Thursday, April 26, 2018

Apple TV viewing hours surged 709 percent in March quarter (Apple Insider)

Stream different

"It's not clear what was behind the surge of the Apple TV, but the Apple TV 4K launched in September. One of Apple's coups with the product was the ability to buy 4K versions of many movies at the same cost as 1080p. In some cases, previously purchased 1080p movies can be upgraded automatically.

The set-top box is also one of the few that can output HDR (high dynamic range) video using either Dolby Vision or HDR10 — many devices only support one of the two, if any. Amazon also resumed Apple TV sales in December, simultaneously bringing its Prime Video app to tvOS."
Apple TV viewing hours surged 709 percent in March quarter

Can This System of Unlocking Phones Crack the Crypto War? | WIRED

"Ray Ozzie thinks he has an approach for accessing encrypted devices that attains the impossible: It satisfies both law enforcement and privacy purists" -- see the full article for an extensive profile

"THE STRENGTH OF Ozzie’s system lies in its simplicity. Unlike Clinton Brooks, who relied on the government to safeguard the Clipper Chip’s encrypted keys, Ozzie is putting his trust in corporations, a decision that came from his experience in working for big companies like Lotus, IBM, and Microsoft. He was intimately familiar with the way that tech giants managed their keys. (You could even argue that he helped invent that structure, since Lotus Notes was the first software product to get a license to export strong encryption overseas and thus was able to build it into its products.) He argues that the security of the entire mobile universe already relies on the protection of keys—those vital keys used to verify operating system updates, whose compromise could put billions of users at risk. (Every time you do an OS update, Apple certifies it by adding a unique ID and “signing” it to let your device know it’s really Apple that is rewriting your iPhone’s code.) Using that same system to provide exceptional access, he says, introduces no new security weaknesses that vendors don’t already deal with."
Can This System of Unlocking Phones Crack the Crypto War? | WIRED

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Facebook Posts Surge in Revenue as It Tackles User-Data Crisis - WSJ

Also see Facebook Sales Top Estimates, Fueled by Ads; Shares Jump (Bloomberg)

"The social-media giant has weathered one crisis after another in the 17 months since the 2016 presidential election, but its business—at least for now—is still thriving.

Facebook reported quarterly per share profit of $1.69, up from $1.04 a year earlier, while revenue rose nearly 50% to $11.97 billion. Net income rose 63% to nearly $5 billion, compared with $3.06 billion a year ago.

Those results topped analyst expectations."
Facebook Posts Surge in Revenue as It Tackles User-Data Crisis - WSJ

Watches, Not Phones, Fuel Verizon's Subscriber Growth - Bloomberg

Telecom transition time

"Smartwatches, meanwhile, have helped bring another source of revenue to the industry -- even if the devices aren’t as lucrative as phones. The latest wearable devices, such as the Apple Watch Series 3, have their own network connections. That means they don’t need to link up with smartphones to communicate and -- good news for carriers -- require a separate wireless subscription.

Verizon added about 359,000 subscribers last quarter who are using watches, wearables and other devices. That helped make up for the loss of 24,000 phone customers and 75,000 tablet customers in the period. But watch customers pay $10 a month, compared with the $40 or more that phone customers typically shell out.

That effect was evident in Verizon’s wireless service revenue, which fell 2.4 percent last quarter."
Watches, Not Phones, Fuel Verizon's Subscriber Growth - Bloomberg

Bitcoin is the greatest scam in history - Recode

From a bitcoin perspective by Bill Harris, former CEO of Intuit and founding CEO of PayPal and Personal Capital; in other cryptocurrency news, Andreessen Horowitz is preparing to launch a separate fund for crypto investments (Recode)

"In my opinion, it’s a colossal pump-and-dump scheme, the likes of which the world has never seen. In a pump-and-dump game, promoters “pump” up the price of a security creating a speculative frenzy, then “dump” some of their holdings at artificially high prices. And some cryptocurrencies are pure frauds. Ernst & Young estimates that 10 percent of the money raised for initial coin offerings has been stolen.

The losers are ill-informed buyers caught up in the spiral of greed. The result is a massive transfer of wealth from ordinary families to internet promoters. And “massive” is a massive understatement — 1,500 different cryptocurrencies now register over $300 billion of “value.”

It helps to understand that a bitcoin has no value at all."
Bitcoin is the greatest scam in history - Recode

American Cities Are Fighting Big Business Over Wireless Internet, and They’re Losing - Bloomberg

For another example of Trump administration modus operandi, see Mulvaney, Watchdog Bureau’s Leader, Advises Bankers on Ways to Curtail Agency (NYT)

"Big business is quietly trouncing cities in the fight over the future of the internet. The results of an obscure, bureaucratic battle inside the U.S. communications regulator could decide not only which Americans get ultra-fast internet but how much it’ll cost and even what city streetlights will look like.

On Wednesday, a committee created by the Federal Communications Commission will meet to frame the future of 5G, a technology that will make downloads dramatically faster on phones and perhaps replace home broadband for some. The group, with representatives of the business world outnumbering government officials four-to-one, may push for a vote on guidelines that have been under debate for more than a year."
American Cities Are Fighting Big Business Over Wireless Internet, and They’re Losing - Bloomberg

Amazon Tries a New Delivery Spot: Your Car - The New York Times

OnStar or On Call required

"Starting Tuesday, people in dozens of cities across the United States can start getting their Amazon orders delivered to a parked car, provided their vehicle has the proper technology. With a few taps on a smartphone screen, the courier can unlock the car and drop the box inside the trunk or on the back seat.

The new service is aimed at anyone who doesn’t want to risk having their package swiped from their front porch or who can’t receive an Amazon order at work, perhaps because an employer doesn’t allow it or because the company mailroom is not secure."
Amazon Tries a New Delivery Spot: Your Car - The New York Times

Flipboard's Answer to Fake News: More Human Curation | WIRED

Also see Flipboard introduces expanded tech coverage and private sharing features (The Verge)
"The makers of the Flipboard, a news aggregator with 100 million monthly active users around the world, noticed the same thing: more people are reading the news. Since last summer, the app’s engagement numbers have doubled, both in terms of "page flips" (the app's signature page-flipping motion) and the amount of time spent in the app. But Flipboard is hardly immune to the thorny issue of fake news, which the company’s editorial director once likened to "living in a hellish, ranting, Tower of Babel, with no one speaking the same ideological language and each of us in near-violent disagreement." 
That’s why Flipboard is doubling down on news curated by humans. Today, it's updating its app and website to include features that emphasize trustworthy news sources, ranging from book recommendations by top editors, to a weekly email newsletter, to a collaborative feature that lets groups create private Flipboard magazines. And it’s starting with the section of Flipboard the company says is most popular among its users: tech news."
Flipboard's Answer to Fake News: More Human Curation | WIRED

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

In This Space Race, Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk Are Competing to Take You There - The New York Times

Tbd if Trump's Bezos tantrum will expand to include Blue Origin
"Musk won the bidding for Launch Pad 39A, but a few months later Bezos bought the nearby Launch Complex 36, from which missions to fly by Mars and Venus had been launched. The transfer of these hallowed pads represented, both symbolically and in practice, John F. Kennedy’s torch of space exploration being passed from government to the private sector — from a once-glorious but now sclerotic federal agency to a new breed of boyish billionaires who embodied the daring passion and imagination of history’s great pioneers, adventurers and innovators. 
Two new books chronicle this fascinating transition. “The Space Barons,” by Christian Davenport, a Washington Post reporter, is an exciting narrative filled with colorful reporting and sharp insights. The book sparkles because of Davenport’s access to the main players and his talent for crisp storytelling. “Rocket Billionaires,” by Tim Fernholz, a reporter for Quartz, is not quite as vibrant a narrative and lacks some of Davenport’s memorable scenes, but it provides smart analysis of the New Space sector as well as historical context about NASA’s triumphs and failures."
In This Space Race, Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk Are Competing to Take You There - The New York Times

Hard Questions: What Information Do Facebook Advertisers Know About Me? | Facebook Newsroom

Check the full post for an overview from Rob Goldman, Facebook's Ads VP

"To build a product that connects people across continents and cultures, we need to make sure everyone can afford it. Advertising lets us keep Facebook free. But we aren’t blind to the challenges this model poses. It requires a steadfast commitment to privacy.

So our promise is this: we do not tell advertisers who you are or sell your information to anyone. That has always been true. We think relevant advertising and privacy aren’t in conflict, and we’re committed to doing both well.

We know that many of you have questions about how we use your information in advertising – and what control you have over it. I’ll address some of the most frequent questions we get, but first I’ll lay out the basic mechanics of Facebook advertising."
Hard Questions: What Information Do Facebook Advertisers Know About Me? | Facebook Newsroom

Facebook finally explains why it bans some content, in 27 pages - The Washington Post

See Facebook Community Standards for details

"The company’s content policies, which began in earnest in 2005, addressed nudity and Holocaust denial in the early years. They have ballooned from a single page in 2008 to 27 pages today.

