Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Archive for August, 2016

WordPress Version 4.6

Among the long list of improvements and bug fixes, highlights include the addition of Unicode 9 emoji support, a big update to the long-kludgy updating mechanism, and the removal of Open Sans from the administrator dashboard. Huzzah.

The replacement fonts for Open Sans are the default system faces for all OSes: San Francisco on Macs and iOS devices, Segoe on Windows, and Roboto on Android.

However, omitted from these updates are any changes to the typefaces used in the TinyMCE editor. So I made a plugin. It’s ridiculously lightweight and simply ensures that everything you see on the dashboard is a variant of San Francisco. If you have SF Mono installed, you’ll see that in the editor.

I probably won’t update this plugin unless I see a glaring issue, but I’ve been running it for the past month or so and it’s been fine.

On a related note, I just updated my copy of WordPress. If you spot anything wonky, please let me know.

Intel to Produce 10nm ARM Processors

Ian King, Bloomberg:

Intel Corp., the world’s biggest semiconductor maker, said it’s licensing technology from rival ARM Holdings Plc, a move to win more customers for its business that manufactures chips for other companies.

The two chipmakers, whose designs and technology dominate in computing and mobile, unveiled the agreement Tuesday at the Intel Developer Forum in San Francisco. The accord will let Intel offer third-party semiconductor companies its most advanced 10-nanometer production lines for manufacturing the complex chips usually used in smartphones.

That’s some really big news that Apple is no doubt interested in, too. While they design their own SoCs, Apple doesn’t make them — they contract the manufacturing to companies like Samsung and, increasingly, TSMC. However, Apple has shown an interest in reducing their reliance upon Samsung, to the extent that the A10 is rumoured to be exclusively made by TSMC, and the company has repeatedly expressed a desire to bring more of their product manufacturing to the United States.1

Tim Cook at the D10 conference in 2012:

Will there be an Apple product ever made in the U.S.?

I want there to be. This isn’t well known, but the engine for the iPhone and the iPad are built in the U.S., not just for the U.S. but the world. The glass for your iPhone is made in a plant in Kentucky, not just for the U.S. but other markets outside the U.S. so I think there are things that can be done in the U.S., not just for the U.S., but exported for the world.

I’m not sure that the statement about making the A-series chip in the United States — or, as Cook called it, “the engine” — is still accurate, but making things in the U.S. is something Apple is proud to tout when they can. Apple and Intel also have a pretty good business relationship. I wouldn’t be surprised if it expanded to include the A-series as well.

Update: Paul McGrane says that Cook’s comment about building the A-series processors in the U.S. likely refers to Samsung’s Austin factory. Later that year, Samsung invested $4 billion in an expansion of that plant. Rumours are that TSMC is the exclusive manufacturer for both the A10 and A11.


  1. To my knowledge, TSMC has one manufacturing facility in the U.S., while most of Intel’s processors are made in America. ↩︎

Sportsball Is Rumoured to Be Coming to the Apple TV via Twitter

Mike Isaac, New York Times (there’s autoplaying video with audio because the Times apparently hates their readers):

When Twitter streams its first N.F.L. game on Sept. 15, it will get to assess whether its vigorous pursuit will pay off — and whether live streaming can viably be a linchpin of its future.

Since April, Twitter has signed a series of live-streaming deals, including with Wimbledon, CBS News, the National Basketball Association, Major League Baseball, the National Hockey League and Pac-12 Networks. Twitter is also in discussions with other organizations, including Major League Soccer and the Professional Golfers Association, for similar agreements, according to people briefed on the talks.

[…]

To bolster the effort, Twitter is in talks with Apple to bring the Twitter app to Apple TV, which would potentially let millions of Apple TV users watch the streaming N.F.L. games, according to the two people briefed on the discussions.

I didn’t get this rumour at first. Why would Apple and Twitter need to talk about doing an app? Can’t Twitter just build the app?

But then Abdel Ibrahim pointed out that there might be some kind of deal-sweetening exclusive arrangement at play here, which makes complete sense to me. It’s pretty widely known that Apple has been aching to build a full television experience into the Apple TV. If Apple can secure an exclusive app for Twitter’s live streaming deals, they might be able to bypass individual negotiations with each of the leagues and events at play here.

This also gives me an opportunity to remind you that “soccer is but one ball away from the ancient non-sport of fast running back and forth,” which remains one of the most succinct expressions of any sport I’ve ever heard. Then again, I like Formula 1, which is but twenty-odd engines away from the ancient non-sport of sitting in a chair and sweating profusely.

VBR MP3s and AVFoundation

Great post from Marco Arment on a bug within AVFoundation that prevents the widespread use of VBR MP3s, specifically for distributing podcasts:

AVFoundation, the low-level audio/video framework in iOS and macOS, does not accurately seek within VBR MP3s, making VBR impractical to use for long files such as podcasts. Jumping to a timestamp in an hour-long VBR podcast can result in an error of over a minute, without the listener even knowing because the displayed timecode shows the expected time.

A lot of my iTunes library is also encoded as VBR MP3s — I was a longtime user of the LAME V0 preset — I’ve seen some weird seeking bugs and other issues in longer tracks. With its ideal blend of quality and file size, VBR a beautiful solution to audio encoding; Apple should provide more robust support for it.

Breadth and Depth

What defines Tim Cook’s Apple?

