"Japan's antitrust watchdog considers action against Apple, carriers"

Reuters: “Exclusive: Japan’s antitrust watchdog considers action against Apple, carriers - sources

Both the headline and the lede are greatly misleading. The second and third paragraphs contradict the promised premise:

In a report published last month, Japan’s Fair Trade Commission (FTC) said that NTT Docomo, KDDI Corp and Softbank Group were refusing to sell older surplus iPhone models to third party retailers, thereby hobbling smaller competitors.

Apple was not named in that report, but two senior government sources told Reuters that regulators were also focusing on Apple’s supply agreements with all three carriers.

The carriers are almost certainly responsible for any shadiness in the deals because this only benefits them, not Apple. We’ll probably never actually find out, but I’m pretty sure the reason iPhones are not still exclusive to SoftBank is probably because Apple finally gave in to carrier demands for special concessions.

KDDI and DoCoMo are late-comers to the party. In 2008, SoftBank was the exclusive carrier for the iPhone, and it benefitted greatly. Three years later, SoftBank was still experiencing incredible growth, which was credited in large part to its still-exclusive deal with Apple. KDDI started offering iPhones in 2012, with DoCoMo finally deigning in 2013 to offer iPhones after years of steadily bleeding away customers, primarily to SoftBank.

SoftBank went from a distant third-place player in the market with about 18% share, to near-parity with second-place major carrier KDDI between 2008 and 2013, when all major players, including DoCoMo, finally offered iPhones on their networks. Without SoftBank’s runaway success, KDDI and DoCoMo might still be resisting Apple’s entry into the Japanese market even now.

The existence of business practices that shut out secondary players are an open secret. There is a very limited secondary market for unlocked phones because the vast majority are sold SIM-locked to a carrier. There are only three major players in the market, all of whom lock their handsets and in practice never unlock iPhones even after the handset is paid for and the typical 2-year contract is up. Discount carriers never even have a chance due both to carrier collusion and Japanese market rules.

The carrier that set the lock is the only entity legally allowed to unlock handsets. SoftBank has never offered SIM-unlocking. There have been persistent rumors of the other carriers offering SIM-free (i.e. unlocked handsets) for years, but reportedly neither KDDI nor DoCoMo will unlock iPhones still. Despite being required as of May 1, 2015 to offer SIM-unlocking, the carriers have been allowed to set their own timeline, and apparently their estimate on when they’ll do that for iPhones is somewhere between “#^¢* you!” and “We’ll get around to it … someday”.

Blaming Apple for customer-hostile business practices on the part of the carriers, and laggardly-enacted toothless laws that do virtually nothing to open the Japanese market is absurd. That the present situation favors Japanese incumbents is no coincidence, and past protectionistic behavior is the only element that lends credence to this report that Apple might be investigated in the future. The chance of Apple being found of wrongdoing in anything resembling a fair hearing is extremely slim, in my opinion.

Facebook Instant Articles

From a NY Times article published in May:

Facebook’s long-rumored plan to directly host articles from news organizations will start on Wednesday, concluding months of delicate negotiations between the Internet giant and publishers that covet its huge audience but fear its growing power …

… Most important for impatient smartphone users, the company says, the so-called instant articles will load up to 10 times faster than they normally would since readers stay on Facebook rather than follow a link to another site.

The last thing I wanted in my Facebook feed was more news articles, so the technical improvement of faster load times does not benefit me in the slightest. The only reason I ever go to Facebook is to see what’s going on with family members. I already have to sort through the listicles, quizzes, and “surveys” that are shared on Facebook to get to their posts. Anything that makes it harder for me to see actual activity from the people I know is just more clutter.

Granted, given the quality of what is usually shared, it will probably be more interesting, higher-brow clutter, but still clutter. I had already started skipping over the regular timeline to exclusively check messages and alerts on the infrequent occasions I visited Facebook. Increasing clutter will make me less likely to bother looking through my timeline since I know it will be about as rewarding as looking though an email inbox with spam filtering disabled.

