Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

On Standards

Alison DeNisco Rayome, CNet:

The iPad just became a more useful multitasking tool for Gmail users. Google’s latest update to its email service finally added support for split-view multitasking, so you can keep your Gmail pane active on one side of the iPad screen while browsing through different apps on the other side.

[…]

Split View support for Gmail has been a long time coming: Apple first added the split view feature to the iPad back in 2015, with iOS 9. However, many popular apps did not support it initially. Google added Split View support for Docs, Sheets and Slides in 2016.

Apple added the API five years ago. Google is notoriously horrible at being a good citizen on others’ platforms, but five years is egregious even for them.

John Voorhees:

The bigger story here is that this version has been out 3 weeks and no one seems to have noticed, having given up on Split View in Gmail ages ago.

It appears that Apple flexed some of its platform ownership muscle as it announced at WWDC last year that, by April June, iPad apps would need to support multitasking views.

John Gruber:

Apple undeniably wields great power from the fact that the App Store is the exclusive source for all consumer software for the iPhone and iPad. Why not use that power in the name of user experience? Imagine a world where the biggest fear developers had when submitting an app for review wasn’t whether they were offering Apple a sufficient cut of their revenue, but whether they were offering users a good enough native-to-the-platform experience. Video app that doesn’t support picture-in-picture? You’re out of the store. App doesn’t support dynamic type size but clearly should? You’re out. Poor accessibility support? Out. Popular email client that doesn’t support split screen? Out.

Michael Tsai:

I’m against adding subjective quality requirements to the App Store, but requiring split-screen seems more like the objective requirements to support 64-bit or the iPhone X notch. It could nudge apps in a good direction without being onerous or unpredictable.

With the Hey debacle fresh in all of our minds along with continuing reminders of the inconsistent expectations of the App Store, it is a delicate balance to suggest Apple use more of its power to approve or reject apps based on nicety. If I were to play backseat Apple CEO, I would have allowed apps to be installed from outside of the App Store, with a Gatekeeper-like verification mechanism, and treated the App Store as a place where users would find the best apps with the best experiences. But this is not the world we live in and, anyway, I assume there would be unforeseen consequences to my half-baked wishes.

In the real world, where Apple has a degree of control over all native apps on iOS and iPadOS, I think it should be more aggressive in establishing platform expectations. There ought to be a list of standard features demanded of all apps and split-screen multitasking is unquestionably on that list. Same with support for standard keyboard shortcuts. Users ought to have platform standards, and there is no more powerful iOS device user than Apple.

The Visual Storytelling of Run the Jewels

Alex Castro, the Verge:

Alongside the two antiheroes of Run The Jewels is a third, ever-present visual staple: the pistol and fist. This simple image has graced the cover of every Run The Jewels album, communicating very clearly what the duo are here to do. This image goes directly against more traditional hip-hop album artwork, which tends to feature a portrait of the artist in varying forms. By choosing a more symbolic art direction, the group sets the tone for their records to stretch beyond reality. This is supported by auxiliary imagery for packaging and album skits, which hint at the duo escaping hell.

The creation of the covers has been spearheaded by El-P, one-half of Run The Jewels, and recently, Tim Saccenti, a photographer and filmmaker who’s worked with El-P since his second album. However, both are quick to mention the contributions of numerous artists over the years, including illustrator Nick Gazin, who drew the first two covers and helped conceive the original logo, and, of course, Killer Mike, the other half of Run The Jewels. “I consider it to be sort of an art collective,” El-P says. “Different people have different moments in it that enhance it and turn it into what it is.”

I spoke separately with El-P and Saccenti about the history of Run The Jewels’ visuals and how they’ve been brought to life through sculpture and photography for their most recent albums. Here’s a combination of both interviews, which have been condensed and lightly edited for clarity.

The low poly pistol and fist motif on their most recent release might be my favourite iteration yet.

Pinboard Turns Eleven

I began using Pinboard eleven years ago as of July 13. In that time, I have bookmarked over 27,000 links, excluding several that I imported from Delicious and cleaned up. I pay about thirty bucks a year for archiving — 95% of my saved links have been archived, which is great, as many of the links that I saved several years ago are no longer active. Paying for archiving also means that Pinboard enables full text search, which is like having my own personal search engine for stuff I’ve read.

Pinboard is perhaps the most useful web service I know of, particularly for my voracious reading habits. If I did not subscribe to archiving, I would have paid no more than the $2.91 registration fee at the time I joined. I simply cannot think of anything else from which I have enjoyed such value.

Elon Musk Once Again Says Tesla Is ‘Very Close’ to Full Autonomy This Year, for Real This Time

Al Root, writing in a Barron’s article confidently titled “Don’t Bet Against Musk”:

Now Musk plans to crack “level 5 autonomous driving” in the coming year. That’s the message Musk delivered Thursday at the World Artificial Intelligence Conference in China.

The society of automotive engineers defines five levels of autonomous driving from Level 1 to Level 5. A Level 1 feature is something like parking assistance. Level 5 means the driver — if you can still call the person behind the steering wheel a driver — doesn’t have to do anything in all driving conditions.

This is the exact same tune Musk has been playing for five years: in 2015, he said that fully autonomous vehicles would be on the road within two years. Credulous reporting by financial publications like Barron’s, above, and Forbes to industry sites like Electrek — and even mainstream publications like the BBC — has helped cement Musk’s claim that Level 5 autonomy is just around the corner for years now.

Tesla, of course, continues to market its driver aids as “Autopilot” while insinuating that a car bought from the company today has “Full Self-Driving Capability”. But these are exaggerations that I feel go beyond puffery. The features of the “Autopilot” system are exactly the same as the lane-keeping and radar-guided cruise control that have been available across the automotive industry for years now. For comparison, its namesake technology on aircraft can follow a predetermined flight path with speed and altitude adjustments. The things that make it “full[y] self-driv[ing]”, meanwhile, have fine print that clearly states that these features do not make the car drive itself:

The currently enabled features require active driver supervision and do not make the vehicle autonomous.

Jason Torchinsky, Jalopnik:

I’m pretty comfortable saying that, no, Tesla will not have full Level 5 autonomy solved by the end of the year, especially not with current hardware on their fleet of cars. I do not think we will see a software solution to L5 downloaded to Teslas any time soon.

I don’t really understand why Elon is pushing this narrative, either. Tesla has been saying they’re just about to release “Full Self-Driving” for years now, and they haven’t.

Elon’s remarks both suggest he’s aware of the scale of the problem, yet he seems to trivialize the issues or ignore them, anyway. While I think it’s possible that enough of the issues for Level 5 can be engineered away to be viable, we’re not really close yet.

You said it yourself, Elon: the world is complex and weird. You need to respect that, and be honest about the challenges of truly full autonomy.