As Facebook has come to reach nearly a third of the world’s population, Bickert’s team has expanded significantly, and is expected to grow even more in the coming year. A far-flung team of 7,500 reviewers, in places like Austin, Dublin, and the Philippines, assesses posts 24-hours a day, seven days a week, in more than 40 languages. Moderators are sometimes temporary contract workers without much cultural familiarity with the content they are judging, and they make complex decisions in applying Facebook’s rules."
Facebook finally explains why it bans some content, in 27 pages - The Washington Post

How Looming Privacy Regulations May Strengthen Facebook and Google - The New York Times

Also see How Europe’s New Privacy Rules Favor Google and Facebook (WSJ), which concludes "“It is paradoxical,” said Bill Simmons, co-founder and chief technology officer of Dataxu , Boston-based company that helps buy targeted ads. “The GDPR is actually consolidating the control of consumer data onto these tech giants.”"

"That could begin playing out next month, when Europe enacts sweeping new regulations that prioritize people’s data privacy. The new laws, which require tech companies to ask for users’ consent for their data, are likely to hand Google and Facebook an advantage. That’s because wary consumers are more prone to trust recognized names with their information than unfamiliar newcomers. And the laws may deter start-ups that do not have the resources to comply with the rules from competing with the big companies.

In recent years, other regulatory attempts at strengthening online privacy rules have also had little effect at chipping away at the power of the largest tech companies, ultimately aiding internet giants rather than hurting them."
How Looming Privacy Regulations May Strengthen Facebook and Google - The New York Times

YouTube Says Computers Are Catching Problem Videos - The New York Times

Spring cleaning

"YouTube said it took down 8.28 million videos during the fourth quarter of 2017, and about 80 percent of those videos had initially been flagged by artificially intelligent computer systems.

The new data highlighted the significant role machines — not just users, government agencies and other organizations — are taking in policing the service as it faces increased scrutiny over the spread of conspiracy videos, fake news and violent content from extremist organizations."
YouTube Says Computers Are Catching Problem Videos - The New York Times

Google’s Parent Company Spends Like It’s Thinking of a Future Beyond Ads - The New York Times

Later in the article: "Also among the company’s expenditures in the quarter: $2.4 billion to buy the Chelsea Market building in Manhattan, where the company had set up some of its New York offices." Also see Google's New Spending Surge Shows a Company Playing Catch-Up (Bloomberg)
"Alphabet has made investments in areas like self-driving cars and online computer services for businesses for years, but spending in those areas was up dramatically in the first quarter. The company’s capital expenditures, which included installing undersea cables and the construction of new data centers, were $7.7 billion — more than triple the same period last year.

Ruth Porat, Alphabet’s chief financial officer, said that increase reflected a “commitment to growth” because the company had spent heavily on computing infrastructure, for both its own internal use and customer needs like Google Cloud — the unit that provides technology services to other companies."
Google’s Parent Company Spends Like It’s Thinking of a Future Beyond Ads - The New York Times

Monday, April 23, 2018

General Magic is a film about the ‘90s startup that imagined the smartphone - The Verge

Hopefully available for streaming soon. In other 1990s tech history, April 22, 1993: Mosaic Browser Lights Up Web With Color, Creativity (Wired)

"Silicon Valley is stereotypically full of arrogant geniuses single-handedly forging the future, including Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, Elon Musk, and many more. But the ‘90s startup General Magic, as portrayed in a new eponymous documentary, was a team of gentle visionaries in the right place at the wrong time.

General Magic is sometimes credited with trying to invent the iPhone in the 1990s. The startup spun off from Apple with the intent of designing a smartphone-like device known as the Pocket Crystal, but it collapsed as its incredibly ambitious project ran up against technical limitations and poor planning. General Magic, directed by Sarah Kerruish and Matt Maude, offers a detailed, affectionate look at the company’s brief rise and sudden fall."
General Magic is a film about the ‘90s startup that imagined the smartphone - The Verge

Pedro Domingos on the Arms Race in Artificial Intelligence - SPIEGEL ONLINE

Check the full article for a wide-ranging AI reality check

"Domingos' book "The Master Algorithm," about the technology of artificial intelligence (AI), made him famous and is also considered a standard reference work. The best-selling book, published in 2015, describes how machines that can learn are changing our everyday lives -- from the social networks and science to business and politics and right up to the way modern wars are waged. The book drew praise from Microsoft founder Bill Gates and Google CEO Eric Schmidt.

Recently, a third prominent figure noted that he'd read the book: Chinese President Xi Jinping. When state television broadcast his new year's speech this year, viewers discovered that next to Marx's "Capital" and "Selected Works" by Mao Zedong, he also has a copy of "The Master Algorithm" on his bookshelf."
Pedro Domingos on the Arms Race in Artificial Intelligence - SPIEGEL ONLINE

Who Has More of Your Personal Data Than Facebook? Try Google - WSJ

In other Google news, Google CEO Pichai Set to Cash In $380 Million Award This Week (Bloomberg)

"As justifiable as the focus on Facebook has been, though, it isn’t the full picture. If the concern is that companies might be collecting some personal data without our knowledge or explicit consent, Alphabet’s Google is a far bigger threat by many measures: the volume of information it gathers, the reach of its tracking and the time people spend on its sites and apps.

New regulations, particularly in Europe, are driving Google and others to disclose more and seek more permissions from users. And given the choice, many people might even be fine with the trade-off of personal data for services. Still, to date few of us realize the extent to which our data is being collected and used."
Who Has More of Your Personal Data Than Facebook? Try Google - WSJ

Amazon’s Critics Get New Life With Trump’s Attacks on the Company - The New York Times

On a brighter note for Amazon, People think Amazon has the most positive impact on society out of any major tech company (Recode)
"Some are concerned about the president’s motivations for his attacks, which people close to Mr. Trump have said are often triggered by negative coverage of his administration in The Washington Post, a newspaper owned personally by Mr. Bezos. Mr. Trump has mingled his attacks on Amazon and the newspaper in some tweets, including one in early April slamming “the Fake News Washington Post, Amazon’s ‘chief lobbyist.’”

Matt Stoller, a fellow at the Open Markets Institute, a think tank that has become a vocal critic of the power of tech companies, said he believed Amazon was worthy of action by regulators in part because of its power in the book market. But he also said he found Mr. Trump’s efforts to “personalize law enforcement” troubling.

“What he’s doing is a threat to democracy, but so is Amazon,” Mr. Stoller said. “That’s the dilemma.”"
Amazon’s Critics Get New Life With Trump’s Attacks on the Company - The New York Times

Friday, April 20, 2018

In one month, Facebook doubled the countries using its fact-checking tool — all outside the West | Poynter

From a global reality check on Facebook's fact-checking strategy; on a related note, Most Americans want tech companies to fight fake news, not the government (Poynter)
"“We understand the false news challenge is very different in developing countries where people are coming online for the first time. The same solutions can’t be applied globally,” said Lauren Svensson, technology communications manager at Facebook, in an email to Poynter. “That’s why, in addition to scaling the third-party fact-checking program where we can, our focus to date has been on digital literacy.”

The additions come in regions that comprise the majority of Facebook’s active users. They also come amid a time of heightened scrutiny of Facebook’s fact-checking project, which decreases the reach of debunked stories in News Feed by a reported 80 percent, appends related fact checks, limits the visibility of misinforming pages and notifies users who share fake news."
In one month, Facebook doubled the countries using its fact-checking tool — all outside the West | Poynter

Uber, Paypal Face Reckoning Over Opaque ‘Terms and Conditions’ - Bloomberg

EULA obfuscation as a legal specialty is perhaps no longer a solid career choice...
"Companies are scrambling to ensure their user agreements comply with the law, says Julian Saunders, founder of Port.im, a British software maker that helps businesses adapt to GDPR. But he says many website owners aren’t yet explicit enough in stating why they’re collecting a consumer’s information, which other companies might gain access to it, and how people can ensure their data are deleted if they request it. Saunders says he’s signed up 100 businesses for the service and urges them to bend over backward in helping users understand the details. “Areas that used to get hidden in the small print of terms and conditions should now be exposed,” he says.

Martin Garner, an analyst at technology consultancy CCS Insight, suggests companies walk readers through their policies step by step. That way they could opt out of selected provisions—limiting, for instance, third parties that can gain access to the data or restricting the kinds of information companies may stockpile. Much of what’s in the terms and conditions might be affected by the settings a user chooses, and including that information in the initial agreement unnecessarily complicates the document. “Users typically only have the choice of accepting the terms and conditions in their entirety or not using the service at all,” Garner says. Companies must “pay much closer attention to explaining to users how their data will be stored and used and getting them to consent to that explicitly.”"
Uber, Paypal Face Reckoning Over Opaque ‘Terms and Conditions’ - Bloomberg

Exclusive: Chat is Google’s next big fix for Android’s messaging mess - The Verge

Check the full article for more details and an index of several of Google's earlier Android messaging apps; also see Meet Chat, another new Google messaging service that’s still not as good as Apple’s iMessage (BGR)

"Now, the company is doing something different. Instead of bringing a better app to the table, it’s trying to change the rules of the texting game, on a global scale. Google has been quietly corralling every major cellphone carrier on the planet into adopting technology to replace SMS. It’s going to be called “Chat,” and it’s based on a standard called the “Universal Profile for Rich Communication Services.” SMS is the default that everybody has to fall back to, and so Google’s goal is to make that default texting experience on an Android phone as good as other modern messaging apps.

