Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Boston Startup Develops Worst Imaginable Way to Get a Cup of Coffee

Albert Burneko, Defector:

In other words, just to get to the point at which your freezer has a Cometeer-brand flash-frozen puck of concentrated brewed coffee in it, some number of coffee beans must be subjected to the absolute most sophisticated, technologized, circuitous, wasteful process for making coffee in the entire history of life of earth. More experience and equipment are required to create a cup of Cometeer coffee than any other halfway plausible cup of coffee, literally ever. (You can tell the MIT, Apple, and Tesla scientists and Princeton-educated coffee-masters did a good job of brewing your coffee with proprietary machinery in Gloucester, Mass., flash-freezing it in liquid nitrogen, packing it in dry ice, and shipping it to your home for you to store in your freezer, because it tastes like you spent five minutes making it yourself using techniques that predate the advent of antibiotics.)

This process makes Keurig — also rightly criticized by Burneko — look like an environmental dream. What is wrong with the myriad methods of brewing coffee today that requires a ground-up reinvention? Sometimes, it is worth trying new things; other times, you end up pitching the virtues of a cryogenic brick of coffee.

On the Much Improved State of Macintosh Hardware

Quentin Carnicelli, of Rogue Amoeba:

I’m not sure who exactly deserves the credit at Apple for all these improvements, but my hat is off to you, whoever you are.1 In 2018, we couldn’t recommend buying a single current Macintosh model. Now? You almost can’t go wrong. That turnaround deserves a round of applause.

2018 was a bad year to be in the market for a new Mac. I would know: I was last in the market for a new Mac at that time. I do not know how much of that is attributable to Intel’s woes and how much blame should be placed on Apple, but it resulted in a compromised Mac lineup.

Today’s line is the exact opposite. There are simply no bad Macs — other than, perhaps, the still weird 13-inch MacBook Pro.

I see some people attributing this to Jony Ive’s retirement — including in the footnote of this article — but I still think that is overly simplistic and probably inaccurate. There was always a team working on Apple’s products, and Ive has been involved in those launched after he left the company. Put it this way: if Ive still worked at Apple, I bet the MacBook Pro models announced this week would be exactly the same.

FTC Staff Report Finds Many U.S. ISPs Collect and Share a Wealth of Customer Usage Data

From the U.S. Federal Trade Commission

Many internet service providers (ISPs) collect and share far more data about their customers than many consumers may expect — including access to all of their Internet traffic and real-time location data — while failing to offer consumers meaningful choices about how this data can be used, according to an FTC staff report on ISPs’ data collection and use practices.

This report is alarming, yet painfully obvious to anyone who has been paying attention to the behaviour of American internet providers. Because they are conglomerates operating in many markets, they have a uniquely comprehensive view of Americans’ lives, which they pitch as an advantage in the miserable world of targeted advertising. And it is a mutually beneficial market.

From the report (PDF):

Second, there is a trend in the ISP industry to buy consumer information from third party data brokers, which many ISPs in our study use for advertising purposes. One reported using data from data brokers to market their own products to new customers only. For example, they might get lists of new homeowners in a particular geographic area. A sizable number of the ISPs in our study also buy data from data brokers about their existing customers. For example, an ISP might send the data broker subscriber names and addresses, which the data broker would then append with demographic information (e.g., gender, age range, race and ethnicity information, marital status, parental status) and interest data (e.g., hiking, biking, gardening, bodybuilding, high-end spirits) for those subscribers. Or, for those ISPs that do not want to share their customers’ names and contact information with third-party data brokers, the ISP might send persistent identifiers (e.g., cookies, advertising identifiers, or hashed or encrypted account numbers or telephone numbers) associated with their subscribers to third party “matching services.” These matching services then sync these identifiers with similar identifiers they receive from other sources and provide the list of identifiers to the ISP. Once the ISP has the synced list of identifiers, the ISP can then check with data brokers to request demographic and interest data 94 associated with all of those identifiers, without sharing consumers’ name and contact information.

The data brokerage industry is vile. For comparison, here in Canada, internet providers are prohibited from using subscriber information for auxiliary business purposes without express permission. Bell, one of the big telecom providers in Canada, runs a “tailored marketing program” that requires subscribers to opt into receiving ads based on their Bell-provided services. I still think it is gross, but at least it is off by default and requires explicit permission.

