Tuesday, September 18, 2018

The $1,500 iPhone -- 500ish Words (M.G. Siegler)

Excerpt:
"And here’s the thing: people are going to suck it up and pay this price. A lot of people. People like me. Three main reasons for this that I see.
First, yes this is more expensive than most laptops these days. Hell, it’s even more expensive than some Apple laptops. But this is also a device that all of us use a lot more than our laptops. And whereas you used to be able to make the case that the laptop was far more powerful than the smartphone, you can’t really make that argument anymore. If Apple stuck all of the latest iPhone internals inside a MacBook, is there any question they could charge $1,499 for such a device? Or that they would? And so perhaps I should say when…"
The $1,500 iPhone -- 500ish Words (M.G. Siegler)

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai says California net neutrality rules are 'illegal' -- CNET

On a related note, see New research shows that, post net neutrality, internet providers are slowing down your streaming (News@Northeastern)
""California's micromanagement poses a risk to the rest of the country," Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai said in a speech at the Maine Heritage Policy Center on Friday. "After all, broadband is an interstate service; Internet traffic doesn't recognize state lines. It follows that only the federal government can set regulatory policy in this area."

Last month, California's State Assembly Committee on Communications and Conveyance voted to move forward with Senate Bill 822, which provides strong protection on net neutrality. In his speech, Pai called it a "radical, anti-consumer" bill."
FCC Chairman Ajit Pai says California net neutrality rules are 'illegal' -- CNET

Expanding Security Tools to Protect Political Campaigns -- Facebook Newsroom

Also see Facebook pilots new political campaign security tools — just 50 days before Election Day (TechCrunch)
"As we have seen in past elections, candidates and elected officials, as well as their staff, can be targeted by hackers and foreign adversaries across platforms, including Facebook. However, due to the short-term nature of campaigns, we do not always know who these campaign-affiliated users are, making it harder to help protect them.

That is why, today, as part of our broader efforts to better secure Facebook, we are launching a pilot program to expand our existing protections for users associated with US political campaigns ahead of the 2018 midterm elections. Candidates for federal or statewide office, as well as staff members and representatives from federal and state political party committees, can add additional security protections to their Pages and accounts. Page admins can apply for the program at politics.fb.com/campaignsecurity and, once enrolled, they can add others from their campaign or committee. We’ll help officials adopt our strongest account security protections, like two-factor authentication, and monitor for potential hacking threats."
Expanding Security Tools to Protect Political Campaigns -- Facebook Newsroom

Amazon plans to release at least 8 new Alexa-powered devices, including a microwave, an amplifier, and an in-car gadget -- CNBC

Later in the article: "The company is reported to be working on a secretive home robot, as well, according to Bloomberg" (from April)
"Amazon is doubling down on its Alexa-powered devices, with plans to release at least 8 new voice-controlled hardware devices before the end of the year, CNBC has learned.

The devices include, among others, a microwave oven, an amplifier, a receiver, a subwoofer, and an in-car gadget, people familiar with the matter said. All of the devices will be Alexa-enabled, meaning they can easily connect to the voice assistant. Some of the devices will also have Alexa built in.

Amazon is expected to reveal some of these devices at an event later this month, according to an internal document describing the plans."
Amazon plans to release at least 8 new Alexa-powered devices, including a microwave, an amplifier, and an in-car gadget -- CNBC

The Lawyer Who Took On Uber Is Suing IBM for Age Discrimination -- Bloomberg

"Move or leave" program revisited
"Shannon Liss-Riordan has been compared to “a pit bull with a Chihuahua in its mouth.” In a career spanning almost 20 years, the Boston-based lawyer has gone after corporations that have either harmed consumers or their own employees. She’s represented workers against Amazon, Uber and Google and has styled her firm as the premier champion for employees left behind by powerful tech companies.

Now Liss-Riordan, 49, is gunning for International Business Machines Corp.

On Monday, she filed a class-action lawsuit on behalf of three former IBM employees who say the tech giant discriminated against them based on their age when it fired them. “Over the last several years, IBM has been in the process of systematically laying off older employees in order to build a younger workforce,” the former employees claim in the suit."
The Lawyer Who Took On Uber Is Suing IBM for Age Discrimination -- Bloomberg

Monday, September 17, 2018

Where in the World Is Larry Page? -- Bloomberg

Manage different...
"What’s occupying Page’s time today? People who know him say he’s disappearing more frequently to his private, white-sand Caribbean island. That’s not to imply that, at 45, he’s already living the daiquiri lifestyle. He still oversees each Alphabet subsidiary, though the extent of his involvement is vague. Along with Google co-founder Sergey Brin, who’s now Alphabet’s president, Page even occasionally holds court at the company’s weekly all-hands “TGIF” meetings at its Mountain View, Calif., headquarters. He sometimes fields questions from employees, though he mostly defers to Pichai and other corporate leaders, according to current Googlers. Page has reached a point where he takes on only rare projects that deeply fascinate him, like the sci-fi pursuits at X, Alphabet’s secretive research lab."
 Where in the World Is Larry Page? -- Bloomberg

Betting Against Tesla: Skeptics Make Their Case: NYT

From a timely Tesla reality check
"There’s no doubt Tesla and Mr. Musk, the company’s high-profile chief executive, have plenty of detractors, especially on Twitter, where some critics trumpet vitriol and unsubstantiated information about the company and its business. But many of those who believe that Tesla is destined for a major restructuring — or even collapse — are buttoned-up investors. They base their view not on antipathy for Tesla or Mr. Musk, but on cold financial calculations, including its heavy debt load and voracious cash burn.
“This isn’t only about Musk,” said Mark B. Spiegel, a managing partner at Stanphyl Capital, which has a large position shorting Tesla. “It’s about a terrible capital structure, because of the debt, and a stock price that is out of whack with the demand for the product and the competition that’s coming in.”"
Betting Against Tesla: Skeptics Make Their Case: NYT

Time Magazine sold to tech billionaire Marc Benioff -- The Washington Post

Postponing the end of Time...
"Time will be a personal holding for the Benioffs, with no relationship to the San Francisco software company he founded in 1999, according to a note Time editor Edward Felsenthal posted on the magazine’s website Sunday evening.
“TIME is a treasure trove of the world’s history and culture,” Benioff said in the note released by Felsenthal. “We have deep respect for your entire organization and are honored to now have TIME as part of our family impact investment portfolio.”"
Time Magazine sold to tech billionaire Marc Benioff -- The Washington Post

Thursday, September 13, 2018

The iPhone Franchise -- Stratechery

Final paragraph from a review of yesterday's Apple update; check the full post for an iPhone XR assessment and analysis of Apple's overall iPhone strategy
"That is the iPhone: it is a franchise, the closest thing to a hardware annuity stream tech has ever seen. Some people buy an iPhone every year; some are on a two-year cycle; others wait for screens to crack, batteries to die, or apps to slow. Nearly all, though, buy another iPhone, making the purpose of yesterday’s keynote less an exercise in selling a device and more a matter of informing self-selected segments which device they will ultimately buy, and for what price."
The iPhone Franchise -- Stratechery

Edward Snowden Reconsidered -- New York Review of Books

Final paragraph from an extensive Edward Snowden reality check:
"If there’s one thing Greenwald, Assange, and their followers got right, it’s that the United States became a tremendous economic and military power over the last seven decades. When it blunders in its foreign or domestic policy, the US has the capacity to do swift and unparalleled damage. The question then is whether this awesome power is better wielded by a liberal-democratic state in an arguably hypocritical way but with some restraint, or by an authoritarian one in a nakedly avowed way and with no restraint. In the five years since Snowden’s revelations, we have seen changes, particularly the election of Donald Trump with his undisguised admiration for strongmen, that compel us to imagine a possible authoritarian future for the United States. Democratic accountability, a system of checks and balances, and the rule of law may be imperfect measures but they look like our best hope for directing the American state’s power to humane ends. Previous failures are not a good reason to give up on this hope. Neither is faith in technology: it is a means; it doesn’t discriminate between ends. Technology is not going to save us. Edward Snowden is not our savior."
Edward Snowden Reconsidered -- New York Review of Books

Apple Gets FDA Approval for New Watch, Touts Health Gains -- Bloomberg

See this Apple post for more details
"The [ECG] feature "is really a game changer as the first wearable device with this feature," Evercore ISI analyst Ross Muken wrote in a note to investors. "This update really establishes the company’s increasing efforts to push the watch as a serious medical device."

