Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Archive for March, 2017

A Universal Theory of Ride Sharing Startups

I’ve spent a decent chunk of the past couple of months explaining how Uber’s service is very clever, but the company is ethically reprehensible. I’ve written about it again and again and again and again, so I’m sure that many of you have tried to leave Uber behind. Maybe you’ve switched to Lyft, for example, or heard about the new Dryvyng app.

Well, I’m sorry to disappoint you, but they’re not a lot better. Ryan Felton, Gizmodo:

Uber has had a relentless year of scandals, spurring the logical conclusion that its arch-rival Lyft is now in a position to capitalize. John Zimmer, Lyft’s president, spoke at length on Tuesday with Time about how his company’s attempting to do just that — and it’s ridiculous.

[…]

“We’re woke. Our community is woke, and the U.S. population is woke,” Lyft President John Zimmer told Time. “There’s an awakening … Our vote matters, our choice matters, the seat we take matters.”

Except the seat you take in an a Lyft isn’t much different from that of an Uber, even if Zimmer thinks his company is “a better boyfriend.”

Lyft’s sins include partnering with Uber to throw a tantrum about how unfair it is for drivers to have to pass a simple fingerprint-based background check in cities like Austin, and has attempted to suppress employee unionization.

So what about Dryvyng? The service was founded by Craig Brittain, who used to run a revenge porn site. Not a good start. And it gets worse, as chats seen by Melanie Ehrenkranz of Mic show, when he started hurling racist epithets at a prospective investor over Facebook Messenger:

That’s when Brittain flew off the handle. “You need to learn respect and to learn to listen, especially to racially superior people,” he said. “Later, you fucking raghead piece of shit. Hope you leave my country soon. And take your fucking Arab socialist communist friends with you. Fuckin’ towelhead piece-of-shit invader. Fuckin commie.”

What an abhorrent life Brittain has led so far.

And, earlier this month, JetSmarter — a service for sharing time on private jets — tried to extort a Verge journalist into writing a positive review or pay a $2,000 penalty.

I asked earlier today on Twitter why ride sharing startups seem to attract founders who are unrepentant assholes, and Ryan Jones came up with the best response:

@nickheer Can culture be defined by 1 person defining a ruthless market competitive basis?

Maybe it’s as simple as that: Uber, founded by an asshole, has been successful. Therefore — other startup founders in the same market might reason — they must also be assholes in order to be successful in the space. It’s sort of like how every smartphone launch seems to echo the way Steve Jobs unveiled the iPhone, except with hate, harm, and entirely unethical behaviours instead of a cool new product.

That’s my theory: ride sharing startups are run by assholes because the most successful one is run by an asshole, and they’re being rewarded.

Twitter Is Ditching the Default ‘Egg’ Avatar

INT. CONFERENCE ROOM ON MARKET STREET

Mid-level Twitter staffer: We need to do something about harassment from Twitter eggs. They’re posting nothing but sexist, racist, and hateful messages and it’s driving away users.

Twitter executive: Okay, let’s get rid of the eggs.

Mid-level Twitter staffer: Oh great, I’ll let everyone on my team know that we’re cracking down on anonymous abus—

Twitter executive: No, like, we’re getting rid of the eggs. We’re replacing the picture with a gumdrop-shaped silhouette.

Mid-level Twitter staffer: But that doesn’t do anything about abuse.

Twitter executive: Ah, but we won’t have any harassment from Twitter eggs any more, right? Am I right? Huh?

Apple to Eliminate Several Business-Related Retail Positions

Juli Clover, MacRumors:

Apple is planning another shakeup within its retail stores, according to a source who shared the company’s plans with MacRumors. At the end of April, Apple plans to eliminate certain retail positions, including Business Manager, Business Events Lead, Events Coordinator, and Events Lead.

Apple Store Leaders began informing affected employees about the change earlier this week, and many were caught off guard by the sudden sunsetting of specialized positions that have long existed at retail stores.

Our source says that the elimination of the Business Manager position is something of a shock because Business Managers lead the Business Team and are responsible for bringing in up to 20 percent of overall store sales.