Because it is opt-in, I bet this business is tiny. I asked Bell for more information about it, including the number of subscribers, and have not heard back. But I imagine very few people agree to allow the use of their web activity and television habits to serve them ads, probably because most people do not think the privacy tradeoffs are worth it. iOS’ App Tracking Transparency feature has similarly low opt-in rates. Even though many apps do not respect it, this indicates that most people do not want their activities recorded for the milquetoast reason of making ads a little bit more relevant.

U.S. service providers should respect those kinds of wishes. Unfortunately, while mainstream attention has finally turned to the egregious privacy practices of companies like Facebook and Google, ISPs have not been treated with similar scrutiny. This is as true for the press as it is for regulators. The CEOs from tech companies have spent hours over the past few years testifying before Congress about their privacy practices, but telecom CEOs have not been asked to do the same. Reports about lobbying have highlighted how much money is being spent by technology companies, without acknowledging similarly huge spending by telecoms.

I know this is not a new observation, but: these egregious violations of user privacy will not change without regulation, but rules protecting consumers’ personal data are unlikely to materialize when lawmakers are earning so much from the businesses they are supposed to regulate.

The Design of TV Key Art

Rex Sorgatz, for the Why Is This Interesting? newsletter (via Jason Kottke):

One neglected characteristic ties all these images together: They are all horizontal.

It sounds trivial, but going wide helped differentiate TV key art as its own medium, distinct from book covers and movie posters. And because these images appear on streaming platforms, they are unencumbered by other marketing copy, like taglines, cast and credits, and multifarious blurbs.

There is a simple purity to key art.

I remember scouring the web for key art when I used Plex over ten years ago. It is such a specific category of design — bracingly simple and evocative — and this is a great post and collection from Sorgatz. I hope this is not yet another thing to add to the list of creative pursuits A/B tested to death.

Mega Meta Domain Sales

Raymond Hackney, writing last week at TLD Investors:

Meta as an exact keyword has made some impressive sales in keywords no one ever discusses or even knew existed.

Meta.LC is a great example, Namepros member Makbliss sold Meta.LC for $20,000. on Afternic. He had just hand regged the name on August 7th of this year. Most don’t even know it’s the country code for Saint Lucia.

Nikul Sanghvi of Hypernames.co hit a monster home run 6 days ago with the $149,000 sale of Meta.so. He registered it in April. It was the second 6 figure Meta name this year. Meta.io sold for $100,000.

In the midst of Facebook’s endless scandals, I appreciate their ability to create a pleasant distraction before that big investigation drops.

The Verge: Facebook Is Rebranding

Alex Heath, the Verge:

Facebook is planning to change its company name next week to reflect its focus on building the metaverse, according to a source with direct knowledge of the matter.

The coming name change, which CEO Mark Zuckerberg plans to talk about at the company’s annual Connect conference on October 28th, but could unveil sooner, is meant to signal the tech giant’s ambition to be known for more than social media and all the ills that entail. The rebrand would likely position the blue Facebook app as one of many products under a parent company overseeing groups like Instagram, WhatsApp, Oculus, and more. A spokesperson for Facebook declined to comment for this story.

At best, this can be seen as Facebook doing as Google did with Alphabet, but several observers have compared it to the Philip Morris’ Altria rebrand. Is it an attempt at insulating WhatsApp, Oculus, and future products from Facebook’s tainted name, or is it merely acknowledging the company’s expansion and new ventures? I guess that depends on your perspective. Regardless, I am skeptical of this buzzword-heavy “metaverse” direction.

Heath, who broke this news, says the new name is a “closely-guarded secret” — which, of course, began the attempts to figure out what it could be.

Kali Hays, Insider:

Facebook, through its lawyers, has filed seven new trademarks since February, the USPTO database shows. The most recent include a new symbol, shown below, and a new name, “Stories,” both with broad descriptions of what they would be applied to.

[…]

What the trademarks don’t mention is whether they are a new name or logo for the whole company, as is coming soon, according to The Verge. While speculation of what the new name may be has so far centered on “Meta” and “Horizon,” neither are linked to Facebook filings with the USPTO. A Facebook spokesperson declined to comment.

A trademark would be a typical step by any company before it begins using a new name, logo, or, in many instances, a tagline for advertising. But it is possible that an entity or person can simply start using a term and claim that it did so first, leaving it to claim a trademark by “first use” and file for registration later.

