Eric Tucker, a 35-year-old co-founder of a marketing company in Austin, Tex., had just about 40 Twitter followers. But his recent tweet about paid protesters being bused to demonstrations against President-elect Donald J. Trump fueled a nationwide conspiracy theory — one that Mr. Trump joined in promoting.
Mr. Tucker’s post was shared at least 16,000 times on Twitter and more than 350,000 times on Facebook. The problem is that Mr. Tucker got it wrong. There were no such buses packed with paid protesters.
Mainstream media outlets — yes, that includes Fox — asked the bus company for comment and didn’t publish the story when they realized it wasn’t true. Meanwhile, dozens of rags and partisan Facebook pages didn’t bother to fact-check it and decided to post it, assuming that Tucker had looked into it. He hadn’t:
Mr. Tucker said he had performed a Google search to see if any conferences were being held in the area but did not find anything. (The buses were, in fact, hired by a company called Tableau Software, which was holding a conference that drew more than 13,000 people.)
“I did think in the back of my mind there could be other explanations, but it just didn’t seem plausible,” he said in an interview, noting that he had posted as a “private citizen who had a tiny Twitter following.”
He added, “I’m also a very busy businessman and I don’t have time to fact-check everything that I put out there, especially when I don’t think it’s going out there for wide consumption.”
There is no logical bridge between I see buses and they must be full of fake protestors, but that didn’t stop Tucker from stating it as fact. Nor, it seems, did anyone at any of these partisan sources question its plausibility or reach out to the bussing company. That’s callous at best, and dangerous to democracy at worst.
Apple has determined that a very small number of iPhone 6s devices may unexpectedly shut down. This is not a safety issue and only affects devices within a limited serial number range that were manufactured between September and October 2015.
If you have experienced this issue, please visit an Apple Retail Store or an Apple Authorized Service Provider and have your device’s serial number checked to confirm eligibility for a battery replacement, free of charge.
My launch-day iPhone 6S was affected by this; I had it swapped early this year. If you’re seeing this issue with your iPhone — even if it’s not within the correct serial number range — be sure to head to your local Apple Store to inquire about a replacement.
Update: I just checked my replacement iPhone and — funny enough — it, too, is eligible for a battery swap according to 9to5Mac’s list of serial numbers.
Apple Inc. has disbanded its division that develops wireless routers, another move to try to sharpen the company’s focus on consumer products that generate the bulk of its revenue, according to people familiar with the matter.
Apple hasn’t refreshed its routers since 2013 following years of frequent updates to match new standards from the wireless industry. The decision to disband the team indicates the company isn’t currently pushing forward with new versions of its routers. An Apple spokeswoman declined to comment on the company’s plans.
The writing has been on the wall for the AirPort lineup for a while now, so you shouldn’t be too surprised by this news. Also don’t be shocked if, in the near future, they kill off other products with a much higher public profile.
But it’s kind of annoying, too. Back when Apple did the iPhone, it was partially because all cellphones sucked; now, all cellphones work similarly to iPhones. I’d like to think that they kept supporting their AirPort models for as long as they did because routers still suck. Look at the routers recommended by the Wirecutter: their picks have antennas sticking out and pointing everywhere, and really crappy web-based control panels. I’m not looking forward to the day that I need to replace my AirPort Extreme.
Update: This paragraph has been rattling around my brain since I read Gurman’s article:
Exiting the router business could make Apple’s product ecosystem less sticky. Some features of the AirPort routers, including wireless music playback, require an Apple device like an iPhone or Mac computer. If the company no longer sells wireless routers, some may have a reason to use other phones and PCs.
Practically speaking, I’m not sure Apple will make one fewer Mac or iOS device sale after the AirPort Express becomes unavailable. While it was really cool that AirPlay was built into the Express, I doubt very many people bought them because of that.
But you know what else has AirPlay built in and tends to sit in the same place, probably near a stereo system? The Apple TV. If there’s any way that Apple might continue to sell a WiFi router of some kind, I bet it’s built into the Apple TV.
