Wednesday, June 19, 2019

The Ambitious Plan Behind Facebook’s Cryptocurrency, Libra | Wired

Final paragraphs from an extensive Libra reality check
"Facebook named Libra for three reasons: its use as an ancient Roman unit of measure, the astrological symbol depicting the scales of justice, and its phonetic resemblance to the French “libre,” meaning free. “A combination of money, justice and freedom,” explains Facebook. For the initiative to live up to those lofty values, it will have to draw not only powerful partners but be open to the grassroots developers in every place that receives an internet signal. Serious rivals to Facebook’s own Calibra wallet (in theory all Libra wallets will be interoperable) must emerge. The promises of privacy and security must be fulfilled. And the association must prove it can act independently of its corporate creator. Otherwise, the entire effort will come to be viewed as another self-interested move by Mark Zuckerberg—even if billions of people wind up spending Libras in Facebook applications.

As tough as it is to develop a groundbreaking global cryptosystem, Marcus says convincing people of Facebook’s intentions makes the job much harder. “This is by far the most difficult, intellectually stimulating and challenging thing I have ever done in my life,” he says.

Those challenges are only beginning. You can bet your last Libra on it."
The Ambitious Plan Behind Facebook’s Cryptocurrency, Libra | Wired

Facebook may have too many users for its cryptocurrency to fail — even if you don’t trust it | Recode

On a related note, see Facebook’s digital currency would be great — if it didn’t come from Facebook | Boston Globe
"Those who are skeptical about Libra’s potential point to Facebook’s approach to data collection and its well-known privacy missteps, which are particularly troublesome in a crypto industry that prizes “decentralized” power. Some crypto investors and executives are deeply skeptical that a company as rapacious as Facebook could ever seriously commit itself to the value of decentralization that’s at the core of the crypto industry.

But most people I’ve spoken with in recent days believe Libra can be successful, largely because of Facebook’s enormous scale. They’ve posited that the platform’s unprecedented user base is the only global population that’s big enough to organize around a single currency. In addition, Libra’s initial list of backers is impressive. Some think it might be an on-ramp to widespread consumer adoption of other digital currencies like bitcoin."
Facebook may have too many users for its cryptocurrency to fail — even if you don’t trust it | Recode

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Domino’s will start delivering pizzas via an autonomous robot this fall | Washington Post

Maybe time to revisit Snow Crash...
"For months now, the robotics company Nuro has been using electric, self-driving vehicles to deliver groceries to Kroger customers in Phoenix and Houston.

Now the Silicon Valley start-up’s autonomous, unmanned vehicles — which resemble a giant pill bug on wheels and can reach 25 mph as they operate on major roadways alongside cars — have announced plans for a new mission: delivering Domino’s pizzas to customers.

Nuro’s latest challenge will be limited to customers who place online orders in Houston, a sprawling metropolis crisscrossed by traffic-clogged highways. The company deployed its grocery delivery service in Houston in March. Nuro’s partnership with Domino’s initially will be limited to a single location and will begin in the fall."

Domino’s will start delivering pizzas via an autonomous robot this fall | Washington Post

Facebook Plans Global Financial System Based on Cryptocurrency | NYT

More Calibra and Libra details -- excerpt below; also see How Libra Would Work for You | NYT:
"While Libra is meant to be independent of Facebook, the social networking giant has clear plans for making money from the venture.

Initially, the Calibra subsidiary will offer little more than a wallet to hold and spend Libra. When Libra is released next year, the plan is to make the wallet available to the billions of people who have accounts with Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp.

If Libra catches on, company officials said, Facebook’s Calibra could offer financial services to customers, such as lending and investing."
Facebook Plans Global Financial System Based on Cryptocurrency | NYT

Mark Zuckerberg on Libra | Facebook

For more details, see the Libra.org site and this David Marcus thread
"We aspire to make it easy for everyone to send and receive money just like you use our apps to instantly share messages and photos. To enable this, Facebook is also launching an independent subsidiary called Calibra that will build services that let you send, spend and save Libra -- starting with a digital wallet that will be available in WhatsApp and Messenger and as a standalone app next year.
Calibra will be regulated like other payment service providers. Any information you share with Calibra will be kept separate from information you share on Facebook. From the beginning, Calibra will let you send Libra to almost anyone with a smartphone at low to no cost. Over time, we hope to offer more services for people and businesses -- like paying bills with the push of a button, buying coffee with the scan of a code, or riding local public transit without needing to carry cash or a metro pass."
Mark Zuckerberg on Libra | Facebook

Monday, June 17, 2019

U.S. Escalates Online Attacks on Russia’s Power Grid | NYT

Sign of the times: "Pentagon and intelligence officials described broad hesitation to go into detail with Mr. Trump about operations against Russia for concern over his reaction — and the possibility that he might countermand it or discuss it with foreign officials, as he did in 2017 when he mentioned a sensitive operation in Syria to the Russian foreign minister." Naturally, Trump tweeted the article is "a virtual act of Treason [sic]..." and ".....ALSO, NOT TRUE!"
"In interviews over the past three months, the officials described the previously unreported deployment of American computer code inside Russia’s grid and other targets as a classified companion to more publicly discussed action directed at Moscow’s disinformation and hacking units around the 2018 midterm elections.

Advocates of the more aggressive strategy said it was long overdue, after years of public warnings from the Department of Homeland Security and the F.B.I. that Russia has inserted malware that could sabotage American power plants, oil and gas pipelines, or water supplies in any future conflict with the United States."
U.S. Escalates Online Attacks on Russia’s Power Grid | NYT

Samsung’s security reminder makes the case for not owning a Samsung smart TV | The Verge

Final paragraph: "Samsung’s little PSA about scanning for “malware viruses” (eh hem) might be a sound security practice on a Samsung smart TV, but it’s also an excellent reminder for why you might not want to buy one in the first place."
"Samsung has reminded owners of its smart TVs that they should be regularly scanning for malware using its built-in virus scanning software. “Prevent malicious software attacks on your TV by scanning for viruses on your TV every few weeks,” a tweet from the company’s US support account reads with a video attachment that demonstrates the laborious process.

The obvious question here is why in the world doesn’t Samsung automate this process. When so many people don’t even know how to turn off motion smoothing, what are the chances that they’re going to be mindful of security practices? It also illustrates how dumb some smart TVs can be."
Samsung’s security reminder makes the case for not owning a Samsung smart TV | The Verge

Friday, June 14, 2019

Facebook’s cryptocurrency to debut next week backed by Visa, Mastercard, Uber, and others: WSJ | The Verge

Pay to play
"Facebook has secured the backing of over a dozen companies for its upcoming Libra cryptocurrency set to be announced next week, The Wall Street Journal reports. These companies include major financial organizations like Visa and Mastercard, and internet darlings like PayPal, Uber, Stripe, and Booking.com. Each will invest around $10 million to fund development of the currency, and will become part of the Libra Association, an independent consortium that will govern the digital coin independently of Facebook.

The involvement of major financial firms like Visa and Mastercard is interesting, because cryptocurrencies are typically seen as providing a cheaper alternative to these payment networks. The WSJ speculates that these companies want to get involved so they can monitor Facebook’s payment ambitions, as well as benefit from the popularity of the currency should it take off with Facebook’s 2.4 billion monthly active users."
Facebook’s cryptocurrency to debut next week backed by Visa, Mastercard, Uber, and others: WSJ | The Verge

Tesla wants everyone to drive an electric car. Now it risks becoming a niche brand. | Washington Post

From a Tesla competitive landscape reality check
"Tesla wants everyone on the road to be in an electric car. That futuristic vision may soon become reality — thanks to rivals.

The automaker based in Palo Alto, Calif., is facing a raft of financial and safety issues just as a flood of competitors are hitting the market with their own electric vehicle offerings, posing perhaps the first serious threat to the company’s dominance of the nascent electric vehicle industry."
Tesla wants everyone to drive an electric car. Now it risks becoming a niche brand. | Washington Post

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Experts: Spy used AI-generated face to connect with targets | AP

FakedIn
"Katie Jones sure seemed plugged into Washington’s political scene. The 30-something redhead boasted a job at a top think tank and a who’s-who network of pundits and experts, from the centrist Brookings Institution to the right-wing Heritage Foundation. She was connected to a deputy assistant secretary of state, a senior aide to a senator and the economist Paul Winfree, who is being considered for a seat on the Federal Reserve.

