Friday, August 30, 2019

Google affiliate Sidewalk Labs partners with Teachers to form infrastructure company | The Globe and Mail

See Alphabet Dips Its Toe Into Infrastructure Investing | WSJ [Apple News+ link] for more details
"Google affiliate Sidewalk Labs is partnering with the deep-pocketed Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan to launch a new company to invest in high-tech urban infrastructure, even as it remains in contentious talks over its sweeping plans for a “smart city” across Toronto’s eastern waterfront.

Sidewalk Infrastructure Partners, launched Thursday, hopes to invest not only in Sidewalk Labs’ Toronto project, but in similar “technology-enabled” infrastructure – such as dynamic traffic-monitoring systems using multiple sensors – across North America."
Google affiliate Sidewalk Labs partners with Teachers to form infrastructure company | The Globe and Mail

What happened to the formerly fearsome right-wing media troll? | Recode

Tangentially, see Infowars returned to YouTube. It lasted less than a day. | Washington Post
"What happened? A few things, says CNN media reporter Oliver Darcy, who specializes in tracking conservative media:
  • The platforms that gave many of the trolls a home, namely Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, have become less welcoming, particularly to those who advocate harassment and worse; in some cases, like that of Yiannopoulos, they have kicked them off their service entirely. And despite promises to create new platforms that would challenge the big tech companies, trolls who have been “de-platformed” have found it hard to reconstitute their followings in new locations.
  • The media has belatedly focused its attention on the direct and powerful link between Fox News and the White House, and now realizes that what that channel’s stars say to Trump — both on- and off-air — has enormous impact on his thinking, policies, and actions. There’s no equivalent to Tucker Carlson or Fox and Friends that’s mainly on Twitter.
  • News outlets like things that are new. The right-wing troll isn’t a new idea anymore, so it’s going to get less attention. And attention helps feed the trolls."
What happened to the formerly fearsome right-wing media troll? | Recode

Trump’s Methane Rule Rollback Divides Oil and Gas Industry | NYT

A timely activism reality check; on a related note, see Fracking may be a bigger climate problem than we thought | Vox
"Under increasing pressure from shareholders, activists and their own employees, BP, Shell, Exxon Mobil and several other international oil companies have joined the Oil and Gas Climate Initiative, which is pledged to reduce gas emissions. It is one part of a growing acknowledgment in the industry that climate change and future regulation are a threat.

“Shell has long supported the direct regulation of methane when regulation is efficient, effective and encourages innovation,” said Gretchen Watkins, Shell’s president for U.S. operations. “While the law may change in this instance, our environmental commitments will stand.”"
Trump’s Methane Rule Rollback Divides Oil and Gas Industry | NYT

‘Hey, Google! Let me talk to my departed father.’ | Washington Post

Eternime is still in a private beta more than 5 years after this New Yorker profile
"For decades, Silicon Valley futurists have sought to unchain humanity from the corporeal life cycle, viewing death as yet another transformational problem in need of a “life altering” solution. What began with the cryonics movement, in which bodies are frozen for future resuscitation, has intensified amid the rise of digital culture. Today, a new generation of companies is hawking some approximation of virtual immortality –– the opportunity to preserve one’s legacy online forever.

On its website, Eternime claims that more than 44,000 people have already signed up to partake in its “big hairy audacious goal” — turning the “memories, ideas, creations and stories of billions of people” into intelligent avatars that look like them and live on indefinitely. Nectome, a research company specializing in memory preservation, hopes their high-tech brain embalming process will someday allow our minds to be reanimated as a computerized simulation."
‘Hey, Google! Let me talk to my departed father.’ | Washington Post

Thursday, August 29, 2019

Doorbell-camera firm Ring has partnered with 400 police forces, extending surveillance concerns | Washington Post

Later in the article: "Begun in 2013 as a line of Internet-connected “smart doorbells,” Ring has grown into one of the nation’s biggest household names in home security."
"Ring officials and law enforcement partners portray the vast camera network as an irrepressible shield for neighborhoods, saying it can assist police investigators and protect homes from criminals, intruders and thieves.

“The mission has always been making the neighborhood safer,” said Eric Kuhn, the general manager of Neighbors, Ring’s crime-focused companion app. “We’ve had a lot of success in terms of deterring crime and solving crimes that would otherwise not be solved as quickly.”

But legal experts and privacy advocates have voiced alarm about the company’s eyes-everywhere ambitions and increasingly close relationship with police, saying the program could threaten civil liberties, turn residents into informants, and subject innocent people, including those who Ring users have flagged as “suspicious,” to greater surveillance and potential risk."
Doorbell-camera firm Ring has partnered with 400 police forces, extending surveillance concerns | Washington Post

Pinterest’s work in public health shows the good a smaller social network can do | The Verge

That's "smallness" from a company with an ~$18.4B mkt cap
"It’s likely no coincidence that the boldest action we have seen on vaccines to date comes from one of the smallest social platforms, in terms of its user base and public prominence. If you’re Facebook, or YouTube, every policy decision is an act of international diplomacy. It’s a negotiation with the press and with the stock market. It’s an electrified rail, to be touched rarely and with safety gloves.

But if you’re Pinterest — well, no one ever really knew what to expect from you on the policy front anyway. Out of the spotlight, you can act decisively, and with moral clarity. (Notably, Ozoma worked at Google and Facebook before coming to Pinterest.) As the world considers breaking up the world’s biggest social platforms, Pinterest’s contribution to public health today makes a good case for smallness."
Pinterest’s work in public health shows the good a smaller social network can do | The Verge

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Telegram Pushes Ahead With Plans for ‘Gram’ Cryptocurrency | NYT

Later in the article: "Telegram promised in legal documents that it would deliver Grams to investors by Oct. 31, 2019, or give back the money. The company is now racing to get the coins out before that deadline."
"While Facebook’s big cryptocurrency plans have hit a wall with regulators, another big social network, Telegram, is charging ahead with its own digital currency.

Telegram has told investors that it is planning to send out the first batches of its coin, the Gram, within the next two months, according to three investors who have spoken with Telegram recently.

Telegram is also planning to make Gram digital wallets available to the 200 million to 300 million global users of Telegram’s messaging application, said the investors, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they had signed nondisclosure agreements."
Telegram Pushes Ahead With Plans for ‘Gram’ Cryptocurrency | NYT

Amazon’s free streaming service IMDb TV comes to mobile devices | TechCrunch

Amazon Seeks Exclusive Programming for IMDb TV | WSJ notes "Amazon introduced IMDb TV in January as a free app, originally called IMDb Freedive. It sits within Amazon’s advertising organization, which is separate from its Prime Video division, according to people familiar with the company’s structure."
"IMDb TV, the free ad-supported streaming service launched by Amazon-owned IMDb at the beginning of the year (originally called Freedive), is today arriving on mobile devices. With the updated version of iOS and Android IMDb app rolling out now, users can stream from the app’s growing library of free movies and TV series.

Prior to IMDb TV’s launch, the movie website had experimented with video content in the form of trailers, celebrity interviews and other short-form series. But consumers today are more interested in services where they can stream premium content for free, without a subscription — as they can on IMDb TV competitors like Walmart-owned Vudu’s “Movies on Us,” Tubi or The Roku Channel, for example.

At launch, IMDb TV offered a collection of TV shows like Fringe, Heroes, The Bachelor and Without a Trace, as well as Hollywood movies like Awakenings, Foxcatcher, Memento, Monster, Run Lola Run, The Illusionist, The Last Samurai, True Romance and others."
Amazon’s free streaming service IMDb TV comes to mobile devices | TechCrunch

Facebook Tightens Rules on Verifying Political Advertisers | NYT

For more details, see Updates to Ads About Social Issues, Elections or Politics in the US | Facebook Newsroom
"Yet Facebook has applied its political advertising policy inconsistently. NBC News recently found that one political advertiser had sidestepped Facebook’s rules and was running ads under decoy company names. Last month, academics also called the social network’s ad archive — a tool Facebook introduced in late 2018 to allow the public to analyze political ads and ferret out disinformation campaigns — “broken,” describing it as riddled with bugs and technical issues.

Ms. Harbath said Facebook’s tools are not perfect and that it would “continue to learn from elections in the U.S. and around the world.” Facebook alone cannot tackle political disinformation in ads, she said, and advertisers, governments, regulators, journalists and researchers would need to participate in addressing the global disinformation problem.