The Watch has more-powerful sensors so it can spot when someone has a hard fall. It delivers an alert and calls emergency services if the user doesn’t move for one minute after a fall, Williams said. The ECG capability, available later this year, helps the device sense atrial fibrillation, an irregular heart rate that can increase the risk of stroke, heart failure and other heart-related complications.

“The FDA worked closely with the company as they developed and tested these software products, which may help millions of users identify health concerns more quickly,” FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said in a statement. Health-care products on ubiquitous devices, like smartwatches, may help users seek treatment earlier and will empower them with more information about their health, he added."
Apple Gets FDA Approval for New Watch, Touts Health Gains -- Bloomberg

Preparing for Elections -- Mark Zuckerberg

The conclusion from an approximately 3,300-word Mark Zuckerberg update on fighting election interference:
"In 2016, we were not prepared for the coordinated information operations we now regularly face. But we have learned a lot since then and have developed sophisticated systems that combine technology and people to prevent election interference on our services.
This effort is part of a broader challenge to rework much of how Facebook operates to be more proactive about protecting our community from harm and taking a broader view of our responsibility overall.
One of the important lessons I’ve learned is that when you build services that connect billions of people across countries and cultures, you're going to see all of the good humanity is capable of, and you're also going to see people try to abuse those services in every way possible.
As we evolve, our adversaries are evolving too. We will all need to continue improving and working together to stay ahead and protect our democracy."
Preparing for Elections -- Mark Zuckerberg

Oracle’s Thomas Kurian Is at Odds With Larry Ellison on Cloud -- Bloomberg

An ominous leading indicator for Oracle customers and shareholders; later in the article: "“We support the notion of increasing Oracle support for other clouds,” Brad Reback, an analyst at Stifel Nicolaus & Co., wrote in a note on Wednesday. “Given the lack of meaningful capex investments and limited traction to-date, we are not convinced Oracle can catch up with” Amazon, Microsoft and Google, he wrote."
"Oracle Corp. executive Thomas Kurian’s leave of absence, disclosed last week, stemmed from differences with co-founder Larry Ellison over the software maker’s cloud business, according to people familiar with the matter.

The growing strife between Kurian, president of product development, and Executive Chairman Ellison culminated in Kurian’s announcement on Sept. 5 that he’s taking a break, said the people, who asked not to be identified discussing a private matter. Kurian wants Oracle to make more of its software available to run on public clouds from chief rivals Amazon.com Inc. and Microsoft Corp. as a way to diversify from its own struggling infrastructure, a view opposed by Ellison, one of the people said."
Oracle’s Thomas Kurian Is at Odds With Larry Ellison on Cloud -- Bloomberg

Apple Announces the 2018 iPhones: iPhone XS, iPhone XS Max, & iPhone XR -- AnandTech

Check the full review for a detailed model comparison table
"The third part of the processor triumvirate – and likely where the bulk of Apple’s transistor budget has gone – is the neural engine, Apple’s name for their block responsible for processing (inferencing) neural networks for AI. Relative to the A11, Apple is promoting some huge increases in both the basic block size and in the resulting performance. The latest neural engine is described as an 8-core design, up from 2 cores for the A11. In turn, peak performance has jumped from 600 GigaOPS to 5 TeraOPS, an increase of over 8x.

Given the core count, I have no doubt that part of this outright comes down to Apple laying down a lot more silicon for the task. Which goes to show just how important Apple considers the neural engine and the workloads that run on it towards current and future iPhone applications. However the latest version of the neural engine also adds what Apple calls “multiprecision” support, better known as variable precision. Smaller data formats lose precision, but they can be processed more efficiently. So Apple’s 5 TOPS claim is almost certainly based on this, which is an important distinction because not all workloads can be run at a lower precision. So the real-world performance difference may not be as great as it looks on paper."
Apple Announces the 2018 iPhones: iPhone XS, iPhone XS Max, & iPhone XR -- AnandTech

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Rosetta: Understanding text in images and videos with machine learning -- Facebook Code

Check the full post for details
"A significant number of the photos shared on Facebook and Instagram contain text in various forms. It might be overlaid on an image in a meme, or inlaid in a photo of a storefront, street sign, or restaurant menu. Taking into account the sheer volume of photos shared each day on Facebook and Instagram, the number of languages supported on our global platform, and the variations of the text, the problem of understanding text in images is quite different from those solved by traditional optical character recognition (OCR) systems, which recognize the characters but don’t understand the context of the associated image.

To address our specific needs, we built and deployed a large-scale machine learning system named Rosetta. It extracts text from more than a billion public Facebook and Instagram images and video frames (in a wide variety of languages), daily and in real time, and inputs it into a text recognition model that has been trained on classifiers to understand the context of the text and the image together."
Rosetta: Understanding text in images and videos with machine learning -- Facebook Code

Crypto’s 80% Plunge Is Now Worse Than the Dot-Com Crash -- Bloomberg

Bitcoin: the last *coin still standing (for now)?...
"As virtual currencies plumbed new depths on Wednesday, the MVIS CryptoCompare Digital Assets 10 Index extended its collapse from a January high to 80 percent. The tumble has now surpassed the Nasdaq Composite Index’s 78 percent peak-to-trough decline after the dot-com bubble burst in 2000.

Like their predecessors during the internet stock boom almost two decades ago, cryptocurrency investors who bet big on a seemingly revolutionary technology are suffering a painful reality check."
Crypto’s 80% Plunge Is Now Worse Than the Dot-Com Crash -- Bloomberg

Get ready for Big Bitcoin: Cryptocurrency industry opens a D.C. lobbying arm -- The Washington Post

Earlier in the article: "[...] the first fully fledged lobbying group in Washington representing entrepreneurs and investors who are building off the technology behind bitcoin"
"This isn't the only time blockchain advocates have sought to play the Washington influence game. Half a decade ago, organizations such as the Bitcoin Foundation played a similar role. But it was a catchall organization — representing industry as well as individual consumers; acting as a think tank, lobbying group and standard-setting body, all in one.

Now, the cryptocurrency field is far more developed, with distinct sectors and interest groups, said Jerry Brito, executive director of the Coin Center, a Washington-based cryptocurrency think tank. To see the rise of a purpose-specific trade group is a sign of the industry's growing maturity, he added."
Get ready for Big Bitcoin: Cryptocurrency industry opens a D.C. lobbying arm -- The Washington Post

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Google’s ‘no-show’ in Congress adds to its political headache -- The Washington Post

Next in the scrutiny spotlight...
"“Google is sadly mistaken if they think they’re off the hook after being a no-show,” Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), the top Democrat on the committee, said in a statement Friday.

The shifting of Google’s political fortunes ends a period of relative calm for the company in Washington. Lawmakers until recently had focused much of their attention on tech giants such as Facebook, probing its recent privacy mishaps and efforts to combat Russian agents that spread propaganda online.

For Google, its new political headache could result in tougher scrutiny of its business practices, from its efforts to police sites such as YouTube for abuse to its ambitions to launch a special search engine in China. Warner, for example, said he had questions for Google about China as well as its revelations of Russian accounts it found on YouTube and disabled earlier this year."
Google’s ‘no-show’ in Congress adds to its political headache -- The Washington Post

News Use Across Social Media Platforms 2018 -- Pew Research

All the news that's fit to mistrust...
"About two-thirds of American adults (68%) say they at least occasionally get news on social media, about the same share as at this time in 2017, according to a new Pew Research Center survey. Many of these consumers, however, are skeptical of the information they see there: A majority (57%) say they expect the news they see on social media to be largely inaccurate. Still, most social media news consumers say getting news this way has made little difference in their understanding of current events, and more say it has helped than confused them (36% compared with 15%).

Republicans are more negative about the news they see on social media than Democrats. Among Republican social media news consumers, 72% say they expect the news they see there to be inaccurate, compared with 46% of Democrats and 52% of independents. And while 42% of those Democrats who get news on social media say it has helped their understanding of current events, fewer Republicans (24%) say the same. Even among those Americans who say they prefer to get news on social media over other platforms (such as print, TV or radio), a substantial portion (42%) express this skepticism."

News Use Across Social Media Platforms 2018 -- Pew Research

Amazon is stuffing its search results pages with ads -- Recode

Featuring search result sections with Amazon brands (e.g., Whole Foods 365 Everyday Value)
"Amazon makes money every time consumers click on an ad — and it still gets to sell whatever people end up buying.

