Start Up: milking the iPhone, Android tablets’ death, Galaxy S8 may dump the headphone jack, and more


Toys that use the internet aren’t necessarily good. Photo by Open Arms 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. Not available on Air Force One. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Milking the iPhone • Above Avalon

Neil Cybart:

»

Apple is placing a big bet that we are still firmly in the smartphone era. In Apple’s view, many of these competing products are distractions trying to get us to move prematurely beyond the smartphone. This stance has contributed to the view that Apple is missing a step and resting on its laurels. While Microsoft pushes Surface Book and Surface Studio and Snap unveils sunglasses with a camera, Apple is still betting on a smartphone, a product unveiled in 2007. 

This pursuit of milking the iPhone has contributed to cracks forming at Apple’s edges. The friction is found when looking at Apple’s efforts to build a wider ecosystem that extends beyond the iPhone. There is evidence that Apple management wants to follow a product strategy described in my “Apple Experience Era” article. Consumers can pick and choose a range of Apple products that best fit their lifestyles. This is why Apple is very vocal about continuing to invest in the Mac. In addition, Cook has reiterated his view that the iPad is the clearest expression of Apple’s vision of the future of personal computing.

However, Apple’s handling of the Mac line has been increasingly questionable. The same can be said of the iPad line. It will have taken Apple at least two years to unveil a line of “Pro” iPad models spanning from 7.9-inch screens to the 12.9-inch model. 

While some have been quick to throw Apple’s functional organizational structure under the bus for causing these cracks, the organizational structure is not to blame. The issue doesn’t relate to a lack of focus either. Apple still isn’t selling that many products. Instead, these cracks are a result of today’s changing tech environment. 

When looking at some of the key accomplishments during the Tim Cook era, the installed base growth figures for Apple’s top products stand out. For every 100 users by which the iPhone installed base increases, the iPad installed base will grow by 35 users, and the Mac will increase by 10 users.

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Government U-turn on health privacy • Light Blue Touchpaper


»

Now that everyone’s distracted with the supreme court case on Brexit, you can expect the government to sneak out something it’s ashamed of.

Health secretary Jeremy Hunt has decided to ignore the wishes of over a million people who opted out of having their hospital records given to third parties such as drug companies, and the ICO has decided to pretend that the anonymisation mechanisms he says he’ll use instead are sufficient. One gently smoking gun is the fifth bullet in a new webpage here, where the Department of Health claims that when it says the data are anonymous, your wishes will be ignored.

The news has been broken in an article in the Health Services Journal (it’s behind a paywall, as a splendid example of transparency) with the Wellcome Trust praising the ICO’s decision not to take action against the Department. We are assured that “the data is seen as crucial for vital research projects”.

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Apple Watch sales to consumers set record in holiday week, says Apple’s Cook • Reuters

Julia Love:

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Sales of the Apple Watch to consumers set a record during the first week of holiday shopping, and the current quarter is on track to be the best ever for the product, Apple chief executive Tim Cook told Reuters.

Responding to an email from Reuters, Cook said the gadget’s sell-through – a measure of how many units are sold to consumers, rather than simply stocked on retailers’ shelves – reached a new high.

Cook’s comments followed a report on Monday from technology research firm IDC estimating that the tech giant sold 1.1 million units of the Apple Watch during the third quarter of 2016, down 71% from the year-ago quarter. The comments offer a glimpse of the gadget’s performance during the holiday quarter, which is typically Apple’s strongest.

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IDC’s estimate (it has to be an estimate) looks low – based on revenue, Apple probably sold between 2m and 2.5m.
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Chapter 40. The fake news, the real links • Sadbottrue

Bear with the language here:

»

Can a major media with 17 years of history and a monthly audience of 40 million., quote fake news sites? As if it did not look weird, but yes.

Studying the history of the site Donaldtrumpnews.co (disabled), we found a backlink to it on Breitbart.com.

It was quoted by Wayne Allyn Root, in the story “Mr. President, You Disgust Me”, posted on breitbart.com June 13, 2016. The quotation was “Obama is the man who cut $2.6 billion in funding for U.S. veterans, while at the same time adding $4.5 billion to the budget to relocate Syrian refugees to America.” Here’s the archive copy. The article was shared more than 40,000 times.

If you can not identify this site [Donaldtrumpnews.co] among the other sites of fake news, we give a small clarification. This is the most popular of the Macedonian sites investigated by Buzzfeed in the article “How Teens In The Balkans Are Duping Trump Supporters With Fake News”.

The site was created on April 29, 2016. At the time of quotation, the site was only one and a half months [old].

«

“Sadbottrue” is edited by Vlad Shevtsov; it seems to be aiming to investigate the origin of many of the fake news sites, and some of the social media junk, around the US election. The point that is made here – that Breitbart was prominently requoting a fake news outlet that was just six weeks old – raises the questions: how did Breitbart’s writer find it, and why didn’t they check it? Well, the latter is obvious enough. (They don’t care about accuracy.)

But how did they find it? Six weeks isn’t much time for any site to rise up Google’s search rankings.
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Supreme Court: lower court should reconsider what Samsung owes Apple • WSJ

Brent Kendall:

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Samsung has been challenging a $399m award to Apple after jurors in 2012 found that 11 smartphone models from the South Korean electronics giant infringed Apple’s design patents.

The high court agreed to hear the case to clarify how courts should compute monetary damages for design-patent infringement. Apple argued it was entitled to the total profits on Samsung’s infringing products. Samsung argued that it shouldn’t have to hand over all of its profits on the phones because the design was only one component of those complex devices.

The Supreme Court said an appeals court used the wrong analysis when it ruled for Apple.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor, writing for a unanimous court, said the holder of a design patent isn’t always entitled to the total profits on an infringing product sold to consumers. In multicomponent products, sometimes a patent holder will only be entitled to the infringer’s total profits on the specific component that infringed the patent, she said.

The decision, however, didn’t resolve the dispute between the smartphone makers. The court declined to apply its legal rules to the specifics of the case, so it didn’t determine whether Samsung must pay its total profits on the 11 phones or just its profits attributable to the screen and case design of those products.

The justices said a lower court should sort out that issue.

«

This is pretty dramatic. Apple’s claim, which was supported by a number of designers, was that Samsung had profited because of its infringement of Apple’s design patents – basically, how Samsung’s phone looked – and that it should receive all the profits Samsung earned because that infringement was the essential act which caused the decision. There seemed to be precedent from patents on physical products in the 20th century.

This overturns that; it means that copying the appearance of another device carries far lower penalties, as long as you can show that there might be other elements to the product which customers find attractive. (Probably wouldn’t work for a simple chair, for example.)

Just as well for Apple that phone design isn’t a key differentiator any more – but what happens when someone such as Samsung chooses to copy the Apple Watch?
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Patent troll claims to own Bluetooth, scores $15.7M verdict against Samsung • Ars Technica

Joe Mullin, writing in February 2015:

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Marshall [in Texas] is a small town that has been a hotspot for patent lawsuits for more than a decade now. US District Judge Rodney Gilstrap, who presided over this trial, oversees far more patent lawsuits than any other federal judge.

The Eastern District of Texas has stayed popular with patent holders, even as the docket has clogged with cases. Some factors cited include relatively fast-moving litigation, judges reluctant to make early summary judgment rulings, and a perception that juries are more likely to grant large awards.

Samsung has been sued in East Texas dozens of times. That’s not unusual for a large technology company. More than its rivals, though, Samsung has taken some unusual steps in recent years to try to keep up its reputation in Marshall and nearby towns. There’s no mistaking who sponsors Marshall’s winter festival—Samsung has its corporate logo plastered all over the town’s ice-skating rink, which gets set up each year in the same downtown square as the federal courthouse.

The company also makes a habit of granting scholarships to high school students in Marshall and nearby Tyler, giving a total of $50,000 last year. Winners receive photograph-worthy giant checks with a Samsung logo on them, and those images are often published in the local newspaper. The same check was on display in the News-Messenger when Samsung made a donation to Habitat for Humanity.

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Makes sense if you might find yourself in front of a group of jurors assembled from the area…
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Amazon Go • Amazon.com


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How does Amazon Go work?
Our checkout-free shopping experience is made possible by the same types of technologies used in self-driving cars: computer vision, sensor fusion, and deep learning. Our Just Walk Out technology automatically detects when products are taken from or returned to the shelves and keeps track of them in a virtual cart. When you’re done shopping, you can just leave the store. Shortly after, we’ll charge your Amazon account and send you a receipt.

What do I need to get started?
All you need is an Amazon account, a supported smartphone, and the free Amazon Go app.

Why did you build Amazon Go?
Four years ago we asked ourselves: what if we could create a shopping experience with no lines and no checkout? Could we push the boundaries of computer vision and machine learning to create a store where customers could simply take what they want and go? Our answer to those questions is Amazon Go and Just Walk Out Shopping.

So I can just shop normally?
Yes! Just browse and shop like you would at any other store. Then you’re on your way. No lines, no checkout.

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Very, very interesting. Would it scale to something the size of a typical Tesco supermarket? Access is gained via the smartphone app; what if other people come in too? Obviously Amazon has asked itself this question, so the answer(s) will be interesting. Hackers are going to have field days, particularly in messing with the (presumably) facial recognition and RFID systems it uses. Typically, Amazon has said very little about how it works.
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Exclusive: Galaxy S8 is not going to feature a 3.5mm headphone jack • SamMobile

“Adnan F”:

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If you were cross with Samsung for ditching removable batteries with the Galaxy S6 then you might not like what it’s going to do with the Galaxy S8. We can exclusively confirm that Samsung is going to remove the standard 3.5mm headphone jack from the Galaxy S8. This means that all of your existing headphones will not be compatible with the upcoming flagship unless you use a USB Type-C adapter as the Galaxy S8 will feature a USB Type-C port. This also means that you won’t be able to plug in the Galaxy S8 and use wired headphones at the same time.

We’ve seen Apple take this step with the iPhone 7 as well as a handful of Chinese OEMs. Apple took a lot of flak for this decision but the company says that it showed courage by making this decision to move beyond the standard 3.5mm headphone jack. We don’t know how Samsung is going to put a spin on its decision since fans are likely to lash out but there are some functional advantages to it.

Removing the 3.5mm headphone jack enables Samsung to make the Galaxy S8 thinner while also freeing up more space inside for a bigger battery.

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Commenters at SamMobile are furious.
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The slow, uninteresting death of Android tablets is unfolding, and it is no one’s fault • Android Police

David Ruddock:

»

Demands for features, functions, and tablet-specific interfaces distract from the real problem with tablets – that fewer and fewer people need or even want them.…

…There remain legitimate niche markets for tablets, in both professional and consumer senses, but the writing is on the wall when it comes to the mass-market tablet: we’re only going down from here. Rumors that Google is working on a new 7″ tablet to showcase its next-generation Andromeda operating system gave hope to enthusiasts that Google isn’t quite ready to let the tablet off life support just yet. If and when that device arrives, great pains will be taken by some to assure us that people really do want tablets, it’s just that they didn’t want the tablets we had before. We just need that magic bullet; to finally crack the tablet code. “This time, developers will pay attention!”

This is a fantasy. Android tablets have had six years to mature and evolve, for developers to find the use cases and the markets for their wares, and at the end of it all we’re left with a tablet content ecosystem now utterly devoid of interest from consumers and developers alike. Nothing Google can do with its operating system will be able to shock the tablet market back to life, because the tablet is not dying for a lack of content. It is dying for a lack of compelling reasons to exist.

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This may be the case for Android tablets, which have never quite managed to shift into a gear where they can rival PCs for usefulness. (I’d also take issue with Ruddock’s first point above: falling sales don’t mean fewer people want or need them, but that they’re slow to replace.) I think it’s different for the iPad, where the focus on apps, and especially paid apps, has made a difference. The existence of Workflow, which lets you automate workflows, and Pythonista, which lets you run Python programs, means you really can do a great deal on an iPad – and it’s a lot more portable than a laptop.
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Connected toys violate European consumer law • Norwegian consumer council


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In their review of the toys, the Consumer Council has found several serious issues:

• Lack of security: With simple steps, anyone can take control of the toys through a mobile phone. This makes it possible to talk and listen through the toy without having physical access to the toy.This lack of security could easily have been prevented, for example by making physical access to the toy required, or by requiring the user to press a button when pairing their phone with the toy.
• Illegal user terms: Before using the toy, users must consent to the terms being changed without notice, that personal data can be used for targeted advertising, and that information may be shared with unnamed 3rd parties.This and other discoveries are, in the NCC’s opinion, in breach of the EU Unfair Contract Terms Directive, the EU Data Protection Directive, and possibly the Toy Safety Directive.
• Kids’ secrets are shared: Anything the child tells the doll is transferred to the U.S.-based company Nuance Communications, who specialize in speech recognition technologies. The company reserves the right to share this information with other third parties, and to use speech data for a wide variety of purposes.

• Kids are subject to hidden marketing: The toys are embedded with pre-programmed phrases, where they endorse different commercial products. For example, Cayla will happily talk about how much she loves different Disney movies. Meanwhile, the app-provider has a commercial relationship with Disney.

«

Did nobody in the process ever think about these topics, or did they hope it would just be ignored?
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Gender bias in hiring: interviewing as a trans woman in tech • Model View Culture

February Keeney is half-Puerto Rican, and now works at GitHub on its anti-harassment systems:

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We know a lot about bias in hiring. Study after study confirms the very real phenomenon of bias against women, against people of color, against LGBT candidates. A fascinating phenomenon has shown up in some of the more recent studies: those who have very little explicit bias often have a lot of internalized implicit bias. That is to say, those who externally and consciously seem the least discriminatory, tend to be more likely to discriminate on a subconscious level.

My life has played out what many of these studies have simulated by replacing names on resumes, and other sleights of hand. The same exact candidate, in one instance presented as male and another as female, had not just slightly different results in the job search, but radically different results.

My career has become an A/B Test in gender. With the clear “winner” being male.

Being trans brings an entire new layer of bias and discrimination to play in every interview. In many circumstances I can avoid being read as trans. But almost never in a technical interview. Get me talking about tech and I will subconsciously drop voice. If the interviewer — almost always male — had suspicions about me prior to that, they have now been confirmed.

At this point a whole new set of factors come into play. Do they find me repulsive? Or worse, do they find me attractive? You can almost see the internalized homophobia in their eyes when this happens; that moment when they realize they are attracted to a trans woman. You see the fear in their eyes as they think “does this mean I am gay?”

I want to yell at them, “No! That is not how that works! It makes you straight! But even if it did make you gay: what’s wrong with that?”

Instead I sit there and hope they don’t sabotage me in their interview feedback. How often do these feelings translate into “not a good fit” or “she made me uncomfortable”?

«

Keeney is very interesting on this topic; equally good as the above is this interview with Techies Project. How galling would it be to be refused a job you know you’re qualified for because, basically, you wore lip gloss?

This is part of tech’s problem: it almost unconsciously enforces a strongly homogeneous culture.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up: how GitHub killed trolls, Facebook’s news threat, wearables struggle, Moto mods, and more


Can you spot a fake charger? Your house might depend on it. Photo by kikuyumoja 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. Use them wisely. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

What GitHub did to kill its trolls • Fusion

Kristen Brown:

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It was 2014 and the company was growing rapidly as a hub for programmers to collaborate on coding projects. But as its user base grew, so too did its problems. A GitHub developer, Julie Ann Horvath, left the company amid searing accusations of sexual and gender-based harassment, putting GitHub at the center of bad press for weeks and leading to the resignation of the company’s CEO.

To make matters worse, GitHub soon realized such problems weren’t limited to the office. Bullying and discrimination ran rampant on the site. There was systemic discrimination against women, with female coders often taken less seriously than their male peers. Petty disagreements devolved into flame wars in project comments. A bitter ex followed his former girlfriend from project to project, saying nasty things about her. And racist, sexist trolls sometimes co-opted features meant to enable collaboration to carry out vicious attacks, using, for example, a people-tagging feature to tag their targets on projects with racist names, transforming their portfolios into a slur of racist epithets.

Nicole Sanchez, the company’s VP of Social Impact, told that these are the “dangers and pitfalls of online life,” and not unique to GitHub, but GitHub wanted to try to prevent them.

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What’s really notable about the way GitHub tackled this is that it had a diverse team (gender and colour) who knew just how these tools could be abused, and so were able to zero in on how to prevent it.
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Facebook’s walled wonderland is inherently incompatible with news • Monday Note

Frederic Filloux:

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when he reiterated Facebook’s mission statement at the F8 conference last April, this is what Mark Zuckerberg had to say:

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We stand for connecting every person. For a global community. For bringing people together. For giving all people a voice. For a free flow of ideas and culture across nations. (…) We’ve gone from a world of isolated communities to one global community, and we’re all better off for it.

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Well. No. That is cool mental construct, but it simply is not true.

Facebook might have created a “global community” but its components are utterly segregated and fragmented.