The end of this month will mark five years into his tenure presiding over the company — the third longest-serving CEO in Apple’s history, behind John Sculley and, of course, Steve Jobs. There are a few things I think are generally agreeable about Cook’s style: a less rigid corporate image, a more noticeable social impact, and a (slightly) more approachable executive team. Back in the Jobs-and-Katie Cotton era, a magazine was lucky if it got an interview, and they were typically only proposed if there was a major new product to show — recall the famous Time and Newsweek iMac G4 and iPod covers, for instance.

Today’s Apple is more comfortable with providing more frequent conversations with the executive staff. Mashable has received several exclusives in the past couple of years and, this week, Fast Company and the Washington Post were both granted interviews with Tim Cook. Fast Company also spent time with Craig Federighi, Eddy Cue, and Bozoma Saint John.

Those interviews underscore one of the most defining characteristics of Cook’s Apple: innovation at scale. Rick Tetzeli:

Apple’s CEO is a deeply grounded man who has not been blinded by Jobs’s brilliant legacy. Jobs only came to appreciate the incremental nature of innovation during the second half of his life; you get the sense that Cook understood and loved process from birth. This focus on detail is often mentioned as a weakness. But, in the five years under Cook, Apple’s revenue has tripled, its workforce has doubled, and its global reach has expanded rapidly. That’s a remarkable record. Cook has shown a great capacity for getting improvements from every corner of the company, and for then deploying those gains across a wider canvas of software, hardware, and services than Jobs ever had at his disposal. He will never be as flashy as Jobs, but he may just be the perfect CEO for the behemoth Apple has become.

It’s hard to fathom the size of Apple’s operations today. In their fiscal 2011, they sold 72 million iPhones; they now sell that many in a single quarter. In the past six years, their “Services” business — which includes the iTunes and App Stores, Apple Pay, iCloud, and other online services — has grown nearly ten times, from a $636 million business in Q3 2010, to a $5.9 billion business in Q3 2016. Apple doesn’t reveal the number of active iCloud users, but I’d be willing to bet it’s dozens of times greater than the number of MobileMe users in its heyday.

But this rapid expansion has not come for free, as can be seen in a resurgence of the “Apple is doomed” cottage industry. In his Fast Company interview, Eddy Cue explained his perspective on the perceived decline in Apple’s quality:

When we were the Mac company, if we impacted 1% of our customers, it was measured in thousands. Now if we impact 1% of our customers, it’s measured in tens of millions. That’s a problem, right — things are going to be perceived differently. Our products are way better than they used to be, but there’s a higher bar, and I’m okay with that.

It doesn’t really matter whether there’s a real decline in Apple’s software quality, or if it’s mostly an exaggeration bolstered by a larger user base and increased media coverage. What is concerning is the sentiment I perceive in Cue’s explanation — that a bug affecting 1% of users is comparable in 2016 to one affecting 1% of users in, say, 2006 or 1996. But, as he says, there’s an enormous chasm in the actual number of users affected, and that’s what’s particularly concerning. If Apple is pushing out, to be generous, one-quarter of the number of these bugs as they were ten years ago, that means that they’re still affecting orders of magnitude more users.

These frustrations coincide with the rise of a related worry: with whisperings of an Apple vehicle, alongside an exploration into original media, there’s a growing sentiment that Apple’s focus is drifting.

These two narratives converge in a way that I think makes longtime Apple customers uncomfortable. For those who recall the Apple of the ’90s, there’s a lingering doubt that the company can juggle so many projects at once while maintaining a focus on quality. I’m not sure that’s right, but I’m also not sure it’s entirely inaccurate.

There are, of course, key differences between the Apple of the mid-’90s and the company of today. The grunge-era Apple didn’t just lack focus — it lacked an idea of what focus is, and what to strive for. The post-renaissance Apple is much more attuned to the purpose and vision for their products:

Over its 40 years of existence, Apple has been seen as a laggard in music, video, the Internet, telephony, wireless, content creation, networking, semiconductors, software applications, touch screens, gesture controls, materials, messaging, news aggregation, social media, voice recognition, and mapping. (That’s not even close to being an exhaustive list.) Nevertheless, the company has managed to survive by doing an unmatched job of integrating the most important of those technologies into products that eventually delight many customers. By the time Jobs died, Apple’s innovation process — the way it accomplishes that job of creating, acquiring, improving, and integrating technology — was polished and proven. It was arguably Jobs’s greatest gift to his successor.

Cook has maintained this, growing R&D spending while introducing products that are defining entire categories: the MacBook for the high-end ultraportable laptop market, and the Apple Watch for smartwatches. There are clear echoes of his predecessor in those products.

Yet the Apple Watch, in particular, felt a little rushed. I’ve been running watchOS 3 since the first beta and, without giving too much away, you should know that the speed and UI improvements are very real. Could Apple have released watchOS 3 as watchOS 1 or 2? Probably not. But could someone have foreseen that dedicating the side button to a single set of communication functions only available to Apple Watch owners was, at best, an overly-optimistic assessment of first-year Watch ownership? Probably, yes.1

This year also sees the redesign of two major efforts launched just last year: both News and Apple Music are receiving significant facelifts designed to alleviate confusion and make the apps more user-friendly. The Apple TV is also getting a dark mode this year, presumably because having a bright white UI on an object used in a darkened room can be quite glaring.

