31 May 2018

The Washington Post: “Why WhatsApp may present a greater challenge to democracy than Facebook”

India’s “WhatsApp First” election, as it has been dubbed, comes at a time when parent company Facebook has been accused of undermining democracy by failing to control hate speech, Russian disinformation and inaccurate news. In developing countries such as Burma and Sri Lanka, false stories on Facebook have sparked riots, lynchings and religious violence. In the United States, accounts run by Russian operatives shared disinformation and divisive messages to up to 126 million people.

But activists in many parts of the world say WhatsApp — used by 1.5 billion people globally and known for its encrypted messages that even company executives can’t read — presents an even greater challenge to democracy.

The platform is ripe for abuse because so many of its users are new to the Internet and not digitally literate, activists say. And because conversations happen within private groups, it can be difficult for the broader public to correct false information.

It is getting out of hand, and WhatsApp doesn’t know what to do about it, said Nikhil Pahwa, a digital rights activist. The difficulty with WhatsApp is that it’s impossible to know how this information is spreading. It’s very easy for a political party to spread misinformation and no one can trace it back to them.

Annie Gowen & Elizabeth Dwoskin

Let’s encrypt everything”, they said; “This is to ensure people’s privacy!” they said. All fine, until people engage in criminal acts, spread disinformation and incite violence, with no way to trace them and hold them accountable. If tech companies don’t make some changes to their products, I am increasingly convinced that the recent trend of governments blocking social networks and messaging apps will soon become the norm rather than an exception.

27 May 2018

Vox: “Alien: Covenant is too muddled to pull off its deeply ambitious Satan allegories”

Satan is the kind of figure we’re familiar with today, both on TV and in real life: arrogant, charismatic, refusing to be subjugated to anyone, with a will bent only toward power and destruction. His rebellion is absolute; he’s less like those antiheroes for whom we cling to the possibility of redemption (Don Draper, Tony Soprano, Walter White) and more like those who are so unrepentant that they don’t seem human at all — think of The Dark Knight’s Joker, Hannibal Lecter, or The Knick’s Dr. William Thackery.

Alien: Covenant starts to flesh out a character — and an origin story for the whole franchise — in which Milton’s Satan is the defining, driving force. But that characterization is cut off at the knees by the fact that God in the Alien universe is still a giant mystery, even six movies in. He certainly didn’t create humans: They were created by an alien race, which the humans call “Engineers” — whose origin is itself a mystery — and in turn, the humans created an android race. There’s also a much more primal race of alien life forms (introduced in Alien) that is the embodiment of pure rage and destruction, with no drive to create, only to reproduce. And that reproduction can only happen by destroying other lives.

The creation-and-fall narrative that began to emerge in Prometheus and continues in Alien: Covenant is more ouroboros than straight line. The Engineers created humans; the humans created androids; the androids created pure evil. As such, there is no one force for a Satan figure to rebel against, pridefully or otherwise, in the Alien universe.

Alissa Wilkinson

I’ve recently watched the movie as it became available on HBO. It’s fun to read a couple of reviews afterwards, to discover hidden subtleties you might have missed in the film. While it did enjoy it enough to finish it, if felt much more like a horror movie than science-fiction. The setting, from the ark with frozen colonists, to the mysterious planet and androids, is certainly SF, but the plot is designed like a second-rate horror, at best. I mean, the characters go out of their way to make stupid choices practically every time, walking headfirst into trouble.

22 May 2018

Baekdal Plus: “Inside Story: What I did to get GDPR Compliant”

GDPR is now putting a stop to this by turning the first rule of privacy into law. On top of this, one of the big differences that GDPR makes is that the implied consent that we have always had is no longer enough. Compared to the past, we now have to be in control of the data, which we weren’t; We need to have data transparency, which we didn’t; We have to be able to show our audience exactly what data we have collected about them and where it is, which we couldn’t… and we have to give readers a way to delete their data.

So, in this rather long article, I’m going to tell you exactly what I did, why I did it, how I implemented my new system, as well as how I am now doing analytics.

Thomas Baekdal

After complaining about bad practices in dealing with GDPR, it’s time to share some good practices. Some of the advice is not directly applicable to everyone, since the case in point here is a publisher with paid membership, but hopefully people can be inspired enough to think outside the box and implement genuine changes to their data collection policies. And, I must confess, I’m a little biased, since I contributed a tiny bit of information about Twitter’s privacy options for embedded tweets. The author has written a lot more on the subject, here are other articles that are worth a read: ‘Publishers haven't realized just how Big a Deal GDPR is’ and ‘Putting GDPR into Action for Publishers’ – the second behind his paywall.

The Guardian: “Most GDPR emails unnecessary and some illegal, say experts”

Many companies, acting based on poor legal advice, a fear of fines of up to €20m (£17.5m) and a lack of good examples to follow, have taken what they see as the safest option for hewing to the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR): asking customers to renew their consent for marketing communications and data processing.