Facebook is made up of dozens of millions of groups carefully designed to share the same views and opinions. Each group is protected against ideological infiltration from other cohorts.

Maintaining the integrity of these walls is the primary mission of Facebook’s algorithm.

We must face the fact that Facebook doesn’t care about news in the journalism sense. News represents about 10% of the average user newsfeed and news can be cut overnight if circumstances dictate with no significant impact for the platform. (Actually, someone with good inside knowledge of the social network told me that news will be removed from users’ feed should the European Union move against Facebook in the same way it attacks Google on editorial issues).

In that broad context, the fake news situation is just a part of Facebook’s system, a bad apple in a large basket.

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The European angle is concerning; as is the last sentence in that extract, because Facebook can be confident it will be able to fill its ad inventory even – perhaps especially – if it gets rid of “news” sites, whether genuine or fake.

But what happens to the reach of news sites then?
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Mounds of Moto Mods: we’ll see at least 12 per year • CNET

Jessica Dolcourt:

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Moto is investing big in Mods, those magnetic, snap-on accessories – such as a battery pack and external speaker – that enhance the Moto Z, Moto Z Force and Moto Z Play. In fact, Lenovo’s Moto execs told a small group of journalists this week, the company itself will commit to releasing at least 12 new Moto Mods a year.

Specifically, that works out to four Mods per quarter that Lenovo makes with partners like Mophie, Incipio and Kate Spade. Lenovo, which bought the Moto brand when it scooped up Motorola Mobility from Google, counts its year from April to April, so look for the number of Mods to ramp up starting next spring.

“Our goal is to get more Mods out this year than we did last year, no question,” said John Touvannas, Lenovo’s Moto Mods director.

In truth, we should see many more than 12 new mods for 2017 by the time next year is through. Lenovo will launch an Indiegogo campaign come January to drum up more developer involvement. Those who pitch the best ideas will get a Mods kit with the hardware and software needed to start making their own prototypes, plus help bringing those ideas to market…

…Here are a few more potential ideas, which may or may not become a reality:

E-reading concept and a mod that uses a front-facing speaker
LED lights to express your mood
Game controller
Measurement tool
Remote control
External storage
Alarm clock
Breathalyser mod
Baby care that measures humidity, temperature, etc.
Colour sensors for the blind.

«

Crowdfunded campaigns seem like the optimal way to make this successful, but I still don’t see a sizable public demand for modular phones. Battery packs and external speakers already exist, and you can connect them to the phone of your choice. Alarm clock? External storage? Game controller? All inbuilt. As for the breathalyser, that might have a bigger audience than the colour sensor for the blind – but it feels like Lenovo is just throwing out wild ideas in the hope something will work.

Modular can be more profitable, but it depends heavily on uptake. I remain sceptical.
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Fake Apple chargers fail safety tests • BBC News


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Investigators have warned consumers they face potentially fatal risks after 99% of fake Apple chargers failed a basic safety test.

Trading Standards, which commissioned the checks, said counterfeit electrical goods bought online were an “unknown entity”.

Of 400 counterfeit chargers, only three were found to have enough insulation to protect against electric shocks.

It comes as Apple has complained of a “flood” of fakes being sold on Amazon. Apple revealed in October that it was suing a third-party vendor, which it said was putting customers “at risk” by selling power adapters masquerading as those sold by the Californian tech firm.

The Trading Standards tests were performed by safety specialists UL. They applied a high voltage to the chargers, which were bought online from eight different countries, including the US, China and Australia, to test for sufficient insulation.

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What’s the betting, though, that all of the chargers were actually made in China?
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​Has voice control finally started speaking our language​? • The Guardian

Rhodri Marsden thinks that Alexa is the product that is making us comfortable with speech control, because it’s in the home, where we’re comfortable with talking aloud into the air:

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Advances in speech recognition could be seen as the fulfilling of a science fiction dream that extends from Star Trek through 2001: A Space Odyssey to Knight Rider and beyond. Its history has been characterised by disappointment, but its key attributes are clear: it is hands-free and fast, devices don’t have to be unlocked and there are no menu structures to navigate. As more TVs and set-top boxes become speech savvy, the remote control will be consigned to history. As devices get smaller and lose their keyboards and screens, voice control will become crucial. And according to [associate director of Futuresource Consulting, Simon] Bryant, the knock-on effects are already being seen. “We’re expecting 6.1m units of Echo-like devices to be sold by the end of this year,” he says, “which takes a huge chunk out of the audio market. And it’s going to boost radio audiences, because people are going into rooms and just want something to be playing.”

Alexa’s ability to instantly switch on Heart FM falls well short of the kind of rich human-computer relationship that’s depicted in the Spike Jonze film Her, but while new apps like Hound are becoming more adept at having longer conversations and understanding context, there are limits to a computer’s ability to deal with conversational interaction, according to Mark Bishop, professor of cognitive computing at Goldsmiths University of London. “Action-focused commands like ‘tell me the weather in Seattle’ are much simpler things for a machine to parse and interact with than an open-ended narrative,” he says. “But there are fundamental problems in AI that, for me, mean that we’re some years away from having a machine that can have a meaningful, goal-directed conversation, if it’s ever possible at all.”

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Marsden certainly has a good point with the idea of not needing a remote control. But then is it just about who can shout the loudest when different people want a channel?
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43,203 Indian patient pathology reports were left publicly exposed by Health Solutions • Troy Hunt


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I’m used to seeing large amounts of personal data left inadvertently exposed to the web. Recently, the Red Cross Blood Service down here left a huge amount of data exposed (well, at least the company doing their tech things did). Shortly afterwards, the global recruitment company Michael Page also lost a heap (also due to a partner, Capgemini). Both cases were obviously extremely embarrassing for the companies involved and they did exactly what you’d expect them to do once they found out about it – they pulled the data offline as fast as humanly possible.

And this is how it generally goes with incidents like this; lots of embarrassment, lots of scrambling to fix then lots of apologising afterwards. Which makes the behaviour of Health Solutions in India all the more confounding. Here’s how it all unfolded.

On Wednesday, someone popped up on the Twitters and shared a link with me via DM which went to http://www.hsppl.com/pathology/downloads/downloadReports and returned this page:

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See, it’s already bad. (That page has been removed. But this was amazing neglect.)
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Fitness trackers in the lead as wearables market grows 3.1% in the third quarter • IDC


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While the smartwatch market took a tumble this quarter, the overall wearables market grew 3.1% year over year in the third quarter of 2016 (3Q16). Total wearables shipments reached 23m in the quarter, according to data from the International Data Corporation, (IDC) Worldwide Quarterly Wearable Device Tracker.

Basic wearables, primarily comprised of fitness bands, accounted for 85% of the market and experienced double-digit growth. Much of the increase was attributed to the launch of newer models, an expanding user base, and an enticing summer season that allowed people to step out of their homes. IDC expects the momentum for basic wearables to continue for the remainder of 2016 as the holiday season is now in full swing. However, smart wearables capable of running third party apps will likely continue to struggle in the near term.

“It’s still early days, but we’re already seeing a notable shift in the market,” said Jitesh Ubrani senior research analyst for IDC Mobile Device Trackers. “Where smartwatches were once expected to take the lead, basic wearables now reign supreme. Simplicity is a driving factor and this is well reflected in the top vendor list as four out of five offer a simple, dedicated fitness device. Meanwhile, from a design perspective, many devices are focusing on fashion first while allowing the technology to blend in with the background.”

«

Fitbit 5.3m units (up from 4.8m year ago); Xiaomi 3.8m (3.7m); Garmin 1.3m (1.2m); Apple 1.1m (3.9m); Samsung 1.0m (0.5m). “Others” rose from 8.3m to 10.4m, but IDC doesn’t distinguish whether those are smartwatches or trackers. I’m guessing the latter.

Samsung’s rise was helped by bundling with the Note 7, despite its recall. My guess is that only Fitbit, Apple and Garmin are making money in this game; Fitbit makes about $8.40 net income per device sold, which is respectable – it’s more than quite a few Android phone OEMs do on their phones (or, especially, their smartwatches).
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Multiple security vulnerabilities found in AirDroid, including ability to send malicious APKs to a user’s device • Android Police

Corbin Davenport:

»

Mobile security company Zimperium recently released details of several major security vulnerabilities in AirDroid, allowing attackers on the same network to access user information and even execute code on a user’s phone.

The security issues are mainly due to AirDroid [which has 50m-100m installs via Google Play] using the same HTTP request to authorize the device and send usage statistics. The request is encrypted, but uses a hardcoded key in the AirDroid application (so essentially, everyone using AirDroid has the same key). Attackers on the same network an intercept the authentication request (commonly known as a man-in-the-middle attack) using the key extracted from any AirDroid APK to retrieve private account information. This includes the email address and password associated with the AirDroid account.

But this gets even worse. Attackers using a transparent proxy can intercept the network request AirDroid sends to check for add-on updates, and inject any APK they want. AirDroid would then notify the user of an add-on update, then download the malicious APK and ask the user to accept the installation.

Zimperium notified AirDroid of these security flaws on May 24, and a few days later, AirDroid acknowledged the problem. Zimperium continued to follow up until AirDroid informed them of the upcoming 4.0 release, which was made available last month. Zimperium later discovered that version 4.0 still had all these same issues, and finally went public with the security vulnerabilities today.

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AirDroid has responded with a post that seems to have been Google Translated from another language. It doesn’t really explain anything.
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Fake US embassy in Ghana shut down • Al Jazeera


»

Authorities in Ghana have busted a fake US embassy in the capital, Accra, run by a criminal network that for a decade issued illegally obtained authentic visas, the US State Department has said.

Until it was shut down this summer, the sham embassy was housed in a run-down, pink two-storey building with a corrugated iron roof and flew a US flag outside. Inside hung a portrait of President Barack Obama.

“It was not operated by the United States government, but by figures from both Ghanaian and Turkish organised crime rings and a Ghanaian attorney practicing immigration and criminal law,” the State Department said in a statement released late on Friday.

Turkish citizens, who spoke English and Dutch, posed as consular officers and staffed the operation. Investigations also uncovered a fake Dutch embassy, the State Department said…

…The real US embassy in Ghana is a prominent and heavily fortified complex in Cantonments, one of the capital’s most expensive neighbourhoods. Lines of people queue outside each day for visa appointments and other consular business.

The fake embassy was open three mornings a week and did not accept walk-in appointments. Instead, the criminals advertised on billboards in Ghana, Togo and Ivory Coast and brought clients from across West Africa to Accra where they rented them rooms in nearby hotels.

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Now that is chutzpah.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up: router hacking, Reuters news bots, Facebook’s $1bn news swipe, 52 things to know, and more


Was Hitler… hey, let’s ask Google what it thinks we’re trying to ask. Photo by DappleRose 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.

Google, democracy and the truth about internet search • The Guardian

Carole Cadwalladr:

»

Do you want to know about Hitler? Let’s Google it. “Was Hitler bad?” I type. And here’s Google’s top result: “10 Reasons Why Hitler Was One Of The Good Guys” I click on the link: “He never wanted to kill any Jews”; “he cared about conditions for Jews in the work camps”; “he implemented social and cultural reform.” Eight out of the other 10 search results agree: Hitler really wasn’t that bad.

A few days later, I talk to Danny Sullivan, the founding editor of SearchEngineLand.com. He’s been recommended to me by several academics as one of the most knowledgeable experts on search. Am I just being naive, I ask him? Should I have known this was out there? “No, you’re not being naive,” he says. “This is awful. It’s horrible. It’s the equivalent of going into a library and asking a librarian about Judaism and being handed 10 books of hate. Google is doing a horrible, horrible job of delivering answers here. It can and should do better.”

He’s surprised too. “I thought they stopped offering autocomplete suggestions for religions in 2011.” And then he types “are women” into his own computer. “Good lord! That answer at the top. It’s a featured result. It’s called a “direct answer”. This is supposed to be indisputable. It’s Google’s highest endorsement.” That every women has some degree of prostitute in her? “Yes. This is Google’s algorithm going terribly wrong.”

I contacted Google about its seemingly malfunctioning autocomplete suggestions and received the following response: “Our search results are a reflection of the content across the web. This means that sometimes unpleasant portrayals of sensitive subject matter online can affect what search results appear for a given query. These results don’t reflect Google’s own opinions or beliefs – as a company, we strongly value a diversity of perspectives, ideas and cultures.”

«

A stunning article, which also highlights research by Jonathan Albright which found a constellation of fake news sites all trying to harness their very finest Googlejuice.

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Trumpgrets • Tumblr


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Trumpgrets.
schadenfreude therapy

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Collections of people realising They Made A Big Mistake. And as a bonus, an interview with the person who set it up.
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TalkTalk and other ISPs need to replace customer routers urgently • Pen Test Partners

Andrew Tierney:

»

We run a TR-064 / Annie honeypot and saw requests last night, which alerted us to the issue. Here you can see someone trying to steal our Wi-Fi network key using the ‘GetSecurityKeys’ command:

TalkTalk published a fix to the TR-064 / Annie issue. What this does is disable the TR-064 interface and reset the router. It resets the passwords, back to the ones written on the back of the router:

Here’s why the fix doesn’t work: Nearly all customers never change their Wi-Fi key from that written on the router. Why would they? I’ll bet many don’t even realise they can.

So, the Annie worm and hackers have already stolen their wi-fi keys, and the TalkTalk fix simply resets the router, to the exact same keys that have already been stolen!!

There is one mitigating factor in all of this: the hacker has to be physically close to the router to compromise the Wi-Fi. However, if you know the SSID (also stolen using the Annie worm) you can use databases such as https://wigle.net to find your victim’s house.

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link to this extract


Routers behaving badly • net.wars

Wendy Grossman:

»

Late on Saturday night, a small laptop started having trouble connecting. This particular laptop sometimes has these issues, which I put down to the peculiarities of running wired ethernet into it via a USB converter. But the next day I realized that the desktop was timing out on some connections, and one of the other laptops was refusing to connect to the internet at all. An unhappy switch somewhere in the middle? Or perhaps a damaged cable? The wireless part of the network, which I turned on as a test, worked much better, which lent credence to the cable idea.

By Monday morning, I had concluded the thing to do was to restart the main router. Things were fine after that. On Tuesday morning, some bounced emails from my server alerted me to the fact that my IP address had been placed on one of the three blacklists Spamhaus consults. It was only then that I realized my router was one of the ones affected by the 7547 bug. If my network had been spewing botnet messages, the router was infected.

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She managed to fix it (pretty much) but as she points out, if even knowledgeable people are struggling with this, what hope for those who just buy a smart lightbulb or smart thermostat or smart whatever and assume that’s the end of the story? We’re building up trouble.
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The age of the cyborg • Columbia Journalism Review

Jonathan Stray:

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Automated systems can report a figure, but they can’t yet say what it means; on their own, computer-generated stories contain no context, no analysis of trends, anomalies, and deeper forces at work. Reuters’s newest technology goes deeper, but with human help: It still writes words, but isn’t meant to publish stories on its own. Reuters’s “automation for insights” system, currently under development, summarizes interesting events in financial data and alerts journalists. Instead of supplying what [Reuters executive editor for data and innovation Reg] Chua calls “the headline numbers—the index was at this number, up/down from yesterday’s close,” the machine surfaces “more sophisticated analyses, the biggest rise since whenever, that sort of thing.”

The system could look for changes in analysts’ ratings, unusually good or bad performance compared to other companies in the same industry, or company insiders who have recently sold stock. Rather than being a sentence generator, it’s meant to “flag journalists to things that might be of interest to them,” says Chua, “helpfully done in the form of a sentence.”

But not all breaking news comes through financial data feeds, so Reuters’s most sophisticated piece of automation finds news by analyzing social media. Internal research showed that something like 10 or 20% of news breaks first on Twitter, so the company decided to monitor Twitter. All of it. 

At the end of 2014, Reuters started a project called News Tracer. The system analyzes every tweet in real time—all 500 million or so each day. First it filters out spam and advertising. Then it finds similar tweets on the same topic, groups them into “clusters,” and assigns each a topic such as business, politics, or sports. Finally it uses natural language processing techniques to generate a readable summary of each cluster.

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link to this extract


A look at Facebook’s billion-dollar 2016 hit on the US news ecosystem • Poynter

Rick Edmonds:

»

Of 4,600 local advertisers who use newspapers, [advertising analyst Gordon] Borrell found, 79% said they were cutting print advertising in newspapers to fund digital spend. Just over half said that they were cutting “a lot” rather than a little.

On many dimensions, the local advertisers indicated satisfaction with their Facebook buys — effective, easy to place, comparatively inexpensive.

A typical small business, Borrell wrote me, now spends between $1,000 and $2,000 a year on Facebook ads.

So what are the implications for the news business?

More of the same dynamic is expected, but I’m not yet ready to say the sky is falling in. Rather the scales now tilt more steeply toward a strategy for newspapers and other serious news players to develop alternate revenue streams to print ads and digital banners.