I don’t think it is surprising that Musk is not honest about the likelihood of achieving full autonomy soon. I do expect the press to scrutinize such claims and correctly contextualize them, as Torchinsky has done here.

The Internal Tension of New Web APIs

Mike Zornek reacts to Apple’s decision to decline support for several new APIs on privacy foundations:

But if I’m reading the tea leaves right, and history is a model to follow, what requires “native device” code today will be possible in the web browser of the future. WebAssembly shows great early promise in providing rich cross-platform code opportunities. If you are a 1Password user like me, you are probably already enjoying some WebAssembly today.

However, to build rich user experiences on a mobile device using WebAssembly or inside a normal web app requires access to the sensors and systems of that device. With this collective blocking of access (along with the lack of side loading options on iOS and the ban of non-WebKit rendering in App Store apps) Apple has positioned their own native and financial interests over the favor of an open web.

Here’s the tension: if we give web apps this kind of functionality, we necessarily give it to websites, too. I understand why many developers of web languages ache for these APIs, but I think they are an enormous mistake.

I recognize that this comes across as curmudgeonly, but I do not want desktop app functionality for websites. These technologies surely enable some wonderful experiences but, more often, they create clever new ways to abuse users’ privacy and security. The most popular use of WebAssembly amongst the top million websites, as ranked by Alexa, is to surreptitiously mine cryptocurrency. A website should not be able to have that kind of power, and I welcome greater delineation between the web and desktop-class software.

Harper’s Gives Prestigious Platform to Famous Writers So They Can Publicly Whine About Being Silenced

Jennifer Schuessler and Elizabeth A. Harris, New York Times:

The killing of George Floyd has brought an intense moment of racial reckoning in the United States. As protests spread across the country, they have been accompanied by open letters calling for — and promising — change at white-dominated institutions across the arts and academia.

But on Tuesday, a different type of letter appeared online. Titled “A Letter on Justice and Open Debate,” and signed by 153 prominent artists and intellectuals, it began with an acknowledgment of “powerful protests for racial and social justice” before pivoting to a warning against an “intolerant climate” engulfing the culture.

“The free exchange of information and ideas, the lifeblood of a liberal society, is daily becoming more constricted,” the letter declared, citing “an intolerance of opposing views, a vogue for public shaming and ostracism and the tendency to dissolve complex policy issues in a blinding moral certainty.”

Mike Masnick at Techdirt (via Andy Baio):

And, again, it is fundamentally ridiculous and ahistorical to argue that the boundaries of what can be said have narrowed. Honestly, you do not have to go back very far to find examples of topics of conversation that were fundamentally taboo and are now widespread and common. And many of those new ideas have resulted in massive, important social change: civil rights and civil liberties now exist in more meaningful forms than they ever did before because of people speaking out. The ability of LGBTQ+ people to marry whom they love coming just decades after it was literally illegal to do so is a result of more people being able to speak out. The ability of the Black Lives Matter movement to rally so many people in support of their cause and pull the curtains back on centuries of institutional, systemic racism is a result of more people being able to speak out.

The idea that there’s been some narrowing of ideas is nonsense. These people are getting criticized for their bad ideas and their response is to play victim and pretend that the space in which they can speak has narrowed. They’re full of shit.

This letter is self-serving nonsense at best — and, at worst, masks anti-trans discrimination as “open debate” — and it is dispiriting to see people like Margaret Atwood, Jeet Heer (no relation), and Garry Kasparov endorsing it.

European Data Protection Laws Enshrine Many Rights That Americans Should Expect of Their Own Government

Hugo Roy:

[…] There are, already, strong protections for the privacy of Americans in the US Constitution. And access to electronic communications content and data by US authorities has received increased protection by US courts, in particular the US Supreme Court in the Carpenter case recently. Some of these safeguards were ahead of their time, while some are reminiscent of the EU top court’s own case law. There is, however, still no GDPR-equivalent data protection law at the federal level in the US. Although it seems that, with the CCPA (and maybe others), some states like California are pushing in this direction.

In 1973, a US official committee submitted the “Records, computers and the rights of citizens” report. The title of this report is almost identical to the French data protection law of 1978 (on computing, records and freedoms). What also strikes me is that the recommendations of this report share strong similarities with the GDPR in many ways (see the list of data subject rights, the main principles, and the obligations on data controllers in the “Summary and Recommendations”).

So, what happened? How’s this permitted?

There are strong U.S. Constitutional protections for individual privacy rights with respect to the interaction between citizens and government, but there are few regulations that restrict the collection, storage, and use of any information by private companies. This has created a loophole for law enforcement where, instead of surveilling someone directly, they can simply subpoena any number of big advertising companies for granular information about someone’s browsing history and geographic location.

Internal Law Enforcement Bulletin Advises Use of iOS Shortcut to Record Police Encounter May Be Suspicious

Brian Krebs writing last month:

Hundreds of thousands of potentially sensitive files from police departments across the United States were leaked online last week. The collection, dubbed “BlueLeaks” and made searchable online, stems from a security breach at a Texas web design and hosting company that maintains a number of state law enforcement data-sharing portals.

[…]

KrebsOnSecurity obtained an internal June 20 analysis by the National Fusion Center Association (NFCA), which confirmed the validity of the leaked data. The NFCA alert noted that the dates of the files in the leak actually span nearly 24 years — from August 1996 through June 19, 2020 — and that the documents include names, email addresses, phone numbers, PDF documents, images, and a large number of text, video, CSV and ZIP files.

Jack Morse is one of many journalists and activists sharing the contents of leaked materials, and posted a screenshot of one bulletin on Twitter:

The Delaware Information and Analysis Center (DIAC) is providing the following information for situational awareness. A new Apple iPhone application called “Shortcuts” was introduced with the iOS 12 update. In this update, a new feature was added called “Police.”

No, it wasn’t. Robert Petersen created and shared one such shortcut. It was not created by Apple, it is not preinstalled, and saying the phrase “hey, Siri, I’m getting pulled over” won’t do anything unless the user has installed the shortcut — which is not a bad idea.

DIAC emphasizes that the above information describes constitutionally protected activities and may be insignificant on its own. However, when observed in combination with other behaviors, this activity may raise suspicion in a reasonable person and constitute a basis for reporting.

Workflow went from hackathon winner and power user utility to a mainstream law enforcement concern in just six years.

In a Statement to the Verge, Apple Confirms That It Will Support Thunderbolt in ARM-Based Macs

Chaim Gartenberg, the Verge:

Apple is moving away from Intel’s chipsets in favor of its new, custom-designed ARM chips — but the company is promising that it’ll still support Intel’s Thunderbolt USB-C connectivity standard on new Apple silicon computers, despite the lack of Intel processors.