That’s not to say that Cook’s Apple is debuting more duds than Jobs’. Consider, for example, the number of times Apple attempted and failed to do online services before iCloud. iCloud isn’t perfect, of course, nor is it as reliable as we’d like, but it’s good enough that I entrust my contacts, calendars, keychain, and photo syncing to it. I think the ratio of hits to misses has remained constant, or perhaps even improved slightly. But the scale of today’s Apple is affecting that perception, and that’s not an excuse. Scale must be managed.

There’s an implicit unsaid followup to many of the questions about the debut of Maps and Apple Music, which goes something like this: In what specific ways are the lessons learned from the launch of these products impacted the development and preparations for the introduction of the next big thing, whatever that may be? In the vein of the attributes that define Tim Cook’s Apple, I’m confident that attention to detail at an unprecedented scale is something they’re getting better at, though not to a great enough extent that it feels fully managed yet.


  1. Perhaps the Digital Touch features coming in iOS 10’s Messages app were supposed to debut alongside the Watch, but were delayed. Just a guess. ↩︎

Google Plus Continues Its Slow March Towards the Sunset

Lucia Maffei, TechCrunch:

In an email to TechCrunch, Google confirmed the news that “a G+ profile is no longer needed to post a review.” Rumors that the change was happening were first reported by Android Police, which quoted several tips from its readers.

This is in addition to the unbundling of Google Plus from YouTube and their Photos product, and a complete overhaul of Google Plus to make it a shitty version of Pinterest that nobody uses.

I wouldn’t be surprised if, in the next two-to-three years, Google shutters the Plus brand after parceling out any remaining components they feel remain worthwhile.

Maybe an OLED Strip Could Bring QuickType to the Mac

Lou Miranda has an intriguing idea for how the rumoured OLED strip on the new MacBook Pros could be utilized:

By having an OLED touch screen instead of function keys, Apple can bring the API that supports inputAccessoryView to the Mac (helping developers create apps that work identically on iOS and OS X).

While you’re in the Finder in OS X, the OLED touch bar will display things like volume & brightness & media playback controls. When you’re in Pages, it’ll display buttons for bold, italic, font, text size, etc. (and maybe a generic button to bring up media playback, too). When you’re in FCP X, the OLED touch bar will display options for editing video.

His ideas are similar to what I wrote yesterday, but I wasn’t considering it in the style of the QuickType bar that appears above the keyboard on iOS. But I’m still not convinced that I’ll like all of my keyboard functions changing with each application. Perhaps there’s a way to “lock” certain widgets.

Cat and Mouse

Facebook’s Andrew Bosworth, Tuesday:

We’ve designed our ad formats, ad performance and controls to address the underlying reasons people have turned to ad blocking software. When we asked people about why they used ad blocking software, the primary reason we heard was to stop annoying, disruptive ads. As we offer people more powerful controls, we’ll also begin showing ads on Facebook desktop for people who currently use ad blocking software.

Ben Williams of Adblock Plus, Thursday:

Two days ago we broke it to you that Facebook had taken “the dark path,” and decided to start forcing ad-blocking users to see ads on its desktop site. We promised that the open source community would have a solution very soon, and, frankly, they’ve beaten even our own expectations. A new filter was added to the main EasyList about 15 minutes ago. You’ll just need to update your filter lists (see below for how).

Josh Constine reporting Thursday night for TechCrunch:

A source says Facebook is now rolling out the code update that will disable Adblock Plus’ workaround. It should reach all users soon.

Adblock Plus on Twitter earlier this morning:

UPDATE: @TechCrunch @joshconstine say that FB had a workaround, but there’s already a workaround to that workaround. Just update filters ;)

Back to that post from Constine:

And Facebook has already broken the new workaround from Adblock Plus, which vows to strike back soon.

Adblock Plus is apparently working on a patch to block ads again, and so it goes. I can’t wait to see which party decides that it’s simply not worth it to keep going on. Facebook is motivated by money; Adblock Plus, by principle.

Update: I forgot that Adblock Plus is also motivated by money:

We receive some donations from our users, but our main source of revenue comes as part of the Acceptable Ads initiative. Larger entities pay a licensing fee for the whitelisting services requested and provided to them (90% of the licences are granted for free, to smaller entities).

Thanks to Erik Michaels-Ober for reminding me.

Apple Rumoured to Be Working on a MacBook Pro Overhaul

Mark Gurman, now at Bloomberg, has the scoop on an upcoming MacBook Pro refresh. Among the much rumoured updates is, allegedly, the replacement of the function keys across the top of the keyboard with a touchscreen OLED strip:

Apple’s goal with the dedicated function display is to simplify keyboard shortcuts traditionally used by experienced users. The panel will theoretically display media playback controls when iTunes is open, while it could display editing commands like cut and paste during word processing tasks, the people said. The display also allows Apple to add new buttons via software updates rather than through more expensive, slower hardware refreshes.

These are probably the least-exciting uses for something like this. Imagine scrubbing along the whole timeline of a movie with just the tip of your finger, or manipulating specific brush characteristics in Photoshop. Maybe you could flip through iBooks by scrubbing along, or customize it for changing equipment in a video game. Just a few ideas.

Maybe this and the lack of a headphone jack in the new iPhone have a much simpler explanation: maybe Phil Schiller got sick of hacky media playback controls. The previous-play/pause-next function keys on a MacBook can get confusing when there’s more than one media playback app open. And, as for the remote on a pair of headphones, it’s a very clever hack that doesn’t work reliably — at least, it doesn’t for me.

