would befall it. But it would pass the virus on to other devices that plugged into the charger.

«

Absolutely gobsmacking.
link to this extract


This city embedded traffic lights in the sidewalks so that smartphone users don’t have to look up » The Washington Post

Rick Noack:

»Few nations in the world take red traffic lights more seriously than Germany.

Foreign visitors frequently wonder why crowds of Germans wait for traffic lights to turn green when there are no cars in sight.

That is why officials in the city of Augsburg became concerned when they noticed a new phenomenon: Pedestrians were so busy looking at their smartphones that they were ignoring traffic lights.

The city has attempted to solve that problem by installing new traffic lights embedded in the pavement — so that pedestrians constantly looking down at their phones won’t miss them.

«

(The headline pretty much covers the whole of the story, but there you go.) Cities being redesigned for our devices.
link to this extract


Fantastic fakes: busting a $70m counterfeiting ring » Bloomberg BusinessWeek

Del Quentin Wilber:

»By the time Gaab began his investigation in 2012, the Secret Service had linked at least 10 different versions to the same family of fake $50s and $100s. The margins were impressive. The agency estimated that the counterfeiter sold his initial run to his U.S. distributors for 10 percent of their face value. The distributors then dealt their haul to middlemen for 25¢ to 35¢ on the dollar. By the time they reached the person passing the bills at Walmart or Target, a bogus $100 note was being sold for as much as $65.

«

Another great read from Bloomberg’s team. Bloomberg BW is a print magazine.
link to this extract


Facial recognition service becomes a weapon against Russian porn actresses » Global Voices Advocacy

Kevin Rothrock:

»From the start, FindFace has raised privacy concerns. (Even in his glowing recommendation, [software engineer Andrei] Mima addressed fears that the service further erodes people’s freedoms in the age of the Internet.) In early April, a young artist named Egor Tsvetkov highlighted how invasive the technology can be, photographing random passengers on the St. Petersburg subway and matching the pictures to the individuals’ Vkontakte pages, using FindFace. “In theory,” Tsvetkov told RuNet Echo, this service could be used by a serial killer or a collector trying to hunt down a debtor.”

Hoping to raise concerns about the potential misuses of FindFace, Tsvetkov seems to have inspired a particularly nasty effort to identify and harass Russian women who appear in pornography. On April 9, three days after the media reported on Tsvetkov’s art project, users of the Russian imageboard “Dvach” (2chan) launched a campaign to deanonymize actresses who appear in pornography. After identifying these women with FindFace, Dvach users shared archived copies of their Vkontakte pages, and spammed the women’s families and friends with messages informing them about the discovery.

«

Oh, Russia. But this is how facial recognition systems will be used; this genie just announced its out-of-bottleness.
link to this extract


New ad format will bring unskippable 6-second ads to YouTube » AndroidAuthority

John Dye:

»Nobody likes ads, but they’re kind of the cost of doing business in a world where we’ve grown accustomed to getting our content for free. Although YouTube has long had ads before videos, Google is pushing out a new ad format called “Bumpers,” which are unskippable 6-second shorts placed in front of videos.

In the Adwords blogpost that announced the format, Product Manager Zach Lupei compares these Bumper ads to video haikus. Current ads placed before videos are often full-length ads that can be skipped after a few seconds. However, these ads have a hard cap of six seconds, making them more like Vine videos than traditional ads. Marketers will have to get pretty clever to squeeze meaningful, worthwhile content into that narrow window of time, so we might actually be getting some creative and hilarious little shorts out of this.

«

“Creative and hilarious”. And unskippable. (Also, I abhor the “hey, I just happened to be passing a keyboard and I kinda wrote this blogpost of no consequence except it fills our ad quota” style of writing.)
link to this extract


Worldwide smartphone growth goes flat in the first quarter as Chinese vendors churn the top 5 vendor list » IDC

»Vendors shipped a total of 334.9m smartphones worldwide in the first quarter of 2016 (1Q16), up slightly from the 334.3m units in 1Q15, marking the smallest year-over-year growth on record. The minimal growth this quarter is primarily attributed to strong smartphone saturation in developed markets, as well as a year-over-year decline from both Apple and Samsung, the two market leaders.

The biggest change to the market, however, was the addition of lesser-known Chinese brands OPPO and vivo, which pushed out previous fourth and fifth place players Lenovo and Xiaomi, respectively. As the China market matures, the appetite for smartphones has slowed dramatically as the explosion of uptake has passed its peak. In 2013, China’s year-over-year shipment growth was 62.5%; by 2015, it had dropped to 2.5%. Conversely, the average selling price (ASP) for a smartphone in China rose from US$207 in 2013 to US$257 in 2015.

“Along China’s maturing smartphone adoption curve, the companies most aligned with growth are those with products serving increasingly sophisticated consumers. Lenovo benefited with ASPs below US$150 in 2013, and Xiaomi picked up the mantle with ASPs below US$200 in 2014 and 2015. Now Huawei, OPPO, and vivo, which play mainly in the sub-US$250 range, are positioned for a strong 2016,” said Melissa Chau, senior research manager with IDC’s Worldwide Quarterly Mobile Phone Tracker. “These new vendors would be well-advised not to rest on their laurels though, as this dynamic smartphone landscape has shown to even cult brands like Xiaomi that customer loyalty is difficult to consistently maintain.”

«

Unless you’re quite into the phone business, you’ve probably never heard of OPPO or vivo before. The erosion of ASP is dramatic too. Which of course is a problem for Apple – even if it’s rising in China. Is there new growth left in the business?
link to this extract


Apple Music on course to top 20m subs this year as it flies past 13m » Music Business Worldwide

Rhian Jones:

»Apple Music has gained 2 million subscribers since February, surpassing 13 million this month, according to the company.

The latest figures put the Spotify rival on course to top 20m by the end of this year if it continues on its current impressive trajectory – adding a million subscribers per month.

The news was revealed in Apple’s latest earnings report covering its Q2 2016, released yesterday.

Apple Music gained a million subscribers in both January and February this year. Since first arriving on June 30 last year, Apple Music has launched in 113 countries. It’s now available in 58 markets in which Spotify is not – including Russia, China, India and Japan.

Last we heard, from SVP Eddy Cue, the platform’s subscribers went above 11m two months ago.

Apple CEO Tim Cook said in an earnings call yesterday: “Apple Music continues to grow in popularity, with over 13 million paying subscribers today.

“We feel really great about the early success of Apple’s first subscription business, and our music revenue has now hit an inflection point after many quarters of decline.”

«

Many quarters of what’s that now again? I don’t recall Apple mentioning music revenue declines before.
link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida:

Start up: Oculus delays, CGI plastic surgery, the drone tractor, Buzzfeed misses, PCs keep dropping, and more

Lots of people do it. But to what value? The Guardian tried analysing them. Photo by Pixel Fantasy 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 12 links for you. Now count them. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Oculus’ botched launch harms the VR ecosystem » Forrester Blogs

JP Gownder:

»While my personal Rift delay [of around a month] is merely an annoyance, the botched launch has real repercussions for the VR ecosystem. Oculus’ delay:

• Hurts developers of games and apps. The diversity and depth of the VR developer ecosystem is impressive. While many developers focus on games – logically enough, since that’s a key early adopter demographic – others offer applications ranging from clinical treatments for PTSD to collaboration in virtual spaces. The common denominator? None of these developers are making money if there are no headsets available. And while many apps can be ported to other platforms, Oculus has been the centerpiece of many developers’ high-end VR efforts.

• Hurts media startups and innovations. Media, too, sees a potential loss. While some media companies go the route of the New York Times and focus on Google Cardboard phone-based VR, others are counting on developing truly immersive experiences that simulate presence. Studio Jaunt VR has an Oculus app that, again, won’t be addressable until customers receive their Rifts.

• Helps HTC Vive. On the flip side, Oculus’ main competitor in high-end VR, the HTC Vive, faced minor launch problems of its own. But these were based in payment processing, not hardware problems. Why? HTC is a well-established hardware vendor with many smartphone, wearable, camera, and tablet product releases under its belt. Though priced $200 higher than the Rift, both devices require a ~$1,000 PC…

In fact, the Rift launch fiasco should never have happened. The official statement cites an unspecified “component shortage,” but usually such contracts are locked down many months in advance. Oculus has had 2.5 years to plan for this launch, so there’s really no excuse.

«

Seems overdone to me. The idea that a potentially world-changing technology like VR will be derailed by a month’s delay doesn’t make sense.
link to this extract

 


BuzzFeed missed 2015 revenue targets and slashes 2016 projections » FT.com

Matthew Garrahan and Henry Mance:

»BuzzFeed missed its revenue target for 2015 and has slashed its internal projections for 2016 by about half, raising questions about whether the online news and entertainment network can meet the sky-high valuations put on new media groups by investors.

The company, known for its lists, irreverent content and fast-growing editorial operation, had projected about $250m in revenues for 2015 but generated less than $170m, according to three people with knowledge of the situation.

The company has halved its internal revenue target for 2016 from $500m to $250m, the people said.

BuzzFeed disputed the figures but declined to give its own numbers. “We are very pleased with where BuzzFeed is today and where it will be tomorrow,” the company said. “We are very comfortable with where the digital content world is going and think we are well-positioned.”

«

Hmm. My spidey sense is tingling.
link to this extract

 


Saving money by blocking ads » Optimal

»Do you have an iPhone and ever go over your carrier’s data plan allowance? (over 30% of us do!). Mostly unbeknownst to us, video and banner ads and hidden tracking URLs are using a lot of our mobile data plan and draining our battery. Use this calculator (defaults are typical for US users) to estimate how much you could save by installing an iOS 9 content blocker, and how many unnecessary URLs are loading on your phone.

«

Only tricky thing is knowing how much browsing you do when not on Wi-Fi. I don’t think most people would have a clue.
link to this extract

 


JBL headphones first to use USB Type-C with HTC 10 » Phonescoop

Eric Zeman:

»HTC and JBL today announced a pair of headphones optimized for the HTC 10 smartphone. What’s unique about these headphones is they are among the first to use the USB-C connector, rather than standard 3.5mm headphone jack, to connect with the HTC 10. Since they use USB-C, the JBL Reflect Aware C headphones are able to provide active noise cancellation without internal batteries; they draw power from the HTC 10 itself. Users can customize the level of background noise so they may remain aware of their environment. The headphones are sweat-proof and come with three sport ear tips and three regular ear tips.

«

Neat idea.
link to this extract

 


15: Please don’t enter the iCloud password » picomac

Ed Cormany:

»With TouchID, unlocking my phone is something I do dozens of times per day without thought. Even when I have to fall back to a passcode — it gets cold outside in places other than California! — it’s seamless. Most importantly, it’s predictable; I only have to authenticate in response to my own action of turning on the phone’s display.

I can’t say the same for iCloud authentication. In theory, I should only have to enter my iCloud credentials at device setup, or when performing specific actions like confirming a purchase. Yet most of the time I’m presented with an iCloud password dialog, it’s out of the blue, with no explanation: simply “Please enter the iCloud password for…” my Apple ID. It’s frustrating, sure, but more than that it’s troubling. Because I respond to that dialog differently than the vast majority of iCloud users.

I always click Cancel.

My iCloud credentials are the key to my digital life across several devices. I don’t give them away without an explanation, just as I wouldn’t give my Social Security number to someone who stopped me on the street randomly. But if the person behind the counter at the bank asked me for my SSN, even if I’d never seen them before in my life, I would give it over — it’s all about context.

«

This tweet from Ben Thompson is relevant. Apple really is not implementing this well.
link to this extract

 


Worldwide PC shipments declined 9.6% in 1Q 2016 » Gartner

»Worldwide PC shipments totaled 64.8m units in the first quarter of 2016, a 9.6% decline from the first quarter of 2015, according to preliminary results by Gartner, Inc. This was the sixth consecutive quarter of PC shipment declines, and the first time since 2007 that shipment volume fell below 65m units.