But Toni Vitale, the head of regulation, data and information at the law firm Winckworth Sherwood, said many of those requests would be needless paperwork, and some that were not would be illegal.

Businesses are not required to automatically ‘repaper’ or refresh all existing 1998 Act consents in preparation for the GDPR, Vitale said. The first question to ask is: which of the six legal grounds under the GDPR should you rely on to process personal data? Consent is only one ground. The others are contract, legal obligation, vital interests, public interest and legitimate interests.

Alex Hern

I’ve seen a lot of confusion around this. I think most companies still mishandle it pretty badly because they simply don’t grasp the privacy principle underlying the regulation: businesses can collect and process data from customers (as they need to do for any business transaction), as long as they don’t share this data with third parties. It’s only at this point that they should start thinking about getting consent and additional controls. An email newsletter is perfectly fine as long as you don’t use the subscriber data for other purposes – for example selling the database to other companies for their own marketing and targeting.

15 May 2018

The Washington Post: “Yes, Pluto is a planet”

Most essentially, planetary worlds (including planetary moons) are those large enough to have pulled themselves into a ball by the strength of their own gravity. Below a certain size, the strength of ice and rock is enough to resist rounding by gravity, and so the smallest worlds are lumpy. This is how, even before New Horizons arrives, we know that Ultima Thule is not a planet. Among the few facts we’ve been able to ascertain about this body is that it is tiny (just 17 miles across) and distinctly nonspherical. This gives us a natural, physical criterion to separate planets from all the small bodies orbiting in space — boulders, icy comets or rocky and metallic asteroids, all of which are small and lumpy because their gravity is too weak for self-rounding.

David Grinspoon & Alan Stern

This article kicked off once again the heated debate of Pluto’s planethood. Scientific arguments aside, it feels there are a lot of ambitions at stake here: on one side the principal investigator of the New Horizons mission to Pluto; on the other the self-titled ‘Pluto killer’ – hard to see how these two could ever come to a compromise on this matter.

14 May 2018

The New Yorker: “Making China Great Again”

So far, Trump has proposed reducing U.S. contributions to the U.N. by forty per cent, and pressured the General Assembly to cut six hundred million dollars from its peacekeeping budget. In his first speech to the U.N., in September, Trump ignored its collective spirit and celebrated sovereignty above all, saying, As President of the United States, I will always put America first, just like you, as the leaders of your countries, will always and should always put your countries first.

China’s approach is more ambitious. In recent years, it has taken steps to accrue national power on a scale that no country has attempted since the Cold War, by increasing its investments in the types of assets that established American authority in the previous century: foreign aid, overseas security, foreign influence, and the most advanced new technologies, such as artificial intelligence. It has become one of the leading contributors to the U.N.’s budget and to its peacekeeping force, and it has joined talks to address global problems such as terrorism, piracy, and nuclear proliferation.

And China has embarked on history’s most expensive foreign infrastructure plan. Under the Belt and Road Initiative, it is building bridges, railways, and ports in Asia, Africa, and beyond. If the initiative’s cost reaches a trillion dollars, as predicted, it will be more than seven times that of the Marshall Plan, which the U.S. launched in 1947, spending a hundred and thirty billion, in today’s dollars, on rebuilding postwar Europe.

Evan Osnos

Despite the title, this article is as much about China’s ambitions to become a world power, as it is about America’s recent reluctance to fill this role. Very interesting read, covering multiple topics, from political influence to economic investments to tech advancements and artificial intelligence.

13 May 2018

The Guardian: “Why can’t we cure the common cold?”

3D rendering of a human rhinovirus virus

Although modern science has changed the way medicine is practised in almost every field, it has so far failed to produce any radically new treatments for colds. The difficulty is that while all colds feel much the same, from a biological perspective the only common feature of the various viruses that cause colds is that they have adapted to enter and damage the cells that line the respiratory tract. Otherwise, they belong to quite different categories of organisms, each with a distinct way of infecting our cells. This makes a catch-all treatment extremely tricky to formulate.

Scientists today identify seven virus families that cause the majority of colds: rhinovirus, coronavirus, influenza and parainfluenza virus, adenovirus, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and, finally, metapneumovirus, which was first isolated in 2001. Each has a branch of sub-viruses, known as serotypes, of which there are about 200. Rhinovirus, the smallest cold pathogen by size, is by far the most prevalent, causing up to three-quarters of colds in adults. To vanquish the cold we will need to tackle all of these different families of virus at some stage. But, for now, rhinovirus is the biggest player.

Nicola Davison

Interesting article about a wide-spread problem: the ‘common’ cold. This large variety of viruses is probably the reason why our bodies do not build natural immunity against ‘the cold’: every time we catch a cold it’s likely caused by a different strain, one our immune system hasn’t encountered before and doesn't know how to fight. It clearly complicates the search for a cure, although internal politics at drug companies and profitability considerations do play a role, as explained later.