David Remnick, of the New Yorker, wrote a must-read profile of President Obama during the days surround the election. A choice quote, from four days prior:
That day, as they travelled, Obama and Simas talked almost obsessively about an article in BuzzFeed that described how the Macedonian town of Veles had experienced a “digital gold rush” when a small group of young people there published more than a hundred pro-Trump Web sites, with hundreds of thousands of Facebook followers. The sites had names like TrumpVision365.com and WorldPoliticus.com, and most of the posts were wildly sensationalist, recycled from American alt-right sites. If you read such sites, you learned that Pope Francis had endorsed Trump and that Clinton had actually encouraged Trump to run, because he “can’t be bought.”
The new media ecosystem “means everything is true and nothing is true,” Obama told me later. “An explanation of climate change from a Nobel Prize-winning physicist looks exactly the same on your Facebook page as the denial of climate change by somebody on the Koch brothers’ payroll. And the capacity to disseminate misinformation, wild conspiracy theories, to paint the opposition in wildly negative light without any rebuttal—that has accelerated in ways that much more sharply polarize the electorate and make it very difficult to have a common conversation.”
Many of our organizations already provide training in fact-checking to media organizations, universities and the general public. We would be glad to engage with you about how your editors could spot and debunk fake claims.
We also believe it is vital to strengthen the role of users in combating disinformation. Numerous studies show that, regardless of partisan ideology, people are very good at accepting information that conforms to their preconceptions, even if it is false.
In my experience, fact checking has actually lead to someone’s increased belief in the fake story. Over the past couple of decades — but particularly over the past eight years — fringe media has been reinforcing their bullshit with claims that the “mainstream media” won’t cover some nonsense story because they’re “in” on it, or they have a liberal bias. Viewers and readers who buy that explanation will therefore see any attempt to debunk a claim as a way of validating it; in their minds, the debunkers are trying to suppress the claim.
I want desperately for fake news on Facebook to be debunked; yet, I worry it will have no effect. There are people so deeply entrenched in believing in conspiracy theories and complete falsehoods that evidence to the contrary is ignored at best, and a confirmation of their beliefs at worst.
Craig Silverman of Buzzfeed, reporting on the rise in popularity of viral fake news stories in the final months of the U.S. election:
Up until those last three months of the campaign, the top election content from major outlets had easily outpaced that of fake election news on Facebook. Then, as the election drew closer, engagement for fake content on Facebook skyrocketed and surpassed that of the content from major news outlets.
There are reportedly employees at Facebook working on their own to try to reduce the spread of fake news, but it sounds like they’re receiving little support at the senior and executive levels of the company. Michael Nunez, Gizmodo:
According to two sources with direct knowledge of the company’s decision-making, Facebook executives conducted a wide-ranging review of products and policies earlier this year, with the goal of eliminating any appearance of political bias. One source said high-ranking officials were briefed on a planned News Feed update that would have identified fake or hoax news stories, but disproportionately impacted right-wing news sites by downgrading or removing that content from people’s feeds. According to the source, the update was shelved and never released to the public. It’s unclear if the update had other deficiencies that caused it to be scrubbed.
Only Facebook has the data that can exactly reveal how fake news, hoaxes and misinformation spread, how much there is of it, who creates and who reads it, and how much influence it may have. Unfortunately, Facebook exercises complete control over access to this data by independent researchers. It’s as if tobacco companies controlled access to all medical and hospital records.
These are not easy problems to solve, but there is a lot Facebook could do. When the company decided it wanted to reduce spam, it established a policy that limited its spread. If Facebook had the same kind of zeal about fake news, it could minimize its spread, too.
I’m not sure how anyone at Facebook can continue to claim that the stories surfaced through users’ news feed and the global trending topics list could not have had an impact on the election.
The invite-only torrent site was created in the wake of Oink’s Pink Palace, which was shut down in October of 2007. Though it was a hub for illegal downloading, What.CD hosted many different genres of music, making it a paradise for fans of obscure and hard-to-find music. Even music industry villain Martin Shkreli was begging for an invite last month.
The What.CD statement claims that they shut down “due to some recent events.” According to Zataz, 12 of the site’s servers were seized in the north of France. The founder of What.CD, however, is believed to reside in the United Kingdom.
What.CD obviously wasn’t legal, but I sincerely doubt that there has ever been a single greater collection of music than what was available there. Beyond the newest releases lay a vast library of music unavailable by any other means: out-of-print and rare albums, music that had never been officially released, and tracks from indie bands previously only known in small towns. Then there were the artist recommendations and the album collages, with suggestions and pairings that remain unparalleled by any legal streaming service.