“The deterioration of local currencies against the U.S. dollar continued to play a major role in PC shipment declines. Our early results also show there was an inventory buildup from holiday sales in the fourth quarter of 2015,” said Mikako Kitagawa, principal analyst at Gartner.

“All major regions showed year-over-year shipment declines, with Latin America showing the steepest drop, where PC shipments declined 32.4%. The Latin American PC market was intensely impacted by Brazil, where the problematic economy and political instability adversely affected the market, Ms. Kitagawa said. “The ongoing decline in U.S. PC shipments showed that the installed base is still shrinking, a factor that played across developed economies. Low oil prices drove economic contraction in Latin America and Russia, changing them from drivers of growth to market laggards.”

PCs are not being adopted in new households as they were in the past, especially in emerging markets. In these markets, smartphones are the priority. In the business segment, Gartner analysts said the Windows 10 refresh is expected to start toward the end of 2016.

«

IDC puts the figure even lower, at 60.6m units. Basically, it’s the lowest figure since 2006. Never heard oil prices blamed for PC sales before.
link to this extract

 


PC sales: the five stages of grief and the comeback that never comes » Forbes

Mark Rogowsky does a smart take on IDC’s repeated insistence that yeah, the PC business is just about to come back, real soon now:

»the PC has hit hard times in the era of both the iPad and the smartphone. While the former has itself seen sales falling, its impact on the PC is still real. Apple sold 48m last year and if you believe even 10-20% of them were purchased by someone who might have bought a PC instead, that’s potentially 3% of the decline in the PC market right there. (Chromebooks, based on Google’s ChromeOS, now account for nearly 3% of PCs as well, but IDC actually counts those as laptops so they are masking the decline in Windows.)

But a much more important factor has been the rise of smartphones, which are now used by more than 1 in 3 people on earth. While Americans who grew up on PCs have a tough time imagining computing as something other than a traditional laptop or (gasp!) desktop, many in emerging markets don’t know it as anything but what one does on the device they carry with them all the time. This will continue to confound the same kind of people who believe “real work” can’t be done on an iPad until the generation raised on tablets starts running the world without any real comprehension of what it means to use a PC.

«

link to this extract

 


iPhone SE early statistics » Naofumi Kagami

Kagami looked at data from carriers, Amazon and big retailers in Japan:

»The interesting observation is that unlike the iPhone 6s where the 64GB model sells better than the 16GB model on all carriers, the reverse is true for the iPhone SE; on all carriers, the 16GB iPhone SE model sells better than the 64GB model. This suggests that iPhone SE users intend to use their phones more casually, and are more driven by price. Importantly, we have to understand that the data is only for the opening weekend which is typically skewed towards early adopters, who we would expect to prefer higher capacity models. It seems that the trend for iPhone SE users to be casual owners might be very strong.

Of course, we do not know the product mix of the items in stock, so this might simply be a result of inventory skew. However, assuming that this trend holds true, then we can make the following tentative conclusions;

• The iPhone SE appeals more to users who are more considerate of price, and who do not intend to use their smartphones very heavily.
• These users would typically only replace their current smartphones after they have completed their 2-year contract. A strong opening day turnout of this segment suggests that these users were holding onto old phones (either old iPhones or Androids).

«

link to this extract

 


The dark side of Guardian comments » The Guardian

Becky Gardiner et al:

»New research into our own comment threads provides the first quantitative evidence for what female journalists have long suspected: that articles written by women attract more abuse and dismissive trolling than those written by men, regardless of what the article is about.

Although the majority of our regular opinion writers are white men, we found that those who experienced the highest levels of abuse and dismissive trolling were not. The 10 regular writers who got the most abuse were eight women (four white and four non-white) and two black men. Two of the women and one of the men were gay. And of the eight women in the “top 10”, one was Muslim and one Jewish.

And the 10 regular writers who got the least abuse? All men.

How should digital news organisations respond to this? Some say it is simple – “Don’t read the comments” or, better still, switch them off altogether. And many have done just that, disabling their comment threads for good because they became too taxing to bother with.

But in so many cases journalism is enriched by responses from its readers. So why disable all comments when only a small minority is a problem?

«

Analysis of 70m comments since 2006. Also (if you go through) has a “play being a moderator!” quiz with various comments.

And is it really only a small minority who are a “problem”? It’s more that only a vanishingly small minority improve on what you’ve read. That’s not a surprise, because generally the writers have been trained and paid to write. Not so commenters.
link to this extract

 


Autonomous tractor brings in the harvest » Hackaday

Jenny List:

»Matt Reimer is a farmer in Southwestern Manitoba, Canada. It’s grain country, and at harvest time he has a problem. An essential task when harvesting is that of the grain cart driver, piloting a tractor and grain trailer that has to constantly do the round between unloading the combine harvester and depositing the grain in a truck. It’s a thankless, unrelenting, and repetitive task, and Matt’s problem is that labour is difficult to find when every other farmer in the region is also hiring.

His solution was to replace the driver with a set of Arduinos and a Pixhawk autopilot controlling the tractor’s cab actuators, and running ArduPilot, DroneKit, and his own Autonomous Grain Cart software. Since a modern tractor is effectively a fly-by-wire device this is not as annoying a task as it would have been with a tractor from several decades ago, or with a car. The resulting autonomous tractor picks up the grain from his combine, but he reminds us that for now it still deposits the harvest in the truck under human control. It is still a work-in-progress with only one harvest behind it, so this project is definitely one to watch over the next few months.

«

Trucks, tractors… this stuff all happens quietly around the edges, and then suddenly you notice that the edges are a lot closer than you used to think.
link to this extract

 


LG’s G5 B&O Hi-Fi DAC: thoughts from an audiophile sceptic » Android Police

David Ruddock looks at the Bang & Olufsen certified digital-to-analogue converter that LG offers as an add-on for its G5 flagship smartphone:

»The Hi-FI DAC G5 was clearly and noticeably shaping and processing audio differently than any other device I tested. I’m not sure what effects are being applied, but I would guess it’s some sort of suite of adjustments B&O have made to deem the accessory acceptable to the B&O “signature sound.” The problem for me is that, as someone trying to just let the components be transparent and produce flat, unshaped sound, the Hi-Fi DAC is actually doing a worse job at being a piece of audiophile equipment than the G5’s standard headphone jack! Sure, you’ll hear a difference going from the G5’s headphone jack to the Hi-Fi’s DAC, but that’s literally because LG and / or B&O have gone out of their way to make certain you hear a difference, whether you like it or not. After all, if the average Joe bought a G5 and the Hi-Fi and used the bundled earbuds, do you think LG honestly wants to be in a situation where the customer says they can’t hear the difference? They have to be able to hear it, or LG would be openly mocked for selling an overpriced, ineffectual witchcraft box.

«

link to this extract

 


How actors get plastic surgery with a click » Vulture

Logan Hill:

»Recently, after shooting three episodes of the WGN America drama Salem, an actor in a prominent role left the show for personal reasons. A few years ago, such a major switch would have been a costly debacle requiring expensive reshoots. But “we didn’t have to reshoot at all,” says veteran showrunner Brannon Braga. “We’re replacing his face with a new actor’s face.”

Today, digital face replacement is just one technique at Hollywood’s disposal. Braga regularly uses CG to retouch actors, “whether it’s a pimple, or an actress who has bags under her eyes on that particular day, or painting out a nipple in a sex scene.” When an actress got a nose ring without telling him, his postproduction team removed it at a cost of “tens of thousands of dollars.” Such work can get expensive, but it’s industry standard. “Look, we re-created the whole Library of Alexandria,” he says, referring to his work on the Neil deGrasse Tyson documentary series Cosmos. “Why wouldn’t we get rid of a cookie crumb on Neil’s mustache?”

But Braga is no trailblazer. “I do television,” he says, “not $300 million movies.” He’s just using digital techniques that have become ubiquitous over the last decade — even though they are largely invisible to most audiences, rarely discussed by creators, and usually hidden behind nondisclosure agreements.

«

Plus a slideshow. Truly fascinating; and invisible.
link to this extract

 


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none noted.

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

Cat

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

«

Dropcam has run into the sand inside Nest, essentially.
link to this extract

 


France fines Google over ‘right to be forgotten’ » WSJ

Sam Schechner:

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

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

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

«

link to this extract

 


Builder’s life saved by Apple Watch » The Sun

Daniel Jones:

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

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

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

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

«

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

Pretty priceless advertising for Apple – this is the second case I’ve seen in the media where a heart problem has been highlighted by the Watch.
link to this extract

 


Explosive road rage-like anger linked to parasite spread by cats » New Scientist

Brian Owens:

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

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

«

link to this extract

 


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

Steve Kovach:

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

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

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

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

«

Note that: debt and VC. Debt is potentially toxic to a company struggling with cashflow because it can be called in, and it also usually imposes an ongoing cost. Pebble has problems, like a lot of wearables makers.
link to this extract

 


Tay, Microsoft’s AI chatbot, gets a crash course in racism from Twitter » The Guardian

Elle Hunt:

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

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

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

»

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

«

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

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

«

Honestly – I noted its existence, went to sleep and woke up to find it had run amok. Neatly proving that Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein was a parable for all the ages.
link to this extract

 


Google and Obama administration connect over Cuba » WSJ

Brody Mullins and Carol Lee:

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

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

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

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

«

link to this extract

 


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

Amanda Connolly:

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

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

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

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

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

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

«

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

 


Samsung says S7 sales exceed forecast » Korea Times

Kim Yoo-chul:

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

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

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

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

«

Studiedly vague. It was only a couple of years ago that Samsung used to give precise numbers for preorders.
link to this extract

 


Vice CEO Shane Smith on dealing with agencies: ‘We want to make great shit but it’s a war.’ » Digiday

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

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

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

«

“Winter is coming”. Related: IBT Media, which publishes International Business Times and Newsweek, has laid off at least 15 people (perhaps more?) in New York and California.
link to this extract

 


Why you should try that crazy virtual reality headset » WSJ

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

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

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

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

«

(Though the examples are, when viewed just on a browser, pretty much a recap of Quicktime VR, which dates back to 1994.)
link to this extract

 


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida:

Start up: Google’s crash, Hive overheats, Vive or Hololens?, BB10 withers, the backdoor test, and more

Facebook is not good at taking down fake profiles. Why not? Photo by gruntzooki 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.

Judge: US can’t force Apple to provide encrypted iPhone data » Associated Press

Larry Neumeister and Tami Abdollah on the decision in a New York case – not the “terrorism” case – where the FBI wants to unlock an iPhone which, yes, has a passcode:

»[Judge] Orenstein concluded that Apple is not obligated to assist government investigators against its will and noted that Congress has not adopted legislation that would achieve the result sought by the government.

“How best to balance those interests is a matter of critical importance to our society, and the need for an answer becomes more pressing daily, as the tide of technological advance flows ever farther past the boundaries of what seemed possible even a few decades ago,” Orenstein wrote. “But that debate must happen today, and it must take place among legislators who are equipped to consider the technological and cultural realities of a world their predecessors could not begin to conceive.”

A Justice Department spokesman said they were disappointed in the ruling and planned to appeal in the coming days. Apple and their attorneys said they were reading opinion and will comment later.

In October, Orenstein invited Apple to challenge the government’s use of a 227-year-old law to compel Apple to help it recover iPhone data in criminal cases.

«

link to this extract

 


Google says it bears ‘some responsibility’ after self-driving car hit bus » Reuters

David Shepardson:

»The crash may be the first case of one of its autonomous cars hitting another vehicle and the fault of the self-driving car. The Mountain View-based Internet search leader said it made changes to its software after the crash to avoid future incidents.