But Katie Jones doesn’t exist, The Associated Press has determined. Instead, the persona was part of a vast army of phantom profiles lurking on the professional networking site LinkedIn.

Experts who reviewed the Jones profile’s LinkedIn activity say it’s typical of espionage efforts on the professional networking site, whose role as a global Rolodex has made it a powerful magnet for spies."
Experts: Spy used AI-generated face to connect with targets | AP

Tariffs are forcing Big Tech to move production out of China | Engadget

On a related note, see ‘My Peter’: Rising influence of controversial Trump trade adviser Navarro concerns his critics | Washington Post, which notes "Navarro’s ascension is frightening his critics, who have derided him as an ideologue who doesn’t let facts get in the way of his agenda, while cheering supporters of the president eager for Trump to emphasize his nationalist agenda ahead of his 2020 reelection campaign."
"In response to the Trump administration's trade war with China, major tech companies are preparing to relocate key manufacturing operations. According to Bloomberg, Google is moving production of its US-bound Nest thermostats and motherboards to Taiwan. The Wall Street Journal reports that Nintendo is shifting at least some production of its Switch console to Southeast Asia. At the same time, China has allegedly warned companies that they will face permanent consequences if they cooperate with Trump administration trade restrictions.
[...]
Some companies are better prepared than others to shift out of China if necessary. Apple Inc. partner Foxconn Technology Group said it would be able to manufacture all US-bound iPhones outside of China if it were forced to do so. Wistron Corp., a company that makes servers for Facebook and Microsoft, is reportedly looking to shift some production away from China, though it hasn't shared specifics."
Tariffs are forcing Big Tech to move production out of China | Engadget

Jet.com falls by wayside as Walmart focuses on its website, online grocery | Reuters

For the inevitable "mission accomplished" version, see Update on Our U.S. eCommerce Strategy and the Role of Jet | Walmart
"Walmart Inc on Wednesday announced a sweeping overhaul at Jet.com, an online start-up it acquired in 2016 for $3.3 billion, after it failed to live up to the world’s largest retailer’s e-commerce ambitions.

Walmart said it will integrate Jet.com’s retail, technology, marketing, analytics and product teams with its own online business. The current president of Jet.com, Simon Belsham, will leave in early August.

Walmart’s move reduces the scope and importance of Jet.com in its overall U.S. e-commerce business, which competes with Amazon.com Inc, according to interviews with six vendors, two consultants and three Walmart employees."
Jet.com falls by wayside as Walmart focuses on its website, online grocery | Reuters

Top AI researchers race to detect ‘deepfake’ videos: ‘We are outgunned’ | Washington Post

"... because of the reward structure of the modern web" and/or fundamental flaws in human cognition?
"Rachel Thomas, the co-founder of Fast.ai, a machine-learning lab in San Francisco, says a disinformation campaign using deepfake videos probably would catch fire because of the reward structure of the modern Web, in which shocking material drives bigger audiences — and can spread further and faster than the truth.

“Fakes often, particularly now, don’t have to be that compelling to still have an impact," Thomas said. “We are these social creatures that end up going with the crowd into seeing what the other people are seeing. It would not be that hard for a bad actor to have that kind of influence on public conversation.”"
Top AI researchers race to detect ‘deepfake’ videos: ‘We are outgunned’ | Washington Post

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Mitch McConnell is Making the 2020 Election Open Season for Hackers | The New Yorker

Also see The U.S. still hasn’t done nearly enough to stop election interference | Washington Post
"“I want everyone to know that, in my view, what happened in 2016 will make what happens in 2020 look like small potatoes,” Senator Ron Wyden, the Oregon Democrat who sits on the Intelligence Committee, told me. “It’s not just the Russians. There are hostile foreign actors who are messing with two hundred years’ worth of really precious history.” Wyden recently reintroduced the pave Act, a wish list of election-security provisions that failed to get through the Senate last year. The measure includes the use of hand-marked paper ballots and a prohibition on wireless modems and other kinds of Internet connectivity, all of which have been advocated by computer scientists and other election experts for years.

But with the Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell, making it clear that he will not advance any election-security legislation, the pave Act, and also other election-security bills, many of which have bipartisan support, will languish. McConnell has made 2020 open season for hackers aiming to undermine our election system. The E.A.C. has made this easier, by displaying not only intransigence and institutional weaknesses but also a willful disregard of the threats facing our elections."
Mitch McConnell is Making the 2020 Election Open Season for Hackers | The New Yorker

Apple’s iCloud has been a poor experience in Windows, but a new update seeks to fix that | Ars Technica

See this Apple page for details
"Interestingly, Microsoft says the new iCloud app is "powered by the same Windows technology that also powers OneDrive's Files On-Demand feature"—an unexpected technical and corporate partnership. But it shouldn't be too surprising at this point; despite the storied history and rivalries of the 1980s and '90s (as well as competition in areas like, yes, cloud services), Microsoft and Apple have largely played together nicely in recent years.
Apple's iCloud is a full-featured service for storing files and photos, syncing contacts, and other things, as long as you're working solo and not looking to collaborate. (Dropbox, Google Drive, and other competitors offer much more robust features for teams by far.) But iCloud flies under the radar for a lot of people. Its cross-platform support has been mediocre, which doesn't help, so this new version is a welcome update for users who are dependent on the service, provided it actually addresses users' complaints."
Apple’s iCloud has been a poor experience in Windows, but a new update seeks to fix that | Ars Technica

Radiohead release hours of hacked MiniDiscs to benefit Extinction Rebellion | The Guardian

A classy way to respond to extortion
"Radiohead have released a vast collection of unreleased tracks made during the sessions for 1997 album OK Computer, after a MiniDisc archive owned by frontman Thom Yorke was hacked last week by an unnamed person, who reportedly asked for a $150,000 ransom to return the recordings.

The band have now made the 18 MiniDisc recordings, most of them around an hour in length, available on Bandcamp for £18. Proceeds will go to climate activists Extinction Rebellion."
Radiohead release hours of hacked MiniDiscs to benefit Extinction Rebellion | The Guardian

Mary Meeker’s most important trends on the internet | Recode

A discouraging trend from the Recode highlights: "The internet will become more of a cesspool: Getting rid of problematic content becomes more difficult on a large scale, and the very nature of internet communication allows that content to be amplified much more than before."
"The general partner at venture capital firm Bond Capital delivered a rapid-fire 333-page slideshow that looked back at every important internet trend in the last year and looked forward about what these trends tell us to expect in the year ahead. The “Queen of the Internet” and former Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers partner touched on everything from accelerating internet ad spend in the US to the growth of digital delivery services in Latin America.

But 333 pages is a lot of data to wade through. So Recode has pulled out some of the significant and most interesting trends in Meeker’s report. (You can find the full slide deck at the bottom of this story.)"
Mary Meeker’s most important trends on the internet | Recode

Instagram will leave up deepfake video of Mark Zuckerberg | The Verge

This probably made Nancy Pelosi's day; also see Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg reached out to Speaker Pelosi. She hasn’t called him back. | Washington Post
"The Zuckerberg deepfake isn’t that convincing; the voice is muddled and makes him sound even more robotic than normal as his likeness is manipulated into saying words he has never said. The original clip comes from a seven minute video of Zuckerberg from 2017 describing Russian interference on Facebook.

In the deepfaked video, his likeness says, “Imagine this for a second: One man, with total control of billions of people’s stolen data, all their secrets, their lives, their futures,” it continues,”I owe it all to Spectre. Spectre showed me that whoever controls the data, controls the future.”"
Instagram will leave up deepfake video of Mark Zuckerberg | The Verge

Slack Listing Likely to Value It at Up to $17 Billion | Bloomberg

Not bad for recycled Internet Relay Chat
"Slack Technologies Inc. is expected to be valued by investors at $16 billion to $17 billion when it lists its shares publicly next week, according to people familiar with the matter.

That valuation is roughly based on the workplace chat and collaboration software company’s projected revenue and current growth rate, said the people, who asked not to be identified discussing private talks.

The expected value is up from the $7.1 billion in its last private funding round in August. It’s similar to the company’s share sales on the private market, where in April investors were snapping up stock at prices that would give the company a valuation of about $16 billion."
Slack Listing Likely to Value It at Up to $17 Billion | Bloomberg

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Salesforce Patches Up a ‘Flop’ With $15 Billion Bet on Tableau | ITPro [Bloomberg]

Wave bye-bye
"While Tableau will be a strategic asset for Salesforce in analytics, the acquisition provides a much-needed exit amid strong competition.

