Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

John Oliver Takes On SLAPP Suits and Anti-SLAPP Laws

Mike Masnick, Techdirt:

Ever since coal boss Bob Murray threatened and then sued John Oliver and HBO over their story mocking his supposed concern for coal miners, I’ve been publicly (and possibly privately*) bugging Oliver and his team at HBO to do an episode specifically about SLAPP lawsuits and anti-SLAPP laws. And I’m happy to say that they listened! This past Sunday, Oliver’s big story was all about SLAPP suits and anti-SLAPP laws, and focused again on Bob Murray, who finally dropped his case against Oliver and HBO earlier this year. It is well worth watching all the way up until the end.

I had no idea where this episode was going when I sat down to watch it Sunday, but it exceeded every possible expectation I had. I don’t want to spoil it for you if you haven’t seen it; Masnick embedded a U.S.-only clip of the entire segment, and it is absolutely worth twenty-five minutes of your day.

Anti-SLAPP laws are hugely important. A couple of years ago, a guy who invented an application called “Email” back in the late 1970s sued Techdirt and Gawker separately for pointing out that he cannot really claim to be the “inventor of email”. I wrote about this a few times here because it so beguiled me. Every time I hit “publish”, though, there was a small twinge of worry about whether I, too, could face a lawsuit for simply pointing out the facts. As Oliver points out, the plaintiff does not need to win the suit for it to effectively silence the defendant. And, obviously, I’m not big-headed enough to think that I would actually be a target.

But that momentary worry was effective in making me doubt whether I could publish factual, well-cited information that countered a hyperlitigant’s misleading narrative. Even if I was completely okay from a legal perspective, it could cost me a fortune.

See Also: Libby Hill in IndieWire.

Investigation Launched Into Goldman Sachs After David Heinemeier Hansson Tweets About Discrepancies in Apple Card Credit Limit Between Himself and His Wife

David Heinemeier Hansson:

The [Apple Card] is such a fucking sexist program. My wife and I filed joint tax returns, live in a community-property state, and have been married for a long time. Yet Apple’s black box algorithm thinks I deserve 20x the credit limit she does. No appeals work.

Sridhar Natarajan and Shahien Nasiripour, Bloomberg:

A Wall Street regulator is opening a probe into Goldman Sachs Group Inc.’s credit card practices after a viral tweet from a tech entrepreneur alleged gender discrimination in the new Apple Card’s algorithms when determining credit limits.

[…]

“The department will be conducting an investigation to determine whether New York law was violated and ensure all consumers are treated equally regardless of sex,” said a spokesman for Linda Lacewell, the superintendent of the New York Department of Financial Services. “Any algorithm, that intentionally or not results in discriminatory treatment of women or any other protected class of people violates New York law.”

As Maciej Cegłowski put it in 2016, “machine learning is like money laundering for bias”. Goldman Sachs’ algorithm may be the culprit here, but Apple’s logo is on the card.

Owen Williams Rounds Up

Hey, remember how a change was made to more accurately scan private API use for Mac App Store apps, and it caused Electron apps to be rejected because they rely upon Chromium? And even though these apps are still available for the Mac, they’re just not in the Mac App Store until the Electron project excludes said private APIs?

In Owen Williams’ eyes, this is nothing less than Apple “trying to kill web technology”. That’s right: Apple is trying to kill the web on all of its platforms, starting with the Mac:

But Apple has a reason not to like this recycling of web technology. It wants its Mac App Store to be filled with apps that you can’t find anywhere else, not apps that are available on every platform.

That’s why they’ve been so hesitant to promote cross-platform apps like those in the Microsoft Office and the Adobe suites, going so far as to only give them a few minutes of keynote time and publishing their press releases.

Electron has used these private APIs for years without issue. These private APIs allow developers to, for instance, drastically improve power usage whereas Apple’s sanctioned tools make the user experience worse. In the majority of these cases, Apple doesn’t provide real alternatives for developers who want to access these private API features.

Are private APIs unfair? Almost inherently so. Should the use of any API be withheld from distributed software until a public API is available for third-party developer use? That’s debatable.

But, again, Apple is not prohibiting the use of private APIs generally; they just don’t want apps in the Mac App Store that use private APIs. That’s a big difference.

Also, for what it’s worth, the Mozilla post that Williams links to doesn’t actually say that they’re using any restricted or private APIs, just that they updated Firefox to use Core Animation to improve its battery life and performance on MacOS.

Developers could distribute their apps from their own websites, asking users to download them directly. But that means abandoning features like Apple’s auto-update mechanism from the Mac App Store and iCloud sync. And this direct-to-consumer method could soon be locked down, too, with Apple’s controversial notarization requirements potentially requiring their review.

Setting aside the ability to use iCloud syncing in apps not distributed through the Mac App Store, notarization does not equate to locking down MacOS to outside distribution, despite Williams’ scaremongering. I have problems with notarization and Apple’s strategy for MacOS security, but Williams’ interpretation is overly simplistic and dependent on fear.

Williams follows with a couple of examples of how Apple does not implement new web standards as quickly as other browser makers do, and that leads him to this thesis:

Apple’s subtle, anti-competitive practices don’t look terrible in isolation, but together they form a clear strategy: Make it so painful to build with web-based technology on Apple platforms that developers won’t bother.

First, the premise of this argument isn’t a secret, nor is it new. Apple has long said that apps which are basically wrappers around websites should just be websites — most recently in September.

Second, Apple continues to develop and improve upon in-app web functionality, including fixing things like lacklustre WebRTC support in third-party apps, something Williams complains about in his post.

Third, encouraging a distinction between apps and websites does not therefore lead to the headline “Apple Is Trying to Kill Web Technology”. That’s rounding up to the nearest crisis position, and is wildly misleading. Plenty of ostensibly native apps continue to use web technologies — even many of Apple’s.

Apple has done a lot of stupid and controlling things in the moderation of their App Stores, but this isn’t one of those instances, and it certainly does not produce the panic-inducing headline of Williams’ post.