Beyond the legality of it, there are a host of ethical and moral dilemmas associated with participating in a community like What.CD’s. Nobody there is entitled to any of the albums posted on the site. But there was always something magical about listening to a record that had previously never been heard beyond a handful of people anywhere on earth, and doing so alongside a group of people who were equally excited. There were loads of different versions of albums, too — it was never a simple matter of downloading a record when users made available various vinyl pressings, CD masters, and online download copies.
All kinds of people were What.CD members, from record store employees to young listeners; from hardcore collectors to popular musicians. Above all, it was a community of fans that grew organically. You might never have heard of What.CD, or — understandably — frown upon piracy like this. But, for a lot of music nerds, today’s news has been heartbreaking.
Both the House of Lords and House of Commons have now passed the Investigatory Powers Bill – the biggest overhaul of surveillance powers for more than a decade.
The Home Office, the department responsible for the law, has said the provisions listed within it are needed to help protect the country’s national security and give more oversight than ever before. While civil rights groups and those in opposition to the powers say it is intrusive and draconian.
This is the legislation that mandates ISPs keep twelve months’ worth of browsing history for each of their customers, permits the intrusion of devices singularly and in bulk, and allows intelligence agencies to go dumpster diving through enormous sets of scooped data — much of which was likely obtained illegally — looking for anything that might be relevant.
The bill was originally drawn up by the now-Prime Minister Theresa May, whose office responded to a request for her browser history by calling it a “scattergun approach” and “fishing for information”. No word on whether that should still be interpreted as a negative.
Surveillance bills from around the world have been described as “Orwellian”. This is usually hyperbolic, yet it’s most fitting here both for the bill’s contents, and that it will become law in George Orwell’s own country.
The logs surreptitiously uploaded to Apple contain a list of all calls made and received on an iOS device, complete with phone numbers, dates and times, and duration. They also include missed and bypassed calls. Elcomsoft said Apple retains the data in a user’s iCloud account for up to four months, providing a boon to law enforcement who may not be able to obtain the data either from the user’s carrier, who may retain the data for only a short period, or from the user’s device, if it’s encrypted with an unbreakable passcode.
Apple says that they’re doing this to allow users to call back from any connected device. That’s a fine explanation for me, but I’m curious why they’re apparently retaining these logs for four months.
Of note, Apple is reportedly in the process of improving the security of iCloud. As you might expect, there’s no word on any progress since this rumour broke in February. I don’t anticipate hearing an official word before WWDC next year.
Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond, and James May are returning to screens everywhere in just a couple of hours from now in the ‘Grand Tour’. But before you dive into it, be sure to read Stef Schrader’s piece for Jalopnik on how a small show ostensibly about cars became a global phenomenon:
In the United States, the explosive popularity of Top Gear started with the Internet. By now, sitting down at a computer to watch Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May feels normal. When their version of Top Gear first gained notoriety beyond the United Kingdom, it did so in clips and torrents posted online. If you wanted to track down episodes of Top Gear before they regularly started appearing on cable stateside, chances are you found your way onto its fan site FinalGear, which once linked to torrents of every episode. Similar shows, such as Top Gear’s international versions and Fifth Gear also made it on the site.
The path from ‘Top Gear’-as-car-show to the ‘Grand Tour’ — a massively expensive worldwide endeavour — can be traced directly through the popularity of FinalGear, and the BBC’s somewhat lackadaisical attitude towards piracy.
Before now, to follow someone on Twitter you had to click a giant button that said “Follow” at the top of their profile. Ugh, no thanks! Now, following someone is as easy as navigating to your profile, tapping the gear icon, tapping “QR code,” tapping the blue button to open the scanner, and scanning your friend’s QR code, assuming they have also navigated to their own profile and excavated the QR code and physically handed their device to you.
QR stands for “quick response” — not exactly an apt description for adding barcodes to an app in 2016.
Q. I hear you no longer work for Apple; is that true?
A. Correct. I joined Apple in January of 1997, almost twenty years ago, because of my profound belief that ‘the power of the computer should reside in the hands of the one using it.’ That credo remains my truth to this day. Recently, I was informed that my position as Product Manager of Automation Technologies was eliminated for business reasons. Consequently, I am no longer employed by Apple Inc. But, I still believe my credo to be as true today as ever.