In a Feb. 23 report filed with California regulators, Google said the crash took place in Mountain View on Feb. 14 when a self-driving Lexus RX450h sought to get around some sandbags in a wide lane.

Google said in the filing the autonomous vehicle was traveling at less than 2 miles per hour, while the bus was moving at about 15 miles per hour.

The vehicle and the test driver “believed the bus would slow or allow the Google (autonomous vehicle) to continue,” it said.

But three seconds later, as the Google car in autonomous mode re-entered the center of the lane, it struck the side of the bus, causing damage to the left front fender, front wheel and a driver side sensor. No one was injured in the car or on the bus.

«

Yeah, if you did that in a driving test, you’d get failed. It’s not the bus’s fault if you try to enter its right of way.
link to this extract

 


Sony’s latest design experiment: a remote control for your entire life » Co.Design

Mark Wilson:

»The best Sony is weird Sony. It’s the Sony that makes robot dogs and glowing, rolling party balls. It’s the Sony that’s selling something you might not necessarily buy today but that lays the foundation for something you’ll need tomorrow.

Take the HUIS remote (it stands for Home User InterfaceS). It’s a $250 e-ink touchscreen display, like a Kindle Paperwhite, but it’s also a programmable universal remote, like a Logitech Harmony. Via infrared and Bluetooth, it can control anything from your cable box to your smart thermostat.

The e-ink screen solves the biggest problem with using your smartphone—or any other LCD—as a remote. Rather than taking all the incremental steps involved in turning on your phone and opening an app to make changes, its power-sipping display means its screen can stay turned on for a month between recharges.

«

Using the above definition, “best Sony” is also “fabulously unprofitable and unable to find market demand for a product Sony”. The idea of an e-ink touchscreen for things you don’t need to control often is nice, though. It’s just that Sony can screw up software like pretty much nobody else. Remember its music player software? If you can’t, lucky you.
link to this extract

 


HTC Vive: home VR for under £700 – if you have a computer to run it with » The Guardian

Alex Hern:

»HTC’s Vive virtual reality headset finally has a UK price: a hefty £689.

So, what do you get if you splash out a month’s rent (in London at least)? There’s the headset itself, co-created by gaming company Valve, which has two 1080 x 1200 screens offering a 110-degree viewing area, as well as a front-facing camera for augmented reality features and a plethora of other sensors for head- and motion-tracking.

The headset also comes with three apps: the tongue-in-cheek “Job Simulator”; Northway Games’ Fantastic Contraption, a 3D VR update of an old Flash-based physics game; and the Google-developed Tilt Brush, which lets you paint in 3D space.

Unlike the Facebook-owned Oculus, which retails for $600 (without a specific UK price), the Vive will also ship with two wireless VR controllers, and “room-scale” movement sensors, capable of tracking an area 5 sq m. The Oculus, with its more stripped-back offering, comes with an Xbox 360 controller – although the Oculus Touch controllers will be arriving later this year – and a movement set-up that can handle a 1.5m by 3m area. The Oculus does, however, include built-in audio while the Vive will require a separate pair of headphones.

«

link to this extract

 


Kiddle: The child-friendly search engine has no affiliation with Google » Alphr

»Kiddle.co is a search engine that uses Google’s results, but it’s not a Google product.

A glance at the homepage makes it pretty easy to see how confusion would arise. To put it charitably, the site’s owners haven’t exactly gone out of their way to set the two apart:

What we actually have here is a search engine that uses Google’s Custom Search bar and human editors to filter out grim results with, I think it’s fair to say, patchy results…

…In theory, Kiddle offers a combination of safe search, results tailored for children (positions 1-3 are safe sites written for children, 4-7 come from safe sites not written for children but accessible, and 8+ are just safe sites) and large clear fonts.

«

In reality: nope. And the ads are Google’s, and unfiltered, so you can see how that could quickly go south.
link to this extract

 


Super-cheap Raspberry Pi computer gains very useful new features » Fortune

David Meyer:

»Until now, those wishing to add Wi-Fi and Bluetooth functionality to the Pi had to buy separate dongles to plug into its USB ports — we are talking about a $35 computer after all, and this was one way to keep the cost down.

However, these wireless functions are now built right into the Raspberry Pi 3 Model B, making it an even cheaper proposition for those wanting a very basic web-surfing machine, a cheap home server or the basis for a home-brewed Internet-of-things project. (Though those wanting the very cheapest Internet-of-things computer may want to opt for the $5 Pi Zero.)

«

link to this extract

 


Microsoft reveals HoloLens hardware specs » The Verge

Tom Warren:

»Microsoft is letting developers pre-order the HoloLens development edition today, but it’s also detailing exactly what’s inside the headset. HoloLens is fully untethered and self-contained, which means you do not need a PC or phone to use it. Microsoft has built an entire Windows 10 device into a headset, using a custom-built Microsoft Holographic Processing Unit (HPU) and an Intel 32 bit processor.

Microsoft has a variety of sensors inside the HoloLens, including an inertial measurement unit, an ambient light sensor, and four environment understanding cameras. These combine with a depth sensing camera to allow HoloLens to map spaces. Microsoft also has a 2-megapixel HD camera to capture videos and photos. Four microphones inside the headset are used to pick up voice commands from users…

…Microsoft says the entire HoloLens headset will weigh no more than 579 grams, and the battery will run for around two or three hours of active use. HoloLens is fully functional when it’s charged over Micro USB, and the device will also have a standby time of two weeks.

«

Yours for $3,000. Includes carry case.
link to this extract

 


Google Maps brings its “Add A Pit Stop” feature to iOS » TechCrunch

Sarah Perez:

»Last fall, Google announced the addition of a long-requested feature to Google Maps, which allowed users to – finally! – add a stop along their current route. That way you could route your way to a gas station or restaurant ahead of your final destination. However, at launch, the feature was only available on Android devices. Today, Google says the feature is now available on all iOS devices as well, and is available in any country where Google Maps offers navigation – or more than 100 countries worldwide.

The feature itself is something users of the Google-owned navigation app Waze have had for some time, but was not yet available in Google Maps.

It’s surprising that it took Google so long to add such a basic feature to its navigation app. After all, hitting up a pit stop while on your way somewhere else is the norm – but, before, you would have to route your way to the pit stop, then start a new route from the pit stop to your destination. And by creating two navigation sessions, it could be hard to see which gas station, restaurant, or other stop would incur the least amount of extra driving.

«

Given how often one wants to do something like this, solving it must be a really difficult routing problem, given it took until last October to arrive on Google Maps. Or else it’s a very difficult UI problem.
link to this extract

 


WhatsApp to end support for all BlackBerry versions by end of 2016 » CrackBerry.com

John Callaham:

»WhatsApp, the popular cross-platform messaging service, has decided to cut support for a number of those platforms. That includes all versions of BlackBerry OS, including BlackBerry 10, by the end of 2016.

WhatsApp will also end support for Nokia S40, Nokia Symbian S60, Android 2.1, Android 2.2 and Windows Phone 7.1 by the end of the year. From the WhatsApp blog:

»

While these mobile devices have been an important part of our story, they don’t offer the kind of capabilities we need to expand our app’s features in the future. This was a tough decision for us to make, but the right one in order to give people better ways to keep in touch with friends, family, and loved ones using WhatsApp. If you use one of these affected mobile devices, we recommend upgrading to a newer Android, iPhone, or Windows Phone before the end of 2016 to continue using WhatsApp.

«

«

BB10 is, by a mile, the youngest of those operating systems. Of course commenters at Crackberry are *delighted*.
link to this extract

 


Hive customers hot up in 32°C heatwave glitch » The Memo

Kitty Knowles:

»Hive, which is run by British Gas, received over 30 complaints on Saturday, with many people fearing an unsightly spike in their bills this month.

The company has not yet confirmed how many of its 300,000 users may have been affected.

It said in a statement: “We are aware of a temporary glitch affecting a very small number of customers, where a certain sequence of commands in the Hive iOS app can cause the thermostat temperature to rise to 32°C.

“Any customers seeing this can very easily and immediately fix it by simply turning the thermostat down using the app, web dashboard or the thermostat itself.

“No-one needs to worry about their temperature being too high because the rest of the app works as normal. Meanwhile, we are working on a software update which should be available soon.”

«

So will people get refunds? Hive can’t read meters remotely, but this is BG’s fault so it should give a discount. The Internet of Overheated Things. Don’t you just love the future?
link to this extract

 


What can player profiling tell us about games? » Eurogamer.net

Keith Stuart:

»Imagine you have just hit ‘start’ on a new first-person video game. You find yourself in a room facing a doorway with ‘this way’ written in large letters over the top. You take a very quick look around and notice a few closed chests and cupboards beside you and then a door behind you marked ‘no entry’. You turn back toward the first door. Without thinking, answer the following question: what do you do now?

«

A really fascinating exploration of the different types of player one tends to find in any games theatre. Which are you? Depends on your answer to that question.
link to this extract

 


Dear Facebook » Cogdog

Alan Levine’s photos were used to create a fake Facebook account – he already has one – which was then used to scam people. Despite it being reported, Facebook did nothing about it:

»Facebook’s Help page for reporting fake accounts clarifies what kinds of accounts it does not allow

»

We don’t allow accounts that:

• Pretend to be you or someone else
• Use your photos
• List a fake name
• Don’t represent a real person

«

Why is Facebook allowing “Malle Gotfried” to use my photos? Why is Facebook’s highly touted facial recognition system not matching the profile photo “he” is using to he very one that has been on my Facebook profile since November 2015?

Again, why is Facebook not removing accounts it clearly says it does not allow? Why is there no burden on proof of “Malle Gottfried” to prove their identity? Why does Facebook make it so easy for Nigerian scammers to create fake accounts using photos of other people? Why is Facebook not answerable to these questions?

I have reported this account several times, so has my sister, and friends who know me. And every time Facebook replies stating that the creation of fake profiles using my photo does not violate Facebook’s Community Standards – what kind of community standards protect the rights of scammers to create fake profiles used in romance scams?

Why? Why Why?

«

(Thanks Tony Hirst for the pointer.)
link to this extract

 


The three-prong backdoor test » Zdziarski’s Blog of Things

Jonathan Zdziarski on the suggestions (by some) that hey, Apple’s and Microsoft’s and Google’s “software updates” are really backdoors because, hey, they can change stuff:

»Any kind of automated update task on a computer is capable of introducing new code into the environment, but that is not what constitutes a backdoor. I’ve thought about this at length, and come up with a three-prong test to determine whether or not a mechanism is a backdoor. There has thus far not been a widely accepted definition of what a backdoor is, and so I hope you’ll consider its adoption into best practices for making such determinations, and welcome your input. The three prongs I propose are “consent”, “intent”, and “authenticity” (or: control).

«

In the hydra-headed debate around Farook’s damn iPhone 5C, Zdziarski has posed and answered some of the best questions. If you’re interested in security topics, I highly recommend his blog.
link to this extract

 


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none noted

Start up: Google adds ads, HTC nears Vive, Watch wrinkles and worries, FBI v Apple redux, and more

It’s the Samsung Galaxy S7! Looks completely unlike previous ones, right? Photo by Janitors 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.

Four ads on top: the wait is over » Moz

Peter Meyers:

»For the past couple of months, Google has been testing SERPs with 4 ads at the top of the page (previously, the top ad block had 1-3 ads), leading to a ton of speculation in the PPC community. Across the MozCast data set, 4 ads accounted for only about 1% of SERPs with top ads (which matches testing protocol, historically). Then, as of yesterday, this happened:

Over the past 2 weeks, we’ve seen a gradual increase, but on the morning of February 18, the percentage of top ads blocks displaying 4 ads jumped to 18.9% (it’s 19.3% as of this morning). Of the 5,986 page-1 SERPs in our tracking data that displayed top ads this morning, here’s how the ad count currently breaks down:

As you can see, 4-ad blocks have overtaken 2-ad blocks and now account for almost one-fifth of all top ad blocks. Keep in mind that this situation is highly dynamic and will continue to change over time. At the 19% level, though, it’s unlikely that this is still in testing.