“Over a decade ago, Apple partnered with Intel to design and develop Thunderbolt, and today our customers enjoy the speed and flexibility it brings to every Mac. We remain committed to the future of Thunderbolt and will support it in Macs with Apple silicon,” commented an Apple spokesperson, in a statement to The Verge.

Thankfully, Apple is trying to make this hardware transition as boring as possible from a user’s perspective, so a statement saying the opposite would have been more newsworthy. That’s not to say that it’s a waste of time to report on this, only that it fits the expectation Apple has set for this transition.

The Wild Wild Web

Elizabeth Dwoskin, Craig Timberg, and Tony Romm, the Washington Post:

The document, which is previously unreported and obtained by The Post, weighed four options. They included removing the post [by then-candidate Donald Trump advocating for banning Muslims from entering the United States] for hate speech violations, making a one-time exception for it, creating a broad exemption for political discourse and even weakening the company’s community guidelines for everyone, allowing comments such as “No blacks allowed” and “Get the gays out of San Francisco.”

Facebook spokesman Tucker Bounds said the latter option was never seriously considered.

The document also listed possible “PR Risks” for each. For example, lowering the standards overall would raise questions such as, “Would Facebook have provided a platform for Hitler?” Bickert wrote. A carveout for political speech across the board, on the other hand, risked opening the floodgates for even more hateful “copycat” comments.

Ultimately, Zuckerberg was talked out of his desire to remove the post in part by Kaplan, according to the people. Instead, the executives created an allowance that newsworthy political discourse would be taken into account when making decisions about whether posts violated community guidelines.

It isn’t often that invoking Hitler is useful in policy questions but, in this instance, it is hard to see how Facebook’s broad policy exceptions for “newsworthiness” would not apply to hypothetical posts from him. Is Facebook theoretically comfortable with a politician to use its platform to advocate for genocide? Staggering as it may seem, it is not such an outlandish question. I would argue that, if such a hypothetical fits into the company’s “newsworthiness” rules, then that policy is wildly irresponsible; if it does not, then there is a line, and advocating genocide should not be the benchmark for when such posts are not allowed.

One way to simplify this question is to ask whether Facebook’s executives believe that its role is to be a comfortable space for many people to see advertising, or if they believe it should be a passthrough entity and international exporter of the First Amendment.

Kevin Roose, the New York Times:

Just like the California gold rush, the Wild Wild Web started an enormous accumulation of personal and corporate power, transforming our social order overnight. Power shifted from the czars of government and the creaky moguls of the Fortune 500 to the engineers who built the machines and the executives who gave them their marching orders. These people were not prepared to run empires, and most of them deflected their newfound responsibility, or pretended to be less powerful than they were. Few were willing to question the 2010s Silicon Valley orthodoxy that connection was a de facto good, even as counter-evidence piled up.

There are still some stubborn holdouts. (Facebook, in particular, still appears attached to the narrative that social media simply reflects offline society, rather than driving it.) But among the public, there is no more mistaking Goliaths for Davids. The secret of the tech industry’s influence is out, and the critics who have been begging tech leaders to take more responsibility for their creations are finally being heard.

Anna Wiener, the New Yorker:

Under Section 230, content moderation is free to be idiosyncratic. Companies have their own ideas about right and wrong; some have flagship issues that have shaped their outlooks. In part because its users have pushed it to take a clear stance on anti-vaccination content, Pinterest has developed particularly strong policies on misinformation: the company now rejects pins from certain Web sites, blocks certain search terms, and digitally fingerprints anti-vaccination memes so that they can be identified and excluded from its service. Twitter’s challenge is bigger, however, because it is both all-encompassing and geopolitical. Twitter is a venue for self-promotion, social change, violence, bigotry, exploration, and education; it is a billboard, a rally, a bully pulpit, a networking event, a course catalogue, a front page, and a mirror. The Twitter Rules now include provisions on terrorism and violent extremism, suicide and self-harm. Distinct regulations address threats of violence, glorifications of violence, and hateful conduct toward people on the basis of gender identity, religious affiliation, age, disability, and caste, among other traits and classifications. The company’s rules have a global reach: in Germany, for instance, Twitter must implement more aggressive filters and moderation, in order to comply with government laws banning neo-Nazi content.

[…]

Debates over content moderation tend to focus on companies like Facebook and Twitter, and some might be glad to see the biggest platforms lose their immunity shield. But what are Twitch, Reddit, FlyerTalk, Bogleheads, Hacker News, wikiFeet, or iNaturalist without their content? (Yelp without yelps: Why bother?) Twitter could revert to “bird chirps,” and be a place for benign, pithy commentary on nothing; Instagram could subsist on photographs of gloppy eggs Benedict and memes about disgruntled golden retrievers. Alternatively, if companies were disincentivized from moderating content, the Internet could become a cesspool. We might face another kind of information crisis — a dying off of user-generated discourse, opinion, and news. “Without Section 230, the traditional media would have even more power over speech and expression,” [Jeff Kosseff] writes. “And those power structures could be even more stacked against the disenfranchised.”

[…]

Ultimately, the problems that need solving may not be ones of content moderation. In the book “Platform Capitalism,” published in 2017, the economist Nick Srnicek explores the reliance of digital platforms on “network effects,” in which value increases for both users and advertisers as a service expands its pool of participants and suite of offerings. Network effects, Srnicek writes, orient platforms toward monopolization; monopolization, in turn, makes it easier for a single tweet to be an extension of state power, or for a single thirty-six-year-old entrepreneur, such as Zuckerberg, to influence the speech norms of the global digital commons. Both outcomes might be less likely if there were other places to go. The business model common to many social-media platforms, meanwhile, is itself an influence over online speech. Advertisers are attracted by data about users; that data is created through the constant production and circulation of user-generated content; and so controversial content, which keeps users posting and sharing, is valuable. From this perspective, Donald Trump is an ideal user of Twitter. A different kind of business might encourage a different kind of user.

Wiener’s article is the one I have hopelessly been trying to write, and my conclusion is similar. Moderation is not inherently a problem; having monolithic siloed social networks is much more concerning.

The other conclusion is deeply unsatisfying: voters need to elect leaders who view power with responsibility, not arousal. The last several years have proved that to be accurate in virtually all contexts. But, true as it may be, it is not helpful us now, and it does not give us an adequate framework for dealing with the problems caused by amplifying propagandists’ glorification of their interests without context.