08 May 2018

Strategy Analytics: “Apple iPhone X becomes World’s Best-Selling Smartphone Model in Q1 2018”

We estimate the Apple iPhone X shipped 16.0 million units and captured 5 percent marketshare worldwide in Q1 2018. For the second quarter running, the iPhone X remains the world’s most popular smartphone model overall, due to a blend of good design, sophisticated camera, extensive apps, and widespread retail presence for the device. Apple has now shifted almost 50 million iPhone X units worldwide since commercial launch in November 2017. The Apple iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus shipped 12.5 and 8.3 million units, respectively, for second and third place. The previous-generation iPhone 7 shipped a respectable 5.6 million units for fourth place. Combined together, Apple today accounts for four of the world’s six most popular smartphone models.

Linda Sui

Let’s do a quick plausibility check on these numbers. Apple released their second quarter results last week, so we have the official sales and revenue numbers for the iPhone (52.217 Mio. units and $38,032 Mio. revenue, ASP $728.35). We know the prices for each iPhone model, so combined with the sales estimates above we can calculate an estimated revenue and ASP for these four models. I say ‘estimated’, because we don’t know how many people opted for basic storage or for the larger capacity, as this also impacts the sale price and ultimately ASP. I calculated two versions, one based on the (unlikely) assumption that sales went 100% to lower capacity phones, and another one assuming 15% of consumers chose the more expensive phone with more storage.

04 May 2018

Twitter Blog: “A new Twitter experience on Windows”

With this new app, we leveraged Microsoft’s support for Progressive Web Apps to bring users a better, faster and improved experience they’ve come to expect from Twitter. This new app has been optimized for the Windows 10 April 2018 Update. Once you install the latest update you will notice that we streamlined the in-app experience with a more consistent look and feel. And, we’ve added several highly-requested features, like:

  • Extended character limit to 280 characters
  • Access to the Explore tab to find topics relevant to your interests
  • Ability to bookmark Tweets to be read later
  • Improved accessibility for screen readers
  • And much more
Charlie Croom

Sadly, this update also means losing some features, from support for multiple accounts to the experimental tabs of the abandoned native Windows app. The PWA doesn’t show notifications yet, but that may be because I haven’t updated Windows 10 yet; some features depend on the Edge rendering engine running inside the PWA.

03 May 2018

Om on Tech: “Dating with Facebook: What’s love got to do with it?”

It is hardly a surprise that they will attempt dating — it increases time spent on Facebook, it brings a new flavor of addiction. Take a step back and remind yourself of Facebook’s attempts to bring you news ended in fake news becoming the norm. Their algorithms created not friendship but hate bubbles. And now the same company will create an algorithm of love?

However scratch the surface, and you start to see that this is Facebook being Facebook. They are addicted to collecting personal data, and what better way to get people to share their intimate details wants and desires by creating a tool that promises the elusive love, or more realistically, a date. When you are in dating mode, you are more likely to reveal a lot more intimate details.

Om Malik

Pretty bold move for Facebook to announce this in the middle of one of their biggest privacy scandals. I guess they’re confident most people have a short memory – and they might be right! Still, it doesn’t guarantee success by any means; Facebook launched so many copycat products over the years that it’s hard to keep track of them all – and very few managed to break out. Facebook’s biggest success story in fact, Instagram, was the result of an acquisition.

01 May 2018

The Verge: “NASA astronauts will probably launch from the US before The Winds of Winter is published”

Because of all this uncertainty, I once believed Martin would finish his book before the Commercial Program got into full swing. Creating new spaceflight capabilities is difficult, and NASA has imposed a particularly strict safety standard on its two commercial partners. Plus, Martin has insisted multiple times that he saw the book’s completion on the horizon. He even has a team of researchers and assistants helping him maintain Westeros continuity.

But now that Martin has admitted that The Winds of Winter won’t be coming out this year, he has left me with no choice, and no doubt: SpaceX and Boeing will launch NASA astronauts first. It’s not just that the book is delayed again. Martin is instead releasing a 640-page history book about the Targaryens — that’s 989 manuscript pages! About a single family in Westeros! Sure, both SpaceX and Boeing have other projects they’re working on, too, but these companies have staffs of thousands of people. Only one person can write the A Song of Ice and Fire series, and if Martin is working on a separate “imaginary history”, it doesn’t get written.

Loren Grush

I have a wild theory about the reason why George R.R. Martin delays the next book in the series again and again, while releasing other works in the same fantastical universe: he doesn’t know how to end the story! I think he got so tangled up in the countless characters and tangential plots that he simply lost track of his original vision and now he can’t make up his mind how to pull it all together.