Lawsuit says Apple lied about size of latest phones

Apple hasn’t yet commented on this legal action, reports CNET:

The suit alleges that Apple lied about the screen sizes by counting non-screen areas like the notch and corners. So the new line of iPhones aren’t “all screen” as marketed, according to the 55-page complaint. For example, iPhone X’s screen size is supposed to be 5.8 inches, but the plaintiffs measured that it’s “only about 5.6875 inches.”

It did always bug me that Apple managed to convince the tech press that its iPhone X range had an edge-to-edge screen, when even the briefest of investigations – i.e looking at it – could determine it didn’t.

The Forgotten Legend of Silicon Valley’s Flying Saucer Man

Ashlee Vance is the best writer in Silicon Valley, and his latest for Bloomberg Businessweek is perhaps his finest work. Read this intro and don’t read on, I dare you:

An idyllic ease permeates California’s Carmel Valley. Wealthy people have built ranch-style houses into the mountains, giving them views of the Pacific on one side and pine and cypress forests on the other. It’s neither too hot nor too cold, and the fresh ocean air makes you feel calm inside. These conditions, which give big ideas room to grow, have attracted artists to the area, as well as retirees who want to meditate on the good life. But every now and then, the gentle rhythm of this place gets disturbed. Someone’s perfectly manicured existence goes in a turbulent, unexpected direction.

The long-term consequence of Facebook’s 2018

As has been well-discussed, one threat to Facebook’s future, after its torrid 2018, is that people begin to leave the network. People have even more reason to after today’s revelations.

But what makes that less of an issue is the lack of viable alternative to what Facebook currently offers: a hub of life involving your family, friends and colleagues. There is still no sign of a meaningful competitor rising up the ranks, and indeed, if there were, Facebook would probably buy it (or crush it).

There is another doomsday scenario, however – and that’s Facebook being so distracted with its problems it gets left behind with whatever’s next. Today, via Business Insider’s Rob Price, the news that Facebook was closing its Building 8 research lab:

The super-secretive organization was inspired by DARPA, and billed itself as a unit dedicated to building “new, category-defining consumer hardware products.” In its buzzy heyday, it worked on far-out projects like brain-scanning tech and skin sensors.

It was a moonshot factory, in other words, in the same vein as Google’s X. But things have now changed.

The piece is behind BI’s paywall, so you may not be able to read the whole thing. But the gist is that Facebook is putting more effort into the here-and-now, such as its Portal video chat project, rather than the big out-there ideas it once had, such as brain-controlled tech.

It is still experimenting with blockchain, however, but not without hurdles also created by 2018’s disasters. Cheddar reports on the company’s hiring spree in crypto, but notes:

Despite its interest in several crypto start-ups, Facebook has encountered problems with recruiting due to the negative perception of its brand and many public scandals, according to people who have had discussions with the blockchain group in recent months. Many in the crypto and blockchain industry see heavily centralized, data-hungry companies like Facebook as the very entities they are trying to disrupt.

Facebook’s fact-checking partnerships in ‘disarray’

Sam Levin at the Guardian checks in with the organisations working with Facebook to offer quick fact-checking. Levin quotes a former managing editor of Snopes, one of the most well-known orgs:

“They’ve essentially used us for crisis PR,” said Brooke Binkowski, former managing editor of Snopes, a factchecking site that has partnered with Facebook for two years. “They’re not taking anything seriously. They are more interested in making themselves look good and passing the buck … They clearly don’t care.”

The most damning allegation in the piece is that fact-checkers were being pushed to prioritise articles that affected Facebook’s advertisers. PolitiFact (one of the other orgs involved) took issue with that, though Levin added (or rather, reiterated) the context:

Finally, while noting that some organisations are happy with the deal, Levin goes on to say the Definers row has hit morale:

“Why should we trust Facebook when it’s pushing the same rumors that its own factcheckers are calling fake news?” said a current Facebook factchecker who was not authorized to speak publicly about their news outlet’s partnership. “It’s worth asking how do they treat stories about George Soros on the platform knowing they specifically pay people to try to link political enemies to him?”

Facebook eyeing deal with HBO and others

Recode reports that Facebook Watch – possibly the worst place to consume long-form video on the internet – is hoping to strike deals with major channels to offer direct access for a fee:

The social network is talking to pay TV channels including HBO, Showtime and Starz about a proposal to sell those companies’ streaming TV services on Facebook. Consumers who subscribed to the channels could watch them on Facebook’s own properties — mostly likely via Facebook’s “Watch” hub — but could also likely view them on other platforms and devices, like Roku TVs.

Facebook’s strategy with Watch is all over the place. It’s a social networking product built on distractions, but now experts people to consume a piece for content for 30 minutes or more. On the FB app, that’s just not going to happen. If Facebook establishes a presence on Roku and other smart TV devices, sure – but why would consumers switch from existing services (like Prime) to use Facebook instead? There’s nothing distinctive whatsoever.

If I was tasked with carving Watch’s internet TV niche, I’d gravitate to what Facebook already does well: serving up mildly-entertaining, lightweight viral fluff. There’s no shame in that – it’s just daytime TV for a new generation.

The ACLU is worried about Amazon’s doorbell plan

The ACLU is already working overtime on facial recognition issues, the group has already exposed flaws with Amazon’s Rekognition system.

Here’s their latest concern – plans from Amazon to add the tech to doorbells with the intent of spotting “suspicious visitors”:

While the details are sketchy, the application describes a system that the police can use to match the faces of people walking by a doorbell camera with a photo database of persons they deem “suspicious.” Likewise, homeowners can also add photos of “suspicious” people into the system and then the doorbell’s facial recognition program will scan anyone passing their home. In either case, if a match occurs, the person’s face can be automatically sent to law enforcement, and the police could arrive in minutes.

The ACLU goes on to explain how, based on what little research we have on these systems, current facial recognition technologies are less accurate when looking at people with darker skin.

Dimwitted bomb threat scam fails to pay off

A flurry of bomb “threats” across the US on Thursday. NBC News:

A wave of bomb threats were reported Thursday against businesses, schools, hospitals and other places across the country — causing panic and evacuations, although all appeared to be hoaxes.

Police in cities nationwide reported threats, some emailed, some phoned in.

The FBI in a statement said they were “aware of the recent bomb threats made in cities around the country, and we remain in touch with our law enforcement partners to provide assistance. As always, we encourage the public to remain vigilant and to promptly report suspicious activities which could represent a threat to public safety.

Thankfully, none of the threats have been credible, with no packages found. Almost immediately police forces were treating this as an obvious scam, based in part on the laughably-constructed email issuing the threat.

The note demanded $20,000-worth of Bitcoin by the end of the day. At 2pm PT, looking at the Bitcoin wallet details (which I won’t repeat here), not a single ransom has been paid.