Amazon’s advertising approach is increasingly important for brands, with about half of all product searches beginning there rather than with typical search engines like Google.

It’s also increasingly important to Amazon, which generates most of its revenue from its e-commerce business. Advertising is its smallest segment, measured by revenue, but its fastest-growing. (Its “other” segment — which primarily consists of money it generates from selling ad space on its websites — generated $2.2 billion in sales last quarter, up about 130 percent from the same period a year ago.) Amazon is now a big-enough advertising player that it’s expected to eat into Facebook and Google’s dominant market share."
Amazon is stuffing its search results pages with ads -- Recode

Crypto Wipeout Deepens to $640 Billion as Ether Leads Declines -- Bloomberg

A timely *coin reality check
"The cryptocurrency bear market plumbed a fresh 10-month low on Monday as Bitcoin’s biggest rival tumbled and U.S. regulators suspended trading in two securities linked to digital assets.

Ether, the second-largest virtual currency, slumped 11 percent from its level at 5 p.m. New York time on Friday, according to Bloomberg composite pricing. Bitcoin declined 2.4 percent, while the market capitalization of digital assets tracked by CoinMarketCap.com shrank to about $197 billion -- down almost $640 billion from its January peak.

Cryptocurrencies have declined for five of the past six weeks amid concern that a broader adoption of digital assets will take longer than some had anticipated. That worry was underscored over the weekend after the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission temporarily suspended trading in two exchange-traded notes linked to cryptocurrencies and Ethereum co-founder Vitalik Buterin told Bloomberg that the days of explosive growth in the blockchain industry have likely come and gone."
Crypto Wipeout Deepens to $640 Billion as Ether Leads Declines -- Bloomberg

As Alex Jones rails against ‘Big Tech,’ his Infowars stores still thrive online -- The Washington Post

In case you're still looking for Alex Jones t-shirts or "dozens of other Infowars-branded products, such as Super Male Vitality and Survival Shield supplements"... Also see Alex Jones’s Infowars Is Removed From Apple’s App Store (NYT), which notes "Late Friday, Apple removed his Infowars app from its App Store, eliminating one of the final avenues for Mr. Jones to reach a mainstream audience."
"His sprawling network, which recently included more than 90 digital accounts that bear his name or Infowars’, exploits the inconsistencies in how technology companies police users of their platforms — potentially exposing the companies to further criticism from congressional Republicans that they unfairly silence conservative voices such as Jones.

“Bans of Alex Jones and his affiliated network of Infowars accounts have yet to affect the brand's main revenue generator — the storefront and e-commerce operations,” said Jonathan Albright, research director of the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia University, who has studied traffic to Infowars Store online accounts. “When Jones makes the headlines, there is a distinct pattern of traffic surges to Infowars properties, including the store website.”"
As Alex Jones rails against ‘Big Tech,’ his Infowars stores still thrive online  -- The Washington Post

Monday, September 10, 2018

Apple faces Trump’s ire after company says its products would be hurt by tariffs -- The Washington Post

Also see The global smartphone supply chain needs an upgrade (The Economist), which notes: "Choking the smartphone complex would be madness: consumers would be upset, millions of jobs would be at risk in Asia, and stockmarkets in America and East Asia would suffer."
"The tariffs are top of mind for Apple chief executive Tim Cook, who has personally lobbied Trump for months on issues of taxes and trade, even dining with the president and first lady Melania Trump at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, N.J., last month. Cook's personal diplomacy stands in stark contrast to some of his peers in the tech industry, who haven't engaged Trump directly — and often are on the receiving end of far more aggressive tweets attacking their business practices.
Apple, like other tech giants, has benefited from the last year's overhaul to the U.S. tax code, and the company has committed to returning much of the $252 billion in cash it held abroad. In January, the company also announced its “direct contribution” to the U.S. economy through investments and other spending would exceed $350 billion over the next five years, while it would establish a new Apple campus to house technical support for customers. Some components for Apple products, including glass from manufacturers like Corning, are made in the United States, the company has said."
Apple faces Trump’s ire after company says its products would be hurt by tariffs -- The Washington Post

Chinese billionaire Jack Ma steps down at Alibaba, announces successor -- The Washington Post

Also see Jack Ma will celebrate his 55th birthday by retiring as chairman of Alibaba (Quartz)
"Ma, a former English teacher who launched Alibaba out of his apartment with 17 of his students and friends and roughly $60,000, said he wants to shift his focus to philanthropy in education.

He described the decision as a return to his passion after running a company that has transformed the way Chinese people shop and helped usher in an almost total reliance on mobile phone payments in cities.

But Ma’s surprise departure fueled speculation that his popularity had irked a government that doesn’t like to share the spotlight."
Chinese billionaire Jack Ma steps down at Alibaba, announces successor -- The Washington Post

Can Mark Zuckerberg Fix Facebook Before It Breaks Democracy? -- The New Yorker

Final paragraphs from a ~14,500-word profile
"At a certain point, the habits of mind that served Zuckerberg well on his ascent will start to work against him. To avoid further crises, he will have to embrace the fact that he’s now a protector of the peace, not a disrupter of it. Facebook’s colossal power of persuasion has delivered fortune but also peril. Like it or not, Zuckerberg is a gatekeeper. The era when Facebook could learn by doing, and fix the mistakes later, is over. The costs are too high, and idealism is not a defense against negligence.

In some sense, the “Mark Zuckerberg production”—as he called Facebook in its early years—has only just begun. Zuckerberg is not yet thirty-five, and the ambition with which he built his empire could well be directed toward shoring up his company, his country, and his name. The question is not whether Zuckerberg has the power to fix Facebook but whether he has the will; whether he will kick people out of his office—with the gusto that he once mustered for the pivot to mobile—if they don’t bring him ideas for preventing violence in Myanmar, or protecting privacy, or mitigating the toxicity of social media. He succeeded, long ago, in making Facebook great. The challenge before him now is to make it good."
Can Mark Zuckerberg Fix Facebook Before It Breaks Democracy? -- The New Yorker

Brett Kavanaugh’s Internet -- Lawfare

Final paragraphs:
"Again, Kavanaugh was not content with just invoking precedent about what rules the FCC had power to create, which would have simply punted the issue back to Congress.  Instead, he argued that the issue should not be decided by Congress at all, writing that net neutrality violated the constitutional rights of telecommunications and cable companies.  Kavanaugh took the position that the decisions of these companies to throttle the speech of those services they disfavored were comparable to a newspaper editor’s decision about what articles to publish—a choice protected by the First Amendment’s guarantee of freedom of speech and the press.

In fact, Kavanaugh had it exactly backwards.  If publishers and ordinary people don’t have fair access to the internet, the public square will be subject to censorship by large, often monopolistic companies like Cox, Comcast and Verizon.   Instead of protecting the rights of ordinary people—or even the companies that produce internet content—Kavanaugh used the First Amendment to invent a new corporate “right” to censor speech.

While the digital age is well underway, the justices have only begun to grapple with its implications—for privacy, freedom of speech, and new forms of digital control.  Kavanaugh’s vote will be for an internet based not on openness and freedom, but on surveillance and control."
Brett Kavanaugh’s Internet -- Lawfare

Friday, September 07, 2018

Elon Musk teases electric plane design and smokes weed on Joe Rogan podcast -- The Verge

Also see Weed, whiskey, Tesla and a flamethrower: Elon Musk meets Joe Rogan (CNN)
"“I have a design for a plane,” said Elon Musk in a wide-ranging interview for the Joe Rogan Experience podcast broadcast live Thursday night on YouTube. The interview included the two men drinking whiskey and smoking weed.

Musk thinks his electric airplane would be better than current planes, capable of vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) and supersonic flight at high altitudes. The Tesla and Space X CEO admitted, however, that it’s not a priority for him. “Electric cars are important, solar energy is important, stationary storage of energy is important,” said Musk. “These things are much more important than creating electric supersonic VTOL.” Musk then became visibly emotional in describing our addiction to fossil fuels, calling it the “the dumbest experiment in human history.”"
Elon Musk teases electric plane design and smokes weed on Joe Rogan podcast -- The Verge

While talking nukes, Kim may have shifted to cyber -- Axios

Also see U.S. Accuses North Korea of Plot to Hurt Economy as Spy Is Charged in Sony Hack (NYT)
"As North Korea haggles over when it will eliminate its nuclear weapons assets, it may be playing for what it can get in exchange while already pivoting to a very different, equally dangerous weapons regime — cyber arms.