This news comes just a few weeks after an overwhelmingly positive report on Apple’s success in the enterprise, making it all the more surprising. IT managers said that they loved the purchasing and support experience, but can that be maintained after many of the business-centric roles in retail stores are eliminated? Given my own recent tech support experiences, I’m not so sure.

This Is Almost Certainly James Comey’s Twitter Account

Like many others, after FBI Director James Comey revealed yesterday that he has a secret Twitter account, I spent a few minutes trying to find it. I didn’t have any luck, but Ashley Feinberg of Gizmodo seems to have dug it up. I’m not saying that you should go follow Comey’s personal Twitter account, but I think Feinberg’s detective work here is pretty terrific.

Update: Zeynep Tufekci on Facebook:

Let’s break this down because there is more to this — and it is significant. A less understood issue with algorithms and privacy is how computation can suss out things you did not disclose. Feinberg found Comey’s “secret” accounts simply because.. Instagram’s algorithm helpfully suggested that she follow (undisclosed) member’s of Comey’s family once she put in a request to follow his son — who had otherwise locked down his account.

Comey in a 2014 speech at the Brookings Institution:

Some argue that we will still have access to metadata, which includes telephone records and location information from telecommunications carriers. That is true. But metadata doesn’t provide the content of any communication. It’s incomplete information, and even this is difficult to access when time is of the essence. I wish we had time in our work, especially when lives are on the line. We usually don’t.

More from Comey, earlier this month:

Comey said metadata — the who, where, and when of communications but not their content — isn’t very useful to law enforcement.

“This is what I don’t think people realize. Metadata is limited especially in criminal cases and proving beyond reasonable doubt with pedophiles and terrorists,” Comey said, adding metadata isn’t enough because “metadata doesn’t say much.”

The suggestions offered by Instagram are metadata themselves, and are based on metadata. As a direct result of those suggestions, Comey’s private Twitter and Instagram accounts were found.

Debunking the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Joint Resolution

Look, nothing about the vote to eliminate privacy rules for ISPs is good. All it means is that 265 Republicans in Congress — and, likely, another one who lives in the White House — decided to side with their donors instead of voters.1

Unfortunately, some of the reactions to this decision have been particularly poor — unsurprising, given the marriage of a technical topic and a somewhat esoteric policy. Joy Reid, for instance, recommended that people start deleting their browser history — something which will have no effect on the ability for an ISP to sell ads against subscriber traffic.

Even worse, though, are two campaigns ostensibly crowdfunding for money to buy Congress’ internet traffic history. With over $100,000 in the pot between them, there’s a lot of money going to something that is an effective impossibility.

Nicole Kobie, the Outline:

Even if ISPs could narrow down a specific person’s data, there’s no good reason why they would — if you were Verizon or Comcast, would you hand over data on half of Congress to a crowdfunding campaign? “In addition… an ISP would have to agree to work with someone to sell them data (just like any other business agreement),” noted Brett Woollum, CEO and founder of another smaller ISP, Tekify. “Just because someone wants the data doesn’t mean they have a right to buy it from an ISP. Therefore, I would speculate that the campaign… and others similar to this, wouldn’t likely be very successful.”

Given enough information in advance, there are certainly ways to target advertising in ways both hilarious and creepy. Brian Swichkow targeted Facebook ads at just his roommate, while Andy Baio experimented with hyper-targeting promotional tweets for fun:

But the fun comes with their Keyword Recommendations Tool, which taps the zeitgeist of the Twitter community to recommend “additional keywords we believe could be relevant to your audience.”

These matches can be, oh, a bit quirky. For example, on Twitter, if you enter in “idiot,” it recommends “asshole” and “deals.”

“Losers” suggests “Twilight.”

But there’s no way to get the data that informs these recommendations — in Twitter’s case, a users’ search history, site usage, and what their follower/following network looks like.

One day soon, American ISPs will probably have their own advertising tools, and it will likely be possible to target users with frightening accuracy. But it’s extremely unlikely that an ISP — for all of their faults — will release the raw browsing history for a particular subscriber, or even a group of subscribers, without some kind of pseudonymization or a subpoena.