I also began by searching the USPTO and found the same registrations, but I am not sure they apply to this rebrand. While a trademark could point to a future direction, it is not true that Facebook would need to file a U.S. trademark to claim ownership. Companies like to register in other countries, like Jamaica, where searching the trademark database is more complicated. That way, they can claim new product names but keep them more-or-less secret.

My search for Facebook’s new name took a slightly different path. I ended up using a DNS search engine to find domains that have the same name servers and email servers as Facebook’s corporate entities. And there are a lot — over four thousand domains use the a.ns.facebook.com name server — but I did not see an obvious rebrand among them. There are the domains of several companies acquired by Facebook, like Wit, Egg, and Scape, that might be fine enough names, but none stood out to me. I also found out that Facebook owns oceaniaramen.com for some reason.

So, a dead end. But perhaps a clue: I did see that meta.com, which is already owned by the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, was last updated yesterday and, until today, redirected to meta.org. It has since stopped redirecting.

Mashable: Monday’s Product Launch Was the ‘Worst Apple Event Ever’

Chris Taylor, in a Mashable article that will age with all the grace of a freshly cut avocado:

But the fun came to a screeching halt during Monday’s Apple event, in which there was precious little to announce (new Apple Music price tier, new HomePod colors, barely new AirPods) and enough tech specs from a confusing couple of laptop chips to send a Mac nerd like me to sleep. The $19 screen cleaner — this year’s iPod socks — didn’t even rate a mention. And not for lack of time. The keynote lasted 50 minutes, making it Apple’s shortest ever, and didn’t so much end as gave up the ghost.

This isn’t about entertainment value; it’s an indicator that the company is running out of creative steam. Apple was widely criticized, even by the Macworld faithful, for having little actual new technology to wow us with at September’s iPhone 13 launch event. But at least it covered that fact up with a vibrant love letter to the state that birthed it. A month later, the marketing department has nothing left in the tank. If I was an investor looking for signs of the company’s long-term health, this would be a troubling one.

Try to get past the factual errors in this piece, like Taylor’s claim that Craig Federighi showed up at an Apple event for the first time since 2020 with “under a minute of screen time”, despite playing a starring role in the WWDC 2021 keynote. Pay no attention to the widespread praise for the new MacBook Pro lineup, and demand so strong it made Apple’s online store creak under the pressure. Forget that this is Taylor’s sixth review of a pandemic-era Apple event and is resorting to the same cynical tropes. Never mind that the memorably vacant WWDC 2007 keynote contained some of the most unpleasant moments of the modern Apple era.

The thing that got me is that Taylor already wrote this article back in 2016. Taylor’s complaint was that the then-new iPhone SE was just recycling bits — that Apple was doing nothing new or innovative, just reconfiguring iOS in different boxes and selling it as something new.

As Taylor said this year, “get some new material”, which is just a different way of saying that his articles need something, as he said in 2016, “truly, categorically new”.

Exile From Dongletown

Jason Snell reacts to Apple’s newfound port generosity:

If Mac laptops come in eras, one just ended.

It started in 2016 with the release of MacBook Pro models featuring butterfly keyboards, the Touch Bar, and a minimal selection of USB-C ports. It ended on Monday with the announcement of new MacBook Pro models that roll back most of the major changes introduced in 2016, putting the MacBook Pro in a new state of grace that recalls the middle of the last decade.

I have no need for one of these new MacBook Pros, but if I had to replace my nearly ten year old MacBook Air, the 14-inch model would be hard to resist — in silver, please. Its industrial design is a modern unibody interpretation of the Titanium PowerBook, Apple says it is ludicrously powerful, and it rights a bunch of the wrongs of the Touch Bar-era MacBook Pro lineup. MagSafe makes a much-appreciated return; its inclusion in my old Air saved it from falling off the counter just this week. For my money, the best port making its return is the SD card slot.

Snell:

SD slot: Apple’s argument for getting rid of the SD slot was that the future would be wireless, and we wouldn’t need to use cards to transfer data anymore. It wasn’t true back in 2016, and it’s still not true. Sure, some devices equipped with SD cards now offer wireless data transfer, but let me tell you — it’s not as fast or reliable as just plugging in a card and transferring the data! And a lot of our non-Apple devices still rely on slow USB ports to transfer data if you have to copy the data directly. The SD slot is just convenient whether you’re a pro transferring photos, audio, or video.