An Oral History of Blade Runner’s 2019 Los Angeles

Recognizing that this month marks the time in which 1982’s Blade Runner was supposed to take place, Mike Roe of LAist interviewed many of those responsible for designing and building what was then a vision of the future. Art director David Snyder:

This is the first film that Ridley did in Hollywood, L.A. So he had this idea, the most brilliant idea of all: we would go night-scouting in downtown L.A., which was really treacherous, really tough.

And so, Ridley said, “Look — there’s 1920 on this building, and then they put a layer of 1940 on the building, and then they put a layer of 1960 on the building,” and it was a stratification thing.

So when it was decided that we were going to shoot on the Warner Brothers backlot — the buildings that were built on the backlot started in 1924. And then went through all those periods, from 1924 to 1980.

When we were in pre-production, Ridley took us into the screening room and we ran the film Logan’s Run. And at the end of the film, he said, “Do you see that? We don’t want to do any of that, at all. This is exactly what we don’t want to do — the Earth is leveled, and you start over again.”

Blade Runner and its sequel remain two of my all-time favourite films — the latter surprising me by just how good it was. While towers might not be as tall as the film predicted and we’re not all travelling through the air in Spinners, it holds up remarkably well: we are in an age of bleak climate crises, aggressive policing, and unthinkable technological advances.

iOS 13.2.2, Out Now, Fixes That Bad Multitasking Bug

This is a relatively quick fix for such a nasty bug, though I still can’t believe why it shipped in the first place. The first beta of iOS 13.3, released earlier this week, also appears to have fixed this problem.

Update: Can Duruk:

The silver lining here is that Apple now feels comfortable rolling out patches every 2-3 weeks, instead of yearly updates. The organizational change required to get into a cadence like that is very hard. Now, if they could get the updates smaller and faster…

This is true and merits acknowledgement. It is also true that this year’s series of software updates have come fast and furious because that’s what has been required; this has been a truly rocky autumn as far as software quality is concerned. I hope the ability to ship patches faster does not encourage a culture that prioritizes speed over quality, however — as it often has, in my experience, with software-as-a-service companies.

AT&T Adds 15 GB and $10 Per Month to Mobile Share Plans and Doesn’t Allow Customers to Opt-Out of This ‘Bonus’

Sean Hollister, the Verge:

AT&T has a gift for wireless subscribers on many of its old Mobile Share Value data plans: it’s giving them an extra 15GB of “bonus” data — and it’s making them pay an extra $10 a month for that “bonus.”

It’s almost like the company is forcing people to move to a more expensive plan, only AT&T figured out a way to make that not technically true. Instead, it’s worded in a way that suggests the company is providing you with a SURPRISE BENEFIT that costs you money! It is quite literally an offer you can’t refuse.

This comes one day — one day — after AT&T settled with the FTC for $60 million dollars over trying to redefine the word “unlimited” to mean “limited”.

Shaw, my ISP, uses this kind of sleazy tactic all the time. My bill goes up every six months or so, and when I call to negotiate a better rate, the plan I’ve been on somehow no longer exists. I then have the option of one plan that’s more expensive but with a slower connection speed, or another plan that’s much more expensive and has unnecessarily fast speeds.

The bill I received just a couple of days ago indicates that they’ll be raising my bill by a few dollars again come January. I’ve just checked their plans and the pattern has continued — my current 100 Mbps plan is no longer available, but I can either have a 50 Mbps plan for $85 per month, or 300 Mbps for $105. The way I use the internet hasn’t changed a lot in the last five years, but I’m now paying nearly $40 per month more than I used to for the same utility.

Internal Facebook Communications Describe Plan to Limit Data Access to Potential Competitors Under the Guise of User Privacy

Katie Paul and Mark Hosenball, Reuters:

One executive, writing in 2013, described dividing apps into “three buckets: existing competitors, possible future competitors, [or] developers that we have alignment with on business models” as part of the project to restrict access to user data, dubbed ‘PS12N’.

Those in the last category were able to regain access by agreeing to make mobile advertising purchases or provide reciprocal user data to Facebook under “Private Extended API Agreements,” according to the emails.

As thousands of developers lost access to user data, the executives decided to announce the changes publicly. They elected to link what they referred to as the “‘bad stuff’ of PS12N” to an unrelated update of the Facebook login system which gave people greater control over their privacy.

Olivia Solon and Cyrus Farivar, NBC News:

For example, Facebook gave Amazon special access to user data because it was spending money on Facebook advertising. In another case the messaging app MessageMe was cut off from access to data because it had grown too popular and could compete with Facebook.

Because these are exhibits from just one side of this lawsuit, it’s possible that they do not represent a fuller picture of what Facebook was intending to do. But it is remarkable just how forthcoming Facebook’s staff are about their bald-faced anticompetitive maneuvers. Does it rise to an antitrust court case? I’m not sure; it’s Facebook’s private platform, not an open market. The company seems very happy to walk the line between ruthless and criminal — which, surely, is not an indication of a company behaving ethically and responsibly.

Also, NBC News has inexplicably decided to publish many thousands of pages from hundreds of documents of varying sizes in a single 600 MB PDF.

Unlike Netflix or Disney Plus, Apple TV Plus Can Be a Hobby

Dallas Lawrence, VentureBeat:

For Netflix, the streaming wars are life or death. For Disney, it’s about futureproofing the business and ensuring its incredible IP sustains its value in a changing media ecosystem. For Amazon, it’s about making Prime stickier. For Apple, however, streaming is really more of value add play — a vehicle for the world’s most valuable company to continue its evolution away from a pure hardware company into a services business.

This is a playbook Apple has effectively deployed in the past and one we are already beginning to see take shape as it competes in the streaming landscape. One only needs to look back at the Apple Music launch to understand the strategy. By building an ecosystem for Apple hardware users to seamlessly integrate music into their digital life, Apple managed to overtake Spotify’s subscriber growth in the U.S. and ultimately reach more than 60 million subscribers (and growing) for its music service. According to the most recent quarterly earnings released last week, Apple’s services business alone is growing at more than 20% annually — surpassing $12 billion in the latest quarter.