  1. You have fifteen minutes to stand on a crowded city street and find one person who would like to have advertising sold against their browsing history. Go for it. I’ll wait. ↩︎

The Deck Ad Network Is Shutting Down

Take a look at the list of by-invitation-only members on the righthand side of the Deck’s website. I see so many of my favourite websites in that list: ffffound, Kottke.org, Subtraction, YayHooray, and — naturally — Daring Fireball. Having a Deck ad on a site was a subtle indicator that it was trustworthy and that it had a good reputation. That’s something that almost nothing else — let alone an advertising network — has yet been able to achieve to the same degree.

I’m impressed that the Deck lasted so long. Now, I’m curious about how member sites will replace it. How many will take the Overcast route of selling their own ad inventory? How many will switch to Carbon? Who will try a paid membership like Jason Kottke is doing?

iWork Updates for MacOS, iOS, and the Web

Michael E. Cohen, TidBits:

As with previous iWork updates, all the apps received some nearly identical new capabilities, while simultaneously acquiring individual refinements. Also, like the previous updates, the Mac apps gained the fullest set of new features, the iOS apps got a generous subset of those, and the iCloud apps were limited to a handful while still retaining compatibility with their more sophisticated siblings.

[…]

For example, though you can’t add or even view bookmarks in Pages for iCloud, any bookmarks you have added on, say, the Mac, are not harmed by editing the document in your browser (unless, of course, you delete the text that was bookmarked). Similarly, you can see existing leader lines for pie charts in the browser apps, even though you can’t create or edit them there.

All the browser apps have had a user-interface facelift, and their toolbars are now color-coded to match the iOS color palettes for the iOS apps: orange for Pages, green for Numbers, and blue for Keynote. More interestingly, the toolbar of each browser app now has a button that you can click to open the current document in its native app on the Mac. This feature, however, is only half-implemented, because doing so does not close the document in the browser, which means you’ll see conflict warnings if you make changes with the Mac app without manually closing the document in the browser app first.

I’m impressed that Apple continues to deliver simultaneous updates across three apps on three very different platforms, but I worry that each is not as good as it could be because of it. The second and third paragraphs in the quote I selected are indicative of ways in which the browser version isn’t fully baked.

Meanwhile, the Mac version of Pages still lacks features that were present in “old” Pages. It may have gained LaTeX support, but it’s still missing some contextual menu options that are available in other Mac apps, and I find basic text editing bugs every time I use it. I’m not sure how much of this, if any, is tied to components shared between the three platforms each app is available on, but I didn’t notice the same kinds of bugs when the Mac and iOS versions were more-or-less discrete apps.

Joint Resolution to Eliminate ISP Privacy Rules Passes in Congress

Jon Brodkin, Ars Technica:

The US House of Representatives voted Tuesday to eliminate ISP privacy rules, following the Senate vote to take the same action last week. The legislation to kill the rules now heads to President Donald Trump for his signature or veto.

The White House issued a statement today supporting the House’s action, and saying that Trump’s advisors will recommend that he sign the legislation. That would make the death of the Federal Communications Commission’s privacy rules official.

Though this joint resolution does not create nor eliminate any rules already in place, Please see update below. its approval gives a green light for ISPs to track customers’ browsing activity and sell advertising against it without their explicit consent.

The vote was virtually along party lines, with just fifteen Republicans joining the Democrats in voting against the bill. Six Republicans and three Democrats abstained. Because this was passed under the Congressional Review Act, once signed, the FCC will never again be able to create similar rules.

Emmett O’Keefe of the Data and Marketing Association, a lobbying group for advertising companies, reacted to the vote:

If these rules were to be enacted, they would disrupt the framework that has allowed the marketing ecosystem to responsibly use data to develop vital services that consumers now rely upon while also injecting dynamic innovation and growth into the U.S. economy. This framework is backed up by strong industry self-regulation, enforced by DMA and other partners, and continues to protect consumer privacy. Today’s vote keeps that system – and the responsible use of data – in place, and is a signal that the current self-regulatory system works.

What a load of crap. When Verizon and AT&T quietly began tracking mobile users with a non-deletable identifier in 2014, privacy advocates reacted with appropriate outrage. Even after opting out, Verizon continued to track their customers — they simply did not sell ads against users’ history.

After the press began reporting on the use of these “super” cookies, AT&T stopped using them, but Verizon kept going until the FCC fined them $1.35 million.

