29 May 2017

The Guardian: “Google, democracy and the truth about internet search”

They have created a web that is bleeding through on to our web. This isn’t a conspiracy. There isn’t one person who’s created this. It’s a vast system of hundreds of different sites that are using all the same tricks that all websites use. They’re sending out thousands of links to other sites and together this has created a vast satellite system of rightwing news and propaganda that has completely surrounded the mainstream media system.

He found 23,000 pages and 1.3m hyperlinks. And Facebook is just the amplification device. When you look at it in 3D, it actually looks like a virus. And Facebook was just one of the hosts for the virus that helps it spread faster. You can see the New York Times in there and the Washington Post and then you can see how there’s a vast, vast network surrounding them. The best way of describing it is as an ecosystem. This really goes way beyond individual sites or individual stories. What this map shows is the distribution network and you can see that it’s surrounding and actually choking the mainstream news ecosystem.

Like a cancer? Like an organism that is growing and getting stronger all the time.

Carole Cadwalladr

An investigation that started with some (horribly wrong) Google autocomplete queries goes on to uncover an entire network of rightwing propaganda that helped elect Donald Trump into office and push Brexit over the tipping point. While the main problem is that (too) many people believe and share this kind of stuff without a second thought, some responsibility needs to lie with the big tech companies who eroded main-stream media and promoted their own opaque algorithms as final arbiters of truth. Conveniently, they make a lot of money from their advertising networks and have been reluctant to even acknowledge the problem, let alone take measures to fix it. Google has come under pressure for featured snippets (or ‘One True Answers’) with inappropriate content, but they have been slow to address. And Facebook has tested several measures against fake news, but they seem to have the opposite effect. At this rate, the misinformation problems are only going to get worse.

Justin O’Beirne: “A Year of Google Maps & Apple Maps”

This all seems to suggest that Google’s location data is more precise than Apple’s. (Or that Apple’s geocoder is buggy.) And perhaps here we’re seeing the fruits of Google’s decade-long Street View project:

Google has been using computer vision and machine learning to extract business names and locations from the Street View imagery it has collected. And as of 2014, Google had already driven 99% of U.S. public roads.

Justin O’Beirne

Wonderful, in-depth comparison of Google and Apple Maps backed by data and concrete examples. Long-story short: Google Maps is more accurate and detailed than Apple Maps and constantly getting better, while Apple struggles to get business addresses right even in down-town San Francisco. So much for Apple’s superior services

28 May 2017

The New Yorker: “How “Silicon Valley” nails Silicon Valley”

The show’s signature gag, from the first season, was a minute-long montage of startup founders pledging to make the world a better place through Paxos algorithms for consensus protocols, or to make the world a better place through canonical data models to communicate between endpoints. This scene was set at TechCrunch Disrupt, a real event where founders take turns pitching their ideas, “American Idol”-style, to an auditorium full of investors. Before writing the episode, Judge and Berg spent a weekend at TechCrunch Disrupt, in San Francisco. That’s the first thing you notice, Judge said. It’s capitalism shrouded in the fake hippie rhetoric of We’re making the world a better place, because it’s uncool to just say Hey, we’re crushing it and making money. After the scene aired, viewers complained about the lack of diversity in the audience. Berg recalled, A friend of mine who works in tech called me and said, Why aren’t there any women? That’s bullshit! I said to her, It is bullshit! Unfortunately, we shot that audience footage at the actual TechCrunch Disrupt.

Andrew Marantz

An older piece, but still remarkably fresh, especially now that HBO has renewed the show for a fifth season. After all, why not? Considering the realities of Silicon Valley, the writers will never run out of inspiration.

22 May 2017

Slate Star Codex: “Silicon Valley: A Reality Check”

When Capitol Hill screws up, tens of thousands of innocent Iraqis get killed.

When Wall Street screws up, the country is plunged into recession and poor families lose their homes.

When Silicon Valley screws up, people who want a pointless Wi-Fi enabled juicer get a pointless Wi-Fi enabled juicer. Which by all accounts makes pretty good juice.