As part of that effort, Google says it’s “pausing” work on its most recent entry into the messaging space, Allo. It’s the sort of “pause” that involves transferring almost the entire team off the project and putting all its resources into another app, Android Messages."
Exclusive: Chat is Google’s next big fix for Android’s messaging mess - The Verge

Apple’s cloud database FoundationDB now open source | 9to5Mac

Also see FoundationDB is Open Source (FoundationDB blog) and How FoundationDB Powers Snowflake Metadata Forward (Snowflake)

"FoundationDB was originally founded in 2009 by Dave Rosenthal, Dave Scherer and Nick Lavezzo with the goal of making a NoSQL database that was ACID compliant, a set of properties for databases that are designed to guarantee the integrity of data even when errors occur.

Apple acquired the company in early 2015 and has probably been using it for their iCloud services for the past couple of years. In a recent paper describing how CloudKit works, engineers mentioned the usage of a NoSQL database to allow app developers to sync user data between devices in a generic and easy-to-use way. CloudKit is Apple’s cloud database behind many of iCloud’s features including iOS backups, Photos, iWork sharing and iCloud Drive."
Apple’s cloud database FoundationDB now open source | 9to5Mac

G.E. Makes a Sharp ‘Pivot’ on Digital - The New York Times

In other "pivot" news, see Intel is giving up on its smart glasses (The Verge)

"G.E.’s technical prowess, they said, lies in designing and manufacturing big machines like power-plant turbines, jet engines and medical-imaging equipment. Its traditional software skills have been in the specialized programs that control the machines and factory operations. GE Digital was a striking departure into cloud-based internet software, data analytics and artificial intelligence tools like machine learning.

“G.E. reached too far outside its expertise and too fast,” said Steven Winoker, an analyst at UBS. “And it became a financial black hole.”

Just how much G.E. has invested in its digital initiatives is uncertain, but it has been several billion dollars. In an article last year in the Harvard Business Review, Mr. Immelt wrote that in 2016 “we put about $4 billion into developing analytics software and machine learning capabilities.”"
G.E. Makes a Sharp ‘Pivot’ on Digital - The New York Times

Audit Approved of Facebook Policies, Even After Cambridge Analytica Leak - The New York Times

Perhaps time to audit the FTC...

"F.T.C. officials hailed the consent decree as a new and powerful model for regulating tech giants like Facebook and Google, which in recent years have built immensely lucrative advertising businesses rooted in the vast quantities of data they collect from people who use their free services.

But critics of the agreement said it reflected the essential weakness of relying on an outside firm to evaluate Facebook’s compliance with the order. The F.T.C. is a relatively small agency, where even major investigations are handled by teams of just a few people. Instead of retaining a large staff of technology and data experts to monitor businesses, the agency makes companies hire outside accounting and consulting firms. These are paid by companies like Facebook and periodically report back to the F.T.C.

According to the assessment documents, Facebook chooses which policies and procedures PwC reviews."
Audit Approved of Facebook Policies, Even After Cambridge Analytica Leak - The New York Times

A.I. Researchers Are Making More Than $1 Million, Even at a Nonprofit - The New York Times

AI talent supply and demand

"The figures listed on the tax forms, which OpenAI is required to release publicly because it is a nonprofit, provide new insight into what organizations around the world are paying for A.I. talent. But there is a caveat: The compensation at OpenAI may be underselling what these researchers can make, since as a nonprofit it can’t offer stock options.

Salaries for top A.I. researchers have skyrocketed because there are not many people who understand the technology and thousands of companies want to work with it. Element AI, an independent lab in Canada, estimates that 22,000 people worldwide have the skills needed to do serious A.I. research — about double from a year ago."
A.I. Researchers Are Making More Than $1 Million, Even at a Nonprofit - The New York Times

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Palantir Knows Everything About You (Bloomberg)

From an extensive Palantir profile; on a related note, see this Robert Wright interview with Ryan Holiday, author of Conspiracy: Peter Thiel, Hulk Hogan, Gawker, and the Anatomy of Intrigue
"Founded in 2004 by Peter Thiel and some fellow PayPal alumni, Palantir cut its teeth working for the Pentagon and the CIA in Afghanistan and Iraq. The company’s engineers and products don’t do any spying themselves; they’re more like a spy’s brain, collecting and analyzing information that’s fed in from the hands, eyes, nose, and ears. The software combs through disparate data sources—financial documents, airline reservations, cellphone records, social media postings—and searches for connections that human analysts might miss. It then presents the linkages in colorful, easy-to-interpret graphics that look like spider webs. U.S. spies and special forces loved it immediately; they deployed Palantir to synthesize and sort the blizzard of battlefield intelligence. It helped planners avoid roadside bombs, track insurgents for assassination, even hunt down Osama bin Laden. The military success led to federal contracts on the civilian side. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services uses Palantir to detect Medicare fraud. The FBI uses it in criminal probes. The Department of Homeland Security deploys it to screen air travelers and keep tabs on immigrants." 
Palantir Knows Everything About You

Tesla vs Waymo: who’s winning the race for self-driving cars - The Verge

From a timely self-driving car reality check

"There’s a race happening right now that stretches from Silicon Valley to Detroit and back: who can make a self-driving car that behaves better than a human driver? It’s a far harder task than it sounded even a few years ago because human drivers know a lot — not just about their cars but about how people behave on the road when they’re behind the wheel. To reach that same kind of understanding, computerized cars need lots of data. And the two companies with the most data right now are Tesla and Waymo.

Both Tesla and Waymo are attempting to collect and process enough data to create a car that can drive itself. And they’re approaching those problems in very different ways. Tesla is taking advantage of the hundreds of thousands of cars it has on the road by collecting real-world data about how those vehicles perform (and how they might perform) with Autopilot, its current semi-autonomous system. Waymo, which started as Google’s self-driving car project, uses powerful computer simulations and feeds what it learns from those into a smaller real-world fleet."
Tesla vs Waymo: who’s winning the race for self-driving cars - The Verge

Google Launches Grasshopper Smartphone Game to Teach Coding | Time

See the Grasshopper site for more details (and search "Grasshopper by Area 120" to download; Area 120 is described as "a workshop for Google's experimental products")

"The Grasshopper app itself looks simple and self-explanatory. When setting up the app, users will be able to choose how often they want to practice coding; Grasshopper suggests playing daily, but offers other options like every other day, twice per week, or no reminders at all. Like many games designed to teach coding, the puzzles themselves involve inputting lines of code to reach a goal. In the demonstration I saw, the player was asked to enter the correct code in order to complete an image of the French flag, with each string of code contributing more color to the picture. Grasshopper also quizzes students occasionally to make sure they’re comprehending the principles being taught in lessons. A friendly grasshopper named Grace — named after computer industry pioneer Grace Hopper — encourages players along the way."
Google Launches Grasshopper Smartphone Game to Teach Coding | Time

IRS blames Tax Day woes on glitch in file that houses personal records - The Washington Post

Perhaps ran out of spare vacuum tubes...

"The Internal Revenue Service’s online tax filing systems failed widely on Tax Day because of a hardware “glitch” in the part of the agency’s operating system that houses taxpayers’ personal tax records, according to the tax collection agency.

The malfunctioning of IRS’s “master file” was discovered around 4 a.m. Tuesday, the biggest tax-filing day of the year. The impact of the problem spread because several other IRS systems rely on data from the agency’s “master file” to function, the IRS said in a statement to The Washington Post.

The IRS emphasized there was no reason to believe taxpayers’ private data had been breached. “There’s no data loss,” the agency said. “Taxpayers have nothing to be concerned about.”"
IRS blames Tax Day woes on glitch in file that houses personal records - The Washington Post

Robot Conquers One of the Hardest Human Tasks: Assembling Ikea Furniture - The New York Times

I'm sure TaskRabbit’s app is offline while it investigates a “cybersecurity incident” (TechCrunch) is just a coincidence...

"Robots have taken our jobs, learned our chores and beaten us at our own games.

Now researchers in Singapore say they have trained one to perform another task known to confound humans: figuring out how to assemble furniture from Ikea.