Just as Jeff Bezos once famously said that every time an Amazon original wins a Golden Globe it helps the company sell more shoes, with Apple News+, Apple Music, Apple Arcade, and now Apple TV+, Apple is building ever deeper connections into every aspect of the consumer content experience that will pay dividends far beyond the streaming wars.

I’m swayed by the argument that an arbitrary hardware-and-services company does not need a movie production business to succeed, but I am not persuaded that this makes sense as Apple’s strategy. The shows that have been released by the company have — “Planet of the Apps” notwithstanding — been greeted by warm but not effusive reviews. They’re fine. Some of them may even be even good.

But Apple doesn’t do fine or even good. They don’t sell Macs because they help maintain a sticky connection to their services; they don’t update the iPhone’s camera every year because they hope you’ll buy more iCloud storage. They’re the best products in their class. Sure — Apple doesn’t sell truly cheap versions of these products, but people are willing to hand over a much larger lump of money to the company with the knowledge that they’re getting a premium product.

Apple TV Plus doesn’t fit that archetype — not yet, anyway. This becomes plain if you compare it to the closest television equivalent to an Apple product that I can think of: HBO — a premium cable channel that features must-watch shows that are defined as much by their quality as their budgets, all without being interrupted by ads. Apple TV Plus is, so far, serving up fine shows with astronomical budgets, all for either a low monthly cost or, if you’ve bought a new Apple product recently, a free year’s trial. Are they going for subscription volume?

Apple TV Plus has just launched, and the app is more of a storefront for more established players in the streaming video market. They can get better at this, and they should. But I want to hear a reason for Apple to be in the streaming business beyond ARPU and subscription stickiness.

FTC Fines AT&T $60 Million for Calling Its Limited Data Plans ‘Unlimited’

Lesley Fair of the U.S. Federal Trade Commission:

Sometimes FTC cases affirm important legal principles in the courtroom. In other cases, we’re able to get money back for consumers injured by a company’s illegal conduct. The FTC’s action against AT&T for allegedly deceptive and unfair practices related to AT&T’s promises of “unlimited data” resulted in a key ruling last year about the FTC’s jurisdiction and will return $60 million to affected consumers.

In 2014 the FTC sued AT&T Mobility, LLC, for failing to adequately disclose to customers on unlimited data plans that if they used a certain amount of data in a billing cycle, AT&T would slow down – or throttle – their data speeds to the point that many everyday smartphone functions (for example, web browsing and video streaming) became nearly impossible. According to the complaint, despite its unequivocal promises of unlimited data, in 2011 AT&T began throttling data speeds for its “unlimited” customers who used a little as 2 gigabytes in a billing period.

Good on the FTC for affirming the basic principle that words do, in fact, have meaning.

Apple TV All the Way Down

Dustin Curtis:

Apple TV is a hardware device.

Apple TV is an app on Apple TV that curates content you can buy from Apple and also content you can stream through other installed apps (but not all apps, and there is no way to tell which ones).

Apple TV is an app on iOS/iPadOS devices that operates similarly to Apple TV on Apple TV. Apple TV on iOS/iPadOS syncs playback and watch history with Apple TV on Apple TV, but only if the iOS/iPadOS device has the same apps installed as the Apple TV – and not all apps are available on all platforms. Apple TV is also an app on macOS, but it does not show content that can only be streamed from external apps on an Apple TV or iOS/iPadOS device.

Curtis missed the Apple TV Remote app which allows you to control your Apple TV Plus show or your Apple TV Channel on your Apple TV hardware device — including the Apple TV software running on the Apple TV device — but not Apple TV software running on non-Apple TV hardware. Got it?

Via Michael Tsai, who also points to a colour-coded version.

David Heinemeier Hansson Gives Windows Another Try After Twenty Years

David Heinemeier Hansson has become exasperated with Apple’s four-year laptop keyboard experiment, so he bought one of Microsoft’s third-generation Surface Laptops. He has many positive things to say about it; for example:

The buying experience was great. There was nobody in the store, so with four sales people just standing around, I got immediate attention, and typed away a few quick sentences on the keyboard. It felt good. Nice travel, slim chassis, sleek design. SOLD!

The initial setup experience was another pleasant surprise. The Cortana-narrated process felt like someone from the Xbox team had done the design. Fresh, modern, fun, and reassuring. Apple could take some notes on that.

I accept that there are tradeoffs between ease of setup and full disclosure of user options — counting the number of screens during setup is one way to visualize this — but I wish some of these screens were consolidated on iOS and MacOS alike.

Also, and I’m not sure if this is just nostalgia, but I miss those first run videos in pre-Lion versions of Mac OS X.

Anyway, there are two things I want to touch on from this review:

But ultimately we got to the meat of this experience, and unfortunately the first bite didn’t quite match the sizzle. The font rendering in Windows remains excruciatingly poor to my eyes. It just looks bad. It reminded me of my number one grief with Android back in the 5.0 or whenever days, before someone at Google decided to do font rendering right (these days it’s great!). Ugh.

I accept that this is a personal failure of sorts. The Windows font rendering does not prevent you from using the device. It’s not like you can’t read the text. It’s just that I don’t enjoy it, and I don’t want to. So that was strike one.

For what it’s worth, I use a Windows 10 computer for eight hours a day, Monday through Friday. Windows has never had nice text rendering. I feel like anyone who thinks the antialiasing used in Windows 10 looks nice should, upon the conclusion of their hopefully long and healthy life, donate their eyes to science for further examination. It is both brittle and coarse, and entirely unsatisfying.

One more thing:

[…] Want to run Docker for Windows on your brand new Surface Laptop 3? Sorry, can’t do that without buying an upgrade to Windows Pro (the $1800 Surface Laptop 3 apparently wasn’t expensive enough to warrant that designation, so it ships with the Home edition. Okay, sheesh).

Microsoft’s continued insistence on shipping myriad editions of Windows with different capabilities will never stop being frustrating to me.

Earlier this year, I was trying to open some Premiere projects created by another person in the office and was prompted to update Creative Cloud. I hit the button and was told that the version of Windows 10 on my machine was too old and needed to be updated first. That surprised me because I knew I had installed an update not too long before, and I’m pretty sure the company’s admin policy mandates system updates anyhow. So I looked up the version I was running to find that it was: a) several years old, and b) was an edition of Windows 10 I’d never heard of called “LTSC”.