«

Google came up in a time when search engine results pages (SERPs) were stuffed with paid-for ads. Google’s clean results page was different. Now the other search engines have gone away. And SERPs are becoming stuffed with ads again.
link to this extract

 


Phone makers look to add-on gizmos to revitalize market » Reuters

Meanwhile, there’s that event called Mobile World Congress going on in Barcelona this week. Paul Sandle notes the pressures on “traditional” handset makers:

»while the competition [among handset makers] intensifies true innovation has not, with the Barcelona show expected to feature instead other products that connect to phones, like all-round cameras capable of producing immersive views, new wearable devices and electronic gadgets for the home or workplace that use smartphones as a processing hub.

As usual Apple will be absent, preferring to run its own events for new product launches.

“We will see a lot of stuff around 360-degree cameras and virtual reality headsets with a smartphone,” said Francisco Jeronimo, an analyst with research firm IDC. “Commodities rather than innovation”, said Forester analyst Thomas Huston.

“I don’t expect true innovation, it’s going to be more about the specifications, the better processing power, the battery life,” he said.

“What’s the benefit for consumers? I think it will be very limited.”

«

link to this extract

 


Samsung Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge: curvier, faster, micro SD expansion — available March 11 » Ars Technica UK

Mark Walton:

»In a surprise move, those that pre-order in the UK and US will receive a free Galaxy Gear VR headset to go along with their shiny new phone.

At first glance—besides their larger screen sizes—both phones look largely identical to their predecessors, the S7 sporting a flat glass front, and the S7 Edge sporting a curved display that gently folds in at the edges to the meet the aluminium body. Both phones will be available in Black Onyx and Gold Platinum, with the S7 Edge also available in Silver Titanium. Unfortunately for fans of 4K, both the S7 and S7 Edge are rocking 2560×1440 pixel displays. The most noticeable design change comes to the rear of the phone, where the dreaded camera bump has been removed to to make the camera module flush with the body. Surprisingly, this hasn’t affected the thickness of the phones, which remain fairly svelte at 7.9mm for the S7 and 7.7mm for the S7 Edge. The regular S7 also gains a curved back like the Galaxy Note 5.

Perhaps more exciting is that the S7 and S7 Edge both feature a microSD card slot, a much requested feature that was removed from the S6. Both phones will ship with Android 6.0 Marshmallow, which allows users to merge the SD card with the internal flash memory to create one large seamless pool of storage, making the SD card slot a welcome addition. Also back is water and dust resistance, which was previously found in the Galaxy S5 but was skipped over for the S6. The Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge are both rated IP68, which equates to “totally dust tight” and prolonged submersion in water (the S5 was IP67, which is only “temporary immersion”).

There’s nothing too surprising happening on the inside, aside from the bump up to 4GB of RAM.

«

Don’t think this will make the slightest difference to the general arc of smartphone sales. I doubt these will sell better than either the S5 or S6 or S6 Edge. Water/dust resistance didn’t help the S5; and the Edge feature didn’t change anything much in sales terms.
link to this extract

 


The consumer version of HTC’s Vive VR headset will arrive in April for $799 with two free games » Android Police

Michael Crider:

»The headset is nearing completion, and the company has announced that the final consumer model will ship in early April for the disappointing price of $799. For that price you get two motion-sensing controllers, two room scale sensors, and VR games Job Simulator: The 2050 Archives and Fantastic Contraption. Pre-orders begin next week on February 29th.

Unlike Google Cardboard, Samsung’s Gear VR, and other systems that rely on a smartphone as a slide-in display, the Vive is a fully contained unit with screens, optical lenses, sensors, a camera and microphone, and other electronics built into the device itself. Like the Oculus, it needs a standard PC (and a quite powerful one) to send video and process images for gaming and other applications. Early reports of the Vive have praised it as an impressive experience, particularly with games that have been developed specifically for the platform. However, the Vive will also be able to connect to at least some smartphones via Bluetooth for answering phone calls and viewing notifications, perhaps allowing HTC some synergy with its phone lines.

«

“The headset is nearing completion”? I’m hoping that’s just a loose version of “it’s nearly public”. If it isn’t complete yet, they’ve got some problems. (As for “synergy” – dream on.)
link to this extract

 


Watch apps worth making » David Smith

Smith has shipped 11 Watch apps over the past year:

»There seem to be only three kinds of apps that make sense given the current hardware and software on the Apple Watch.

1: Notifications — Not really an “app” in the traditional sense but getting real-time alerts of things that are important to me is great. Any iOS app that sends notifications should do the basic work to make sure they look and perform well on the Apple Watch.

2: Complications — Showing timely information at the raise of the wrist. These are probably the most practically useful apps on my watch. I typically have my watch show me the current temperature, my current step count, and battery percent. All of which present me with timely information that is useful to know now.

3: Sensors — The last kind of app that has actually stuck for me on the Apple Watch are apps that make use of the sensors on the watch. These apps are essentially impossible to re-create on an iPhone. The Apple Watch includes a heart rate monitor, accelerometer and microphone. I don’t think the range and variety of uses for these has been fully explored yet. Having these sensors persistently attached to your body is very different than any use you might come up with on an iPhone.

«

Completely agree. More sensors would be really useful (even sensors relaying stuff from the phone, as the weather is).

link to this extract

 


Exclusive: common mobile software could have opened San Bernardino shooter’s iPhone » Reuters

Jim Finkle:

»The legal showdown over U.S. demands that Apple Inc AAPL.O unlock an iPhone used by San Bernardino shooter Rizwan Farook might have been avoided if his employer, which owns the device, had equipped it with special mobile phone software it issues to many workers.

San Bernardino County, which employed Farook as an environmental health inspector, requires some, but not all, of its workers to install mobile-device management software made by Silicon Valley-based MobileIron Inc MOBL.O on government-issued phones, according to county spokesman David Wert.

That software is designed to secure corporate data. It also allows information technology departments to remotely unlock phones, even without assistance of the phone’s users or access to the password needed to open the phone and unscramble the data.

“If that particular iPhone was using MobileIron, the county’s IT department could unlock it,” MobileIron Vice President Ojas Rege told Reuters.

«

So there was huge confusion around this phone. Understandable: there’s a mass shooting, the fugitives escape surveillance, a phone is found. Perhaps it is bagged as evidence and its battery runs down, which means it can’t be forced to make an iCloud backup even on trusted Wi-Fi, and that you can’t ask Siri for details about phone calls. Then they reset the password (at the FBI’s request), which made things even worse.

A mess from start to finish – but given that Farook destroyed two other phones, how likely is it that this phone was used to communicate with anyone relevant? Answer: it’s extremely unlikely.
link to this extract

 


Reconciling perspectives: new report reframes encryption debate » Berkman Center

»The Berklett Cybersecurity Project of the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University is pleased to announce the publication of a new report entitled “Don’t Panic: Making Progress on the ‘Going Dark’ Debate.” The report examines the high-profile debate around government access to encryption, and offers a new perspective gleaned from the discussion, debate, and analyses of an exceptional and diverse group of security and policy experts from academia, civil society, and the U.S. intelligence community.

“Many conversations on sensitive subjects of technology and security are productive because they’re among people who already agree,” said Prof. Jonathan Zittrain, faculty chair of the Berkman Center. “The aim of this project is to bring together people who come from very different starting points and roles, and who very rarely have a chance to speak frankly with one another. We want to come away with some common insights that could help push the discussion into some new territory.”

The report takes issue with the usual framing of the encryption debate and offers context and insights that widen the scope of the conversation to more accurately reflect the surveillance landscape both now and in the future.

«

Thanks Seth Finkelstein for the link.
link to this extract

 


Apple is selling you a phone, not civil liberties » Lawfare

Susan Hennessey and Benjamin Wittes:

»First, the Going Dark skeptics [who say that it’s OK for phones to be encrypted beyond the capability of companies or law enforcement to decrypt them] demand, show us the cases in which the absence of extraordinary law enforcement access to encrypted data is actually posing a problem. And this demand seemed quite reasonable, in our view. If the FBI wants to take the position that it has a problem, it has to do more than cry wolf. Show us the wolf.

And in the last couple of weeks, the bureau has shown some serious wolf. Consider this excerpt from Director James Comey’s testimony before Congress last week: “A woman was murdered in Louisiana last summer, eight months pregnant, killed, no clue as to who did it, except her phone is there when she’s found killed. They couldn’t open it, still can’t open it. So the case remains unsolved.” (The discussion is available here starting at 31:00.)

Then came the filing in the San Bernardino case this week. Note that this is a case that has a potentially serious ISIS link. The FBI has been sitting on one of the shooter’s phones for more than two months, unable to open it. It wants Apple’s help to determine “who [the shooters] may have communicated with to plan and carry out the IRC shootings, where Farook and Malik may have traveled to and from before and after the incident, and other pertinent information that would provide more information about their and others’ involvement in the deadline shooting.”

This is, in other words, a law enforcement and intelligence interest of the highest order…

«

That Comey testimony, in this extract, is pretty thin gruel; her phone contains the whole answer to the crime? No clues in any physical evidence at all? No clues from her telephone records (which are available from the mobile carrier)? Nothing in her personal computer, assuming she has one? Nothing on any social media profiles, perhaps linked to Tinder? That’s a pretty remarkable murder, and the implication that all the necessary clues are locked inside her phone feels even more remarkable.

But it’s important to read viewpoints like this to realise what the other side of the argument is, and how it carries the same steamroller-style momentum that you might think the privacy/security one does.
link to this extract

 


No, Apple has not unlocked 70 iPhones for law enforcement » TechCrunch

Matthew Panzarino:

»I keep seeing reports that Apple has unlocked “70 iPhones” for the government. And those reports argue that Apple is now refusing to do for the FBI what it has done many times before. This meme is completely inaccurate at best, and dangerous at worst.

There are two cases involving data requests by the government which are happening at the moment. There is a case in New York — in which Apple is trying really hard not to hand over customer information even though it has the tools to do so — and there is the case in California, where it is fighting an order from the FBI to intentionally weaken the security of a device to allow its passcode to be cracked by brute force. These are separate cases with separate things at stake.

The New York case involves an iPhone running iOS 7. On devices running iOS 7 and previous, Apple actually has the capability to extract data, including (at various stages in its encryption march) contacts, photos, calls and iMessages without unlocking the phones. That last bit is key, because in the previous cases where Apple has complied with legitimate government requests for information, this is the method it has used.

It has not unlocked these iPhones — it has extracted data that was accessible while they were still locked. The process for doing this is laid out in its white paper for law enforcement…

It’s worth noting that the government has some tools to unlock phones without Apple’s help, but those are hit and miss, and have nothing to do with Apple. It’s worth noting that in its statements to the court in the New York case, the government never says Apple unlocks devices, but rather that it bypasses the lock to extract the information.

«

Just to clear that up.
link to this extract

 


The colour of surveillance » Slate

Alvaro Bedoya:

»The FBI has a lead. A prominent religious leader and community advocate is in contact with a suspected sleeper agent of foreign radicals. The attorney general is briefed and personally approves wiretaps of his home and offices. The man was born in the United States, the son of a popular cleric. Even though he’s an American citizen, he’s placed on a watchlist to be summarily detained in the event of a national emergency. Of all similar suspects, the head of FBI domestic intelligence thinks he’s “the most dangerous,” at least “from the standpoint of … national security.”

Is this a lone wolf in league with foreign sponsors of terrorism? No: This was the life of Martin Luther King Jr. That FBI assessment was dated Aug. 30, 1963—two days after King told our country that he had a dream…

…Across our history and to this day, people of color have been the disproportionate victims of unjust surveillance; Hoover was no aberration. And while racism has played its ugly part, the justification for this monitoring was the same we hear today: national security.