Disinformation experts said the social network is still far from fixing the damage caused by the false news and ad campaigns that have run on the platform."
Facebook Tightens Rules on Verifying Political Advertisers | NYT

Microsoft’s lead EU data watchdog is looking into fresh Windows 10 privacy concerns | TechCrunch

Windows 10, GDPR Edition?...
"The Dutch data protection agency has asked Microsoft’s  lead privacy regulator in Europe to investigate ongoing concerns it has attached to how Windows 10 gathers user data.

Back in 2017 the privacy watchdog found Microsoft’s platform to be in breach of local privacy laws on account of how it collects telemetry metadata.

After some back and forth with the regulator, Microsoft made changes to how the software operates in April last year — and it was in the course of testing those changes that the Dutch agency found fresh reasons for concern, discovering what it calls in a press release “new, potentially unlawful, instances of personal data processing”. "
Microsoft’s lead EU data watchdog is looking into fresh Windows 10 privacy concerns | TechCrunch

Peloton, a bike company, claims it “sells happiness” and is “so much more than a bike” | Recode

Also see Peloton reveals IPO documents showing widening losses of $245.7 million on sales of $915 million | CNBC
"The cycling company at the center of the latest indoor fitness craze thinks of itself as part of virtually every industry, if you believe its new filing for an initial public offering that it unveiled on Tuesday. It’s the latest example of a company stretching itself every which way in order to gin up excitement from the public market. That’s because most investors don’t want to simply believe in a piece of $2,000-plus hardware — but they’re a lot more open to investing in a broader, easy-to-parody tech vision. And that branding could be a factor in why investors are expected to value Peloton at more than $8 billion.

“On the most basic level, Peloton sells happiness,” founder John Foley explained to investors in his public letter. “But of course, we do so much more.”"
Peloton, a bike company, claims it “sells happiness” and is “so much more than a bike” | Recode

Former Star Google and Uber Engineer Charged With Theft of Trade Secrets | NYT

Also see Developer who started a church to worship AI indicted for stealing AI | The Next Web
"The criminal indictment against Mr. Levandowski from the United States Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of California opens a new chapter in a legal battle that has embroiled Google, its self-driving car spinoff Waymo and its rival Uber in the high-stakes contest over autonomous vehicles. The case also highlights Silicon Valley’s no-holds-barred culture, where gaining an edge in new technologies versus competitors can be paramount.

It is not uncommon for tech companies, which fiercely guard their intellectual property, to sue former employees or the firms they join after they leave. But criminal charges against a senior executive for theft is unusual."
Former Star Google and Uber Engineer Charged With Theft of Trade Secrets | NYT

Tim Cook gets lucrative reward for his success as Apple CEO | Cult of Mac

Earn (and give) different
"According to a new Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) filing, Cook has been awarded 560,000 restricted stock options. At present market prices, that equals around $115 million. Not a bad payday!

Cook earned 280,000 AAPL shares for his continued employment as Apple CEO, a position he’s now held for eight years. He also received an equal number of shares for Apple’s financial performance.

In order to be eligible for this award, Apple’s total shareholder return for the past three years had to be better than two-thirds of the other stocks listed in the S&P 500. On August 25, 2016, AAPL was valued at $108.01 (adjusted for dividends.) On August 24, 2019, AAPL meanwhile closed at $216.24.
[..]
Tim Cook has said that he plans to give his entire fortune to charity. Earlier this month, he donated 23,700 Apple shares to an unspecified charity. At current prices, that’s equivalent to a little more than $5 million."
Tim Cook gets lucrative reward for his success as Apple CEO | Cult of Mac

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Uh-oh: Silicon Valley is building a Chinese-style social credit system | Fast Company

Pretty sure Uber and Airbnb aren't going to send offenders to "re-education" prison camps, however...
"Nobody likes antisocial, violent, rude, unhealthy, reckless, selfish, or deadbeat behavior. What’s wrong with using new technology to encourage everyone to behave?

The most disturbing attribute of a social credit system is not that it’s invasive, but that it’s extralegal. Crimes are punished outside the legal system, which means no presumption of innocence, no legal representation, no judge, no jury, and often no appeal. In other words, it’s an alternative legal system where the accused have fewer rights.

Social credit systems are an end-run around the pesky complications of the legal system. Unlike China’s government policy, the social credit system emerging in the U.S. is enforced by private companies. If the public objects to how these laws are enforced, it can’t elect new rule-makers."
Uh-oh: Silicon Valley is building a Chinese-style social credit system | Fast Company

The Myth of Consumer Security | Lawfare

Final paragraphs from a Bruce Schneier reality check
"During the Cold War, the NSA had the dual mission of attacking Soviet computers and communications systems and defending domestic counterparts. It was possible to do both simultaneously only because the two systems were different at every level. Today, the entire world uses internet protocols; iPhones and Android phones; and iMessage, WhatsApp and Signal to secure their chats. Consumer-grade encryption is the same as military-grade encryption, and consumer security is the same as national security.

Barr can't weaken consumer systems without also weakening commercial, government and military systems. There's one world, one network and one answer. As a matter of policy, the nation has to decide which takes precedence: offense or defense. If security is deliberately weakened, it will be weakened for everybody. And if security is strengthened, it is strengthened for everybody. It's time to accept the fact that these systems are too critical to society to weaken. Everyone will be more secure with stronger encryption, even if it means the bad guys get to use that encryption as well."
The Myth of Consumer Security | Lawfare

VMware adds AI assistant, other updates to Workspace One | ZDNet

Maybe Cortana was too busy...
"The concierge services start with an Intelligent Hub Virtual Assistant, powered in partnership with IBM Watson. The AI assistant uses natural language processing to support both voice and text queries. It can provide user guidance on various questions, and it can help users access applications -- it could, for instance, open a Jira ticket for a user.

The concierge services also include Intelligent Hub Self-Service, which is a context-aware tool that integrates with existing lifecycle, configuration and management tools. There's also a Digital Employee Experience Management tool that provides predictive and proactive remediation. This includes the ability to dial back and see how applications were performing historically, in order to troubleshoot problems after incidents."
VMware adds AI assistant, other updates to Workspace One | ZDNet

It was sensitive data from a U.S. anti-terror program – and terrorists could have gotten to it for years, records show | LA Times

Secure different
"The Department of Homeland Security stored sensitive data from the nation’s bioterrorism defense program on an insecure website where it was vulnerable to attacks by hackers for over a decade, according to government documents reviewed by The Times.

The data included the locations of at least some BioWatch air samplers, which are installed at subway stations and other public locations in more than 30 U.S. cities and are designed to detect anthrax or other airborne biological weapons, Homeland Security officials confirmed. It also included the results of tests for possible pathogens, a list of biological agents that could be detected and response plans that would be put in place in the event of an attack."
It was sensitive data from a U.S. anti-terror program – and terrorists could have gotten to it for years, records show | LA Times

Monday, August 26, 2019

Trump Allies Target Journalists Over Coverage Deemed Hostile to White House | NYT

 Joseph Goebbels would have been impressed; also see A Campaign Targeting Our Staff | NYT. On a related note, see Conservative media thrives, grows broader under Trump | Axios, which concludes: "The bottom line: Typically, the opposition party has a media explosion in response to whichever political group is in power. But the economic stress of the media industry, combined with the Trump-driven conservative strategy of broad messaging, has upended that dynamic."
"A loose network of conservative operatives allied with the White House is pursuing what they say will be an aggressive operation to discredit news organizations deemed hostile to President Trump by publicizing damaging information about journalists.

It is the latest step in a long-running effort by Mr. Trump and his allies to undercut the influence of legitimate news reporting. Four people familiar with the operation described how it works, asserting that it has compiled dossiers of potentially embarrassing social media posts and other public statements by hundreds of people who work at some of the country’s most prominent news organizations."
Trump Allies Target Journalists Over Coverage Deemed Hostile to White House | NYT

Baidu overtakes Google in global smart speaker market | The Verge

See Canalys: Baidu replaces Google to become number two in smart speaker market in Q2 2019 for more details
"Chinese search giant Baidu is now the world’s second biggest vendor of smart speakers, according to a new report from Canalys. The research firm says Baidu overtook Google to capture 17.3 percent of the global market with 4.5 million shipments in the second quarter of 2019, representing staggering year-on-year growth of 3,700 percent. Amazon remains the overall leader with more than 25 percent share of the market and 6.6 million shipments.