It turns out that there are more than just “Home” and “Professional” versions of Windows 10 — there are, like, a dozen. LTSC stands for “Long-Term Servicing Channel”. As far as I can tell, it’s an edition of Windows 10 that’s supposed to be used in instances where it’s critical that no features get updated, but proven security patches are installed, so it’s used in places like digital signage, ATMs, vending machines, and medical applications. And there’s no upgrade path for LTSC to a mainstream version of Windows 10 aside from a clean install.

This is all a very long way of saying that the myriad editions of Windows 10 remain confusing and silly to me.

Apps Built With Electron 6 and 7 Are Currently Being Rejected From the Mac App Store

David Dev” (sic):

Allright, as a follow up to the previous chapter in this odyssey I can now state that, apparently, you cannot submit an electron 6 or 7 app to the apple store:

The first refusal from apple states:

Your app app links against the following non-public framework(s):

CAContext

CALayerHost

NSAccessibilityRemoteUIElement

NSNextStepFrame

NSThemeFrame

NSURLFileTypeMappings

I am not the only one having this issue and I did write back to Apple trying to explain that I am using Electron and I can’t really change any of these public-framework usage (I assume is something from Chromium) […]

I’m seeing a lot of anger directed at Apple over this, including accusations of monopoly practices and allegations that this is some sort of plot to neuter computing except for the ways in which Apple says you can use your Mac. This is ridiculous. These apps are being rejected from the Mac App Store, but can be distributed elsewhere; the Mac is not a closed platform. I get why this is frustrating: the lack of communication by Apple when changes are made to the App Review process may come as a surprise, and Electron is a popular framework upon which entire apps rest, so changing it would require a lot of work.

If anything, though, the main culprit here is whichever part of Electron — either Electron itself, or Chromium, upon which it is based — decided to use private APIs in the app. Apple has been wildly inconsistent with many aspects of its App Stores, but on private APIs the company has stood firm: they may not be used. It would have been useful for Apple to announce this change if it knew the revised App Review process would prevent Electron apps from being accepted into the Mac App Store, but it is by no means a death sentence for these apps, nor is it their responsibility to ensure that every intermediate app layer made by a third-party is compliant.

Update: Michael Tsai:

So there are a multiple problems here:

  1. It’s (apparently) impossible for Chromium to get competitive performance and battery life without using private API, which Safari freely uses.

  2. Apple probably has good reasons for keeping these APIs private.

  3. Private API has always been banned, but Apple has been accepting these apps for years and then abruptly stopped without any notice.

  4. Apps using Electron probably didn’t know that they were even using private API. Neither Xcode nor Application Loader reports this, and App Review was accepting the apps.

  5. The rule is not being enforced equally.

The first point is relevant, but does not make a difference in whether the apps should be approved, hence Tsai’s second point. The third and fifth points are yet another entry in Apple’s biggest problem with the App Review process, which is its inconsistency and opacity.

But the fourth argument here is critical: private APIs are risky to use in any case, but it’s absurd to use them in a software platform. In this case, it’s layers of dependencies failing developers: apps are built on top of Electron, which is built on Chromium, which uses private APIs to help its atrocious battery and CPU consumption. It isn’t as though Slack — to use a notorious example — actually needs a 200 MB app to run its glorified IRC client.

After Being Sued for Calling a Private Citizen a Pedophile and Settling Fraud Charges in a Separate Incident, Elon Musk Realizes Twitter Might Not Be for Him

Maria Jose Valero, Bloomberg:

Twitter has fallen out of Elon Musk’s favor as the Tesla CEO vowed to “go offline” on Friday. It’s unclear, however, when he would do so as the executive has teased the move before.

Musk’s Twitter account was still active 20 minutes after the post.

In June, Musk said he had deleted his Twitter account, though he stayed active after the post. He briefly changed his Twitter name on the platform to “Daddy DotCom” before reverting to his own.

Last year, Musk settled SEC fraud charges related to tweets he sent out indicating that he was taking Tesla private by paying a $20 million fine and stepping down as chairman. In April, he renegotiated his tweeting privileges. Last month, documents were released in the case of a suit filed by a British cave diver who Musk accused of being a pedophile in a tweet because the diver criticized Musk’s submarine; it was decided earlier this week that the case would go to trial. Yesterday, Musk whined about a Tesla losing a drag race. He’s not very good at projecting the image of a well-adjusted public figure and dependable businessman using Twitter.

The big wet president of the United States continues to broadcast nonsense two hundred and eighty blessed characters at a time.

Update: He lasted three days.

An Airbnb Scam Demonstrates the Site’s Toothless Policies

Allie Conti, Vice:

I was thankful I’d gotten the last-minute agreement in writing, but I also started to wonder what had actually happened in Chicago. Unable to shake the sense that this was more than a run-of-the-mill bad host, I started to look for red flags I must have missed. It didn’t take long to find a few. For one, the phone number that the Airbnb host had called me with was a Google number that couldn’t be traced. Through a reverse image search, I also realized that the profile picture Becky and Andrew had used on Airbnb was a stock photo from a website that hosts surfing-themed desktop wallpapers. And when I started going through other people’s reviews of Becky and Andrew’s properties, I noticed some other renters had reported experiences that strangely mirrored my own. A woman said she was forced to switch up her itinerary three minutes before check-in due to alleged plumbing issues. A man said that he was promised a refund because his rental was “falling apart,” though it never materialized.

Even some of the positive reviews of Becky and Andrew’s Chicago rentals seemed odd, especially those left by other pairs of hosts. Kelsey and Jean, for example, said Becky and Andrew were “awesome and communicative guests.” But they themselves were based in Chicago, where it seemed they had at least two properties of their own. Why would they need to rent from someone else there? Even stranger, Kelsey and Jean’s photo also had been cribbed from a travel site, and the language they used to describe their home (“Westloop 6 Bed Getaway – Walk the City”) seemed similar to that of Becky and Andrew’s (“6 Bed Downtown / Wicker Park / Walk the City”). It wasn’t long before I found what looked an awful lot like the apartment I’d originally booked with Becky and Andrew—the one on North Wood Street—listed by Kelsey and Jean as well. There was no mistaking it: The couch, coffee table, dining room set, and wall art were all the same.