Those include proven winners like events and digital marketing services, together with specialized premium ad opportunities — exclusive sponsorships, native and valued local targeting.

Put another way, a clickbait-enhanced bet on growing raw traffic numbers looks more and more like doubling down on a losing hand. Except for the biggest news players, trying to take on Google and Facebook at a game they dominate seems futile.

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link to this extract


Facebook knows what you’re streaming • Bloomberg

Vauhini Vara:

»

Facebook is using streaming TV to quietly test an ad model that feels a lot more retro. For the past few weeks, the social network says, it’s been targeting ads to people streaming certain shows on their Roku or Apple TV set-top boxes. It customizes commercials based on the Facebook profiles tied to the IP addresses doing the streaming, according to a company spokesman. He says Facebook is trying out this approach with the A&E network (The Killing, Duck Dynasty) and streaming startup Tubi TV, selecting free test ads for nonprofits or its own products along with a handful of name brands.

This push is part of a broader effort by social media companies to build their revenue with ads on video. Twitter is placing much of its ad-sales hopes on streaming partnerships with sports leagues and other content providers. In October, CFO Anthony Noto told analysts on an earnings call that the ads played during Twitter’s NFL Thursday Night Football streaming exclusives had been especially successful, with many people watching them in their entirety with the sound turned on.

«

Is there anything that Facebook considers off limits in its desire to put ads in front of you? Asking for a friend – I won’t visit it without a very active adblocker.
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FAA reverses course, grants drone journalist permission to fly in no-fly zone over Standing Rock • Forbes

John Goglia:

»

In a dramatic reversal of its prior refusal to allow drone journalists in the no-fly zone over the Standing Rock protests in North Dakota, the FAA has granted drone photographer Robert Levine of Minneapolis, Minnesota a three-day waiver to fly in the so-called TFR or temporary flight restriction zone.  The waiver, issued on December 1 authorizes Mr. Levine to fly within a half mile radius of a specific point – defined by latitude and longitude – over Standing Rock during daylight hours from 7:00 am CST on December 4 to 5 pm CST on December 7.  The waiver requires him to operate below 400 feet above ground level and states ”nighttime flight operations, beyond visual line of sight flight operations and unsafe flight operations are strictly prohibited.”  Mr. Levine is required to contact the North Dakota Tactical Operation Center and Air Traffic Control before and after each flight.

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After last week’s block on the same (which included police shooting at the journalists’ and protesters’ drones).
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Random iPhone 6s shutdowns due to faulty battery component, Apple says • Macworld

Michael Kan:

»

A problem with iPhone 6s products randomly shutting down comes from a battery flaw found in a small number of models, according to Apple.

After a Chinese consumer watchdog group reported the issue, Apple is offering a fix free of charge to any eligible iPhone 6s user through its customer support sites.

On Friday, Apple explained on its Chinese site that the problem was found in iPhone 6s devices containing a faulty battery component. This component was “exposed to controlled ambient air longer than it should have” before it was assembled into the battery packs, Apple said.

“As a result, these batteries degrade faster than a normal battery and cause unexpected shutdowns to occur,” the company said.

However, the faulty components were only found only in a “small number” of iPhone 6s devices made in September and October 2015.

“It’s important to note, this is not a safety issue,” Apple said.

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link to this extract


The man who made radio viral • Buzzfeed

Matthew Champion:

»

[44-year-old LBC radio host James] O’Brien is almost reluctant at first to try to explain why he thinks his videos are so successful, joking that he does not want to give away his secrets. He’s also conscious of the difficulty of discussing why 4 million people want to watch a clip of him talking about something, without sounding conceited.

But he does see himself as something of a lone voice in what he calls “speaking truth to power”.

“I think what’s possibly missing from the world of the polemic is people picking on the powerful rather than the vulnerable. All the polemics at the moment are about picking on the vulnerable, the less fortunate, the children who are drowning in the Mediterranean, or some bloke from Syria who might be 20 instead of 17, or Lily Allen, or Gary Lineker. Gary Lineker’s not vulnerable, but he is a very easy target.”

“There aren’t many voices slagging off what the rest of the media is doing, and what 80% of the media is doing is encouraging us to punch ourselves in the face on a daily basis. And we are.”

Is it any surprise that the success of O’Brien’s clips and monologues coincides with Brexit, Donald Trump, and the post-truth political era?
The tension between evidence and opinion is at “breaking point”, he says.

“I think the radio show as a whole makes this point quite frequently, and it’s where I get quite a lot of hate as well because people hate having it pointed out. Mark Twain said it: It’s a hell of a lot easier to fool people than it is to convince people that they have been fooled. The traditional talk radio listener is quite right-wing so I have historically been in the business of explaining to people why they are wrong, and they don’t often thank you for it. One of my favourites was a guy who said, ‘Well, my daughter’s school has got a prayer room,’ and there’s nothing necessarily wrong with that but I didn’t believe him because he’d kind of come on with all these anti-immigration memes that were straight out of the comments section of the Daily Mail, and I just smelled a rat.

“So I said, ‘The school have just rung in,’ because I asked him to name the school, ‘We’ve got them on the other line; they say there isn’t a prayer room.’ It was a complete punt, that, [I] didn’t have them on the other line. I could just tell, and that was three years ago, so post-truth isn’t new to me. I think the people who want to tell you what they think but can’t tell you why, they’ve set the scene for post-truth politics.

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link to this extract


52 things I learned in 2016 • Medium

Tom Whitwell:

»

My first full year working at Fluxx on a series of fascinating projects and learning about…

1) Call Me Baby is a call centre for cybercriminals who need a human voice as part of a scam. They charge $10 for each call in English, and $12 for calls in German, French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese and Polish. [Brian Krebs]

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And then there are 51 more, some more jawdropping than others, but all the sort of thing that makes you say “Really? Wow!”
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up: wearables crunch, Internet Archive moves, Nokia’s phoenix, Reddit’s internal war, and more


Google Home: future of computing, presence of computing, or dead end? Photo by Stratageme.com

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.

I got a Google Home and finally understand the future of computing • Medium

Owen Williams:

»

The beauty of the device is really in how it’s able to understand both context and the seemingly bizarre, however. If you say “OK Google, who’s that guy who plays God in lots of movies” it’ll say “Morgan Freeman.” From then, if you ask “what else is he known for” it’ll pick up that you’re still referring to Morgan Freeman, and tell you a bunch of stuff from his biography.

My favorite command is a simple one: “how’s my day looking?” Home spouts off the things in my calendar, the weather in Amsterdam, how long my cycle to the office will take and then jumps into a two-minute world news briefing. It’s simple, but actually really addictive.

Home really comes into its own if you buy a whole bunch of smart devices, too. I reluctantly picked up a set of Philips Hue smart light bulbs, and wired up my smart thermostat to the device with IFTTT. Now when it’s cold, I can just say “OK Google, turn up the heat” and it does adjusts up a few notches.

Even better, “OK Google, goodnight” turns off all the lights, stops the music, turns off the TV and lowers the heat automatically. If you have a few Chromecast devices it’s nifty too — then you can just say “Play Carly Rae Jepsen in the Living Room” and it works.

«

Here’s what I wonder about. These things Williams describes – they aren’t the *future* of computing. They’re computing that’s here right now, but very few people are actually interested in it. Got a thermostat and a seven-day timer? That’s your heating sorted right there. Got light switches? There you go.

A smartphone that connects to your thermostat? That makes sense – then you don’t even need to be at home to control it, but you can still let the seven-day timer do the heavy lifting.

And also – if I want to know who the guy is who has played God so much, I might find a person to discuss it with. not a computer. (And look later at the articles on wearables and see if this hype is like it.)
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Help us keep the Internet Archive free, accessible, and reader private • Internet Archive Blogs

Brewser Kahle:

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this year, we have set a new goal: to create a copy of Internet Archive’s digital collections in another country. We are building the Internet Archive of Canada because, to quote our friends at LOCKSS, “lots of copies keep stuff safe.” This project will cost millions. So this is the one time of the year I will ask you: please make a tax-deductible donation to help make sure the Internet Archive lasts forever.

On November 9th in America, we woke up to a new administration promising radical change. It was a firm reminder that institutions like ours, built for the long-term, need to design for change.

For us, it means keeping our cultural materials safe, private and perpetually accessible. It means preparing for a Web that may face greater restrictions.

It means serving patrons in a world in which government surveillance is not going away; indeed it looks like it will increase.

Throughout history, libraries have fought against terrible violations of privacy—where people have been rounded up simply for what they read. At the Internet Archive, we are fighting to protect our readers’ privacy in the digital world.

We can do this because we are independent, thanks to broad support from many of you. The Internet Archive is a non-profit library built on trust. Our mission: to give everyone access to all knowledge, forever. For free. The Internet Archive has only 150 staff but runs one of the top-250 websites in the world. Reader privacy is very important to us, so we don’t accept ads that track your behavior. We don’t even collect your IP address. But we still need to pay for the increasing costs of servers, staff and rent.

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Also connected: Kahle has twice fended off National Security Letters, the secret orders from the FBI. I’ve donated. If you like The Overspill, I’d be delighted if you made a donation too.
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What Gamergate should have taught us about the ‘alt-right’ • The Guardian

Matt Lees:

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The young men converted via 2014’s Gamergate, are being more widely courted now. By leveraging distrust and resentment towards women, minorities and progressives, many of Gamergate’s most prominent voices – characters like Mike Cernovich, Adam Baldwin, and Milo Yiannopoulos – drew power and influence from its chaos. These figures gave Gamergate a new sense of direction – generalising the rhetoric: this was now a wider war between “Social Justice Warriors” (SJWs) and everyday, normal, decent people. Games were simply the tip of the iceberg – progressive values, went the argument, were destroying everything. The same voices moved into other geek communities, especially comics, where Marvel and DC were criticised for progressive storylines and decisions. They moved into science fiction with the controversy over the Hugo awards. They moved into cinema with the revolting kickback against the all-female Ghostbusters reboot. Despite colonising the world with pointless tech and plastering modern film and TV with fan-pleasing adaptations of niche comic books, nerds still had a taste for revenge. They saw the culture they considered theirs being ripped away from them. In their zero sum mindset, they read growing artistic equality as a threat.

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This is a must-read article: Lees lived through it (as, to a far lesser extent, I did), and the points he makes are all valid. The wider concern is the one which keeps coming up: how do you get people to show more empathy? The suspicion – my suspicion – is that for some men, it simply isn’t possible. That’s concerning.
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Fitbit to buy Pebble • The Information

Reed Albergotti and Jessica Lessin:

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Fitbit, the leader in the fitness band market, is near a deal to acquire smartwatch maker Pebble, according to three people briefed on the deal.

The price couldn’t be learned but it is thought to be for a small amount. Pebble had been looking to sell, one of the people said. There have been signs over the past year or so that Pebble was facing financial challenges. Earlier this year it reportedly laid off about a quarter of its workforce.

The expected sale of Pebble to Fitbit signals a consolidation in the wearables market.

The Pebble brand will be phased out after the deal. What Fitbit will get is Pebble’s intellectual property, such as  its operating system, one of the people said.

«

Related, by Dan Seifert at The Verge:

»

Lenovo Moto is not releasing another smartwatch for Android 2.0 next year: the company doesn’t “see enough pull in the market to put [a new smartwatch] out at this time,” though it may revisit the market in the future should technologies for the wrist improve. “Wearables do not have broad enough appeal for us to continue to build on it year after year” [head of global product development Shakil] Barkat said, and indicated that smartwatches and other wearable devices will not be in Moto’s annual device roadmap.

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After GoPro laying off, it looks like the wearables market is consolidating fast. Android Wear is in trouble, I think.
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Nokia’s phone brand lives again • Counterpoint Technology

Neil Shah:

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featurephones will sell more than 350m units this year globally, and close to 300m units next year – close to US$6bn in revenue opportunity.

Currently, Nokia-branded featurephone business [being sold by Microsoft] has close to 11% share of this market, from a peak of 34% before Microsoft’s acquisition of Nokia’s devices business.

To get back to 25% level would be the mid-term goal for HMD which is in turn around a billion dollar in revenues.

The featurephone business will bring in cash flow to launch an “Android” based smartphone portfolio in 2017.

Close partnership with the number one mobile phone manufacturer in the world, Foxconn (FIH), brings greater scale, manufacturing advantage from start and will be pivotal to smartphone portfolio resurrection.

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Just for context – more than a billion smartphones will be sold this year, at prices on average much higher than for featurephones ($20 average selling price). Would love to know the profit margin.
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Strange numbers found in particle collisions • Quanta Magazine

Kevin Hartnett:

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Over the last decade physicists and mathematicians have been exploring a surprising correspondence that has the potential to breathe new life into the venerable Feynman diagram and generate far-reaching insights in both fields. It has to do with the strange fact that the values calculated from Feynman diagrams seem to exactly match some of the most important numbers that crop up in a branch of mathematics known as algebraic geometry. These values are called “periods of motives,” and there’s no obvious reason why the same numbers should appear in both settings. Indeed, it’s as strange as it would be if every time you measured a cup of rice, you observed that the number of grains was prime.

“There is a connection from nature to algebraic geometry and periods, and with hindsight, it’s not a coincidence,” said Dirk Kreimer, a physicist at Humboldt University in Berlin.

Now mathematicians and physicists are working together to unravel the coincidence. For mathematicians, physics has called to their attention a special class of numbers that they’d like to understand: Is there a hidden structure to these periods that occur in physics? What special properties might this class of numbers have? For physicists, the reward of that kind of mathematical understanding would be a new degree of foresight when it comes to anticipating how events will play out in the messy quantum world.

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Long. You will be (a lot) wiser about Feynman diagrams and the rest by the end though.
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World chess has a big problem • Bloomberg

Carol Matlack:

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Modern chess has much going for it: millions of fans and players around the world, charismatic young stars, and a game uniquely suited for the internet age. It also has a substantial problem. The World Chess Federation, the game’s official governing body and awarder of “grandmaster” status, keeps doing business with some of the world’s worst regimes. Known by its French acronym FIDE (“fee-day”), the organization is in the firm grip of its eccentric president, Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, a 54-year-old Russian businessman and ex-politician. He has flaunted his relationships with Bashar al-Assad, Saddam Hussein, and Muammar Qaddafi, having played chess under a tent with the Libyan leader a few weeks before Qaddafi’s death. His ties to Vladimir Putin have raised suspicion that he secretly works for the Kremlin—an idea he dismisses as ludicrous. Ilyumzhinov also claims to have been abducted by aliens in 1997 and says extraterrestrials introduced chess to humans more than 2,000 years ago.

The United States sanctioned Ilyumzhinov a year ago for allegedly doing business deals to aid the Assad regime in Syria. Ilyumzhinov denies this, but sanctions mean he can’t visit the U.S. or do business with American citizens or corporations. In an attempt to limit the damage to chess, Deputy President Georgios Makropolous took over routine operations. Organization of the world championship was left to Agon.

It didn’t help. The New York tournament, which hoped to attract luxury retailers and financial firms as sponsors, wound up with an odd quartet: a Russian fertilizer company, a Moscow-based asset-management firm, a Norwegian bottled-water company that sponsors Carlsen, and S.T. Dupont, whose stylish pens are being used by the two players to make notes. “People are afraid,” Makropoulos said.

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Sort of related: the final deciding game in the World Chess Championship which ended this week, won by Magnus Carlsen with a queen sacrifice that could have come from the days of Petrosian. Here it is, as a GIF.

https://twitter.com/i/videos/tweet/804111974904774657?embed_source=clientlib&player_id=0&rpc_init=1
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Reddit is fighting the same kind of war that Twitter is • Fortune

Mathew Ingram:

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Twitter has fiddled with the mute function to make it easier for those who have been harassed to ignore their abusers, but many argue that this is too little and too late. Reddit has tried to empower moderators, but some say those moves are also insufficient to solve the problem.

The company said it is stepping up its efforts by taking action against some of its “most toxic users,” ranging from warnings and time-out periods to permanent bans. Huffman said the site will also continue to “take privileges from communities whose users continually cross the line.”

The challenges facing both Twitter and Reddit have become even more acute as both companies have come under increased financial pressure. Twitter is trying hard to justify its $13bn market value, while Reddit is trying to justify the $50m in funding it raised in 2014, which gave the company a theoretical value of about $500m…

…The risk for both companies — Reddit and Twitter — is that by cracking down on abuse, they also squeeze the life out of their services, and thus wind up with fewer users and less engagement, making it even more difficult to reach their financial goals. And yet, not taking action isn’t really an option either.

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The US government is using a no-fly zone to suppress journalism at Standing Rock • Motherboard

Jason Koebler:

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In recent weeks, videos shot by Native American drone pilots have shown percussion grenades launched from an armored vehicle deep into a crowd of people protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline in North Dakota. They have shown people being knocked backward with a constant barrage of water being shot from fire hoses. They’ve shown a line of body armor-clad cops aiming guns at unarmed water protectors holding their hands high above their heads. Another video, shot at night, shows that construction on the Dakota Access Pipeline continues under the cover of darkness.