“Microsoft was eating their lunch and the standalone analytics market is going away,” Rebecca Wettemann, an analyst at Nucleus Research, said in an interview. “Everybody is going toward embedded analytics, so it’s good for them they got a home.”

For Salesforce, the deal helps Benioff keep promises to customers and investors.

“We’ve always seen Marc have ambitious plans and then take inorganic actions to fulfill them,” Wettemann said."
Salesforce Patches Up a ‘Flop’ With $15 Billion Bet on Tableau | ITPro [Bloomberg]

Amazon’s AI Drones Are Not a Technology We Need | FT

Final paragraphs from a drone delivery reality check
"Then there is the difficulty of navigating urban areas, where restrictions on drones are especially strict. Pity those living next door to compulsive e-shoppers, who can expect the whirr of little rotors throughout the day. Anti-drone warfare by air gun, paintball and slingshot is highly likely. Getting drones to figure out where to place their load in built-up environments will be a struggle, too. Their only saving grace is that robots may be marginally less tempted to toss fragile deliveries on to the doorstep than humans.
There might be one way to make delivery drones safer for urban environments. They could simply carry their packages along predefined and controlled flight paths to designated repositories, perhaps in the centre of towns and villages. If the load is light enough, it could be delivered by an employee, or customers themselves could pick it up. In many places, such repositories already exist. We call them post offices."
Amazon’s AI Drones Are Not a Technology We Need | FT

The war to free science | Vox

Probably not a great week for the PR departments at Elsevier and Springer Nature
"Imagine your tax dollars have gone to build a new road in your neighborhood.

Now imagine that the company overseeing the road work charged its workers a fee rather than paying them a salary.

The overseers in charge of making sure the road was up to standard also weren’t paid. And if you, the taxpayer, want to access the road today, you need to buy a seven-figure annual subscription or pay high fees for one-off trips.

We’re not talking about roads — this is the state of scientific research, and how it’s distributed today through academic publishing."
The war to free science | Vox

Slack sees FY 2020 revenue to rise by as much as 50% | Reuters

Tbd if Slack is losing enough for a successful IPO...
"Slack Technologies Inc, the owner of the workplace instant messaging app, on Monday said its expects $590 million to $600 million revenue in fiscal 2020, representing a growth of 47% to 50% over the previous year.

The company, which plans to go public on June 20, forecast full-year billings of $725 million to $745 million, up 40% to 44% from a year earlier.

For the full fiscal year 2020, Slack expects adjusted operating loss between $192 million and $182 million."
Slack sees FY 2020 revenue to rise by as much as 50% | Reuters

Apple's U.S. iPhones Can All Be Made Outside of China If Needed | Bloomberg

Tangentially, see China hints it will choke off U.S. ‘rare earths’ access. But it’s not that easy. | Washington Post
"Hon Hai, known also as Foxconn, is the American giant’s most important manufacturing partner. It will fully support Apple if it needs to adjust its production as the U.S.-Chinese trade spat gets grimmer and more unpredictable, board nominee and semiconductor division chief Young Liu told an investor briefing in Taipei on Tuesday.

“Twenty-five percent of our production capacity is outside of China and we can help Apple respond to its needs in the U.S. market,” said Liu, adding that investments are now being made in India for Apple. “We have enough capacity to meet Apple’s demand.”"
Apple's U.S. iPhones Can All Be Made Outside of China If Needed | Bloomberg

Monday, June 10, 2019

Salesforce is buying data visualization company Tableau for $15.7B in all-stock deal | TechCrunch

The week is off to a good start for Tableau shareholders
"On the heels of Google  buying analytics startup Looker last week for $2.6 billion, Salesforce today announced a huge piece of news in a bid to step up its own work in data visualization and (more generally) tools to help enterprises make sense of the sea of data that they use and amass: Salesforce is buying Tableau for $15.7 billion in an all-stock deal.

The latter is publicly traded and this deal will involve shares of Tableau Class A and Class B common stock getting exchanged for 1.103 shares of Salesforce  common stock, the company said, and so the $15.7 billion figure is the enterprise value of the transaction, based on the average price of Salesforce’s shares as of June 7, 2019.

This is a huge jump on Tableau’s last market cap: it was valued at $10.79 billion at close of trading Friday, according to figures on Google Finance. (Also: trading has halted on its stock in light of this news.)"
Salesforce is buying data visualization company Tableau for $15.7B in all-stock deal | TechCrunch

Why Hadoop Failed and Where We Go from Here | Teradata blog

A Teradata take on Hadoop vendor missteps
"Rather than creating a market around evolving big data types, and helping enterprises learn to derive value from this new data, the Hadoop distros took a more short-sighted approach and positioned themselves as a cheaper alternative to the data warehouse. There was already recognition of the value of a data warehouse with commensurate budget behind it, so it was easy to say, “Hadoop is a cheaper and more flexible alternative to MPP databases.” This led to many failed engagements.

But the final nail for Hadoop was object storage. I hear most people saying “the cloud” was the undoing of Hadoop, and I worry about what people really mean when they say that. The cloud is just a deployment option – servers and software. There are some cloud databases that are entirely inappropriate for managing an enterprise’s core data in a way that promotes reuse and the elimination of silos. But one undeniable engineering innovation born in the cloud (and now available across multiple deployment options) is object storage. Object storage is what was great about Hadoop: cheap storage and support for flexible data types. But even better than Hadoop, object storage is 3X cheaper and it supports the kinds of data types needed for the age of Artificial Intelligence, such as audio, video, and image files."
Why Hadoop Failed and Where We Go from Here | Teradata blog

Tesla, Facing Setbacks and Skeptics, Tries to Get Back on Course | NYT

From a Tesla reality check:
"Demand for the Model S luxury sedan and Model X sport utility vehicle is so sluggish that the automaker recently cut prices to lure buyers. New questions have arisen about Tesla’s self-driving technology. And some of the company’s staunchest backers have turned bearish. In the first three months of the year, the investment firm T. Rowe Price, once one of its biggest shareholders, sold off 80 percent of its shares in the company, according to regulatory filings.

By the start of last week, Tesla’s stock was at a three-year low. It rallied after reports in two online publications lifted hopes for a sales rebound in the second quarter, a prospect that Mr. Musk cited in an email to employees in May. Even so, the shares are down more than 40 percent in the last six months, wiping out almost $30 billion in value."
Tesla, Facing Setbacks and Skeptics, Tries to Get Back on Course | NYT

Friday, June 07, 2019

Sir Tim versus Black Mirror | Ethan Zuckerman

Check the full post for a review of Solid progress
"So why doesn’t blogosphere still work? Sir Tim blames the Facebook algorithms which determine what you read, breaking network effects and leading to a huge amount of consolidation. Zittrain wonders whether Facebook’s power is really all that new — didn’t Google’s search algorithm have similar effects? Sir Tim demurs — “Google just looks at all links and takes an eigenvector — it’s still using the web to search.” There’s a fascinating parenthetical where Sir Tim explains that he never thought search engines were possible. “Originally, we thought no one would be able to crawl the entire web — you would need so much storage, it wouldn’t be possible. We hadn’t realized that disk space would become ridiculously cheap.” Jonathan Zittrain likens the moment when Google comes into being as a science fiction moment, where our ability to comprehend the universe as limited by the speed of light suddenly allows us to transcend those barriers — prior to search, we might only know our local quadrant of the web, while search suddenly made it possible to encounter any content, anywhere.
Sir Tim brings us back to earth by discussing clickbait. “Blogging was driven by excitement around readership. But eventually ads come into play — if I am writing, I should have recompense.” What follows is content written specifically to generate money, like the fake news content written by Macedonian bloggers that might have influenced US elections. Zittrain generously references my “The Internet’s Original Sin” article, and Sir Tim notes that “some people argue that if you start off with advertising, you’re never going to have a successful web.”"
Sir Tim versus Black Mirror | Ethan Zuckerman

Apple is Reportedly in the Process of Acquiring an Autonomous Vehicle Startup for its Highly Skilled AI Engineering Team | Patently Apple

The Project Titan mystery continues...
"A new report by The Information is claiming that "Apple is in the process of acquiring a well-known but struggling self-driving shuttle firm, Drive.ai, for its engineering talent" in order to boost Project Titan, according to two people briefed about the situation.