Baidu’s AI speakers run on an AI platform called DuerOS. The company initially targeted the high end of the market with the Teenage Engineering-designed Raven H speaker (above [see source for photo]), but that product apparently sold poorly. More recently, Baidu has pushed sales of much less expensive models, with the basic Xiaodu speaker selling for as low as 89 yuan (~$12). Baidu overtook previous domestic leader Alibaba in the first quarter of this year in China, according to Canalys."
Baidu overtakes Google in global smart speaker market | The Verge

Trump claims serious trade negotiations with China to begin | AP

About which David Axelrod tweets: "I’ve said it before: @realDonaldTrump eventually will cut any deal he can with China and call it a victory. He has to. He can’t tank the economy headed into an election. And the Chinese know it." On a related note, see Trump says Japan trade deal reached, but Abe warns more work remains | Washington Post
"President Donald Trump, under pressure to scale back a U.S.-China trade war partly blamed for a global economic slowdown, claimed Monday that the two sides will begin serious negotiations soon.

Trump said his trade negotiators had received two “very good calls” from China Sunday. A spokesman for China’s foreign ministry said he didn’t know what Trump was talking about.

Trump’s optimistic comments about China came hours after he sent mixed messages on the tariff war. He at first seemed to express regret over escalating the trade dispute, but the White House later said Trump’s only regret was that he didn’t impose even higher tariffs on China.

On Monday, Trump claimed the Sunday evening conversations were a sign China is serious about making a deal."
Trump claims serious trade negotiations with China to begin | AP

Apple Card: What vs How | Monday Note

From an Apple Card reality check
"When it comes to rewards, the critics are correct: None of the Apple Card features and benefits top what other credit cards offer in this very diverse and fast-moving industry. And this is where the kommentariat get it wrong. Rewards isn’t the game that Apple Card is playing.
For a sufficiently large number of Apple customers, the new payment system is a classic How vs What proposition — and the “How” wins. The Wallet app offers complete control over purchases, payments, rebates, timing, and security, all in one place. As for security, three different card numbers track purchases made with the physical card, with a card number on line, or with Apple Pay on your Watch or iPhone. No need to use a special third party app, such as the excellent Mint. Everything is built into the Wallet, itself built in every iPhone and iPad."
Apple Card: What vs How | Monday Note

Now bigger than eBay, Shopify sets its sights on Amazon | FT

Shop different
"Shopify has investors excited because it is increasingly seen as the most likely challenger to Amazon’s ecommerce dominance. While many retailers, both traditional and online, have tried to tackle Amazon’s “everything store” head-on, Shopify has succeeded by arming individual merchants with the same technology and capabilities, but with more control.

Retailers from Kylie Jenner’s multimillion-dollar make-up venture to the online equivalent of mom-and-pop stores can use Shopify’s tools to build a website, list their products and take payments — all under their own domain and brand. Most of the shoppers who spent more than $40bn across 800,000 Shopify merchants last year would have had no idea they were transacting with the Canadian company."
Now bigger than eBay, Shopify sets its sights on Amazon | FT

Friday, August 23, 2019

The Next Re-bundling Will Be Multi-Media (Video, Music, Games, News) | OneZero

From a timely media services reality check
"While tech and media companies fight it out with different content offerings, strategies, and business models, there are also opportunities for the independent market leaders in each category to partner with each other to offer their own bundles and compete more effectively with both tech and media companies. What would a Netflix + Spotify + Medium / Scroll + EA Access bundle look like? These services are each focused on one specific area, and can’t offer their content as loss leaders for other business units as Apple, Amazon, Google, and Facebook have the comfort of doing.
Consumers frustrated by the upcoming disaggregation and unbundling of some of their favorite content would be served well to remember a world in which they had to purchase albums at $10 a piece or more to listen to their favorite music, pay an average cable bill of $85 a month, wait for paper copies of their news and entertainment subscriptions, and purchase video games and movies a la carte. Netflix and Spotify have spoiled a generation with unbelievable value propositions not likely to be seen again anytime soon. Perhaps the silver lining is that the next re-bundling will be multi-media."
The Next Re-bundling Will Be Multi-Media (Video, Music, Games, News) | OneZero

Russia Launches Floating Nuclear Reactor in Wake of Latest Accident | Bloomberg

What could possibly go wrong?...
"Russia’s Rosatom shipped its first floating nuclear-power reactor on Friday, setting the unit off on a barge journey among Arctic ice caps, raising concerns in the wake of a recent military accident that caused a brief spike in radiation.

The vessel Akademik Lomonosov, named after an 18th century Russian scientist and poet, departed from Russia’s northwest port of Murmansk, according to the state-owned company. Three tugs are towing the unit on its 4,700-kilometer (2,900-mile) trip east to Chukotka, where it will dock at Pevek and generate power for the remote region that’s closer to Alaska than Europe."
Russia Launches Floating Nuclear Reactor in Wake of Latest Accident | Bloomberg

News Corp is making a news service called... Knewz 20 | The Verge

Likely to at least be popular within the White House... On a related note, see Facebook Wants a Do-Over on News | The Atlantic
"While the easy takeaway is that this is News Corp’s attempt to make a conservative-leaning news service, the broader goal of challenging Google and Facebook is an important one. Those two tech giants are responsible for directing an enormous portion of traffic on the web. Performing well on either of those platforms can be the difference between a publication growing or failing. (Mic, for instance, thrived on Facebook, then collapsed when Facebook stopped directing as much traffic.)

That means publishers are at the whims of two tech giants that often don’t have their best interests in mind. The Journal, which is also owned by News Corp, suggests that Knewz is being designed with some traits that publishers might prefer: it’ll preference original reports over aggregation (e.g., the Journal’s story about Knewz over this writeup about it), it won’t disadvantage sites with paywalls, it’ll link directly to stories (instead of platform-hosted pages like Facebook’s Instant Articles), it won’t take a cut of ad revenue, and it’ll even share data with publishers."
News Corp is making a news service called... Knewz 20 | The Verge

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Ransomware Attacks Are Testing Resolve of Cities Across America | NYT

Later in the article: "Because most of the ransomware laws have been in place for only a few years, prosecutors, court officials and lawmakers say prosecutions have been nearly nonexistent."
"More than 40 municipalities have been the victims of cyberattacks this year, from major cities such as Baltimore, Albany and Laredo, Tex., to smaller towns including Lake City, Fla. Lake City is one of the few cities to have paid a ransom demand — about $460,000 in Bitcoin, a cryptocurrency — because it thought reconstructing its systems would be even more costly.

In most ransomware cases, the identities and whereabouts of culprits are cloaked by clever digital diversions. Intelligence officials, using data collected by the National Security Agency and others in an effort to identify the sources of the hacking, say many have come from Eastern Europe, Iran and, in some cases, the United States. The majority have targeted small-town America, figuring that sleepy, cash-strapped local governments are the least likely to have updated their cyberdefenses or backed up their data."
Ransomware Attacks Are Testing Resolve of Cities Across America | NYT

A Business Built on Disinformation: Highlights From Our Investigation | NYT

See Big Tech, a Conservative Provocateur and the Fight Over Disinformation | NYT for the full story
"It may not be a household name, but few publications have had the reach, and potentially the influence, in American politics as The Western Journal.

Even the right-wing publication’s audience of more than 36 million people, eclipsing many of the nation’s largest news organizations, doesn’t know much about the company, or who’s behind it.

In a New York Times investigation, Nicholas Confessore and Justin Bank found that the site, which stokes outrage and curates a narrative in which conservatives and their values are under constant assault, is caught in a high-stakes clash between Silicon Valley and Washington. The site has struggled to maintain its audience through Facebook’s and Google’s algorithmic changes aimed at reducing disinformation — actions the site’s leaders see as evidence of political bias."
On a related note, from Misinformation Has Created a New World Disorder | Scientific American:
A Business Built on Disinformation: Highlights From Our Investigation | NYT

With deficit rising, worries grow the U.S. may be out of tools if recession hits | Washington Post

In other economic news, see Job Gains Were Weaker Than Reported, by Half a Million | NYT
"The U.S. federal deficit will expand by about $800 billion more than previously expected over the next decade, as recent increases in spending are on track to push the nation into levels of debt unseen since the end of World War II, the Congressional Budget Office said Wednesday.

The annual U.S. deficit will come close to hitting $1 trillion in 2019, an unusually high number during a period of economic growth, the CBO added. Driving that number is spending as well as a large tax cut in corporate and individual income taxes passed by Republicans in 2017.

The new deficit estimates could deepen worries that U.S. policymakers face a shortage of tools to bolster the economy should the country fall into recession, some economists say. In addition to potentially less room to spend or pass tax cuts, the Federal Reserve cannot reduce interest rates, which are quite low, as much as it has during previous downturns."
With deficit rising, worries grow the U.S. may be out of tools if recession hits | Washington Post

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Facebook’s New Tool Lets You See Which Apps and Websites Tracked You | NYT

Check this Facebook Newsroom post for more details; the tool is initially rolling out in Ireland, South Korea, and Spain
"The company introduced a new tool that lets people better see and control the information that Facebook has gathered about their browsing habits outside the social network.