My MacBook Air is my travel computer, and I use the SD card slot constantly. In 2016, Phil Schiller attempted to justify its removal to the Independent’s David Phelan:

Because of a couple of things. One, it’s a bit of a cumbersome slot. You’ve got this thing sticking halfway out. Then there are very fine and fast USB card readers, and then you can use CompactFlash as well as SD. So we could never really resolve this – we picked SD because more consumer cameras have SD but you can only pick one. So, that was a bit of a trade-off. And then more and more cameras are starting to build wireless transfer into the camera. That’s proving very useful. So we think there’s a path forward where you can use a physical adaptor if you want, or do wireless transfer.

Schiller paints a picture of a future that we are still waiting on in 2021. Sure, some cameras have wireless transfer modes, but most everyone I know still transfers images via a cable connected to the camera or by inserting the SD card into their computer. And if the “cumbersome” qualities of the reader were unacceptable, it is hard to believe that the alternative could be described as elegant or simple.

As far as general peripheral ports, there is still only a series of USB-C/Thunderbolt 4 ports. Thankfully, the USB-C device landscape is almost standardized. It has taken several years and most people still need a USB-A dongle from time to time, but it is so much better than it used to be. All of the other changes show that Apple really is listening to the users who are most drawn to the MacBook Pro’s capability and portability. This Mac is a sensation: I noticed Apple’s preorder page crawled to a halt for several hours after yesterday’s launch.

Truth be told, while I wish I could get one of the new 14-inch MacBook Pro models, I have no need for its power. I hope that some of these features will trickle down to the MacBook Air, and that the Air will be available in iMac colours. That is my perfect notebook. When this Air somehow stops working, it is what I will order — in teal.

Defaults Matter

Joanna Stern, of Wall Street Journal, in an article about the importance of default settings:

Facebook offers a “Recent” or chronological feed, but despite company efforts to improve it, the setting, on my iPhone, is still more buried than tulip bulbs. Tap the menu in the bottom right of your iPhone app, then See More > Recent & Favorites. At the top of your feed you’ll now see the Recent feed option. What happens next is maddening: As soon as you close the app and reopen it, the feed reverts to its old algorithmic self.

A Facebook spokesman didn’t tell me why, but pointed to a company page that explained how algorithms help people find what is most valuable to them.

As Stern writes, Twitter also allows users to toggle between a reverse-chronological timeline and an algorithmic one. Like Facebook’s, it sometimes reverts to the algorithmic feed after a while — though it does persist across app sessions, it is unclear to me what triggers it to automatically switch back. Twitter is currently experimenting with a clearer toggle, which I see in my @pxlnv account but not my (much older) @nickheer account, and it works fine.

It does not matter whether you prefer an algorithmic feed or one sorted only by time. Both are good ways to use social media apps for different reasons. If a platform owner would prefer to only have an algorithmic timeline, I think that is fine, too. But if a choice is presented — which I prefer — the service should at least respect that preference and maintain it.

Stern:

Instagram doesn’t even offer a chronological-feed alternative. An Instagram spokesman gave me a similar answer to the one I got a few months ago: With the old chronological feed, people missed 70% of their posts. Algorithms can serve up more content from friends, he said.

Two days ago, I asked Instagram what percent of posts users miss when they use the algorithmic feed instead, but I have not heard back.

Benjamin Button Reviews the New MacBook Pro

Maciej Cegłowski:

Gone is the gimmicky TouchBar, gone are the four USB-C ports that forced power users to carry a suitcase full of dongles. In their place we get a cornucopia of developer-friendly ports: two USB 3.0 and Thunderbolt 2 ports, a redesigned power connector, and a long-awaited HDMI port.

Photographers will rejoice at the surprising and welcome addition of an SDXC card reader, a sign that Apple might be thinking seriously about photography.

The new MagSafe connector is a bit of Apple design genius. The charging cord stays seated securely, but pops right off if you yank on it. No more worries about destroying your $2k laptop just by accidentally kicking a cord.

Make a few small adjustments, remove a few sentences, and this 2016 post reads like it was written yesterday.

Safari 15 Watch: Old Tabs Edition

Jason Snell:

It’s official: As of the latest macOS Monterey beta — version 12.0.1, which makes me wonder if they’ve locked version 12.0 on the new MacBook Pro models and everyone else will jump straight to 12.0.1 — Safari tabs have been reverted to their original “tab” appearance, instead of being a bunch of floating lozenges.

