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Google’s iron grip on Android: Controlling open source by any means necessary

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(credit: Aurich Lawson)

In light of the $5 billion EU antitrust ruling against Google this week, we started noticing a certain classic Ars story circulating around social media. Google's methods of controlling the open source Android code and discouraging Android forks is exactly the kind of behavior the EU has a problem with, and many of the techniques outlined in this 2013 article are still in use today.

  The idea of a sequel to this piece has come up a few times, but Google's Android strategy of an open source base paired with key proprietary apps and services hasn't really changed in the last five or so years. There have been updates to Google's proprietary apps so that they look different from the screenshots in this article, but the base strategy outlined here is still very relevant. So in light of the latest EU development, we're resurfacing this story for the weekend. It first ran on October 20, 2013 and appears largely unchanged—but we did toss in a few "In 2018" updates anywhere they felt particularly relevant.

Six years ago, in November 2007, the Android Open Source Project (AOSP) was announced. The original iPhone came out just a few months earlier, capturing people's imaginations and ushering in the modern smartphone era. While Google was an app partner for the original iPhone, it could see what a future of unchecked iPhone competition would be like. Vic Gundotra, recalling Andy Rubin's initial pitch for Android, stated:

He argued that if Google did not act, we faced a Draconian future, a future where one man, one company, one device, one carrier would be our only choice.

Google was terrified that Apple would end up ruling the mobile space. So, to help in the fight against the iPhone at a time when Google had no mobile foothold whatsoever, Android was launched as an open source project.

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freeAgent
1 hour ago
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Microsoft wants to win back the consumers it let down

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Microsoft hasn’t exactly been winning over consumers recently, leaving many onlookers wondering if the company is switching all of its efforts to businesses and turning into another IBM. Over the past couple of years, Microsoft has killed off its Groove Music service, officially discontinued Kinect, scrapped its Microsoft Band fitness device, and finally admitted Windows Phone is dead. Other consumer efforts like Cortana have been left to fall behind rivals by chasing business users, and even the impressive HoloLens hardware has pivoted strongly towards commercial users. Microsoft now has a new plan to win back the consumers it has let down.

While Microsoft has had a tough time with consumers that stretches back far beyond recent years,...

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freeAgent
2 hours ago
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I see no evidence presented in this article that Microsoft is planning to do anything that would actually win back consumers.
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Roku is in the ad business, not the hardware business, says CEO

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Roku sells more dedicated streaming devices than perhaps any other company in the world. It’s been estimated that there are more Rokus in US households than there are Fire TVs, Chromecasts, or Apple TVs. (Amazon strongly disagrees, but has never shared any sales numbers.) But here’s something that might surprise you: the money that Roku makes from its hardware lineup isn’t enough to sustain the company’s business.

There’s just not a lot of profit margin to be had when your most popular products hover between $30 and $70; Roku’s most expensive player is $100. Last quarter, for the first time in its history, Roku made more revenue from advertising and licensing than device sales.

CEO Anthony Wood was frank and open about his company’s...

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freeAgent
2 hours ago
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At this point, Android TV is the streaming option with the least in-your-face advertising strategy. Sad, but true.
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The Butina Indictment Isn’t About the Sex Life of an Accused Spy. It’s About Following Russian Money in U.S. Politics.

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The federal indictment of Maria Butina, the 29-year-old gun rights activist charged with being a Russian agent, has attracted plenty of media attention this week — but mostly for the wrong reasons.

Many stories about her case have been filled with salacious allegations about her sex life and have been rife with superficial comparisons to the television show “The Americans.” What has been missing in the media narrative is the indictment’s ominous significance. The Butina case is almost certainly the opening move in a brand new front in the Trump-Russia investigation.

Butina is just a minor figure in what appears to be a broader ongoing inquiry into the relationships between Russia, conservative American organizations like the National Rifle Association, and Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. For months, federal investigators have been looking into whether the NRA or other conservative organizations were used by the Russian government or Russian oligarchs to funnel money to the Trump campaign during the 2016 election.