The tool, Off-Facebook Activity, allows users to view the hundreds of sites and apps that share data and customer information with Facebook. They can disconnect the data from their account if they want.

“This is another way to give people more transparency and control on Facebook,” the company said in a blog post. It added that people generally had more than 80 apps on their phones and used about half of them every month, making it difficult to know which ones had collected personal information and how the data was being used."
Facebook’s New Tool Lets You See Which Apps and Websites Tracked You | NYT

2.6 Million Reasons to Keep Yelling About “Bias” | Slate

Check the full post for more on Robert Epstein's dubious research; tangentially, see Talk Radio Made Today’s Republican Party | The Atlantic
"Despite the severe limitations of Epstein’s research, Trump latched on, exaggerating the already unbelievable findings. Even Epstein didn’t claim that Google directly “manipulated” any votes, and his high number was 10.4 million votes, not 16 million.

Although Trump has reportedly recently weighed signing an executive order that would have federal agencies police how social media companies moderate user content, it’s hard to believe that some sort of real crackdown is in the works—or that if one was, it could survive a court challenge. It’s more likely that conservatives keep talking about bias on social platforms for two reasons. One, the topic really fires up their extremely online supporters—like the group of conspiracy theorists, Infowars regulars and racist meme-makers that the White House hosted recently at a “social media summit.”

The second reason is social media really does work in conservatives’ favor, and they don’t want the companies to do anything that might change that. Month after month this year, the Trump campaign has outspent all the Democratic candidates combined on Facebook ads. Even after the company tweaked its news-feed algorithm to deprioritize news and politics, conservatives across the board are thriving on Facebook. Fox News is one of the biggest publishers on Facebook, far outranking CNN in terms of both followers and engagement. Not coincidentally, all of this discussion of bias obscures many of the real problems with social media—like their ability to amplify emotional and divisive content and their vulnerability to misinformation."
2.6 Million Reasons to Keep Yelling About “Bias” | Slate

Silicon Valley’s Crisis of Conscience | The New Yorker

Excerpt from an approximately 6,700-word reality check
"“A few people around the Bay are starting to wake up,” Tauber, who now works as an executive coach, told me recently. “They’re acknowledging where things have gone wrong, and their role in that, and they’re trying to get their peers to do the same.” Many of the conversations, Tauber acknowledged, would not play well in Peoria. “It can get kind of out there,” he said. “There are folks exploring mindfulness, bodywork, psychedelics. Personal growth can take many forms. But ultimately if a handful of people have this much power—if they can, simply by making more ethical decisions, cause billions of users to be less addicted and isolated and confused and miserable—then, isn’t that worth a shot?”

Near the end of a placid April morning in San Francisco, a nonprofit called the Center for Humane Technology convened more than three hundred people in a midsized amphitheatre named SFJAZZ—co-founders of Pinterest and Craigslist and Apple, vice-presidents at Google and Facebook, several prominent venture capitalists, and many people whose job titles were “storyteller” or “human-experience engineer.” One attendee was Aden Van Noppen, who carried a notebook with a decal that read, “Move Purposefully and Fix Things.” She worked on tech policy in Barack Obama’s White House, then did a fellowship at Harvard Divinity School, and now runs Mobius, a Bay Area organization dedicated to “putting our well-being at the center of technology.” “The Valley right now is like a patient who’s just received a grave diagnosis,” she said. “There’s a type of person who reacts to that by staying in deflect-and-deny mode—‘How do we prevent anyone from knowing we’re sick?’ Then, there’s the type who wants to treat the symptoms, quickly and superficially, in the hope that the illness just goes away on its own. And there’s a third group, that wants to find a cure.” The audience at SFJAZZ comprised the third group—the concerned citizens of Silicon Valley."
Silicon Valley’s Crisis of Conscience | The New Yorker

Apple Card is now available to all US iPhone owners, adds new cash-back rewards | Ars Technica

Be sure to temporarily suspend your TransUnion credit freeze before applying; see Apple Card launches today for all US customers | Apple Newsroom for more details
"Applications to Apple's new digital credit card, dubbed simply Apple Card, are now available to all iPhone users in the United States. This follows a short period when Apple offered early access to a select number of customers who signed up and an employees-only test before that.
[...]
While commentators in the press commonly speculated that it would be a somewhat exclusive card due to its ties to Goldman Sachs, a bank that does not tend to serve the lower end of the market, users in the early access periods found that the majority of people could apply for the card and be accepted, though credit limits range from a couple hundred dollars to many thousands, depending on the applicant's income and other factors.

Users can apply for the card in the Wallet app starting today if they have iOS 12.4 or later installed."
Apple Card is now available to all US iPhone owners, adds new cash-back rewards | Ars Technica

Welcome to McDonald’s. Would You Like a Podcast With Those Fries? | NYT

On a related note, see Welcome to the DeepMind podcast | DeepMind blog
"“You get to catch that busy person where you couldn’t normally get them,” said Rob Walch, a vice president at Libsyn, a podcast distributor that works with companies developing branded content. “They’re listening with earbuds, and you’re literally inside their head.”

By some estimates, there are now as many as 750,000 podcasts, so it’s not necessarily a surprise that major companies are creating their own. What’s more surprising is that consumers, conditioned to skip past commercials on YouTube and install ad blockers on their browsers, are actually listening to them. Within a day of its release last year, “The Sauce” broke into iTunes’ top-100 podcast chart, reaching No. 94."
Welcome to McDonald’s. Would You Like a Podcast With Those Fries? | NYT

Facebook audit of alleged anti-conservative bias fails to pinpoint any | Ars Technica

Also see Conservatives, liberals slam Facebook bias audit | Politico
""Facebook's policies and their application have the potential to restrict free expression," Kyl notes. "Given the platform's popularity and ubiquity, this is a danger that must be taken seriously." The platform has made some baby steps toward transparency that help, he concludes, but "[t]here is still significant work to be done to satisfy the concerns we heard from conservatives."

"While we err on the side of free speech, there are critical exceptions: we don't allow content that might encourage offline harm or is intended to intimidate, exclude, or silence people," Facebook communications VP Nick Clegg wrote in a company blog post. "And we work to slow and reduce the spread of content like debunked hoaxes and clickbait by downranking it in News Feed. We know we need to listen more as we work to strike the right balance with these policies.""
Facebook audit of alleged anti-conservative bias fails to pinpoint any | Ars Technica

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Announcing the Cyberspace Solarium Commission | Lawfare

An announcement from Sen. Angus King and Rep. Mike Gallagher; also see Getting the Drop in Cyberspace | Lawfare, which notes "Yet U.S. cyber defenses are not just bad but appalling. This mismatch of offense and defense is just one more reason that the strategy that “the best defense is a good offense,” as Sen. Richard Blumenthal put it to Milley, is especially risky."
"This new Cyberspace Solarium Commission, which we are co-chairing, draws inspiration from Eisenhower’s historical legacy. Established by the 2019 National Defense Authorization Act, this bipartisan, intergovernmental and multisector body is charged with evaluating divergent approaches to defending the United States in cyberspace and driving consensus toward a comprehensive strategy.

Our commissioners include eminent thinkers and cyber experts, private-sector leaders, members of Congress and senior officials from across the executive branch. Strategists, technologists, economists and policymakers populate our staff. The recommendations this commission will issue in the spring of 2020 will be forward looking and prescriptive, rather than a snapshot report that sits on a shelf. The commission will advocate for the implementation of these recommendations so that the U.S. follows through on changing the strategic environment in cyberspace, which currently threatens the long-term security and prosperity of the United States."
Announcing the Cyberspace Solarium Commission | Lawfare

Twitter and Facebook take first actions against China for using fake accounts to sow discord in Hong Kong | Washington Post

In other Twitter disinformation news, see Fact-Checking Trump’s Claim That Google ‘Manipulated’ Millions of Votes for Clinton | NYT
"Twitter said it was suspending nearly a thousand Chinese accounts and banning advertising from state-owned media companies, citing a “significant state-backed information operation” related to protests in Hong Kong. Meanwhile, Facebook said it was removing five Facebook accounts, seven pages and three groups after being tipped off to the use of “a number of deceptive tactics, including the use of fake accounts.”

