What happens to Huawei without Google

AndroidCentral’s Andrew Martonik with an insightful break down of what will happen to Huawei if, as is currently the case, it cannot work with Google:

Many companies have tried to make Android devices without the Play Store, and while there are a number of success stories across the technology space in general, there’s nothing but a long line of failures when it comes to smartphones. It simply isn’t reasonable in 2019 for any company to launch a phone outside of China without Google services and expect it to actually sell. It can have the best cameras, hardware, specs and core operating system we’ve ever seen, but unless it has Google’s apps, and crucially the Play Store, effectively zero people will be interested in buying it. I’m sure Huawei can (and does) make a fine phone with all of its own services — but if it intends to compete in a market filled with 100% of phones having access to Google services and the Play Store, it has to have them as well.

It almost goes without saying that this is terrible news for Google as well. Huawei is the fastest growing smartphone maker in the world – shipments are up 50%, year-on-year, at a time when the overall market is in decline. Google wants to be on those phones.

The ‘China is the real issue’ argument

“While people are concerned with the size and power of tech companies, there’s also a concern in the United States with the size and power of Chinese companies, and the realization that those companies are not going to be broken up.”

— Sheryl Sandberg, speaking to CNBC

Where Sandberg will struggle with this is that Facebook might end up arguing against its future self. The company’s newest initiatives (payments being the biggest) come straight from the playbook of WeChat, the Chinese platform that makes accusations that Facebook is a “monopoly” look laughable.

Meanwhile, the fastest growing social media app of the past year in the US has been TikTok, a company now owned by China’s Bytedance. Millions of teens are obsessed with it, and political content is starting to make its mark. Where will the accountability come from? I can’t imagine Congress will be too successful in tempting Chinese executives to hearings.

CNBC: Facebook finding it harder to hire

CNBC reports:

Among top schools, such as Stanford, Carnegie Mellon and Ivy League universities, Facebook’s acceptance rate for full-time positions offered to new graduates has fallen from an average of 85% for the 2017-2018 school year to between 35% and 55% as of December, according to former Facebook recruiters. The biggest decline came from Carnegie Mellon University, where the acceptance rate for new recruits dropped to 35%.

I spoke to some activist Facebook investors recently. Their big fear isn’t that the current scandals pose an immediate threat to Facebook’s profits, or that they won’t be able curtail some of the platform’s biggest problems. It’s that while the firm is busy solving those issues, and trying to restore the company’s tattered reputation, it’ll be falling behind on whatever comes next.

There can be several warning signs. Not being able to hire key talent is one such canary in the coal mine.

Uber trials revolutionary new idea: queuing up for a cab

To reduce congestion at airports, TechCrunch reports, Uber is trialing this idea in Portland:

Once riders order their UberX, they make their way to the dedicated pickup zone. The app will briefly give riders information on how the PIN feature works. A six-digit personal identification number is then assigned to the rider, who is instructed to provide it to the first available driver.

Meanwhile, the driver, who has received a pickup opportunity at the airport, heads to the pickup location and will get in a queue, waiting for the next available rider.

I mean… sure. I can see how that works, and the PIN feature means there’s still all the benefits of app rides (cashless, accountable). But isn’t this, essentially, just lining up for a taxi?

Here’s why Facebook thinks it isn’t a monopoly

WeChat. iMessage. Skype.

Just three of the firms/features listed today by Nick Clegg, in an NYT op-ed* about why Facebook shouldn’t be broken up.

Here’s the argument:

The first misunderstanding is about Facebook itself and the competitive dynamics in which we operate. We are a large company made up of many smaller pieces. All of our products and services fight for customers. Each one has at least three or four competitors with hundreds of millions, if not billions, of users. In photo and video-sharing, we compete against services like YouTube, Snapchat, Twitter, Pinterest and TikTok, an emerging competitor. 

In messaging, we’re not even the leader in the top three markets — China, Japan and, by our estimate, the United States — where we compete with Apple’s iMessage, WeChat, Line and Microsoft’s Skype. Globally, the context in which social media must be understood, China alone has several large social media companies, including powerhouses like Tencent and Sina. It will seem perverse to people in Europe, and certainly in China, to see American policymakers talking about dismantling one of America’s biggest global players.

Not mentioned, obviously, is the extent to which Facebook has hobbled Snapchat by blatantly ripping off its features — and how it has tried to do the same to others, with less success.

I’d love to know exactly on what grounds Skype is considered a competitor. It stands out as a real barrel-scrape to me.

Meanwhile, a rep working with a major online activism platform told me last week that he (and plenty others) is suspicious of Facebook’s regulation motivations. Sweeping new rules could create an atmosphere where only giants can afford to operate, he said.

(*Getting pretty tired of these op-eds, obviously written by PR committee, getting such a big play in the press given how few on-the-record interviews about these issues take place.)

Conan O’Brien on accusations of joke theft

Conan O’Brien — the funniest American on TV* — has written for Variety about accusations he and his team pinched several jokes from a guy on Twitter.

It’s a thoughtful read on the nature of writing jokes, particularly topical ones, in the age of social media.