The planned deal, described as an “acqui-hire” of the Silicon Valley firm by these people, could result in dozens of Drive.ai engineers ending up at Apple. Drive.ai, which has been running small pilot programs of its prototype shuttles. Below is one of their promotional videos.

The Information further noted that "Over the past year, Apple’s Titan project appears to have made what one peer in the field, Oliver Cameron, CEO of robotaxi developer Voyage, called 'rapid' progress. That is based on his reading of Apple’s report to California transportation officials regarding the company’s prototype testing in the state."
Apple is Reportedly in the Process of Acquiring an Autonomous Vehicle Startup for its Highly Skilled AI Engineering Team | Patently Apple

Russia and Iran Plan to Fundamentally Isolate the Internet | Wired

Internet different
"Governments looking to exert even greater control over their citizens online—for instance, by limiting the effectiveness of censorship bypass tools—may want to pursue this deeper form of internet fragmentation. Altering the architecture of the internet itself (while a heavier lift) could provide much deeper internet control than just leveraging content filtering tools. Governments looking to better protect their countries from cybersecurity threats, meanwhile, may also find reason to pursue the kind of deep internet fragmentation that Russia and Iran are spearheading; limiting the connection of your country to the globe, under the guise of stopping foreign cyberattacks, is arguably an attractive option for many policymakers around the world.
[...]
If Russia and Iran are any indication, the internet fragmen­tation we see today is nothing compared to what’s coming. There are great technical challenges ahead that may hamper such efforts, yes, but these pursuits will still have wide ramifications. For nations seeking to balance the economic benefits of the internet with regulation of online information flows, the Chinese model of filtering on top of the net is still perhaps a better approach. But for those looking to really suppress information or protect themselves from foreign cyber threats, these deeper, less reversible forms of internet fragmentation are a more powerful solution."
Russia and Iran Plan to Fundamentally Isolate the Internet | Wired

Maine governor signs bill banning internet providers from selling consumer data without consent | The Hill

Also see Privacy is the default: Maine digital privacy law is model legislation | Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
"Some privacy activists have described the Maine law as even stronger than California's because it mandates that ISPs require explicit consent from customers to sell their personal data, while the California law requires consumers to request that their data not be sold by their own volition.

Mills described the new law as “common sense,” adding that “Maine people value their privacy, online and off.”

“The internet is a powerful tool, and as it becomes increasingly intertwined with our lives, it is appropriate to take steps to protect the personal information and privacy of Maine people,” she said in a statement. “With this common-sense law, Maine people can access the internet with the knowledge and comfort that their personal information cannot be bought or sold by their ISPs without their express approval.”"
Maine governor signs bill banning internet providers from selling consumer data without consent | The Hill

Google to Buy Data Analytics Company Despite New Antitrust Scrutiny | NYT

Also see Looker to Join Google Cloud | Looker Blog
"Thomas Kurian, Google Cloud’s chief executive, said the deal did not pose antitrust problems because many similar data-analytics competitors remained in the market, Google’s rivals Amazon and Microsoft had their own similar tools, and Google was not gaining any customer data in the transaction.

“We’re buying a software capability, meaning a business-intelligence tool, and we are not buying any data,” he said.

Google and Looker have a strong argument that they will not be too powerful: Together they would own about 1 percent of the roughly $12.7 billion market for so-called business-intelligence tools, according to IDC, a market research firm."
Google to Buy Data Analytics Company Despite New Antitrust Scrutiny | NYT

Russia is making its own 'correct' version of Chernobyl that will blame AMERICA and the CIA for the nuclear disaster following the unexpected success of the new HBO show | Daily Mail

On a related note, see Masha Gessen's What HBO's “Chernobyl” Got Right, and What It Got Terribly Wrong | The New Yorker
"Furious at the breakout success of the HBO series Chernobyl, Russia is planning to make its own series portraying the nuclear disaster as the work of an American CIA operative.

Russian television broadcaster NTV announced that it had commissioned the series, and principal photography has already begun in Belarus under director Alexei Muradov.

In response to the HBO series' depiction of Soviet bureaucrats bungling the response both during and after the 1986 nuclear accident in the Ukrainian SSR, the Russian version plans to tell the tale of a heroic KGB agent trying to thwart a supposed CIA sabotage plot."
Russia is making its own 'correct' version of Chernobyl that will blame AMERICA and the CIA for the nuclear disaster following the unexpected success of the new HBO show | Daily Mail

Thursday, June 06, 2019

Americans think “made-up news” is a bigger problem than climate change | NiemanLab

The rest of the story: most Republicans think fake news is a critical problem (but not so much climate change); for full details, see Many Americans Say Made-Up News Is a Critical Problem That Needs To Be Fixed | Pew Research Center
"U.S. adults are more likely to say that “made-up news/info” is a big problem than they are to identify climate change, racism, terrorism, or sexism as such, according to a study out from the Pew Research Center Wednesday: Fifty percent of those surveyed said made-up news (the artist formerly known as “fake news”) is a “very big problem” in the United States. By comparison, 46 percent called climate change a “very big problem”; 40 percent said the same about racism; 34 percent said the same about terrorism."
Americans think “made-up news” is a bigger problem than climate change | NiemanLab

Average US Time Spent with Mobile in 2019 Has Increased | eMarketer

Percentage of time tweeting about TV shows tbd
"Consumers’ use of smartphones will continue to make up the majority of their media consumption, but we predict that use will plateau by 2020, as consumers become increasingly uneasy about overuse of mobile devices.

The average US adult will spend 3 hours, 43 minutes (referenced as 3:43) on mobile devices in 2019, just above the 3:35 spent on TV. Of time spent on mobile, US consumers will spend 2:55 on smartphones, a 9-minute increase from last year. In 2018, mobile time spent was 3:35, with TV time spent at 3:44.

Tablet use among US adults continues to lose ground, having peaked at 1:11 daily in 2017 and dipped to 1:08 this year. This trend will continue through 2021."
 Average US Time Spent with Mobile in 2019 Has Increased | eMarketer

Cloudera announces CEO departure, stock plunges | CNBC

Difficult days for Cloudera investors
"Cloudera stock fell as much as 32% on Wednesday after the company said CEO Tom Reilly is retiring and leaving the company’s board, effective July 31. The company also announced earnings.

Under Reilly, Cloudera went public in 2017 and completed a merger with competitor Hortonworks. Now Reilly is being replaced on a temporary basis by board member Martin Cole, a former Accenture executive, as Cloudera kicks off a search for a permanent CEO.
[...]
Co-founder Mike Olson, Cloudera’s chief strategy officer and former CEO, is also leaving the company, Reilly said.

Cloudera stock had fallen almost 49% in the past year prior to the announcement."
Cloudera announces CEO departure, stock plunges | CNBC

GameStop stock plunges nearly 40 percent as gamers brace for new era of consoles | Washington Post

Fun while it lasted
"But the gaming retailer also faces longer term challenges. Customers are increasingly opting to download video games over the Web rather than buy games as discs. That shift in consumer behavior is eating into GameStop’s sales of pre-owned games, since a greater share of consumers no longer have physical games to trade in and a smaller share of customers want to buy them. The company said its pre-owned sales declined by more than 20 percent this quarter.

Perhaps even more unsettling for GameStop is the explosion of online and mobile games that exists outside the traditional console world. Played on smartphones, tablets and Web browsers, these games don’t require the purchase of additional hardware. What’s more, an array of audacious gaming initiatives from the likes of Google, Amazon and Apple are vying to do away with consoles and develop a cloud-based gaming model that resembles the streaming powerhouse Netflix. (Amazon founder and chief executive Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.)

In its 2018 annual report, GameStop warned shareholders that if the preference for downloading games increases and if technological advancements allow people to access games through other means at home, “customers may no longer choose to purchase video games in our stores.""
GameStop stock plunges nearly 40 percent as gamers brace for new era of consoles | Washington Post

The Clever Cryptography Behind Apple's 'Find My' Feature | Wired

Check the full article for implementation details
"WHEN APPLE EXECUTIVE Craig Federighi described a new location-tracking feature for Apple devices at the company's Worldwide Developer Conference keynote on Monday, it sounded—to the sufficiently paranoid, at least—like both a physical security innovation and a potential privacy disaster. But while security experts immediately wondered whether Find My would also offer a new opportunity to track unwitting users, Apple says it built the feature on a unique encryption system carefully designed to prevent exactly that sort of tracking—even by Apple itself.