The FBI’s violations against King were undeniably tinged by what historian David Garrow has called “an organizational culture of like-minded white men.” But as Garrow and others have shown, the FBI’s initial wiretap requests—and then–Attorney General Robert Kennedy’s approval of them—were driven by a suspected tie between King and the Communist Party. It wasn’t just King; Cesar Chavez, the labor and civil rights leader, was tracked for years as a result of vague, confidential tips about “a communist background,” as were many others.

«

link to this extract

 


October 2010: What’s really wrong with BlackBerry (and what to do about it) » Mobile Opportunity

Michael Mace, on an old post which happens to hold some useful insights that are worth remembering:

»When I worked at Apple, I spent a lot of time studying failed computer platforms. I thought that if we understood the failures, we might be able to prevent the same thing from happening to us.

I looked at everything from videogame companies to the early PC pioneers (companies like Commodore and Atari), and I found an interesting pattern in their financial results. The early symptoms of decline in a computing platform were very subtle, and easy for a business executive to rationalize away. By the time the symptoms became obvious, it was usually too late to do anything about them.

The symptoms to watch closely are small declines in two metrics: the rate of growth of sales, and gross profit per unit sold (gross margins). Here’s why:

Every computing platform has a natural pool of customers. Some people need or want the platform, and some people don’t. Your product spreads through its pool of customers via the traditional “diffusion” process — early enthusiasts first, late adopters at the end.

It’s relatively easy to get good revenue from the early adopters. They seek out innovations like yours, and are willing to pay top dollar for it. As the market for a computer system matures, the early adopters get used up, and the company starts selling to middle adopters who are more price-sensitive. In response to this, the company cuts prices, which results in a big jump in sales. Total revenue goes up, and usually overall profits as well. Everybody in the company feels good…

«

But trouble lies ahead.
link to this extract

 


Global smartwatch shipments overtake Swiss watch shipments in Q4 2015 » Strategy Analytics

»According to the latest research from Strategy Analytics, global smartwatch shipments reached 8.1m units in Q4 2015, compared with 7.9m Swiss Watch shipments. It is the first time ever that smartwatches have outshipped Swiss watches on a global basis.

Cliff Raskind, director at Strategy Analytics, said, “We estimate global smartwatch shipments reached 8.1m units in Q4 2015, rising a healthy 316% from 1.9m in Q4 2014. Smartwatches are growing rapidly in North America, Western Europe and Asia. Apple Watch captured an impressive 63% share of the global smartwatch market in Q4 2015, followed by Samsung with 16%. Apple and Samsung together account for a commanding 8 in 10 of all smartwatches shipped worldwide.”

Steven Waltzer, Analyst at Strategy Analytics, added, “We estimate global Swiss watch shipments reached 7.9m units in Q4 2015, falling 5% from 8.3m in Q4 2014. Global demand for Swiss watches is slowing down, and major players like Swatch are struggling to find growth.”

«

The lost 0.4m units doesn’t seem like a big problem at first. But then, nothing bad seems like a big problem at first – as above.
link to this extract

 


Peeling paint, website bugs: Ringing Bell’s ₹251 phone in a storm of controversies day after launch » Huffington Post

Ivan Mehta:

»It started on an off note after Manohar Parrikar, India’s defence minister, did not show up at the event hosted to launch the phone. The details given out about the phone’s specs were nothing if not vague. A Hindustan Times report suggested that when asked the policy behind the pricing of the phone, Ashok Chadha, an official from the company, said the real cost of the device was ₹2500, which will be recovered through a raft of measures like economies of scale, innovative marketing, reduction in duties and creating an e-commerce marketplace.

Pranav Dixit, Tech editor for the Hindustan Times also said in a Reddit AMA that he has received a letter from the Indian Cellular Association (ICA), written to telecom minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, that estimates that the phone should cost at least USD 60 (Approx. ₹4100).

The phones handed over to the press all have an Adcom logo hidden behind a coat of white paint that easily peeled off. A report from Gadgets 360 suggested that phones handed out as review units were not the final products which will be shipped. That raises the question that who is building the final product? The report also says that Ringing Bells has not been registered at BIS, making their devices unsafe to use.

«

Gets worse. So, $4? Probably more like $40 in reality.
link to this extract

 


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida:

Start up: damn internet fridges!, getting hacked, the coming phone shakeout, PGP doubts over “Satoshi”, and more


This was when the fridge calendar worked. Photo by Kaeru 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 10 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

The joy of getting hacked » Waxy.org

Andy Baio:

A quick ‘top’ revealed that MySQL was pegging the CPU, so I logged into the MySQL console and saw that a dump of the database was being written out to a file. This was very unusual: I never schedule database backups in the middle of the day, and it was using a different MySQL user to make the dumps.

Then I noticed where the mysqldump was being written to: the directory for a theme from a WordPress installation I’d set up the previous month, an experiment to finally migrate this blog off of MovableType.

This set off all my alarms. I immediately shut down Apache and MySQL, cutting off the culprit before they could download the dumped data or do any serious damage.

I’d recently updated to the latest WordPress beta, and saw that the functions.php file in the twentysixteen theme directory was replaced with hastily-obfuscated PHP allowing arbitrary commands to be run on my server through the browser.

I’ve had this sort of experience in the past – also with WordPress. It’s a total pain.

Baio points out though that the real weakness was probably not WordPress, but PhPMyAdmin, which is even worse in terms of security vulnerabilities. If you’re running it, delete it.
link to this extract

 


China’s hippest smartphone maker warns shakeout will get worse » Bloomberg Business

Shai Oster:

OnePlus, based in Shenzhen, is aiming for similar glory. After originally requiring customers to get an invitation before buying a phone, OnePlus is dropping that approach to broaden its appeal and raise its brand awareness in the U.S., Europe and India. The company says it earned $300m selling nearly 1m phones last year, but won’t reveal figures for this year.

Sales have increased to about 1.3m units worldwide in the first nine months of this year, with 57% sold in the Asia Pacific region, according to Jensen Ooi, an analyst at IDC Corp.

“2016 is the year that a lot of people will be exposed to OnePlus,” Pei said, adding that the company is spending money on promotions like a pop-up store in New York’s Times Square to advertise their brand.

The trouble is that almost no one is making money in smartphones these days except Apple. That company alone gobbles up some 90% of industry profits.

“No one is going to get rich off smartphones in the short term,” he said.

OnePlus is probably making more money than HTC.
link to this extract

 


November 2014: Can’t sign in to Google calendar on my Samsung refrigerator » Google Product Forums

Kris Spencer (apparently):

I have a Samsung RF4289HARS refrigerator.  The Google calendar app on it has been working perfectly since I purchased the refrigerator August 2012.  However, with the latest changes in Google Calendar API, I can no longer sign in to my calendar.  I receive a message stating ” Please check your email in Google Calendar website”.  I can sign in fine on my home PC and have no problem seeing the calendar on my phone.  Perhaps this is a Samsung issue, but I thought I would try here first.  Has anyone else experienced this problem and what was the solution?

Yes, other people certainly had experienced this problem. The solution? Er.. well, here’s a post from 18 November 2015:

After 2 years, I still cannot access my Calendar on my Samsung HRS4289……It says cannot connect to the server. I just got done with Samsung and they say, if it needs a software update, it will ‘come’…..that’s a freaking joke. I have software 2.550 loaded……Is there something I need to do to reestablish my calendar??…..this is so ridiculous. I’m more of a yahoo person and not really too familiar with google calendar except I did have it up and running…Ii do have a google calendar account….and it should be talking. Please be specific if there’s something I need to do. I’d really appreciate it. Very frustrating.

Anyhow, do tell me more about your plans to build an internet fridge – the ultimate zombie product.
link to this extract

 


Satoshi’s PGP keys are probably backdated and point to a hoax » Motherboard

Sarah Jeong:

there’s one really big problem with the case for Craig S. Wright as Satoshi: at least one of the key pieces of evidence appears to be fake. The “Satoshi” PGP keys associated with the Wired and Gizmodo stories were probably generated after 2009 and uploaded after 2011.

We say keys, because there are two entirely different keys implicated by Wired and by Gizmodo. And neither of them check out.

There is only one PGP key that is truly known to be associated with Satoshi Nakamoto. We’ll call this the Original Key.

Before we continue, we should note that the PGP keys are just one piece of the puzzle. When asked for comment, Gizmodo editor Katie Drummond said that the keys “are just one (relatively small) data point among many others, including in-person interviews and on-the-record corroboration.”

But the keys are important because they’re not just plain suspicious, there’s evidence of active, intentional deception with respect to the keys. (Wired’s Andy Greenberg pointed out that this was already in line with their article, which notes that Wright may have engaged in an elaborate, long-running deception).

Urgh. So much work, and a detail like this seems to sink it (although read on; key creation dates can be faked). The element that made me (as a journalist) wonder about the original story was that the details were leaked by someone who claimed to have “hacked Satoshi”. Really? And yet the characters in the story – far-flung, credible – equally point strongly to it being correct. That sort of detail doesn’t happen coincidentally.

Also, Leah Goodman – who wrote the original “not quite” Satoshi story – says the “hack” was being touted to journalists aggressively this autumn, apparently from a disgruntled employee of the latest “Satoshi”.
link to this extract

 


The dangers of setting VR expectations and valuations too high » Forbes

Anshel Sag:

One report by Juniper Research forecasts 30m head-mounted display (HMD) shipments by 2020. That expectation includes a projection that 3m HMDs will ship by 2016 driven by video and gaming use cases. My biggest problem with this projection is that there is no one combination of players that can ship 3m units. Even taking Oculus, Sony, Samsung Electronics , and HTC Valve and all their HMDs [head-mounted displays] into account, the prices and volumes simply won’t be there for 3m units in 2016.

The reality will be much closer to 1 to 2 million units in 2016, and most of those will likely be Samsung Electronics’ Gear VR headsets, since the latest version will be shipping for $99 and be compatible with all of Samsung’s latest high-end phones. Oculus doesn’t have the manufacturing capacity or the price point (around $400-$500) to drive enough volume to help reach 3m units. The same goes for the Vive; they aren’t targeting to make it a high volume product. While we don’t know the price yet, we know it’s going to be more than the Oculus Rift and that will affect volume on its own, not to mention the fact that you need quite a bit of space to set it up. Sony and Samsung are the only two companies that really have the knowhow to potentially ship enough units to hit the million mark.

link to this extract

 


The global village and its discomforts — Design Fictions » Medium

Fabien Girardin suggests that new technologies bring their own anxieties with them:

Social network platforms act as an extension of our social practices. Like with any technological extension we are right to be fascinated by its power and scale. However, we too frequently choose to ignore or minimize the ‘amputations’ and implications they produce.

Or as French cultural theorist Paul Virilio would argue: “The invention of the ship was also the invention of the shipwreck.”

For instance, our capacity to record every moment of our lives comes with the high vulnerability of digital data. In fact, no machine can today read a 15 years old hard drive. It is ironic that we have the technological means to record and share our social lives, yet we all might suffer one day from ‘digital amnesia’.

link to this extract

 


Can Theranos CEO Elizabeth Holmes fend off her critics? » Bloomberg Business

Sheelah Kolhatkar and Caroline Chen:

Theranos isn’t the only diagnostic company to provide scant details on its technology. “The process has been suboptimal across the industry, but now I think we’re at the crossroads,” [John] Ioannidis [professor of medicine at Stanford, and author of a 2005 paper “Why Most Published Research Findings Are False”] says. “Theranos caught my attention early on because they had such vibrant media stories. Other companies just don’t make such claims. Today it’s Theranos. Tomorrow it may be another company.” He adds: “If you get the wrong test result, you could go down a path that could really destroy your life.”