O’Brien has now settled, but maintains the joke wasn’t stolen:

How did I know? I knew because different people around the world come up with the same joke all the time, especially when the joke is topical. I was made aware of this 24 years ago, when, on the same night, David Letterman, Jay Leno, and I all told an identical “Dan Quayle is dumb” joke: “Dan Quayle announced today that he will not be running for President in ’96. However, he did not rule out running in ’97.” Back then, no one sued anyone because each of us knew that topical comedy often follows a pattern — it’s an occupational hazard. You try hard to avoid it, but sometimes, comedians inadvertently step on each other’s feet.

He concludes:

When you add the internet and an easily triggered legal system, the potential for endless time-wasting lawsuits over who was the first to tweet that William Barr looks like a toad with a gluten allergy becomes very real.

If you’re interested, here’s a USA Today report from the time discussing the alleged incident:

(*And that’s only because he’s Irish, clearly)

Google makes a privacy pledge – or does it?

I was impressed at how unequivocal Rishi Chandra – head of product at Google Nest – was when I asked him about how its latest Nest products would make use of user data.

Here’s the clip:

The quote if you’d rather not watch:

“We make another commitment: all your audio recordings, all your video footage, as well as your Nest sensor data, will never be used for ads or ads personalisation.

Ok, great. But then, in the Financial Times

And companies like Google wonder why people obsess over the privacy question?

Was the Washington Post unfair on Amazon’s Alexa?

Lots of discussion online today about whether Geoffrey Fowler’s column, headlined Alexa Has Been Eavesdropping On You This Whole Time, was unnecessary fear-mongering.

If you’re pushed for time, the short answer is: no, absolutely not.

The longer answer is marginally more complicated. But only marginally.

Here’s Fowler’s argument:

Many smart-speaker owners don’t realize it, but Amazon keeps a copy of everything Alexa records after it hears its name. Apple’s Siri, and until recently Google’s Assistant, by default also keep recordings to help train their artificial intelligences.

So come with me on an unwelcome walk down memory lane. I listened to four years of my Alexa archive and found thousands of fragments of my life: spaghetti-timer requests, joking houseguests and random snippets of “Downton Abbey.” There were even sensitive conversations that somehow triggered Alexa’s “wake word” to start recording, including my family discussing medication and a friend conducting a business deal.

This is one of those icky stories that splits techies and “normies” and places them in vastly opposing places.

The techie will say: of course Alexa listens to what it said after it thinks you have said the “wake word”. That’s literally how it works.

The normie will say: But Amazon shouldn’t capture and save what I say unless I really meant to say it to Alexa. And, even if it was intentional, why must it keep that recording after it’s done its job?

Everyone is right. It’s reasonable to argue that this is how this technology works: other than a physical button, which isn’t ideal, we don’t yet have a better way to engage with voice assistants. It’s not a secret. Furthermore, companies need to keep this data in order to train these systems.

But it’s also correct to say, and report, that the vast majority of users don’t know the full extent of how audio is saved and stored by Amazon, Google, Apple and friends — and this is not acceptable.

Fowler goes on to examine a multitude of other ways smart homes are tracking us, under the blanket and inadequate explanation of “using it to improve our service”:

When I’m up for a midnight snack, Google knows. My Nest thermostat, made by Google, reports back to its servers’ data in 15-minute increments about not only the climate in my house but also whether there’s anyone moving around (as determined by a presence sensor used to trigger the heat). You can delete your account, but otherwise Nest saves it indefinitely.

Then there are lights, which can reveal what time you go to bed and do almost anything else. My Philips Hue-connected lights track every time they’re switched on and off — data the company keeps forever if you connect to its cloud service (which is required to operate them with Alexa or Assistant).

Every kind of appliance now is becoming a data-collection device. My Chamberlain MyQ garage opener lets the company keep — again, indefinitely — a record of every time my door opens or closes. My Sonos speakers, by default, track what albums, playlists or stations I’ve listened to, and when I press play, pause, skip or pump up the volume. At least they hold on to my sonic history for only six months.

So, was Fowler unfair on Amazon? Give me a break.

The headline obviously leans heavily on the popular but unfounded theory that Amazon (and others) use the microphones to proactively spy on users to sell advertising.

But that’s fine… because the headline is accurate. These devices do eavesdrop, and reporters should be banging this drum as loudly and as often as they can.

YouTube predator, who had ‘hundreds of thousands of fans’, could see 11 years in prison

Austin Jones, 26, admitted to persuading six underage girls to send him sexually explicit videos.

The girls had been fans of his YouTube channel, where he shared his music, and at the height his popularity attracted “hundreds of thousands of followers”. The Chicago Tribune has reported on this in depth:

It was among those devoted fans that Jones found his victims, coercing underage girls to perform sexually explicit dances during live online chats by promising modeling opportunities, Instagram stardom and his valuable attention. “ohmygoodness that’s amazing!!” one victim responded when Jones told her she had “a lot of modeling potential,” according to prosecutors.

Prosecutors are pushing for an 11-year prison sentence. Jones’s defense has requested the minimum five years, citing a troubled childhood as some explanation for his actions as an adult. More from the Tribune:

In the months after his arrest, Jones alleged that his father repeatedly molested him between the ages of 6 and 10, according to the defense filing. The ensuing “emotional trauma and chaos … has consumed his life,” they wrote, leading to severe depression, low self-esteem, sexual dysfunction and difficulty sleeping since the age of 11.