In upcoming versions of iOS and macOS, the new Find My feature will broadcast Bluetooth signals from Apple devices even when they're offline, allowing nearby Apple devices to relay their location to the cloud. That should help you locate your stolen laptop even when it's sleeping in a thief's bag. And it turns out that Apple's elaborate encryption scheme is also designed not only to prevent interlopers from identifying or tracking an iDevice from its Bluetooth signal, but also to keep Apple itself from learning device locations, even as it allows you to pinpoint yours."
The Clever Cryptography Behind Apple's 'Find My' Feature | Wired

Teaching bots how the world works | Axios

Also see 5 of the smartest people in AI teamed up to make awesome robots | TNW
"The big picture: A wild debate has been raging in AI, and it's all about rules. One side says that machines should learn nearly everything from scratch; the other says that computers — like humans — must lean on some basic concepts about the world.

The team behind the new startup, Robust.AI, is firmly in the second camp.
  • One co-founder is Gary Marcus, an NYU psychologist and AI expert who carries the banner for scientists who don't believe AI can learn how to navigate through the world without some level of prior knowledge about how it works.
  • Another is Rodney Brooks, a legendary MIT roboticist who previously built Rethink Robotics, which sold factory robots meant to work alongside humans. Rethink folded last year."
Teaching bots how the world works | Axios

Wednesday, June 05, 2019

Apple Blurs Lines Across Devices | Tech.pinions

For more Sidecar details, see Here’s how Sidecar will extend your Mac’s display with iPad and which apps are compatible | 9to5Mac
"But Apple’s blurring of device lines wasn’t limited to iPads becoming more computer-like. There were also several introductions that highlighted how the iPad can become a more useful computer accessory. Most notable of these was the debut of the new Sidecar feature in MacOS Catalina that will let you use an iPad as a secondary monitor for your Mac. While there are certainly cheaper options for dedicated monitors, the ability to let you use your iPad as a secondary display on an occasional (or even regular) basis is something that many Mac users will undoubtedly find very useful. In an age of increased multitasking, there’s never enough screen real estate, so options to extend your desktop and apps across multiple screens make a great deal of sense.

Interestingly, because Sidecar also supports Apple Pencil on the connected iPad, it’s almost like bringing some level of touch-screen support to the Mac. To be clear, it only works with Mac apps that currently support stylus input (think graphics apps), but it can add a Touch Bar, even to Macs that currently don’t have them, and will likely lead to other touch-enabled features."
Apple Blurs Lines Across Devices | Tech.pinions

The Days of Getting a Cheaper Cable Bill by Threatening to Leave May Be Over | Bloomberg

Internet and TV service provider evolution
"“It used to be when customers would call and said, ‘I’m thinking of cutting the cord,’ they’d throw all sort of promotions to keep them from leaving,” said Craig Moffett, an industry analyst at MoffettNathanson LLC. “Now they’re saying, ‘Goodbye, it’s been fun, enjoy the broadband subscription.’”

Cable One Inc., a smaller cable company with about 305,000 residential video customers, even helps cord cutters choose between online alternatives like YouTube TV or Hulu’s live TV service, according to Moffett."
The Days of Getting a Cheaper Cable Bill by Threatening to Leave May Be Over | Bloomberg

Tuesday, June 04, 2019

Animation: U.S. Electric Vehicle Sales (2010-19) | Visual Capitalist

Check the source for the animated version
"Today’s animation uses data from InsideEVs to show almost nine years of U.S. sales in the electric vehicle market, sorted by model of car.

It paints a picture of a rapidly evolving market with many new competitors sweeping in to try and claim a stake. You can see the leads of early successes eroded away, the increasing value of scale, and consumer preferences, all rolled into one nifty animation."
Animation: U.S. Electric Vehicle Sales (2010-19) | Visual Capitalist

Apple is now the privacy-as-a-service company | TechCrunch

If you're wondering why app developers will support the new Sign In with Apple service, they'll have to, if they offer any third-party sign-in options; from Updates to the App Store Review Guidelines | Apple: "Sign In with Apple will be available for beta testing this summer. It will be required as an option for users in apps that support third-party sign-in when it is commercially available later this year."
"These didn’t come out of nowhere: Apple has been playing up its privacy game for at least a few years now, and in the Tim Cook  era it’s especially come to the fore. But today’s announcements really crystallize how Apple’s approach to privacy will mesh with its transformation into becoming even more of a services company. It’s becoming a services company with a key differentiator – privacy – and it’s also extending that paradigm to third-parties, acting as an ecosystem layer that mediates between users, and anyone who would seek to monetize their info in aggregate.

Apple’s truly transforming into a privacy-as-a-service company, which shows in the way that it’s implementing both the new single sign-on account service, as well as its camera and location services updates in iOS 13. The SSO play is especially clever, because it includes a mechanism that will allow developers to still have the relevant info they need to maintain a direct relationship with their users – provided users willingly sign-up to have that relationship, but opting in to either or both name and email sharing."
Apple is now the privacy-as-a-service company | TechCrunch

Everything Apple announced at its WWDC 2019 developer conference | Quartz

Check the full post for an update index
"Apple dropped a ton of information at the opening day of WWDC, its annual weeklong gathering for developers who build on the company’s software.

The event began with a keynote featuring CEO Tim Cook and a host of other executives outlining what’s new in the operating systems for the Mac, iPad, iPhone, Watch, and Apple TV devices.

Here’s a rundown of everything Apple announced today at the conference hall in San Jose, California—including, yes, the death of iTunes."
Everything Apple announced at its WWDC 2019 developer conference | Quartz

Marketers Turn Up Podcast Advertising | WSJ

For more details, see The podcast industry expected to create $1 billion in annual revenue by 2021 | The Verge
"U.S. advertisers spent $479.1 million advertising on podcasts in 2018, up 53% from about $313.9 million a year earlier, according to a new report from the industry group Interactive Advertising Bureau and accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers LLC.

Podcast advertising is expected to rise to $678.7 million this year, the report said.

Ad spending on podcasts has remained relatively small compared with more established media, hindered in part by a lack of metrics and targeting capabilities.

Marketers are projected to spend about $70.83 billion on TV advertising in the U.S. in 2019 and about $129.34 billion on digital advertising, according to research firm eMarketer."
Marketers Turn Up Podcast Advertising | WSJ

Facebook, Google and other tech giants to face antitrust investigation by House lawmakers | Washington Post

Also see US antitrust enforcement is coming back from the dead | The Verge
"House lawmakers plan a sweeping review of Facebook, Google and other technology giants to determine if they’ve become so large and powerful that they stifle competition and harm consumers, marking a new, unprecedented antitrust threat for an industry that’s increasingly under siege by Congress, the White House and 2020 presidential candidates.

The probe, announced Monday by Rep. David Cicilline (R.I.), the leader of the House’s top anti-trust subcommittee, is expected to be far reaching and comes at a moment when Democrats and Republicans find themselves in rare alignment on the idea that the tech industry has been too unregulated for too long. The sentiment spurred a sharp sell-off in tech stocks to start the week."
Facebook, Google and other tech giants to face antitrust investigation by House lawmakers | Washington Post

Sunglasses that sound cool | Boston Globe

Maybe wait for version 1.1
"There’s just one problem. Like visual AR, Bose audio AR doesn’t work. At least, not yet. The few compatible apps that I tested were pretty much useless.

The biggest disappointment was Walc, a pedestrian navigation app that’s supposed to call out landmarks to help you find your way, using data from the Bose Frames to figure out what you’re looking at. Instead of saying “Turn left on Main Street,” Walc is supposed to say something like “Do you see the gas station on the corner of Fifth and Main? Turn left there.”