The Variety of ‘Facial Recognition’ Technologies Necessitates Nuanced Legislation

John Oliver:

This technology raises troubling philosophical questions about personal freedom, and, right now, there are also some very immediate practical issues. Even though it is currently being used, this technology is still very much a work in progress, and its error rate is particularly high when it comes to matching faces in real time. In fact, in the U.K., when human rights researchers watched police put one such system to the test, they found that only eight out of 42 matches were ‘verifiably correct’ — and that’s even before we get into the fact that these systems can have some worrying blind spots, as one researcher found out when testing numerous algorithms, including Amazon’s own Rekognition system:

At first glance, MIT researcher Joy Buolamwini says that the overall accuracy rate was high, even though all companies better detected men’s faces than women’s. But the error rate grew as she dug deeper.

“Lighter male faces were the easiest to guess the gender on, and darker female faces were the hardest.”

One system couldn’t even detect whether she had a face. The others misidentified her gender. White guy? No problem.

Yeah: “white guy? No problem” which, yes, is the unofficial motto of history, but it’s not like what we needed right now was to find a way for computers to exacerbate the problem. And it gets worse. In one test, Amazon’s system even failed on the face of Oprah Winfrey, someone so recognizable her magazine only had to type the first letter of her name and your brain autocompleted the rest.

Oliver covers a broad scope of different things that fit under the umbrella definition of “facial recognition” — everything from Face ID to police databases and Clearview AI.

Today, the RCMP and Clearview suspended their contract; the RCMP was, apparently, Clearview’s last remaining client in Canada.

Such a wide range of technologies raise complex questions about their regulation. Sweeping bans may prohibit the use of something like Face ID or Windows Hello, but even restricting use based on consent would make it difficult to build something like the People library built into Photos. Here’s how Apple describes it:

Face recognition and scene and object detection are done completely on your device rather than in the cloud. So Apple doesn’t know what’s in your photos. And apps can access your photos only with your permission.

Apple even put together a lengthy white paper (PDF) that, in part, describes how iOS and MacOS keep various features in Photos private to the user. However, in this case, the question is not about the privacy of one’s own data, but whether it is fair for someone to use facial recognition privately. It is a question of agency. Is it fair for anyone to have their face used, without their permission, to automatically associate pictures of themselves? Perhaps it is, but is it then fair to do so more publicly, as Facebook does? What is a comfortable line?

I don’t mean that as a rhetorical question. As Oliver often says, “the answer to the question of ‘where do we draw the line?’ is somewhere“, and I think there is a “somewhere” in the case of facial recognition. But the legislation to define it will need to be very nuanced.

Rebecca Heilweil, Vox:

So it seems that as facial recognition systems become more ambitious — as their databases become larger and their algorithms are tasked with more difficult jobs — they become more problematic. Matthew Guariglia, a policy analyst at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, told Recode that facial recognition needs to be evaluated on a “sliding scale of harm.”

When the technology is used in your phone, it spends most of its time in your pocket, not scanning through public spaces. “A Ring camera, on the other hand, isn’t deployed just for the purpose of looking at your face,” Guariglia said. “If facial recognition was enabled, that’d be looking at the faces of every pedestrian who walked by and could be identifying them.”

[…]

A single law regulating facial recognition technology might not be enough. Researchers from the Algorithmic Justice League, an organization that focuses on equitable artificial intelligence, have called for a more comprehensive approach. They argue that the technology should be regulated and controlled by a federal office. In a May proposal, the researchers outlined how the Food and Drug Administration could serve as a model for a new agency that would be able to adapt to a wide range of government, corporate, and private uses of the technology. This could provide a regulatory framework to protect consumers from what they buy, including devices that come with facial recognition.

This is such a complex field of technology that it will take a while to establish ground rules and expectations. Something like Clearview AI’s system should not be allowed; it is a heinous abuse of publicly-visible imagery. Real-time recognition is also extremely creepy and I believe should also be prohibited.

There are further complications: though the U.S. may be attempting to sort out its comfort level, those boundaries have been breached elsewhere.

Climbing Up the Walls

Apple’s introduction at WWDC of Macs running on own-brand processors was as complete as many people were expecting. There was a rationale for the transition, an explanation of how developers can make their software run on these new systems, a way for older software to run without developer intervention, and a timeline for its rollout.

But what was not changed with this transition has proved to be just as interesting as all of the new things that were shown off. Apple is going to great lengths to make this transition as seamless as possible. It is contributing patches to popular open source projects, even Electron, and it is even bringing deprecated technologies like OpenGL to ARM. Most importantly, the company has repeatedly promised that it will not be taking the Mac to a more locked-down model like iOS.

For some reason, these assurances have not stopped Alex Cranz of Gizmodo from speculating that this is Apple’s walled garden “grow[ing] higher”:

Apple has finally announced its long-rumored transition away from Intel chips and will now make its own homegrown CPUs based on the ARM architecture for future Macs. The company’s goal is to shed its dependence on Intel so that it can control even more of its production and development pipeline. It’s an interesting move at an even more interesting time, given that Apple CEO Tim Cook has also finally agreed to testify on Capitol Hill in a Big Tech antitrust hearing. Just last month, the European Union opened its own antitrust probe into Apple and its App Store. The company is being investigated and criticized for its near-perfect execution of vertical integration more than ever before, just as it’s taking its biggest step toward its grand vision of vertical integration in nearly 15 years.

So that’s the argument: Apple’s vertical integration of own-brand processors for the Mac is of similar concern to the App Stores and in-app purchase rules that it enforces on iOS. I don’t think that makes any sense at all but, first, let’s hear from an analyst about why Apple would want to switch from Intel:

“Apple hasn’t been very successful over the past five years with the Mac and most of the innovation has come from Windows vendors,” analyst Patrick Moorhead told Gizmodo. “I think Apple sees vertical integration as a way to lower costs and differentiate. We’ll see. It’s a risky and expensive move for Apple, and right now I’m scratching my head on why Apple would do this. There’s no clear benefit for developers or for users, and it appears Apple is trying to boost profits.”

The Mac’s reputation has suffered in the last five years due, in part, to the crappy keyboards it shipped on its laptops and less-frequent product updates — and one reason it did not release new Macs as often is because Intel struggled with new processor development. But it should not be surprising that Moorhead ignores the benefits that Apple stated for users and developers and the problems Intel has had because Intel is one of his clients, something this article does not mention.

Also, despite its keyboard problems and more stagnant product line, Apple’s Mac sales over the last five years have been its best ever. It’s hard to see how it “hasn’t been very successful” on those grounds.

Cranz spends the next several paragraphs explaining why a purely financial argument does not adequately justify the processor switch. True. There are also many paragraphs about the benefits of and problems with Apple’s control over the App Store on iOS. That takes us to the core of Cranz’s argument:

Unlike iOS, macOS developers have always been able to skirt around using the Mac App Store. I can go to directly to a developer’s site for most apps and just buy what I want outside of the App Store. But how long will that continue in the future macOS landscape, particularly if the main people developing for the operating system are doing so alongside their iOS and iPadOS builds? Apple has repeatedly said it has no plans to turn macOS into a walled garden, as has always been the case with iOS and iPadOS, but it might effectively have done just that with the ARM switch.