I think a multipurpose, adaptable function strip would be infinitely more useful than a strip of function keys. Here’s what I mean: look at your keyboard from an oblique angle and notice all the places where the original plastic texture remains, and where it has been worn down. If your keyboard is anything like mine, it’s probably mostly shiny, but the strip of function keys at the top likely looks pretty similar to the day you bought it. Those keys have valuable purposes, of course, but they’re nowhere near as oft-used as the rest of the keyboard. Why fix them in plastic?

But, then again, would you want your keys to be changing whenever you switch applications? I anticipate this and many other questions will be answered whenever this product debuts:

The MacBook Pros aren’t likely to debut at an event currently scheduled for Sept. 7 to introduce next-generation versions of the iPhone, according to one of the people.

Dammit.

John Oliver Isn’t Responsible for Saving Journalism

You’ve probably seen Sunday’s Last Week Tonight piece on the current state of journalism and, well, Tronc.

Well, the Newspaper Association of America didn’t like it very much. CEO David Chavern responded in a blog post:1

Whatever you think of the name “tronc” and that company’s announced growth strategy, at least they are trying new things and trying to figure out how to create great news journalism in the digital era. John Oliver doesn’t seem to have any better ideas.

Joe Amditis of the Center for Cooperative Media replies:

Another reason it’s hard to take Chavern’s blog post seriously is the fact that Oliver isn’t making fun of Tronc because they decided to try something new. He’s making fun of them because they’re overlooking one of the most valuable journalistic assets, a genuine relationship with your audience, in favor of “content funnels” and “a story portfolio of storytelling.”

One of the more depressing losses on the business side of the news is the demise of the advertisement as a functional piece of art. Ads used to be beautiful because they had to be beautiful — if you’re a business paying thousands or tens of thousands of dollars for a full colour back-page ad, you’re going to want to make it the most memorable and compelling visual it can be.

By devaluing the advertisement to online levels, both print and digital advertising has suffered. Instead of gorgeous visuals, we’re typically shown whatever can be put together efficiently and cheaply. Instead of compelling visitors to interact with ads through temptation, advertising has become forceful, with full-page takeovers and animations complete with sound effects.


  1. You’d think that the president of the Newspaper Association of America would have a more apt way to extoll the virtues of newspapers, but hey. ↩︎

‘A Honeypot for Assholes’

Charlie Warzel of Buzzfeed spoke with ten former employees to find out why Twitter’s abuse problem is so shockingly bad. The answer?

[…] Fenced in by an abiding commitment to free speech above all else and a unique product that makes moderation difficult and trolling almost effortless, Twitter has, over a chaotic first decade marked by shifting business priorities and institutional confusion, allowed abuse and harassment to continue to grow as a chronic problem and perpetual secondary internal priority. On Twitter, abuse is not just a bug, but — to use the Silicon Valley term of art — a fundamental feature.

This article looks really bad for Twitter, but it effectively confirms something that was previously alluded to in a post by Biz Stone: they feel that not sanctioning users who are abusive is part of their corporate strategy. Warzel’s sources claim that the in-house rationale is because management thinks that it helps boost their monthly active user count.

Back in February, Umair Haque wrote a terrific article for Harvard Business Review that argues the precise opposite:

In an age of interaction, the simplest path to advantage is higher quality interaction. Abuse isn’t a nuisance that’s peripheral to “real” strategic issues. It is the central strategic issue. Offering low-quality interactions in an omni-connected world is just like selling defective products, the interaction age equivalent of faulty auto parts in the industrial age, or false advertising in the branding age.

Twitter knows that many users are also dissuaded by the bullying and vitriol that prevails on the platform. Last year, then-CEO Dick Costolo sent a memo to Twitter’s staff:

We suck at dealing with abuse and trolls on the platform and we’ve sucked at it for years. It’s no secret and the rest of the world talks about it every day. We lose core user after core user by not addressing simple trolling issues that they face every day.

Today, however, Costolo disputed Warzel’s articleafter the fact:

Total nonsense and laughably false as anybody who would speak on the record would tell you. Absurd.

Not even going to link to it.

Here’s the problem: everyone else was linking to it, especially in replies to Costolo‘s tweet. It’s caused enough of a firestorm that Twitter PR replied to it, though not in the way you might expect. They didn’t bother to denounce any specific statements in Warzel’s piece — rather, they disputed “inaccuracies in the details”, which seems tantamount to admitting that the thrust of the article is correct.1

Twitter clearly has an abuse problem. Though they haven’t released their employee diversity statistics this year, their stats from last year show a company profile that is overwhelmingly white and malethe demographic least likely to be on the receiving end of abuse and bullying. They need to take big steps, because whatever they’ve tried so far isn’t working.


  1. They also complained that they weren’t given adequate notice to respond, something which a Buzzfeed editor denies↩︎

Creepy Email Spam From Criteo

My favourite creepy ad retargeting company strikes again. Fred Benenson:

I recently fell down a deep dark hole on the internet.

It began by researching a part for my central air conditioning but ended up with me stumbling upon a terrible development in modern advertising: spam driven by my browsing habits.

If that sounds like a privacy invading hellscape you’d like to avoid, read on, dear reader.

This is super creepy. I can’t imagine anyone responding positively to receiving unsolicited email from websites that they’ve merely browsed.