Holmes says the company’s era of secrecy is over, and it’s inviting outsiders, including reporters, to try the tests for themselves. (For the record, the finger prick feels like a finger prick.) In December, she says, a group of independent medical experts will spend two days in Theranos’s lab to examine the technology, the data, and the regulatory filings, and can then talk publicly about what they found.

Looking forward to that. It would be fantastic if Theranos actually does have a super-cheap blood test; it could make a vast difference to diagnosis. But are the odds in its favour?
link to this extract

 


Focus by Firefox: content blocking for the open web » The Mozilla Blog

Denelle Dixon-Thayer, Mozilla’s chief legal and business officer:

We want to build an Internet that respects users, puts them in control, and creates and maintains trust. Too many users have lost trust and lack meaningful controls over their digital lives. This loss of trust has impacted the ecosystem – sometimes negatively. Content blockers offer a way to rebuild that trust by empowering users. At the same time, it is important that these tools are used to create a healthy, open ecosystem that supports commercial activity, instead of being used to lock down the Web or to discriminate against certain industries or content. That’s why we articulated our three content blocking principles

…we’ve based a portion of our product on a list provided by our partner Disconnect under the General Public License. We think Disconnect’s public list provides a good starting point that demonstrates the value of open data. It bases its list on a public definition of tracking and publicly identifies any changes it makes to that list, so users and content providers can see and understand the standards it is applying. The fact that those standards are public means that content providers – in this case those that are tracking users – have an opportunity to improve their practices. If they do so, Disconnect has a process in place for content providers to become unblocked, creating an important feedback loop between users and content providers.

Disconnect is the company whose product was banned from Google Play for “interfering with” other apps. Disconnect formally complained in the EU in June, but hasn’t apparently done so with the FTC in the US.
link to this extract

 


EU explores whether Google, Yahoo should pay for showing online news snippets » Reuters

Julia Fioretti:

The European Union is looking into whether services such as Google News and Yahoo News should pay to display snippets of news articles, wading into a bitter debate between the online industry and publishers.

The European Commission, the EU’s executive, said on Wednesday it will consider whether “any action specific to news aggregators is needed, including intervening on the definition of rights.”

The move came as Brussels unveiled plans to loosen copyright rules in the 28-member bloc in order to allow citizens to watch more content online.

Dubbed the “Google Tax”, making online services pay to display news snippets has sparked fierce opposition from both the tech industry and some publishers.

Can’t see it ending well for those who want payment. It’s like banning people from deep linking: sounds great to people who haven’t used the internet.
link to this extract

 


Samsung, Micromax planning to discontinue 2G phones » Times of India

Writankar Mukherjee & Gulveen Aulakh:

Samsung and Micromax, the leading sellers of smartphones in India, are planning to discontinue so-called 2G phones and focus on devices that run on faster 3G and 4G networks as prices have dropped sharply for such handsets in the past year. Then there’s the Reliance Jio effect.

“The focus has shifted to 4G phones with telecom operators launching such services,” said Micromax Informatics chief executive officer Vineet Taneja. “4G models already account for 30% of our portfolio with 14 models and will increase to 20 by March.”

The imminent launch of 4G services by Reliance Jio Infocomm has prompted incumbents Bharti Airtel and Vodafone to launch their own high-speed networks in anticipation of competition. That coupled with falling prices has almost wiped out demand for handsets running on 2G.

link to this extract

 


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified.

Start up: Dropbox dumps Mailbox, what mobile adblocking?, life after viral fame, and more


Ridge Racer: maybe blame it for all that waiting around for games to load. Photo by Peter π on Flickr.

Mumble mumble receive each day’s Start Up post by email. Mutter mutter confirmation link, so no spam.

A selection of 10 links for you. They really are. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Dropbox is shutting down its Mailbox and Carousel apps » The Verge

Chris Welch:

Dropbox is doing away with Mailbox, the email app it acquired in March 2013, and Carousel, the company’s attempt at a standalone photo management app. The company says that it’s making this decision now to focus more directly on the primary Dropbox app and the collaborative features it’s known for. “The Carousel and Mailbox teams have built products that are loved by many people and their work will continue to have an impact,” wrote Dropbox’s founder/CEO Drew Houston and CTO Arash Ferdowsi in a blog post. “We’ll be taking key features from Carousel back to the place where your photos live — in the Dropbox app. We’ll also be using what we’ve learned from Mailbox to build new ways to communicate and collaborate on Dropbox.”

The Verge’s usual incisive reporting which simply repeats available facts, and doesn’t try to widen the discussion, or bring in expert views, or put it into context. So I’ll try: Mailbox shutting suggests it’s either a bust (not enough users), or a money-loser – same thing, really, and Dropbox needs to focus on how it is going to stop just being a feature that any OS offers for free (Google Drive, OneDrive, iCloud Drive) because if that’s the case, it hasn’t got a business in the long term.
link to this extract


The ‘Loading Screen Game Patent’ finally expires » Electronic Frontier Foundation

Elliot Harmon:

The first Sony PlayStation was introduced in 1994. Its graphical capabilities blew predecessors like the Sega Genesis and Super Nintendo out of the water, but it had one big disadvantage. It replaced the game cartridges of the previous generation with CD-ROMs. When you booted up a PlayStation game, you had to wait for the console to load game data from the disc into its own memory. And that. Took. For. Ever. Watching a loading screen was boring, especially when you were used to the instant gratification of cartridge games.

Namco’s Ridge Racer addressed the problem by including a second game, the 80s classic Galaxian. It took no time at all for a PlayStation to load Galaxian. Suddenly, the player wasn’t thinking about how boring it was to wait for a game to load; she could have fun playing Galaxian while the console took its time loading Ridge Racer. If she beat Galaxian before Ridge Racer was done loading, she’d be rewarded in Ridge Racer with access to some in-game bonuses.

What’s the big deal? Namco thought of loading screen games first, so they earned the patent, right? Well, let’s look at how U.S. law defines a patentable invention.

According to the law, a person isn’t entitled to a patent if the claimed invention already existed when the application was filed or would have been obvious to someone skilled in the relevant technology area. The idea of playing a small game while the larger one loads has been around for a very long time. In 1987, many years before Namco filed its patent application, Richard Aplin created Invade-a-Load, a utility for developers who wrote games for the Commodore 64 computer.

link to this extract


X marks the spot that makes online ads so maddening » The New York Times

Sydney Ember:

Annoying ads have become problematic for Anthony Martin, a 32-year-old consultant for a project management firm who sat in Bryant Park on a recent Monday afternoon, iPhone 6 in hand. He had moved to New York not long ago, he said, and was using a smartphone app to determine the best subway routes. But as soon as the app loads, ads take over his screen — first a banner ad on the bottom, then a full-screen ad. No amount of desperate jabbing does the trick.

“Sometimes I miss a stop,” he said. “Especially with fat fingers.”

Industry executives say it is quite likely that publishers and mobile developers are deliberately building ads that are hard to escape or shut down.

“The ones that are incredibly invasive are designed to be that way,” said Brian Gleason, the global chief executive of Xaxis, a media and technology company owned by the advertising giant WPP.

link to this extract


The mobile adblocking apocalypse hasn’t arrived (at least not yet) » Nieman Journalism Lab

Madeline Welsh, Joseph Lichterman and Shan Wang:

Even sites with unusually high desktop blocking rates — think German sites, or technology sites — aren’t seeing huge numbers on mobile. About a quarter of all Internet users in Germany use an adblocker, but the percentage is even higher for some sites like Golem, a German-language tech site that’s seen an outright majority of its users blocking.

“As far as I can remember, it’s always been an issue for us,” said the site’s editor-in-chief, Benjamin Sterbenz. “As soon as adblock software was available, our readers installed the software and experimented with it. I’m sure that a lot of our readers also contributed to the development of adblocking software.”

But compared to adblocking on desktop, Golem readers using adblocking technology on mobile is in the single digits. Though it saw a little bump in September with the release of iOS 9, it’s otherwise remained constant, which Sterbenz said surprised him.

At Ars Technica, the Condè Nast-owned tech site, about 6% of mobile users block ads, “which is just a bit higher than what it was previously,” Ken Fisher, the site’s founder and editor-in-chief said in an email. On desktop, about 30% of users block ads, he said.

Odd, in light of the preceding.
link to this extract


Virtual reality studio Baobab raises 6 million to be Pixar of VR – Business Insider

Jillian D’Onfro:

After leaving Zynga, [CEO of startup Baobab, Maureen] Fan spent the next year using her free time to learn as much as possible about virtual reality. She finally left her job in March to cofound Baobab Studios with Eric Darnell, who directed DreamWorks movies “Antz” and the “Madagascar” franchise.  

With big ambitions, the duo started attracting top talent from the likes of Lucasfilm, Pixar, and Twitch. The team’s combo of hardcore technologists working with top-tier storytellers convinced investors to put $6 million behind the studio’s cause last week. The Series A round came in part from million from HTC and Samsung Ventures, both of which have their own virtual reality devices, the Vive and Gear VR. 

Fan tells Business Insider that the studio plans to release its first short films made specifically for virtual reality early next year.

“We’re inventing a new cinematic language,” she says. For example, she explains, in VR you can’t cut-away from the action — the whole story has to flow together without switching perspectives — and need to find ways to guide the viewer to look where you want them to, since it will be possible to look around at a whole virtual world. 

VR is going to get really interesting in the next couple of years, and the content producers v content platforms issue is going to be highlighted again.
link to this extract


Tencent blocks Uber on WeChat, so what ‘fair play’ can we expect in China? » South China Morning Post

George Chen:

Global car-hailing app Uber and its local rival in China, Didi Kuaidi, are de facto in a business war, after Tencent, a key investor of Didi, decided to remove Uber from one of the most powerful online marketing platforms in the world’s No 1 internet market.

What’s the key takeaway of the story here for other foreign businesses if they are considering doing or expanding business in China? It’s getting more difficult to make money in China, especially when you have to compete with local monopoly players.

The news that all Uber’s WeChat accounts had been removed by Tencent, the parent and owner of WeChat, China’s most popular real-time messaging app, where many businesses have set up accounts to promote products and services and engage with customers, shocked the technology world over the weekend. Tencent said it blocked Uber on WeChat, affecting Uber’s online services in at least 16 Chinese cities, because of “malicious marketing”, something Uber denied.

The power of the default messaging platform.
link to this extract


10 viral sensations on life after internet fame » NY Mag

Clint Rainey:

Internet fame comes on like an earthquake, with little warning. In a matter of hours, a video can go viral and be viewed 50 million times. Then it (usually) recedes into a very long, thin afterlife. Here, nine YouTube sensations whose lives were upended briefly in the past decade (plus one from the prehistoric web era, before YouTube made its debut in 2005) speak about this odd, relatively new kind of fame. Most embraced the experience, seeing where it would take them. Some ended up in dark places. A couple have made it their living and found themselves with new careers. Others stepped away, opting out of the flame wars. Pay attention: Someday, the accidental celebrity could be you.

Terrific idea, and choices; the child from “Charlie bit my finger” may be the most predictable yet peculiar of all.
link to this extract


Microsoft will not fix power management issues with new Surface devices until next year » Thurrott.com

Paul Thurrott is mad as hell and he’s.. well, he has to take it:

As I’ve said on the podcasts several times now, and wrote in the review excerpt below, Surface Book (and apparently Surface Pro 4) just don’t go to sleep properly.

Well, here’s the really bad news. Microsoft won’t fix this problem … until sometime next year.

“The ‘standby’ battery life is an issue we are working on and have been working on,” a Microsoft Surface Engineering Team program manager identified only as “Joe” explains in the company’s support forums. “We can put the processor into a deeper sleep state than it is currently set to. We couldn’t do it at RTM for a variety of reasons, power management is a very hard computer science problem to solve especially with new silicon. Currently it is not in the deepest ‘sleep’ that it can be so there are wake events that would not otherwise wake it. We will have an update for this issue sometime soon in the new year.”