The new takedowns by Facebook and Twitter reflect the extent to which disinformation has become a global scourge, far surpassing the once-secret efforts of Russian agents to stoke social unrest in the United States during the 2016 presidential election. Researchers recently have pointed to similar campaigns linked to Saudi Arabia, Israel, China, the United Arab Emirates and Venezuela, efforts aimed at shaping discussions on social media beyond their borders."
Twitter and Facebook take first actions against China for using fake accounts to sow discord in Hong Kong | Washington Post

Apple splashes $6bn on new shows in streaming wars | FT

A related Benedict Evans tweet: "If Apple has ‘committed’ $6bn to TV, that won’t all be in one year, so for comparison purposes it’s a lower number. Meanwhile Netflix will apparently spend $15bn this year and has over $20bn of content on the balance sheet. Not quite play money but not a full-on attack on Netflix"; also see Bloomberg: Apple targeting $9.99 per month for Apple TV+, launching in November with 5 shows | 9to5Mac
"Apple has committed more than $6bn for original shows and movies ahead of the launch of its new video streaming service, a ballooning budget aimed at catching up with the likes of Netflix, Disney and AT&T-owned HBO.

The iPhone maker has been preparing its foray into media for years, after hiring Jamie Erlicht and Zack Van Amburg, two well-known executives from Sony Pictures Television, to lead the charge in 2017.

The pair were initially armed with $1bn to commission original content over their first year but the budget has expanded and the total committed so far has passed $6bn, according to people familiar with the matter."
Apple splashes $6bn on new shows in streaming wars | FT

Monday, August 19, 2019

The Arc of Collaboration | kwokchain

One take-away from this communication/collaboration perspective: Slack should acquire (or clone aspects of) Discord...
"Slack is the 911 for whatever isn’t possible natively in a company’s productivity apps. And though it’s improving, there are still many structural cracks. Slack is current best solution for filling these cracks. But it doesn’t fix the cracks themselves, improved processes and productivity apps are needed for that.

As the ecosystem of specialized SaaS apps and workflows continues to mature, messaging becomes a place of last resort. When things are running smoothly, work happens in the apps built to produce them. And collaboration happens within them. Going to slack is increasingly a channel of last resort, for when there’s no established workflow of what to do. And as these functional apps evolve, there are fewer and fewer exceptions that need Slack. In fact, a sign of a maturing company is one that progressively removes the need to use Slack for more and more situations."
The Arc of Collaboration | kwokchain

Terrorists Turn to Bitcoin for Funding, and They’re Learning Fast | NYT

From an extensive cryptocurrency + terrorism reality check
"The Treasury Department, under Mr. Mnuchin, has been promoting international rules that would require cryptocurrency exchanges to do a full identity check on anyone sending digital tokens out of a wallet.

This could make it easier to spot certain illegal transactions. But terrorists and other criminals who use cryptocurrency are already picking up methods that would make it easier to circumvent the new rules, in part by using cryptocurrencies that provide even more privacy than Bitcoin."
Terrorists Turn to Bitcoin for Funding, and They’re Learning Fast | NYT

Trump says Tim Cook made ‘good case’ that trade war helps Samsung over Apple | The Verge

Tim Cook had to explain this to Trump?...
"“I had a very good meeting with Tim Cook,” Trump said. “I have a lot of respect for Tim Cook, and Tim was talking to me about tariffs. And one of the things, and he made a good case, is that Samsung is their number-one competitor, and Samsung is not paying tariffs because they’re based in South Korea.”

“And it’s tough for Apple to pay tariffs if they’re competing with a very good company that’s not. I said, ‘How good a competitor?’ He said they are a very good competitor. So Samsung is not paying tariffs because they’re based in a different location, mostly South Korea but they’re based in South Korea. And I thought he made a very compelling argument, so I’m thinking about it.”"
Trump says Tim Cook made ‘good case’ that trade war helps Samsung over Apple | The Verge

Friday, August 16, 2019

Trump Administration Asks Congress to Reauthorize N.S.A.’s Deactivated Call Records Program | NYT

Tbd if Brad Parscale requested this as part of the Trump 2020 campaign's social media strategy...
"Breaking a long silence about a high-profile National Security Agency program that sifts records of Americans’ telephone calls and text messages in search of terrorists, the Trump administration on Thursday acknowledged for the first time that the system has been indefinitely shut down — but asked Congress to extend its legal basis anyway.

In a letter to Congress delivered on Thursday and obtained by The New York Times, the administration urged lawmakers to make permanent the legal authority for the National Security Agency to gain access to logs of Americans’ domestic communications, the USA Freedom Act. The law, enacted after the intelligence contractor Edward J. Snowden revealed the existence of the program in 2013, is set to expire in December, but the Trump administration wants it made permanent."
Trump Administration Asks Congress to Reauthorize N.S.A.’s Deactivated Call Records Program | NYT

WeWork isn’t a tech company; it’s a soap opera | The Verge

Also see WeWork IPO Shows It’s the Most Magical Unicorn | Bloomberg
"WeWork — excuse me, The We Company — is primarily a landlord for freelancers and companies. You pay rent on your desk or whatever, and then you don’t have to work in the same place you live. (There are also conference rooms.) And yet the word “technology” appears 110 times in the S-1. “We provide our members with flexible access to beautiful spaces, a culture of inclusivity and the energy of an inspired community, all connected by our extensive technology infrastructure,” The We Company tells us. But I am having the damnedest time figuring out what the “extensive technology infrastructure” is. Does this just mean Wi-Fi? Is it the neon lights? Is it… lasers?

It’s true that The We Company hires lots of engineers, product designers, and so on. But, like, what major company doesn’t? If that’s the standard by which one considers a tech company, JPMorgan Chase is one of the biggest and most important tech companies on earth."
WeWork isn’t a tech company; it’s a soap opera | The Verge

Thursday, August 15, 2019

WeWork IPO filing follows uneven road for other companies going public | Washington Post

A recent Charles Fitzgerald tweet: "The call that a WeWork IPO would kick off the apocalypse is looking pretty good right now..."; tangentially, see 9 key countries are on the verge of recession, driving fears the U.S. could follow | Washington Post
"WeWork’s parent company, the We Co., filed paperwork Wednesday indicating plans to raise $1 billion in its initial public offering. Included in the prospectus was another figure: a net loss of $689.7 million for the first six months of 2019.

As the We Co. enters the club of this year’s much-anticipated IPOs, analysts wonder which way it will fall. Some said the We Co. could go the way of strong tech stocks such as Zoom and CrowdStrike. Or it could be hammered like other tech unicorns, such as Uber and Lyft — whose stocks are trading below their IPO prices — which are struggling to convince investors that their ride-hailing models will be profitable soon. Slack and Dropbox have also been sagging.

“I think there’s a little more focus among investors [for WeWork] to carry the torch where Uber and Lyft have not done that thus far,” said Daniel Ives, an analyst at Wedbush Securities."
WeWork IPO filing follows uneven road for other companies going public | Washington Post

Who Killed Tumblr? We All Did

Also see Exclusive: Automattic CEO Matt Mullenweg on what’s next for Tumblr | The Verge
"Thus, it quickly got its lofty valuation with $125 million in investments from tech’s smartest investors and took off. It hit a billion blog posts by 2010, and when the site started accepting advertising in 2012, Tumblr seemed golden.

Fool’s gold. What plagues the internet today hit Tumblr hard and early. There were the inevitable copyright problems and spam and security problems and product problems. And the content itself, which started as edgy, got rather gnarly, from self-harm sites to neo-Nazis to what really tanked Tumblr: sex.

The very fast growth of sites that were soon deemed pornographic got to be a too large part of the site, a development that got a lot of attention in the frenzy of the Yahoo purchase. While some of those blogs were seen as safe havens to explore sexuality, there was too much hard-core pornography — and that did not fly in a corporate setting."
Who Killed Tumblr? We All Did

VMWare in talks to buy Pivotal Software; both controlled by Dell | Reuters

Also see Talk about keeping it in the family: Dell-owned Pivotal shares rocket after Dell-owned VMware mulls gobbling it up | The Register, which adds "Stock price back up to, er, just below IPO level"
"VMware Inc (VMW.N) and Pivotal Software Inc (PVTL.N) are negotiating a deal for VMWare to acquire Pivotal, according to a regulatory filing from Dell Technologies Inc (DELL.N) on Wednesday, valuing Pivotal, a maker of software development and management tools, at about $4 billion.