I can see the appeal for publishers, since most of the public is not as discerning jaded and cantankerous as me, and there are 1.25 billion active users on Facebook.

Let that sink in; that’s active users, as in people who actually log in and use Facebook on a monthly or more frequent basis. There must be many more registered users than 1.25 billion, since active use is typically much, much lower than registration.

That’s a metric asstonne[1] of people. The active users alone represent 17% of the current world population of 7.3 billion, so by the numbers, theoretically nearly 1 in 5 of people on the entire planet use Facebook right now. And it’s still growing.

The problem for publishers is that joining any social network is hazardous in the long term. Letting someone else publish your content means that you both relinquish control and eventually become a commodity on that platform. When you are one of several sources for a similar service, it becomes simple and easy to replace you if you decide not to participate anymore. Should Facebook later decide to play hardball, and The Times opt-out of publishing on Facebook’s platform, even they — with their strong reputation and mind-share in news — probably wouldn’t be particularly missed.

News publishing is in flux, and it’s increasingly clear that the older publishers are facing very difficult circumstances. Ironically, this consolidation approach was already tried on the internet in the past, and was generally resisted by the public.

Remember the buzz around web portals in the early days of the public internet? It’s one of the reasons AOL became infamous online, when their membership campaigns[2] resulted in floods of clueless “newbies” who knew naught of online etiquette honed on usenet in countless flamewars.

Becoming the latest implementation of a webportal is probably a good long-term strategy for Facebook, but it places it about a half-step in stodginess from “You’ve got mail!” territory. Hell, the only reason I got a Facebook account was due to social pressure from older family members. It was already losing enough social cachet a few years ago, when I finally caved, that a dude in his mid–30s didn’t think it was the cool new tech thing.

  1. Equal to 1.102 Imperial asstons, but substantially smaller than a Goatse.  ↩

  2. Kids: ask your parents to tell about the “free” frisbees and drink coasters AOL used to send to to everyone’s houses.  ↩

"Japan complains after China says 300,000 died in Nanking Massacre"

Kyodo News via Japan Times

[President Xi Jinping] called on Japan to own up to responsibility for the tragedy, saying that acknowledgment of the countries’ shared troubled past is crucial to improving relations between them.

The Japanese government told China via a diplomatic channel after the speech that the figure is “different from Japan’s position” and that it is “difficult to determine the concrete number of victims,” according to the sources.

What an utter surprise. This kind of thing has never happened before.

Japan's Creep toward the Right

The Japanese election results were worrisome. Turnout was poor, which reflected both the apathy of the public, and the short lead-up to the elections. The one bright note was that a few right-wingers like Ishihara lost their seats. However, Abe will be continuing in his position as Prime Minister and because of that, Japan will keep steadily shuffling toward rightist nationalism.

It remains to be seen how successful his economic policies will be, but we already know how Abe’s right-leaning orientation has affected the political sphere in Japan and Japan’s relations with the rest of Asia. In an article from 2012, “Abe sticks to 1995 statement on WWII apologies, may review ‘comfort women’ acknowledgements”, Abe and his cabinet did not go so far as to retract acknowledgement for Japan’s responsibility for all of its wartime acts, but he did say that he doubted some of the claims of Japanese war crimes; specifically the forced abduction of women from invaded territories for military brothels. Since then, he has reiterated that position and provided tacit support for conservative groups who are even more outspoken in their denialist beliefs.

In US-centric terms, having Abe in office as prime minister is like having a president who has expressed Holocaust denial beliefs in public and meets with KKK-friendly politicians. A guy like that wouldn’t come right out and say that the thing with the Jews [1] was just a big misunderstanding, but he just can’t believe that all of the camps were death camps. Some of them were just work camps, and heck, the kapos were even volunteers(!) so how bad could it have been?