I don’t mean to rip on an individual, as I usually save my ire for faceless corporations, but … “a very hard computer science problem to solve”? Seriously?

My advice to Microsoft is to not ship products for which you have not yet fixed “a very hard computer science problem.”

There is a workaround, though, involving making it always Hibernate rather than Sleep. Not ideal though. (Thanks @Avro105 for the link.)
link to this extract


New software watches for licence plates, turning you into Little Brother » Ars Technica

Cyrus Farivar on open-source tech for automatic licence plate reading (ALPR) – known in the UK as ANPR (N for numberplate):

For the last six months, the two-man team behind OpenALPR has built this software and given it away for free, largely as a way to draw attention to their other paid services: a cloud-based $50 per camera per month solution that includes “high-speed processing” and “priority tech support.” The company also offers a $1,000 per camera per month “on-premises” version that integrates with an existing (usually government) network that has qualms about outsourcing data storage.

OpenALPR notes its software “will work with any camera that supports MJPEG streams. This includes visible-light and infrared cameras. The camera and optics should be configured such that the license plates are clearly legible in the video stream.”

Matt Hill, OpenALPR’s founder, told Ars that this is a good way to level the playing field and mitigate the need for long-term retention.

“I’m a big privacy advocate as well — now you’ve got LPR just in the hands of the government, which isn’t a good thing. This brings costs down,” he said.

On the government side, there have been incidents where police-owned LPR misread and led to dangerous confrontations. Some cities have mounted such cameras at their city borders, monitoring who comes in and out (case in point: the wealthy city of Piedmont, California, which is totally surrounded by Oakland). And again, the data associated with LPRs (plate, date, time, location) is often retained for months or years.

This feels a little like the total constant surveillance of Dave Eggers’s “The Circle”.
link to this extract


HP exits low-cost tablet market in product shakeup » PCWorld

Agam Shah:

If you’re looking for a low-priced tablet from HP, you soon will not be able to find one.

HP is exiting the low-end tablet market amid declining prices and slowing demand. Instead, the company will focus on detachables, hybrids and business tablets at the higher end of the market.

“We are going to focus where there is profitability and growth and will not chase the low-end tablet market. We are focusing on business mobility to deliver tablets built for field service, education, retail and healthcare,” said Ron Coughlin, president for personal systems at HP.

HP has already stopped listing many low-end Android tablets on its website. The remaining lower-end products — the US$99 HP 7 G2 tablet and $149 HP 8 G2 tablet — have been out of stock for months, and it’s likely they won’t be available again. They are however still available through some online retailers at cut-rate prices.

The least expensive tablet on HP’s site is now the $329.99 HP Envy 8 Note tablet with Windows 10. HP has Windows on most tablets now, with only a handful running Android.

Wonder if this will become a trend. Obviously it will for enterprise sales – but might it also be the way to lure back disaffected Windows PC customers?
link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida:

Start up: explaining XcodeGhost, Monument Valley goes VR, will Venice sink BlackBerry?, and more


What’s the common factor in iOS devices bricked by trying to update to iOS 9? Photo by marc falardeau 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 10 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Monument Valley’s creators just made a stunning VR game » WIRED

Liz Stinson:

Like most early VR games, Land’s End is in many ways an experiment designed to discover what does and doesn’t work in the medium. Ustwo’s Ken Wong, Peter Pashley and Dan Gray spent more than a year developing the game, with many stops and starts and do-overs along the way. “It took a long long time to reinvent all these fundamental things about how you move around a world and how you interact,” says Wong.

Things like navigation took some toying with. “We spent a lot of time trying to figure out the best way to let people move around these worlds in a way that felt kind of almost subconscious,” says Pashley. You make your way through the levels by glancing at “lookpoints,” shimmering spheres of light that burst open and propel you forward when you look at them. The motion is slow and controlled; it feels almost like a moving sidewalk at the airport.

This looks terrific. Presently for Samsung Gear VR + Oculus only. I’d happily buy the soundtrack.
link to this extract


BlackBerry Venice » YouTube

A pretty much full-size touchscreen Android phone sort of running some sort of BlackBerry software. With a big keyboard that slides out from below. See for yourself.

Notice that he never actually tries to type anything. This may be significant: the top end of the phone would have to be very light to stop it overbalancing.

I wonder (with @charlesknight) whether this is John Chen’s last attempt at hardware; if this flops – which seems pretty likely – there’s little point carrying on. In a few quarters, BlackBerry should have swallowed Good Technology completely and can live on software and services revenues, which are much more profitable.
link to this extract


What you need to know about iOS malware XcodeGhost » Mac Rumors

The story so far (which I did notice over the weekend; I apologise for not including it in Monday’s Start Up): impatient iOS developers in China downloaded hacked copies of Xcode from Baidu servers because the ones from Apple came over slow-as-snails links from the US. The hacked copies included malware libraries that were included by default in any apps developed with them. The apps got through Apple’s approval process – and were then noticed by Palo Alto Networks, which itself noticed it on Weibo after analysis by Alibaba researchers.

Q How does XcodeGhost put my iOS devices at risk?
iOS apps infected with XcodeGhost malware can and do collect information about devices and then encrypt and upload that data to command and control (C2) servers run by attackers through the HTTP protocol. The system and app information that can be collected includes:

• Current time
• Current infected app’s name
• The app’s bundle identifier
• Current device’s name and type
• Current system’s language and country
• Current device’s UUID
• Network type

Palo Alto Networks also discovered that infected iOS apps can receive commands from the attacker through the C2 server to perform the following actions:

Prompt a fake alert dialog to phish user credentials; hijack opening specific URLs based on their scheme, which could allow for exploitation of vulnerabilities in the iOS system or other iOS apps; read and write data in the user’s clipboard, which could be used to read the user’s password if that password is copied from a password management tool.

Q Can XcodeGhost affect users outside of China?
Yes. Some of the iOS apps infected with XcodeGhost malware are available on the App Store in countries outside of China. CamCard, for example, is a popular business card reader and scanner app available in the United States and several other countries, while WeChat is a popular messaging app in the Asia-Pacific region.

Q Why would some Chinese developers download Xcode from Baidu?
Xcode is a large file that can take a long time to download from Apple’s servers in China, leading some developers to download Xcode from unofficial sources.

Q How are Apple and Chinese developers dealing with XcodeGhost?
Palo Alto Networks claims that it is cooperating with Apple on the issue, while multiple developers have updated their apps to remove the malware.

There’s a list of affected apps.

This is a significant attack, but it’s also a remarkably hard one to do more than once. I suspect the next attack will involve some sort of man-in-the-middle on security certificates that Apple will surely enforce on Xcode downloads.

Rich Mogull has a great writeup in which he says it’s about the economics of security:

Apple doesn’t believe all attacks can be stopped, and certainly not those from governments or well-funded criminal organizations, but if you make the cost of attack higher than the benefits, you knock out entire categories of bad guys and reduce the impact on users.

link to this extract


French regulator rejects Google appeal on scope of ‘right to be forgotten’ » WSJ

Sam Schechner:

France’s Commission Nationale de l’Informatique et des Libertés, or CNIL, said that Google must now adhere to a formal order in May directing it to apply Europe’s right to be forgotten to “all domain names” of the search engine, including google.com—or face possible sanctions proceedings.

Established just over a year ago by the European Union’s Court of Justice, the right to be forgotten gives European residents the ability to request that search engines remove links that appear in searches for their own name. Google has applied the ruling, but insisted on only removing results from European domain names, such as google.fr, not from google.com.

Google on Monday reiterated that it doesn’t believe the French regulator has the authority to expand the scope of the rule. “As a matter of principle we respectfully disagree with the idea that one national data protection authority can assert global authority to control the content that people can access around the world,” a spokesman said.

Ever so tricky. The US has claimed jurisdiction over sites that are hosted and authored elsewhere in the world that use the “.com” suffix; is that the same?

One suspects that Google will – if it loses in any appeal – work around this by offering filtered content to any IP address identified as being in France, just as it does to identify who to serve .fr content to.
link to this extract


Apple iPhones, iPads BRICKED by iOS 9’s ‘slide-to-upgrade’ bug » The Register

Shaun Nichols:

Reg reader Carlton told us today: “I have just updated my iPad to iOS 9 and found to my horror that once it has ‘successfully’ installed and then gone through the initial setup phase, I cannot progress past the second request to ‘slide to upgrade’ page.

“The setup order is ‘passcode’ – ‘slide to upgrade’ – ‘select Wi-Fi’ – ‘slide to upgrade’ at which point no further actions are possible.”

He was eventually able to upgrade his device to the new iOS using Apple’s suggested clean install procedure, though he said it took multiple attempts to accomplish.

Other fans reported similar problems when they tried to get the latest and greatest version of iOS on their iPads, iPhones and iPod Touch players.

While the issue appeared to be largely relegated to devices running iOS 7 skipping over to iOS 9, Apple would not confirm if that was in fact the case. No word yet on when a fix for the bug will be released.

Apple already has its hands full patching flaws with its firmware updates.

Commenters seem to concur: works fine if you’re just going from iOS 8, kills the device if you’re trying to skip upwards from iOS 7. An Apple support note says “This will be resolved soon in an upcoming iOS update”. Let’s see. (Meanwhile, Apple said in an aside in its press release about the release on Friday of the new iPhone that 50% of devices contacting the App Store as of September 19 were using iOS 9. In less than a week?!)
link to this extract


How to record a phone call on your iPhone – no additional kit of apps required » BBC College of Journalism

Marc Settle discovered (via Mashable) a terrific way to record a call:

A statement is never as good as an interview, which is where the ‘advanced’ function comes in, even if it needs a little willingness from your guest.

Call them from your iPhone and explain what you plan to do. Press ‘add call’ and then call the phone number you’re ringing them from. Yes, you did read that correctly: you need to call your own number from your own phone. As you’re on the phone, your answerphone will kick in. At this point tap ‘merge calls’: you and your interviewee will now be recording your conversation on your answerphone. End the call and then proceed as above to access the recording.

This reminds me of the “huh??” method that used to exist for running (old, old) pre-OSX Macs entirely from RAM, no disk access required, which meant gigantic battery life: you loaded a minimal OS, and then dragged your hard drive into the Trash. Honest. You just had to remember not to empty it.
link to this extract


Why we need a competition inquiry into the UK broadband market » TalkTalk BlogBlog

Dido Harding, TalkTalk chief executive:

Over 500 telecoms companies exist in the UK, but most depend on a shared set of wires that connect individual homes to our networks. When BT was privatised, it was allowed to keep control of this network on behalf of the whole industry, and it is managed today by Openreach, a BT company. It’s like one gas supplier owning the national grid, or one airline owning Heathrow.

Unfortunately, that system isn’t working because BT has used its sole control over the network to its advantage, rather than to benefit the network or customers. Openreach makes a lot of money, but it hasn’t invested enough in maintaining the network, leaving customers suffering from poor quality of service and facing long waits to repair faults or install new lines. It allows BT to abuse its control to restrict choice for customers. It also makes it harder for the regulator to enforce the rules and be a powerful consumer champion. Put simply, it’s a tired model not fit for a superfast future.

Openreach is TalkTalk’s biggest supplier; we couldn’t operate as a business without it. So naturally, I’ve got a vested interest in this debate. But what matters about today’s letter is the breadth of the coalition calling for change. It includes some of the biggest companies in the industry who have tried – and failed – for years to improve the system, as well as smaller players battling to bring innovation and choice to the market, but let down by Openreach.

Agree. Where do I sign up too?
link to this extract


600 ad companies blacklist The Pirate Bay » Music Week

Coral Williamson:

The Pirate Bay has been blacklisted by more than 600 advertisers.

