Wired: London’s skyscrapers are fighting back against YouTube rooftoppers

Great read in Wired about the struggles the owners of London’s tallest buildings are having preventing so-called “rooftoppers”.

These are the people who break into buildings, head to the roof, and post a variety of usually dangerous videos to YouTube or similar. James O’Malley writes that the law wasn’t written with this kind of behaviour in mind:

“What surprises many people is that trespass is in the main a civil offence,” explains Bryan Johnston, head of real estate litigation at law firm Dentons. “What this means is that the police cannot take immediate action to remove a trespasser from private land. What is worse is that the owner of land risks committing a criminal offence if they try to remove trespassers.”

Of course, without an audience, and monetisation opportunities, these kind of stunts would soon stop happening so frequently. If you search YouTube for “rooftopping” right now you’ll see plenty of examples, with millions of views, making presumably a lot money from ads.

What 5G’s ‘fatter pipe’ will actually bring us

One of the hardest things, as a technology reporter, is explaining to viewers/readers new tech trends that, right now, don’t have a tangible application in mind.

This is the case with 5G, a topic that draws either yawns or anger from our audience.

The anger comes, mostly, from those who feel they don’t get adequate 4 or even 3G right now – and that telecom firms are more eager to charge crazy fees for people in cities than they are to properly connect those in more rural areas. They’re absolutely right, of course.

Analyst Benedict Evans has written a thoughtful post on where 5G is right now, where it is headed, and, most impressively, what it actually makes possible. His overriding point, I think, is that creating a better, faster network is always a good idea, even if the uses for it aren’t yet clear. We’ve seen this with every upgrade to date – from 2G, upwards. He writes:

With each of these surges in speed, two things happen. First, the things we’re already doing get smoother and easier and quicker, and also get more capable (or bloated). Pages get more images and become more dynamic. Second, new things become possible. You could not have done Flickr or Google Maps on dialup, and you could not have done Netflix (or at least not well) on the broadband of 2003. In the following generation, Snapchat only worked when you could presume that all of your users can connect at tens of Mbits/sec (when they’re not on home WiFi, of course). That in turn means networks with the overall capacity to give that speed not just to one person at a time but to lots of people, and network infrastructure that can do that at a vaguely reasonable price. If you’d shown Snapchat to a mobile network executive in the early 2000s, their hair would have gone white – there was just no way the early 3G network could have supported that kind of load.

And so:

In the same way, then, 5G speeds, and ever-faster home broadband, will mean that existing applications will get richer, and also that new applications will emerge – new Flickrs, YouTubes or Snapchats. We don’t know what yet, exactly, though we can make some early guesses, but the creativity of entrepreneurs and platforms and the choices of consumers will decide. This is the great thing about the decentralized, permissionless innovation of the internet – telcos don’t need to decide in advance what the use cases are, any more than Intel had to decide what the use cases for faster CPUs would be.

I hope I’m not quoting more than is polite of Evans’ post – I do it only to give a snippet of his insight. He concludes by saying that, essentially, the “killer app” of 5G is that it just is.


Insights from a Waymo self-driving taxi beta tester 

The Verge has a great piece looking at some of the real-life scenarios posed to Waymo’s fleet of self-driving cars in Arizona, the largest public test of its kind.

Reporter Andrew J Hawkins talks to Shawn Metz, one of Waymo’s select number invitees for the testing phase. Metz has been posting about his experiences on Instagram and YouTube, and seems to have taken a keen interest in pushing the boundaries of what this tech is currently able to do:

He recalled a handful of moments when the Waymo vehicle appeared confused by certain situations, such as a crowded parking lot outside Costco. “I was really ambitious and I tried to take it to Costco on the weekend during the holiday season,” he said. “And basically we essentially got kind of stuck outside of entrance.” After several minutes of failing to find a gap through the number of pedestrians streaming in and out of the store, Metz said the vehicle “timed out” and the safety driver had to call Waymo’s remote support center for re-routing help.

He goes on to say that rainstorms seem to be a problem for the cars, with the in-car human safety driver taking over – though it wasn’t clear if that was out of an abundance of caution, or a software failing.