Criteo is a French company. As such, it falls under E.U. privacy and communications laws — specifically, the Directive on Privacy and Electronic Communications, which prohibits direct marketing emails without an explicit opt-in. However, these restrictions are relaxed if those contact details are used to market products that are similar to a sale made in a previously-established customer relationship. Perhaps that has unintentionally incentivized more targeted advertising. There are also no regulations that explicitly prohibit buying or selling lists of email addresses.

Even if all of this is fine, legally speaking, it seems unambiguously creepy and unwanted from a moral or ethical standpoint. Users need better privacy protections to prevent the sharing of email lists, and restrict email communications to those solely related to individual, direct requests.

Update: Benenson is perhaps inaccurate with this statement:

I am signed up to some platform which is considered a Criteo partner. This could possibly be Facebook since Criteo boasts a “close partnership” with them. That platform actually has my email address and my consent to send me email.

While Criteo does say that they use Facebook and Instagram data for personalization, Facebook’s data use policy says that they require opt-in for third-parties’ use of email addresses:

We do not share information that personally identifies you (personally identifiable information is information like name or email address that can by itself be used to contact you or identifies who you are) with advertising, measurement or analytics partners unless you give us permission.

Unfortunately, as Criteo fails to disclose precisely where an email address in their system originated, it is difficult to trace it back to a specific instance. But, by blending together lots of information across multiple sessions into a single advertising profile, Criteo has created a system where private data is shared and marketed against in ways that are hard to imagine for most users. The ambiguity of granting permission — and how far that permission extends — is why strong privacy legislation is needed.

Snapchat Releases, Then Pulls, ‘Yellowface’ Selfie Filter

Kwame Opam, at the Verge:1

Just four months after causing outrage over a similarly offensive selfie lens, Snapchat has incurred the wrath of its users by enabling what many see as, effectively, a yellowface lens. According to Mic, users called out the social platform on Twitter yesterday, saying the lens caused people’s faces to look like racist Asian caricatures.

That’s pretty racist. How this made it through an internal review process to be released publicly is a mystery to me — Snapchat hasn’t released their employee diversity stats. I’ve reached out to ask if they plan on doing so, and I’ll update my annual survey should they come through.


  1. While this story originated at Mic, they have autoplaying video ads and full-screen takeover subscription prompts. Why would I want to subject you, dear reader, to that madness? ↩︎

Diversity of Tech Companies by the Numbers: 2016 Edition

For the past few years, tech companies have been publicly releasing the diversity statistics of their employees. Over the same amount of time, I’ve compared their numbers to United States national statistics, via the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ releases — you can see that in the 2015 and 2014 editions.

This year, it’s more of the same, in more ways than one: I’ll be comparing those stats side-by-side in the same categories as defined by the BLS’ EEO-1 form — which limits the available racial and gender identity information — followed by some brief analysis. New this year is that I’m also noting the year-over-year percentage point difference. Please be aware that rounding errors and other factors may create imperfect differences from last year’s figures; however, these differences are worthwhile guidance.

One more note: last year, LinkedIn and Yahoo released their stats at the beginning of June and July, respectively, while Amazon and Twitter released theirs later in August. A Yahoo spokesperson told me that their diversity report will be available in September, while a LinkedIn spokesperson is tracking down their report internally. I will update this article should their figures become available.

Gender Diversity

Gender stats are reported by all companies on a global level; ethnic diversity is typically reported at a U.S.-only level. In the past, I’ve compared both sets of stats against U.S. figures; this year, I’m adding worldwide labour participation rates for genders, for a more complete set of stats. The World Bank only reports female labour force participation for their worldwide stats; the male labour force participation has been inferred based on the binary gender system currently used for these reports.

Gender Diversity, U.S.A.
Category Male Female
U.S.A. Overall (approx.) 49% 51%
U.S.A. Workforce (PDF) 53.2%
Δ 0
46.8%
Δ 0
Worldwide Workforce (inferred) 60% 40%
Gender Diversity in Tech Positions

Amazon does not separate tech and non-tech positions, so the same data has been used for both.

Company Male Female
Amazon 63% 37%
Apple 77%
Δ -2
23%
Δ +1
Facebook 83%
Δ -1
17%
Δ +1
Google 81%
Δ -1
19%
Δ +1
LinkedIn 80%
Δ -2
20%
Δ +2
Microsoft 83.0%
Δ +0.2
16.9%
Δ +0.2
Twitter 87% 13%
Yahoo 83%
Δ -1
17%
Δ +1
Gender Diversity in Non-Tech Positions

Amazon does not separate tech and non-tech positions, so the same data has been used for both.

Company Male Female
Amazon 63% 37%
Apple 62%
Δ -1
38%
Δ +1
Facebook 47%
Δ -1
53%
Δ +1
Google 53%
Δ 0
47%
Δ 0
LinkedIn 48%
Δ -2
52%
Δ +2
Microsoft 58.1%
Δ +1.3
41.7%
Δ -1.1
Twitter 50% 50%
Yahoo 48%
Δ +3
52%
Δ -3
Gender Diversity in Leadership/Executive Positions

The “U.S.A.” row uses the “management, business, and financial operations” data row from the BLS report, as a rough and imperfect approximation.