I share Snell’s sympathy for a team that obviously worked hard to try something new, but I am thrilled there is a choice between a more compact tab interface and one that actually looks like tabs. That is true for Monterey, it is true for iPadOS, and I imagine a new seed of Safari 15 will be released for Big Sur to complete the set.1

While the capsule layout shipped, I am glad to see that it was reverted. I wish that were done earlier, but the result is the same. Today is a good day.


  1. The Safari 15 build for Catalina has not received the “compact” layout, nor — thankfully — does it have the option to use the weird capsule tab format. ↩︎

Facebook Teases Upcoming Investigation Into Documents Leaked From Facebook

Facebook’s John Pinette, VP of communications, in a Twitter thread:1

Right now 30+ journalists are finishing up a coordinated series of articles based on thousands of pages of leaked documents. We hear that to get the docs, outlets had to agree to the conditions and a schedule laid down by the PR team that worked on earlier leaked docs.

Tech companies love to announce bad news when industry press is distracted by an ongoing Apple product launch. I guess this is today’s attempt: Facebook is trying to get ahead of what seems to be a comprehensive investigation by journalists. I am looking forward to that.

Edward Ongweso Jr, Vice:

It is common for various entities to distribute information to journalists on the condition that they don’t publish before a certain time. This doesn’t mean that the information is somehow suspect by default, or that it will be reported on in an uncritical manner. Facebook surely knows what an embargo is, because it regularly issues them, expects reporters or outlets to adhere to them, and will quickly ignore reporters who break them. If you see a lot of news outlets publish detailed articles about a specific thing at a specific time, is it likely they were subject to an embargo. This practice is controversial but extremely common. On one hand, it’s a way for companies to control the spread of information and to gatekeep who has access to it. On the other, embargoes allow journalists time to report out a story before it “breaks,” often resulting in more detailed and thorough articles.

Journalists from multiple outlets working together under disclosure rules have been responsible for several groundbreaking investigations into tax avoidance by businesses and wealthy people. This is nothing new, and it is unclear to me who Pinette is trying to intimidate by tweeting about it.


  1. If only Facebook had a website where it could publish statements from its communications team. ↩︎

Apple Introduces a Siri-Only Apple Music Plan

Maybe the oddest thing Apple introduced today is this $5 per month Siri-only Apple Music plan:

The Apple Music Voice Plan will be available later this fall in 17 countries and regions, including Australia, Austria, Canada, China, France, Germany, Hong Kong, India, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand, Spain, Taiwan, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

This is the same list of regions where Apple sells the HomePod Mini. If you have a HomePod and, I guess, only listen to music on that device and no other, perhaps this is a compelling offering? I am not sure I buy that. Along similar lines, I wondered if this was perhaps a low-cost way to encourage Spotify users to try Apple Music on their HomePods, but even though it is possible, Spotify still has not added HomePod support.

Whatever the case, I cannot imagine saving $5 per month is worth having to use Siri.

Update: Looks like this plan is a direct competitor for Amazon Music’s “Unlimited Single Device” plan (hat tip to Mitsuhara Mussina).

Visual Studio and Teams Get More Native

Faisal Khan:

The senior vice president of Microsoft Teams announced that Teams would be moving to their own Edge Webview2 Rendering Engine ditching Electron for seeking performance gains. It is marketed that Teams would consume 2x less memory as a result of the transition. It would be called Teams 2.0 and might ship with Windows 11 in late 2022.

[…]

Webview2 cannot be thought of as a replacement to Electron; It is not a wrapper like Electron to rapidly ship web apps on the desktop platform. The original Webview (Webview1 for namesake) used Microsoft’s Edge rendering engine while the Webview2 uses the Chrome rendering engine. Webview2 is already used by Outlook as a part of Microsoft’s “One Outlook” project.

Via Michael Tsai:

I’m not sure this makes much difference for Mac users, since it’s still built on Web technologies with a bundled browser engine.

If this is anything like the browser engine used in OneDrive, it might be worse. OneDrive regularly consumes nearly a gigabyte of RAM on my Mac while idling — several times more than the already bloated Electron-powered Dropbox client. When OneDrive syncs files, it helps itself to an entire Intel i7 CPU core and causes the fans to come on.

These issues are well documented, but Microsoft has no incentive to make improvements because anyone who has to rely on OneDrive or Teams for work has no alternative.

I am sure much of that behaviour is not attributable to the choice of browser engine. But I am worried I will soon have two apps I must keep running in the background that monopolize computer resources for trivial tasks.