Metz says he hasn’t experienced any of the aggressive behaviour towards the cars that a recent New York Times article discussed.

On the Covington Catholic incident

By now you’ll have seen the video of the young white man staring down the older Native American man. It doesn’t need any more analysis here. (Not least because I, like you, have no real idea what happened.)

I’m going to keep the below paragraph to hand – it’s an almost perfect encapsulation of the major problem we have with the online outrage cycle. The Atlantic:

The story is a Rorschach test—tell me how you first reacted, and I can probably tell where you live, who you voted for in 2016 and your general take on a list of other issues—but it shouldn’t be. Take away the video and tell me why millions of people cared so much about an obnoxious group of high-school students protesting legalized abortion and a small circle of Native Americans protesting centuries of mistreatment who were briefly locked in a tense standoff. Take away Twitter and Facebook and explain why total strangers cared so much about people they didn’t know in a confrontation they didn’t witness. Why are we all so primed for outrage, and what if the thousands of words and countless hours spent on this had been directed toward something consequential?

My new rule with aggro online is to ask myself: would my input achieve anything?

The answer has, so far, always been no.


There has been more than a little soul searching about this today. From NYT writer David Brooks:

Also, Buck Sexton, writing in The Hill:

There is also a bigger lesson to be drawn from this. Social media mobs are a cancer on this country, and those in the news business have an obligation not to carelessly magnify malignant efforts at personal destruction. This affects all of us. It does not matter who you are, whether you are active online, care about politics, or keep to yourself. The social justice mob may come for you, your spouse or your child, and engage in a ritualistic destruction of their online reputation. Even a trip to the Lincoln Memorial for high school kids can be turned into something catastrophic.

GDPR strikes! Google fined 50 million euros

The first major GDPR fine for a US firm has dropped: 50 million euro ($47m) for Google over what the French data regulator deemed insufficient transparency on how it gathered data for personalised advertising.

Washington Post:

France’s top data-privacy agency, known as the CNIL, said Monday that Google failed to fully disclose to users how their personal information is collected and what happens to it. Google also did not properly obtain users’ consent for the purpose of showing them personalized ads, the watchdog agency said.

Google said it was “studying the decision”.

US regulators discuss ‘record-breaking’ fine for Facebook – Washington Post

Of the two huge fines coming down the tracks for Facebook – more on that in my predictions piece here – the one from the FTC is the most politically significant.

The regulator is looking at whether Facebook violated a consent decree it signed in 2011 that, essentially, said Facebook promised to be completely open with users about how their data was being used.

After the Cambridge Analytica scandal took hold, the FTC began investigating, and it is now reportedly considering a punishment. The fine could be enormous, reports the Washington Post:

The penalty is expected to be much larger than the $22.5 million fine the agency imposed on Google in 2012. That fine set a record for the greatest penalty for violating an agreement with the FTC to improve its privacy practices.

Things aren’t moving as quickly as they perhaps could, however – the FTC is currently among the agencies affected by the ongoing government shutdown.


What does record-breaking mean, exactly? It depends, writes a former FTC official and Obama advisor:

FT: Spotify planning $100 in-car device

Financial Times:

Spotify’s device will sync to car stereos via Bluetooth connection, as well as preset buttons that correspond to Spotify playlists, according to people briefed on the plans. The device would also allow people to control the player by voice, these people said. The experience would be similar to how they might access music on Amazon’s Echo speakers but uses the company’s own in-house “Spotify Voice” system, which it began to add to its smartphone apps last year. Spotify aims to charge about $100 for the product, making it cheaper than most brand-name car systems.

You know, just yesterday I was thinking about how difficult it is to use Spotify in your car, even when you have the so-called “premium” experience. My car has Apple’s CarPlay, and navigating Spotify beyond the very basics is very tough.

In contrast, using Spotify at home, via Alexa or Google Home, is a breeze. In fact, it’s probably my primary use of those devices.

Bringing that functionality to the car is both great for consumers and likely a lot safer. At around $100, it’s cheap enough for people to try out without too much concern.