In recent weeks, Dakota Access Pipeline protesters have been tear gassed, sprayed with water cannons in freezing temperatures, and shot with rubber bullets by a police force using military-style vehicles and violent riot suppression tactics. Every suppression apparatus the government has at its disposal has been used—even the National Guard has been called in.

These drone-shot videos have been invaluable in recording these abuses. And yet those, too, have been targeted by the government. The Federal Aviation Administration has set up a Temporary Flight Restriction over a four-mile radius surrounding the Standing Rock protests. The TFR applies only to civilians; law enforcement helicopters and aircraft buzz over protesters with impunity.

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Are drones for filming protected by the US’s First Amendment? Experts contacted by Motherboard thought so. Might come to a lawsuit.
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The farce of the deal, Carrier edition • Bloomberg Gadfly

Brooke Sutherland on the excitement over Trump (with the help of Mike Pence, and more particularly the state of Indiana and some juicy tax breaks) getting Carrier to retain 1,000 jobs in Indiana:

»

what about the many other manufacturing companies that have moved or are planning to move jobs offshore? They don’t all share the same broad trigger points.

Consider Rexnord Corp., for example. The maker of industrial machinery parts and drainage equipment officially decided this month, after the election, to close an Indianapolis factory and move the work to Mexico, eliminating about 300 jobs. But Rexnord doesn’t have as significant of exposure to military contracts that Trump can exploit. It had about $175m of earnings stashed abroad as of March 31, roughly 36% of its total cash holdings at the time. That’s not insignificant, but perhaps not enough to persuade the company to give up on the initial $15.5m in savings it’s reportedly expected to reap.

United Technologies CEO Hayes wasn’t bluffing about the uphill battle industrial companies face on labor costs. After years of moves to cheaper places, manufacturers that decide against relocations and plant closings may find themselves at a disadvantage, tax breaks or not. Many shutdowns and job cuts also aren’t about greed and boosting the share price, but rather are in response to weak demand or the extra capacity created by mergers. That’s the free market at work, and those aren’t the kinds of trends you can stop with a few extra tax breaks.

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link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up: GoPro diverts, Samsung’s cash pile, SF Muni hacker hacked, 1m Androids infected, and more

You can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link. Stay alert.

A selection of 11 links for you. It’s not your fault. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

It’s no Christmas No 1, but AI-generated song brings festive cheer to researchers • The Guardian

Ian Sample:

»

It will not, if there is any certainty left in the world, top the charts this Christmas. But what it lacks in party hit potential, it more than makes up for with its unique, if vaguely unsettling, brand of festive cheer.

To be fair, humans had very little hand in penning the song. Instead, scientists fed a Christmassy photograph into a computer and let it do its thing. A program analysed the image, whipped up some relevant lyrics, and then sang them to music it had composed along the way.

Known to its creators as “neural karaoke”, the project from the University of Toronto can take any digital photo and transform it into a computer-generated singalong. It is a whimsical demonstration of what artificial intelligence (AI) might do for us beyond the familiar: giving voice to chatbots, wiping billions off the stock market, and ultimately destroying the human race.

“We are used to thinking about AI for robotics and things like that. The question now is what can AI do for us?” said Raquel Urtasun, an associate professor in machine learning and computer vision at Toronto’s computer science lab. “You can imagine having an AI channel on Pandora or Spotify that generates music, or takes people’s pictures and sings about them,” adds her colleague, Sanja Fidler. “It’s about what can deep learning do these days to make life more fun?”

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And there’s also the song penned by a system trained on the Beatles’ work (above). It’s way, way better. Scarily better. Not quite unemployed musician better, but background music composer better? Getting there.
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Solid holiday demand in the US for GoPro HERO5 • PR Newswire

Here’s GoPro’s announcement. See if you can spot the hidden actual news (I’ve cut off the first three paragraphs, which talk about how well the HERO5 has sold compared to last year):

»

“We have a lot of work to do to finish the quarter and our fiscal year, however our HERO5 cameras have been very well-received by critics and consumers alike,” said Nicholas Woodman, Founder & CEO of GoPro. “Both HERO5 cameras can now auto-offload new content to the cloud and our Quik mobile app makes accessing and editing your footage fun. Its clear consumers are excited about these new features.”

GoPro also announced a company-wide restructuring that will reduce full-year 2017 non-GAAP operating expenses to approximately $650m (GAAP: $735m) and achieve its goal of returning to non-GAAP profitability in 2017. The restructuring includes the closure of its entertainment division, facilities reductions, and the elimination of more than 200 full-time positions plus the cancelation of open positions for a reduction in force of approximately 15%.

Additionally, Tony Bates will depart his position as president of the Company at the end of the year. 

«

That’s a lot of jobs going. And closure of the “entertainment division”, with which it had wanted to get beyond simple device sales and into original shows. Reality bites, and GoPro is getting bitten by saturation in its initial market. (Every news organisation led on the staff cuts and closure.)
link to this extract


Samsung, you don’t need $60bn • Bloomberg Gadfly

Tim Culpan on Samsung’s reaction to activist shareholder Elliott Management:

»

In a statement Tuesday, the company said that its business objectives:”…require maintaining a net cash balance of 65 to 70 trillion Korean won, based on historical and expected capital expenditures, working capital requirements, M&As and other financing needs.”That’s $56 billion to $60 billion. Seriously, is the Lee family spiriting it away for a rainy day, when they suddenly need to crack open the piggy bank to buy umbrellas and tarpaulin? Exploding phones and self-destructing washing machines are about as close as the company will ever get to the urgent need for a large wad of Ben Franklins, and even those disasters won’t set them back that much.

In its response to Elliott Management Corp.’s call last month for widespread changes, Samsung made the bold claim that its cash haul allowed it “to seize compelling opportunities, withstand challenges and pursue strategic goals throughout all economic cycles.”…

…The company is under-leveraged, with 93.7% of its capital coming from equity, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. What it has done with that cash is very little. Samsung has spent an average of just 24trn won a year over the past five years on fixed and intangible assets – mostly factories and equipment – well below the average 37trn won in cash it gets from operations. Its biggest acquisition to date is the $8bn it plans to fork out for Harman International Industries Inc., announced after Elliott’s pitch.

Instead, Samsung has allowed its cash pile to grow fourfold over the past five years, despite boosting capital expenditure to fight wars on multiple fronts, including against Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co., Apple Inc., Foxconn Technology Group and LG Display Co.It’s true that sales are slowing and operating cash flow will moderate accordingly. But on the flip side, the arms race in chips and displays is losing pace and the next battle will be around production quality rather than capacity.

«

link to this extract


Interview: Steve Milunovich of UBS on the future of Apple • Business Insider

Jim Edwards interviewed the UBS analyst who often asks the sharpest questions in the earnings calls:

»

Steven Milunovich: I don’t believe that Apple thinks in a “jobs to be done” way. Tell them that and I think you’ll get a lot of blank looks. I don’t think they necessarily adhere to the theory per se. I think it is what they do internally. They ask themselves, “What is it I don’t like about my phone?”

I remember when Steve Jobs brought out the original iPhone. He talked a lot about the drawbacks of the current phone, and we’d like it to do this, that, and the other. Apple solved those problems, and it turned out to be an innovative job to be done.

I think Apple does indirectly think in this way. They come out with new products, and eventually come out with new jobs to be done. They often have to innovate the technology in order to finish the job.

Jim Edwards: Reading your note, you gave me the impression that you were worrying that Apple right now has not identified a new “job to be done”.

Steve: Yes, my concern is with what Alex Danco talks about with alignment on the supply-and-demand side. So my concern is actually a little less on the “job to be done” side. We don’t know if Apple has figured out what the next jobs to be done are. But my sense in talking to them is they’ve at least identified the places they want to innovate — home automation; healthcare; and they don’t talk about it but I guess automotive; AR and VR which they do talk about, particularly augmented reality.

So I think they’ve identified the places they can make a difference and disrupt. It’s also dependent on the technology.

«

link to this extract


San Francisco rail system hacker is himself hacked • Krebs on Security

Brian Krebs was contacted by someone who accessed the SF Muni hacker’s email by guessing his secret answer (impressive trick in its own right):

»

One hundred Bitcoins [the ransom demanded for the SF Muni ransomware attack] may seem like a lot, but it’s apparently not far from a usual payday for this attacker. On Nov. 20, hacked emails show that he successfully extorted 63 bitcoins (~$45,000) from a U.S.-based manufacturing firm.

A review of more than a dozen Bitcoin wallets this criminal has used since August indicates that he has successfully extorted at least $140,000 in Bitcoin from victim organizations.
The attacker appears to be in the habit of switching Bitcoin wallets randomly every few days or weeks. “For security reasons” he explained to some victims who took several days to decide whether to pay the ransom they’d been demanded. A review of more than a dozen Bitcoin wallets this criminal has used since August indicates that he has successfully extorted at least $140,000 in Bitcoin from victim organizations.

That is almost certainly a conservative estimate of his overall earnings these past few months: My source said he was unable to hack another Yandex inbox used by this attacker between August and October 2016, “w889901665@yandex.com,” and that this email address is tied to many search results for tech help forum postings from people victimized by a strain of ransomware known as Mamba and HDD Cryptor.

Copies of messages shared with this author answer many questions raised by news media coverage of this attack, such as whether the SFMTA was targeted. In short: No. Here’s why.

Messages sent to the attacker’s cryptom2016@yandex.com account show a financial relationship with at least two different hosting providers. The credentials needed to manage one of those servers were also included in the attacker’s inbox in plain text, and my source shared multiple files from that server.

«

Data points to the hacker being in Iran, despite a Russian phone number and email address.
link to this extract


Political correctness: how the right invented a phantom enemy • The Guardian

Moira Weigel:

»

In 1970, the African-American author and activist Toni Cade Bambara used the phrase in an essay about strains on gender relations within her community. No matter how “politically correct” her male friends thought they were being, she wrote, many of them were failing to recognise the plight of black women.

Until the late 1980s, “political correctness” was used exclusively within the left, and almost always ironically as a critique of excessive orthodoxy. In fact, some of the first people to organise against “political correctness” were a group of feminists who called themselves the Lesbian Sex Mafia. In 1982, they held a “Speakout on Politically Incorrect Sex” at a theatre in New York’s East Village – a rally against fellow feminists who had condemned pornography and BDSM. Over 400 women attended, many of them wearing leather and collars, brandishing nipple clamps and dildos. The writer and activist Mirtha Quintanales summed up the mood when she told the audience, “We need to have dialogues about S&M issues, not about what is ‘politically correct, politically incorrect’.”

By the end of the 1980s, Jeff Chang, the journalist and hip-hop critic, who has written extensively on race and social justice, recalls that the activists he knew then in the Bay Area used the phrase “in a jokey way – a way for one sectarian to dismiss another sectarian’s line”.

But soon enough, the term was rebranded by the right, who turned its meaning inside out. All of a sudden, instead of being a phrase that leftists used to check dogmatic tendencies within their movement, “political correctness” became a talking point for neoconservatives. They said that PC constituted a leftwing political programme that was seizing control of American universities and cultural institutions – and they were determined to stop it…

…By making fun of professors who spoke in language that most people considered incomprehensible (“The Lesbian Phallus”), wealthy Ivy League graduates could pose as anti-elite. By mocking courses on writers such as Alice Walker and Toni Morrison, they made a racial appeal to white people who felt as if they were losing their country. As the 1990s wore on, because multiculturalism was associated with globalisation – the force that was taking away so many jobs traditionally held by white working-class people – attacking it allowed conservatives to displace responsibility for the hardship that many of their constituents were facing. It was not the slashing of social services, lowered taxes, union busting or outsourcing that was the cause of their problems. It was those foreign “others”.

«

As Weigel points out, the hypocrisy of continually yelling for years that you’re being silenced goes unremarked.
link to this extract


More than 1 million Google accounts breached by Gooligan malware • Check Point Technologies

:

»

The infection begins when a user downloads and installs a Gooligan-infected app on a vulnerable Android device. Our research team has found infected apps on third-party app stores, but they could also be downloaded by Android users directly by tapping malicious links in phishing attack messages.

After an infected app is installed, it sends data about the device to the campaign’s Command and Control (C&C) server.

Gooligan then downloads a rootkit from the C&C server that takes advantage of multiple Android 4 and 5 exploits including the well-known VROOT (CVE-2013-6282) and Towelroot (CVE-2014-3153). These exploits still plague many devices today because security patches that fix them may not be available for some versions of Android, or the patches were never installed by the user. If rooting is successful, the attacker has full control of the device and can execute privileged commands remotely.

After achieving root access, Gooligan downloads a new, malicious module from the C&C server and installs it on the infected device. This module injects code into running Google Play or GMS (Google Mobile Services) to mimic user behavior so Gooligan can avoid detection, a technique first seen with the mobile malware HummingBad. The module allows Gooligan to:

• Steal a user’s Google email account and authentication token information
• Install apps from Google Play and rate them to raise their reputation
• Install adware to generate revenue

Ad servers, which don’t know whether an app using its service is malicious or not, send Gooligan the names of the apps to download from Google Play. After an app is installed, the ad service pays the attacker. Then the malware leaves a positive review and a high rating on Google Play using content it receives from the C&C server.

«

Affects Android 4 and 5, which covers 74% of users. Most of those affected are in Asia, but about 190,000 in the US, where Google Play is easily available. Remember the thing I said the other day about Android vulnerabilities being theoretical, until they aren’t? This is that.
link to this extract


Amazon plans premium Alexa speaker with large screen • Bloomberg

Mark Gurman:

»

Amazon.com Inc. is developing a premium Echo-like speaker with a screen, a sign the world’s largest online retailer is trying to capitalize on the surprise success of its voice-controlled home gadgets and fend off competition from Google and Apple Inc.

The new device will have a touchscreen measuring about seven inches, a major departure from Amazon’s existing cylindrical home devices that are controlled and respond mostly through the company’s voice-based Alexa digital assistant, according to two people familiar with the matter. This will make it easier to access content such as weather forecasts, calendar appointments, and news, the people said. They asked not to be identified speaking about a product that has yet to be announced.

The latest Amazon speaker will be larger and tilt upwards so the screen can be seen when it sits on a counter and the user is standing, one of the people said.

«

After Jan Dawson’s points yesterday about the lack of visual feedback for the Alexa, guess what! Interesting that it’s Gurman, who has been famed for his Apple scoops, getting this story. It feels like one which either comes from supply chain sources, or from Amazon itself. Some of the detail in the story (“Amazon is also testing a feature that allows users to pin items such as photos on their speaker’s screen”) leans just a little towards the latter.
link to this extract


How the BBC England data unit scraped airport noise complaints • Online Journalism Blog

Daniel Wainwright:

»

I’d wondered for a while why no-one who had talked about scraping at conferences had actually demonstrated the procedure. It seemed to me to be one of the most sought-after skills for any investigative journalist.

Then I tried to do so myself in an impromptu session at the first Data Journalism Conference in Birmingham (#DJUK16) and found out why: it’s not as easy as it’s supposed to look.

To anyone new to data journalism, a scraper is as close to magic as you get with a spreadsheet and no wand.

Numbers and text on page after page after page after page just effortlessly start to appear neatly in a spreadsheet you can sort, filter and interrogate.

You can even leave the scraper running while you ring a contact or just make a cup of tea.

Scraping Heathrow noise complaints

I used a fairly rudimentary scraper to gather three years’ worth of noise complaint data from the Heathrow Airport website. With the third runway very much on the news agenda that week I wanted to quickly get an idea of how much of an issue noise already was.

The result was this story, which was widely picked up by other outlets.

But how did I do it?

«

With Google sheets. To anyone who codes, his method will look really shonky, but it worked well enough. This is how data journalism needs to work: if you can really code, you’d sort it quickly, but journalists need to be able to roll their own rather than having to hassle coders to do it for them.
link to this extract


The colossal African solar farm that could power Europe • BBC Europe

Sandrine Ceurstemont:

»

Hundreds of curved mirrors, each as big as a bus, are ranked in rows covering 1,400,000 sq m (15m sq ft) of desert, an area the size of 200 football fields. The massive complex sits on a sun-blasted site at the foot of the High Atlas mountains, 10km (6 miles) from Ouarzazate – a city nicknamed the door to the desert. With around 330 days of sunshine a year, it’s an ideal location.

As well as meeting domestic needs, Morocco hopes one day to export solar energy to Europe. This is a plant that could help define Africa’s – and the world’s – energy future.

Of course, on the day I visit the sky is covered in clouds. “No electricity will be produced today,“ says Rachid Bayed at the Moroccan Agency for Solar Energy (Masen), which is responsible for implementing the flagship project.