It’s a great idea. I wish it worked. But instead of singling out big, obvious landmarks like the corner drugstore, during a walk in downtown Boston Walc kept pointing out businesses and people who were nowhere to be seen — probably the upstairs occupants of various skyscrapers."
Sunglasses that sound cool | Boston Globe

Monday, June 03, 2019

Apple Car Dreams | Monday Note

Final paragraphs from a timely Titan reality check:
"First, there’s nothing there, no Apple Car, no hardware, no software. The self-driving car project called “Titan”, started in 2014, was disbanded earlier this year. An early rumor that Magna Steyr, an Austrian manufacturing contractor, would build the Apple Car is long dead. Clearly, Apple execs have decided against getting into the electric car business. Improving Maps, sure, but no EV.
Alternatively, there must be something. Apple has spent a nontrivial amount of money hiring and firing automotive teams and renting huge facilities — a research lab in Sunnyvale, a test track in Arizona. The company has filed a number of (possibly) car-related patents, including one for an “Autonomous Navigation System”. What is Apple doing if they’re not creating a self-driving car?
Research, that’s what. Apple conducts hardware and software experiments to keep abreast of industry activity. From these experiments they sometimes file defensive patents. This is better than relying on published or leaked reports from other companies. The company could even run an experimental autonomous shuttle inside its gated campus as part of its research. Rumor sites would extrapolate, but small scale experiments don’t make a product."
Apple Car Dreams | Monday Note

Russia requires Tinder to provide data on its users | Washington Post

Tbd if this is related to Russia's 2020 U.S. election planning...
"Russia’s communications regulator says that Tinder is now required to provide user data to Russian intelligence agencies.

The Russian Communications Oversight Agency published a new list of online services operating in Russia that are required to provide user data on demand to Russian authorities, including the FSB security agency.

Russia adopted a flurry of legislation in recent years meant to tighten control over online activity."
Russia requires Tinder to provide data on its users | Washington Post

As Slack Prepares to Go Public, Its C.E.O. Is Holding His Tongue | NYT

From a Stewart Butterfield profile
"Now many eyes are on Slack and how it performs after going public. The company is planning a “direct listing,” where it will not issue new shares to sell, but simply let its shares start trading on a stock market. Its share price will be set solely by demand from public-market investors.

Slack also faces a crucial test as it transitions from a viral chat app to a more traditional operation selling workplace technology to global corporations. It will be no easy task as Mr. Butterfield deals with competition from Microsoft, which offers a product called Teams, and as Cisco and Facebook push similar tools. Slack is small compared with those giants; on Friday, it disclosed that it lost $32 million in the first quarter, while revenue rose 67 percent from a year ago to $135 million."
As Slack Prepares to Go Public, Its C.E.O. Is Holding His Tongue | NYT

With state subsidies and a firm hand, China races ahead with electric transport | NYT

On a related note, see Tesla boom lifts Norway's electric car sales to record market share | Reuters, which notes "Almost 60 percent of all new cars sold in Norway in March were fully electric"
"Today, more than 16,000 buses and 12,000 taxis whir along Shenzhen’s palm-fringed boulevards. How many run on diesel or gasoline? Practically none. How many are made in China? Almost all.

Going fully electric “cost a lot of money,” said Zheng Jingyu, the Shenzhen transit official in charge of the overhaul. “But it helps our citizens and helps our air.”

Turns out, it also helps China’s competitiveness."
With state subsidies and a firm hand, China races ahead with electric transport | NYT

Friday, May 31, 2019

Privacy-killing behavioral ad targeting isn’t worth it for publishers, study says | Fast Company

But revisiting the "A lot of great technologies end up being strategically important without living up to their initial road map" logic in this bitcoin article, consider all of the applications of behavioral targeting for propaganda campaigns and other domains...
"In one of the first empirical studies looking at behavioral ads–that is, online ads that rely on cookies to track users around the web in order to learn more about them–researchers found that the ads are virtually worthless to publishers, reports the Wall Street Journal.

For the study, researchers at the University of Minnesota; University of California, Irvine; and Carnegie Mellon University tracked millions of ad transactions at “a large U.S. media company” over the course of a week. What those researchers found is that cookie-enabled ads only ended up bringing in 4% more revenue for publishers than ads shown to users that didn’t rely on cooking-tracking technologies.

The finding is significant because for years cookie-based ads have been extolled as major revenue drivers for publishers by those in the online ad industry. If the study is correct, then that’s not actually the case at all and it could have major ramifications for online privacy. If publishers aren’t benefitting much more from cookie-based behavioral ads than from non-cookie-based ads, there would be little room for argument that the privacy-killing, intrusive ad technology is a fair trade-off for using a free internet."
Privacy-killing behavioral ad targeting isn’t worth it for publishers, study says | Fast Company

Deceased G.O.P. Strategist’s Hard Drives Reveal New Details on the Census Citizenship Question | NYT

Perhaps not a great idea for political fixers to leave plastic bags of backup hard drives among saved items requested by their estranged children...
"Thomas B. Hofeller achieved near-mythic status in the Republican Party as the Michelangelo of gerrymandering, the architect of partisan political maps that cemented the party’s dominance across the country.

But after he died last summer, his estranged daughter discovered hard drives in her father’s home that revealed something else: Mr. Hofeller had played a crucial role in the Trump administration’s decision to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census.

Files on those drives showed that he wrote a study in 2015 concluding that adding a citizenship question to the census would allow Republicans to draft even more extreme gerrymandered maps to stymie Democrats. And months after urging President Trump’s transition team to tack the question onto the census, he wrote the key portion of a draft Justice Department letter claiming the question was needed to enforce the 1965 Voting Rights Act — the rationale the administration later used to justify its decision."
Deceased G.O.P. Strategist’s Hard Drives Reveal New Details on the Census Citizenship Question | NYT

Bitcoin's Rally Masks Uncomfortable Fact: Almost Nobody Uses It | Bloomberg

Later in the article: "Dark net, or illegal, activity has increased, as have peer-to-peer Bitcoin transactions, Chainalysis found."; also a chief investment officer insight: ""Bitcoin doesn’t have to be money to be a success. A lot of great technologies end up being strategically important without living up to their initial road map.""
"Bitcoin has a lingering problem that few people are talking about amid the renewed exuberance of the recent price surge.

Hardly anyone is using the world’s largest cryptocurrency for anything beyond speculation. Data from New York-based blockchain researcher Chainalysis Inc. show that only 1.3% of economic transactions came from merchants in the first four months of 2019, little changed over the boom and bust cycles of the prior two years.

Even though marque companies such as AT&T Inc. now let customers pay with cryptocurrencies, the problem is that few speculators want to use the digital coins to pay for wireless services when the digital asset’s price might surge another 50% in a matter of weeks. That’s become the main dilemma with the cryptocurrency: Bitcoin needs the hype to attract mass appeal to be considered a viable electronic alternative to money but it has developed a culture of “hodlers” who advocate accumulation rather than spending."
Bitcoin's Rally Masks Uncomfortable Fact: Almost Nobody Uses It | Bloomberg

Uber reports a $1 billion loss in first quarterly earnings after IPO | Washington Post

Later in the article: "“Our story is simple: We’re the global player,” Khosrowshahi said. “We’re the largest player in personal mobility … Our job is to grow fast at scale and more efficiently for a long, long time.”"
"The company’s loss of $1.01 billion in the first three months of the year contrasted with a one-time profit of $3.75 billion in the same quarter a year ago after the sale of overseas investments. The company lost about $478 million on operations in the first quarter of 2018.

Still, Uber reported that bookings and the number of people using its platform climbed by more than 30 percent, both signs of growth.

Uber’s steep loss shows the hurdles the ride-hailing company faces in achieving executives’ goal of eventually becoming a global one-stop shop for transportation and logistics. The company has outlined a vision for itself as a competitor with tech giant Amazon, applying its vast data trove and routing software to rewrite how goods and people move from one place to another and using computer algorithms to remove what tech sees as inefficiencies in the world."
Uber reports a $1 billion loss in first quarterly earnings after IPO | Washington Post

DeepMind Can Now Beat Us at Multiplayer Games, Too | NYT

For details, see Human-level performance in 3D multiplayer games with population-based reinforcement learning | Science
"In other words, capture the flag requires what would seem to be a very human set of skills. But researchers at an artificial intelligence lab in London have shown that machines can master this game, too, at least in the virtual world.

In a paper published on Thursday in Science (and previously available on the website arXiv before peer review), the researchers reported that they had designed automated “agents” that exhibited humanlike behavior when playing the capture the flag “game mode” inside Quake III. These agents were able to team up against human players or play alongside them, tailoring their behavior accordingly.