Pivotal shares jumped 63% to $13.60, while shares of VMWare were down about 3% at $148.25 in extended trading. Dell is the controlling stockholder for both the companies. Dell’s shares dropped 1.65% to $47.80 in after-market trading on Wednesday.
[...]
The offer price represents an 81% premium to Pivotal’s Wednesday close. Shares of Pivotal, which provides tools for software developers working with cloud services from different companies, have fallen 49% this year."
VMWare in talks to buy Pivotal Software; both controlled by Dell | Reuters

Facebook is simplifying group privacy settings and adding admin tools for safety | The Verge

Also see Facebook's crackdown on dangerous content in groups could backfire, experts say | The Guardian
"Facebook announced today that it’s updating its group privacy settings and working to better moderate bad content breaking the platform’s rules. The platform is renaming its confusing public, closed, and secret group settings to the slightly more straightforward public and private settings, with the option to make private groups visible or hidden to non-members. The new settings will also provide more control for admins and members, giving admins more moderation tools and members the option to see the group’s history and preview its content before accepting or declining an invitation.

The new group settings are also part of the Safe Communities Initiative that the company started two years ago, in an effort to monitor and detect bad content in Facebook groups. The announcement comes in the wake of recent findings that secret Facebook groups have been acting as gathering places for racist, offensive activity — one example coming from earlier last month, when ProPublica found a group of Border Patrol agents joking about migrant deaths."
Facebook is simplifying group privacy settings and adding admin tools for safety | The Verge

I Shared My Phone Number. I Learned I Shouldn’t Have. | NYT

Later in the article: "“If you want to give out your number, you are taking additional risk that you might not be aware of,” said Sinan Eren, chief executive of Fyde. “Because of collisions in names due to the massive number of people online today, a phone number is a stronger identifier.”"
"In fact, your phone number may have now become an even stronger identifier than your full name. I recently found this out firsthand when I asked Fyde, a mobile security firm in Palo Alto, Calif., to use my digits to demonstrate the potential risks of sharing a phone number.

Emre Tezisci, a security researcher at Fyde with a background in telecommunications, took on the task with gusto. He and I had never met or talked. He quickly plugged my cellphone number into a public records directory. Soon, he had a full dossier on me — including my name and birth date, my address, the property taxes I pay and the names of members of my family."
I Shared My Phone Number. I Learned I Shouldn’t Have. | NYT

Facebook isn’t ready for 2020 | Washington Post

Brad Parscale, Vladimir Putin, Robert Mercer, and many others are counting on it...
"Facebook often talks about how sophisticated social media manipulation can be and how sophisticated its own methods now are in response. The suspicious activity we found in the European elections, though, was anything but sophisticated. If the European elections were “an important test for us,” as Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg declared last month, it was a test the company failed spectacularly.

If Facebook couldn’t figure out that thousands of coordinated accounts with random two-letter names were suspicious, it has little hope of preventing the next attack by the Russians, the Iranians or anyone else."
Facebook isn’t ready for 2020 | Washington Post

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Snap's Spectacles 3 are made for augmented reality | Engadget

You can pre-order today for $380 (available "this fall")
"Snap's Spectacles 2 were functionally better, but not a revolution -- and they were still a bit dowdy. Its latest attempt at smart eyewear might fare better, though. The social service has unveiled Spectacles 3 glasses that include dual HD cameras to capture scenes in 3D and introduce augmented reality Snapchat effects to moments where they weren't previously an option. You can add 3D filters to your walk, take pseudo-3D still shots of your friends and add 3D Lens effects to a bike ride. While you can only record video for up to a minute of continuous video at a time, that's still a tangible improvement over the 10 seconds from before.

The Spectacles 3 might even look vaguely fashionable, too. While you probably wouldn't treat them as the centerpiece of your ensemble, their steel frame (available in either black Carbon or gold-tinted Mineral) and circular lenses should at least convey some sense of style. This is helped by a leather charging case that can hold four top-ups and fold flat when you're not using it."
Snap's Spectacles 3 are made for augmented reality | Engadget

Elon Musk’s Neuralink: Both an evolution and a plan for radical change | Ars Technica

From a detailed Neuralink reality check
"Before taking a look at the individual components that Neuralink announced recently, let's start with an overview of what the company hopes to accomplish technology-wise. The plan is to access the brain via a hole less than eight millimeters across. This small hole would allow Neuralink to implant an even smaller (4mm x 4mm) chip and its associated wiring into the brain. The chip will get power from, and communicate with, some wireless hardware located behind the ear, much like current cochlear implants.

Inside the brain, the chip will be connected to a series of small threads that carry electrodes to the relevant area, where they can listen in on the electrical activity of neurons. These threads will be put in place using a surgical robot, which allows the surgeon to insert them in a manner that avoids damaging blood vessels.

The chip will take the raw readings of neural activity and process them to a very compact form that preserves key information, which will be easier for their wireless hardware to transmit back across the skull. Electrical impulses can also be sent to the neurons via the same electrodes, stimulating brain activity. Musk thinks that it would be safe to insert as many as 10 of these chips into a single brain, though Neuralink will obviously start testing with far fewer."
Elon Musk’s Neuralink: Both an evolution and a plan for radical change | Ars Technica

Twitter tests letting users follow topics in the same way they follow accounts | The Verge

Better late than never?... Also see Twitter's plans: Follow topics, edit tweets someday | Axios
"The move represents Twitter’s latest effort to help users find the best content on the platform even if they don’t know which accounts to follow. For years, the company has sought to make it easier for people to find value in Twitter, which can be foreboding for newcomers. Previously, Twitter Moments allowed people to follow events such as the Oscars or a sports game.

One reason to restrict the interests that can be followed in the testing phase is to see how amplifying them via the new feature affects the overall Twitter experience. The company has been researching the bad incentives that Twitter can create, with the like and retweet often serving to promote outrage and polarization. It’s unclear whether algorithmic promotion of interests will behave differently than algorithmically promoted retweets. The underlying mechanics appear to be quite similar, at least on the surface."
Twitter tests letting users follow topics in the same way they follow accounts | The Verge

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Solar now ‘cheaper than grid electricity’ in every Chinese city, study finds | Carbon Brief

Also see Solar electricity is now CHEAPER than grid electricity in China — with one in five cities finding renewable energy lower cost than coal | Daily Mail and, tangentially, Fish Farms Now Hosting Almost 9% of China’s Solar Power Panels | Bloomberg Environment
""They say grid parity – the “tipping point” at which solar generation costs the same as electricity from the grid – represents a key stage in the expansion of renewable energy sources.

While previous studies of nations such as Germany and the US have concluded that solar could achieve grid parity by 2020 in most developed countries, some have suggested China would have to wait decades.

However, the new paper published in Nature Energy concludes a combination of technological advances, cost declines and government support has helped make grid parity a reality in Chinese today."
Solar now ‘cheaper than grid electricity’ in every Chinese city, study finds | Carbon Brief

Putin’s Missile Is Far Better Than Trump’s Missile, Kremlin Says | Bloomberg

Also see Russian nuclear engineers buried after 'Skyfall nuclear' blast | Al Jazeera
"President Vladimir Putin “has repeatedly said that Russian developments in this area surpass the level achieved by other countries, and are quite unique,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters Tuesday on a conference call, in response to a question on Trump’s tweet. U.S. officials have said repeatedly in the past year that its military is working on such programs, so Trump’s statement offers no new information, he said.

An Aug. 8 blast in Russia’s Arkhangelsk region killed five atomic scientists during the test of a missile engine that used “isotope power sources” on an offshore platform in the White Sea. Trump later tweeted that the U.S. “is learning much from the failed missile explosion in Russia” and added that “we have similar, though more advanced, technology,” without giving more details."
Putin’s Missile Is Far Better Than Trump’s Missile, Kremlin Says | Bloomberg

The Phony Patriots of Silicon Valley | NYT

From a timely technology + politics reality check
"The latest example of Silicon Valley’s patriotic playacting comes courtesy of Peter Thiel, the Trump-backing venture capitalist. In an op-ed in The New York Times this month, Mr. Thiel took Google to task for opening an artificial intelligence lab in Beijing while canceling a controversial Pentagon contract, accusing the company of trying to “evade responsibility for the good of the country.”

Mr. Thiel’s obvious conflicts of interest aside (he is on the board of Facebook, Google’s rival, and is the chairman of the technology firm Palantir, which has lucrative government contracts of its own), seeing him lecture anyone on patriotism is rich. He was among the first major supporters of the Seasteading movement — a group of libertarians who wanted to flee the United States and build a floating city in international waters — and in 2011, he became a New Zealand citizen after buying up property there. (“It would give me great pride to let it be known that I am a New Zealand citizen and an enthusiastic supporter of the country,” Mr. Thiel wrote in his citizenship application.)"
The Phony Patriots of Silicon Valley | NYT

Icahn Acquires 18 Percent Stake In Cloudera, Gains Two Seats On Board Of Directors | CRN

Also see Cloudera and Carl Icahn Agree to Peace. The Stock Tumbles. | Barron's
"Activist investor Carl Icahn is gaining two seats on the board of big data platform developer Cloudera, under an agreement unveiled Monday, after he acquired a huge stake in the company.