Julia Angwin, ProPublica:

However, the settlement does not apply to Verizon’s tracking of its customers who visit the 40 percent of websites that use AOL’s ad network. That is because Verizon owns AOL, and therefore it is not considered a third party that requires opt-in.

That means that unless Verizon users opt out, they can still be identified when they use their smartphone or tablet to browse Web pages containing AOL’s tracking code.

The advertising industry cannot self-regulate; it is positively addicted to data collection. They dream of nothing more than creating vast profiles for each of us and targeting them with new advertising products. By visiting practically any website or using any service, we’re assumed to have opted into whatever data collection policy they have in place, and it is becoming increasingly difficult to opt out — even using a VPN is no longer sufficient.

American legislators had the opportunity to restrict that disturbing trend, if only by a little bit. They could have began enforcing the FCC rules drafted last year. Instead, the Republican party elected to put the creepy desires of ISPs over the privacy of their customers.

I wonder if legislators in the porn watching capital of America are aware that their favourite websites probably aren’t secure and, thus, will be part of their advertising profile.

Update: Contrary to what I wrote earlier, the privacy rules were implemented in October though these rules were not considered final. I apologize for my confusion on this. I’ve updated the headline for accuracy.

The Facebook Model of Innovation

The speedy proliferation of Snapchat Story clones across Facebook’s apps is, I think, one of the most fascinating recent case studies of a feature going from invention to ubiquity. Facebook has four of the most popular apps on any ecosystem — as of writing, Instagram, Messenger, and the Facebook app are all in the top ten most popular free apps in the iOS App Store, with Whatsapp just missing the list at number eleven. And, as of today, all four of those apps have a variation of the Snapchat “Stories” feature shoehorned onto their main screens.

It’s news to nobody that Facebook is unapologetically cloning Snapchat. What is noteworthy is how Facebook has updated Microsoft’s infamous “embrace, extend, and extinguish” strategy for the speed at which Silicon Valley now operates.

Consider this: what top-billing user-facing features has Facebook added so far this year to the four aforementioned apps? Aside from Stories, I can think of three: live location sharing and reactions in Messenger, and live broadcasting in Instagram. The Messenger features are lifted directly from iMessage, Slack, and a handful of other messaging apps, while live video in Instagram is pretty much a rebadged version of Facebook Live — itself largely a copy of Periscope, Meerkat, and Ustream.

Facebook’s copying is unsurprising, just as the prior art they’re using as a reference is unsurprising — the most distinctive features in the copied apps are arguably natural extensions of each app’s environment. But, with one-sixth of the world’s population using their services and their complete platform independence, Facebook’s ability to annihilate anything they deem competitive is unprecedented in its scope.

This power has provided Facebook with the luxury of allowing other companies to take the risk of trying new things, and then either embracing the company via an acquisition, or extinguishing them by duplicating their most unique component. It isn’t so much that Facebook can’t come up with these features on their own, but rather that they’ve elected to let other companies build entire business models around singular features that can be duplicated in Facebook’s far more established ecosystems.

That strategy allows Facebook to experiment with greater extensions to their business model: new advertising and tracking methods, drones that provide internet access to developing nations, and the like. Adding users and presence around the world allows the strategy to dig in even deeper, feeding itself.

As Facebook’s strategy becomes even more pervasive, I wonder what kinds of tech companies are safe. My gut sense is that, over time, Facebook’s strategy allows them to build a diversified portfolio of companies, should they choose to do so, with monopolizing power over internet services. But that only works for Facebook so long as users also dig themselves deeper into their ecosystems. The failure of their email and phone efforts indicates to me that users aren’t ready to dig deeper without a meaningful extension of the existing products that Facebook intended to replace with each. My hope is that users continue to limit Facebook’s reach, and not the other way around.

U.S. House of Representatives Set to Vote on Privacy-Killing Resolution Tomorrow

Kate Tummarello of the EFF:

The Senate voted last week 50-48 on a Congressional Review Act (CRA) resolution to repeal the FCC’s privacy rules. Now the resolution heads over the House, where it’s scheduled to get a vote on Tuesday.