I started to wonder whether “Becky and Andrew” and “Kelsey and Jean” existed at all.

This is a brilliant investigation, well told.

It’s almost as though operating businesses free of regulation under the guise of “disruption” leads to predictable consequences that scale-obsessed platform owners struggle to solve.

iOS 13.2 Is More Aggressive at Killing Background Apps and Tasks

Yours truly on Twitter yesterday:

I thought it was just a beta thing, but iOS’ memory management has taken a big step back — as in, back to the pre-multitasking days of quitting and launching apps instead of switching between them.

Natalia Ossipova:

Lost a 3+ hours @GoZwift ride because of that. Had to switch to Settings to restore Wi-Fi connection and on return to Zwift the app was relaunched. An all-time 5 min power peak, two KOMs and a lot of kudos gone. Staying alive in the background is crucial to fitness apps.

Marco Arment:

I’ve noticed this since the first 13.2 betas, and Overcast users keep reporting it as well: background apps seem to be getting killed MUCH more aggressively than before.

(Especially on the iPhone 11 if you use the camera, presumably because it needs so much RAM for processing.)

I’m used to the camera purging all open apps from memory on my iPhone X, but iOS 13.2 goes above and beyond in killing background tasks. Earlier today, I was switching between a thread in Messages and a recipe in Safari and each app entirely refreshed every time I foregrounded it. This happens all the time throughout the system in iOS 13: Safari can’t keep even a single tab open in the background, every app boots from scratch, and using iOS feels like it has regressed to the pre-multitasking days. As bugs go, this is isn’t a catastrophic one, but it absolutely should be the highest of priorities to fix it. It’s embarrassing that all of the hard work put into making animations and app launching feel smooth is squandered by mismanaged multitasking.

G/O Media’s Plan to Juice Its Ad Numbers Backfires After Farmers Insurance Pulls Its Million-Dollar Commitment and Deadspin’s Staff Quit en Masse

A bit of followup related to yesterday’s dumpster fire at Deadspin: you may recall that one source of the rift between editorial and management staff at G/O Media has been the company’s recent carpet bombing of autoplaying video ads across the websites it owns, in a move not unlike someone cutting their own fingers off and wondering why they are in so much pain. Everyone knows that autoplaying video ads are a violation of an implicit code between websites owners and visitors — I can’t imagine a single person finding them anything less than obtrusive, and their distraction is disrespectful to readers and writers alike.

Sahil Patel, Wall Street Journal:

The Farmers deal, which began last month and is worth $1 million, required G/O Media to deliver nearly 43.5 million ad impressions through September 2020, according to internal G/O Media emails reviewed by The Wall Street Journal.

The publisher’s media and ad operations teams believed it was unlikely G/O Media could deliver that many, according to the emails.

After failing to hit ad impression targets within the first few weeks of the campaign, G/O Media decided to start playing videos with the sound on as soon as pages loaded, according to people familiar with the matter. That included stand-alone video ads for Farmers inside article pages as well as preroll ads before editorial videos.

This was done with the approval of Farmers, but it failed spectacularly, as Maxwell Tani reported for the Daily Beast earlier today:

Multiple sources confirmed to The Daily Beast that following the editorial team’s public criticism of the ads, Farmers informed G/O that it would not continue with the campaign which, according to the Journal, was worth $1 million and required the media company to deliver nearly 43.5 million ad impressions through next year.

As I wrote yesterday, a man who hates everything Gawker stood for bought the company and it backfired when he tried to ruin the company from the inside.

Oh, and then lots of reporters quit today. Like, pretty much any staff member who was able just walked out.

G/O Media’s management short of shrugged at having lost some of the most talented writers on the web as they attempt to turn each of their publications into the most generic version of itself.

Deep Fusion Is Brilliant

Speaking of photography on the iPhone 11, Matt Birchler illustrates the effect of Deep Fusion on a photo of his dog, and it is stunning. Even compared to RAW or the formidable Pixel 4’s camera, there’s nothing in it: Deep Fusion really does make an awesome amount of difference.

A Deep Look at the Software and Hardware Changes in the iPhone 11’s Camera System

Sebastiaan de With of Halide:

Last month, we took a look at what is new in the iPhone 11 and 11 Pro’s camera hardware. You might’ve noticed two things from Apple’s iPhone announcement event and our blog post: the hardware changes seem fairly modest, with more attention directed at this generation’s software based processing.

It’s true: The great advances in camera quality for these new iPhones are mostly to blame on advanced (and improved) software processing.

I’ve taken some time to analyze the iPhone 11’s new image capture pipeline, and it looks like one of the greatest changes in iPhone cameras yet.

Come for the insightful explanation of the new iPhone 11 camera features, but stay for de With’s phenomenal examples. This is one of those articles that you’ll want to save for reading on the best display you’ve got.

What’s Happening at Deadspin Is a Travesty

Jeremy Gordon of the Outline, a website that I feel terrible for subjecting readers to as they have, for some ungodly reason, built their own layout engine which breaks scrolling but, hey, they can show those irritating animated squiggly lines, so that’s something:

For the past several months, the new owners have paid seemingly unique attention to diminishing Deadspin. Most egregiously was the request — long rumored, and made official on Monday — that the site “stick to sports,” in line with the completely facile line of logic that sports fans only want to know about the score and the game and not anything else. Besides the fact that sports themselves are frequently political, Deadspin also specifically flourished as an umbrella for topics often beyond the purview of straight sports. Its readers overwhelmingly responded positively to this, as verified anecdotally — is there a better writer on Donald Trump in this country than writer/editor David Roth? — and officially by traffic numbers published by former editor Timothy Burke.