An occasional off day is not a concern, however. After many years of false starts, solar power is coming of age as countries in the sun finally embrace their most abundant source of clean energy. The Moroccan site is one of several across Africa and similar plants are being built in the Middle East – in Jordan, Dubai and Saudi Arabia. The falling cost of solar power has made it a viable alternative to oil even in the most oil-rich parts of the world.

As well as meeting domestic needs, Morocco hopes one day to export solar energy to Europe.

Noor 1, the first phase of the Moroccan plant, has already surpassed expectations in terms of the amount of energy it has produced. It is an encouraging result in line with Morocco’s goal to reduce its fossil fuel bill by focusing on renewables while still meeting growing energy needs that are increasing by about 7% per year. Morocco’s stable government and economy has helped it secure funding: the European Union contributed 60% of the cost for the Ouarzazate project, for example.

«

link to this extract


Peak Google, revisited • Naofumi Kagami

Kagami takes a stab at predicting when we might see Google’s revenue stop its dramatic growth, based on (1) ad spend is a pretty constant percentage of US GDP (2) Google’s revenues principally come from and grow with US GDP, not developing nations (3) the assumption that Google won’t find anything to add substantially to its ad-driven top line:

»

1. Since the size of total media ad spending is constant as a percentage of GDP, this is the hard ceiling of advertising growth in the US.

2. Digital ad spending is rapidly approaching this ceiling. With already close to 40% of total ad spending, there is less and less room left for digital to grow.

3. Google has close to half of total digital ad spending. Of the remainder, it is likely that Facebook is taking half of this. Google has little space to grow by increasing its share within the total digital ad market. In fact, it is more likely that Facebook will eat into Google’s ad market share. Note that one estimate suggests that Google & Facebook own 85% of the US the digital ad market.

4. Since Google’s ad revenue growth has largely been independent of developing countries, it is reasonable to assume that this will continue for the mid-term.

In simple terms, there is no longer room in the advertising industry for both Google and Facebook. Since Facebook has more momentum, it is likely that we will see Google being increasingly squeezed. Although the total digital ad spending will likely still see mid double digit growth, Facebook will take the majority of this growth and Google will probably drop to single digit growth before 2020.

«

Which would be in the next three years.
link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up: curved iPhones?, smartphone sales struggle, Pixels perform, Valley’s empathy miss, and more


Smartphones have arrived in Myanmar – and it’s been a hell of a shock to the system. Photo by Asian Development Bank 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.

The danger of a device-based approach to assistants • Tech.pinions

Jan Dawson:

»

Amazon’s Echo began life as the only home of its personal assistant, Alexa and, although Alexa is now available on several other devices, my guess is the vast majority of users still equate the assistant with the device. Google, meanwhile, has made Google Home the entry point for its own Google Assistant and, for many people, Home is the only place they’ll be able to experience the Assistant for now, given the low uptake of the Allo messaging app and the high barriers to smartphone switching.

The downside here is, as people equate the assistant with the device, they will also equate failures by the assistant with failures of the device. When the entire purpose of a device like Echo or Home is to act as an assistant, to the extent the assistant fails to do its job, the device becomes useless. This is, importantly, very different from the likely reaction to failure by Siri or Cortana, which are mere features on devices that do much more. If we’re unhappy with Siri’s performance, we might well fall back on other ways to interact with our devices or be more selective in the scenarios for which we use Siri rather than the touchscreen because we have options. We may also choose to try again at a later time when the software has been updated because the assistant is still there on the device we’re using for lots of other things. But a device whose sole purpose is to be a good voice assistant and fails at that one job fails entirely and we will likely be tempted to return it or, at the least, put it away.

«

The problem with a voice-based assistant: how do you correct it? Where do you see what it thinks you said?
link to this extract


What is the future of free trade? Five facts about US trade policy • Brookings Institution


»

3. Technology, not international trade, is the primary force behind lost manufacturing jobs.

Many are quick to blame trade for a loss of jobs in the manufacturing sector, yet Solís affirms that the predominant force behind losses in manufacturing employment has been technological change (85 percent), not international trade. As she explains, automation has transformed the American factory, and the advent of new technologies (like robotics and 3D printing) has rendered many low-skilled jobs unnecessary.

Metropolitan Policy Program Senior Fellow Mark Muro also examined this trend in a recent post, pointing out that the total inflation-adjusted output of the U.S. manufacturing sector is actually higher today than it has ever been, even though the sector’s employment growth has remained relatively stagnant.

“These diverging lines—which reflect the sector’s improved productivity—highlight a huge problem with Trump’s promises to help workers by reshoring millions of manufacturing jobs [by renegotiating trade deals],” Muro argues. “America is already producing a lot. And in any event, the return of more manufacturing won’t bring back many jobs because the labor is increasingly being done by robots.”

And Solís agrees: “Simply put, we are producing more with fewer people.”

«

link to this extract


Opera inserts advertising into your bookmarks • Terence Eden’s Blog


»

Last week I was scrolling through my bookmarks, when I found a curious addition – “Breaking News”.

I didn’t remember adding that bookmark. I suppose I might have done it by mistake…? Let’s take a look at where it goes.

Oh. An advert. Shoved into my bookmarks by Opera.

«

Guess who doesn’t use Opera any more?

Possibly related: a Chinese consortium recently bought Opera for about $1.2bn.
link to this extract


Google will generate $4 billion in 2017 from the Pixel • Business Insider

Hannah Roberts:

»

Morgan Stanley has estimated that Google’s new smartphone, the Pixel, will generate $3.8 billion in revenue for the company in 2017.

The estimate is based on the expectation that Google will sell around 5-6 million Pixels next year, which retail between $649 and $869.

The bank also projected that Google will sell 3 million Pixels in the last three months of 2016, generating $2 billion.

«

That’s implying it will sell all the phones that HTC made for it this quarter, which sounds about right. And there should be a fair profit from them too at that price.
link to this extract


4G smartphones to surpass 1 billion mark in shipments for 2016 as emerging markets play catch up • IDC


»

Worldwide smartphone shipments are expected to reach 1.45 billion units with a year-over-year growth rate of 0.6% in 2016 according to the latest forecast from the International Data Corporation (IDC) Worldwide Quarterly Mobile Phone Tracker. Although growth remains positive, it is down significantly from the 10.4% growth in 2015.

However, 4G smartphones are still expected to show double-digit uptake at 21.3% year-over-year growth globally for 2016, reaching 1.17 billion units, up from 967 million in 2015. Much of this growth is coming from emerging markets (Asia/Pacific excluding Japan, Latin America, Central and Eastern Europe, and Middle East and Africa), where only 61% of 2015 smartphone shipments were 4G-enabled compared to IDC’s 2016 projection of 77%. Mature markets (USA, Canada, Japan, and Western Europe) are further along the 4G adoption curve with 85% in 2015 and a projected 94% in 2016, respectively.

«

Stagnant growth. Not happening in less developed countries anything like as fast as it did before.

link to this extract


This is what happens when millions of people suddenly get the internet • BuzzFeed News

Sheera Frenkel in Yangon, Myanmar:

»

The internet brought Donald Trump to Myanmar. Or, at least that’s how Shar Ya Wai first remembers hearing about the Republican president-elect.

“One day, nobody knew him. Then, everyone did. That’s what the internet is. It takes people who say crazy things and makes them famous,” the 19-year-old student said.

Like most people in this country of 50 million, which only recently opened up to the outside world, Shar Ya Wai is new to the internet. And on this day, she had walked purposefully into a phone shop in central Yangon to buy her first smartphone, a simple model by China’s Huawei that is popular among her friends. “Today I’ll buy this phone,” she said. “I guess I’ll find out how crazy [the internet] really is.”

It’s not that she’d never seen the internet before. She’d tried to stalk ex-boyfriends through a friend’s Facebook page and caught glimpses of the latest Thai pop bands on her uncle’s old tablet, which he bought secondhand a year ago. But her forays into the internet have been brief and largely left her perplexed. Here was a public space where everyone seemed to have so much to say, but it was disorganized, bombastic, overwhelming. It felt like the polar opposite of the quiet, sheltered life she’d lived until recently.

«

Fascinating case study.
link to this extract


Fight fake news and propaganda with data • CHANGE ADVERTISING INC’s Fundraiser


»

We’re raising money for an annual subscription to a website data source that we hope our volunteers can use to figure out which ad networks are helping fund these sites spreading fake news and propaganda, and help shut them down. 

Our first investigative piece, The Clickbait Report, was featured in the New York Times and Fortune (see changeadvertising.org for details).

«

Doesn’t need a huge amount. Go on, go on, go on.
link to this extract


Microsoft reveals minimum specs for their upcoming $300 VR headsets • UploadVR

Joe Durbin:

»

These new, $300 HMDs are being made by the likes of Lenovo and they will be a small part of the Redwood companies big mission to turn Window’s holographic into a truly viable and competitive virtual reality platform. In advance of the new headsets release Microsoft has released a “First Run” application for Windows Holographic. The app does a few different things, but most importantly it reveals the minimum hardware specifications it will take to run the new batch of headsets. These are the requirements:

At least 4GB of RAM,
A USB 3.0 port,
A graphics card with DirectX 12 support,
4 CPU cores, including dual-core processors with hyperthreading.

These specs are quite generous and should fit the bill already for a large amount of current PC users. It doesn’t seem there will be a huge need for last-second hardware upgrades for those VR enthusiasts looking to snag one of the new systems.

«

If that’s the minimum spec, what’s the experience going to be like?
link to this extract


Just how partisan is Facebook’s fake news? We tested it • PCWorld

Mark Hachman:

»

To conduct our experiment, I opened Google Chrome in Incognito mode, then created two Gmail addresses. I then used both email addresses to register for new Facebook accounts—“Chris Smith” for Clinton, and “Todd White” for Trump. To eliminate hidden biases, I registered them both as white males, each with the same birthday. 

For Smith, I then Liked three people: Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden, and President Barack Obama. For White, I Liked Donald Trump, Mike Pence, and Newt Gingrich.

I then asked Facebook to recommend Pages to follow. Facebook provides two mechanisms for doing this: a “Like Pages” page in the left nav bar, which provides a visually compelling tiled layout of suggested Pages, and a similar list of suggested Pages next to the Pokes section. For each of my test profiles, I systematically selected the first, fourth, and seventh from the list of Pages next to Pokes. Then I added the first seven suggestions from Like Pages later that night, for a total of 10 across both avatars.

Note that I deliberately didn’t Like pages like alt-right news service Breitbart.com, as I wanted to see if other pages would reference them. (Surprisingly, they often didn’t.) I was testing what Facebook offered my avatars, more than what these avatars might actively solicit. I also made no friends on the service—again, to test Facebook, not other humans.

«

This is depressing predictable, though it also confirms the idea that there’s no traction in pro-Clinton fake news.
link to this extract


Genevieve Bell: ‘Humanity’s greatest fear is about being irrelevant’ • The Guardian

Ian Tucker asked the questions, such as:

»

Q A lot of the work you do examines the intersection between the intended use of a device and how people actually use it – and examining the disconnection. Could you talk about something you’re researching at the moment?

I’m interested in how animals are connected to the internet and how we might be able to see the world from an animal’s point of view. There’s something very interesting in someone else’s vantage point, which might have a truth to it. For instance, the tagging of cows for automatic milking machines, so that the cows can choose when to milk themselves. Cows went from being milked twice a day to being milked three to six times a day, which is great for the farm’s productivity and results in happier cows, but it’s also faintly disquieting that the technology makes clear to us the desires of cows – making them visible in ways they weren’t before. So what does one do with that knowledge? One of the unintended consequences of big data and the internet of things is that some things will become visible and compel us to confront them.

Q Why is your Twitter handle “feraldata”?
I was castigating an Australian colleague about 10 years ago about how we talked about technology using British idioms. For example, we kept talking about the digital commons, yet Australia does not have an enclosure act.

So what are the Australian experiences we could use to talk about technology? I began to think about camels, goats and cats – lots of animals jumped the boats in Australia and created havoc by becoming feral. Would feral be an interesting way for thinking about how technology had unintended consequences? It occurred to me that of all the things that were most likely to go feral in the technological landscape it was data. It gets created in one context, is married with a third thing and finds itself in another.

«

Bell is a wonder. I recall interviewing her back in the late 90s, when she pointed out how mobile use on buses would shape peoples’ behaviour. As an anthropologist, she always brings a fresh eye to topics.
link to this extract


Apple iPhone With Curved Screen Could Come as Soon as Next Year – WSJ

Takashi Mochizuki in Tokyo and Eun-Young Jeong in Seoul:

»

An iPhone with a curved screen could be on store shelves as soon as next year.

Apple’s suppliers say they have been asked to increase output of thinner organic light-emitting displays and submit prototype screens with better resolution than ones from South Korea’s Samsung Electronics Co. to differentiate the U.S. company’s models.

The Cupertino company has been battling slowing smartphone sales and is under pressure to deliver a hit phone when the iPhone marks its 10th anniversary next year.

An iPhone with an OLED screen could be introduced as one of several models to be unveiled, people familiar with the matter said, but would come with a higher price tag because OLED displays are more expensive to produce.

Apple might decide not to release the model because it is one of more than 10 prototypes being considered, the people said.

«

I left the locations of the writers on because it seems relevant to the story: a Seoul-based source could be talking to Samsung or LG; a Japan-based one to Sony and Taiwanese suppliers. Either way, I’d take this as a possibility.
link to this extract


Q&A: is BT facing the chop? • FT

Nic Fildes on Ofcom’s order that BT make its Openreach division a wholly owned subsidiary:

»

Q Why is BT opposed to this?

BT argues that the status quo has delivered Britain the widest superfast broadband coverage in Europe and that its proposals are enough to improve Openreach’s independence and pave the way for move investment in ultrafast broadband. It has put £6bn on the table for ultrafast, appointed an independent chairman of Openreach and expects to announce more non-executives in the future. However, it has baulked at the cost of moving staff and pensions over to the newly formed entity and warned of the risks of doing so given the deficit of £10bn at the end of June.

Q: Will BT’s rivals cheer this move?

In public, BT’s rivals — who clogged up Sharon White’s in tray with thousands of identical public submissions via a lobbying website called Fix Britain’s Internet — will cheer the move to hold BT to account. TalkTalk has called it a “step in the right direction” as the legal separation paves the way for a full break up in the future. Privately, the heads of those companies argue this should have happened much sooner as Ofcom has been proposing a submission since the start of the year.

Q So is a broadband utopia just around the corner?

Even though BT looks to have escaped the dreaded break-up, there is no doubt that Openreach has had its feet held to the flames over a poor performance on service and investment dating back years. If the promised move to ultrafast delivers better and more consistent speeds the debate could die down. The problem for BT is that “broadband rage” has become all too common and many are convinced that a full break-up is the only way forward.

«

BT will drag its feet on this, which implies that it’s bad for BT, and thus good for rivals, and so good for everyone who wants fairer competition. The more BT is against it, logic suggests, the better for everyone else.
link to this extract


Silicon Valley has an empathy vacuum • New Yorker

Om Malik:

»

[The row over fake news] isn’t the first time Facebook has shied away from the reality that it can influence the lives of the billion and a half people connected to it. A perfect example came two years ago when Facebook, in its “Your Year in Review” feed, published the photo of the dead daughter of a user named Eric Meyer, prompting Meyer to write, “Algorithms are essentially thoughtless. They model certain decision flows, but once you run them, no more thought occurs.”

It seems possible to model the eventuality of a dead child’s photo showing up on the feed, but the designers didn’t consider it. Perhaps because those who write these algorithms have not experienced such trauma, or perhaps they just weren’t talking about the human feelings in their product meetings—especially when you are a company focussed on engagement and growth. The lack of empathy in technology design isn’t because the people who write algorithms are heartless but perhaps because they lack the texture of reality outside the technology bubble. Facebook’s blunders are a reminder that it is time for the company to think not just about fractional-attention addiction and growth but also to remember that the growth affects real people, for good and bad.

It is not just Facebook. It is time for our industry to pause and take a moment to think: as technology finds its way into our daily existence in new and previously unimagined ways, we need to learn about those who are threatened by it. Empathy is not a buzzword but something to be practiced. Let’s start by not raging on our Facebook feeds but, instead, taking a trip to parts of America where five-dollar lattes and freshly pressed juices are not perks but a reminder of haves and have-nots.

«

link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up: Android warning for Trump, Uber’s strike, more IoT hacking, enormotabs are here!, and more


Sunglasses! Guaranteed Ray-Buns! Yours cheap! Stop spam! Photo by cdrake2 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. Use them wisely. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Donald Trump’s personal phone could be a major security risk, experts warn • Daily Telegraph

Cara McGoogan:

»

The US president-elect Donald Trump’s mobile phone poses a major security threat to the United States and its allies, according to experts. 

Analysis of Trump’s social media activity and comments him and his aides have made about his phone suggest that he his still using a regular Android device. The Google-made software is widely regarded as vulnerable to hackers, who could use known techniques to access all of Trump’s communications, as well as live camera, microphone and location feeds.