A team from Nanyang Technological University programmed a robot to create and execute a plan to piece together most of Ikea’s $25 solid-pine Stefan chair on its own, calling on a medley of human skills to do so. The researchers explained their work in a study published on Wednesday in the journal Science Robotics."
Robot Conquers One of the Hardest Human Tasks: Assembling Ikea Furniture - The New York Times

American elections are too easy to hack. We must take action now | Bruce Schneier | Opinion | The Guardian

Tangentially, see The Russians Are Coming (Lawfare)

"Last year, the Defcon hackers’ conference sponsored a Voting Village. Organizers collected 25 pieces of voting equipment, including voting machines and electronic poll books. By the end of the weekend, conference attendees had found ways to compromise every piece of test equipment: to load malicious software, compromise vote tallies and audit logs, or cause equipment to fail.

It’s important to understand that these were not well-funded nation-state attackers. These were not even academics who had been studying the problem for weeks. These were bored hackers, with no experience with voting machines, playing around between parties one weekend."
American elections are too easy to hack. We must take action now | Bruce Schneier | Opinion | The Guardian

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Microsoft Office 2019 kills off OneNote desktop app in favor of Windows 10 version - The Verge

I suppose this was inevitable, but if Microsoft doesn't add features such as unread indicators and activity notifications that work with notebooks shared on OneDrive for Business or SharePoint to the cross-platform version of OneNote, it'll be time for me to consider making Evernote my primary note-centric content/collaboration app again. See this Microsoft post for more details on the end of OneNote 2016 and what's coming in the cross-platform OneNote app.

"Microsoft is planning to launch Office 2019 later this year, and the company is changing the way OneNote is bundled. The note taking app currently has a desktop version included in Office 2016, and a separate Universal Windows App for Windows 10. Microsoft is replacing the desktop version of OneNote with the Windows 10 version in Office 2019, along with making the entire Office suite only work on Windows 10. Microsoft is also creating a Mac version of Office 2019.

The existing desktop app, OneNote 2016, will no longer get new features but Microsoft will keep updating it to fix any security issues or bugs until its end of life in October 2020. Microsoft has been gradually improving its OneNote Windows 10 app in recent months, and the company is planning new features in the future. OneNote for Windows 10 will receive updates that include the ability to insert and search for tags, see live previews of Office files within OneNote, and Class Notebook features this summer."
Microsoft Office 2019 kills off OneNote desktop app in favor of Windows 10 version - The Verge

Inside Cambridge Analytica’s Virtual Currency Plans - The New York Times

Alexander Nix gets my vote for entrepreneur-of-the-year...

"Much like its acquisition of Facebook data to build psychological profiles of voters, the new business line pushed the firm into murky ethical and legal situations. Documents and emails obtained by The New York Times show that Cambridge Analytica’s efforts to help promote another group’s digital token, the Dragon Coin, associated the firm with a famous gangster in Macau who has gone by the nickname Broken Tooth.

The goal of Cambridge Analytica’s own coin offering? Raise money that would pay for the creation of a system to help people store and sell their online personal data to advertisers, Brittany Kaiser, a former Cambridge Analytica employee, said in an interview. The idea was to protect information from more or less what the firm did when it obtained the personal data of up to 87 million Facebook users."
Inside Cambridge Analytica’s Virtual Currency Plans - The New York Times

Complying With New Privacy Laws and Offering New Privacy Protections to Everyone, No Matter Where You Live | Facebook Newsroom

Check the full post for details; also see A flaw-by-flaw guide to Facebook's new GDPR privacy changes (TechCrunch)

"In recent weeks we’ve announced several steps to give people more control over their privacy and explain how we use data. Today we’re introducing new privacy experiences for everyone on Facebook as part of the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), including updates to our terms and data policy. Everyone – no matter where they live – will be asked to review important information about how Facebook uses data and make choices about their privacy on Facebook. We’ll begin by rolling these choices out in Europe this week.

Asking People to Review How We Use Data 

As soon as GDPR was finalized, we realized it was an opportunity to invest even more heavily in privacy. We not only want to comply with the law, but also go beyond our obligations to build new and improved privacy experiences for everyone on Facebook. We’ve brought together hundreds of employees across product, engineering, legal, policy, design and research teams. We’ve also sought input from people outside Facebook with different perspectives on privacy, including people who use our services, regulators and government officials, privacy experts, and designers."
Complying With New Privacy Laws and Offering New Privacy Protections to Everyone, No Matter Where You Live | Facebook Newsroom

Apple Is Planning to Launch a News Subscription Service - Bloomberg

Tbd how many of the > 200 magazines currently available via Texture will continue with Apple News++

"A new, simplified subscription service covering multiple publications could spur Apple News usage and generate new revenue in a similar manner to the $9.99 per month Apple Music offering. That streaming service was also built through an acquisition: Apple bought Beats Music and the Beats audio device business in 2014 for $3 billion. At the time, Beats Music had fewer than a million subscribers, and Apple has turned that into more than 40 million paying users.

Apple needs successes like that to meet a bold target for its services division. Sales from that segment grew 23 percent to $30 billion in the company’s 2017 fiscal year. Executives have said they’re targeting services revenue of roughly $50 billion by 2021. During a recent earnings conference call, Apple told analysts it had a total of 240 million paid subscriptions, with 58 percent year-over-year growth."
Apple Is Planning to Launch a News Subscription Service - Bloomberg

I.R.S. Website Crashes on Tax Day as Millions Tried to File Returns - The New York Times

Later in the article: "Lawmakers and former government officials blamed an antiquated computer system that has deteriorated as a result of budget cuts for the tech malfunction. Since 2010, the agency’s total budget has fallen from about $14 billion to $11.5 billion, and its staff has shrunk by 20,000, to nearly 76,000. The tax code has only grown more complex during that period and the population of the United States has increased, along with the number of people who file electronically."

"Millions of taxpayers who waited until Tuesday to file their 2017 tax returns and make payments through the Internal Revenue Service’s website were thwarted by a systemwide computer failure that advised last-minute filers to “come back on Dec. 31, 9999.”

The website malfunction, which began in the early hours of Tuesday morning and was not resolved until early evening, crippled a crucial part of the agency’s website that allows taxpayers to file returns electronically and make their tax payments directly through their bank accounts. The technology failure essentially brought the nation’s tax machinery to a halt on a day when millions of Americans were expected to file their tax returns, undermining the Trump administration’s plan to use Tax Day to promote its recent $1.5 trillion tax overhaul."
I.R.S. Website Crashes on Tax Day as Millions Tried to File Returns - The New York Times

Marissa Mayer Is Still Here - The New York Times

Check the full interview for insights about Yahoo and Magna-Tiles...

"What are you up to now?
I rented the old Google office. So this is actually the office where I started my career in 1999. This is also where PayPal started, so there’s a lot of good juju here.

Coming back here, it reminds me of what Google felt like in those early moments. I remember running up those steps, because if you didn’t get here fast enough on Saturday morning, someone in the world was going to get worse search results, and it might change their life for the worse.

So you haven’t joined a company or founded a company yet?

We have this little lab that we’re working on called Lumi Labs. In Finnish, lumi means snow, and I just love snow. I had a snowflake-themed wedding. We have some ideas in the consumer space. So I’ve been meeting with different founders and just seeing what’s happening in the industry."
Marissa Mayer Is Still Here - The New York Times

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

In defense of the HomePod | TechCrunch

From a timely HomePod reality check

"It’s all about the ecosystem; the “smart speaker market” doesn’t matter and never will as we define it now. What Google gains with a cheap entry point of a Google Home Mini is a way to drive people to features they didn’t know their phones had. Apple is using the HomePod to set a baseline while they look to build up these features that Siri doesn’t have yet. Amazon’s Alexa may have a chance in the context of the connected home, but it’s hard to imagine a world where you don’t want your mobile device and home assistant hub being intimately tied at an OS level.

The AirPods and HomePod are very good examples of OS-integrated hardware, and while Siri needs a facelift and perhaps some brain surgery, Apple’s thinking with the HomePod is about where it needs to be. It’s a platform that should really be a bit experimental for the time-being. These things were pushed into people’s homes so quickly by an Amazonian quest for market domination, but so much of the utility of smart speakers is still tied up in their frustrations."
In defense of the HomePod | TechCrunch

Elon Musk is giving more than $100 million to fund his tunnel startup, The Boring Company - Recode

Also flamethrowers (alas, sold out)

"Elon Musk has a few irons in the transportation fire — Tesla, SpaceX and now The Boring Company, which has raised $113 million in new funding, according to a new SEC filing.

The company says Musk himself provided over 90 percent of those funds — more than $100 million — while the rest of the funding came from early employees. There were no outside investors.