What's going on: David Maxwell, a retired Army officer and an expert on North Korea, tells Axios that any key American adversary — China, Iran, Russia or North Korea — is likelier to use cyber than nuclear arms in any war with the U.S."
While talking nukes, Kim may have shifted to cyber -- Axios

Amazon's treasure trove of data -- Axios

Research different
"When Amazon invited cities to compete for its second global headquarters a year ago today, it got reams of data from the 238 entrants — enough to learn details of the cities' future plans that a lot of their residents don't even know about.

Why it matters: The information effectively provided Amazon with a database chock full of granular details about the economic development prospects of every major metropolitan area in the United States (and some in Canada). For a rapidly-expanding tech behemoth like Amazon, that database could help it make expansion decisions that go way beyond the new headquarters."
Amazon's treasure trove of data -- Axios

Alex Jones and Marco Rubio Explain the Internet -- The Atlantic

Tangentially, see How That Magical Jack Dorsey–Alex Jones Photo Happened (Wired)
"The hallway performance perfectly punctuated the hearing’s meek exploration of the calamity that is contemporary life on social media. The technology executives were answering, if weakly, for helping support websites like Infowars and crusaders like Jones. And if not Jones himself, then others who hide their deception more adeptly. The spat was a microcosm of the internet itself: A place where widespread adoption of platforms that give anyone unfettered access to almost everyone else, a place that gives people the sense that they deserve an audience, with anyone, on any topic, all the time.
[...]
Social media’s impact on global democracy has made it seem like the technology, once good, as Rubio observed, can also be used for harm. But maybe the wickedness was there even before the good. The internet’s sin isn’t giving one or another person a mouthpiece with which to reach an audience with lies. It’s giving everyone the impression that they are owed an audience with anyone, with everyone else, at any time, or all the time. A lot of people might be able to agree that Alex Jones shouldn’t be talking to anyone, much at all. But few are ready to cop to a more difficult truth: People just aren’t meant to talk to one another this much in the first place."
Alex Jones and Marco Rubio Explain the Internet -- The Atlantic

Former Facebook security chief says creating election chaos is still easy -- TechCrunch

 From a stark election security reality check
"“If there’s no foreign interference during the midterms, it’s not because we did a great job,” Stamos said in an interview with TechCrunch at Disrupt SF on Thursday. “It’s because our adversaries decided to [show] a little forbearance, which is unfortunate.”

As Stamos sees it, there is an alternative reality in which the U.S. electorate would be better off heading into its next major nationwide voting day, but critical steps haven’t been taken.

“As a society, we have not responded to the 2016 election in the way that would’ve been necessary to have a more trustworthy midterms,” he said. “There have been positive changes, but overall security of campaigns [is] not that much better, and the actual election infrastructure isn’t much better.”"
Former Facebook security chief says creating election chaos is still easy -- TechCrunch

Twitter has permanently banned Alex Jones and Infowars -- The Washington Post

At least one useful thing was accomplished in DC this week
"Twitter said Thursday it had "permanently suspended" conspiracy theorist Alex Jones and his website, Infowars, for sharing a series of tweets and videos that violate its policies against abuse, including verbal attacks on a reporter that Jones live-streamed outside of a congressional hearing the day before.

The company said in a statement that it implemented the ban because it was not Jones’s first violation. Twitter previously had suspended Jones for a week after he broke rules against violent threats by telling supporters to get their “battle rifles” ready against news reporters and others. The new move aligns Twitter with some of its tech peers, like Apple and Facebook, which took action against Jones and InfoWars for posting offensive, violent content in August."
Twitter has permanently banned Alex Jones and Infowars -- The Washington Post

Thursday, September 06, 2018

What Jack Dorsey and Sheryl Sandberg Taught Congress and Vice Versa -- NYT

Maybe next time...
"Google has spent years building a lobbying operation in Washington, which rests on a foundation of seriousness and good will; while upstarts like Facebook reveled in their break-things disruptive style, Google positioned itself as the grown-up in the room. It also had some positive facts on its side: Google’s services were far less vulnerable to Russian misinformation during the 2016 election than Facebook or Twitter. And because it does not run a social network, Google could credibly argue that it was a less important vector for propaganda and social unrest. Mr. Pichai, who is no dummy, could have persuasively made that case to lawmakers.

But in declining to participate, Google left a sour mood in the Capitol. A parade of Democrats and Republicans in the Senate hearing noted the company’s absence. Many raised questions about Google’s recent actions — for instance, its decision to stop working with the military on artificial intelligence projects and its exploration of a censored search engine for the Chinese market — that the company had no way of defending."
What Jack Dorsey and Sheryl Sandberg Taught Congress and Vice Versa -- NYT

Wednesday, September 05, 2018

Evernote lost its CTO, CFO, CPO and HR head in the last month as it eyes another fundraise-- TechCrunch

Noteworthy changes
"Evernote, the productivity app with 225 million users that lets people take notes and organise other files from their working and non-work life, has been on a mission to reset its image as the go-to service for those seeking tools to help themselves be more efficient, years after losing its place as one of the most popular apps in the app store. But those changes have not come without their own challenges.
TechCrunch has learned and confirmed that in the last month, Evernote  lost several of its most senior executives, including its CTO Anirban Kundu, CFO Vincent Toolan, CPO Erik Wrobel and head of HR Michelle Wagner beyond the usual attrition of engineers and designers.
The departures are coming at a key time: we have also heard that Evernote is fundraising, potentially in a down-round from its most recent (but now several years-old) valuation of $1.2 billion."
Evernote lost its CTO, CFO, CPO and HR head in the last month as it eyes another fundraise-- TechCrunch

Instagram is building a standalone app for shopping -- The Verge

Conversational commerce, Instagram edition
"More than 25 million businesses already have Instagram accounts, and 2 million of them are advertisers, Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg said on the company’s most recent earnings call. Four in five Instagram users follow at least one business. Creating a standalone app would allow the company to provide a dedicated home for an increasingly popular activity on Instagram while also expanding opportunities for revenue.

Over time, Facebook could introduce more tools for merchants who are building their businesses on Instagram, directly challenging e-commerce platforms like Shopify, according to a person familiar with the company’s thinking. Most online businesses need an Instagram account already, the thinking goes; many of them would surely use paid business tools if they became available."
Instagram is building a standalone app for shopping -- The Verge

Tech Titans Plot Their Doomsday Escape to New Zealand Luxury Bunkers -- Bloomberg

Prep different
"Think of schoolchildren practicing the duck-and-cover maneuver during the height of the Cold War. Apocalyptic religious cults never seem to end well, from Jim Jones’s Peoples Temple in the 1970s to Heaven’s Gate and the Branch Davidians in the 1990s. Just six years ago, many Americans believed the world was ending because of a Mayan prophesy.

What’s different about Silicon Valley is that those entertaining fears of the eschaton have the means to put elaborate plans into action.

Robert Vicino, founder of the Vivos Project, a builder of massive underground bunkers, said Silicon Valley elites discussed detailed plans to flee to New Zealand last year at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. He said they foresaw “a revolution or a change where society is going to go after the 1 percenters.” In other words, them.

New Zealand isn’t the best solution, he said, because a tsunami caused by an asteroid strike in the Pacific could submerge the island’s highest point."
Tech Titans Plot Their Doomsday Escape to New Zealand Luxury Bunkers -- Bloomberg

Amazon is the latest $1 trillion tech company -- Engadget

Also see Amazon Hits $1,000,000,000,000 in Value, Following Apple (NYT), which notes "Amazon’s founder and chief executive, Jeff Bezos, is worth nearly as much as Bill Gates and Warren E. Buffett put together."
"It's not hard to explain why: Amazon has its fingers in many pies, and it's successful in most of them. On top of its centerpiece online store, it has a thriving cloud services business that includes the likes of AWS, Alexa and Prime Video. It's rapidly expanding its hardware offerings, and you can't ignore the value of Whole Foods. This is a company that's not only doing well in its core businesses, but regularly hedges its bets.

Not that everyone will be celebrating. Amazon has faced numerous strikes and other complaints from warehouse workers unhappy with low pay, dangerous working conditions and strict monitoring. Staffers have also complained about questionable technology sales, and there have been ongoing concerns about anti-competitive Kindle book pricing. The company's meteoric rise from a simple online bookstore to a trillion-dollar tech giant was no mean feat, but it might have come at a steep cost."
Amazon is the latest $1 trillion tech company -- Engadget

The Politicians Are Coming for Silicon Valley -- NYT

From Kara Swisher's latest NYT column:
"“It’s how democracies are done, having to justify yourself and your actions in public,” an employee of one of these companies who asked to remain anonymous told me. “And admitting you got things wrong.”