‘The Problem With Jon Stewart’

Maybe it is reflective of my age, but Jon Stewart’s interpretation of the “Daily Show” has always held a special place for me. Not one of the shows it inspired has resonated in my brain the same way.

So when Apple announced “The Problem with Jon Stewart”, I was excited. Two episodes have now aired and, well, it is different than I was expecting — but I like it.

It does not feel like the “Daily Show”, which is an advantage. That would not be fair to Trevor Noah, current host of the “Daily Show”, nor do I think it makes sense for there to be yet another show with a comedian sat behind an anchor desk. That conceit has been worn out.

Unfortunately, its model of a more in-depth look at a single topic each show is an arena crowded with many “Daily Show” alumnus. There’s John Oliver’s “Last Week Tonight”, which uses that format every week; Samantha Bee’s “Full Frontal”, which does something similar from time to time; and Netflix carried “Patriot Act with Hasan Minhaj” for several seasons.

“The Problem” is not like those shows. Instead of trying to jam in a joke every thirty seconds, Stewart is comfortable leaving space and holding a relaxed conversation with guests. Its biweekly release schedule seems to reflect that slower pace, too. I appreciate that, but I feel like Stewart’s monologue at the top of the show could benefit from tighter editing. It is clear that he is as sharp as ever, but there was an almost musical beat to the way the “Daily Show” was edited that is missing here. It still feels like it is finding its footing.

Amazon Displays Its Own Brands Ahead of Better-Rated Products

Adrianne Jeffries and Leon Yin, the Markup:

An investigation by The Markup found that Amazon places products from its house brands and products exclusive to the site ahead of those from competitors — even competitors with higher customer ratings and more sales, judging from the volume of reviews.

[…]

By creating more than a hundred trademarked brands, most without an obvious connection to the company, Amazon can preserve its reputation if one of its homegrown products flops. This happened in 2015 when customer reviews for its newly launched Amazon Elements diapers included complaints about leaks and “sagginess.” Amazon pulled the products after just seven weeks to make “design improvements.”

Beyond the confusing language choices, Amazon seems to be doing its damndest to create a post-brand world. One where the company from which you bought a set of headphones or a refrigerator or a shirt simply did not exist the next day, like a Three-Card Monte dealer skipping town. Some companies still like to stand behind the quality of their products and thrive on that reputation, but that requires more effort.

Missouri Governor Vows Criminal Prosecution of Reporter Who Found SSNs Exposed in Public Website Source

Josh Renaud, St. Louis Post-Dispatch:

The Post-Dispatch discovered the vulnerability in a web application that allowed the public to search teacher certifications and credentials. The department removed the affected pages from its website Tuesday after being notified of the problem by the Post-Dispatch.

Based on state pay records and other data, more than 100,000 Social Security numbers were vulnerable.

[…]

Though no private information was clearly visible nor searchable on any of the web pages, the newspaper found that teachers’ Social Security numbers were contained in the HTML source code of the pages involved.

The Post-Dispatch did the right thing when its reporters found this boneheaded privacy flaw in the website: it notified the department responsible, and held off disclosing the problem until it had been fixed just a couple days later. Job done, right?

Wrong.

Jason Hancock, Missouri Independent:

But by Thursday, Gov. Mike Parson was labeling the Post-Dispatch reporter a “hacker” and vowing to seek criminal prosecution.

“The state does not take this matter lightly,” Parson said Thursday at a hastily called press conference. He refused to take questions afterward.

On Twitter, Parson elaborated:

Through a multi-step process, an individual took the records of at least three educators, decoded the HTML source code, and viewed the SSN of those specific educators.

We notified the Cole County prosecutor and the Highway Patrol’s Digital Forensic Unit will investigate.

“Decoding” HTML — what a concept.

The state should be sending these reporters a “thank you” card and an Edible Arrangement, not charging them as criminals for viewing the public source code of the website.

Reminds me a little of that incident last month with a vaccination status app, and its fragile CEO. If anyone finds a security vulnerability and responsibly discloses it, they should be thanked publicly and paid. That goes for small businesses, large corporations, and governments alike.

Frances Haugen Changed the Conversation About Facebook by Focusing Her Criticism

Charlie Warzel:

If you pay close attention to this stuff, what she’s talking about is Platforms 101. But most people don’t pay close attention to this stuff. And what Haugen is doing here is articulating a very powerful point that many Facebook users still take for granted: What you see on Facebook is not organic presentation of information. It is the result of decisions made for you by the company’s software, which follows its leaders’ directives.