“They can adapt to teammates with arbitrary skills,” said Wojciech Czarnecki, a researcher with DeepMind, a lab owned by the same parent company as Google."
DeepMind Can Now Beat Us at Multiplayer Games, Too | NYT

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Worry About Facebook. Rip Your Hair Out in Screaming Terror About Fox News | NYT

From another timely media reality check:
"I understand the fear about digital fakery. But to focus on Facebook instead of Fox News is to mistake the symptom for the disease.

The disease is an entrenched, well-funded, decades-in-the-making, right-wing propaganda network, one that exists to turn faintly sourced rumors into full-blown, politically convenient narratives. The propaganda network’s tentacles now infiltrate every form of media — magazines, books, talk radio, social networks — but it still finds its most profitable and effective outlet in the Murdochs’ cable empire.

And it is devastatingly effective: Just about every political lie that has dominated American discourse in the past two decades — the Swift Boaters and the birthers, death panels, the idea that undocumented immigrants pose an existential threat but climate change does not — depended, for its mainstream dissemination, on the Fox News machine."
Worry About Facebook. Rip Your Hair Out in Screaming Terror About Fox News | NYT

Forget new research on Nazis — Twitter should just enforce its existing ban | The Verge

Also see Twitter wants help deciding whether to keep white supremacists or not | MIT Technology Review
"This conflict gets to the heart of the trouble with Twitter. In one interview, an executive will low-key brag about the intellectual rigor with which the company is approaching actually-not-that-difficult questions about what to do with users who favor varying degrees of genocide to achieve their political aims. And in another, the CEO will acknowledge that the question has basically already been resolved, but the company lacks the technical competence to find all the bad actors on its platform.

In the Dorsey interview, he goes on to say that Twitter needs to be more proactive about finding white nationalists. It’s a good idea, now five months old, and we’ve heard nothing about any concrete steps that Twitter might take to implement it. Instead, as ever, the company wants some time to think. And while I understand why the academics quoted in Vice’s article are laughing, I can’t say I find it all that funny.

From time to time, Twitter thinks about things. And then it goes on thinking about them for a very long time."
Forget new research on Nazis — Twitter should just enforce its existing ban | The Verge

Pokémon Sleep Wants to Make Snoozing a Game Too | NYT

Later in the article: "Pokémon wants to captivate users again, awake or otherwise."
"Pokémon’s chief executive, Tsunekazu Ishihara, said Wednesday that the Japanese franchise planned to release a new game called Pokémon Sleep in 2020 aimed at nothing less than taking the world of video games into dreamland.

“The concept of this game is for players to look forward to waking up every morning,” Mr. Ishihara announced at a news conference in Tokyo.

Or as another game executive said, Pokémon Sleep would find ways to “reward good sleep habits.”"
Pokémon Sleep Wants to Make Snoozing a Game Too | NYT

Google to restrict modern ad blocking Chrome extensions to enterprise users | 9to5Google

Also see Google still plans to cripple ad-blocking in Chrome, but enterprises will be exempt | ZDNet (and use Safari or Firefox...)
"Google is essentially saying that Chrome will still have the capability to block unwanted content, but this will be restricted to only paid, enterprise users of Chrome. This is likely to allow enterprise customers to develop in-house Chrome extensions, not for ad blocking usage.

For the rest of us, Google hasn’t budged on their changes to content blockers, meaning that ad blockers will need to switch to a less effective, rules-based system. This system is how blockers like AdBlock Plus currently work.

One of the original concerns of switching to this system was the fact that Chrome currently imposes a limit of 30,000 rules, while popular ad blocking rules lists like EasyList use upwards of 75,000 rules. In the response, Google claims that they’re looking to increase this number, depending on performance tests, but couldn’t commit to anything specific."
Google to restrict modern ad blocking Chrome extensions to enterprise users | 9to5Google

Facebook is a big obstacle to averting climate catastrophe, scientists say | ThinkProgress

Another rough week for the Facebook PR department; also see ‘Sexist trash’: Hillary Clinton slams Facebook for keeping up Pelosi videos | Politico and Pelosi says altered videos show Facebook leaders were ‘willing enablers’ of Russian election interference | Washington Post
"This new fiasco comes just weeks after Facebook hired an arm of the conservative, anti-science media site The Daily Caller, funded in part by Charles and David Koch, to serve as the company’s newest “fact checkers.” (The Kochs, who made their fortune largely on fossil fuels and petrochemicals, have long funneled money to groups who spread misinformation on climate change.)

So, ThinkProgress asked some experts what Facebook’s latest actions mean for the national conversation on climate change.

“Facebook is complicit in spreading outright falsehoods and misinforming the public about matters of public concern,” environmental sociologist Robert Brulle wrote in an email. The company’s “refusal to take down this blatant distortion of Speaker Pelosi shows that they are an irresponsible actor, and contributing to the decline of public discourse.”

Brulle explained that Facebook’s actions are particularly disastrous since there are so many issues critical to public well-being that require an accurately informed public, such as vaccinations and climate change."
Facebook is a big obstacle to averting climate catastrophe, scientists say | ThinkProgress

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Google’s Chrome Becomes Web ‘Gatekeeper’ and Rivals Complain | Bloomberg

Later in the article: "That dominance means Google sets the standard for what the internet is supposed to be. And in that vision, advertising and user data collection are the defaults."
"It’s another example of how the Alphabet Inc. unit’s power has grown to the point where regulators from India to the European Union are looking for ways to keep it in check. The EU has already fined Google for breaking antitrust laws in the markets for online search, display advertising and mobile operating systems. Chrome is an important cog in Google’s digital ad system, distributing its search engine and providing a direct view for the company into what users do on the web.

Few home-grown Google products have been as successful as Chrome. Launched in 2008, it has more than 63% of the market and about 70% on desktop computers, according to StatCounter data. Mozilla’s Firefox is far behind, while Apple’s Safari is the default browser for iPhones. Microsoft Corp.’s Internet Explorer and Edge browsers are punchlines."
 Google’s Chrome Becomes Web ‘Gatekeeper’ and Rivals Complain | Bloomberg

Washington Post finds 5,400 app trackers sending data from an iPhone | 9to5Mac

From the article's final paragraph: "Apple does more than anyone else to protect user privacy, but this is an area where it’s impossible for users to get any kind of steer on what’s really going on under the hood. We either need Apple to do more, or for the law to do so."
"First, while there is much breathless reporting of data being sent to companies like Google and Facebook, the vast majority of it is innocuous. It’s simply developers using app analytics services provided by these companies, and they are learning things like which app features people do and don’t use.

Second, the Privacy Pro app that The Washington Post was using to monitor the tracker traffic was provided by a company that would like to sell you in-app purchases to block this traffic, so the company concerned has a vested interest in making the situation sound scarier than it is."
Washington Post finds 5,400 app trackers sending data from an iPhone | 9to5Mac

Facebook and Twitter disable new disinformation campaign with ties to Iran | Washington Post

For details, see Network of Social Media Accounts Impersonates U.S. Political Candidates, Leverages U.S. and Israeli Media in Support of Iranian Interests | FireEye
"Facebook and Twitter each said on Tuesday they had disabled a sprawling disinformation campaign that appeared to originate in Iran, including two accounts on Twitter that mimicked Republican congressional candidates and may have sought to push pro-Iranian political messages.

Some of the disabled accounts appeared to target their propaganda at specific journalists, policymakers, dissidents and other influential U.S. figures online. Those tactics left experts fearful that it could mark a new escalation in social-media warfare, with malicious actors stealing real-world identities to spread disinformation beyond the web."
Facebook and Twitter disable new disinformation campaign with ties to Iran | Washington Post

Laptop with some of the world’s most destructive malware sold for $1.3 million | Washington Post

Later in the article: "The laptop is “air-gapped,” meaning it’s not directly connected to the Internet and cannot spread the viruses to other networks. Its Internet capabilities will be disabled before it is shipped to the winning bidder."
"An art patron has paid $1.3 million for the tech equivalent of a dormant land mine: a 2008 Samsung laptop containing some of the world’s most destructive malware.