Truth. But it will be the drilling down — and not just the sound bites — that will be key. That includes requiring Ms. Sandberg and Mr. Dorsey to provide deep specifics on how well the platforms have cleaned up fake accounts; how transparent they have made the buying and selling of online political ads (and maybe all ads); and how much progress they have made in demoting and deleting fake news.

Also critical is explaining how and why they let their platforms be so easily manipulated to begin with. This will perhaps require admitting that bad actors used them in exactly the way they were built to be used."
The Politicians Are Coming for Silicon Valley -- NYT

Mark Zuckerberg: Protecting democracy is an arms race. Here’s how Facebook can help. -- The Washington Post

Final paragraphs follow below; also see Jack, Sheryl and the empty chair: A preview of Silicon Valley’s trip to Washington (Recode)
"For the U.S. midterm elections we’re also using a new tool we tested in the Alabama Senate special election last year to identify political interference more quickly. This enabled us to find and remove foreign political spammers who’d previously flown under the radar. And last month, we took down hundreds of pages, groups and accounts for creating networks that were deliberately misleading people about their identities and intentions. Some originated in Iran and others in Russia.

I’m often asked how confident I feel about the midterms. We’ve made a lot of progress, as our work during the French, German, Mexican and Italian elections has shown. In each case, we identified and removed fake accounts and bad content leading up to the elections, and in Germany we worked directly with the government to share information about potential threats. The investments we continue to make in people and technology will help us improve even further. But companies such as Facebook face sophisticated, well-funded adversaries who are getting smarter over time, too. It’s an arms race, and it will take the combined forces of the U.S. private and public sectors to protect America’s democracy from outside interference."
Mark Zuckerberg: Protecting democracy is an arms race. Here’s how Facebook can help. -- The Washington Post

Tuesday, September 04, 2018

Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg, Twitter’s Jack Dorsey to face questions from Congress about Russia and censorship this week (The Washingrton Post)

On a related note, see Inside Twitter’s Long, Slow Struggle to Police Bad Actors (WSJ) and Twitter’s insane mind-control power (Axios)
"The political gauntlet begins in the Senate, where the Intelligence Committee will host Sheryl Sandberg, the chief operating officer of Facebook, and Jack Dorsey, the chief executive of Twitter. They'll testify -- their first time ever on Capitol Hill -- at a hearing on foreign governments that spread misinformation over social media.

The goal is "to sound the alarm that what happened in 2016, as we've seen, was not a one-off," said Sen. Mark Warner (Va.), the top Democrat on the committee, referring to the presidential election. "While the companies have gotten better and the government's gotten better, the adversaries have gotten better, too.""
Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg, Twitter’s Jack Dorsey to face questions from Congress about Russia and censorship this week (The Washingrton Post)

How a Twitter account convinced 4,000 companies to stop advertising on Breitbart -- Recode

Check the full post for a podcast interview and transcript; tangentially, see New Yorker Festival Pulls Steve Bannon as Headliner Following High-Profile Dropouts (NYT)
"Applying this lesson to something more important than cheap furniture, Rivitz started an account called Sleeping Giants, aimed at alerting advertisers whose ads were appearing on Breitbart. Today, the account has nearly 200,000 followers and has convinced more than 4,000 companies to take their ads off that site; it has also led campaigns aimed at Fox News, Laura Ingraham and Robert Mercer, but Rivitz says it’s not about politics — it’s about bigotry and hate speech.

“A lot of the Breitbarts of the world, they can claim that they’re being silenced because they’re on the right,” he said. “But they’re being thrown off a lot of these platforms because they’re being super racist. To me, if they want to conflate those two things, then let them do that.”"
How a Twitter account convinced 4,000 companies to stop advertising on Breitbart -- Recode

Amazon Sets Its Sights on the $88 Billion Online Ad Market -- NYT

And then there were three (free world digital advertising leaders) -- excerpt:
"Amazon is gaining in advertising when the public perception of Google and Facebook has soured. In addition, some advertisers have yet to return to YouTube, a growing ad channel for Google, after brands like AT&T were found appearing adjacent to videos that promoted racism or terrorism.

“Google and Facebook have been slow to create the standards that advertisers want to see,” said Collin Colburn, an analyst at the research and advisory firm Forrester. “They are concerned about what sort of content their ads are going to be placed next to.”

He added, “Amazon is different because it has a much more controlled environment on its e-commerce site where the products are being sold, and Amazon’s reach into the rest of the World Wide Web is pretty small.”"
Amazon Sets Its Sights on the $88 Billion Online Ad Market -- NYT

Fringe Figures Find Refuge in Facebook’s Private Groups-- NYT

Final paragraphs:
"Foreign organizations have also found private groups useful. Last month, when Facebook took down hundreds of public pages that it said were connected to a coordinated influence operation with hints of Russian and Iranian involvement, it also removed three private groups. The company did not name the groups or say how they were used, but it revealed that 2,300 users joined at least one of them.

“The vast majority of groups on Facebook are probably the run-of-the-mill groups,” said RenĂ©e DiResta, a researcher with Data for Democracy who studies online extremism. “The challenge is, how does the groups feature interact with the other features on Facebook that we know are causing radicalization, hate speech and genocide in certain places? Who is taking responsibility for looking at the negative externalities of this push to create communities?”"
Fringe Figures Find Refuge in Facebook’s Private Groups-- NYT

Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies are useless -- The Economist

From one of several cryptocurrency- and blockchain-related articles in the latest issue of The Economist
"As these limitations become more widely known, the hype is starting to cool. A few organisations, such as SWIFT, a bank-payment network, and Stripe, an online-payments firm, have abandoned blockchain projects, concluding that the costs outweigh the benefits. Most other projects are still experimental, though that does not stop wild claims. Sierra Leone, for instance, was widely reported to have conducted a “blockchain-powered” election earlier this year. It had not.

Just because blockchains have been overhyped does not mean they are useless. Their ability to bind their users into an agreed way of working may prove helpful in arenas where there is no central authority, such as international trade. But they are no panacea against the usual dangers of large technology projects: cost, complexity and overcooked expectations. Cryptocurrencies have fallen far short of their ambitious goals. Blockchain advocates have yet to prove that the underlying technology can live up to the grand claims made for it."
Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies are useless -- The Economist

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Trump’s Ludicrous Attack on Big Tech -- NYT

From Kara Swisher's latest NYT column
"Most of all, the allegation leaves out the pertinent fact that Mr. Trump himself is the most voluble politician ever to use digital media, and his entire existence has been amplified, echoed and re-echoed over and over again by the tools that Silicon Valley has let loose on the world over the past two decades. To say nothing of the widespread belief in the United States intelligence community that Russians manipulated social media in his favor.
Rather than attacking techies, he should send them a gold-embossed thank you note.

Instead, as is his way, Mr. Trump huffs and puffs away on issues that have finally bubbled up to him from the ever-growing cesspool of online anger, especially the truly ludicrous idea that Silicon Valley does not like conservatives."
Trump’s Ludicrous Attack on Big Tech -- NYT

Apple buys startup focused on lenses for AR glasses -- Reuters

In other AR news...
"Apple Inc has acquired a startup focused on making lenses for augmented reality glasses, the company confirmed on Wednesday, a signal Apple has ambitions to make a wearable device that would superimpose digital information on the real world.

Apple confirmed it acquired Longmont, Colorado-based Akonia Holographics. “Apple buys smaller companies from time to time, and we generally don’t discuss our purpose or plans,” the iPhone maker said in a statement.

Akonia could not immediately be reached for comment. The company was founded in 2012 by a group of holography scientists and had originally focused on holographic data storage before shifting its efforts to creating displays for augmented reality glasses, according to its website."
Apple buys startup focused on lenses for AR glasses -- Reuters

Magic Leap’s $2.3 billion augmented-reality gear meets actual reality and stumbles -- The Washington Post

Tough week for Magic Leap PR
"Here’s my real reality experience: Right now, Magic Leap is not even a very good parlor trick. The product lets you walk around a room, tethered only to a disc-shaped computer worn on your hip, and experience a few 3-D apps that map into the space around you. But it is not dramatically better than competing (and not terribly compelling) AR gear already out there, such as Microsoft’s HoloLens.