I get that businesses move forward, and I get that power users are a vanishingly small part of Apple’s sales, but this is concerning. I use a bunch of Services and AppleScripts every single day; I would be markedly less productive if I didn’t have these automations in place. This news makes me worried that, one day, I’ll need to learn to live without them.
I’ve written a fair amount this week about Facebook’s role in disseminating and promoting fake news sites and bullshit stories within their news feed, but it’s worth examining their repugnant behaviour towards real news sites as well.
Back in 2013, Facebook announced that they had become the leading source of traffic to media companies, to the tune of about 40% of their total referrals. That’s a huge number and, right or wrong, publications became somewhat reliant upon the traffic Facebook was sending their way.
One might think that having a revenue stream that’s substantially dependent on a single company might cause publishers to take pause, but that wasn’t what happened. Last year, Facebook announced that they would be radically increasing the amount of video that appeared in their news feed. Media companies rushed to boost their video teams and output, even going so far as to create Facebook-only video-centric initiatives and Facebook Live partnerships. And all seemed to be going pretty well, until earlier this year. Todd Spangler, Variety:
The company says that in the past month it has updated the way it reports average time spent viewing videos on its platform to be more accurate. Previously, Facebook calculated that based on users who watched videos for at least 3 seconds. Now it’s factoring in views of any duration, which means the average time spent viewing will be lower.
And it’s apparently much lower: Facebook’s previous “average duration of video viewed” metric was inflated by upwards of 60% to 80% because of the three-second cutoff, according to a letter ad agency Publicis sent to clients that was obtained by the Wall Street Journal.
One might think that having a revenue stream that’s substantially dependent on a single company which failed to correctly state the performance of these initiatives might cause publishers to take pause. But that is, once again, not what happened. Publications like the Verge instead shifted their focus to improving their reach on Facebook by increasing their commitment to Facebook Live, video, and Instant Articles.
You know what comes next. Mike Shields, Wall Street Journal:
The company publicly disclosed on Wednesday that a comprehensive internal metrics audit found that discrepancies, or “bugs,” led to the undercounting or overcounting of four measurements, including the weekly and monthly reach of marketers’ posts, the number of full video views and time spent with publishers’ Instant Articles.
Every major media company should be seriously reconsidering their commitments to Facebook right now. Between their seemingly uncaring attitude towards bogus news sites, their algorithmic fluctuations for legitimate publications, and their ongoing inflation of their statistics, Facebook shows that they simply don’t care about the state of the media.
Charlie Warzel reports for Buzzfeed on some new anti-harrassment tools rolling out on Twitter:
On the product end, Twitter has augmented its mute feature to allow users to filter specific phrases, keywords, and hashtags, similar to what’s found on Instagram, which added a keyword filter this September. The feature was widely believed to be close to completion late last month after Twitter temporarily rolled out a test of the mute filter to select users.
But while the test resembled a standard keyword filter, Twitter’s new mute tool will go a step further, allowing users to mute entire conversation threads. This will allow users to stop receiving notifications from a specific Twitter thread without removing the thread from your timeline or blocking any users. And according to Twitter, you’ll only be able to mute conversations that relate to a tweet you’re included in (where your handle is mentioned).
This doesn’t fix the abuse that runs rampant on Twitter, but it does allow victims of it a way to reduce their exposure. There are also some new reporting options that allow posts to be marked as “hateful conduct”; but, again, all of these features place the onus of handling abuse on Twitter’s users.
Twitter’s own hateful conduct policy specifically prohibits content that “targets people on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, religious affiliation, age, disability, or disease.” While Twitter does not comment on individual accounts, a spokesperson told Motherboard “it looks like the screenshot in that tweet is either old or photoshopped.”
Motherboard spoke to Lenarsky, who provided timestamps to confirm that the image is not photoshopped, and that several other users had seen the ad too. “Twitter normalized, promoted, and profited off of Nazi white supremacy propaganda,” Lenarsky told Motherboard. “I should not have to explain to Twitter why promoting Nazi propaganda on their website is a dangerous and immoral thing to do.” Lenarsky added she will not be using Twitter again until the company apologizes.