That’s it. There is no greater explanation offered for why switching to a different processor architecture is an equivalent to the App Store model on iOS. Cranz points out all the ways the ARM transition is supposed to be easy for developers and invisible to users and some of its unique benefits, but writes absolutely nothing to justify this particular statement, other than the FUD-grade question about how long developers will keep shipping their apps independently. Given the state of the Mac App Store and how many developers would prefer to keep as much of their revenue as they can — this very article began with a nod at antitrust investigations over Apple’s in-app purchase requirements — I see no reason why great Mac apps won’t continue to be offered directly by developers.

Brent Simmons:

[…] I had been very worried that Apple would, as part of the ARM transition, lock down macOS so that only Mac App Store apps would be permitted.

That didn’t happen. And Apple employees explained that it’s not going to happen — and, given that it didn’t happen this time, given that they had this chance, I believe them.

I understand adding security features to the Mac. But to take away our freedom to create whatever Mac apps we want, and distribute them without Apple’s, or anyone’s, seal of approval, would be to take the heart out of my career.

But that’s not what happened! I feel great about this. I’m going to stop worrying about the Mac.

I was also fretting about what a Mac running on Apple’s own processors might entail. I was nervous about how difficult it might be to upgrade to one when it comes time to do so. I still have my concerns, but I truly believe Apple when it says that it does not want to merge the Mac and iPad, or implement an iOS-like App Store-only model on MacOS.

Cranz’s pieces feels like one of those articles where a writer started with a premise and found the parts that fit while ignoring those that did not. Just about everything that is possible on a Catalina system running on Intel will be possible on a Big Sur system running on Apple’s own processors, with the exception of using Windows through Boot Camp. It’s not nothing, but it does not indicate an expansion of a walled garden, either. We can speculate all we want about whether this might change down the road, but Apple laid out good reasons why it is not planning an iOS-alike model for the Mac. In short, it would not be good for Apple, it would not be good for developers, and none of that is good for users. Makes sense to me.

Reef, a Parking Company, Ushers in Our Ghost Kitchen Future

Anna Wiener, the New Yorker:

For now, though, Reef is focussing on food preparation as a test case — a proof of concept for other sorts of “applications” that might make sense in some later, future time. Food prep is a sensible first experiment for Reef’s modular approach to repurposing parking lots: over the past few years, delivery has been on the upswing, and delivery-only kitchens — referred to as “ghost kitchens” or “dark kitchens” — are having a moment. Reef operates kitchens across eighteen cities in the United States, in seventy-odd parking lots. In the trailer on Mission Street, meals from all six of the advertised restaurants are prepared on site — the culinary equivalent of a multicolor retractable pen. The restaurants are “internal” to Reef: designed and staffed by its employees, with menus developed by a culinary team that includes former executives from Roti Modern Mediterranean, Potbelly, and Jamba Juice. The menus lean toward comfort food, and are a little arbitrary. Wings & Things offers mozzarella sticks, chicken tenders, cronuts (“dusted with cinnamon maple sugar and served with a side of Canadian Maple dipping sauce”), Skittles, Red Bull, and two kinds of Greek-yogurt bowls.

Currently, the food offered by Reef’s internal brands comes from U.S. Foods, an international, private-equity-owned institutional food distributor that works with colleges, hotels, and hospitals, and is a wholesale supplier for independent restaurants and diners. In San Francisco, the menu items are delivered to a central commissary in the Bayview area, and come individually wrapped; precise assembly instructions are provided to line cooks. Every night, Reef’s trailers, which are managed under a subsidiary, Vessel CA, return to the commissary, where the gray-water tanks are drained, the potable-water tanks are refilled, and the refrigerators are restocked. Reef has ambitions to offer fresher, more sophisticated fare, eventually. But, for now, customers may find themselves paying a premium for meals similar to those found at a fast-food restaurant, or in a supermarket freezer.

One of these trailers recently appeared in an Impark lot near where I can live; at night, I watch countless delivery drivers park on the sidewalk to grab orders as cooks shoo away anyone who comes knocking at its door. It has eight brands listed on the side, including three for burgers and two for chicken wings, but there are even more operating from the same trailer once you start poking around different delivery apps.

One wing brand charges a dollar more for delivery and a few bucks more for equivalent wings; until recently, they used the same photography. Two of the burger brands use identical images and offer many of the same items as the wing brands, including mozzarella sticks and chicken wings. By my count, you can get the same cafeteria-grade wings at various price points from at least six different Reef brands operating from two different trailers in my area.

There is a part of me that worries that this sort of arrangement will make it untenable to operate a sit-down restaurant, particularly after the effects of the pandemic. My hope is that it will take the pressure of bowing to delivery services off traditional restaurants, many of which cannot afford the commission charged by Doordash and its ilk. But that leaves takeout operations in an awkward spot; Reef has the backing of a near billion-dollar investment from the SoftBank Vision Fund, and independent restaurants can’t compete with that kind of bottomless money pit.

Update: Perhaps the thing that bothers me most about what Reef is attempting here is that there is no sense of care. Reef’s trailers could be selling anything — shoes, haircuts, beauty products. It only cares that it has a vehicle of transforming venture capital investment into greater piles of money and, right now, it is filling that void through crappy food delivered by undercompensated gig economy workers contracted by other companies. This is not a secret:

[…] Over the past two years, though, the company’s narrative has changed somewhat: Reef’s executives now emphasize their work in “creating the next phase of a neighborhood” by forming local logistics and mobility hubs. This year, Reef launched a partnership with Bond, a logistics startup that operates “nano-warehouses”: fulfillment centers, often in vacant storefronts, that can be used for last-mile delivery. City-dwellers may someday pick up their Amazon packages and clamshell-carton dinners in a parking lot or empty retail space, like college students dipping into the campus center before retreating back to the dorms.

For now, though, Reef is focussing on food preparation as a test case—a proof of concept for other sorts of “applications” that might make sense in some later, future time. […]

I’m nervous because some of my favourite restaurants in Calgary might struggle to survive through this pandemic. There are many places here that would break my heart if they were forced to close. But nobody is going to miss the private label Reef brands if they suddenly disappear. People know when there is a lack of care.

The Collapse of Nortel and the Rise of Huawei

Natalie Obiko Pearson, Bloomberg:

Nortel’s giddy, gilded growth also made it a target. Starting in the late 1990s, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, the country’s version of the CIA, became aware of “unusual traffic,” suggesting that hackers in China were stealing data and documents from Ottawa. “We went to Nortel in Ottawa, and we told the executives, ‘They’re sucking your intellectual property out,’” says Michel Juneau-Katsuya, who headed the agency’s Asia-Pacific unit at the time. “They didn’t do anything.”