The filing did not name Musk; instead, it just named Jared Birchall as a director and executive. Birchall has alternatingly been listed as CFO, president and CEO of Neuralink, a startup Musk co-founded."
Elon Musk is giving more than $100 million to fund his tunnel startup, The Boring Company - Recode

Microsoft Turns to Old Enemy Linux to Solve Vexing Tech Threat - WSJ

See Introducing Microsoft Azure Sphere: Secure and power the intelligent edge (Azure blog) for more details

"The move is designed to bolster Microsoft’s position in the Internet of Things market against cloud-infrastructure leader Amazon.com Inc. and others. The global market for microcontroller chips that can connect to the web—roughly one-eighth of the overall microcontroller-chip business—hit $2.2 billion last year, said Tom Hackenberg, a principal analyst with the research firm, IHS Markit Ltd.

Microsoft used Linux because even the most scaled-down version of Windows won’t fit on thumbnail-size microcontroller chips. Its engineers added security features the company developed to the Linux “kernel,” the core elements of the operating system."
Microsoft Turns to Old Enemy Linux to Solve Vexing Tech Threat - WSJ

Google’s Facebook Copycat Moves Leave It More Exposed to Privacy Backlash - Bloomberg

It's going to be a very busy year for data privacy-focused legislators and lawyers

"So far, Alphabet Inc.’s Google has suffered fewer of the problems plaguing Facebook, including fake news and Russian-linked political spending. And it’s avoided public blunders like the Cambridge Analytica data leak. 

But two years ago, Google altered its offerings in a way that makes it more vulnerable to data-sharing scrutiny. Advertisers using its DoubleClick system to target and measure ads could start anonymously combining web-tracking data (from “cookies” that follow users online) with potent Google information including search queries, location history, phone numbers and credit card information. Until then, Google had steadfastly kept that data separate."
Google’s Facebook Copycat Moves Leave It More Exposed to Privacy Backlash - Bloomberg

Hard Questions: What Data Does Facebook Collect When I’m Not Using Facebook, and Why? | Facebook Newsroom

Oh, so nothing to worry about, then?... Check the full post for details

"When you visit a site or app that uses our services, we receive information even if you’re logged out or don’t have a Facebook account. This is because other apps and sites don’t know who is using Facebook.

Many companies offer these types of services and, like Facebook, they also get information from the apps and sites that use them. Twitter, Pinterest and LinkedIn all have similar Like and Share buttons to help people share things on their services. Google has a popular analytics service. And Amazon, Google and Twitter all offer login features. These companies — and many others — also offer advertising services. In fact, most websites and apps send the same information to multiple companies each time you visit them."
Hard Questions: What Data Does Facebook Collect When I’m Not Using Facebook, and Why? | Facebook Newsroom

E.U. privacy law: Why Europe, not Congress, will rein in big tech - The Washington Post

GDPR or bust...

"At the center of the action is Helen Dixon, Ireland’s data protection commissioner. Because the European operations for many big technology companies are headquartered in low-tax Ireland, Dixon is set to become the top cop for U.S. tech giants that include Facebook, Google, Apple, LinkedIn and Airbnb when the new privacy regime comes into force on May 25. She will have the power to slap companies with fines of up to 4 percent of global revenue — which for Facebook could mean penalties of up to $1.6 billion.

“Their business model is around monetizing personal data, and this creates very significant challenges in terms of fundamental rights and freedoms of individuals,” Dixon said in an interview in her Dublin townhouse office. “It creates a type of surveillance and tracking of individuals across the Internet that undoubtedly needs regulation.”"
E.U. privacy law: Why Europe, not Congress, will rein in big tech - The Washington Post

Monday, April 16, 2018

How Did the Pentagon Quantify This Bizarre Statistic on 'Russian Trolls'? (Gizmodo)

Twitter's Congressional testimony schedule still tbd...

"As Donald Trump’s administration, backed by France and the UK, launched a series of missile attacks on Syrian installations allegedly used in the production or deployment of chemical weapons this weekend—and the president bizarrely tweeted “Mission Accomplished!” in a worrying signal with regards to his strategic insight—the question of whether Russia would retaliate on behalf of Bashar al-Assad’s government did tend to hang over the proceedings.

So far, Russia hasn’t given any signs it intends to truly escalate the situation, possibly in part because the White House has actually not yet settled on a comprehensive strategy. But Pentagon spokesperson Dana White did trot out a bizarre statistic on “Russian trolls” on Saturday, telling reporters, “The Russian disinformation campaign has already begun. There has been a 2,000 percent increase in Russian trolls in the last 24 hours.”"
How Did the Pentagon Quantify This Bizarre Statistic on 'Russian Trolls'?

Pentagon wants to spot illnesses by monitoring soldiers’ smartphones - The Washington Post

Perhaps it would have been better to not announce this the day after Mark Zuckerberg finished his data privacy-focused Congressional testimony...

"The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency announced Thursday that it has awarded a $5.1 million contract to the Fairfax, Va.-based cybersecurity company Kryptowire to develop what DARPA calls the “Warfighter Analytics using Smartphones for Health” program, or WASH for short. The app would be used to spot diseases based on data that it collects from a person’s smartphone.

Tom Karygiannis, Kryptowire’s vice president of product, said he hopes the technology can one day broaden access to health care by spotting health problems before a person visits a doctor or nurse. “Ultimately, this could mean better treatment, cost savings and making treatment available to more people,” he said."
Pentagon wants to spot illnesses by monitoring soldiers’ smartphones - The Washington Post

Apple should open a university that's free for everyone | WIRED UK

NYU professor Scott Galloway makes the case for a think-different Apple University; in other education news, see Battle over college course material is a textbook example of technological change (The Washington Post)
"I work with one of the best faculties in the world – and I think two-thirds could leave and not be missed. Now, does that mean they should be fired? No. But does it mean that they should be making as much money as they do, without the same competitive pressures that everyone faces in the marketplace? Of course not. This just translates into outrageous tuition fees which kids finance with debt. Which means they get houses later; which means they start families later; which means they take fewer risks – it’s a drain on the economy.

So, I think a healthy dose of this tech-inspired efficiency and competition would be a great thing for academia. Today, we currently have the wrong attitude. We turn away people and take pride in our exclusivity. It’s like a homeless shelter bragging about the people it doesn’t let through the door. The whole mentality is screwed up."
Apple should open a university that's free for everyone | WIRED UK

Mark Zuckerberg’s long game: the next billion – Monday Note

Final paragraphs from a wide-ranging Facebook reality check

"Thanks to its fantastic business success and the remarkable moral flexibility of its management, Facebook is poised to consolidate its global domination. Its one billion users in developing countries are already using the entire lineup of Facebook apps (WhatsApp is the number one application in 109 countries), which reminds me of this excellent article in Quartz “How Facebook can survive without the West’s advertising money”. The best (or worst) is yet to come, with Facebook products controlling the payment systems in these countries, and quite likely the distribution of information over mobile phones (and perhaps news production, thanks to multiple Facebook Journalism Projects that will foster editorial talent in Nigeria and elsewhere).

One element is missing in this bleak depiction: What Facebook will be willing and able to do in China. In theory, not much. The Great Firewall is pretty much impregnable. But we can factor in the following: one, Mark Zuckerberg has sent repeated signs of goodwill to the Chinese government, which sees him as ready to cooperate; two, when it come to dealing with the authoritarian regime of Xi Jinping, a new bar has been set by Apple, which agreed to store iCloud keys in China, potentially exposing millions of iPhone users to the scrutiny of Chinese authorities. That remarkable precedent could inspire Mark Zuckerberg, who already has a fertile imagination when it comes to scorning the basic rights of his billions of customers."
Mark Zuckerberg’s long game: the next billion – Monday Note

Friday, April 13, 2018

FCC declines to punish Sinclair for its ‘must-run’ segments and scripts | TechCrunch

It'll be interesting to see which lobbying firm Ajit Pai opts to join for the next phase of his career

"Pai completely mischaracterizes the issues brought up by the Senators, and responds as if they had asked him to shut down a local news station because of a report they “disliked or disagreed with.”

In no way does the Senators’ letter reference “a particular newscast” or the “content of particular broadcasts.” The problem is specifically described throughout as the parent company, Sinclair, blatantly forcing its local news broadcasters to air politically slanted segments word for word, some against their will.

Funnily enough, what he pretends the Senators are asking him is what Trump actually did propose — that the FCC revoke the license of “NBC and the Networks” because of “all the Fake News coming out of” them. It took Pai a week to make his inability to do so clear that time, though Commissioner Rosenworcel did so within an hour."
FCC declines to punish Sinclair for its ‘must-run’ segments and scripts | TechCrunch

Senators Had a Lot to Say About Facebook. That Hasn’t Stopped Them From Using It. - The New York Times

In the bigger picture, later in the article: "About two-thirds of adults in the United States use Facebook, according to a Pew survey conducted in January 2018, and 74 percent of those users said they visit the site daily."

"Even as the members of the Senate Commerce and Judiciary committees were questioning Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s chief executive, during a nearly five-hour hearing on Tuesday, many of them were feeding content back into the site.

The most active, Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, posted more than 20 times during Mr. Zuckerberg’s two days on Capitol Hill.