In sentences that fall under the category of things that indicate what kind of a year 2016 has been, here’s one more: if Twitter can’t even keep their ads free of neo-Nazi propaganda, how are they going to reduce or eliminate ongoing abuse on their platform? Their knee-jerk accusation of fakery seems telling.
Update:Jack Dorsey has apologized. Still no word on why the spokesperson accused Lenarsky of faking the ad.
The first reviews and shipments of the new MacBook Pro with Touch Bar have started to hit. As usual, Michael Tsai has the best roundup with some choice quotes.
One thing has been nagging in the back of my mind since the first shipments of the MacBook Pro sans Touch Bar showed up. It’s about the upgradability of these machines, and how much egg I might have on my face. Shortly after their introduction, here’s what I said (emphasis added):
Speccing it up the way I’d want to — 16 GB of RAM and a 1 TB drive, because it now appears to be soldered and therefore can’t be upgraded — would run me a bill of $2,859.
My reference to a non-upgradable SSD was based on some specific language used by Apple on their site. The MacBook Air tech specs page describes its storage like this:
128GB PCIe-based flash storage
The Air’s SSD is a blade-style card. While its shape is proprietary, it can be swapped fairly easily — I know this because I’ve upgraded mine. This is the way Apple has described their SSDs since they started shipping them as part of the Air in 2010, and continued with the Retina MacBook Pro in 2012.
The “onboard” designator seems to be Apple’s shorthand way of saying that the storage is soldered to the logic board. So, when the marketing pages were published for the new MacBook Pros and I saw “onboard flash storage”, I thought they had joined the club of non-upgradability.1
And yet, when OWC opened up a MacBook Pro sans Touch Bar, they found that its SSD was mounted as a separate card which, while a unique size and shape, could theoretically be upgraded.
If you’re a nerd about the supply chain side of tech, you might reasonably assume that Apple would have a similar assembly process for all 13-inch MacBook Pro models. But that isn’t the case, according to Ben Lovejoy of 9to5Mac:
Owners who have opened them up are finding that the SSD chips in the Touch Bar machines are permanently soldered to the logic board.
This means that, like the 12-inch MacBook, the SSD size you order from Apple is the capacity you’re going to be stuck with for the life of the machine, so you may want to take a fresh look at those rather eye-watering upgrade prices.
Here’s the thing, though: both 13-inch MacBook Pro models are described by Apple as having “onboard flash storage”, but that’s clearly not true. The Touch Bar model has onboard storage; the model without doesn’t.
For many users, this distinction is entirely academic — Apple hasn’t officially supported aftermarket upgrades in any of their MacBooks with flash storage, and most users probably wouldn’t attempt to do so. And, to their credit, Apple has reduced the price of a 1 TB upgrade to $600 as a built-to-order option, about the same price as an aftermarket option for older MacBook Pro models.
But there’s a little bad news for anyone hoping to save a little money out of the gate or upgrade their storage at a later date beyond what Apple has available at launch. For me, this news comes with a side effect: I also have a little egg on my face, but not as much as I’d feared.
I was also told by someone who, as they say, is familiar with the matter, but I didn’t clarify with them which MacBook Pro models were affected. ↩︎
“Personally I think the idea that fake news on Facebook, which is a very small amount of the content, influenced the election in any way—I think is a pretty crazy idea,” Zuckerberg said two days after the election. “Voters make decisions based on their lived experience.”
Aarti Shahani of NPR, quoting former Facebook employee Antonio Garcia-Martinez:
“There’s an entire political team and a massive office in D.C. that tries to convince political advertisers that Facebook can convince users to vote one way or the other,” Garcia-Martinez says. “Then Zuck gets up and says, ‘Oh, by the way, Facebook content couldn’t possibly influence the election.’ It’s contradictory on the face of it.”
So, to summarize, Zuckerberg is arguing that Facebook users absolutely cannot have their voting decisions swayed by posts on the social network, and that’s why advertisers should pay to promote political parties and candidates on Facebook. That’s some high-test bullshit.
Google said Monday that it is updating its policies to ban Google ads being placed “on pages that misrepresent, misstate, or conceal information about the publisher, the publisher’s content, or the primary purpose” of the website. The policy would include sites that distribute false news, a Google spokeswoman said.