Also, at that price, I suspect it will be dangled as a freebie for new subscribers. All in all, this sounds like a very smart idea from Spotify.

Netflix: Our competition is Fortnite, not HBO

My analysis on Netflix’s earnings, posted on Thursday:

In its letter to shareholders, there’s a candid passage about where Netflix’s real competition lies.

It said it faces greater competition from people watching clips of video game Fortnite over those watching rival entertainment provider HBO.

“When YouTube went down global for a few minutes in October, our viewing and signups spiked for that time,” it added.

It’s what makes predicting Netflix’s future so interesting – they’re not so much in the entertainment business, but the eyeballs business.

You, the consumer, have more things than ever to look at, or interact with, and competition for Netflix will only get fiercer in 2019.

Read our full coverage for all of the details.

I predicted later in that brief take that Netflix’s stock would recover pretty quickly after a bit of slumping today. It still believe that will happen: there are so many reasons for investors to be optimistic. Not only are Netflix Originals proving to be consistently huge hits, suggesting the firm is a creative force to be reckoned with, the firm wow everyone with a new interactive format with Bandersnatch.

Labour shortage means robots might start shearing Aussie sheep

As I’ve often found to be the case, the robotic revolution is more often filling in where there are labour shortages, rather than necessarily pushing humans out. See Australia, where there are too many sheep, reports the ABC:

Faced with a shearer shortage, [Australia’s wool industry] is spending $10 million on research to streamline wool harvesting. Projects range from better shed design to robotics, including one project that would fully automate the process of getting wool off a sheep and into a bale. Jane Littlejohn, who oversees the research arm of the industry’s research and development body Australian Wool Innovation (AWI), described automation as “forward thinking”

It’s desperately needed. According to the ABC, there are 73 million sheep in Australia, and only 2,800 shearers.

Here’s some of this research in action:

Shauna is modelled on a real shorn sheep and has been used by Mickey Clemon and his colleagues to test what’s possible with off-the-shelf technology.

“We found quite a lot is possible,” Dr Clemon said of the nine-month scoping study commissioned by AWI.

Now, my mother grew up on an Irish sheep farm. Having spent many happy summers running around with the sheep, I can confidently tell you the machine will need a lot of practice on a rather more… active participant.

Beto O’Rourke has spent nearly $1m on tweets

I missed this when it was published a few days back, but it’s worth having a look at: Democrats (or at least the ones captured by this study) spent a combined $2.5m on promoted tweets between June 2018-January 2019. The biggest spender was Beto O’Rourke, with a grand total of $925,900 spent on Twitter alone:

Equipped with more money than anyone else, it’s not surprising O’Rourke was the top spender overall. But even with all that cash on hand, O’Rourke used Twitter to raise even more money for his record-breaking Senate campaign in Texas. O’Rourke splurged on a handful of ads, spending at least $57,100 and generating 4.1 million impressions on a promoted tweet urging supporters to chip in after news of new spending from a pro-Ted Cruz super PAC.

The Center for Responsive Politics research discusses the difficulty in ascertaining the source of funding. Around $50k was spent by groups not disclosing their origins.

Absent from the Twitter spenders list was Donald Trump, who didn’t spend a penny. But then, with 50 million followers, and a media waiting on every tweet, he hardly needs to.

Facebook, however, is a different story for the President. He has reportedly spent at least $8m on the site since records began in May.

Here’s the Center on the fuller picture of digital spending in US politics:

The amount of digital ad spending reported to the FEC has increased in recent years. A conservative calculation of spending on digital services reported to the FEC by House candidates exceeded $33.3 million in the 2018 election cycle, more than twice the $16.2 million spent in the 2016 election cycle. The increase in digital spending continues a growing trend, rising from $12.7 million in 2014 and just $5.9 million in 2012. Altogether, candidates running for federal office spent more than $71.9 million during the 2018 election cycle, with $29.8 million by Senate candidates and $8.8 million by presidential candidates.

Democrats have spent substantially more than Republicans on digital services in the 2018 election cycle, as reported to FEC. However, Republicans outspent Democrats on digital in the three prior election cycles.