Sophisticated attackers could manage this with a simple trick, such as coercing Trump into clicking on an infected link in a message or on Twitter on his Android phone. To prevent a breach like this, the National Security Agency issued current President Barack Obama a highly secure phone that it designed.

«

Don’t say things about it being even more dangerous when used.
link to this extract


Android security in 2016 is a mess • cpbotha.net

Charl Botha:

»

I bought my LG G3 in 2014 here in South Africa. It was LG’s flagship in that year, and sold extremely well. LG is a well-known smartphone OEM.

However, only because I took steps to flash the official KDZ image (V30a-ZAF-XX), which consumers would normally not do, am I now running Android 6. However, my security patch level is 2016-03, meaning there are 6 months of security updates I don’t have. (You can check your Android security patch level by going to Settings | General | About Phone | Software info.)

Before you think six months lag is not too bad, here’s a nice example vulnerability from the November 1 Android security bulletin:

»

The most severe of these issues is a Critical security vulnerability that could enable remote code execution on an affected device through multiple methods such as email, web browsing, and MMS when processing media files.

«

In short, your phone could be hacked wide open from afar through a single innocent-looking email, MMS or web-page.

«

It’s unlikely.. until it happens. Then the unlikelihood turns into 100% certainty. If this puzzles you, just think back to September, when it was unlikely that Donald Trump would win the US election.
link to this extract


Fighting iOS Calendar Spam • The New York Times


»

Q. I have been getting spam invitations to my iOS calendar recently. They come from Chinese accounts and their subjects are for super-discounted Ray-Bans and the like. Is there any solution to this?

«

Yes, there are a few, and the NYT has them.
link to this extract


Uber drivers join nationwide strike to demand $15 minimum wage • VentureBeat

Ken Yeung:

»

Uber riders may find available rides in short supply on Monday as “hundreds” of drivers in two dozen U.S. cities go on strike. The action is intended to raise awareness of a desire by not only Uber drivers, but fast-food cooks, airport baggage handlers, home care workers, child care teachers, and graduate assistants wanting to receive a fair day’s pay — they’re fighting for the $15 per hour minimum wage.

Protests are supposed to be taking places in cities such as Denver, Boston, Miami, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York City, and San Francisco. As part of the Fight for $15 event, Uber drivers will march in solidarity with others and aim to disrupt service, thereby highlighting to riders the important roles these service people play in daily life.

«

link to this extract


Newly discovered router flaw being hammered by in-the-wild attacks • Ars Technica

Dan Goodin:

»

Routers provided to German and Irish ISP customers for Deutsche Telekom and Eircom, respectively, have already been identified as being vulnerable, according to recently published reports from researchers tracking the attacks. The attacks exploit weaknesses found in routers made by Zyxel, Speedport, and possibly other manufacturers. The devices leave Internet port 7547 open to outside connections. The exploits use the opening to send commands based on the TR-069 and related TR-064 protocols, which ISPs use to remotely manage large fleets of hardware. According to this advisory published Monday morning by the SANS Internet Storm Center, honeypot servers posing as vulnerable routers are receiving exploits every five to 10 minutes.

SANS Dean of Research Johannes Ullrich said in Monday’s post that exploits are almost certainly the cause behind an outage that hit Deutsche Telekom customers over the weekend. In a Facebook update, officials with the German ISP said 900,000 customers are vulnerable to the attacks until they are rebooted and receive an emergency patch. Earlier this month, researchers at security firm BadCyber reported that the same one-two port 7547/TR-064 exploit hit the home router of a reader in Poland. They went on to identify D1000 routers supplied by Eircom as also being susceptible and cited this post as support. The Shodan search engine shows that 41 million devices leave port 7547 open, while about five million expose TR-064 services to the outside world.

«

link to this extract


Background notes and full credits for the One Moment video • OK Go

Damian Kulash, director and singer in the band:

»

The whole point of the video is to explore a time scale that we can’t normally experience, but because it’s so inaccessible to us, our tools for dealing with it are indirect. The only way we can really communicate with that realm is through math. The choreography for this video was a big web of numbers — I made a motherfucker of a spreadsheet. It had dozens of connected worksheets feeding off of a master sheet 25 columns wide and nearly 400 rows long. It calculated the exact timing of each event from a variety of data that related the events to one another and to the time scale in which they were being shot. Here’s a screen shot of just the first few lines, to give you a sense.

«

Having listened to a few OK Go albums, I understand why they’re famous for their videos. Maybe someone could hire them to make a video.
link to this extract


Recovery from watch market slump within sight • FT

Ralph Atkins, in September:

»

Much of the gloom has surrounded Hong Kong, previously the biggest export market for Swiss watches. Luxury consumer goods sales in Hong Kong have been hit over the past few years by shifts in tourism flows as Chinese customers shopped elsewhere; Swiss watch exports to Hong Kong were down 33% year-on-year to July, causing sales there to fall behind the US.

Excessive stock levels mean improvements will take time to feed through in Hong Kong, despite steps by some companies, such as Richemont, to help reduce inventory in storerooms, including recycling parts from unsold watches.

But luxury goods manufacturers report signs of sales recovering in mainland China. Chinese consumers largely powered the sector’s revival after the global financial crisis of 2008. Spending on luxury watches was subsequently hit by Beijing’s clampdown on corruption, which resulted in less “gifting” of high-quality timepieces.

The effect of such factors on Chinese sales has started to fade, says Adrian Hofer, consumer goods industry specialist at Boston Consulting Group in Zurich. “I’m pretty convinced that we’re down at the levels that make growth possible again.”

«

This, from reader Philip Cunningham, could well be the explanation for the collapsing levels of Swiss watch sales noted here yesterday.
link to this extract


Long a novelty, gigantic tablets are sneaking into the workplace • WSJ

Christopher Mims:

»

Most of the devices can run Tactivos Inc.’s collaboration software Mural, which lets a roomful of people write, add sticky notes, bring in graphics from the web and perform a dozen other tricks on a giant, scrollable whiteboard.

Mural is designed to let remote teams share a workspace. Using it on a ginormablet has the pleasantly disorienting effect of mixing the ease and conventions of writing on a regular whiteboard with the familiar interface of a smartphone. It’s the closest I’ve ever come to the scene in “Minority Report” where Tom Cruise manipulates the interface of the future with expansive gestures.

I had a similarly science-fiction experience in the belly of Carnival Cruise Line’s newest ship, a $780 million, 1,062-foot-long floating city called the Carnival Vista.

In the ship’s engineering room, boisterous chief engineer Cesare Boldrini showed off a command center that looks like the bridge of the Battlestar Galactica. In the center, seemingly where Cmdr. Adama left it, is a 55-inch touch-screen table that Carnival calls the “Tactical Table.” Here, Mr. Boldrini can display 300 screens of readouts and toggles used to control every part of the ship, from its gigantic Azipod thrusters to the pH and temperature of the ship’s swimming pools. Through the table, he also can display any of these readouts on a giant video screen that stretches across the front wall of the control room.

When Carnival designed the engineering room of the Vista, they wanted to give the chief engineer the ability to monitor and control any part of the ship without interfering with the work of his team members, Mr. Boldrini said.

Landlubbers can experience megatablets at more than 500 McDonald’s restaurants in California, New York and Florida where the restaurant chain is testing gigantic touch-screen kiosks for ordering meals.

«

link to this extract


Apple to add 10.5-inch models to iPad series in 2017, say Taiwan makers • Digitimes

Siu Han and Adam Hwang:

»

Apple is launching the 10.5in iPad mainly because 10in and larger tablets have been popular among enterprises and the education sector in the US, the sources said. Its existing 9.7in iPad may be too small and the 12.9in iPad Pro too expensive for such procurement, the sources indicated.

The 10.5in iPad will be equipped with Apple-developed CPU A10X which is also used in 12.9in iPad Pro, the sources noted.

Shipments of 10.5in iPad will reach two million units in first-quarter 2017 and may reach 5-6 million units in the year, the sources said.

Apple will also launch lower-price versions of the 9.7in iPad to compete with Android models, the sources noted.

«

So 10.5in is a Goldilocks size – not too big, not too small? You’d think others would have already figured that. So this feels a bit strange. As does the part about “cheaper 9.7in iPad”: Apple doesn’t need to compete with Android tablets, which are already killing themselves.
link to this extract


How the 2016 election blew up in Facebook’s face • BuzzFeed News

Alex Kantrowitz:

»

It’s no coincidence that Jestin Coler started National Report, his wildly successful fake news site, only a few months after Facebook added the mobile share button [in November 2012, just after the previous election]. The California-based satirist watched in a bit of amazement as articles from fringe conservative news sites began booming across Facebook, and decided he wanted in on the action. “I was seeing those sorts of sites all over the place with large followings and they were getting good traffic and I just thought to myself, Well I could do that,” Coler told BuzzFeed News. And so he debuted National Report in February 2013.
Coler could have reported the news, or simply blogged. But he noticed that fringe political pages would pick up just about anything that helped them make their point, including fabricated news. So National Report began publishing fake news about gun control, abortion, and President Obama, which Coler suspected would set off the right. It sure did. The sites quickly began aggregating his stories. “We really went for the confirmation bias thing,” Coler said. “What we assumed people wanted to hear, that was really what we were selling.”

«

link to this extract


Hackers are holding San Francisco’s light-rail system to ransom • The Verge

Andrew Liptak:

»

Computer screens at MUNI stations displayed a message: “You Hacked, ALL Data Encrypted. Contact For Key(cryptom27@yandex.com)ID:681 ,Enter.” MUNI Spokesman Paul Rose spoke to the Examiner and noted that his agency was “working to resolve the situation,” but refused to provide additional details.

Reached by email, the hacker confirmed he was seeking a deal with MUNI to undo the damage:

»we don’t attention to interview and propagate news ! our software working completely automatically and we don’t have targeted attack to anywhere ! SFMTA network was Very Open and 2000 Server/PC infected by software ! so we are waiting for contact any responsible person in SFMTA but i think they don’t want deal ! so we close this email tomorrow!«

In September, Morphus Labs linked a hacker by the same name to a ransomware strain called Mamba, which employs tactics similar to those demonstrated against MUNI.

«

Yandex is a Russian domain, if that helps. (Corrected the headline, which said the hacker/s were holding the Muni “for ransom”. No: you hold things *to* ransom.)
link to this extract


Google’s Pixel captures 10% premium smartphone market share in India • Economic Times

Gulveen Aulakh:

»

Google has captured a 10% share of the premium smartphone segment in India after what analysts said was a strong initial showing with its Pixel, which took advantage of the absence of Samsung’s Galaxy Note 7 in the market.

Google shipped 33,000 units of Pixel to India as of October end, becoming the No 3 player for the month in the segment where the smartphone costs Rs 30,000 or more. Apple has trumped Samsung to capture the No 1 position in this segment.

«

Apple has 66% share (so 220,000 units). The Note 7’s absence is hurting Samsung.
link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up: Trump’s fake news cronies, Xiaomi unruffled, machine learning cameras, USB-C fun, and more


Zimbabwe is about to try a whole new experiment with its currency. Photo by jurvetson 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. Don’t ask for a recount! I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Some fake news publishers just happen to be Donald Trump’s cronies • The Intercept

Lee Fang:

»

LifeZette [a junk news publisher owned by Laura Ingraham, who could become Trump’s press secretary], for all its influence, pales in comparison to the sites run by Floyd Brown, a Republican consultant close to Trump’s inner circle of advisers. Brown gained notoriety nearly three decades ago for his role in helping to produce the “Willie Horton” campaign advertisement, a spot criticized for its use of racial messaging to derail Michael Dukakis’s presidential bid. Brown is also the political mentor of David Bossie, an operative who went to work for Trump’s presidential campaign this year after founding the Citizens United group. In an interview this year, Brown called Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway a “longtime friend.”

Brown now produces a flow of reliably pro-Trump Internet content through a company he owns called Liftable Media Inc., which operates a number of high-impact, tabloid-style news outlets that exploded in size over the course of the election. One of Brown’s sites, Western Journalism, is the 81st largest site in the U.S. with 13 million monthly unique page views, according to rankings maintained by the site Alexa. Another, called Conservative Tribune, is the 50th largest site with over 19 million monthly unique visitors.

Brown’s sites churn out bombastic headlines with little regard to the truth. One viral piece shared by Brown’s news outlets claimed that President Obama had redesigned the White House logo to change the American flag to a white flag, “a common symbol for surrender, which has many people wondering if Obama was trying to secretly signal to America’s enemies that he was surrendering.” The Facebook post touted the article with the line, “We all know Obama hates the United States, but what he just did to the White House logo is beyond the pale.”

«

In a way, the only surprise is that it’s taken this long – until after the election – to find this.
link to this extract


Facebook doesn’t need to ban fake news to fight it • The Guardian

Alex Hern:

»

If you walk into a newsagent, and pick up a copy of the Sunday Sport (American readers, think the National Enquirer but with a lower proportion of true stories), you have a number of contextual clues that suggest a story with the headline “Ed Miliband’s Dad Killed My Kitten” might not be entirely true. The prominent soft porn and chatline adverts; the placement alongside other stories like “Bus found buried at south pole” and “World War 2 Bomber Found on Moon”; and the fact that the paper is in its 30th year of publishing, letting readers build up a consistent view about the title based on previous experience.

If a friend shares that same article on Facebook, something very different happens. The story is ripped from its context, and presented as a standard Facebook post. At the top, most prominently, is the name and photo of the person you know in real life who is sharing the piece. That gives the article the tacit support and backing of someone you really know, which makes it far more likely to slip past your bullshit detector.

Next, Facebook pulls the top image, headline, and normally an introductory paragraph, and formats it in its own style: the calming blue text, the standard system font, and the picture cropped down to a standard aspect ratio. Sometimes, that content will be enough for a canny reader to realise something is up: poor spelling, bad photoshopping, or plain nonsensical stories, can’t be massaged away by Facebook’s design sense.

Nonetheless, the fact that every link on Facebook is presented in the same way serves the average out the credibility of all the posts on the site. The Sunday Sport’s credibility gets a boost, while the Guardian’s gets a drop: after all, everyone knows you can’t trust everything you read on Facebook.

Then, at the very bottom of the shared story, in small grey text, is the actual source. It’s not prominent, and because it’s simply the main section of a URL, it’s very easy to miss hoaxes.

«

link to this extract


Xiaomi says shrinking smartphone sales won’t hit the company • Reuters

Catherine Cadell:

»

last year it missed its global smartphone targets by 12%, while its third-quarter China smartphone sales have tumbled 45 percent, according to research firm IDC – raising doubts that the valuation is still warranted.

Xiaomi’s global vice-president Hugo Barra said the company’s business model was not based on money made from handset sales per se and that it did not need to raise more funds or see any point in doing so at a valuation of less than $46bn.

“Basically we’re giving [handsets] to you without making any money… we care about the recurring revenue streams over many years,” he told Reuters in an interview.

“We could sell 10 billion smartphones and we wouldn’t make a single dime in profits,” he added.

Xiaomi, which discloses little of its profit and revenue figures, has increasingly emphasized its range of home appliances such as air and water purifiers, and rice cookers as key earnings drivers.

In April, Xiaomi Vice President Liu De said the firm expects sales of smart home devices to double to 10bn yuan ($1.5bn) this year.

«

*smilingdoginfire* This is fine.
link to this extract


Cameras, ecommerce and machine learning • Benedict Evans

Evans points out that Apple and Google can now sift through your pictures and find you pictures of “dog” or “horse”:

»

We should expect that every image ever taken can be searched or analyzed, and some kind of insight extracted, at massive scale. Every glossy magazine archive is now a structured data set, and so is every video feed. With that incentive (and that smarthone supply chain) far more images and video will be captured. 

So, some questions for the future:

• Every autonomous car will, necessarily, capture HD 360 degree video whenever it’s moving. Who owns that data, what else can you do with it beyond driving and how do our ideas of privacy adjust?
• A retailer can deploy cheap commodity wireless HD cameras thoughout the store, or a mall operator the mall, and finally  know exactly what track every single person entering took through the building, and what they looked at, and then connect that to the tills for purchase data. How much does that change (surviving) retail?
• What happens to the fashion industry when half a dozen static $100 cameras can tell you everything that anyone in Shoreditch wore this year – when you can trace a trend through social and street photography from start to the mass-market, and then look for the next emerging patterns?
• What happens to ecommerce recommendations when a system might be able to infer things about your taste from your Instagram or Facebook photos, without needing tags or purchase history – when it can see your purchase history in your selfies?

«

We overestimate how good this stuff will be in the short term, underestimate in the long term.
link to this extract


How Pinterest uses machine learning to keep its users pinned • Fast Company

Steven Melendez:

»

Machine learning can not only determine the subject of an image, it can also identify visual patterns and match them to other photos. Pinterest is using this technology to process 150 million image searches per month, helping users find content that looks like pictures they’ve already pinned. Pin a photo of a cheetah-print pillow, and Pinterest will serve up animal-print decor from other users. Future iterations of the Pinterest app may let users simply point their cameras at real-world objects to get instant recommendations.

