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✏️ My blog posts

Bridges and Lidar. Link

🗞 News

Not a good weekend for Facebook. In case you have been entirely offline, it has emerged that in 2014, Cambridge Analytica ('CA'), a somewhat nebulous 'political marketing' firm, had paid an academic to get people to install a Facebook app that offered a psychological quiz and then pass to CA the data that that app could gather from those people's Facebook profiles. 270k people installed the app and so clicked a consent button for the academic to get this data (but did NOT consent to him passing it on) - but since at that time Facebook's APIs allowed apps to access data from the friends of people who had installed them (unless those friends had disallowed this in their own privacy settings), this app also got data from around 50m other people (270k people with an average of 185 friends each = 50m). At that time getting this data was then perfectly possible under Facebook's public APIs, but passing it on to CA was forbidden under the terms of service. Facebook later changed the APIs to make this impossible. Facebook found out about the 270k people's data being passed on to CA 2 years ago and demanded it be deleted, but it is now begin claimed by at least one former CA employee that it wasn't. And, to make this a perfect storm, CA was contracted by both the Trump and Brexit campaigns to work on targeted advertising.

After that, things get pretty unclear. CA's story is unclear (and the UK broadcaster Channel 4 now claims to have the CEO on tape saying all sorts of other potentially compromising things). It's unclear exactly what CA actually could and did do with this data, as opposed to what it claimed to clients (marketing companies are not known for their precision in such matters). And it's also not clear quite how much Facebook knew and when (that is, it knew about the 270k but did it know about the 50m?). But ultimately, this doesn't really matter - regardless of what the precise story turns out to be, it plays into every possible pre-existing negative narrative for Facebook and social media (cough - "regulation"). The stock was down 7%. Link

The SEC settled a fraud claim against Elizabeth Holmes, founder of Theranos, which raised over $700m to build a blood testing robot that only needed a small drop of blood, but which never actually worked as claimed. She gives up all stock and is barred from being a director for 10 years, amongst other things. There is a big difference between exuberance about what you *hope* to be able to do and accuracy about what you have actually achieved.... Link

Apple bought Texture, a magazine industry consortium making an app that aims to be a 'Hulu of magazines'. Hmm. People have been talking about how the iPad could 'save' magazines since it launched, but there's been a history of dead-ends (remember Apple Newsstand?). Creating 'digital-native' magazine apps (whatever that was supposed to mean) from scratch was a really bad fit for the skills and resources of actual magazine companies, and consumers weren't that keen, though given the weakness of most offerings one could argue that's unproven. Ironically 'replica' (PDF) apps have often worked well. But Apple still wants exclusive experiences for iOS (and the iPad in particular, given its lack of growth), and it has always tended to think content should happen inside curated apps with proprietary formats instead of the web. And magazines still want ways to get people to pay online. Meanwhile, Apple News has actually been a pretty strong success. Link

One of Larry Page's electric aircraft companies, Cora, has unveiled its first product. This space is mostly interesting because software means you might not need to be a pilot anymore (it could fly itself, and autonomy in the sky is a lot easier given there are no pedestrians or human drivers), and electric changes some of the mechanical issues around VTOL (so you don't need runways). You still can't land them on city streets, though, and so there are lots of last-mile questions, but this is a step towards 'flying cars'.  Link

An Uber autonomy test/development car hit and killed a pedestrian, while in autonomous mode (i.e. a human was in the driving seat but not controlling it). No news on exactly what happened. Easy and obvious to say that AVs will be safer (road accidents killed 35k people just in the USA last year and almost all of that was human error), but that doesn't mean this isn't terrible, nor that nothing will ever go wrong. Link

Apple has a project underway to develop its own screens. Right now the OLED screens in the new iPhone X are from Samsung (mostly, AFAIK), which is in the lead on this tech. But Apple now designs the most important chips inside the iPhone, and clearly has a strategy of taking ownership of components to get more integration and optimization on one hand and delivery unique features on the other (see FaceID). This project is apparently focused on MicroLED technology, which is not currently in the market - unclear if this would be for phones/tablets or also for (say) mixed reality glasses. Link

VW is investing $25bn in batteries. Seems pretty clear that without some new and unexpected breakthrough EV batteries will be a pure mass-scale commodity. Link

Magic Leap (a16z portfolio company) is now offering its SDK. Link

L'Oréal bought Modiface, an AR beauty app. Lots of consumer brands that don't actually have a consumer relationship (effectively, they're B2B companies selling only at wholesale) thinking about how they can talk directly to their customers. Link

Android Wear (smart watch OS) is being renamed 'Wear OS by Google', because you can use the watches with iPhones too. Well yes, but there are bigger issues to solve here as well. Link

Li Ka-Shing, AKA 'Superman' and the richest man in Hong Kong, is retiring. Started with plastic flowers aged 22, and was an early titan of the mobile phone industry. End of an era. Link

🔮 Blog posts

Notes from the first institutional investors in Spotify. I'd entirely forgotten that Spotify was originally a P2P product. (Remember P2P? Back with Bitcoin, of course) Link

Om Malik on Theranos. Link

😮 Cool things of the week

Dell's first financial statement, from 1984. $900k quarterly revenue, 15% operating margin. Link

📊 Statistics

Stack Overflow's annual developer survey. Link
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