This is why, despite multiple apologies over the decades, many Asians from countries that Japan invaded during WWII — particularly Koreans and Chinese — have been consistently critical of Japan. Official acknowledgements of responsibility for Japanese actions during the War have been consistently inconsistent. In contrast to the German approach in educating its youth about the Holocaust and Naziism, Japan wavers between glossing over and completely ignoring its misdeeds. Overall, Japanese education tends to emphasize Japan’s status as the victim of the atomic bombs that led to Japan’s eventual surrender.

I’ve written about some of these issues before, most extensively in a post about “comfort women”, and briefly concering texbook references to one of the disputed island territories about a month before that.

In the Japanese middle school and high school textbooks I’ve seen, the Nanking Massacre (more luridly, The Rape of Nanking) — or as it’s often bloodlessly known in Japanese, 南京事件, the “Nanking Incident” — is relegated to nearly footnote status — if it’s included at all — and the language is riddled with weasel-words. If you read Japanese, you can pick up a handful of history texts from the library or a bookstore to verify this. If you don’t read Japanese, you still don’t have to take just my word for it; the Japanese author of a BBC article talked about her experience of the education system’s lies of omission in “What Japanese history lessons leave out” published last year.

Japanese history texts are shallow on all topics. The layout of the texts that I’ve seen is similar to a magazine, with the exception that there simply are no in-depth multi-page pieces. Everything, everything is broken up into 200–500 word articles organized around a larger topic, covering perhaps a total of one page for each major topic. The whole of WWII — and I’m being generous by including the 1931 invasion of Manchuria as the beginning point — is covered in 14-and-a-half pages of the more extensive of the two texts I have at home. There is no room for analysis in the text, and there is very little (if any) analysis or explanation that takes place in class either. In context with history texts as a whole, the short blurb on Nanking is not atypical, it’s depressingly normal.

Contrast that shallow gloss with the full-chapter excerpt of tear-jerking pathos from “Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes” that I have seen in nearly every middle-school English textbook from the major publishers. Sadako’s story is so well-known that folding paper cranes became The Thing to Do when someone is in the hospital (I received a set in my first year in Japan when I was in the hospital due to an injury incurred at a school) and has made it into, of all things, an English-language Bathroom Reader.

In brief, this is how the Japanese education system addresses these three topics:

  • Girl dying of leukemia: a full chapter with 3–5 class hours dedicated to studying it in English over the course of a week or more, plus an extensive treatment of the atom bombings and aftermath in every history book I’ve ever seen.

  • Hundreds of thousands of Chinese civilians shot and bayonetted to death, women gang-raped, children butchered: a 250 word blurb with non-committal language buried at the bottom of a page in only some history text books, that might be briefly mentioned in class, if the teacher isn’t too uncomfortable and doesn’t just ignore it.

  • Women from invaded territories captured and forced to whore for the military: whiplash-inducing statements from politicians over the decades, with “more study necessary” being the perennial favorite, as the numbers of the surviving women dwindle from old age and they still wait for unambiguous acknowledgement from Japan of what was done to them when they were still barely older than the girls who doubtlessly shed many tears over the plight of Sadako during their English class studies.

Expect Japan under Abe to move further right, even though some far-right members of minority opposition parties lost their seats. The overall tone of Japanese politics has already been shifting to the right (the increasing number of visits to Yasukuni shrine by politicians are an indication of this) and Abe provides an aegis for more open nationalism. Earlier last year, his cabinet already effectively abrogated the constitutional provision against war, Article 9.

You can expect an official-official, un-retracted acknowledgement of full responsibility for ianfu around the time the last of the grandkids (or maybe the great-grandkids) of the afflicted women’s generation die off. In other words, you’ll probably die of old age yourself before that happens. Assuming there isn’t another war with Japan in the meantime.

  1. … and the homosexuals, and the disabled, and the Roma, and the other estimated 5-million-plus “undesirables” who seem to get left out in the holocaust count.

iPhone Encryption Annoys Authorities

FBI blasts Apple, Google for locking police out of phones

FBI Director James B. Comey sharply criticized Apple and Google on Thursday for developing forms of smartphone encryption so secure that law enforcement officials cannot easily gain access to information stored on the devices — even when they have valid search warrants.