Company Male Female
U.S.A. (PDF, pgs. 23-25) 56.3%
Δ -0.4
43.8%
Δ +0.5
Amazon 75% 25%
Apple 72%
Δ 0
28%
Δ 0
Facebook 73%
Δ -4
27%
Δ +4
Google 76%
Δ -2
24%
Δ +2
LinkedIn 65%
Δ -5
35%
Δ +5
Microsoft 82.6%
Δ +0.1
17.3%
Δ -0.1
Twitter 78% 22%
Yahoo 79%
Δ +3
21%
Δ -3

Ethnic Diversity

As Google says in their report, “ethnicity refers to the EEO-1 categories which we know are imperfect categorizations of race and ethnicity, but reflect the US government reporting requirements”. Please keep that in mind.

The “U.S.A. Workforce” row uses data provided by the Bureau of Labor and Statistics (PDF). Their demographics information (indicated page 9) is kind of a pain in the ass, though: the unemployed column is a percentage of the labour force, but the employed column is a percentage of the total population. I’ve done the math, though, and the results are what’s shown below. In addition, the BLS does not separate out those of Hispanic descent because “[p]eople whose ethnicity is identified as Hispanic or Latino may be of any race.” As such, the row will not add to 100%, but the percentage of Hispanics in the workforce has been noted per the table on page 10.

Similarly, the “U.S.A. Overall” row uses data from the CIA World Factbook, and they, too, do not note those of Hispanic descent separately. This row will also not add to 100%.

Ethic Diversity, U.S.A.
Category White Asian Hispanic Black Mixed Other or
Undeclared
U.S.A. Overall 79.96% 4.43% 15.1% 12.85% 1.61% 1.15%
U.S.A. Workforce (PDF) 79.1%
Δ -0.3
5.6%
Δ +0.1
16.3%
Δ +0.4
12.1%
Δ +0.2
1.8%
Δ +0.5
1.4%
Δ +0.2
Ethnic Diversity in Tech Positions

This year, I’ve added a row for the U.S.A. tech workforce as a whole, for comparison. It uses the “computer and mathematical operations” data row from the BLS report. Amazon does not separate tech and non-tech employees.

Company White Asian Hispanic Black Mixed Other or
Undeclared
U.S.A. (PDF, pg. 26) 70.0%
Δ -0.9
19.2%
Δ +0.7
6.6%
Δ +0.3
9.7%
Δ +1.4
N/A N/A
Amazon 60% 13% 9% 15% N/A 3%
Apple 55%
Δ +2
27%
Δ +2
8%
Δ 0
8%
Δ +1
2%
Δ 0
1%
Δ -5
Facebook 48%
Δ -3
46%
Δ +3
3%
Δ 0
1%
Δ 0
2%
Δ 0
<1%
Δ +<1
Google 57%
Δ -2
37%
Δ +2
3%
Δ +1
1%
Δ 0
3%
Δ 0
<1%
Δ 0
LinkedIn 35%
Δ +1
59%
Δ -2
3%
Δ 0
1%
Δ 0
2%
Δ +1
<1%
Δ 0
Microsoft 55.5%
Δ -0.3
35.8%
Δ +0.4
3.9%
Δ 0
2.3%
Δ +0.1
1.3%
Δ +0.1
0.8%
Δ +0.1
Twitter 56% 37% 3% 1% 1% 2%
Yahoo 31%
Δ 0
62%
Δ +1
2%
Δ -1
1%
Δ 0
1%
Δ 0
3%
Δ 0
Ethnic Diversity in Non-Tech Positions

Amazon does not separate tech and non-tech employees.

Company White Asian Hispanic Black Mixed Other or
Undeclared
Amazon 60% 13% 9% 15% N/A 3%
Apple 58%
Δ +3
12%
Δ +1
16%
Δ +2
11%
Δ +1
3%
Δ 0
1%
Δ -6
Facebook 60%
Δ -2
25%
Δ +1
7%
Δ 0
5%
Δ +2
3%
Δ 0
1%
Δ 0
Google 63%
Δ -1
23%
Δ 0
5%
Δ +1
4%
Δ 0
4%
Δ 0
<1%
Δ 0
LinkedIn 67%
Δ +1
20%
Δ -5
6%
Δ +2
4%
Δ +1
3%
Δ +1
<1%
Δ 0
Microsoft 67.6%
Δ 0
13.8%
Δ +0.7
8.6%
Δ +0.6
6.2%
Δ +0.1
1.4%
Δ +0.1
0.8%
Δ 0
Twitter 62% 24% 4% 4% 1% 5%
Yahoo 67%
Δ +1
18%
Δ -1
6%
Δ 0
3%
Δ 0
3%
Δ 0
4%
Δ +1
Ethnic Diversity in Leadership/Executive Positions

The “U.S.A.” row uses the “management, business, and financial operations” data from the BLS report, as a rough and imperfect approximation of the broad US national trend.