[…]

No one knows who managed to hack Nortel or where that data went in China. But Shields, and many others who’ve looked into the case, have a strong suspicion it was the Chinese government, which weakened a key Western rival as it promoted its own technology champions, including Huawei Technologies Co., the big telecom equipment manufacturer. Huawei says it wasn’t aware of the Nortel hack at the time, nor involved in it. It also says it never received any information from Nortel. “Any allegations of Huawei’s awareness of or involvement in espionage are entirely false,” the company says in a statement. “None of Huawei’s products or technologies have been developed through improper or nefarious means.”

What isn’t in dispute is that the Nortel hack coincided with a separate offensive by Huawei. This one was totally legal and arguably even more damaging. While Nortel struggled, Huawei thrived thanks to its unique structure — it was privately held, enjoyed generous credit lines from state-owned banks, and had an ability to absorb losses for years before making money on its products. It poached Nortel’s biggest customers and, eventually, hired away the researchers who would give it the lead in 5G networks. “This is plain and simple: Economic espionage did in Nortel,” Shields says. “And all you have to do is look at what entity in the world took over No. 1 and how quickly they did it.”

This is a Bloomberg story about Chinese spycraft so, you know, but it is entirely fascinating.

The Nortel accounting scandal was a formative event when I was pretty young; it happened around the same time as Enron and the September 11 attacks. One thing unmentioned in Pearson’s article is that, about seven years ago, long-dormant bugging devices were found at Nortel’s former headquarters.

Apple’s Subscription Requirements Continue to Be Confusing for Third-Party Developers

This series of posts compiled by Michael Tsai regarding Down Dog’s App Store rejection — ostensibly for not automatically charging users after a free trial period has lapsed — illustrates the still-confusing world of subscription pricing. Everything from an app’s registration screen, through the free trial process, and through cancellation is, for any app, not good enough for users and developers.

I think there is a lot that Apple can and should do to improve subscriptions. First, I agree with Ryan Jones that the subscription opt-in process should be consistent systemwide. To say that Apple’s design guidance isn’t always followed would be an understatement. Bad faith merchants have exploited subscriptions for years and, even with a team attempting to crack down on abuses, it remains a problem.

In the midst of the controversy a couple of weeks ago regarding Hey’s rejection, I saw plenty of calls for Apple to allow third-party payment processors within apps. I understand that argument and I get why Apple’s solution sucks for developers for reasons beyond money. But the in-app payment screen means that I don’t have to trust that an app from some developer is going to steal my credit card details. I prefer Apple’s dialog to just about anything else I’ve used. I’d like to see it improved and extended to the entire subscription process, not scrapped.

Second, users should be notified when billing is about to start after a free trial and be allowed to cancel in the notification. I’m sure this will cut into revenue for some apps, but it’s only fair to users.

Third, I think active subscriptions need to be easier to find. Right now, the easiest way to find them is either via the App Store, by tapping on the profile picture in the upper-right, or in Settings in the topmost menu item. But neither of these things look like buttons — the item in the App Store is just a picture, and the Settings menu item looks like no other table view cell in iOS. Its description also provides only the faintest of clues: “Apple ID, iCloud, Media & Purchases”. It does not say “subscriptions”.

Lastly, apps should be required to show a “cancel subscription” button in their settings if they offer subscription purchases. Making it easy to cancel shows a degree of trust and transparency that the subscription is worth the cost. Good apps lock users in by being continuously compelling, not by making cancellations difficult.

Reporters Describe Their Experiences Covering Facebook

This piece by Jacob Silverman for the Columbia Journalism Review has been making the rounds today in large part because of its apparently inept framing:

[Casey Newton’s] professional arc, from enthusiastic tech beat reporter to skeptical industry investigator, matches the trajectories of a number of journalists in recent years. The 2016 presidential election in particular prompted a change in worldview against Facebook and the power wielded by Big Tech. The media had learned, perhaps belatedly, the cost of taking Facebook at its word. More recent, and adversarial, reporting has produced important stories about Facebook’s refusal to tackle the proliferation of right-wing extremism and conspiracy theories on its platform. In advance of the 2020 election, more journalists are taking a hard look at the Trump campaign’s once-heralded digital operation, which spends heavily on Facebook advertising, and its bombastic overseer, Brad Parscale, who has been promoted to overall campaign manager.

[…]

Kate Losse, an early Facebook employee who would go on to write The Boy Kings, a memoir of her time at the company, told me in an email that journalistic coverage of Facebook in its first years was focused mostly on product updates. A notable story might be about a new feature in the site’s news feed.

Sam Biddle, a reporter at The Intercept who was working at Valleywag and Gizmodo in the early 2010s, told me that Facebook would offer up scoops to journalists that they credulously swallowed. “It was like pigs at a trough,” Biddle says. “We were all trying to get the same drip-drip of product news out of Facebook, no matter what outlet you were at.”

Hands up if access journalism allows unearned credulity is a surprising revelation for you.

These sorts of tactics are not unique to Facebook, and are typical for any large entity in a category or beat. This is something that Silverman and quoted journalists repeatedly point out in this story, to such an extent that I think little would be lost if the first half of this report were condensed into a couple of paragraphs.

But there are examples of intrusive surveillance within this story that run deeper than an aggressive public relations strategy, and which I think have been largely ignored. For example:

With the knowledge that a company that has built a globe-spanning surveillance apparatus might always be watching, reporters and sources take tremendous precautions. Any Facebook-issued device, or even a phone with the Facebook app installed, could be vulnerable to the company’s internal investigators. If a source has friended a reporter on a social network or merely looked up their profile on a company computer, Facebook can find out. It can potentially tap location data to see if a reporter and a source appear to be in the same place at the same time.

The end of this paragraph seems to be entirely speculative, but it appears to be a genuine worry within Facebook. Any corporate I.T. department can examine an employee’s contacts; communications made through company channels are presumed to be property of the organization, not the individual. But Facebook’s ability to intrude goes far beyond that. Charlie Warzel of the New York Times is quoted as saying that his Facebook sources have told him about how worried they are about being monitored on any device they own. Unlike most employers, Facebook is everywhere.

Also, if Facebook staff are concerned about the surveillance capabilities of their employer, why do they help make it a reality?

This part of Silverman’s report is critical:

“Facebook responds best to bad press,” Judd Legum, who publishes the newsletter Popular Information, says.