Investigators working with special counsel Robert Mueller have repeatedly questioned Russian oligarchs traveling to the United States about whether they made cash donations directly or indirectly to Trump’s campaign or his inauguration, CNN reported earlier this year. In at least one case, they stopped a Russian oligarch when his private plane landed in New York.

Butina has attracted the attention of federal investigators mainly because of her connections to this shadowy intersection of powerful Russians and right-wing Americans. In fact, it was Butina’s work for Alexander Torshin, a close political ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, that made her a target of federal investigators. Torshin — not Butina — is the Russian figure whose involvement with the NRA and American conservatives brings the Trump-Russia case closer to Russian organized crime and Putin.

Torshin, now a top official at the Russian central bank and a former Russian senator, has been identified by Spanish authorities as the “godfather” of Taganskaya, a Russian organized crime group. Spanish police sought to arrest Torshin in 2013 for a scheme to launder money through the purchase of hotels in Mallorca.

But the police plan to catch him at a party for Alexander Romanov, another Russian organized crime figure, fell through when Torshin was apparently warned by Russian authorities not to travel to Spain, El País, a Spanish newspaper, reported. (In 2016, Romanov pleaded guilty to money laundering in a Spanish case. Torshin told El País that he knew Romanov in the 1990s, but that he “never intended to visit” him.)

Shockingly, Torshin was able to travel to the United States and develop close and long-standing relationships with prominent figures in the American conservative movement for years after Spain’s failed attempt to catch and arrest him.

Spanish officials have reportedly now provided information to the FBI about Torshin, and earlier this year the Treasury Department levied sanctions against him. In January, McClatchy reported that the FBI was investigating whether Torshin illegally funneled money to the NRA in order to help Trump’s campaign in 2016. But even given this recent flurry of activity, it is clear that American law enforcement officials were very late to picking up on what the Spanish knew about him.

While the Spanish were trying to put him behind bars, Torshin was making himself at home in the United States, where he grew close to the leadership of the NRA. His romance with the gun rights movement led him to write a strange op-ed in 2014 in the right-wing Washington Times, mourning the death of his “friend and colleague” Mikhail Kalashnikov, the Russian inventor of the Kalashnikov AK-47 assault rifle, while also mentioning that he “had the pleasure of attending the National Rifle Association’s annual meeting in Houston” the previous year. (David Keene, who was president of the NRA from 2011 to 2013, was named the opinion editor of the Washington Times in July 2013 and currently serves as the paper’s editor at large.)

Butina, who has been pursuing a master’s degree at American University in Washington, previously worked for Torshin as his special assistant at the Russian Central Bank. Prosecutors now allege that while Butina was working as a Russian agent in the United States from 2015 until at least early last year, she was being directed by a Russian official. The court documents do not name the official, but appear to describe Torshin.

Under Torshin’s direction, Butina worked assiduously to develop relationships with leading American conservative organizations and political figures. Like Torshin, Butina made the NRA the focus of many of her efforts. Both Butina and Torshin became NRA life members.

Butina gained a reputation in American conservative circles as a young spokesperson for gun rights in Russia – a country where citizens have few gun rights. She formed a group called Right to Bear Arms in Russia, which promoted a video of John Bolton, now Trump’s national security adviser, advocating for Russian gun rights.

One key question in the Butina case is whether the Right to Bear Arms in Russia was created under orders from Torshin or other Russian officials to serve as a front organization to help her gain access to American conservative groups like the NRA.

Butina showed her ability to forge relationships with American political players by forming a company in South Dakota with Paul Erickson, a longtime Republican operative who did fundraising for the NRA. But Torshin’s inroads into American conservative circles were even more impressive. At the NRA’s annual convention in May 2016, he met and spoke with Donald Trump Jr. At about the same time, Torshin sought to set up a meeting between then-candidate Trump and Putin. An American Christian political activist emailed a Trump campaign aide passing on Torshin’s suggestion for a Trump-Putin meeting.

