Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Archive for October 19th, 2012

The AAPL Slingshot

AAPL is down around $100 from about a month ago. Why? Philip Elmer-Dewitt explains the slingshot:

A guy running a hedge fund, having taken who knows what position in a high-profile security, trashes it on TV, on the Web and in e-mails to clients shortly before what are almost certainly going to be record quarterly earnings, and then when the shares lose some value, brags that he’s been “correct on the stock.”

13-Inch Retina MacBook Pro Pictures Surface

This suggests an answer to a question I asked on Twitter a while back: would a retina 13-inch Pro share a panel with a retina 13-inch MacBook Air? The 2,560 × 1,600px resolution suggests that they will not. I prefer the size of the UI elements of my Air over the 13-inch MacBook Pros I’ve used.

UDID to IDFA FUD

On Tuesday, I was browsing my usual sources of news when I found this post on Bruce Schneier’s blog , with the ominous headline “Apple Turns on iPhone Tracking in iOS 6”.

The post linked to this piece from Jim Edwards, which carried this headline:

Apple Has Quietly Started Tracking iPhone Users Again, And It’s Tricky To Opt Out

By those headlines, I assumed this would be a repeat of the Locationgate thing from 2011. Ah, but no: this was about ad tracking, and Apple’s switch from UDID (Unique Device Identification) to I(D)FA, which stands for “Identifier for Advertising”.

This whole thing is a bunch of mongering crap based on gross distortions of elements of truth.

In iOS 4 and prior, Apple allowed advertisers and developers access to a device’s UDID. This is a hardcoded, unique identifier assigned to each iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad. While the UDID is effectively anonymous, only assigned to a device rather than a particular user, some advertisers and developers with little concern for privacy began tying the device ID with other information they could collect, such as their name, phone number, email address, and so forth.

In 2011, Apple let developers know that they would be rejecting apps that continued to access UDIDs. They phased out most third-party access to that device ID in iOS 5, and did so completely in iOS 6 due to the obvious security implications. This meant that for the past year, most advertisers were unable to add any sort of user tracking code.

However, in iOS 6, Apple introduced a new identifier specifically for advertising purposes called IDFA. IDFA is a huge improvement over the old ID because it’s temporary, it’s explicitly for ads, and can be disabled. This makes me wonder why the aformentioned piece by Jim Edwards makes it sound like Apple is snooping through your phone for the explicit purpose of selling you to advertisers:

The company has started tracking users so that advertisers can target them again, through a new tracking technology called IFA or IDFA. […]

In iOS 6, however, tracking is most definitely back on, and it’s more effective than ever, multiple mobile advertising executives familiar with IFA tell us. (Note that Apple doesn’t mention IFA in its iOS 6 launch page).

Now, Jim Edwards is no idiot. He knows that he needs to mention the obvious opt-out ability and ensure you know that Apple is indeed not shilling you to advertisers. But Business Insider needs their ad revenue1, hence the linkbait title, followed by phrases like these:

iOS 6 users are able to turn off tracking, which they weren’t before. […]

The IFA does not identify you personally — it merely provides a bunch of aggregate audience data that advertisers can target with ads.

Edwards does raise a good point with regards to the way Apple has implemented the setting. One would assume that it’s under the Privacy submenu, but it’s actually under General, then About. Confusing and buried, but the ability to disable it, and the temporary identification code presents a significant improvement over the old method. While I personally have switched on the “Limit Ad Tracking” switch because of my own concerns with ad tracking privacy, the fact of the matter is that this is much, much better than Apple’s previous implementation.

If you’re concerned, Jacqui Cheng of Ars Technica has a good explanation of the transition.

There you have it. Just enough FUD if you’re browsing Business Insider headlines to keep their ad revenue high.


  1. Ironically enough from an ad network which “uses cookies to uniquely identify a browser, which gives Market advertisers the ability to show targeted ads that are relevant to you”, which is almost exactly what Mr. Edwards’ article is so vehemently against. ↩︎

My Walletless Month

The headline of Christina Bonnington’s Wired article says “Happier, Healthier and Ready to Ditch Cash Forever”. The body of the article says otherwise:

There were also issues with the technology as it currently stands. Multiple retail employees told me of issues with Google Wallet — sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. I experienced this myself on two separate occasions, when NFC readers seemed to refuse to acknowledge my phone’s chip.

I also had problems with the Square Wallet app. More than once, I came upon places that were listed in the app’s directory but that did not actually accept it. One did not even have the card reader set up. The worst offenders were in Honolulu, where there was likely a discrepancy between the owner or manager who began setting up Square (or merely signed up for it) and employees who weren’t informed about how it works.

It’s hard to do in 2012, but it’s slowly getting easier. I find that it’s impossible to leave the house with just my Interac and Visa cards, my ID, and a couple of payment apps on my phone. There are still far too many places that just take cash, or where paying by card is too tedious for a small amount.

Why Microsoft’s Surface Ad Might be a Miss

I really like Microsoft’s new Surface ad. But Stephen Hackett’s explanation of why it’s a miss is spot-on:

I don’t think the Surface ad is as effective as Apple’s were, however. It’s not because the spot is bad — I actually think it’s pretty damn clever. But Apple went with the brand building after it had introduced the world to the iPod. People knew what white headphones meant in 2007. I’m not sure people know what a keyboard case is about in 2012 quite yet.

Also causing a small problem is the end logo, which uses Microsoft’s new square brand. I don’t think that people have been exposed enough to the Surface, the keyboard cover, or the new logo for this ad to make sense.