Nonetheless, so the new diktat went, issued by men refusing to understand the websites they spent millions of dollars acquiring. On Tuesday, the staffers responded by only posting non-sports stories. They trafficked normally, of course, but corporate retribution followed a few hours later when deputy editor Barry Petchesky was fired for, in his words, “not sticking to sports.” Petchesky, who’d worked there for a decade, and kept the site running as the search for a new editor-in-chief continued — because who would want to work for people like Spanfeller and Maidment, or for a staff already trained to sniff out a patsy? — produced thousands upon thousands of blogs (and more) for Deadspin. Firing a highly productive, widely beloved, well-tenured employee as petty revenge sounds stupid, but I guess I’m not smart enough to be the CEO of G/O Media.

Molly Lambert:

RIP blogging we all tried real hard to make the internet good and then corporations and rich idiots destroyed everything a generation of writers tried to build.

Brent Simmons:

You choose the web you want. But you have to do the work.

A lot of people are doing the work. You could keep telling them, discouragingly, that what they’re doing is dead. Or you could join in the fun.

Again: you choose.

This isn’t even a question of economics, per se, as Deadspin — and, indeed, G/O Media entities as a whole — are profitable. Deadspin’s future isn’t in jeopardy because it wasn’t making enough money, but because a jury in Florida decided that Hulk Hogan was owed over a hundred million dollars because his public image was embarrassed, in a case bankrolled by Peter Thiel due to a personal vendetta against Gawker. The network of profitable sites was then sold to Univision and used as collateral by its private equity owners, which piled on billions of dollars of debt. Those sites were then sold to Great Hill Partners, another private equity group, which installed as CEO a guy who seems to hate everything about the sites, and who used to run the Internet Advertising Bureau — which might explain why all of these websites are now laden with garbage advertising.

All of this is to say that blogging is a format that is still very much alive, especially if you stretch the definition. But the most powerful people in the room desperately dislike the validity of independent and unconventional writing, and are doing all they can to dismantle it.

David Roth, Deadspin:

The work that those people do in those jobs touches the lives of many millions of other people; it can elevate and honor the dignity of those people’s lives or it can deny it for reasons relating to avarice or arrogance or stupid abject cruelty. It is not rude to look straight at this, and it is not wrong to be angry when and where it fails. There really is something that every person owes to everyone else, and it is not deference. Our leaders owe us more of that than we owe them, but the crowds do owe at least one thing to the people in the owner’s boxes. When they are wrong—when they dishonor us and themselves, when they are vicious and lazy and shortsighted and demand to be celebrated for it—we should let them hear it.

This post is about the U.S. President getting booed during Sunday’s World Series game — of course it is, because Roth has dutifully stuck to sports.

Of course.

Molekule Is Using the California Wildfires to Sell Its Crummy Air Purifier

Sarah Emerson, OneZero:

California is again on fire. In Sonoma County, the Kincade Fire is ripping through communities and threatening to reach the Pacific Coast. It is one of half-a-dozen major fires currently threatening the state. Tens of thousands of people have been evacuated from their homes throughout the county, and even more are facing power blackouts by PG&E.

And Molekule is once again advertising against the disaster, running promoted posts on Instagram that play on the public’s fear of wildfire smoke. Molekule isn’t the only brand that stands to benefit from a burning California, but the company’s ads feel opportunistic. Compared to other air purifiers, Molekule’s air purifier is wildly expensive, and looks like something you’d find in a millionaire’s doomsday bunker.

Earlier this month, the Wirecutter published their roundup of the best air purifiers on the market. They included the Molekule in their tests and were shocked by how badly it performed. Also, it has one of those bright blue LED lights that cannot be turned off while it’s in use which, while not quite as bad as selling an air purifier that doesn’t really do the thing it says it does, ought to be enough to disqualify the purchase of any product.

Elon Musk is also using the wildfires as a marketing opportunity, though Justine Calma of the Verge frames it somewhat differently. It’s subtle, but see if you can spot it:

Musk offered $1,000 off [solar panels and Powerwalls] to customers who are affected by the outages. His generosity is likely to benefit more affluent Californians’ who are coping with the power loss, given the price of a home installation. On its website, Tesla lists the average price of a Solar Roof as $33,950. Its home battery system, the Powerwall, costs roughly $14,100 for a 2,200-square-foot home. The company unveiled Solar Glass Roof tiles just three days ago.

It is, of course, a good thing to make solar power more accessible. It is vulgar to tie this promotion to a disaster of staggering proportions.

Update: Molekule is apologizing, says that they’ve donated products to the fires — which is a weird way to phrase a donation to, I assume, those affected, but okay — and has pulled the ads.

The Advertising Industry Begins to Realize That Bombarding Audiences Doesn’t Work

Tiffany Hsu, New York Times:

In the predigital days, advertising agencies were ruled by swaggering creative directors who gorged on lavish client contracts and sometimes created campaigns that set the cultural agenda and captivated the public.

Nearly every piece of that equation has changed. Agencies are better informed than ever before about consumers, having amassed huge stores of their data. But many of those consumers, especially the affluent young people prized by advertisers, hate ads so much that they are paying to avoid them.

At the same time, companies that hire ad agencies are demanding more from marketing campaigns — while paying less for them.

As a result, the advertising industry faces an “existential need for change,” according to a blunt report published on Monday by the research firm Forrester. Now the agencies must “disassemble what remains of their outmoded model” or risk “falling further into irrelevance,” the report concludes.

There used to be an art to advertising. That’s not to say that all ads were art, but there was an expectation that creative directors would put in the effort to be, well, creative. It’s hard to argue that Google and Facebook ads are anything of the sort, while advertisers become increasingly desperate. It’s disappointing to see the slow demise of this applied art form.

Apple’s Obese Marketing Webpage for the AirPods Pro

John Gruber:

The AirPods Pro “overview” web page is a strange beast. It pegs my 2015 MacBook Pro’s CPU — I closed the tab a few minutes ago and my fan is still running. The animation is very jerky and scrolling feels so slow. There’s so much scrolljacking that you have to scroll or page down several times just to go to the next section of the page. The animation is at least smooth on my iPad and iPhone, but even there, it feels like a thousand swipes to get to the bottom of the page.