All 44 of the senators who questioned Mr. Zuckerberg on Tuesday have pages on the platform he built. At least 35 of them have two Facebook pages, with many using one page for official Senate communications and a second page for their campaign-related material to avoid violating ethics laws."
Senators Had a Lot to Say About Facebook. That Hasn’t Stopped Them From Using It. - The New York Times

SpaceX’s Valuation Climbs to $25 Billion With New Funding Round - Bloomberg

Also see SpaceX’s President is Thinking Even Bigger Than Elon Musk (Wired)

"The rocket maker authorized a $507 million fundraising round on April 5 at a valuation of about $25 billion, according to PitchBook Data. With that increase in SpaceX’s worth, Musk’s fortune would rise about $1.4 billion to $21.3 billion, according to Bloomberg Billionaires Index calculations.

SpaceX is poised to become the third-most valuable venture-backed startup in the U.S., after Uber Technologies Inc. and Airbnb Inc., PitchBook said. Musk plans to fly roughly 30 missions this year and has completed seven to date. On Monday, SpaceX is slated to launch a Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida with a National Aeronautics and Space Administration satellite as the payload."
SpaceX’s Valuation Climbs to $25 Billion With New Funding Round - Bloomberg

The Personal Data of 346,000 People, Hung on a Museum Wall - The New York Times

No GDPR for China

"The rising public anger is taking place amid a similar debate in the United States, over Facebook. But Beijing officials keep the volume lower because personal data is broadly available to another powerful constituency: the Chinese government. Tech companies cooperate with the police in handing over information, with few questions asked. Citizens are resigned to the fact that they are tracked by the government, and there is little pushback about the increased state of surveillance.

So six months ago, Mr. Deng started buying people’s information, using the Chinese messaging app QQ to reach sellers. He said that the data was easy to find and that he paid a total of $800 for people’s names, genders, phone numbers, online shopping records, travel itineraries, license plate numbers — at a cost at just over a tenth of a penny per person."
The Personal Data of 346,000 People, Hung on a Museum Wall - The New York Times

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Coming soon to the Uber app: bikes, rental cars, and public transportation - The Verge

On a related note, see 3 Million Uber Drivers Are About to Get a New Boss: Inside Uber’s latest attempt to rebuild its app for drivers, the biggest experiment in the gig economy. (The Atlantic)

"Remember back in the day when you’d open the Uber app and just see cars? Well, that’s all about to change. Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi is in Washington, DC today to make a wide-ranging announcement on Uber’s plans to integrate a variety of new transportation options to its app, including bikes, car-sharing vehicles, and public transportation like buses and trains. Uber will also share more of its data on traffic patterns and curbside usage with cities in an effort to become “true partners to cities for the long term,” Khosrowshahi said.

It’s a bold expansion into new modes of transportation for a company that is still trying to shake its reputation for rule-breaking and only a few weeks ago suffered one of its worst setbacks to date after an Uber self-driving car killed a pedestrian in Arizona. But since taking the helm last year, Khosrowshahi has been rushing to remake the company in his own image. Acquiring dockless bike-share company Jump earlier this week was his first major deal. And today’s announcement is the next step in his plan to transform Uber from a mere ride-sharing company into a global marketplace for transportation."
Coming soon to the Uber app: bikes, rental cars, and public transportation - The Verge

Apple’s Stumbling HomePod Isn’t the Hot Seller It Wanted - Bloomberg

I have a hunch Apple is waiting for AirPlay 2 to take its HomePod strategy to the next level; see, e.g., AirPlay 2 multiroom audio: Hands-on with the iOS 11.4 beta (CNet); also see Channel checks, sales data on HomePod likely as wrong as it was about Apple Watch in 2015 (AppleInsider)
"During the HomePod’s first 10 weeks of sales, it eked out 10 percent of the smart speaker market, compared with 73 percent for Amazon’s Echo devices and 14 percent for the Google Home, according to Slice Intelligence. Three weeks after the launch, weekly HomePod sales slipped to about 4 percent of the smart speaker category on average, the market research firm says. Inventory is piling up, according to Apple store workers, who say some locations are selling fewer than 10 HomePods a day. Apple declined to comment. The shares gained 1.4 percent to $173.83 in early trading.

Apple had an opportunity to put the HomePod at the center of a new ecosystem of smart home and other gadgets that aren’t glued to the iPhone. But the small, wireless speaker is not that product. Though the HomePod delivers market-leading audio quality, consumers have discovered it’s heavily dependent on the iPhone and is limited as a digital assistant."
Apple’s Stumbling HomePod Isn’t the Hot Seller It Wanted - Bloomberg

Zuckerberg Faces Hostile Congress as Calls for Regulation Mount - The New York Times

Facebook needs to comply with GDPR starting May 25th and has committed to implementing the Honest Ads Act regardless of whether the bill is approved; it's not waiting for Congress to regulate it

"After two days and more than 10 hours of questioning of Mark Zuckerberg, the Facebook chief executive, there was widespread consensus among lawmakers that social media technology — and its potential for abuse — had far outpaced Washington and that Congress should step in to close the gap.

But the agreement largely ended there. For lawmakers, the calculus is tricky: They do not want to infringe on First Amendment rights or hurt Silicon Valley innovation but are also unsure how to regulate this new breed of company, which wields enormous power by collecting vast amounts of private data from billions of consumers."
Zuckerberg Faces Hostile Congress as Calls for Regulation Mount - The New York Times

I Downloaded the Information That Facebook Has on Me. Yikes. - The New York Times

Likely a preview of the next chapter in this story; also see Facebook is now in the data-privacy spotlight. Could Google be next? (The Washington Post)
"Let’s be clear: Facebook is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to what information tech companies have collected on me.

Knowing this, I also downloaded copies of my Google data with a tool called Google Takeout. The data sets were exponentially larger than my Facebook data. For my personal email account alone, Google’s archive of my data measured eight gigabytes, enough to hold about 2,000 hours of music. By comparison, my Facebook data was about 650 megabytes, the equivalent of about 160 hours of music.

Here was the biggest surprise in what Google collected on me: In a folder labeled Ads, Google kept a history of many news articles I had read, like a Newsweek story about Apple employees walking into glass walls and a New York Times story about the editor of our Modern Love column. I didn’t click on ads for either of these stories, but the search giant logged them because the sites had loaded ads served by Google."
I Downloaded the Information That Facebook Has on Me. Yikes. - The New York Times

The Facebook Armageddon - Columbia Journalism Review

From a timely Facebook/journalism reality check

"While it may be tempting to see Facebook as an evil overlord determined to crush media companies and journalists under its boots, most media companies find themselves in this predicament because they failed to adapt quickly enough, so in a sense they only have themselves to blame.

“Did God give us that (advertising) revenue? No,” says CUNY journalism professor Jeff Jarvis. “It wasn’t our money, it was our customers’ money, and Facebook and Google came along and offered them a better deal.” The problem, says Jarvis, whose News Integrity Initiative counts Facebook as a donor, is that “we didn’t change our business models. We insist on maintaining the mass-media business model, and that’s more of a problem than social media.”"
The Facebook Armageddon - Columbia Journalism Review

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Should Apple Create a Social Network? – Tech.pinions

Social different? Check the full post for an assessment

"Tim Cook believes that an ad-free social network is the only way one could provide a truly secure social network. Of course, Mark Zuckerberg disagreed with Cook and called his comments “glib”. Zuckerberg thinks he can create a secure social network that he can keep free supported by ads. The Jury is still out on that one, but Apple’s main business model is selling products. They could offer a very low cost secure private social network rather easily should they see this as a real opportunity to keep people in the Apple eco-system and entice others who are not in Apple’s services and product network to join.

Will Apple do this? I would not bet against it. I have to believe that at the very least Apple’s exec’s have been discussing this. They are the only one who could deliver a private, secure social network that does not need ads to support it. And Tim Cook’s comments show he understands that value of a social network that does not use ads to support it."
Should Apple Create a Social Network? – Tech.pinions

Facebook ads: This is how the company uses your data for targeting - Recode

Check the full article for a brief overview

"Facebook collects a lot of data about you — everything from your email address to the strength of your phone’s battery.

The simplest explanation for this is that Facebook uses that data to make money. No, Facebook doesn’t sell your data. But it does sell access to you, or more specifically, access to your News Feed, and uses that data to show you specific ads it thinks you’re likely to enjoy or click on.