U.S. attorney general criticizes Apple, Google data encryption

Holder said quick access to phone data can help law enforcement officers find and protect victims, such as those targeted by kidnappers and sexual predators.

These reactions from law enforcement officials are excellent endorsements for communication devices if you value privacy and the rule of law over expedience. Arguing for encryption or security that is easier to break is reprehensible and indefensible. For the authoritarian among us, consider this; open doors let anyone in, not just “the proper authorities”. Would you still feel okay about putting in back doors or deliberately weak encryption if a foreign power can use it to spy on Americans or perform corporate espionage?

Considering the extremely lenient approach both the Bush and Obama administrations have taken to overly-broad warrantless searches, the phrase, “even when they have valid search warrants,” is a telling note, albeit one implied by the authors of the Washington Post article and not directly quoted from FBI director, Comey.

Searching an encrypted phone is effectively no different from searching a locked safe or strongbox. Under existing laws and precedents, there must be a warrant that allows the search of the locked container and specifies what they expect to find in it. The container is itself considered property and in principle should not be damaged or destroyed in the search. According to the somewhat ambiguous case law so far, you may not be compelled to supply a combination to a safe or password to a computer that could lead to incriminating evidence.

(As far as I can tell biometric locks, like Touch ID on recent iPhones, are an even more ambiguous case than passwords. Your finger might be regarded as a “key” and you could be compelled to provide access to your finger in order to unlock your phone. That will have to be tested in the courts, I think. For the meantime, if you’re paranoid — or a criminal — you should probably not use Touch ID, and instead have a good passcode.)

People are becoming more cognizant of their behavior with regard to technology and are taking steps to bring it more into line with their “meat space” lives. Up to now, we’ve been sending postcards (email) with our return addresses written on them by effectively sticking them up on a public board (the unencrypted internet) for the next passer-by to deliver to its destination, trusting that no one will read the contents en route or backtrack us to our home address.

Using encryption for email is like putting a letter in an envelope. Locking your phone with a password is like keeping your private documents in a safe.

Now, law enforcement officials are complaining that it’s too hard to catch criminals when people lock their doors so that police can’t enter private homes freely when the owners are not present, use envelopes so no one can read private mail without having to tamper with it, and don’t use party lines so that no one else can listen in on their telephone conversations without a direct effort to do so. In short, law enforcement is losing the easy access to a great deal of information that people were in many cases unaware was being shared very publicly.

To those who argue that we should give up an expectation of privacy and abrogate some of our rights in order to make it easier to find and prosecute criminals, I reply with a quotation:

“Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety” - Benjamin Franklin

Microbes May Drive Speciation

Carrie Arnold, for Quanta Magazine:

By removing Wolbachia from these wasps, the researchers showed that the Wolbachia infections were the wasps’ major barrier to interbreeding. “It was as if they were no longer two separate species,” Bordenstein said. “This was some of the first evidence that a symbiotic microbe could wedge two species apart.”

Far from being a rare, one-off event, Bordenstein’s findings suggested that the microbiome has played a larger than expected role in the evolution of new species. Thousands of insect species are infected with Wolbachia, making symbiosis a potentially major player in the development of these species.

Wolbachia, a bacteria that lives on most insects, apparently greatly affects mate choice.

The idea that microbes and fungus drive behavior in more complicated forms of life is not a new one. In real life, there are documented cases of mind controlling fungi that infect various insects, and Toxoplasma gondii might even affect human behavior. In fiction, David Brin wrote The Giving Plague about a virus that caused altruism in humans, and Greg Bear earlier wrote Blood Music, though his biological nanites went quite a bit farther than just altering behavior in humans.

We have a great deal to learn about our microbiome, and what as-yet unknown effects they might have on us. Seemingly unrelated things like bathing habits and intestinal bacteria are increasingly being shown to have profound implications for health.