Scott Alexander

That’s a very convenient way to frame the problem, while circumventing the fundamental issues entirely. Silicon Valley’s deeper issues are not silly products like Juicero; they are companies like Theranos, who consistently lied about having developed revolutionary blood-testing technology; Uber, who consistently disobeys laws in their quest to monopolize local transportation, and may have gone so far as to steal trade secrets from Google’s self-driving division; and let’s not forget Google and Facebook themselves, who with their lax treatment of propaganda and ‘fake news’ helped get Trump elected president. Silicon Valley’s real problem is a lack of accountability, of a sense of responsibility and maturity, and I don’t see any signs of improvement.

11 May 2017

Stratechery: “Apple’s China Problem”

That, though, is a long-term problem for Apple: what makes the iPhone franchise so valuable — and, I’d add, the fundamental factor that was missed by so many for so long — is that monopoly on iOS. For most of the world it is unimaginable for an iPhone user to upgrade to anything but another iPhone: there is too much of the user experience, too many of the apps, and, in some countries like the U.S., too many contacts on iMessage to even countenance another phone.

None of that lock-in exists in China: Apple may be a de facto monopolist for most of the world, but in China the company is simply another smartphone vendor, and being simply another smartphone vendor is a hazardous place to be. To be clear, it’s not all bad: in China Apple still trades on status and luxury; unlike the rest of the world, though, the company has to earn it with every release, and that’s a bar both difficult to clear in the abstract and, given the last two iPhones, difficult to clear in reality.

Ben Thompson

Every time I hear this argument about Apple’s ecosystem advantage it rings more hollow. I’m reasonably sure it’s a clever rationalization from Apple analysts trying to justify its success with a grand unifying theory instead of many small factors (carrier subsidies, brand loyalty, consumer inertia and, as hard is it to stomach, hardware) – a theory with little real evidence.

09 May 2017

ZDNet: “What is Windows 10 S?”

What browsers are available?

The Windows 10 S configuration locks it to the Edge browser. There are no other options for desktop browsers. That means Google Chrome, for example, won’t run unless Google develops a Universal Windows Platform version of Chrome and submits it to the Store. We don’t know whether Internet Explorer 11 will be available as an option.

The default search provider is Bing (and “designated regional search providers”). That setting controls searches from the address bar and the taskbar search box and cannot be changed. Of course, nothing prevents a user from creating a bookmark to Google Search, or even setting it as the home page.

Ed Bott

My first reaction was that this invites – again – the prospect of antitrust investigations against Microsoft. On the other hand… Microsoft can now point at the competition (iPads and Chromebooks), which have similar rules for browsers and default apps. And the European Union ruling regarding the browser choice screen expired more than two years ago, so there’s no legal impediment (for now).

08 May 2017

BuzzFeed: “Climbing Out of Facebook’s Reality Hole”

“With augmented reality,” Zuckerberg said, “you’re going to be able to create and discover all sorts of new art around your city.” Yes, someone can create a virtual painting, meant to beautify the city, or leave a virtual note to a loved one that reaches them at just the right moment, in just the right place. But someone else will probably leave a swastika. Because if there is anything to be learned about the modern internet, it is that if you build it, the Nazis will come.


Instead Facebook went into the reality hole. It touted Facebook Spaces, a new social virtual reality thing that helps you escape the world while experiencing it, too. As Rachel Rubin Franklin, who used to be executive producer of Electronic Arts’ “The Sims” game and now runs Facebook’s social VR efforts, said of Spaces: “When your friends and family join your space, it’s just like really being together.”

But it is not. Your avatar is not human, no matter how real it looks. The digital world is not flesh or blood, but it can have a tremendous effect on things that are.

Mat Honan

A couple of weeks ago, Facebook presented their vision for augmented reality, to mixed reactions. On one hand, it was fairly predictable and uninspiring – I mean, I had expected a similar technology after Facebook acquired Oculus three years ago, only without the weird virtual avatars. On the other, it exposes a much deeper problem with Facebook and social networking in general: creating a parallel world for people to escape into, while at the same time ignoring the real-world problems technology was supposed to fix.