This targeted advertising is big business for Facebook. The company reported advertising revenue of $40 billion last year, and it’s only going to keep growing. Given the company’s recent privacy issues involving Cambridge Analytica, a third-party data firm that got its hands on personal data for as many as 87 million Facebook users without their permission, we thought it might be helpful to take a closer look at how Facebook uses your data to make money."
Facebook ads: This is how the company uses your data for targeting - Recode

‘Your user agreement sucks’: Mark Zuckerberg’s Senate grilling, in 10 key moments - The Washington Post

MZ DC testimony day 1 was at least a partial success...
"Zuckerberg made a ton of money during the hearing

Despite going to Washington to be held accountable for his self-admitted "mistake," shares of Facebook ended up higher Tuesday than at any point over the last two years. The result? Zuckerberg's net worth — which had taken a hit along with Facebook's stock in light of recent events — recovered by more than $3 billion over the afternoon, growing from roughly $63 billion to $67 billion, according to Bloomberg's billionaires index."
More precisely, from ZUCKERBERG WINS ON WALL STREET: Facebook shares have best day in 2 years (CNBC):
Facebook shares surged 4.5 percent on Tuesday as CEO Mark Zuckerberg appeared before U.S. lawmakers on Tuesday.
The stock was already up about 2.5 percent at 2:20 p.m. ET, around the time the hearing was set to begin.
Facebook shares hit a high of $195.32 per share in February, but have fallen almost 11 percent over the past month, amid reports that Facebook user data was misused. 
‘Your user agreement sucks’: Mark Zuckerberg’s Senate grilling, in 10 key moments - The Washington Post

Facebook Fallout Deals Blow to Mercers’ Political Clout - The New York Times

For some additional Mercer family details, see The Reclusive Hedge-Fund Tycoon Behind the Trump Presidency (The New Yorker)

"The Facebook scandal has hit just as the Mercers appear to be expanding their business in the world of big data. Public records show that Ms. Mercer, her sister Jennifer and Mr. Nix serve as directors of Emerdata, a British data company formed in August by top executives at Cambridge Analytica and its affiliate, SCL Group, according to British corporate records.

Incorporation documents state that Emerdata specializes in “data processing, hosting and related activities.” An SCL official told Channel 4, a British television station, that Emerdata was established last year to combine SCL and Cambridge under one corporate entity.

Exactly what ambitions the Mercers, who joined the Emerdata board last month, have for the company is unclear. Another Emerdata director, Johnson Ko Chun Shun, is a Hong Kong financier and business partner of Erik Prince — the brother of the education secretary, Betsy DeVos, and founder of the private security firm formerly known as Blackwater. Mr. Ko, who declined to comment, is a substantial shareholder and deputy chairman in Mr. Prince’s Africa-focused logistics company, Frontier Services Group."
Facebook Fallout Deals Blow to Mercers’ Political Clout - The New York Times

With Facebook on the ropes, Internet providers seek to press their advantage in Washington - The Washington Post

A timely reminder: even though you pay (your ISP and wireless service provider), you're often still "the product"
"AT&T's $85 billion merger with Time Warner aims directly at Silicon Valley's dominance in that sector. If AT&T can own and analyze the viewing data generated by the millions of Americans who watch CNN, TBS, TNT, Cartoon Network and other video content, the telecom company could become a targeted advertising behemoth big enough to tackle Facebook and Google, Stephenson has said. Beyond AT&T's interest in TV viewing data, the company has pushed for more leeway to mine its Internet customers' Web browsing history for advertising purposes.

Not to be left out, Verizon has also made inroads in digital advertising, buying up AOL and Yahoo in 2015 and 2017 with an eye toward serving targeted ads to Yahoo's millions of visitors. To protect their growing data businesses, Verizon and other broadband providers have argued against tighter privacy restrictions for telecoms on the use of customer data, particularly when their counterparts in the tech industry — which the FCC does not regulate — operate under looser rules."
With Facebook on the ropes, Internet providers seek to press their advantage in Washington - The Washington Post

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

YouTube and Facebook Are Losing Creators to Blockchain-Powered Rivals - Bloomberg

Tbd if Brad Parscale is looking into this type of channel yet...

"While YouTube has had to start taking a tougher line on censoring offensive videos that advertisers don’t want to be associated with, a growing swath of creators have fled to sites such as DTube to avoid the constraints. Like other upstart sites, DTube runs on the blockchain network Steem, and users can pay creators and commenters in digital tokens. That’s another point of distinction with YouTube, as well as with Facebook and Twitter. All three advertising-driven sites are phasing out ads for cryptocurrencies, shielding themselves from potential legal liability if the ads are scams or the digital coins are eventually regulated as securities. Video creators with an interest in cryptocurrency say that’s also a factor driving them away from the big names. In the wake of Facebook’s data scandal, privacy is a third. YouTube didn’t respond to a request for comment for this story; Facebook referred to previous statements that the company is working to repair its reputation but hasn’t seen a significant drop in users.

The less centralized platforms keep more power—and potentially, privacy—in the hands of creators and users, says Ned Scott, who runs the Steem-based social network Steemit. In lieu of ads or selling user data, sites such as Scott’s rely on user growth to make their digital tokens ever more valuable. “The whole experience is more transparent,” he says. “There won’t be many single authorities dictating how social media operates.” Two-year-old Steemit has about a million accounts and added some 120,000 last month, according to Scott. Rival LBRY has about 600,000 registered users."
YouTube and Facebook Are Losing Creators to Blockchain-Powered Rivals - Bloomberg

Uber to Buy Jump, Maker of Electric Bicycles, After Bike-Sharing Test - The New York Times

Uber different; also see Here’s why owning a bike-share service makes sense for Uber (Recode)
"Uber started a pilot program in San Francisco to allow its customers to reserve “pedal-assist” electric bicycles within its ride-hailing app in January. Now, Uber says it plans to buy the company behind the bike-sharing service and bring that capability to other cities around the world.

In a blog post Monday morning, Uber said it reached an agreement with Jump Bikes, a provider of battery-powered bicycles, for an undisclosed sum. It would be the first acquisition for Uber since Dara Khosrowshahi took over as the company’s chief executive in August."
Uber to Buy Jump, Maker of Electric Bicycles, After Bike-Sharing Test - The New York Times

Why Trump’s online store collects sales tax in three states — while Amazon does for 45 states - The Washington Post

I'm guessing this may not make it to the top of Trump's priority queue for this week

"Amazon has in recent years begun collecting sales tax in all 45 states that require it, as well as the District, as the company opens dozens of distribution centers to keep up with demand for same- and next-day delivery. (Jeffrey P. Bezos, the founder and chief executive of Amazon, also owns The Washington Post.)

Some states, including Indiana, Maine and Ohio, have passed legislation requiring online retailers to collect sales tax regardless of physical presence. The Trump Organization does not appear to be complying with those laws because it doesn’t collect tax for orders sent to those states. Five states — Alaska, Delaware, Montana, New Hampshire and Oregon — do not have a sales tax."
Why Trump’s online store collects sales tax in three states — while Amazon does for 45 states - The Washington Post

Why Pure Reason Won’t End American Tribalism | WIRED

From a Robert Wright review of Steven Pinker's Enlightenment Now

"But Pinker’s treatment of the psychology of tribalism falls short, and it does so in a surprising way. He pays almost no attention to one of the first things that springs to mind when you hear the word “tribalism.” Namely: People in opposing tribes don’t like each other. More than Pinker seems to realize, the fact of tribal antagonism challenges his sunny view of the future and calls into question his prescriptions for dispelling some of the clouds he does see on the horizon.

I’m not talking about the obvious downside of tribal antagonism—the way it leads nations to go to war or dissolve in civil strife, the way it fosters conflict along ethnic or religious lines. I do think this form of antagonism is a bigger problem for Pinker’s thesis than he realizes, but that’s a story for another day. For now the point is that tribal antagonism also poses a subtler challenge to his thesis. Namely, it shapes and drives some of the cognitive distortions that muddy our thinking about critical issues; it warps reason."
Why Pure Reason Won’t End American Tribalism | WIRED

Mark Zuckerberg goes to Washington — so let’s stop acting like he can’t handle it. He can. - Recode

From a timely Kara Swisher Facebook reality check

"But, as he is wont to do, Mark has learned quickly to focus on the real point, releasing a raft of long-needed changes to the Facebook platform, some minor and some major, along with admitting that some regulation is needed.

And, in the prepared testimony released ahead of the hearing and in his visits to various Congressional leaders today, he was about as apologetic as it gets: “We didn’t take a broad enough view of our responsibility, and that was a big mistake. It was my mistake, and I’m sorry. I started Facebook, I run it, and I’m responsible for what happens here.”

Damn right he is and that’s why I know that he will perform — and has to — in the hearings. It most certainly is crunch time, but Mark is a grown-up human being and we should expect that is the person who will show up. If we keep anticipating a coddled robot child instead, then that’s our own mistake and we are the ones who should be sorry."
Mark Zuckerberg goes to Washington — so let’s stop acting like he can’t handle it. He can. - Recode

Monday, April 09, 2018

Facebook could face record fine, say former FTC officials - The Washington Post

So perhaps a fine > $0 but < $Ts...

"Violations of the FTC consent decree also carry the possibility of fines that could top $40,000 per “violation.” With more than 200 million Americans using Facebook, the fines could — at least in theory — reach into the trillions of dollars if the FTC found violations. (Facebook last year earned profit of $15.9 billion on $40.7 billion in revenue.) The former FTC officials said the actual fines would be far smaller but could easily top the previous record of the $168 million civil penalty by the FTC against the DISH Network for violating telemarketing rules.