Palmer Luckey, the former CEO of virtual-reality pioneer Oculus and a rival, has been even more pointed. This week, he wrote, “Magic Leap is a tragic heap.” (The company says he misunderstands its tech.)"
Magic Leap’s $2.3 billion augmented-reality gear meets actual reality and stumbles -- The Washington Post

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Why Google Is the Perfect Target for Trump -- Wired

Tangentially, see Dozens at Facebook Unite to Challenge Its ‘Intolerant’ Liberal Culture (NYT)
"Google doesn’t “rig” its algorithm against conservatives, or against Trump, at least not in the way that he means here. Whether the stories and news it surfaces are “bad” depends on what happened in the world—like, say, close associates pleading guilty to or being convicted of federal crimes—right before you search. A very simple case in point: If you type “Trump” or “Trump news” right now into Google News, the top results all center around this very tirade. The fourth result in a recent search in an incognito window, which doesn't factor in search history, came from the reliably conservative Fox News.

Is Google News rigged, though? Almost certainly not, but you’d be hard-pressed to prove it. That’s because Google search, like Facebook’s News Feed and other platforms, derives its power from an algorithm for which no one outside of the company has any specific insight."
  Why Google Is the Perfect Target for Trump -- Wired

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Trump claims Google is suppressing positive news about him and ‘will be addressed’ -- The Verge

Just another day on Twitter...
"Trump suggested that not only was there a tendency for tech companies to suppress right-wing voices, but that Google has “rigged” its search results to only show negative reporting about him. The president added that Google and others were “hiding information and news that is good,” and said that this was “very serious situation” that “will be addressed.”
Trump included in his tweets a dubious statistic: that 96 percent of search results for the term “Trump News” came from “National Left-Wing Media.” This claim seems to have originated on the right-wing PJ Media before spreading to other outlets, including Fox News. It’s the analysis of a single reporter who Googled the term “Trump” a number of times “using different computers.” They then tallied up the perceived bias of the outlets appearing in the first 100 results. (The political alignment of the outlets was assigned based on a chart by journalist Sharyl Attkisson, a former CNN reporter who appeared on Fox News last year claiming that the media is feeding the public an “artificial reality.”)"
Trump claims Google is suppressing positive news about him and ‘will be addressed’ -- The Verge

Monday, August 27, 2018

Apple, Sui Generis -- Monday Note

Value different...
"Apple is the most successful Consumer Electronics company ever. Obscenely profitable, money flowing from every orifice of its operations. But investors — Warren Buffet calls them “traders” — put more faith in Google and Microsoft than in Apple. The difference in expectations is crisply summarized in Price Earnings Ratio (P/E): Divide a company’s share price by Earnings Per Share (EPS) and out comes the P/E number.
Apple shares traded at $216.16 this past Friday; over the past 12 months cumulative EPS was $11.03 (I checked company documents). This yields a P/E factor just shy of 20. In other words, the market is willing to pay $20 for $1 of Apple earnings. The P/E for Google and Microsoft is about 50 (see the YCharts site for more P/E history). Traders are willing to pay more for $1 of Google or Microsoft profits because they think these companies offer a safer future than does Apple. It’s an insurance calculation."
Apple, Sui Generis  --  Monday Note

Friday, August 24, 2018

The Ride to Vote: Use Lyft to Exercise Your Rights -- Lyft blog

Check the source for details
"At Lyft, we’re working to improve lives by connecting people and their communities through the world’s best transportation. This Election Day (Tuesday, Nov. 6), we want to help people across America exercise their right to vote.
It is estimated that over 15 million people were registered but didn’t vote in 2016 because of transportation issues. That’s why we’re committed to providing 50% off rides across the country, and free rides to underserved communities that face significant obstacles to transportation."
The Ride to Vote: Use Lyft to Exercise Your Rights -- Lyft blog

The Impossible Job: Inside Facebook’s Struggle to Moderate Two Billion People -- Motherboard

From an approximately 10,000-word article; also see Facebook’s content moderation efforts face increasing skepticism (The Verge)
"Facebook's solution to this problem is immensely important for the future of global free expression, and yet the policymaking, technical and human infrastructure, and individual content decisions are largely invisible to users. In June, the special rapporteur to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights issued a report calling for “radical transparency” in how social media companies make and enforce their rules. Many users would like the same.

Motherboard has spent the last several months examining all aspects of Facebook’s content moderation apparatus—from how the policies are created to how they are enforced and refined. We’ve spoken to the current and past architects of these policies, combed through hundreds of pages of leaked content moderation training documents and internal emails, spoken to experienced Facebook moderators, and visited Facebook’s Silicon Valley headquarters to interview more than half a dozen high-level employees and get an inside look at how Facebook makes and enforces the rules of a platform that is, to many people, the internet itself."
The Impossible Job: Inside Facebook’s Struggle to Moderate Two Billion People -- Motherboard

This firm already microchips employees. Could your ailing relative be next? -- The Washington Post

What could possibly go wrong?...
"Microchips with GPS tracking may strike some as the first step toward handing our autonomy over to Skynet-like government overlords, and Three Square Market officials acknowledge that the chips will offer a convenient way to track people — especially those suffering from Alzheimer’s and dementia.

Patrick McMullan, president of Three Square Market and the chip technology business Three Square Chip, told CNBC the goal is a “worthy cause.”

“It’s not only GPS. It’s not only voice activation. It’s working on monitoring your vital signs,” McMullan said. “And there are different medical institutions that obviously want that.”"
This firm already microchips employees. Could your ailing relative be next? -- The Washington Post

Google deletes accounts with ties to Iran on YouTube and other sites -- The Washington Post

A busy week for FireEye; also see How FireEye Helped Facebook Spot a Disinformation Campaign (NYT)
"The new removals targeted 39 channels on YouTube, which had more than 13,000 views in the United States, as well as 13 accounts on the social networking site Google Plus and six accounts on Blogger, its blogging platform, the company said. Kent Walker, Google’s senior vice president of global affairs, said in a blog post that each of the accounts had ties to the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting, or IRIB, which is tied to Iran’s ayatollah, and that they “disguised their connection to this effort.”
[...]
Facebook had acted on a tip from the cybersecurity firm FireEye, which later shared its findings with Google and Twitter. In response, Google briefed law enforcement officials as well as congressional investigators about its findings on Thursday, the company said."
Google deletes accounts with ties to Iran on YouTube and other sites -- The Washington Post

Do You Trust This Computer?

Now streaming on iTunes and Amazon (Prime Video); see this page for review links
"Science fiction has long anticipated the rise of machine intelligence. Today, a new generation of self-learning computers is reshaping every aspect of our lives. Will A.I. usher in an age of unprecedented potential, or prove to be our final invention?"
Do You Trust This Computer?

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Feared DNC hack was actually a security test -- Axios

Oh. Never mind...
"The DNC walked back an assertion that it had detected a "sophisticated" hacking attempt early Thursday, announcing instead that it was simply a subcontractor's unauthorized security test.

Why it matters: While this is a slight black eye for the DNC, who look a little foolish for riling up the press over what turned out to be an internal matter, it's a massive victory for Lookout, the third-party security firm that caught the "attempt" with its unique approach to discovering phishing sites."
Feared DNC hack was actually a security test -- Axios

Apple removes Facebook's Onavo security app from the App Store -- CNBC

For more Onavo details, see this Wikipedia article
"Facebook acquired Israel-based Onavo in 2013, snapping up the free security app that lets users access a virtual private network, or VPN, to browse the web and download apps with a greater degree of privacy. Facebook in the past has offered that service to users without clearly disclosing that it owns the app, and has collected data about what other types of apps those customers use.

In June, Facebook told Congress that it does not use Onavo data "for Facebook product uses" or to collect information about individuals, but it has admitted to using Onavo to gather broad information about which apps are popular and how people are using them, which it uses to improve its own products."
Apple removes Facebook's Onavo security app from the App Store -- CNBC

It’s Too Late to Protect the 2018 Elections. But Here’s How the U.S. Can Prepare for 2020. -- Lawfare

From a stark reality check by Alex Stamos
"In short, if the United States continues down this path, it risks allowing its elections to become the World Cup of information warfare, in which U.S. adversaries and allies battle to impose their various interests on the American electorate.