Santa Barbara “Shootings”

The first thing to remember about any of these mass killings is: it’s really all about him. Their chosen target group is more or less random, and their victims are seldom actually from the target group. Many of those who are hurt and die have nothing to do with the ostensible obsession of the killer.

These young men — and it is almost always a relatively young man[1] — demonstrate self-loathing, but are at the same time narcissistic. Instead of admitting that they hate themselves, they seek to externalize their pain. They pick a group: blacks, Jews, rich people, poor people, mentally disabled, women — someone they can safely “other”, someone who represents something they fear, or someone who possesses something they covet — and make that group a target for all of their failings, problems (whether real or imagined) and extreme emotions. Then they make grandiose plans.

Mark Sappenfield for the Christian Science Monitor:

… The young men who are overwhelmingly responsible for these shooting sprees fit a very clear portrait: self-obsessed yet marginalized in some way. Their rampages are not fits of senseless rage, but cold, calculating attempts to level the score with society.

In the attempt to become an antihero – to lay bare how they think they have been wronged by others – these men need an audience, and shooting sprees are the ultimate way to get one.

This incident is being framed as a gun control issue, and as a feminist issue, but his first victims were 3 men he stabbed to death. Men, not women. A knife, not a gun.

He attacked those closest to him first; intimates, roommates. This is very common when someone commits violence of any kind. You are most at risk from someone you know well.

According to the timeline of his spree, he was only able to focus himself on his chosen scapegoat group for a very short time, and he was completely unsuccessful in finding a target at the sorority house he visited. He shot three women at random, who just happened to be in the area. He shot another man (who he might have known), and then randomly attacked several more groups of people, both men and women, as he drove around.

Despite the mindshare that mass shootings get in the news, they are a vanishingly small part of the overall landscape of violent crime. Even among firearm murders they comprise “less than one percent of gun murder victims recorded by the FBI in 2010”.[2] Which correlates well with the information in a Pew Research article, “According to a Bureau of Justice Statistics review, homicides that claimed at least three lives accounted for less than 1% of all homicide deaths from 1980 to 2008.”[3]

While #YesAllWomen has shone light on issues that had been ignored or marginalized by too many, and the greater attention paid to those issues is probably a net positive, framing this story as a consequence of misogyny is twisting the facts to fit an ideology. It might be useful for publicity, but it’s not reflective of what actually happened.

The more sad and frightening truth is that women are not in any particular danger from men like Elliot Rodger. Women are most likely to be killed by a current boyfriend or husband, a man who was previously in an intimate relationship with her, or another man she knows well. Serious violence from strangers is relatively uncommon for women.

The reality is that men have the most to fear from men they don’t know well.[4] Women should be most wary of men they have current or prior relationships with.[5]

The violence in Santa Barbara was the product of one disturbed young man’s ideation. It may be reflective of the society itself, but only insomuch as American society glorifies violence in general and dotes on spectacle. Viewed dispassionately, Rodger’s spree has little to do with misogyny; it was a symptom of his pathology, not an underlying cause. His use of a firearm in the commission of some of his crimes may provide an excuse for people to discuss gun control again, but it adds nothing meaningful to the debate. The issues people have chosen to impose on the narrative are mostly spurious.

How do we prevent spree killings? My answer: ignore them. They feed on publicity. But, this hasn’t worked for “celebrity”, so what do I know?

  1. “The average age of the shooters in the incidents identified by CRS was 33.5 years.” Congressional Research Service report, Public Mass Shootings in the United States: Selected Implications for Federal Public Health and Safety Policy
    (PDF)  ↩

  2. Analysis of Recent Mass Shootings (PDF) from the group Mayors Against Illegal Guns, pg. 3. (Source via: Journalist’s Resource)  ↩

  3. Gun Homicide Rate Down 49% Since 1993 Peak; Public Unaware The downward trend has started to reverse since 2007, but is still generally declining.  ↩