After the FTC announced in 2011 that it would punish Facebook for mishandling its users’ data, it heralded the consent decree as the best way to advance “the privacy interests of the nearly one billion Facebook users around the world.” Officials wrote at the time, “We intend to monitor closely Facebook’s compliance with the order and will not hesitate to seek civil penalties for any violations.”"
Facebook could face record fine, say former FTC officials - The Washington Post

Facebook’s Other Critics: Its Viral Stars - The New York Times

In search of "time well spent"

"In Facebook’s defense, it’s hard to feel entirely sympathetic for the people who built huge followings with videos like “Sweater Pill Hacks” and “Tinder Girl Gets High Off Fake Weed,” only to have them pushed out of sight. Facebook is attempting to clean up its platform, and some creators did clutter the site with clickbait and spammy links. But all of this jockeying raises a larger question about how well Facebook truly knows its users, and how much it can steer their media preferences without veering into paternalism.

Right now, the social network is working to improve what Mr. Zuckerberg has called the “long-term well-being” of its users. But what if what many Facebook users really want — as measured by their clicks and eyeballs — are prank videos, D.I.Y. hacks, and sensational headlines?"
Facebook’s Other Critics: Its Viral Stars - The New York Times

Follow the CAPEX: Cloud Table Stakes 2017 Edition – Platformonomics

From the latest Platformonomics cloud competitor roundup

"It is mighty expensive to be a software company in the cloud age and the hyper-scale clouds show no signs of slowing down their infrastructure investments. All three companies registered all time highs for CAPEX spending in 2017. It is important to note that none of these companies break out their specific cloud infrastructure investments and all of them spend significant CAPEX on things beyond cloud infrastructure, particularly Amazon where the list is almost endless, so these are gross but directionally interesting numbers.

In 2017, Amazon spent $19.7 billion, Google $13.2 billion, and Microsoft $11.4 billion on CAPEX (including capital leases for both Amazon and Microsoft). Those are year-over-year increases of 58%, 29%, and 12% respectively."
Follow the CAPEX: Cloud Table Stakes 2017 Edition – Platformonomics

Friday, April 06, 2018

OverDrive Magazines are coming this summer to your digital collection - OverDrive Blogs

Perhaps coming soon to a digital library collection near you
"OverDrive’s magazine service features no circulation cap, simultaneous use for titles, and premium content, all conveniently integrated into the same platform users come to for their eBook and audiobooks. OverDrive Magazines include a collection of 50 popular Simultaneous Use titles, including: OK! magazine, HGTV Magazine, O, The Oprah Magazine, ESPN, The Atlantic, New York Magazine, Newsweek, Reader’s Digest and many other popular publications. This content is available worldwide (where sales rights exist) and we’ll continue to add new publications in the coming months.

These magazines come with no hidden costs, no budget to monitor, and instant integration to your eBook and audiobook collection that only OverDrive can provide. These always available titles are a perfect way to improve the value to your readers as well as significantly increase your circulation. A user may only borrow one eBook a week but they can enjoy several magazines in a single sitting, each one counting as a checkout for your library."
OverDrive Magazines are coming this summer to your digital collection - OverDrive Blogs

Bitcoin is 'worthless' and will perform worse than stocks: Analyst (CNBC)

~$6,600 this morning...

""Bitcoin's correlation with equity prices has strengthened recently, but we think that this will be just temporary. We still think that bitcoin is essentially worthless, meaning that it is likely to fare much worse than other assets in the coming months," Capital Economics said.

"We expect equity markets to fall as investors cotton on to the fact that rising U.S. interest rates will slow economic growth. But the main factor driving down the price of bitcoin is likely to be a realization that it is simply not a credible long-run alternative to conventional currencies," the note added."
Bitcoin is 'worthless' and will perform worse than stocks: Analyst

Facebook’s Data Crackdown Has Two Winners: Facebook and Google - Bloomberg

Doubling down on a digital duopoly

"“The elimination of third parties is smart strategically,” Morgan Stanley analysts said this week. They expect no “material reduction” in spending on Facebook and, over time, the company will net more ad dollars by avoiding industry middlemen.

For years, advertisers grumbled about the “walled gardens” of internet giants – digital barriers Google and Facebook maintain to prevent outsiders from accessing user data while limiting their ability to independently measure and track ad effectiveness. Recently, the companies, which control 87 percent of digital advertising, have listened, granting more access. But this opening up could stop now.

“Facebook is raising the walls around its garden,” Morgan Stanley’s Brian Nowak wrote. “The two largest online ad platforms will now be more aligned, focusing on their first-party data offerings and tool sets which we expect to enable Facebook and Google to continue to drive 90%+ of the online ad market.”"
Facebook’s Data Crackdown Has Two Winners: Facebook and Google - Bloomberg

Thursday, April 05, 2018

Zuckerberg says Facebook will offer GDPR privacy controls everywhere | TechCrunch

A clarification on Facebook + GDPR

"Update: 3pm Pacific: A Facebook spokesperson tells TechCrunch that Facebook does have plans to comply with GDPR’s data privacy rules around the world, not just provide GDPR “controls and settings” as Zuckerberg mentioned. For example, Facebook offers the Download Your Information option globally to comply with data portability rules, updated its Data Use Policy today with details on collection practices to comply with the right to know how your data is being processed, and provides opt-outs to comply with consent rules.

Facebook says that some laws elsewhere in the world conflict with GDPR’s new laws for Europe so they can’t be extended everywhere, and that the interface for some of these tools may vary. But overall it seems that Facebook is intent on bringing the same privacy and control afforded by GDPR to everyone."
Zuckerberg says Facebook will offer GDPR privacy controls everywhere | TechCrunch

As Trump Bashes Amazon, the Government Increasingly Relies on It - WSJ

On a related note, Is the Post Office making or losing money delivering Amazon packages? (The Washington Post)

"This extraordinary transformation has included the provision of cloud services across Washington’s bureaucracy from the Department of Homeland Security to the Smithsonian Institution. It also has made the U.S. government a top Amazon customer.

The company doesn’t release specifics, but GBH Insights, a research firm, predicts that Amazon’s government business will grow to $2.8 billion in 2018 and $4.6 billion in 2019, up from less than $300 million in 2015. Other company analysts say those projections are optimistic, but not implausible.

An even bigger prize looms: Amazon is seeking a 10-year contract with the Department of Defense that could be worth $10 billion."
As Trump Bashes Amazon, the Government Increasingly Relies on It - WSJ

Facebook Rallies After Zuckerberg Signals Muted Impact From Data Crisis - Bloomberg

For full details, see Hard Questions: Q&A with Mark Zuckerberg on Protecting People’s Information and An Update on Our Plans to Restrict Data Access on Facebook (both Facebook Newsroom)

"The shares rallied anyway after Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg stoked optimism that the drumbeat of bad news may be coming to an end.

Most reassuringly for investors, he said he hadn’t observed “any meaningful impact” on the business, despite weeks of revelations, complaints from advertisers and users of the social network, and a #DeleteFacebook campaign to shut Facebook accounts.

Facebook shares rose 3 percent in extended trading following those comments. The stock closed down less than 1 percent at $155.10 in New York."
Facebook Rallies After Zuckerberg Signals Muted Impact From Data Crisis - Bloomberg

How Cambridge Analytica, Facebook and Other Privacy Abuses Could Have Been Prevented - Lawfare

A timely "whataboutism" reality check; also see Did the Obama Campaign Employ the Same Tactics as Cambridge Analytica? (Snopes)

"Respect for context does not mean shutting down all uses of personal data or shutting off innovative uses of the “social graph” (the data that represents users’ relationships in online platforms). Consider the difference between Cambridge Analytica’s use of Facebook data and how information was used by the Obama 2012 reelection campaign app. Cambridge Analytica took social-graph data collected for research purposes and, without consent or even effective notice, repurposed Facebook users’ information for political profiling. By contrast, during the 2012 presidential campaign Barack Obama supporters were invited to install a Facebook app that was given access to the user’s friend list. Upon the app gaining access to the friend list,  users who installed the app were given the ability to send personalized messages to any or all of their friends, inviting them to events or sharing campaign literature. In other words, the individual, not the campaign, communicated with users’ friends. And the campaign itself never got a copy of the whole social graph; that information remained with users (and Facebook). While the same data access permissions were in place—both apps had access to the friend list of each app user—the uses were vastly different. Enabling one individual user to communicate directly with his or her friends was respectful of the context in which data was collected. Users expected that they would hear from their friends. Individuals understandably did not expect that their data would be gathered and assessed merely because they were friends with someone who agreed to be part of a research study, nor that all of their personal data would wind up with an unknown commercial entity to whom the researcher sold their information."
How Cambridge Analytica, Facebook and Other Privacy Abuses Could Have Been Prevented - Lawfare