Enemies aiming to discredit American-style democracy, rather than promote a specific candidate, will not have to wait for election dynamics like those of 2016, when two historically unpopular nominees fought over a precariously balanced electoral map. Direct attacks against the U.S. election system itself—as opposed to influence operations aimed at voters—were clearly a consideration of U.S. adversaries: There are multiple reports of the widely diffuse U.S. election infrastructure being mapped out and experimentally exploited by Russian groups in 2016. While swinging a national vote in a system run by thousands of local authorities would be highly difficult, an adversary wouldn’t need to definitively change votes to be successful in election meddling. Eliminating individuals from voting rolls, tampering with unofficial vote tallies or visibly modifying election web sites could introduce uncertainty and chaos without affecting the final vote. The combination of offensive cyber techniques with a disinformation campaign would enable a hostile nation or group to create an aura of confusion and illegitimacy around an election that could lead to half of the American populace forever considering that election to be stolen."
It’s Too Late to Protect the 2018 Elections. But Here’s How the U.S. Can Prepare for 2020. -- Lawfare

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

There should be ‘consequences’ for platforms that don’t remove people like Alex Jones, Senator Ron Wyden says -- Recode

Check the source for an interview transcript
"Since 2016, everything that social media companies have done has been “either a bizarre idea or not really doing much of anything that’s actually gonna help people.”

So says Senator Ron Wyden, the senior U.S. Senator from Oregon — a Democrat with a self-proclaimed “libertarian streak” and the guest on the latest episode of Recode Decode, hosted by Kara Swisher. As one of the more tech-savvy members of Congress, he’s a proponent of new legislation that will regulate voting machine companies and data firms such as Cambridge Analytica, but also believes existing laws have given platforms like Twitter more power than they have deigned to use.

“I think what the Alex Jones case shows, we’re gonna really be looking at what the consequences are for just leaving common decency in the dust,” Wyden told Recode’s Kara Swisher. “... What I’m gonna be trying to do in my legislation is to really lay out what the consequences are when somebody who is a bad actor, somebody who really doesn’t meet the decency principles that reflect our values, if that bad actor blows by the bounds of common decency, I think you gotta have a way to make sure that stuff is taken down.”"
There should be ‘consequences’ for platforms that don’t remove people like Alex Jones, Senator Ron Wyden says -- Recode

Kremlin calls Facebook's allegations of disinformation campaign puzzling -- Reuters

Looks like someone needs VPN and access to an uncensored internet service provider...
"Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on a conference call that Facebook’s Russia-related allegations made no sense to Moscow and said they looked similar to previous groundless allegations from other sources like Microsoft.

“They are all trying to outdo one another with their statements which all look like carbon copies of one another,” said Peskov.

“There is no supporting explanation and we do not understand on what they are based.”"
Kremlin calls Facebook's allegations of disinformation campaign puzzling -- Reuters

Facebook is rating the trustworthiness of its users on a scale from zero to 1 -- The Washington Post

Overlap with China's Social Credit System tbd...
"Facebook has begun to assign its users a reputation score, predicting their trustworthiness on a scale from zero to 1.

The previously unreported ratings system, which Facebook has developed over the past year, shows that the fight against the gaming of tech systems has evolved to include measuring the credibility of users to help identify malicious actors.

Facebook developed its reputation assessments as part of its effort against fake news, Tessa Lyons, the product manager who is in charge of fighting misinformation, said in an interview. The company, like others in tech, has long relied on its users to report problematic content — but as Facebook has given people more options, some users began falsely reporting items as untrue, a new twist on information warfare for which it had to account."
Facebook is rating the trustworthiness of its users on a scale from zero to 1 -- The Washington Post

Apple Buys Rights to Series Based on New York Times Climate Change Article -- NYT

Small world...
"Apple announced on Tuesday that it had bought the rights to a series produced by Anonymous Content and based on “Losing Earth: The Decade We Almost Stopped Climate Change,” a novelistic article by Nathaniel Rich that stretched more than 30,000 words and took up an entire issue of The Times Magazine this month. At least a half-dozen bidders sought to acquire the nonfiction project.

Anonymous Content is a production and management company known for films like “Spotlight” and partly owned by a firm controlled by Laurene Powell Jobs. Mr. Rich, who is working on a related book called “Losing Earth” to be published next year, will serve as an executive producer with Steve Golin, the Oscar-winning founder of Anonymous."
Apple Buys Rights to Series Based on New York Times Climate Change Article -- NYT

Google Tried to Change China. China May End Up Changing Google. -- NYT

Final paragraphs from a timely Google reality check
"Sure, it’s early, and Google’s plans are not clear. There remains the possibility that Google will think of some completely nontraditional way to satisfy China’s censors without losing its soul.

But that seems unlikely. The more plausible conclusion is the more obvious one: Google took on China, and Google lost.

“Make no mistake,” said Michael Posner, a professor of ethics and finance at New York University’s Stern School of Business. “This will be a huge victory for the Chinese government and anyone else who wants to severely restrict the internet.”"
Google Tried to Change China. China May End Up Changing Google. -- NYT

Facebook Identifies New Influence Operations Spanning Globe -- NYT

In other Facebook news, see Facebook Fueled Anti-Refugee Attacks in Germany, New Research Suggests (NYT)
"Facebook said on Tuesday that it had identified multiple new influence campaigns that were aimed at misleading people around the world, with the company finding and removing 652 fake accounts, pages and groups that were trying to sow misinformation.

The activity originated in Iran and Russia, Facebook said. Unlike past influence operations on the social network, which largely targeted Americans, the fake accounts, pages and groups were this time also aimed at people in Latin America, Britain and the Middle East, the company said."
Facebook Identifies New Influence Operations Spanning Globe -- NYT

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Who needs democracy when you have data? -- MIT Technology Review

From an extensive China + technology overview
"As far as we know, there is no single master blueprint linking technology and governance in China. But there are several initiatives that share a common strategy of harvesting data about people and companies to inform decision-making and create systems of incentives and punishments to influence behavior. These initiatives include the State Council’s 2014 “Social Credit System,” the 2016 Cybersecurity Law, various local-level and private-enterprise experiments in “social credit,” “smart city” plans, and technology-driven policing in the western region of Xinjiang. Often they involve partnerships between the government and China’s tech companies.

The most far-reaching is the Social Credit System, though a better translation in English might be the “trust” or “reputation” system. The government plan, which covers both people and businesses, lists among its goals the “construction of sincerity in government affairs, commercial sincerity, and judicial credibility.” (“Everybody in China has an auntie who’s been swindled. There is a legitimate need to address a breakdown in public trust,” says Paul Triolo, head of the geotechnology practice at the consultancy Eurasia Group.) To date, it’s a work in progress, though various pilots preview how it might work in 2020, when it is supposed to be fully implemented."
Who needs democracy when you have data? -- MIT Technology Review

Microsoft's CEO on helping a faded legend find a 'sense of purpose' -- CNET

Earlier in the interview: ""You join here not to be cool, but to make others cool," he says. "You want to be cool by doing that empowerment.. It's the result that matters." Also see This is not your father's Microsoft (CNET)
"But the implication from your book is that Microsoft — I won't say the word "broken," but that there were some serious problems here. What was it that was so concerning to you?
It's interesting you say that, because in some sense Microsoft is one of these companies that have been super successful. One of the things that happens when you're super successful is you sometimes lose touch with what made you successful in the first place.

So if anything I wanted to not talk about what is broken. I wanted to go back to the very genesis of this company. What is that sense of purpose and drive that made us successful? What was the culture that may have been there in the very beginning or in the times when we were able to achieve that success. How do we really capture it? So that's why I think about it as the renaissance as much as about fixing something that's broken."
Microsoft's CEO on helping a faded legend find a 'sense of purpose' -- CNET

Videogame Developers Are Making It Harder to Stop Playing -- WSJ

From a gaming reality check
"Videogames are more popular than ever. Game-software revenue rose 80% between 2013 and 2017 to $97.6 billion world-wide, and this year is projected to reach $108.4 billion, according to PricewaterhouseCoopers. By comparison, spending at the box office and on home-movie entertainment reached a global record of $88.4 billion in 2017, according to the latest data available from the Motion Picture Association of America.

Among the biggest changes fueling more interest in videogames is that many, such as the megahit “Fortnite,” encourage players to socialize, acting as social hot spots that are replacing malls and other teen hangouts."
Videogame Developers Are Making It Harder to Stop Playing -- WSJ

Twitch Prime members will lose ad-free viewing next month -- The Verge

See this Twitch blog post for details
"Twitch Prime, the streaming video site’s Amazon-style benefits program, will no longer include ad-free viewing as a complimentary perk starting on September 14th, the company announced today. Initially launched two years ago as a suite of benefits for Amazon Prime subscribers, Twitch Prime has grown into a more robust platform that offers free games, in-game loot for select titles, and a monthly channel subscription credit that can be awarded to a streamer of the member’s choice.