This is a powerful sentiment because it gives every Facebook user a tangible example of how the platform deprives them of a certain kind of agency. In 2018, when the Cambridge Analytica scandal was in its second week, I wrote that it would have staying power because it reminded regular users how platforms have “stripped us of the agency to dictate what happens with our most personal information.” I think Haugen’s testimony (and the documents that help back it up) will do something similar for people who may have not realized that Facebook is not a pure reflection of what’s happening in the lives of their friends and families — it is a highly curated one. Talking about Facebook from the perspective of user agency has the potential to be effective. The company isn’t all powerful and platforms aren’t mind controllers, but they do exert influence on how information is amplified. And that’s a responsibility to be held accountable for.

Facebook did not do itself any favours when, in 2014, it announced it had manipulated the emotions of hundreds of thousands of users for a week two years prior.

Reuters: Amazon Copied Products and Rigged Search Results, Documents Show

Aditya Kalra and Steve Stecklow, Reuters:

In sworn testimony before the U.S. Congress in 2020, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos explained that the e-commerce giant prohibits its employees from using the data on individual sellers to help its private-label business. And, in 2019, another Amazon executive testified that the company does not use such data to create its own private-label products or alter its search results to favor them.

But the internal documents seen by Reuters show for the first time that, at least in India, manipulating search results to favor Amazon’s own products, as well as copying other sellers’ goods, were part of a formal, clandestine strategy at Amazon – and that high-level executives were told about it. The documents show that two executives reviewed the India strategy – senior vice presidents Diego Piacentini, who has since left the company, and Russell Grandinetti, who currently runs Amazon’s international consumer business.

Earlier this year, Mother Jones cited several journalists who, in the words of one, claimed that Amazon is “the only company [they have] dealt with that has directly lied to me”. Several reporters used that word, “lie”, or said the company was deceitful in its responses to journalists — that it goes far beyond a typical carefully worded corporate message.

It would make sense if that reputation carried through to its dealings with lawmakers. World leaders are mostly deferential to executive wrongdoing. What consequences would be faced by Jeff Bezos or any of the managers named in this article if these allegations were proven true, if only for their false public statements?

Clearview Is Now Saying It Can Identify People Based on Synthetic Facial Features

Will Knight, Wired:

The company’s cofounder and CEO, Hoan Ton-That, tells WIRED that Clearview has now collected more than 10 billion images from across the web — more than three times as many as has been previously reported.

[…]

Some of Clearview’s new technologies may spark further debate. Ton-That says it is developing new ways for police to find a person, including “deblur” and “mask removal” tools. The first takes a blurred image and sharpens it using machine learning to envision what a clearer picture would look like; the second tries to envision the covered part of a person’s face using machine learning models that fill in missing details of an image using a best guess based on statistical patterns found in other images.

I am stunned Clearview is allowed to remain in business, let alone continue to collect imagery and advance new features, given how invasive, infringing, and dangerous its technology is.

Sometimes, it makes sense to move first and wait for laws and policies to catch up. Facial recognition is not one of those times. And, to make matters worse, policymakers have barely gotten started in many jurisdictions. We are accelerating toward catastrophe and Clearview is leading the way.

Ex-Ozy Employees Say Company Used Dubious Tactics to Build Email Subscribers

One of the reasons I linked to coverage of the Ozy meltdown at the end of last month is because I was apparently one of its email subscribers, but I could not remember registering. But I did notice that my earliest emails from the company were co-branded with Wired, which I was subscribed to at the time. Is that a coincidence?

Jemima McEvoy, Forbes:

Ozy Media boasts that it has more than 26 million subscribers for its newsletters, but former employees say this is another example of deceptive tactics at the embattled digital media company, with most of the email addresses on its newsletter lists either purchased, taken from other companies without their permission or added back to the lists after the recipients unsubscribed — a potentially illegal act (representatives from Ozy have not responded to Forbes’ repeated requests for comment).

[…]

Among the companies they say Ozy collectively accumulated millions of email addresses from were the McClatchy newspaper chain and the technology magazine Wired, according to two of the former employees (McClatchy and Conde Nast, the parent company of Wired, did not respond to requests for comment from Forbes).

It is not a coincidence.