This dynamic serves no one. Over and over, the press is left chasing down Facebook reps for comment on a single offensive group or account on a platform of billions of people. Until Facebook provides comprehensive solutions for these problems of harassment, content moderation, and user experience, journalists will always be talking about the latest outrage that pops up on the platform. This leaves little media oxygen for reporting on first-order issues about the company and its larger societal machinations. 

Adrian Chen, a former staff writer for The New Yorker and Gawker, says that journalists need to investigate the “internet political economy” as much as the mechanics of the Facebook platform. We need to understand “how they wield their influence politically to create the environment that has allowed them to become what they are.”

It’s not that Facebook’s individual controversies should be allowed to slide; it’s that they should be put into a broader context as both a cause and result if we are to better understand our toxic relationship with a communications, advertising, and surveillance giant.

Apple Declined to Implement Sixteen New Web APIs in Safari Due to Privacy Concerns

Catalin Cimpanu, ZDNet:

Over the past three years, user fingerprinting has become the standard method of tracking users in the online ad tech market.

The shift to user fingerprinting comes as browser makers have been deploying anti-tracking features that have limited the capabilities and reach of third-party (tracking) cookies.

Some browser makers have also been deploying countermeasures to prevent fingerprinting operations through the most common methods — such as fonts, HTML5 canvas, and WebGL — but not all user fingerprinting vectors are currently blocked.

Furthermore, new ones are constantly being created as browser makers add new Web APIs to their code.

Currently, Apple has identified the 16 Web APIs above as some of the worst offenders; however, the browser maker said that if any of these new technologies “reduce fingerprintability down the road” it would reconsider adding it to Safari.

If I were supreme dictator of the world wide web, I would reject many of these APIs on scope grounds alone. I get why it would be nice to read NFC tags, but APIs for stuff like device memory, network information, ambient light conditions, USB, and generic serial interfaces are not APIs for websites. They increase the capabilities of web apps — a unique category of mediocre applications that make the web worse.

WWDC and My Wish List

Now that the dust has started to settle on WWDC 2020, I thought I would see how my wishes fared this year.

[Stuart Breckenridge] guesses [the next version of MacOS] will be named Anacapa. My money is on Avalon.

My guess of the name “Avalon” took into account my assumptions about the transition to ARM processors. When the Mac transitioned to Intel, it simply received a new build of 10.4 Tiger, and I thought that a similarly low-key shift would be in the cards. I was wrong. I like the name, though — Big Sur feels appropriate, as does the change to MacOS 11.

Some indication — anything — that Siri is a priority. The wholly-generated voice that shipped with iOS 13 is a welcome improvement; it sounds so much better, particularly with more complex words.

But Siri’s ability to respond accurately and as expected remains terrible. I know that all voice-based assistants have their weak spots, but my experience with Siri is that it cannot be trusted to do anything more than set timers and create reminders.

While out for some errands today with my iPhone running iOS 14 plugged in and running CarPlay, I received an incoming message. I asked Siri to read it; after it did, it asked if I would like to reply. “Yes,” I said. It asked “what would you like to say?”, and I responded “thank you” because I wanted to thank the sender. And Siri decided that I meant to thank it instead of sending a message, so it replied “don’t mention it”. No response text was sent.

Despite its somewhat confused presentation, I like the new look of Siri. I also like that it has, according to Apple, twenty times more facts than three years ago.1 But, nine years after its debut, Siri remains Siri: it listens to my voice pretty accurately, articulates words well, and is entirely unreliable for anything I ask of it to a point of disobedience.

An indication that “iPadOS” is more than just a name. It seems to me that a great reason to rename the iPad’s operating system is to indicate that it is no longer a bigger and slightly different version of the operating system that’s used on the iPhone. I’d like to see evidence of this.

There seem to be no changes to the multitasking system nor any difference in the way it kills background apps. But I think we saw clear indications that Apple wants to treat iPadOS as its own system. Across iOS and iPadOS, Siri no longer takes over the entire display and neither do incoming calls — while this is nice on the iPhone, it’s fantastic on the iPad. Official support for sidebars is terrific, too, as is its new MacOS Spotlight-like search field.

My other wish for WWDC is a noticeable focus on quality: fewer bugs, less waiting, better fit and finish, and no catastrophes when upgrading. The tick-tock cycle of feature-heavy releases followed by refinement versions is a horrible strategy that does neither effectively. I would like to see this acknowledged in some regard as an ongoing priority for every release. That’s not going to happen, but that’s what wish lists are for: the things you really want.

This can only be assessed fairly based on the public release of each operating system this autumn. In the first week, though, these first builds are promising. I don’t think it is advisable to put any of these betas on your daily carry devices, but they all feel far more solid than most of the operating system releases for the past year. A good sign.


  1. Those numbers are pretty precise. It is unclear to me whether this is a big leap specifically for this year, or if it simply indicates that Apple is frequently adding more fact-based responses. ↩︎

Marques Brownlee in Conversation With Craig Federighi

As part of his post-WWDC press tour, Craig Federighi appeared on Marques Brownlee’s Waveform podcast and in a more truncated form in a short video interview. They discuss the redesign of MacOS appearing in Big Sur, the keynote video production, and why it will only be possible to change the default browser and email clients but not, say, maps or music.

One thing that Federighi and Brownlee discussed is how Siri still doesn’t allow interaction behind it, even though it now appears as a floating orb that does not visually dominate the screen. According to Federighi, this is a deliberate limitation — it was tried both with and without interaction, but the latter suffered from a lack of clarity about how to dismiss Siri after use. However, MacOS has a floating Siri panel and it, somehow, avoids this confusion. “Just copy MacOS” is not a great answer or solution, but I think the current design is somewhat misleading.

As Major Companies Pull Advertising, Facebook Executives Admit to ‘Trust Deficit’

The Anti-Defamation League:

In response to Facebook’s repeated failure to meaningfully address the vast proliferation of hate on its platforms, six organizations today announced a new campaign, #StopHateforProfit, that asks large Facebook advertisers to show they will not support a company that puts profit over safety. ADL (the Anti-Defamation League), the NAACP, Sleeping Giants, Color Of Change, Free Press and Common Sense have created a coalition of the nation’s most storied civil rights organizations calling for some of the world’s largest corporations to pause advertising on Facebook during the month of July 2020.

Megan Graham, CNBC:

Verizon said on Thursday it is pulling advertising on Facebook until the company “can create an acceptable solution that makes us comfortable.”

A company spokesperson said the pause applies to both Facebook and Instagram. It comes as marketers including Ben & Jerry’s, Patagonia and REI have also said they plan to pause advertising on the platforms.

Anthony Ha, TechCrunch:

Then today, it was joined by consumer goods giant Unilever, which said it will halt all U.S. advertising on Facebook, Instagram (owned by Facebook) and even Twitter, at least until the end of the year.