Butina’s role as an assistant and protege of Torshin would be of obvious interest to the FBI as part of that broader investigation into Torshin’s activities. The charges brought against her may be part of an effort to get Butina to cooperate with federal prosecutors and share what she knows about Torshin.

Top photo: In this photo taken on April 21, 2013, Mariia Butina, leader of a pro-gun organization in Russia, speaks to a crowd during a rally in support of legalizing the possession of handguns in Moscow, Russia.

The post The Butina Indictment Isn’t About the Sex Life of an Accused Spy. It’s About Following Russian Money in U.S. Politics. appeared first on The Intercept.

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freeAgent
2 hours ago
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UK heatwave reveals hidden henges in scorched fields

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Lancashire County Council

The UK's recent heatwave has provided a glimpse into Britain's history, revealing the outlines of ancient structures and buried features in the grounds of historical buildings.

The UK is home to multiple known prehistoric structures, but these new "phantom" henges are different, their presence only perceptible due to changes in grass color caused by drought. In a prolonged spell of very hot weather, stone or wood located beneath the earth stores heat, causing the grass above it to wither and brown at a faster rate than the grass surrounding it, effectively tracing the outline of the buried structures.

The warmer temperatures cause the grass above stone to wither, resulting in a tan outline in a brown field

According to the BBC, one such henge was discovered by aerial photographer Anthony Murphy, who was operating a camera drone over Newgrange, Ireland. Murphy spotted a circular imprint in a field near River Boyne, an otherwise invisible henge located near a different imprint spotted in 2010.

University College Dublin assistant professor of archaeology Stephen Davis confirmed to BBC that Murphy's image shows an "entirely new" henge with captivating features. Others like it have appeared in the withering UK landscape, including imprints revealing the former rooms and corridors of an 18th-century mansion called Clumber House.

Though the building no longer remains, stone from its foundation is still present beneath ground level. The warmer temperatures cause the grass above the stone to wither, resulting in a tan outline in a brown field. Other past structures have also become visible, including a Victorian-era garden in Lancashire (above) and the outlines of runways and dispersal pans at what was once Lasham Airfield, which was returned to farmland after World War 2.

Via: BBC

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freeAgent
3 hours ago
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Cool (or, in this case, not very cool).
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Managing Incentives

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Lesson one in our textbook chapter on managing incentives is “You get what you pay for (even when what you pay for is not exactly what you want)”. Case in point is the California cleanup of the 2017 wildfires, at $280,000 per site it’s four times more expensive than similar past cleanups and by far the costliest cleanup in CA history. The state emphasized speed and farmed the job out to the Army Corp of Engineers who hired contractors who were paid by the ton excavated! Paying by the ton created highly u̶n̶p̶r̶e̶d̶i̶c̶t̶a̶b̶l̶e̶ predictable consequences as KQED reports:

…Dan said he saw workers inflate their load weights with wet mud. Sonoma County Supervisor James Gore said he heard similar stories of subcontractors actually being directed to mix metal that should have been recycled into their loads to make them heavier.

“They [contractors] saw it as gold falling from the sky,” Dan said. “That is the biggest issue. They can’t pay tonnage on jobs like this and expect it to be done safely.”

…Krickl pointed to where his home used to stand. It’s a 6-foot deep depression that he affectionately called his “pond”.

That “pond” was created when contractors removed the foundation, soil and an entire concrete pad for Krickl’s garage, leaving behind a large hole.

Here’s my favorite part:

So many sites were over-excavated that the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services recently launched a new program to refill the holes left behind by Army Corps contractors. That’s estimated to cost another $3.5 million.

Hat tip: Carl D.

The post Managing Incentives appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.

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freeAgent
3 hours ago
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