If the House passes it, you’ll be even more at the mercy of your ISP. Because Congress is using a CRA resolution, the FCC will be prohibited from writing similar rules in the future. And thanks to the current legal landscape, no other federal agency has the authority to protect you against privacy invasions by your ISP.

The argument by the current FCC administration is that these rules create an unfair playing field because companies like Google can track your browsing history to sell ads against it without your explicit permission, but your ISP cannot. And I agree — that is unfair. Online advertisers should also be subject to opt-in regulations.

American readers: please call your representative to tell them why voting against the FCC’s regulations is a terrible idea.

Apple’s 2017 Supplier Responsibility Report

The 2017 edition of this report (PDF) shows progress in a number of critical areas, with big leaps in compliance shown across a total of 705 audits, over a hundred more than Apple did for their 2016 report.

There’s also a big update on an issue I highlighted last year on the supply of cobalt for many electronic products. Caroline O’Donovan, Buzzfeed:

Apple’s 2017 Supplier Responsibility Progress Report includes another milestone: For the first time, the company has published a complete list of its cobalt smelters. It says all of them are participating in third-party audits.

Apple is effectively treating cobalt like they do the four other conflict minerals specified in Dodd-Frank. Of note, the current U.S. administration is reportedly considering suspending rules requiring companies to disclose conflict minerals — a move which would likely be disastrous for those in the DRC.

Apple Releases iOS 10.3

Ryan Christoffel of MacStories on some of the highlights of this release:

If you own AirPods, there’s nothing you need to do to activate Find My AirPods. Simply visit the Find My iPhone app and you’ll see that AirPods are now listed among your other devices.

[…]

At the top of the Settings app in iOS 10.3 there is a new Apple ID profile menu. This new screen centralizes many important details about your Apple ID, including basic personal information and a listing of devices associated with your account. Another improvement in Settings is that iCloud storage is now visualized with a graph that shows how much data you’ve used, and what categories that data is divided into.

The biggest change in 10.3 is something you won’t even see: the update does an in-place file system switch to Apple’s custom APFS format. Ars Technica has previously covered the documented benefits of APFS, and it sounds like a more-than-robust replacement for HFS+ to help take Apple’s products into a cloud-based and encrypted future.

What’s most impressive is that this conversion is done in-place for what is, by far, Apple’s biggest device ecosystem. Over the next month, the number of devices running APFS will go from a relative handful earlier today to hundreds of millions.1

I noticed a couple of other improvements while running the 10.3 betas:

  • You can now love or dislike a topic in News by tapping the buttons to the right of the topic title.

  • At long last, there’s now a Live Photos album in Photos. Live Photos still aren’t identified in the thumbnail view, though, nor can you search for photos by type — Live Photo, Panorama, and so on. This seems like an arbitrary limitation; surely, the search engine in Photos should index photo types, camera models, and other metadata that gets created with every file.

  • You know how if you’re on a home screen that isn’t your first, and you press the home button, it will jump to the first home screen with an animation of all of your icons whizzing past? For as long as I can remember, that animation has always been super janky with a weird frame dropping hiccup in the middle of it. Every device I’ve had running every version of iOS since iPhone OS 1.1 has exhibited this bug.

    In 10.3, that animation is — wait for it — finally far smoother. It’s still not perfect — jumping from my fourth home screen to the first has some noticeable lag — but it is way nicer on both my iPhone 6S and second-generation iPad Mini.

Let me know if you find anything else of interest in 10.3 that I, or others, may have missed. It seems like a pretty big release, especially for a “point” update.

Update: Steve Troughton-Smith:

TIL 32-bit iOS devices don’t get APFS. The 64-bit train’s pulling away from the station…

I don’t anticipate any 32-bit device will support iOS 11.

Update: One more benefit to this update is that plenty of Twitter users are reporting a jump in available storage space after installing 10.3, with some reporting several gigabytes of additional space. It isn’t clear how much of this space is regained thanks to APFS — compared to, say, other improvements and optimizations — but it’s a welcome enhancement.