“Based on the current polarization and the election that we are having in the U.S., there needs to be much more enforcement in the area of hate speech,” Unilever’s executive vice president of global media Luis Di Como told The Wall Street Journal.

Put a pin in “Unilever”.

Hannah Murphy, Financial Times:

A leading Facebook executive has told advertisers the company is suffering from a “trust deficit” as it tries to stop brands joining a boycott over its policies on political content moderation.

The world’s largest social media group joined a conference call with almost 200 advertisers on Tuesday, according to people familiar with the discussion. Senior policy executives then defended Facebook’s decision to allow several controversial posts from US president Donald Trump to remain on its platform.

According to leaked audio of the call obtained by the Financial Times, Neil Potts, Facebook’s head of trust and safety policy, acknowledged that the company suffered from a “trust deficit” but added that it was “here to listen” to its clients’ concerns. The call was convened by the Interactive Advertising Bureau trade body in Canada.

Tanya Dua, Business Insider (both this and the Financial Times link above are ostensibly paywalled, but I trust that you are clever):

Mark Zuckerberg this week addressed a group of top-ranking executives from agency holding companies and advertisers including Anheuser-Busch InBev, Dentsu Aegis Network, and Omnicom Media Group.

The companies are part of the client council, a small-knit group of marketing heavyweights from brands and ad agencies who work closely with Facebook on product features and other feedback.

He acknowledged the advertisers’ concerns over its policies on political content moderation, explained the company’s position, tried to assure them that the company was reviewing policies and decision-making processes, and took questions.

Casey Newton:

Very cynical take: ad budgets are shrinking already during the pandemic. Why not get some applause for it?

Seb Joseph, reporting for Digiday in April:

The planning process for marketers is being thrown into disarray. With uncertainty pervading all aspects of business, marketers are forced to pare down their plans and focus only on a month or two head. Annual plans are, for the most part, a relic of a different era.

“In many cases, we’re either in re-planning mode or ring-fencing budgets for certain brands,” said the chief media officer at global [consumer packaged goods] manufacturer.

[…]

In reality, what happens is those brands that are doing moderately well for the business will get fewer media dollars in the second and third quarters of the year to ease the company’s cash flow on the basis that more will be eventually invested in the fourth quarter to ensure those targets are met, said the chief media officer.

Molly Fleming, reporting for MarketingWeek in April:

Unilever is stopping major advertising production and exploring cheaper media in a bid to make savings during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The [fast-moving consumer goods] giant’s chief executive, Alan Jope, told investors on a call today (23 April) that the company would be halting the production of major ad campaigns and “reviewing all spend to be effective”.

It is very hard to know how effective the ADL’s campaign is when companies are reducing their advertising budgets anyway. To be clear, I do not think that the ADL itself is cynically taking advantage of lower spending, but it is very possible that some companies are shamelessly rationalizing their withdrawal.

Microsoft Announces Closure of All but Four Retail Stores

Microsoft’s David Porter, in a LinkedIn post titled “A New Day for Microsoft Store”:

As we look forward, we start a new chapter for Microsoft Store. Our team has proven success serving customers beyond any physical location. We are energized about the opportunity to innovate in how we engage with all customers, optimize our talent for greatest impact, and most importantly – help our valued customers achieve more.

As part of our business plan, we announced a strategic change in our retail operations, including closing Microsoft Store physical locations. Our retail team members will continue to serve customers working from Microsoft corporate facilities or remotely and we will continue to develop our diverse team in support of the overall company mission and objectives.

I did not go to business school so I guess that’s why I don’t understand the artificially sunny and buzzword-filled framing of this post. That is especially true in this case where, even though Microsoft’s experiment in ripping off Apple’s stores failed, it is not laying off any of its retail staff. As far as bummer announcements go, that represents some genuinely good news. The four retail stores that will remain open are in New York, London, Sydney, and Redmond.

Barr’s Interest in Google Antitrust Case Keeps It Moving Swiftly

Kadhim Shubber, reporting earlier this week for the Financial Times:

Two US prosecutors are set to testify on Wednesday that politics drove Department of Justice decisions in cases linked to Donald Trump.

[…]

The second prosecutor, John Elias, works in the antitrust division and had previously been chief of staff to Makan Delrahim, the Trump appointee who heads the division.

Mr Elias said in his written testimony that on August 22 2019, the political leadership of the antitrust division ordered an investigation of four carmakers — Ford, Volkswagen, Honda and BMW — just a day after Mr Trump tweeted about them.

The president had criticised the companies for agreeing to emissions reductions with California that were stricter than rules his administration was attempting to push through at the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

The memo opening the inquiry had no staff recommendation, stating instead that the division “would like to open an investigation”, and was generated by policy lawyers at the division, rather than enforcement attorneys as would be typical, Mr Elias said.

David McCabe and Cecilia Kang, New York Times:

For months, lawyers at the Justice Department have been marshaling their forces for a possible antitrust lawsuit against Google, spurred on by the personal interest of Attorney General William P. Barr.

The day-to-day digging of a federal antitrust investigation rarely rises to the level of the attorney general or the deputy attorney general.

But under Mr. Barr, the agency has made top priority of looking into the country’s biggest tech companies. He receives regular updates on the Google case from an aide, according to several people close to the investigations, while an official in the office of his deputy, Jeffrey Rosen, oversees the investigations into tech companies.

It is possible that there is a legitimate antitrust case to be brought against Google, and that Barr and this administration have so corrupted the Department of Justice as to render that case compromised from the start.

I think an investigation into Google’s control of online advertising is long overdue — I still cannot believe that it was allowed to buy DoubleClick. There are probably cases that can be brought against Amazon, Apple, and Facebook as well. But the Trump administration’s will struggle to levy legitimate arguments due to the undercurrent of personal retribution these cases carry. The Department of Justice is doing the dirty work of a president with a personal enemies list longer than Nixon’s and a truly next level lack of self-awareness.

You can tell that this administration doesn’t care about companies taking advantage of uncompetitive markets because they have not indicated any concerns about ISPs and cellular carriers. In fact, you’ll remember that Barr’s Antitrust Division allowed the merger of Sprint and T-Mobile to sail through earlier this year.

The Talk Show WWDC 2020 Special With Craig Federighi and Greg Joswiak

As ever, a terrific interview that covers a lot of ground. This year’s edition is worth spending time with as Federighi provides more context for the switch to ARM and the redesign of Big Sur.

I’ve been impressed by how well Apple, in particular, has adapted its developer conference to the realities of a pandemic-afflicted world. All week long, I’ve seen nothing but praise for everything from Monday’s keynote and Platforms State of the Union through all of the sessions. I think Gruber and company did a similarly great job with this remote interpretation of the annual WWDC special.