The blacklist, comprising 10 sites so far, is the result of a partnership between anti-piracy group Rights Alliance and Swedish Advertisers, an association of advertisers with more than 600 member companies.

Swedish Advertisers has published a list of  recommendations designed to keep advertisers away from unlicensed sites, including observing good ethics, avoiding advertising contracts that include bulk sales, and considering where ads are ultimately placed.

OK, I have to ask. Is it unethical to use adblockers on torrent sites?
link to this extract


The number of people using search engines is in decline » Business Insider

Lara O’Reilly:

search is facing a huge challenge. The paid search business was built on a desktop browser model. And consumers are increasingly shifting to mobile. On mobile, consumers say they just don’t search as much as they used to because they have apps that cater to their specific needs. They might still perform searches within those apps, but they’re not doing as many searches on traditional search engines (although Google, Bing, and so on do power some in-app search engines.)

It sounds obvious, but there’s new data to show it’s a trend that’s really happening. And it could have a severe impact on Google’s (and Bing, and Yahoo’s) core search business. Indeed, data from eMarketer shows search ad spend growth is set to decline from 2014 through to 2019.

Speaking at digital trade show Dmexco in Cologne earlier this week, global communications agency ZenithOptimedia’s chief digital officer Stefan Bardega and research company GlobalWebIndex’s head of trends Jason Mander gave a mobile trends presentation. It was the slides on search that made the audience really sit up and start taking notes and photos.

And it’s this:

App usage and voice search both contribute too. How do you sell an ad beside a voice search?
link to this extract


Advertising is unwanted, day 2 » Scripting News

Dave Winer, in a followup to a post of a day earlier, suggesting news orgs need to find new ways to bring their readers together:

Here’s an idea for a geography-based news org (i.e. a newspaper) – give readers a place to talk about movies, and then sponsor movie nights based on their interests. Encourage people to provide lists of their favorite movies and do some collaborative filtering. Then collate the reviews and present them alongside your professional reviewer’s post. Work with the movie industry. It can have incredible promotional value, for the movie, the theater, you, the whole idea of going to the movies (as opposed to watching on your home TV, phone or tablet). What’s great for your community is they get to meet people who like the same kinds of movies they do. And you get to know who they are! It’s such a huge, easy win, all-around. That more local news orgs haven’t done it tell you how stuck in old print models we still are. This is an example of a kind of idea that really can only blossom online.

Creating community is a great idea. But what if the community lives all over the world? How does this physically-based idea work?
link to this extract


Start up: Chrome v Flash (and Google v iOS 9), HTC delays Vive, streaming’s true problem, and more


Suggested caption: “I wish I’d never mentioned the bloody sealion”. Can a computer do better? Picture from MCAD Library on Flickr.

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

Google makes it official: Chrome will freeze Flash ads on sight from Sept 1 » The Register

Shaun Nichols:

Back in June, Google warned that, in cooperation with Adobe, it would change the way Flash material is shown on websites.

Basically, “essential” Flash content (such as embedded video players) are allowed to automatically run, while non-essential Flash content, much of that being advertisements, will be automatically paused.

As we explained a couple of months ago, it’s effectively taking Chrome’s “Detect and run important plugin content” feature, and making it the default: only the “main plugin content on websites” will be run automatically. That should put a stop to irritating ads around the sides of pages.

Google’s reasoning for the move is largely performance-based, apparently. The Chocolate Factory worries that with too many pieces of Flash content running at once, Chrome’s performance is hamstrung, and, more critically, battery life is drained in notebooks and tablets running the Flash plugin.

A performance and battery hit? From Flash? I’m shocked, shocked to hear of such a thing.
link to this extract


Handling App Transport Security in iOS 9 » Hacker News discussion

Remember the Google Ads blogpost from last week explaining how developers could enable non-HTTPS ads to show on iOS 9, which enforces (almost) HTTPS? The discussion on Hacker News include some who’ve been in the trenches:

At my last job, we did something similar to what iOS 9 is now doing, where we migrated a survey engine to serve all forms over https. There was high fiving and champagne all around the engineers desks, while media was freaking out that their impressions took the sharpest reverse-hockey-stick in the world. Ad networks are seriously the worst when it comes to https traffic. Given the dozens of redirects and pixel injections and iframes slapped into a media page, it’s nearly impossible to serve secure traffic since it only takes one network to downgrade the https request to http and then the page is “broken”.

Other comments provide useful insight too.
link to this extract


The wait for HTC’s Vive VR headset just got longer » ReadWrite

Adriana Lee:

Other projects and software features are likely in the works [from Oculus Rift] as well. (We may know more at the Oculus Connect 2 developer conference in Los Angeles next month.) 

There’s also increasing competition from VR hardware startups and other (bigger) competitors eyeing virtual and augmented reality—including Sony, Google, Samsung and Microsoft. Apple may also be pursuing virtual and augmented reality behind closed doors.

All of which makes HTC’s decision to delay the Vive’s consumer release rather risky—especially if the company is relying on this initiative to make up for its flagging smartphone business. For end users and developers, however, the scenario points to something else: Next year is going to be absolutely huge for all realities virtual. 

Can HTC hang on long enough to ride that wave? Testers say it’s terrific quality. Most valuable asset?
link to this extract


Chromebooks gaining on iPads in school sector » The New York Times

Natasha Singer:

In terms of the sheer numbers of devices sold, however, Microsoft remained in the lead. In 2014, about 4.9m Windows devices, including notebooks and desktops, shipped to schools, giving Microsoft a roughly 38% market share in unit sales, IDC said.

Apple, meanwhile, shipped about 4.2m devices for schools, including desktops, notebook computers and tablets, accounting for about 32% of the education market, according to the report.

But the Chromebook category is fast gaining traction in the United States.

Last year, about 3.9m Chromebooks were shipped in the education sector, an increase in unit sales of more than 310% compared with the previous year, IDC said. By contrast, iPad unit sales for education fell last year to 2.7m devices, compared to 2.9m in 2013, according to IDC data.

“Even if Microsoft is No. 1 in volume and Apple is No. 1 in revenue, from the growth perspective, nobody can beat Chromebook,” said Rajani Singh, a senior research analyst at IDC who tracks the personal computer market and is the author of the report.

In the first half of this year, she said, roughly 2.4m Chromebooks shipped to schools compared with about 2.2m Windows-based desktops and notebook computers.

Maybe this is where Chromebooks begin to eat away at Windows. They certainly should be a lot easier to secure and manage.
link to this extract


We built a robot to help you win The New Yorker’s cartoon caption contest » The Verge

Michael Zelenko and Frank Bi:

Each week The New Yorker runs a cartoon contest on its back page, where the publication invites readers to submit captions to cartoons drawn by the magazine’s illustrators. Winning the contest is notoriously difficult — writers have to generate a quip that’s funny, but also perfectly mimics the magazine’s sensibilities. A deep knowledge of The New Yorker is a prerequisite. Or is it?

We’ve collected all the first, second, and third place winning entries going back to when the magazine introduced the competition in 2005 — all 1,425 of them. Then, we ran them through a Markov text generator program that analyzes the winning captions and generates new, randomized entries that echo the original set.

Observation: using this won’t even get you to the last three in the caption contest. Maybe when the robots have taken all the other jobs, “comedian” will still remain for humans.
link to this extract


The real problem with streaming » Music Industry Blog

Mark Mulligan:

Even without considering the entirely intentional complexity of details such as minimas, floors and ceilings, the underlying principle is simple: a record label secures a fixed level of revenue regardless, while a music service assumes a fixed level of cost regardless.

Labels call this covering their risk and argue that it ensures that the services that get licensed are committed to being a success. Which is a sound and reasonable position in principle, except that in practice it often results in the exact opposite by transferring all of the risk to the music service. Saddling the service with so much up front debt increases the chance it will fail by ensuring large portions (sometimes the majority) of available working capital is spent on rights, not on building great product or marketing to consumers.

None of this matters too much if you are a successful service or a big tech company (both of which have lots of working capital). Both Google and Apple are rumoured to have paid advances in the region of $1 billion. While the payments are much smaller for most music services, Apple, with its $183bn in revenues and $194bn in cash reserves can afford $1bn a lot more easily than a pre-revenue start up with $1m in investment can afford $250,000.  Similarly a pre-revenue, pre-product start up is more likely to launch late and miss its targets but will still be on the hook for the minimum revenue guarantees (MRG).

It is abundantly clear that this model skews the market towards big players and to tech companies that simply want to use music as a tool for helping sell their core products. 

 
link to this extract


Heads-up, Google: fighting the EU is useless » Bloomberg View

Leonid Bershidsky:

Microsoft can tell Google exactly what happens next; indeed, Google’s lawyers realize there will be other antitrust investigations. One, concerning the Android operating system and its links to Google services, is already in the works, although no official charges have been brought. Another may soon hit Google where it really hurts, challenging its dominance in online advertising. Google will fight and probably lose, because Europe doesn’t like big U.S. companies to dominate its markets. 

Lobbying and complying with whatever demands still can’t be avoided is a less painful path. Microsoft spent 4.5 million euros last year, a million more than Google, on efforts to get EU officials to see its points on issues such as data protection and cloud computing. Among other things, the European Parliament is now considering a Microsoft proposal that would cap fines for Internet privacy violations at 2m euros a case, instead of 2% of a company’s international turnover.

It’s admirable that Google now wants to fight for its principles and against the dilution of its superior offering. It makes me cringe, however, to think of the time and money that will be burned in this hopeless battle.

link to this extract


The fembots of Ashley Madison » Gizmodo

Annalee Newitz:

In the data dump of Ashley Madison’s internal emails, I found ample evidence that the company was actively paying people to create fake profiles. Sometimes they outsourced to companies who build fake profiles, like the ones Caitlin Dewey wrote about this week in the Washington Post. But many appear to have been generated by people working for Ashley Madison. The company even had a shorthand for these fake profiles—“angels.” Perhaps this is a tip of the hat to Victoria’s Secret models, also known as angels.

Ashley Madison created their angels all over the world, and the dump contains dozens of emails where Avid Life Media management arranged to generate more. Here you can see a July 4, 2013 email from Avid Life Media’s director of internal operations, Nora Abtan, to CEO Noel Biderman and other managers, with the subject “summary angels status”…

…An email chain between Sandra Simpson and an employee named Eduardo Borges, dated July 30, 2012, suggests that quality control on the angel profiles was actually pretty rigorous. Borges asks whether it’s OK to reuse photos if they are in different states, and Simpson says no—she notes that many members travel and they might spot the duplicates.

Such great journalism; such a scammy business. The question becomes, did the company take this direction from the start, or was it forced towards fakery by circumstance?
link to this extract


Apple is about to lay down its TV cards » TechCrunch

Matthew Panzarino:

It stands to reason that Apple will be able to push the A8 much, much further than it ever has before given that the Apple TV is plugged into the wall, and not dependent on battery.

This will enable developers of games and other resource-intensive applications to produce higher quality and more demanding apps. Among the demos I’d expect to see on stage next month are content apps, games, and broadcast companies. These apps fit the venue (fixed, but large and participatory) and purpose of your television — and the apps that people will build for the Apple TV would do well to take those factors into account as well.

A native SDK that takes advantage of the hardware fully will, for the first time ever, turn the Apple TV into a platform, a self-sustaining life form that Apple likely hopes will dominate competitors who have done only slightly better about adding third-party support.

To control the new Apple TV? A new remote. One major feature of which was pretty much nailed by Brian Chen in an article earlier this year. It’s slightly bigger and thicker, with physical buttons on the bottom half, a Touchpad area at the top and a Siri microphone.

I thought the Apple TV would get its own SDK
back in 2012. Totally wrong; it just wasn’t ready.
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.