  1. Apple also released MacOS 10.12.4 and WatchOS 3.2 today. I’m not sure about the latter, but the former is not transitioning to APFS with today’s update. ↩︎

The FCC Doesn’t Consider Cybersecurity or Privacy Their Problem

Violet Blue, in an op-ed for Engadget:

In addition to freezing the privacy protections, Pai gutted its provisions to make ISP’s notify consumers when there’s a breach. That would’ve been nice considering Comcast’s track record. But, unfortunately for us, making breach notifications mandatory would be very expensive for companies whose priorities are their advertisers and not their customers.

[…]

Cybersecurity in communications is not the FCC’s area, Pai and O’Rielly maintain when questioned, much to the delight of broadband and telecom providers, we’re sure. In fact, O’Rielly stated that it’s not really in any rules anywhere that the FCC should be doing anything about cybersecurity, so, like, they won’t be. Pai and O’Rielly didn’t high-five after he said that. But from the way their faces twitched to smiles, like when someone tells adults that safety in their frat house isn’t technically their responsibility, they didn’t need to.

The thinking by Pai and his cohorts seems to be that the Department of Homeland Security should be responsible for cybersecurity risk oversight in the communications sector. Yes, the DHS: an organization with no regulatory authority over the commercial communications sector. Which is, you know, exactly what the FCC was created for.

The degree to which this FCC administration and Congress are prepared to go to capitulate to the demands of ISPs at the clear expense of every American is astonishing. These decisions will have long-lasting detrimental effects on Americans’ privacy and security.

Google to Discontinue Gchat, Replace With Hangouts

Madison Malone Kircher, New York magazine:

Starting in June, Google is saying good-bye to one of its most beloved products, Gchat. Officially, the chat app’s name was Google Talk; Gchat was just what hip, personal-computer owners started calling it back in the day, but the name has persisted. While the functionality of Gchat isn’t really going away — users will be rolled over to Hangouts, a Google chat platform that has been up and running for four years at this point and does effectively the same thing — the name and user interface will be no more.

However will users cope with only the choice of using Allo, Duo, Android Messages, Hangouts, and Google Voice for their messaging and communication needs?

Update: Updated to correct the naming of Android Messages, which I had previously called “Google Messenger”, which is Gchat, which is what is being discontinued. In my defence, it’s really hard keeping track of all of these apps.

Apple Says Exploits Described in Latest WikiLeaks Dump Are All Old

Part of Apple’s statement, as received by Ina Fried at Axios:

Based on our initial analysis, the alleged iPhone vulnerability affected iPhone 3G only and was fixed in 2009 when iPhone 3GS was released. Additionally, our preliminary assessment shows the alleged Mac vulnerabilities were previously fixed in all Macs launched after 2013.

Nothing shocking here. The Thunderbolt vulnerability described breathlessly by WikiLeaks is that “Thunderstrike” bug that was patched over two years ago for 2013 and newer Macs. Not surprisingly, keeping your system up to date continues to be the best defence against everyone from script kiddies to intelligence agencies.

The Gig Economy Celebrates Working Yourself to Death

Jia Tolentino, writing in the New Yorker:

Last September, a very twenty-first-century type of story appeared on the company blog of the ride-sharing app Lyft. “Long-time Lyft driver and mentor, Mary, was nine months pregnant when she picked up a passenger the night of July 21st,” the post began. “About a week away from her due date, Mary decided to drive for a few hours after a day of mentoring.” You can guess what happened next.

[…]

Mary’s story looks different to different people. Within the ghoulishly cheerful Lyft public-relations machinery, Mary is an exemplar of hard work and dedication — the latter being, perhaps, hard to come by in a company that refuses to classify its drivers as employees. Mary’s entrepreneurial spirit — taking ride requests while she was in labor! — is an “exciting” example of how seamless and flexible app-based employment can be. Look at that hustle! You can make a quick buck with Lyft anytime, even when your cervix is dilating.

There is a very real and largely-unaddressed human cost behind the convenience offered by startups like Lyft, Uber, and Fiverr. “Gig economy” jobs are a uniquely new way of blending the anxiety of freelance work with the pay of a minimum-wage job — and sometimes, well below that. This is not fair to those participating in these jobs today, nor is it an effective long-term economic backbone.

Drawing Connections Between Apple’s Acquisitions of Workflow and Siri

A couple of interesting connections have emerged between Apple’s acquisitions of Siri and Workflow — in 2010 and yesterday, respectively — and I thought they were worth noting.