It is a truly obscene webpage. By the time I got to the bottom on my non-Retina MacBook Air, it had loaded over 66 MB of assets and had chalked up over 1,600 HTTP requests — for one webpage.

At least it’s not the iPad Pro marketing page, where vertical scrolling is converted to sideways scrolling.

Apple Releases iOS and iPadOS 13.2

Juli Clover, MacRumors:

Apple today released iOS 13.2, the second major update to the iOS and iPadOS 13 operating systems. The new software updates come two weeks after the release of iOS/iPadOS 13.1.3 and over a month after the initial release of iOS 13.

If you’re shocked by the speed of Apple’s software update rollout this autumn, you’re not inventing things. iOS 12 didn’t get to 12.2 until March of this year. Only about half of iOS releases ever saw a x.2 version, and most of those were released in December, with only a couple near the end of November. None have been released in October.

I’ve been running the betas and 13.2 feels like the release that iOS 13 should have been. It’s less buggy than the general release — though there are still plenty to go around — but it’s more feature complete. My favourite new thing is Announce Messages with Siri.

If you have a set of AirPods or PowerBeats headphones with an H1 chip, you can now have Siri read incoming messages as they arrive and reply to them immediately — all without going through a whole “Hey, Siri” process. On its surface, this is magic. When it works and it’s in the right place at the right time — say, while I’m walking or cycling, or when I’m expecting a message from someone — it’s really nice to not have to touch my phone, especially when I’m wearing a traditional watch. Even if you’re using an Apple Watch, this feature is quite nice because it means you can be even more selective about what buzzes your wrist.

It lowers the volume of music you’re listening to or pauses your podcast, plays a unique notification chime, and Siri reads the message you’ve received. I still can’t believe the Siri voice is entirely synthetic; it sounds terrific, like having a narrator reading your friend’s incoming messages. Then, you can reply just by speaking, if you want. You don’t need to say “hey, Siri” — you can just talk and it will send it as a reply. If you don’t say anything for a few seconds, your music will fade back or your podcast will resume playing.

A nice touch is that subsequent messages from the same person will be read in a conversational tone, like “Rebecca also says…”. Something I did not expect is that message announcements are limited by length. Messages of over — I think — 256 characters won’t be read in full by Siri; it will only say “a message”.

If you’re popular, I imagine that it could get quite irritating to have your music or podcast constantly interrupted — I wouldn’t know, firsthand. In this feature’s settings — under Siri and Search, then Announce Messages with Siri — you can limit message announcements to just favourites, recents, contacts, or allow Siri to read messages from everyone. You can also add a tile to Control Centre which, when expanded, allows muting for an hour or the rest of the day, in addition to switching it on or off entirely.

This feature isn’t limited to Apple’s Messages app, etiher: third-party developers can support Announce Messages with Siri by adding INSearchForMessagesIntentIdentifier to their app’s notification category.

Announce Messages with Siri is one of the things I was thinking of when I wrote that AirPods feel like the future. It’s such a smart, simple feature that allows you to keep your phone in your pocket or bag, but still get the messages that matter most.

There are loads of new features in 13.2 aside from this: Deep Fusion support for those with an iPhone 11, privacy options for Siri and dictation, support for the new AirPods Pro headphones announced this morning, and new emoji. Good things all around, with one caveat: on my iPhone X, I’ve noticed apps getting booted from memory much sooner than in previous releases, often as soon as I’ve switched to another app. I’m not sure if this bug is present in the release version or if it’s something specific to my phone, but I hope this doesn’t persist.

Bundling, Unbundling, and Rebundling

Drew Austin, writing for Real Life:

Things that have been unbundled rarely remain unbundled for very long. Whether digital or physical, people actually like bundles, because they supply a legible social structure and simplify the complexity presented by a paralyzing array of consumer choices. The Silicon Valley disruption narrative implies that bundles are suboptimal and thus bad, but as it turns out, it is only someone else’s bundles that are bad: The tech industry’s unbundling has actually paved the way for invidious forms of rebundling. The apps and services that replaced the newspaper are now bundled on iPhone home screens or within social media platforms, where they are combined with new things that no consumer asked for: advertising, data mining, and manipulative interfaces. Facebook, for instance, unbundled a variety of long-established social practices from their existing analog context — photo sharing, wishing a friend happy birthday, or inviting someone to a party — and recombined them into its new bundle, accompanied by ad targeting and algorithmic filtering. In such cases, a bundle becomes less a bargain than a form of coercion, locking users into arrangements that are harder to escape than what they replaced. Ironically, digital bundles like Facebook also introduce novel ambiguities and adjacencies in place of those they sought to eliminate, such as anger about the political leanings of distant acquaintances or awareness of social gatherings that happened without you (side effects that are likely to motivate future unbundling efforts in turn).

A thoughtful essay that challenges our perceived gains from disassociating discrete components from their combined whole, some of which touches on themes similar to Alexis C. Madrigal’s essay about the servant economy.

Zuck Testified Before the House Financial Services Committee and It Did Not Go Well for Him

Tony Romm, Washington Post:

Congressional lawmakers delivered a broad lashing of Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg on Wednesday, sniping at his company’s plans to launch a digital currency, its pockmarked track record on privacy and diversity, and its struggles to prevent the spread of misinformation.

The wide-ranging criticisms came largely from Democrats during a hearing of the House Financial Services Committee, which convened the session to probe Facebook’s plan to launch a cryptocurrency, called Libra. Facebook’s efforts have catalyzed a rare alignment of opposition from the party’s members of Congress and some Trump administration officials, who are concerned Libra could trouble the global financial system.

Quickly, though, the hearing expanded in focus, reflecting the simmering frustrations on Capitol Hill with practically the entirety of Facebook’s business. […]

The questions from the most prepared representatives today were illuminating and appeared to take Mark “I’m Not Sure” Zuckerberg by surprise.

Cecilia Kang, Mike Isaac, and Nathaniel Popper, New York Times:

Representative Nydia M. Velázquez, a Democrat from New York, pointed to Facebook’s promise in its acquisition of WhatsApp in 2014 to keep the messaging app separate from the main Facebook platform. A few years later, Mr. Zuckerberg announced it would merge data between the two apps.