Some media commentators have urged tech companies to try to prevent the spread of such misinformation. Google’s move to block some of such sites’ revenue could prove a significant step in response to the controversy.
It isn’t surprising to me that it took a major election to recognize the impact of misleading faux news sites on public knowledge, and to take steps towards corralling it. That’s not a cynical view; that’s just how the economics of it work. But this is something that should have happened long before these sites could have an effect.
Unfortunately, restricting the revenue channels for these sites barely licks the surface of much greater problems: the high visibility of imitation news on social media, low public trust in broadcast and print media, and economic incentives that are not necessarily aligned with social value of well-researched news.
On the bright side, this election has forced every media entity and major social networks to consider their role in elevating non-issues and faux news while providing little-to-no coverage of policy proposals. But until their business models are predicated less on what attracts more eyeballs, and more on what is informational and valuable, it is unlikely that the media landscape can make a positive change.
Update:Facebook will also be banning fake news sites from using its ad network. Positive steps, made far too late.
Meta updates like these tend to be rather trite, so I’ll make this quick.
This past Friday, I migrated Pixel Envy from my old and busted host to a newer, hotter one. It has taken the weekend to propagate, and it seems to have gone pretty smoothly.
Amongst a litany of far more serious ongoing calamities, 2016 also featured record-shattering downtime for this site. Its new host shouldn’t have the same problem. I welcome your feedback if you’re noticing any slowdowns, elements not loading, or if you just want to say hello.
If you head to Google to learn the final results of the presidential election, the search engine helpfully walks through the final electoral vote tallies and number of seats won by each party in the House and Senate. Under that, Google lists some related news articles. At the top this morning, with an accompanying photo: a story arguing that Donald Trump won both the popular and electoral votes.
That’s not true.
Algorithmic rankings have failed all throughout the course of the U.S. election, from when it kicked off about a thousand years ago until today. Facebook is failing to acknowledge that popular fake news posts might have swayed some votes, and Google’s secret sauce is promoting some poky WordPress blog.1
Luckily, right below the crappy link is, as of right now, a link to a Business Insider article debunking it. Those should, of course, be reverse; or, better yet, the false information shouldn’t even be there.
If Google wishes to promote this poky WordPress blog, they should feel free to do so. ↩︎
Don’t get me wrong, the Mac App Store does a lot of things really well. One reason devs keep putting their apps in the store is that Apple takes away a lot of the mundane tasks, such as payment, licensing, and updates. The MAS has a huge built-in audience, making it a convenient and easy one-stop shop for developers to list their apps, and it makes getting paid easy since Apple handles the payments side. It also handles security fairly well, so there’s less risk of malware infecting users.
But after five years of working within Apple’s strict regimen of rules and guidelines, a lot of great developers struggle with the restrictions placed on them which too often throttle usual business practices for selling software. As a result, many makers of popular apps have made the decision pull their software from the Mac App Store (or simply don’t bother submitting them at all) and sell them outside it.
A few of the items in Counsell’s list could apply equally to the iOS App Store as well: getting rid of in-app purchases on free apps, for instance, which makes many free apps feel like “trial” or “lite” versions, something which is expressly prohibited by the rules of both stores.
But the simple fact is that many apps just don’t need the Mac App Store. Developer tools and utilities are more commonly found outside the store, often because of reasonable sandboxing restrictions. Most major game developers have their own “app stores,” whether they release via Steam or EA Origin, for instance, though many do release through the App Store as well. Big names like Microsoft and Adobe have their own distribution mechanisms, so they don’t need the store either.
As far as I can see, the only apps that take well to the Mac App Store — aside from Apple’s apps — are single-purpose lightweight consumer utility apps. For instance, a while ago, I was trying to find an audio A/B testing app. After fruitlessly scouring the web for probably half an hour, I tried the App Store and found a couple of decent contenders.
Take a look at the top 180 paid apps in the Mac App Store. Subtract anything from Apple, and what you’re generally left with are the lightweight utility apps I mentioned above — Weather Live, ForkLift, a Mac WhatsApp client, a period tracking app, and a notepad app — some crappy iOS app ports, Microsoft Office template packs, and a few games. That isn’t very confidence-inspiring, is it?