All those perks are remaining part of Twitch Prime, and the only aspect of the service that is changing going forward is the ad-free viewing. Twitch describes the decision as a way to help better support streamers. “Advertising is an important source of support for the creators who make Twitch possible. This change will strengthen and expand that advertising opportunity for creators so they can get more support from their viewers for doing what they love,” reads the company’s blog post."
Twitch Prime members will lose ad-free viewing next month -- The Verge

Microsoft says it has found a Russian operation targeting U.S. political institutions -- The Washington Post

Also see We are taking new steps against broadening threats to democracy (Microsoft Blog)
"“This apparent spear-phishing attempt against the International Republican Institute and other organizations is consistent with the campaign of meddling that the Kremlin has waged against organizations that support democracy and human rights,” said Daniel Twining, IRI’s president, who put blame on Russian President Vladi­mir Putin. “It is clearly designed to sow confusion, conflict and fear among those who criticize Mr. Putin’s authoritarian regime.”
The move by Microsoft is the latest effort by Silicon Valley to address Russian threats to the coming election more aggressively than the technology industry did in 2016, when many woke up to the seriousness and sophistication of disinformation efforts only after Americans had voted. Companies and U.S. officials have vowed to work together more closely this year. Facebook recently disclosed that the company had taken down 32 fake accounts and pages that were tied to the Internet Research Agency, a Russian disinformation operation active before and after the 2016 election."
Microsoft says it has found a Russian operation targeting U.S. political institutions -- The Washington Post

Monday, August 20, 2018

Amazon Is Planning Live TV Recorder, Challenging TiVo -- Bloomberg

In other Amazon news, Amazon Is Ready to Take on Apple and Spotify in Streaming Music (Bloomberg)
"The device, dubbed "Frank" inside Amazon, is a new type of digital video recorder for the streaming era. It would include physical storage and connect to Amazon’s existing Fire TV boxes, the living room hub for the company’s online video efforts, according to the person. They asked not to be identified discussing unannounced product details. An Amazon spokeswoman declined to comment.

The Frank DVR has the same wireless technology that Amazon’s Echo speakers use to connect to Fire TV boxes. Users will be able to record live TV and stream the video to a smartphone so it can be watched later. That functionality is similar to offerings from TiVo and Dish Network Corp.’s Slingbox. Amazon hasn’t made a final decision on rolling out the streaming feature, the person said, noting that the plans could either be canceled or delayed.

TiVo shares fell as much as 10 percent in afternoon trading in New York."
Amazon Is Planning Live TV Recorder, Challenging TiVo --  Bloomberg

Google’s Brin Cops to Plan to Reclaim Lost Decade in China -- Bloomberg

Also see The employee backlash over Google’s censored search engine for China, explained (Vox)
"At Thursday’s meeting, Pichai argued that depriving Chinese people of access to Google products wouldn’t help. “I genuinely do believe we have a positive impact when we engage around the world and I don't see any reason why that would be different in China,” he said, according to a transcript of the meeting provided to Bloomberg.

Brin, who had driven the exodus in 2010, told the Wall Street Journal at the time that China’s policies of censorship and surveillance shared the "same earmarks of totalitarianism" as Soviet Russia, where he was born. On Thursday, he was more equivocal. He told employees in a rambling  explanation that questions about projects in China come up “every year or so” and “we experiment with what it might look like.” “There’s a handful of things we have been able to ship in China and that’s great,” he said. “You know, it’s slow-going and complicated.”"
Google’s Brin Cops to Plan to Reclaim Lost Decade in China --  Bloomberg

Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey admits ‘left-leaning’ bias but says it doesn’t influence company policy -- The Washington Post

Also see 'We won't let that happen:' Trump alleges social media censorship of conservatives (Politico)
"“The real question behind the question is, ‘Are we doing something according to political ideology or viewpoints?’ And we are not. Period,” Dorsey said. “We do not look at content with regards to political viewpoint or ideology. We look at behavior.”

“We need to constantly show that we are not adding our own bias, which I fully admit is more left-leaning,” he added. “And I think it’s important to articulate our own bias and to share it with people so that people understand us. But we need to remove our bias from how we act and our policies and our enforcement.”"
Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey admits ‘left-leaning’ bias but says it doesn’t influence company policy -- The Washington Post

Elon Musk Defends Punishing Pace as Tesla Saga Enters Third Week -- Bloomberg

Also see Tesla Slashes Spending, and May Add to Its Troubles (NYT) and ‘He’s not unlike the president’: How Elon Musk shapes Tesla coverage (The Washington Post)
"The exchange underscores Musk’s determination to lead Tesla through the turmoil that accelerated after his Aug. 7 tweet suggesting he’d secured funding to take the firm private at $420 a share. Rather than soaring toward that value, the stock has since plummeted 20 percent -- dipping blow $300 in early trading Monday -- amid an unraveling of parts of Musk’s story unravel and mounting pressure on Tesla’s board for its handling of the iconic CEO. Nothing will get easier this week as he and Tesla’s board align with their separate sets of legal and financial advisers, all amid inquiries from U.S. securities regulators.

On Sunday, the picture became a little more complicated. Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund -- the very investor that Musk described as a linchpin of his plan to take Tesla private -- was reported by Reuters to consider buying a stake in another U.S. electric-car company. The Saudis’ Public Investment Fund, which recently bought an almost 5 percent holding in Tesla, was reported to be in talks for a separate $1 billion investment in Lucid Motors Inc. that would give the fund control of that fledgling automaker."
Elon Musk Defends Punishing Pace as Tesla Saga Enters Third Week -- Bloomberg

After the Cryptocurrency Boom: Hard Lessons for New Investors -- NYT

From a timely *coin reality check
"The virtual currency markets have been through booms and busts before — and recovered to boom again. But this bust could have a more lasting impact on the technology’s adoption because of the sheer number of ordinary people who invested in digital tokens over the last year, and who are likely to associate cryptocurrencies with financial ruin for a very long time.

“What the average Joe hears is how friends lost fortunes,” said Alex Kruger, a former banker who has been trading in the cryptocurrency markets for some time. “Irrational exuberance leads to financial overhang and slows progress.”"
Cryptocurrency Boom: Hard Lessons for New Investors -- NYT

Friday, August 17, 2018

When China Rules the Web -- Foreign Affairs

From a detailed China + internet reality check; see China's plan to control the future of the internet (Axios) for a summary
"China’s continued rise as a cyber-superpower is not guaranteed. Top-down, state-led efforts at innovation in artificial intelligence, quantum computing, robotics, and other ambitious technologies may well fail. Chinese technology companies will face economic and political pressures as they globalize. Chinese citizens, although they appear to have little expectation of privacy from their government, may demand more from private firms. The United States may reenergize its own digital diplomacy, and the U.S. economy may rediscover the dynamism that allowed it create so much of the modern world’s technology.

But given China’s size and technological sophistication, Beijing has a good chance of succeeding—thereby remaking cyberspace in its own image. If this happens, the Internet will be less global and less open. A major part of it will run Chinese applications over Chinese-made hardware. And Beijing will reap the economic, diplomatic, national security, and intelligence benefits that once flowed to Washington."
When China Rules the Web -- Foreign Affairs

Facebook has a plan to protect the U.S. midterms. Is it enough? -- Recode

Also see ‘Weaponized Ad Technology’: Facebook’s Moneymaker Gets a Critical Eye (NYT)
"Will Facebook be ready? The company says it’s moving quickly on its plan — which includes a physical war room to monitor the elections from its corporate headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif. — and has promised to double the number of safety and security employees on staff to 20,000 people. Facebook says it’s spending so much money monitoring political ads that it will actually hurt profits.

But Facebook is also running out of time to execute its plan. With the midterms less than three months away, it’s almost go time.

“When over half of Americans get their news from Facebook, it’s pretty damn important,” said Sen. Mark Warner, D-Vir., who has been one of the country’s most outspoken critics of Facebook’s role in elections. “We’re starting to see the enormous success of the Trump campaign in using social media. I think it’s changing the paradigm.”"
Facebook has a plan to protect the U.S. midterms. Is it enough? -- Recode