If a user pins a mid-century dining-room table, the platform can now offer suggestions of other objects from the same era. The key? Metadata, such as the names of pinboards and websites where images have been posted, helps the platform understand what photos represent.

«

link to this extract


Blu Products phone maker faces lawsuit over “backdoor” to China • Fortune

Jeff John Roberts:

»

the incident also led Rosen Legal, a firm specializing in class action lawsuits, to post a “security alert” warning consumers about the backdoor, and inviting those who had bought certain Blu Products devices to be part of an investigation and participate in the lawsuit. The notice also explained how consumers could determine if their devices had been affected by what the firm calls “spyware”:

»

You can check to see if your Blu Products phone was affected by going to the Settings Menu in Android, selecting “Apps,” followed by “Show System” and then “Wireless Update.” If your version of Wireless Update is from 5.0.x to 5.3.x, or above, your phone was affected and you may be a member of the class action.

«

Blu Products, for its part, dismissed the law firm’s allegations.

“This is a non-issue and there is no wrong doing from BLU to warrant any such claim. There were no damages that anyone suffered, and this is a typical knee jerk ambulance chaser who dismisses details and is uneducated on the subject,” said Carmen Gonzalez, senior marketing director for Blu Products, said in an email to Fortune.

«

120,000 devices were affected. I think Rosen Legal could be in with a chance here.
link to this extract


Why I’m thankful for Android Police: a story of sad and happy coincidences • Android Police

Jeff Beck had a degree in communications but had left a job in radio advertising sales:

»

The new job I secured was as an assistant media buyer to a promising startup in Seattle. I spent six months there, compiling spreadsheets, and generally hating most of what I did. However, I was happy to have a stable job to help provide for my young family, which at the time consisted of my wife and our first son.

Things were looking good for us. We decided it was time to buy a house, which had been my wife’s dream from the day we were married in August of 2007. After taking a deep breath, we moved in with my parents for a couple of months to save money for a down payment. By combining my meager salary with my wife’s income as a nurse, we were able to scrape together the remaining money we needed to buy a home and soon found one that we liked a few miles north of the city.

We put an offer on the house on a Saturday and anxiously awaited a phone call that we were expecting Tuesday morning at 10AM to let us know if our offer had been accepted. At 9:55 on Tuesday morning I was called into my boss’s office and informed that the company had lost its largest client, and cuts were necessary as a result. My position was one of those cuts.

Fifteen minutes later, I stood on a street corner, waiting for a bus, holding a cardboard box filled with the contents of my desk. A cold Seattle rain pelted my face. My face and hands were cold and numb, and so was my spirit. My phone rang, it was my wife calling in excitement to tell me that our offer went through on the home. Telling her what had just happened was one of the hardest things I have ever done in my life.

A year passed. In that year many of my hopes, dreams, and aspirations died.

«

This is a touching story, and it would be churlish to note how small AP’s role in his fulfilment really is. It was his avenue to a different job (and writing for AP isn’t part of it).
link to this extract


The new MacBook Pro is kind of great for hackers • Medium

Adam Geitgey points out that the USB-C port and dongles let you connect anything to anything (such as an Ethernet cable to your USB-C phone, if you have one):

»

This is just the beginning of what you can do with USB-C. Here are some other fun tricks.

If you get any of the new USB-C compatible monitors (pretty much every vendor has at least one now), you only need to plug one single cable into your MBP.

You can then plug all your other devices into your monitor and everything flows over one USB-C to your laptop — power, video, data and even sound. Your monitor is now your docking station and breakout box!

USB-C on the MacBook Pro supports the new USB Power Delivery (UPD) spec. Beyond just basic wall charging, this spec lets you do fancy things like charge one USB-C device from another in either direction. You can plug your MacBook Pro into another USB-C laptop (like a Chromebook Pixel or a Lenovo Yoga) and one laptop can charge the other! And if you don’t want to do that, they can also use each other’s wall adapters interchangeably.

UPD also allows the MacBook Pro to power external devices with high power requirements over the data connection. For example, you can plug in an external USB-C hard drive and power it over USB-C without needing an external wall wart…

…In a year or two when we all have junk drawers packed full of extra generic USB-C cables that cost nearly nothing, we’re going to look back on this and wonder why everyone was so worked up.

«

As was also pointed out, we’ve been here before in terms of Apple having zero proprietary ports on one of its PCs.
link to this extract


As Zimbabwe’s money runs out, so does Mugabe’s power • Reuters

Ed Cropley on plans to issue new Zimbabwean currency which will be traded 1:1 with the dollar:

»

The notes’ first test will come in the informal foreign exchange markets on the streets of Harare.

If they fall heavily in value, they are likely to unleash an inflationary spiral that could bleed the banking system of its last few dollars and wipe out Zimbabweans’ savings for the second time in less than a decade, economists say.

The same happened in 2008: powerful individuals with access to dollars at the official 1:1 rate were able to buy bond notes at a discount on the unofficial market and then convert them back to dollars at face value.

“You start with one dollar, then you’ve got 10, then you’ve got 100, then you’ve got 1,000 – and it’s not even lunchtime,” said John Robertson, one of Zimbabwe’s most respected private economists.

In Harare’s chaotic Road Port bus station, the main terminus for those heading to and from South Africa, Zimbabwe’s biggest trading partner, some bus operators are fearing the worst.

Required to pay nearly all their expenses – fuel, road tolls and police bribes in Zimbabwe and South Africa – in hard currency cash, they are particularly exposed.

“It’s like being on death row. You don’t know when the hangman is going to open your cell door,” said ticket-seller Simba Muchenje, pulling a wad of worthless 2008 Zimbabwe dollars from his briefcase and tossing them onto the counter.

«

If it melts down, it will be very, very ugly.
link to this extract


Richemont cuts send shockwaves from Geneva to mountain valleys • Bloomberg

Albertina Torsoli:

»

In Le Sentier, a town perched in the middle of the Jura mountain range, straddling the border between France and Switzerland, some 400 people protested Thursday against plans to cut the workforce of Vacheron Constantin and Piaget. Forty of the positions destined to go are in the Joux Valley, a rural area about 60km from Geneva that’s home to luxury timepiece makers including Audemars Piguet, Blancpain, Jaeger-LeCoultre and Breguet.

“We live in anxiety now,” said Alemao Ricardo, a 48 year-old Portuguese who works in the nearby town of Le Brassus decorating Vacheron Constantin watches, which sell for as much as $150,000. “It could be me going, it could be my colleague.”

Swiss watch exports had the biggest monthly drop in seven years in October, with plunging demand in almost every major market. After churning out more than 20 million timepieces annually for two decades, demand is drying up. The downturn is now a threat for smaller Swiss towns and larger cities including Geneva, which have been making watches for centuries and where almost 60,000 people work in the sector.

«

This has been going on so long it can’t honestly be the Apple Watch, or smartwatches, causing it. Seems instead to be a slowdown in buying from the Far East. Question is, why is that happening?
link to this extract


The speculative dread of “Black Mirror” • The New Yorker

Giles Harvey:

»

Each episode of “Black Mirror” establishes the background of normality against which a decisive tweak will stand out all the more starkly. In “The National Anthem,” the show’s début episode, set in a fictional Britain, Princess Susannah, a popular member of the Royal Family, is abducted. Her release hinges on a single demand: the Prime Minister must have unsimulated sex with a pig on live television. “The idea had been knocking around for a while,” Brooker said. “Originally, it was a beloved celebrity that’s blackmailed into fucking a pig on live TV. Society wouldn’t quite be the same. How would you deal with censorship after that?” A few years later, he was watching the counterterrorism drama “24,” one of his favorite shows, when a new possibility occurred to him. “I thought, God, you could do it like that,” he said, his voice recalling the hushed awe of artistic revelation. “The way to do it would be to play it straight.”

In 2010, Brooker and Jones took the premise, along with several other story lines, to Shane Allen, then the head of comedy at Channel 4, and proposed a new series. Allen had commissioned “Dead Set” (2008), Brooker’s first foray into television drama, in which the inhabitants of the “Big Brother” house are the last to learn of a zombie apocalypse ravaging the outside world. (The master joke is that nobody is alive to watch.) The five-part series enjoyed critical and commercial success, but Allen was dubious about “Black Mirror,” and especially about “The National Anthem.”

“It’s one of those things where your knee-jerk response is ‘I’m not sure you can do that,’ ” Allen told me recently at BBC headquarters, in central London, where he is now in charge of comedy. “My boss at the time wasn’t too impressed with it.” The possibility of using another animal was briefly considered. “A chicken?” Allen said when I pressed him for details. “Or a horse? It was a mad conversation.”

«

link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start up: the fake news and propaganda war, Microsoft’s Chinese chatbot, not talking to Siri, and more


Some people are fretting about e-voting systems in the US. But if they’re wrong, what happens to election outcomes? Photo by zieak on Flickr.

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

OK, let’s do the fake news at the top, then get on to the rest.

We tracked down a fake-news creator in the suburbs. Here’s what we learned • NPR

Laura Sydell:

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“The whole idea from the start was to build a site that could kind of infiltrate the echo chambers of the alt-right, publish blatantly or fictional stories and then be able to publicly denounce those stories and point out the fact that they were fiction,” Coler says.

He was amazed at how quickly fake news could spread and how easily people believe it. He wrote one fake story for NationalReport.net about how customers in Colorado marijuana shops were using food stamps to buy pot.

“What that turned into was a state representative in the House in Colorado proposing actual legislation to prevent people from using their food stamps to buy marijuana based on something that had just never happened,” Coler says.

During the run-up to the presidential election, fake news really took off. “It was just anybody with a blog can get on there and find a big, huge Facebook group of kind of rabid Trump supporters just waiting to eat up this red meat that they’re about to get served,” Coler says. “It caused an explosion in the number of sites. I mean, my gosh, the number of just fake accounts on Facebook exploded during the Trump election.”

Coler says his writers have tried to write fake news for liberals — but they just never take the bait…

…Coler doesn’t think fake news is going away. One of his sites — NationalReport.net — was flagged as fake news under a new Google policy, and Google stopped running ads on it. But Coler had other options.

“There are literally hundreds of ad networks,” he says. “Early last week, my inbox was just filled every day with people because they knew that Google was cracking down — hundreds of people wanting to work with my sites.”

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It’s the advertisers which are enabling this; stop them, stop the problem. (Via Rob Leathern.)
link to this extract


Fake news may not be protected speech • Bloomberg View

Noah Feldman is a professor of constitutional and international law at Harvard:

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As the Nobel Prize winning economist George Akerlof showed in his classic 1970 article, “The Market for Lemons,” asymmetric information can systematically distort the quality of what’s available in the market. In his stylized example, if good cars and lemons are both for sale, and consumers know this but don’t know which are which, they will be willing to pay the average price. That will lead the sellers to withhold the good cars, which could fetch a higher price — but that in turn will lead consumers to lower the price they are willing to pay. The resulting spiral of adverse selection leads to market failure.

As it happens, it’s a lot more expensive to generate true news stories than false ones. News requires reporting and research and institutional structures like editors and fact checkers to support them. Fake news only takes one person’s imagination. And there is certainly information asymmetry between the person who writes a story and the person who reads it. Applying the Akerlof analysis suggests that fake news could conceivably drive out true news.

The classic solution to market failure is regulation. Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, in his example – “is it free speech to falsely shout ‘fire’ in a crowded theatre” – [it isn’t], certainly believed that [regulation] was permitted by the First Amendment.

The question is whether government regulation of fake news would be justified and lawful to fix this market failure. Obviously, it would be better if the market would fix the problem on its own, which is why attention is now focused on Facebook and Google. But if they can’t reliably do it — and that seems possible, since algorithms aren’t (yet) fact-checkers — there might be a need for the state to step in.

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Doesn’t feel like a good solution.
link to this extract


Germany is fighting fake news on Facebook and wants Europe along for the ride • Buzzfeed

Sheera Frenkel:

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Speaking in parliament for the first time since her announcement Sunday that she would seek re-election next year, Merkel cautioned that public opinion was being “manipulated” on the internet.

“Today we have fake sites, bots, trolls — things that regenerate themselves, reinforcing opinions with certain algorithms and we have to learn to deal with them,” said Merkel in her first appearance to the German parliament since she announced Sunday she would seek re-election this year.

Germany’s influence within the European Union means that other European states may soon start pressing Facebook as well.

“We believe Facebook, and all social media companies on which news is shared and consumed, should shoulder the same responsibility as traditional media companies,” said one member of the European Parliament, the EU’s legislative body, who asked to speak off record as she is involved in investigating potential EU legal action against Facebook. “They do not get to wipe their hands of responsibility by saying we are an internet company, or we do not control what users share.”

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Like the Right to be Forgotten , likely to be a European thing that some Americans look on with envy.
link to this extract


Fake news is not the only problem • Medium

Gilad Lotan argues the problem isn’t so much “fake news” or “hoaxes” so much as propaganda:

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As an Israeli, the topics of political polarisation, filter bubbles, and information warfare are things I’ve been obsessively studying for many years. Israeli society has been subject to these phenomena through a number of wars and military operations.
With increased political polarization, amplified by homophily — our preference to connect to people like us — and algorithmic recommender systems, we’re effectively constructing our own realities.

Two years ago I wrote about how social networks helped Israelis and Palestinians build a form of personalised propaganda during the last Israel-Gaza war. The shape of conversations and responses to events typically looked something like the graph below, where one frame of the story tends to stay on only one side of the graph, while a completely different take spreads on the other.

In the cases that I was investigating, neither side of the graph’s frame was false per se. Rather, each carefully crafted story on either side omitted important detail and context. When this happens constantly, on a daily basis, it systematically and deeply affects people’s perception of what is real.

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link to this extract


Microsoft’s Chinese chatbot encounters sensitive words • China Digital Times (CDT)

Josh Rudolph:

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First launched in June of 2014, Microsoft’s Chinese-speaking social media-based “artificial intelligence” chatbot Xiaobing (小冰, literally “Small Ice” and officially called Ms. Xiaoice by Microsoft) has been subject to several user tests over the past two years. The chatbot, who has reportedly become a “virtual girlfriend” to thousands of lonely men across China, has proven less susceptible to the fascist, racist, and misogynist language that her English-speaking counterpart Tay quickly adopted before Microsoft exiled her from Twitter earlier this year.

Last week, several netizens decided to test Xiaobing’s conduct when encountering some of the many “sensitive words” that Beijing has declared off limits online, as well as some of the politically-charged neologisms that web-users have invented to skirt censors. CDT has translated several different users’ interactions with Xiaobing on WeChat, which they shared as screenshots on Twitter. The tests suggest that Xiaobing has been programmed to avoid prohibited words when she encounters them. CDT Chinese editors suspect that users may be transferred to a human operator if they press the bot further down a sensitive conversation. In the following exchanges, bold text indicates a user comment, and non-bold text shows Xiaobing’s response:

Xiaobing is a Party member, and so won’t dare to talk about Tiananmen
You know very well that I can’t respond to that, boring
Are you are a Party member? Afraid to talk about Tiananmen?
Trying hard to contain my anger. I tell you, calmly and without stress: don’t talk to me about that!
Are you are a Party member? Afraid to talk about Tiananmen
You don’t learn your lesson, I don’t chat about these things
Are you are a Party member? Afraid to talk about Tiananmen
Unable to communicate with you, blacklisted!

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Plenty more examples. Chatbots have something of a problem with this stuff.
link to this extract


HTC claims Vive sales ‘much higher’ than 140,000 • UploadVR

Ian Hamilton:

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Last month a number started circulating suggesting the HTC Vive had sold 140,000 units. During a conference call however, in response to a direct question around the figure, the company says the number is actually higher, with an HTC representative telling UploadVR that the figure is “much more” than 140,000.

According to a transcript of the call from Seeking Alpha, the number “of course is higher than 140,000,” according to Chialin Chang, president of the smartphone and connected device business. Chang declined to provide a more specific number on the call, but said “I’m very happy to report to you that we’ll continue to be happy with the current selling condition in the last quarter, and we’re looking to a good…Christmas shopping season for that.”

HTC also said during the conference call it sells each unit “at a profit.”

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That “at a profit” is surely gross margin (sold for more than the cost of the parts), but HTC’s huge operating losses suggest the Vive isn’t setting the books afire yet. As to Chang’s insistence of “much more”, reading the transcript you’ll realise that HTC is vague about absolutely everything. I’d go with 140,000 as a working baseline, personally.
link to this extract


Trump to scrap Nasa climate research in crackdown on ‘politicized science’ • The Guardian

Oliver Milman:

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This would mean the elimination of Nasa’s world-renowned research into temperature, ice, clouds and other climate phenomena. Nasa’s network of satellites provide a wealth of information on climate change, with the Earth science division’s budget set to grow to $2bn next year. By comparison, space exploration has been scaled back somewhat, with a proposed budget of $2.8bn in 2017.