“The Persistence of Chaos,” as the work is known, was created by Chinese Internet artist Guo O Dong and commissioned by Deep Instinct, a New York-based cybersecurity firm. The company supplied the malware and collaborated with Guo to guard against the kind of real-world damage the project was designed to highlight."
Laptop with some of the world’s most destructive malware sold for $1.3 million | Washington Post

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Apple is in the top 3 in smartglasses … with no product | VentureBeat

See the full article for speculation about Apple's potential smart glasses advantages
"Despite having no smartglasses product, Apple ranked as the third most important smartglasses platform after Microsoft HoloLens and Magic Leap in a recent survey of AR/VR industry insiders by Digi-Capital and AWE. While this highlights Apple’s natural advantages and industry support, how does a company which hasn’t even hinted at a product rank higher than industry veterans like Google?"
Apple is in the top 3 in smartglasses … with no product | VentureBeat

A look at Apple's secret testing lab where Secure Enclave chips are subjected to extreme tests, and Q&A with Craig Federighi about Apple's commitment to privacy | The Independent

From a timely Apple privacy overview
"Apple's principles on privacy are simple: it doesn't want to know anything about you that it doesn't need to. It has, he says, no desire to gather data to generate an advertising profile about its users.

"We have no interest in learning all about you as a company, we don't want to learn all about you, we think your device should personalise itself to you," [Craig Federighi, Apple's senior vice president of software engineering] says. "But that's in your control that's not about Apple learning about you, we have no incentive to do it.

"And morally, we have no desire to do it. And that's fundamentally a different position than I think many, many other companies are in.""
A look at Apple's secret testing lab where Secure Enclave chips are subjected to extreme tests, and Q&A with Craig Federighi about Apple's commitment to privacy | The Independent

Friday, May 24, 2019

Don’t break up Facebook — replace Mark Zuckerberg, says former security boss Alex Stamos | Recode

From the same podcast episode: Twitter co-founder Ev Williams says social media will get better ... eventually | Recode
"“You cannot solve climate change by breaking up ExxonMobil and making 10 ExxonMobils, you have to address the underlying issues,” Stamos said on the latest episode of Recode Decode with Kara Swisher. “I think there’s a lot of excitement for antitrust because it feels good to be like, ‘I hate this company, so let’s break it up.’ Having three companies that have the same fundamental problems doesn’t make it any better.”

Instead, he told Recode’s Kara Swisher at the Collision conference in Toronto, Facebook should model its future on the “internal revolution” at Microsoft that began in 2002, in the aftermath of the antitrust case United States v. Microsoft. And part of that revolution should be the replacement of CEO and founder Mark Zuckerberg (who currently has an untouchable majority of voting shares).
[...]
“My recommendation would be Brad Smith from Microsoft. Some adult who has gone through this before at another company.”"
Don’t break up Facebook — replace Mark Zuckerberg, says former security boss Alex Stamos | Recode

SpaceX Launches 60 Starlink Internet Satellites Into Orbit | NYT

First stage and fairings also recovered (third time, for the first stage)
"On Thursday night, SpaceX launched a batch of 60 internet communications satellites from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

More than one hour later, some 270 miles above Earth, the cluster of satellites — part of a system called Starlink — pushed off from the rocket that carried it to orbit. The individual satellites slowly began to drift toward their singular journeys above the planet. If successful, the devices could be turned on some time on Friday.

By next year, SpaceX hopes that hundreds of the devices could be circling the planet, beaming high-speed internet service everywhere. It could allow SpaceX to enter a new business that might generate revenue to finance the dream of sending people to Mars."
SpaceX Launches 60 Starlink Internet Satellites Into Orbit | NYT

Technology Faked Pelosi videos, slowed to make her appear drunk, spread across social media | Washington Post

A related Tom Nichols tweet: "The President of the United States just sent out a doctored video of the Speaker of the House. With the exception of a lone congressman, not one Republican has, or is going to, lift a finger to stop this madness. There are no patriots left in the leadership of the GOP."
"The video of Pelosi’s onstage speech Wednesday at a Center for American Progress event, in which she said President Trump’s refusal to cooperate with congressional investigations was tantamount to a “coverup," was subtly edited to make her voice sound garbled and warped. It was then circulated widely across Twitter, YouTube and Facebook.

One version, posted by the conservative Facebook page Politics WatchDog, had been viewed more than 2 million times by Thursday night, been shared more than 45,000 times, and garnered 23,000 comments with users calling her “drunk” and “a babbling mess.”"
 Technology Faked Pelosi videos, slowed to make her appear drunk, spread across social media | Washington Post

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Amazon preparing a wearable that ‘reads human emotions,’ says report | The Verge

Tangentially, see Online ads can be targeted based on your emotions | Vox
"In a week of eyebrow-raising headlines surrounding the US-China trade spat, this latest report from Bloomberg still manages to stand out: Amazon is said to be working on a wrist-worn, voice-activated device that’s supposed to be able to read human emotions. This would be a rather novel health and wellness gadget, of the sort we’re more used to seeing feature in tenuous crowdfunding campaigns instead of from one of the world’s biggest tech companies.

Bloomberg has spoken to a source and reviewed internal Amazon documents, which reportedly show the Alexa voice software team and Amazon’s Lab126 hardware division are collaborating on the wearable in development. The wearable, working in collaboration with a smartphone app, has microphones that can “discern the wearer’s emotional state from the sound of his or her voice,” according to Bloomberg. “Eventually the technology could be able to advise the wearer how to interact more effectively with others.”"
Amazon preparing a wearable that ‘reads human emotions,’ says report | The Verge

Twitter co-founder calls President Trump 'master of the platform' | CNN

In other Evan Williams news, see Medium CEO Ev Williams Goes All-In on Building Subscription Business | Cheddar
""The vast majority of the electorate is not on Twitter reading Trump's tweets and being convinced by that," said Williams. "What they're convinced much more by is the destructive power of Fox News, which is much, much more powerful and much more destructive than Twitter."
A Fox News spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday morning.
It's a view some others in Silicon Valley share: they believe traditional media outlets have devoted extensive coverage to the destructive effects of big tech companies while not examining their own role in creating a more polarized society."
Twitter co-founder calls President Trump 'master of the platform' | CNN

How China Uses High-Tech Surveillance to Subdue Minorities | NYT

Also see China’s Orwellian War on Religion | NYT
"A New York Times investigation drawing on government and company records as well as interviews with industry insiders found that China is in effect hard-wiring Xinjiang for segregated surveillance, using an army of security personnel to compel ethnic minorities to submit to monitoring and data collection while generally ignoring the majority Han Chinese, who make up 36 percent of Xinjiang’s population.

It is a virtual cage that complements the indoctrination camps in Xinjiang where the authorities have detained a million or more Uighurs and other Muslims in a push to transform them into secular citizens who will never challenge the ruling Communist Party. The program helps identify people to be sent to the camps or investigated, and keeps tabs on them when they are released."
How China Uses High-Tech Surveillance to Subdue Minorities | NYT

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

How Trump Is Outspending Every 2020 Democrat on Facebook | NYT

Also see The Democrats' 100-year flood | Axios
"“For a long time, Trump was running an intensive campaign that no one was paying attention to,” said Mike Schneider, a partner at Bully Pulpit Interactive, a Democratic political and brand communications firm that is tracking Facebook spending by the presidential candidates.

“And while Democrats have picked up their efforts, they’re fighting over the same group of supporters while he’s broadly expanding his base,” Mr. Schneider said.

Much of Mr. Trump’s spending on Facebook advertising in recent weeks has gone toward ads that have been seen by older Americans, particularly women 55 and older, according to an analysis by Bully Pulpit."
How Trump Is Outspending Every 2020 Democrat on Facebook | NYT

‘MissionRacer’: How Amazon turned the tedium of warehouse work into a game | Washington Post

Later in the article: "In at least one warehouse, said an employee, workers have used high achievement on the games to push managers to reward them with extra Swag Bucks, a proprietary currency that can be used to buy Amazon-logo stickers, apparel or other goods."
"Developed by Amazon, the games are displayed on small screens at employees’ workstations. As robots wheel giant shelves up to each workstation, lights or screens indicate which item the worker needs to pluck to put into a bin. The games simultaneously register the completion of the task, which is tracked by scanning devices, and can pit individuals, teams or entire floors against one another to be fastest, simply by picking or stowing real Lego sets, cellphone cases or dish soap. Game-playing employees are rewarded with points, virtual badges and other goodies throughout a shift.

Think Tetris, but with real boxes.

Amazon’s experiment is part of a broader industry push to gamify low-skill work, particularly as historically low unemployment has driven up wages and attrition. Gamification generally refers to software programs that simulate video games by offering rewards, badges or bragging rights among colleagues."
‘MissionRacer’: How Amazon turned the tedium of warehouse work into a game | Washington Post