“Do you understand why this record makes us concerned with Facebook entering the cryptocurrency space? Have you learned that you should not lie?” Ms. Velázquez said.

“Congresswoman, I would disagree with the characterization,” he said before getting cut off by further questions.

Rep. Katie Porter had one of the most memorable exchanges:

Rep. Porter: Facebook’s known as a great place to work: free food, ping pong tables, great employee benefits. But Facebook doesn’t use its employees for the hardest jobs in the company. You’ve got about 15,000 contractors watching murders, stabbings, suicides, and other gruesome, disgusting videos for content moderation — correct?

Zuckerberg: Congresswoman, yes, I believe that’s correct.

Rep. Porter: You pay many of those workers under $30,000 per year, and you’ve cut them off from mental health care when they leave the company, even if they have PTSD because of their work for your company. Is that correct?

Zuckerberg: Um, congresswoman, my understanding is that we pay everyone, including the contractors associated with the company, at least a $15 minimum wage. In markets and cities with a high cost of living, that’s a $20 minimum wage. We go out of our way to offer a lot of —

Rep. Porter: Thank you, I take your word at the wage. Reclaiming my time. According to one report I have — and this is straight out of an episode of Black Mirror — these workers get nine — nine — minutes of supervised wellness time per day. That means nine minutes to cry in the stairwell while someone watches them. Would you be willing to commit to spending one hour a day for the next year watching these videos and acting as a content monitor, and only accessing the same benefits available to your workers?

Zuckerberg: Uh — congresswoman, we work hard to make sure we give good benefits to all of the folks who are doing this.

Rep. Porter: Mr. Zuckerberg — reclaiming my time — I would appreciate a yes or a no. Would you be willing to act as a content monitor — to have that life experience?

Zuckerberg: I’m not sure it would best serve our community for me to spend that much time —

Rep. Porter: Reclaiming my time. Mr. Zuckerberg, are you saying you’re not qualified to be a content monitor?

Zuckerberg: No, congresswoman, that’s not what I’m saying.

I can’t work out whether the expression on Zuckerberg’s face when he delivered that last line is one of frustrated politeness, or if he was smirking because he saw where Rep. Porter was going with her line of questioning.

One topic that kept coming up today was Facebook’s recent loosening of a longtime ban on falsehoods in political ads.

The Times, again:

Representative Rashida Tlaib, Democrat of Michigan, clashed with Mr. Zuckerberg on Facebook’s desire not to fact-check political campaign advertising.

Ms. Tlaib said the practice had resulted in widespread hate-mongering and a flurry of false information about her, personally. “It is hate speech, it’s hate, and it’s leading to violence and death threats in my office,” she said.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez:

Rep. Ocasio-Cortez: You announced recently that the official policy of Facebook now allows politicians to pay to spread disinformation in 2020 elections and in the future. So, I just want to know how far I can push this in the next year. Under your policy — you know, and using census data as well — could I pay to target predominantly black zip codes and advertise to them the incorrect election date?

Zuckerberg: No, congresswoman, you couldn’t. We have — even for these policies around the newsworthiness of content that politicians say, and the general principle that I believe that —

Rep. Ocasio-Cortez: But you said you’re not going to fact check my ads.

Zuckerberg: If anyone, including a politician, is saying things that can cause — that is calling for violence, or could risk imminent physical harm, or voter or census suppression — when we roll out the census suppression policy — we will take that content down.

Rep. Ocasio-Cortez: So you will — there is some threshold where you will fact-check political advertisements. Is that what you’re telling me?

Zuckerberg: Congresswoman, yes, for specific things like that where there is imminent risk of harm —

Rep. Ocasio-Cortez: Could I run ads targeting Republicans in primaries saying they voted for the Green New Deal?

Zuckerberg: Sorry, can you repeat that?

Rep. Ocasio-Cortez: Would I be able to run advertisements on Facebook targeting Republicans in primaries saying that they voted for the Green New Deal? I mean, if you’re not fact-checking political advertisements — I’m just trying to understand the bounds here. What’s fair game?

Zuckerberg: Congresswoman, I don’t know the answer to that off the top of my head. I think probably.

I struggle with this policy shift. I’ve previously argued that this clearly benefits bad faith arguments and politicians that have a most tenuous relationship with facts. I think it’s especially worrying that advertisements on Facebook can be highly targeted, so lies can be broadcast to much smaller groups of individuals and, therefore, being easier to evade detection. In the recent Canadian election, both the Liberal Party and Conservative Party targeted ads containing lies at Chinese-language Facebook users. That’s obviously appalling, as are the threats towards Rep. Tlaib that she says result from ads containing falsehoods.

There is no easy segue here, but I do wish to point out two things. First, I struggle to believe that Facebook would be an effective moderator of the truth. Also, Facebook’s policy shift brings the website in alignment with longstanding policy that generally exempts politicians from false advertising standards — this is also true for Canadian ads. Legally, politicians can lie in ads all they want about their own record or their opponents’ as long as they play dumb when asked about it, but overestimating the lifespan of lightbulbs is verboten. Oh, and you can claim that your drink comprising over 99% apple and grape juice is a pomegranate blueberry blend — that’s fine, too.

Facebook struggles with content moderation at a base level; expecting them to fact check politicians’ advertisements around the world seems like an implausible stretch. That’s not to say that Facebook should do nothing: I think it would be helpful to remove the ability to target political advertising by anything other than country and language. I also see the need for greater action against advertising falsehoods, because lying to consumers is a form of fraud in myriad contexts, and I don’t know why that standard ought to be different for politicians.

More importantly, I think these are all manifestations of an increasingly untrustworthy and untruthful climate. Coca-Cola should not be using the most careful reading of the law to label its apple and grape juice with other fruits — that shouldn’t even be a question. Nor should politicians feel like they should be able to spread outright lies in their promotional materials. This sounds incredibly naïve, I realize, but the current level of cynicism is not supportive of a functional democracy. We should not have such low expectations.

I remain perplexed, dismayed, and frustrated that “fine print” is something that exists at all, and that there is an expectation that public officials will knowingly lie to voters.