Company White Asian Hispanic Black Mixed Other or
Undeclared
U.S.A. (PDF, pg. 25) 84.2%
Δ -0.1
6.1%
Δ 0
8.9%
Δ +0.5
7.5%
Δ +0.1
N/A N/A
Amazon 71% 18% 4% 4% N/A 3%
Apple 67%
Δ +4
21%
Δ 0
7%
Δ +1
3%
Δ 0
1%
Δ N/A
0%
Δ -6
Facebook 71%
Δ -2
21%
Δ 0
3%
Δ 0
3%
Δ +1
2%
Δ +1
<1%
Δ N/A
Google 70%
Δ -2
25%
Δ +2
1%
Δ 0
2%
Δ 0
2%
Δ +1
<1%
Δ 0
LinkedIn 63%
Δ 0
30%
Δ 0
3%
Δ -1
1%
Δ 0
3%
Δ +1
0%
Δ 0
Microsoft 70.1%
Δ -1.0
22.4%
Δ +1.1
4.0%
Δ +0.1
2.1%
Δ -0.1
0.7%
Δ 0
0.4%
Δ 0
Twitter 72% 28% 0% 0% 0% 0%
Yahoo 72%
Δ -1
22%
Δ +3
3%
Δ +1
0%
Δ -1
0%
Δ -2
4%
Δ +1

Analysis

Let’s get something out of the way: I’m a white twenty-something Canadian who graduated from art college. Analysis of statistics of racial and gender diversity at American tech companies is not exactly my strongest suit. But, hey, you’ve made it this far. I want to be as fair as possible to everyone represented in these stats and at these companies. If there’s a problem, please let me know.

  • Apple notes this year that they achieved pay equity for all U.S. employees.

  • Apple also says that they reduced the amount of employees who chose not to declare their race or ethnicity compared to previous years. The majority of those identified as white.

  • Microsoft was a real mixed bag this year, becoming whiter and more male in a few areas — and, in some, significantly so.

  • Facebook made a relatively large 8 percentage-point shift in favour of women in leadership roles. No other company reported as large of a gain in any demographic.

  • Facebook also became the first company to highlight their LGBTQ community, with 7% of their staff identifying.

  • However, a disproportionately low presence of black employees continues at Facebook, Google, and Microsoft. All three companies have released products with flaws experienced by black and darker-skinned users — issues that, if those companies had a greater proportion of black employees, would likely have been found and corrected.

  • I will reiterate that one of the excuses most frequently cited by tech companies for their lack of diversity is a small selection of underrepresented prospective employees coming out of colleges and universities in the United States. This is false.

  • Across the board, most gains are on the order of one or two percentage points, or even less. This is similar to last year’s incremental improvements.

  • Even though half the companies I survey annually have yet to release their latest data, I don’t anticipate much difference from last year. As I said at the top, however, I will update this should those figures become available.

  • Something that, unfortunately, comes with reporting any stats on gender and ethnicity is that angry white men use it to try to support their thesis that the white male is oppressed. These people can quietly fuck themselves.

Update Aug 15: A LinkedIn spokesperson has told me that their stats will be out by the beginning of October, but noted that their numbers are “looking strong”. We shall see.

Update Oct 19: LinkedIn’s figures are now current for 2016. LinkedIn reported some of the most positive gains overall, especially for women at the company. LinkedIn remains one of the few companies where the non-tech category has more women than men. Even so, an 80/20 split for tech employees puts them in the middle of a pack led by Amazon and Apple.

Update Oct 31: Yahoo’s data is now current for 2016. Their non-tech staff actually became whiter and more male overall, while leadership staff also became more male. There are some minor indications of improvements, but this year’s report from Yahoo generally shows a regressing trend — completely the opposite of the claims of a recent lawsuit against Yahoo.

Embrace, Extend, and Extinguish

You may recall that Amazon recently began offering a new smartphone that launched with an intriguing pricing strategy. Joanna Stern, Wall Street Journal:

Even though Amazon sells the R1 HD for as little as $50, on the open market it starts at $100. Why the discount? Ads. Sorry, “special offers.” Which are ads.

If you’re an Amazon Prime member, you pay $50 (plus an extra $10 if you want more memory and storage), and on the lock screen, you see a rotation of promotions similar to what appears on Amazon tablets and e-readers. The shopping giant knocks down the price knowing it will make back the money and then some.

Putting ads on a platform owned by an advertising technology company is a pretty bold move. Unfortunately for Amazon, it was a little too bold for Google.

Ron Amadeo reports for Ars Technica on the state of the version of Android coming on Google’s new Nexus phones:

In Android, the System UI is a huge deal since it’s responsible for much of the base operating system. It handles the bottom navigation bar, the top status bar, the notification panel, Quick Settings, Recent Apps, the lock screen, the volume controls, and the power button long-press menu. The new Nexus devices are apparently going to replace the open source System UI with a proprietary APK called the “Google System UI.”

[…]

We’d imagine the System UI could take a similar path to the Google Now Launcher. The [Android Open Source Project] version of the launcher still exists, which OEMs take and make questionable changes to. Users are free to download the Google version of the launcher (today it’s available through the Play Store), which allows them to undo a big chunk of the OEM changes. It would be amazing to have the option of restoring Android’s notification panel and Recent Apps screen if OEMs get too out of hand.

Jack Wellborn:

Carriers and handset makers’ inability and unwillingness to push updates of any sort, including those vital to their customers’ security, gives Google a very good reason to shift as much of Android to their control by any means possible, but migrating functionality to Play also effectively replaces open source Android with Google proprietary code. While it’s certainly reasonable to expect that Google’s applications and services like YouTube or GMail would remain proprietary, it seems open source Android functionality is increasingly being migrated to closed source for the sole strategic benefit of Google. Additionally, as functionality is added to Play, any open source counterpart in Android languishes without Google’s vast resources.

Android may technically be open source, and much of its development still occurs in a way that anyone can freely download and build from. But it is becoming increasingly under Google’s control by default, with core features restricted to platform partners and parts of the system moving closer to propriety. It’s clearly not under the same level of control as iOS is under Apple, but there is a growing rift between the open source promise and the contractually-agreed proprietary reality.