Icahn disclosed earlier this month that he had acquired more than 50.3 million Cloudera shares for an 18.36 percent stake in the company, according to a Bloomberg story.

Icahn's involvement with Cloudera comes at a turbulent time for the company. It is in the process of integrating its operations and product line with those of Hortonworks, the direct competitor Cloudera acquired in January for $5.2 billion. In June CEO Tom Reilly announced that he would retire in July, sending the company's stock plummeting almost 30 percent."
Icahn Acquires 18 Percent Stake In Cloudera, Gains Two Seats On Board Of Directors | CRN

Verizon is selling Tumblr to WordPress’ owner | The Verge

Also see Automattic + Tumblr | Matt on Tumblr
"Verizon, which first acquired Tumblr in 2017 after it purchased Yahoo, started to explore a sale earlier this year. Automattic reportedly bought Tumblr for less than $3 million, according to Axios, a stunning drop in value from the $1.1 billion Yahoo paid for it in 2013.

“Tumblr is a marquee brand that has started movements, allowed for true identities to blossom and become home to many creative communities and fandoms,” Verizon Media CEO Guru Gowrappan said in a statement. “We are proud of what the team has accomplished and are happy to have found the perfect partner in Automattic, whose expertise and track record will unlock new and exciting possibilities for Tumblr and its users.”"
Verizon is selling Tumblr to WordPress’ owner | The Verge

Monday, August 12, 2019

Apple Transforms Central Park Into an Augmented Reality Gallery | NYT

For more [AR]T details, see this Apple page; also see [AR]T at the Apple Store: Here’s how Apple is making augmented reality accessible to everyone | 9to5Mac
"Words appeared in the sky, the color of clouds, and then faded into a jumble of letters in the background. It was an ephemeral poem, with lines like “Catch the falling knife” visible for a few seconds through the portal of an iPhone pointed at the skyline above Central Park.

This is a piece by the poet and performance artist John Giorno, called “Now at the Dawn of My Life,” that’s part of a new initiative by Apple called [AR]T — a curation of augmented reality art, featured in a series of guided walks. Apple worked with the New Museum to select the artists: Nick Cave, Nathalie Djurberg, Hans Berg, Cao Fei, Carsten H├Âller, Pipilotti Rist and Mr. Giorno. Each created an augmented reality work that’s been choreographed into the landscape of the tour, playing with the canvas of public space."
Apple Transforms Central Park Into an Augmented Reality Gallery | NYT

Tech Policy White House questions tech giants on ways to predict shootings from social media | Washington Post

Maybe they should watch the seventh (and final) season of Elementary first...
"Top officials in the Trump administration expressed interest in tools that might anticipate mass shootings or predict attackers by scanning social media posts, photos and videos during a meeting Friday with tech giants including Facebook, Google and Twitter.

The technology could serve as an early-warning system for potential attacks, White House officials proposed at the brainstorming session, perhaps compiling information from across social sites to identify deadly incidents before they occur, according to three people familiar with the matter but not authorized to discuss a private gathering on the record.

In response, though, tech leaders expressed doubt that such technology is feasible, while raising concerns about the privacy risks that such a system might create for all users, two of the sources said."
 Tech Policy White House questions tech giants on ways to predict shootings from social media | Washington Post

Epstein Suicide Conspiracies Show How Our Information System Is Poisoned | NYT

Later in the article: "“Any wayward tweet … can be elevated to an opinion worth paying attention to,” Ms. DiResta wrote. “If you make it trend, you make it true.”"
"Within minutes, Trump appointees, Fox Business hosts and Twitter pundits revived a decades old conspiracy theory, linking the Clinton family to supposedly suspicious deaths. #ClintonBodyCount and #ClintonCrimeFamily trended on Twitter. Around the same time, an opposite hashtag — #TrumpBodyCount — emerged, focused on President Trump’s decades-old ties to Mr. Epstein. Each hashtag was accompanied by GIFs and memes picturing Mr. Epstein with the Clintons or with Mr. Trump to serve as a viral accusation of foul play.

The dueling hashtags and their attendant toxicity are a grim testament to our deeply poisoned information ecosystem — one that’s built for speed and designed to reward the most incendiary impulses of its worst actors. It has ushered in a parallel reality unrooted in fact and helped to push conspiratorial thinking into the cultural mainstream. And with each news cycle, the system grows more efficient, entrenching its opposing camps. The poison spreads."
Epstein Suicide Conspiracies Show How Our Information System Is Poisoned | NYT

How YouTube Radicalized Brazil | NYT

From an extensive and disconcerting YouTube reality check
"Members of the nation’s newly empowered far right — from grass-roots organizers to federal lawmakers — say their movement would not have risen so far, so fast, without YouTube’s recommendation engine.

New research has found they may be correct. YouTube’s search and recommendation system appears to have systematically diverted users to far-right and conspiracy channels in Brazil.

A New York Times investigation in Brazil found that, time and again, videos promoted by the site have upended central elements of daily life."
How YouTube Radicalized Brazil | NYT

Friday, August 09, 2019

Why Aren’t We Talking About LinkedIn? | NYT

Earlier in the article: "Now LinkedIn claims to have more than 645 million users, 180 million of them residing in North America. Last year, it produced more than $5.3 billion in revenue for Microsoft. (For scale, that’s about one-tenth the revenue of Facebook, Inc., about half of Instagram’s and almost twice Twitter’s.)"
"Mr. Thompson also estimates that his American followers on LinkedIn are more evenly distributed along the political spectrum, as compared to his followings on Twitter or Facebook, where they tilt liberal. But, he said, “filter bubbles aren’t as strong, in part because people aren’t posting as much about politics.” The 2020 field of candidates is doing plenty of hiring on LinkedIn, but don’t expect campaigning there. Political ads are banned on the platform. In 2017, the last year outside analytics firms could track such things, Forbes.com was the most popular source of news posted to the site, according to NewsWhip. (The majority of posts tend to deal in the genres of self-help, motivation and marketing.) Of the top ten stories of the second half of 2017, nine were explicitly about work, and one was about a solar farm in China that is shaped like a panda.

“The risk on Facebook is becoming too toxic,” Mr. Thompson said. “The risk on LinkedIn is becoming too cheesy.”"
Why Aren’t We Talking About LinkedIn? | NYT

Uber Posts $5.2 Billion Loss and Slowest Ever Growth Rate | NYT

Recalculating route...
"For the second quarter, Uber said it lost $5.2 billion, the largest loss since it began disclosing limited financial data in 2017. A majority of that — about $3.9 billion — was caused by stock-based compensation that Uber paid its employees after its I.P.O.

Excluding that one-time expense, Uber lost $1.3 billion, or nearly twice the $878 million that it lost a year earlier. On that same basis and excluding other costs, the company said it expected to lose $3 billion to $3.2 billion this year.

Revenue grew to $3.1 billion, up 14 percent from a year ago, the slowest quarterly growth rate Uber has ever disclosed."
Uber Posts $5.2 Billion Loss and Slowest Ever Growth Rate | NYT

Huawei reveals Harmony OS, its alternative to Android | Engadget

Also see Huawei’s new operating system is called HarmonyOS | The Verge
"Huawei's long-rumored Android alternative, Hongmeng, is finally official. At today's Huawei Developer Conference, the company's Consumer Business Group CEO Richard Yu surprised the audience by unveiling "Harmony OS," which he says is faster and safer than Android. That said, the software is primarily aimed at IoT products (such as smart displays, wearables, smart speakers and in-car devices) instead of smartphones, Yu stated that when Huawei can no longer access Google's Android ecosystem, it can deploy Harmony OS "at any time." Until then, Huawei will continue to support Android.