  4. “Males represented 77% of homicide victims and nearly 90% of offenders. The victimization rate for males (11.6 per 100,000) was 3 times higher than the rate for females (3.4 per 100,000). The offending rate for males (15.1 per 100,000) was almost 9 times higher than the rate for females (1.7 per 100,000).” And later, “Males were nearly 4 times more likely than females to be murdered in 2008”, which was the most recent year compiled in the report, Homicide Trends in the United States, 1980–2008 (PDF)  ↩

  5. NISVS 2010 Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey  ↩

Streaming Music Services Aren’t a Thing in Japan

Why I can’t really get excited about the streaming music services that seem to be all the rage with kids these days:

  • Pandora: not available in Japan
  • Spotify: not available in Japan
  • iTunes Radio: not available in Japan
  • Beats Radio: not available in Japan
  • Google Play Music: missing from the Google Play Store
  • Rdio: not available in Japan

The two streaming services that are available are solidly Japanese-oriented: Sony Music Unlimited and Recochoku.

Sony Music Unlimited

Sony Music Unlimited

レコチョク (Recochoku)

レコチョク (Recochoku)

Yeah, I know, I’d never heard of them either, despite living here.

In an article from last year, Recochoku was featured in the Japan Times in an article about streaming services. It was originally only available for Japanese feature phones from the surprisingly “ancient” (in ’net terms) time of 2001, per The Bridge. Recochoku is an affiliate of Avex Group, a holding company for multiple entertainment subsidiaries (Japanese-language page).

Sony and Avex alone represent roughly 18% of all Japanese music sales, and I wouldn’t expect either organization to voluntarily participate together in a unified streaming service unless there was an enormous upside for them. And they’d still probably insist on running their own competing services.

Given how the Japanese market usually works, and particularly how Sony chooses to operate, I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for any foreign incumbent to make inroads in the market. The only one that might have a chance is Apple, and that only because of the popularity of the iPhone and existing deals with distribution through the iTunes store to provide leverage. Beats music alone would have been a total non-starter in Japan. With Apple’s support? It probably still won’t be available for years, if ever.

Sweden to Test 6-hour Workday

How will that work out in productivity? Probably pretty damn well. Sweden’s GDP per capita is better than Japan’s. If you were to divide by hours worked — even by the official numbers, which are bald-faced lies — Sweden’s economic efficiency would look even better.

Meanwhile, in Japan: Unpaid overtime excesses hit young, a Japan Times article from last year. (Spoiler: nothing has changed in a year. Shocker.)

This bit is particularly quote-worthy:

It is also hard to get a realistic grasp of the abuse because workers often fail to log their OT for fear of being penalized by their employers, who are leery of exceeding the 80-hour limit and risking litigation.

Bullshit. Workers are explicitly told by their employers not to log their overtime hours, or they are on salary with no overtime provisions and their hours are not actively tracked. I have no source of inside information to draw on, but this absolutely could not happen on such a widespread — nearly universal — scale without government collusion. In my native US, the companies would have been shaken down by the IRS for blatantly cheating on their taxes if for no other, more humanitarian reason.

In addition to forced unpaid overtime, many companies are increasingly using contract workers (契約従業員 keiyaku jyûgyô-in) in lieu of hiring regular employees (正社員 seisha-in) because they can pay them less, and can quickly cut their workforce whenever they feel like it by simply not offering a new contract at the end of the term. While karôshi abuses were typically suffered by regular employees who had loyalties to the companies to exploit, as well as the Damoclean sword of a pension to hold over them, “black companies” are using the dynamics of the job market and the active lack of enforcement of existing labor laws to vigorously and enthusiastically fuck ahem, exploit an entire generation of Japanese in a way that is arguably even worse than the previous generation was abused.

It’s really no wonder that many young Japanese, particularly men, are actively turning their backs on having a career and instead are viewing contract and part-time jobs as a minimal investment to pursue a solitary and frugal life, without the pressures of attempting to gain anything resembling the previous generation’s mostly-illusory promise of lifetime employment. Sôshoku-kei don’t have ambition, families, or a pension as a handle for their employers to exploit, and they’re apparently completely uninterested in acquiring any of those accoutrements of traditional Japanese society.