Facebook Says That It Will Override Ad Blockers

Andrew Bosworth of Facebook, in a press release euphemistically titled “A New Way to Control the Ads You See on Facebook, and an Update on Ad Blocking”:

We’ve designed our ad formats, ad performance and controls to address the underlying reasons people have turned to ad blocking software. When we asked people about why they used ad blocking software, the primary reason we heard was to stop annoying, disruptive ads. As we offer people more powerful controls, we’ll also begin showing ads on Facebook desktop for people who currently use ad blocking software.

The defiance in that last sentence is kind of incredible, when you think about it. Imagine if it were a slightly different browser feature, like cookie permissions (emphasis added):

As we offer people more powerful controls, we’ll also begin setting cookies on Facebook desktop for people who currently block cookies.

Ludicrous, no?

Jack Marshall reports for the Wall Street Journal on this news:

Mr. Bosworth acknowledged that forcing ads onto people who have attempted to avoid them could irritate those users, but he said the company has invested heavily in ensuring advertising on Facebook is “uninterruptive” and relevant. Facebook is also introducing more ways for users to control the type of advertising they see on the service.

For some people, having increasingly relevant ads is the problem. Its indicative of deeper tracking and further privacy intrusions.

If you’re a Facebook user, it’s worth taking a look at your privacy and advertising controls to ensure nothing has changed — Facebook has a history of adjusting user preferences when they roll out large changes like this.

By the way, I discovered a somewhat minor advantage to providing your contact details to Facebook: they show you which advertisers have those details, like your email address. It’s buried a little bit, but if you go into Account SettingsAdsManage the preferences we use…Visit Ad Preferences and scroll down, you’ll see a cell that says “Advertisers”. Click or tap on With your contact info to see the Facebook advertisers who have your contact email from another source, like a mailing list. I found out that a couple of advertisers who I’ve never heard of have somehow acquired one of my less-public email addresses, perhaps through a bought email list.

Update: The instructions above were made while referencing the website on my phone. You should see advertisers who have your contact info at the bottom of this page; if you don’t see it, it might be because an advertiser hasn’t uploaded your contact info to Facebook.

Slides From Apple’s Presentation at Black Hat USA (PDF)

Apple’s head of security Ivan Krstić spoke at Black Hat USA this year to announce, amongst other things, a new bug bounty program. Their bug bounty program has very generous rewards and a 1:1 matching program for donating the reward to charity.

Black Hat posted the slides (PDF) from Krstić’s talk, with lots of information about security protocols in iOS 10, WebKit, the Secure Enclave, and lots more.

For instance, there’s a new method of backing up iCloud Keychain secrets to a secure Apple server, to be used when trying to recover the iCloud Keychain if a device is lost. Krstić says that this requires an additional credential: a device passcode, typically. I saw this firsthand when I installed the developer beta of MacOS Sierra, and was prompted to enter my iPad passcode.

The set of slides beginning at 63 is also worth your time. It’s about how Apple controls iCloud security internally, and it’s surprising, to say the least.

Like any good talk, these slides are merely supplementary and will require more context from the presentation itself. Black Hat will probably post a video to their YouTube channel in the coming weeks; keep an eye out.

If you’re looking for a deeper dive into the Secure Enclave, a few security researchers from Offcell Research and Azimuth Security did their best to examine it for quality and flaws. Almost all of their slides go way over my head, but they did say this in their conclusion:

Overall hardware design is light years ahead of competitors

That’s reassuring, at least.

If you spot a more accessible summary of either of these talks, please do let me know.

Google Debuts New Photos Commercial

This ad is perfect. The only reason it exists is because Apple has decided to be stingy with their storage offerings: the iPhone still starts at 16 GB, and iCloud offers just 5 GB for free. It may only be an extra dollar per month to get 50 GB of storage, but why does it cost a dollar? If you’ve just paid $649 for new iPhone, you probably feel like that should have included a barely-tolerable 50 GB of iCloud storage, too. When you’ve missed a photo because you’ve run out of space, you’re not thinking about the business model of the company that made the phone. You just wanted that photo.

Update: I previously misstated that the first paid iCloud tier, at $1/month, offered 20 GB of storage. It’s 50. Apple has a full list for the pricing in all countries where it’s offered.

Tweaked First-Generation Apple Watch Rumoured to Release Alongside New Model

Mikey Campbell at AppleInsider:

[KGI analyst Ming-Chi Kuo] believes Apple is planning to launch two new Apple Watch versions in the second half of 2016, both of which offer moderate improvements over their predecessor. The first unit will be an iterative upgrade on the original Apple Watch and is expected to sport the same aesthetics, but with improved intervals like a TSMC processor built on the 16nm process. Waterproofing should also be slightly improved.

A second version, dubbed “Apple Watch 2,” is also expected to share the same general design as current models, but will include a GPS radio and barometer for improved geolocation capabilities. A higher capacity battery will be included to power the advanced components, but its size will prohibit Apple’s usual generational device slimming.

I wouldn’t be surprised if the major external differentiator between the current Apple Watch models and the second-generation units is in the finishings. I doubt the Edition model will hang around, but new case options like titanium or bright colours for anodized aluminum might be fun.

These days, Apple tends to drop the price of the existing units while leaving them on sale, so it seems likely that they’d do the same for the Watch. But, like the iPad 2’s quiet update from a 45nm process A5 to a 32nm variant in 2012, it could go completely unannounced.