Yu's own presentation was rather technical, but in a nutshell, Harmony OS is positioned as a future-proof, "microkernel-based, distributed OS for all scenarios." The platform is open source, and it's actually more of a competitor to Google's upcoming Fuchsia, given that both are microkernel-based and can be used on multiple types of devices at once. In contrast, his on-stage presentation said Android isn't as efficient due to its redundant codes, outdated scheduling mechanism and general fragmentation issues. Shots fired."
Huawei reveals Harmony OS, its alternative to Android | Engadget

Thursday, August 08, 2019

Microsoft and Samsung partner to empower you to achieve more | Windows Blog

See Microsoft and Samsung partner to bridge Android and Windows closer together | The Verge for more on Microsoft's latest Android assimilation aspirations
"With Microsoft’s Your Phone, you can stay more productive on your Windows 10 PC. With the ability to access your recent photos, text messages, notifications and mobile apps right on your PC, you can stay in your flow, without the need to switch between devices[1]. And now, with native integration of Link to Windows on Galaxy Note10, it’s never been easier to connect your Samsung phone to your Windows 10 PC. Just connect your Galaxy Note10 with your PC via the Link to Windows setting and get instant access to your Android phone’s content that matters to you. Now there’s no need to dig for your phone to check notifications, schedule a ride to the airport, or even text. And you can finally stop emailing yourself photos as you can drag and drop photos directly into your email or your PowerPoint presentation.

Later this month, Galaxy Note10 users will be the first to experience the new Phone screen[2] feature, which allows you to access your Android phone’s apps, right from your PC while using your keyboard and mouse, or touch screen. Users can try out multi-touch gestures such as pinch to zoom, rotate, or swipe from their PC’s touchscreen while using Phone screen. As I demonstrated at the event today, whether it’s messaging someone, requesting a ride, scrolling through friends’ updates or ordering dinner, your phone’s screen will be available directly on your PC. And we are not stopping here; later this year, we are planning to introduce the ability to make and receive mobile calls directly from your PC. Accept the call, reply with a text, or send the caller to voicemail right from your PC. All of these features and experiences will continue to deliver meaningful innovation to help you stay focused and more productive on your Windows PC[3]."
Microsoft and Samsung partner to empower you to achieve more | Windows Blog

Apple and Eli Lilly are studying whether data from iPhones and Apple Watches can detect signs of dementia | CNBC

See this page for the full report
"Apple has been adding health features to its iPhone and smartwatch, and is now working with Eli Lilly to see if data from the devices can help spot early signs of dementia.

According to research published this week, the two companies teamed up with health-tech start-up Evidation to find ways to more quickly and precisely detect cognitive impairments like Alzheimer’s disease with the help of popular consumer gadgets.

The study, which will be discussed on Thursday at a conference in Alaska, is the first to publicly link Apple and Eli Lilly. Of the 15 authors of the paper, five work for each company with the other five representing Evidation. It’s the latest sign that Apple’s health team is investing in deep medical research with traditional pharmaceutical players."
Apple and Eli Lilly are studying whether data from iPhones and Apple Watches can detect signs of dementia | CNBC

An Electric Harley Loses the Growl but Still Aims to Turn Heads | NYT

The Harley LiveWire starts at $29,799, if you can find a dealer that hasn't pre-sold its allotment
"The industry is banking on electrics.

“For so long, we thought of motorcycles as being these raw, fire-breathing vehicles,” said Harlan Flagg, founder of Hollywood Electrics in Los Angeles. “Motorcyclists have done themselves a huge disservice by scaring people away with these ridiculously loud bikes that are obnoxious.”

Their electric cousins are easier to ride than the gas-powered monsters. They have no clutch or gearshift, so riders do not need to coordinate all their extremities to operate the controls. They just twist the grip and go. There’s no hot exhaust pipe to burn a leg. And they project a friendlier, more eco-conscious image. They’re whisper-quiet."
An Electric Harley Loses the Growl but Still Aims to Turn Heads | NYT

Tech Companies Must Fight White Supremacy, Regardless of Political Dangers | Lawfare

Final paragraph from this timely reality check: "When there are lives on the line, political awkwardness must give way to responsible corporate behavior and good stewardship of the internet. Reliance on law enforcement, a sound understanding of the ideological underpinnings of terrorist activity, transparency and accountability can be the digital platforms’ best friends as they go all in on thwarting white supremacy online."
"The first step must be to create information-sharing networks with law enforcement on white supremacist terror threats, as tech companies and the government already have built for international terrorism. These must be narrowly focused on sharing only information appropriate and relevant to specific violent extremist activity online at the unclassified level.

Second, application and enforcement of the platforms’ terms of service today are inconsistent. Too many accounts are still online purveying the inherently hateful, discriminatory, and downright dangerous ideologies associated with neo-Nazism, neo-Confederacism and other forms of white supremacy. The platforms should make clear they will establish a zero-tolerance policy for clearly illegal activity including incitement to violence—and will report to the FBI where they see such criminal activity, as they report child pornography. They should clarify that they will take down content that embraces and echoes the underlying ideology of the white supremacist terrorists—like that shared by recent terrorists from Christchurch, New Zealand, to El Paso, Texas—and also clarify under what circumstances they will take down the accounts themselves."
Tech Companies Must Fight White Supremacy, Regardless of Political Dangers | Lawfare

Trump’s executive order on social media bias is a distraction | Vox

For more details, see White House drafting executive order to tackle Silicon Valley’s alleged anti-conservative bias | Politico
"The Trump administration is reportedly drafting an executive order to combat the bias that some Republicans accuse social media companies of displaying against conservatives.

The White House is reportedly sharing drafts of an order on the topic, according to according to Politico, which first reported the story. Details of the draft order are still vague, and it’s not clear what penalties, if any, the administration will be able to legally enforce, given protections to media platforms under the First Amendment and Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.

Regardless of whether it’s a serious regulatory threat or not, news of this drafted executive order emphasizes yet again that one of the President Donald Trump’s main campaign tenets in the 2020 election will be to stoke his conservative base’s fears that Big Tech is prejudiced against Republicans and is manipulating the upcoming election."
Trump’s executive order on social media bias is a distraction | Vox

Samsung unveils the Galaxy Book S, an ultra-thin laptop with a 23-hour battery life | VB

Also see Samsung’s new Galaxy Book S is a Qualcomm-powered laptop with 23 hours of battery life | The Verge, which notes: "The big question with this — and all ARM-based PCs, really — is whether the processor can be powerful enough to really feel like a viable main computer. Intel chips may have a bad rap for being power-hungry and a little behind the times, but ARM-based Windows laptops have disappointed us too many times for us to say we can trust this device’s power without testing it first."
"The fanless 2.1-pound, 13.3-inch Galaxy Book S is no slouch in the hardware department. It features an anodized aluminum frame on the top and base and a fully backlit keyboard, and it packs a 10-point touchscreen, a single USB-C port, and a multi-core Qualcomm system-on-chip paired with 8GB of LPDDR4X RAM. That’s in addition to Gigabit LTE Cat.18 connectivity built in and “studio-quality” stereo speakers tuned by AKG and enhanced further by Dolby Atmos technology, not to mention a Windows Hello-compatible camera and fingerprint sensor.
Thanks to software and hardware optimizations out the wazoo, the 42Wh battery (which supports USB Power Delivery 2.0, and Quick Charge 2.0) lasts a whopping 23 hours on a charge, Samsung claims. That’s without Wi-Fi or other connections enabled, though, so expect results to vary."
Samsung unveils the Galaxy Book S, an ultra-thin laptop with a 23-hour battery life | VB

Twitter freezes McConnell campaign account for posting video of protester’s violent threats | Washington Post

Obviously the campaign team should have simply asked Trump to retweet it, since no rules apply to his Twitter account...
"Twitter locked Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s campaign account from further activity Wednesday as punishment for its sharing of a video of protesters screaming obscenities outside the Kentucky Republican’s home.

The social media company will not unlock @TeamMitch unless it agrees to remove the video.

McConnell’s campaign confirmed to The Washington Post that its account was suspended. The Courier-Journal first reported the story."
Twitter freezes McConnell campaign account for posting video of protester’s violent threats | Washington Post

Wednesday, August 07, 2019

Uber Wants to Sell You Train Tickets. And Be Your Bus Service, Too. | NYT

Also see Uber and Lyft finally admit they’re making traffic congestion worse in cities | The Verge
"Since 2015, Uber has inked more than 20 transit deals. The push is now being championed by Dara Khosrowshahi, its chief executive, to turn the company into the “Amazon of transportation.” In that vision, Uber would become a one-stop shop for car, bike, scooter, bus and train trips.

Doing so would help Uber draw more riders, especially as the company faces questions from Wall Street about whether it can make money and revive its once red-hot growth rate. On Thursday, Uber is scheduled to report its latest earnings, including an estimated quarterly loss of nearly $5 billion and declining revenue growth."
Uber Wants to Sell You Train Tickets. And Be Your Bus Service, Too. | NYT