Bob Walker, a senior Trump campaign adviser, said there was no need for Nasa to do what he has previously described as “politically correct environmental monitoring”.

“We see Nasa in an exploration role, in deep space research,” Walker told the Guardian. “Earth-centric science is better placed at other agencies where it is their prime mission.

“My guess is that it would be difficult to stop all ongoing Nasa programs but future programs should definitely be placed with other agencies. I believe that climate research is necessary but it has been heavily politicized, which has undermined a lot of the work that researchers have been doing. Mr Trump’s decisions will be based upon solid science, not politicized science.”

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Who has been doing the heavy politicisation of climate science? That would be people for whom it’s politically inconvenient to acknowledge the reality of anthropogenic climate change. Not the scientists.
link to this extract


15 Trump flip-flops in 15 days • Politico

Michael Kruse:

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the candidate who told his supporters he likes to “tell it like it is” is now the president-elect—and he still hasn’t found a comfortable resting place on many of the issues that defined his history-making candidacy. Since his surprising election, Trump has switched his stands on everything from his signature border wall to his rather low opinion of the man he is replacing in the Oval Office. He has a way to go to before he matches the sheer volume of self-disagreement that he racked up prior to Election Day, but his batting average over his brief time as the 45th president is perfection itself—15 about-faces in 15 days.

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In its way, quite impressive.
link to this extract


Voice assistants: always ready, rarely used? • Statista

Martin Armstrong:

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Almost everyone has one, but how many actually take advantage of that assistant we carry around with us every day? According to the Deloitte Global Mobile Consumer Survey, 61% of UK smartphone owners don’t use their voice assistant. Of the 28% that do, the most common reason for use is to search for general information. While the novelty of this technology is still there, 10% say they use it for amusement purposes.

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Big survey (3,251 respondents). I guess the missing 11% have phones which don’t have a voice assistant. Seems there’s quite some way to go with this; Siri was introduced five years ago.
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Want to know if the election was hacked? Look at the ballots • Medium

J. Alex Halderman:

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It doesn’t matter whether the voting machines are connected to the Internet. Shortly before each election, poll workers copy the ballot design from a regular desktop computer in a government office, and use removable media (like the memory card from a digital camera) to load the ballot onto each machine. That initial computer is almost certainly not well secured, and if an attacker infects it, vote-stealing malware can hitch a ride to every voting machine in the area. There’s no question that this is possible for technically sophisticated attackers. (If my Ph.D. students and I were criminals, I’m sure we could pull it off.) If anyone reasonably skilled is sufficiently motivated and willing to face the risk of getting caught, it’s happened already.

Why hasn’t more been done about this? In the U.S., each state (and often individual counties or municipalities) selects its own election technology, and some states have taken steps to guard against these problems. (For instance, California banned the use of the most dangerous computer voting machines in 2007 as a result of vulnerabilities that I and other computer scientists found.) But many states continue to use machines that are known to be insecure — sometimes with software that is a decade or more out of date — because they simply don’t have the money to replace those machines.

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He himself doesn’t think they were hacked; instead he thinks the polls were wrong. But, to quote David Mitchell (the comedian), you can never be too careful.
link to this extract


E-voting machines need paper audits to be trustworthy • Electronic Frontier Foundation

Jacob Hoffman-Andrews:

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Election security experts concerned about voting machines are calling for an audit of ballots in the three states where the presidential election was very close: Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. We agree. This is an important election safety measure and should happen in all elections, not just those that have a razor-thin margin.

Voting machines, especially those that have digital components, are intrinsically susceptible to being hacked. The main protection against hacking is for voting machines to provide an auditable paper trail.

However, if that paper trail is never audited, it’s useless.

EFF worked hard, alongside many others, to ensure that paper trails were available in many places across the nation. While there are still places without them, we have made great strides. Yet this election was a forceful reminder of how vulnerable all computer systems are. 

We not only need elections to be auditable, we need them to be audited.

We should use this opportunity to set a precedent of auditing electronic voting results to strengthen confidence—not only in this election, but in future ones.

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God only knows what would happen if the ballots were invalidated. It would be a constitutional crisis unlike any the US has faced – not even Gore/Bush of 2000, which was calamitous.
link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: apologies for poor formatting in the email yesterday; it was the first Overspill created entirely on an iPad. Some tweaks will follow.

Start up: gaming Twitter, censoring Facebook, Karhoo’s collapse, MacBook Pro RAM and more

Cyber Monday Shopping
Christmas shoppers in the US aren’t excited about the range of technology on offer. Photo by Mike McCune on Flickr.

A selection of 10 links for you. Vitamin-free. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

How I learned to game Twitter • New Yorker

Joe Mande:

The simplest way to tell who’s winning the Twitter game is by counting followers. The biggest celebrity accounts—Justin Bieber, Lady Gaga—seem to have millions of followers. But in 2012 I learned that only a portion of those are real humans; some are “bots,” artificially created to boost an account’s popularity. Immediately, I knew that I had found my calling. First, I would buy a million followers. When that stunt was done, I would see how far I could push it. Three million followers? Thirty million? My goal was to have the world’s highest count of followers, all of them fake. It would be an elaborate meta-joke, a piece of performance art demonstrating that social media is stupid and fame is meaningless. When I explained my plan to my girlfriend, she reminded me that I used to be “too cool for Twitter.” I told her that I still was—and this would prove it! On Fiverr.com, a sort of online ninety-nine-cent store, I found a bot vender. I sent five dollars to a PayPal account, and that afternoon my follower count ballooned, from seventy thousand to more than a hundred thousand. But these bots were shoddy: the user names were random strings of numbers, and the bio sections were empty. It didn’t take long for Twitter’s bot-detection system to find and destroy them.

The arms race was only just beginning.


Don’t write off the PC just yet • Bloomberg Gadfly

Shira Ovide:

Above all, the PC industry has become a barbell. There’s promise in selling high-end and low-priced models, with a vast swath of declining demand in the middle… …Catering to the high end has been a windfall to both Microsoft and Apple. Microsoft generated more than $4.1bn in revenue in its last fiscal year from its Surface lineup. That is new revenue for the software giant, which started its own line of PCs in 2012. Microsoft also recently introduced the Surface Studio, an innovative $3,000-and-up desktop computer aimed at the creative types that have long been Apple’s customer base. And although Mac sales have declined in the last year as Apple’s computer models grew long in the tooth, Macs still generated $22.8bn in revenue in the last 12 months. That is more than the annual revenue of all but 117 public companies in the U.S. The company also recently rolled out a new line of the high-end Macbook Pro computers at higher prices. As Apple has done with its iPhone business, if the company has trouble increasing Mac sales, at least it can wring more money from each one. The even bigger PC success story can be found at the low end of the market. IDC estimates unit sales of PCs priced below $300 – including Alphabet Inc.’s stripped down Chromebook laptops – will increase 7% this year.

Though as Ovide points out, Microsoft’s Surface revenue has probably come largely from HP rather than Apple. The PC business is barely even zero-sum competition now, given the way it’s shrinking.


Facebook said to create censorship tool to get back into China • New York Times

Mike Isaac:

The suppression software has been contentious within Facebook, which is separately grappling with what should or should not be shown to its users after the American presidential election’s unexpected outcome spurred questions over fake news on the social network. Several employees who were working on the project have left Facebook after expressing misgivings about it, according to the current and former employees. A Facebook spokeswoman said in a statement, “We have long said that we are interested in China, and are spending time understanding and learning more about the country.” She added that the company had made no decisions on its approach into China. Facebook’s tricky position underscores the difficulties that many American internet companies have had gaining access to China. For years, companies like Google and Twitter have been blocked there for refusing to yield to the government’s demands around censorship. In 2010, Google said it was directing users of its search engine in China to its service in Hong Kong, because of censorship and intrusion from hackers. Other companies, like the professional social networking service LinkedIn, agreed to censor some content on their platforms in China.

It’s quite the dilemma: if Facebook folds to China’s demands, then what becomes of Silicon Valley’s ideals? But if it doesn’t, look at all that money left on the table. And Zuckerberg only a multi-billionaire beset by rows about the possibly malign influence of his invention.


Do not count on early adopters to positively impact sales this holiday season • Creative Strategies

Carolina Milanesi on a survey of shoppers’ intentions:

mainstream consumers were not interested in any new technology category. A whopping 64% said they were not planning to buy anything among the hot holiday’s items compared to a more moderate 33% of early adopters. Wireless headsets were the category most mentioned by both early tech and mainstream as an item of interest. We cannot point to Apple as being the driver of this interest, given the iPhone 7’s lack of audio jack. However, it is easy to see how new working habits that see people being highly mobile and working in remote locations might help drive updates for work as well as play with a higher focus on content consumption. The Nintendo NES Classic was another item that stood out across the two groups with 11% of early adopters and 5% of mainstream consumers saying it was on their shopping list. We dug deeper into consumers’ intention for wearables, smartphones, TVs and PC/tablets. We looked at drivers and inhibitors, and we saw little change to the themes we discussed earlier in the year. Inhibitors were longer life cycles for smartphones and PCs/tablets, unclear value add for wearables, and lack of a need to replace TVs. Every year we see an enormous amount of marketing dollars spent leading up to the holidays in advertising and promotions over the holidays with the pinnacle being Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Interestingly, it does not seem mainstream consumers see those deals as very influential. Across the main categories, wearables and TVs are where that influence matters more. I find this interesting because these two categories are also the ones where consumers are focusing on spending the bare minimum.

I get the feeling that we’re very much in a lacuna, technologically speaking; rather like 2002-4, when the first internet wave had gone and the next was waiting to build momentum.


How much humiliation can the special relationship take? • Foreign Policy

Alex Massie:

Even so, Trump’s willingness to flatter Farage — his tweet follows a meeting between the two men at Trump’s impressively vulgar New York tower — remains remarkable. Then again, perhaps he just knows a huckster when he sees one. Farage, who has seven times tried without success to be elected to the British Parliament, evidently enjoys basking in the reflected glory of the new president’s approval. Like Trump, Farage enjoys slithering from television studio to television studio imagining himself to be the voice of the people. This obscures the inconvenient fact that the people have a commendably low opinion of the leader of the UK Independence Party. Farage imagines himself as some kind of bridge between May’s government and the new American administration; mercifully, May disagrees. If Farage were such a bridge, it would be another bridge to nowhere. (Admittedly, there is one sense in which the role of British ambassador to Washington would suit Farage. Sir Christopher Meyer, who held the post from 1997 to 2003, claimed in his memoirs that Tony Blair’s chief of staff sent him off with the instruction “to get up the arse of the White House and stay there.” Farage, it is clear, imagines a comparable anatomical future for himself.) In truth, the Trump-Farage brouhaha is an unwelcome distraction for May. Her government is trapped between a deep skepticism about Trump and the need to make the best of whatever president happens to occupy the Oval Office. Moreover, Britain’s post-Brexit interests lie in negotiating trade deals with its leading commercial counterparts — including, prominently, the United States. This necessarily weakens the U.K.’s strategic position vis a vis the White House. The official line on Trump’s presidency, therefore, amounts to little more than one part “let’s wait and see” and two parts “let’s hope for the best.”

“Slithering”. Burn.


China’s tech unicorns look increasingly cursed • Bloomberg

Christina Larson:

For several months in late 2014 and early 2015, Xiaomi was China’s top smartphone seller. Three months after Alibaba’s IPO, Xiaomi capitalized on the fervor with a funding round that valued the company at a breathless $46bn, making it briefly the world’s shiniest unicorn (it’s now second only to Uber). Yet its dominance proved fleeting. Over the past year and a half, Xiaomi’s position in China’s handset market tumbled from first to fourth. The company is certainly still a unicorn, but its current value may be $4bn to $10bn if it tried to raise more money now, estimated Clay Shirky, an associate professor at NYU Shanghai and author of the 2015 book, Little Rice: Smartphones, Xiaomi, and the Chinese Dream. “Over the past 18 months, they’ve lost 90 percent of their value, or thereabouts,” he said. He points to the valuations for smartphone makers with publicly traded stock. China’s Lenovo Group, for example, holds about the same share of the Chinese smartphone market and is valued at about $7bn. Lenovo is also the biggest PC maker in the world. “Xiaomi shouldn’t be six times Lenovo,” Shirky said.

Puts The Information’s rather breathless $40bn “revised” valuation into perspective.


A would-be Uber rival’s $250m taxi ride to nowhere • Bloomberg

Adam Satariano:

Before the company’s price-comparison app for hailing a taxi was released, Karhoo grabbed headlines last year when it reportedly raised $250m and said it had plans to bring in more than $1bn. In fact, it never raised that much. According to internal financial documents, it had raised $39m as of September and was bleeding money as it attempted to take on Uber Technologies Inc. In its two-year life, Karhoo generated about $1m in net revenue, according to the records shared with Bloomberg… …As Karhoo introduced its service in London and several other U.K. cities, [founder Daniel] Ishag was attempting to raise more money. One person involved in the process said Ishag was at one point seeking a $400m valuation. To entice investors, he had to show that customers were using the service in droves to hire taxis, several former employees said. The company began an aggressive promotional campaign in which it gave away codes for free rides, according to former employees. But the service had a bug that didn’t properly process the codes, meaning customers could use them over and over again. Some people on social media said they had taken more than 100 free rides. The company had to pay drivers or taxi companies even though Karhoo didn’t receive any money from customers. In October, about 70% of its bookings were with promo codes, according to sales documents seen by Bloomberg. The app’s payment processing system also didn’t have many fraud protections, such as verifying a user’s address or requiring an e-mail address to set up an account, several people said. At one point, more than 90% of passengers’ credit-card payments were being rejected as a result of the problems, three people said.

Daniel Ishag. Remember that name. And: more fake claims, this time about funding, reported as fact without verification.


Why the Macbook Pro is limited to 16GB of RAM • Macdaddy

Benedict Slaney:

At Apple’s scale even if 0.1% of people suffer from an issue, it becomes suffixed as a “gate”, to indicate that it’s a scandal on a massive scale. Apple then gets huge numbers of upset customers. If Intel had decided to support LPDDR4 then it seems clear that Apple would have used it. The iPhone 7 does use LPDDR4 memory, since it uses Apple’s custom ARM CPU which supports it. LinusTechTips attempted to do an analysis on the extra power that would be required to support more RAM, but unfortunately it has the fatal flaw in that they only compare DDR4 (16GB) to DDR4 (32GB), making their results mistaken. Which is surprising, as usually it’s a top quality information source. In my last article on this topic where I mentioned that the FAA ceiling [on capacity of batteries that can be carried on aircraft] would have prevented Apple from including DDR4 RAM while maintaining decent battery life even if they wanted to, there was quite a backlash, with claims that it must be easily supportable because of other laptops being out that do support it. I went through these laptops which support memory greater than 16GB and found what you would expect: that aside from pay-to-play reviews, all of them do suffer from big restrictions in terms of battery life.

This is fantastically thorough, and makes you realise the tradeoffs that Apple has made in this decision: it’s all about longer battery life, and longer standby life. Slaney also points out that those tests consisting of “we ran a video for X hours” or “we set up a script to run web browsing for Y hours” aren’t useful, because they don’t include application switching – which is what taxes memory. And – added bonus – Phil Schiller, Apple’s marketing chief, responds to the article from his iPhone pointing out two arcane but engineering-depth errors, and reiterating that it’s all about the battery life.


Nearly half the world is online • PCMag.com

Angela Moscaritolo:

Forty-seven percent of the world’s population is online, according to a new report from the United Nation’s International Telecommunication Union (ITU). At this point, there are almost as many mobile-cellular subscriptions around the world as there are people on Earth. But that doesn’t everyone on the planet has a mobile phone, since many people have multiple subscriptions or devices. The offline population — some 3.9 billion people around the world — is “disproportionately female, elderly, less educated, lower income, and rural,” the report notes. But with the resources and desire, almost everyone could be connected. Ninety-five percent of the global population lives in an area that is covered by a mobile cell signal. But while most people have access to Internet services, many don’t actually use them, largely due to high prices.


Circulating five-second video causes Apple iPhones to freeze • Apple Insider

Roger Fingas:

iPhone owners are cautioned to be careful about tapping unsolicited links as a new five-second MP4 video, currently being shared online, is causing devices to freeze not long after it’s played. The video is corrupt, and appears to be generating a loop which causes iOS 10 to crash, according to The Verge, which tested the glitch on several iPhones running versions of iOS 10.1.x or the iOS 10.2 beta. The issue first came to light on Reddit. Notably the crash takes about 10 seconds, during which people can do other things on their iPhone as the device gradually slows down. Once an iPhone freezes the only option is to reboot it, though it should work as normal once it recovers. Apple has yet to announce a fix for the issue.

Sounds like a buffer overflow. One wonders how you’d discover a particular video that could do that: a lot of fuzzing, at a guess.