First is the note that Workflow is remaining in the App Store post-acquisition. This parallels the way Apple handled the standalone Siri app after they bought it in April 2010. Greg Kumparak, in an October 2011 report for TechCrunch:

Long before today’s announcement that the Siri Voice Assistant would be an integral part of iOS, Siri was a third-party app. It wasn’t as pretty, and not nearly as well integrated, but it had one big advantage: it ran on just about any iOS device.

Then Apple bought Siri. It immediately became clear that Apple was making a push into voice — and yet, the app stayed on the store. It lived on un-updated, but it lived on nevertheless. Then Apple introduced Siri… exclusively for the iPhone 4S.

And with that, the life of Siri (the application) came to an end, making way for Siri (the feature).

It’s terrific that Workflow is remaining in the App Store — even better, it’s now free — but it’s also a reminder that it will, one day, vanish into the ether as a standalone app.

That brings me to an excellent article from Khoi Vinh speculating on the future of Workflow and one potential reason for Apple’s purchase:

But this move also hints at what the future of Apple’s strategy for Siri, smart assistants and home automation might be. It wouldn’t be unreasonable to guess that Workflow could play a key role as an elegant, easy-to-learn scripting environment for many if not all of Apple’s future endeavors in cloud-connected, AI-powered, voice-enabled platforms. When you look at competitors like Amazon’s Alexa platform, Google Assistant, Cortana, etc., they all lack a truly elegant, easy-to-master entryway for casual users who want to customize their experiences—and that’s exactly what Workflow gives Apple. (Though don’t be surprised if these other players acquire Zapier or IFTTT soon as well.)

I know this is all speculative, but I’d love a way to build custom workflows for Siri. It could be like HomeKit’s scenes feature, but for my entire phone — and, ideally, all of my Apple devices. There’s tremendous potential there, especially with the effortless UI that the Workflow team conjured up and the increasingly seamless way iCloud-connected devices are communicating with each other.

U.S. Senate Republicans Vote to Lift Key Internet Privacy Protections

Hamza Shaban, Buzzfeed:

The Senate voted Thursday to make it easier for internet service providers to share sensitive information about their customers, a first step in overturning landmark privacy rules that consumer advocates and Democratic lawmakers view as crucial protections in the digital age. The vote was passed along party lines, 50-48, with all but two Republicans voting in favor of the repeal and every Democrat voting against it. Two Republican Senators did not vote.

Passed by the Federal Communications Commission in the final months of the Obama presidency, the privacy rules prohibited internet providers like Comcast and Verizon from selling customer information, including browsing history and location data, without first getting consent. The rules also compelled providers to tell customers about the data they collect, the purpose of that data collection, and to identify the types of third party companies that might be given access to that information.

House Republicans are also expected to vote to lift these privacy protections, so this is just a hop, skip, and a jump away from being signed by the President. Once it does, it will severely hamper the FCC’s ability to pass similar rules in the future, when the commission is not run by someone who is determined to sign away the future of the web because of a personal dogma.

Apple Acquires Workflow

Well, here’s a weird piece of news. Matthew Panzarino, TechCrunch:

Apple has finalized a deal to acquire Workflow today — a tool that lets you hook together apps and functions within apps in strings of commands to automate tasks. We’ve been tracking this one for a while but were able to confirm just now that the ink on the deal is drying as we speak.

[…]

Workflow the app is being acquired, along with the team of Weinstein, Conrad Kramer and Nick Frey. In a somewhat uncommon move for Apple, the app will continue to be made available on the App Store and will be made free later today.

Back in November, Apple eliminated Sal Soghoian’s position as Product Manager of Automation Technologies — he now works for the Omni Group on automation. At the time, Craig Federighi promised in an email that they have “every intention to continue [their] support for the great automation technologies in MacOS”. This acquisition makes me think that they’d like to extend automation support to iOS in a more comprehensive way, too, and is the first indication I’ve seen that Apple is continuing to take automation seriously after such a worrying November. What shape that will take, I have no idea.

Pixure and PanelKit

Federico Viticci, MacStories:

Pixure is Louis D’hauwe’s excellent pixel art studio app for iOS that lets you create retro-styled illustrations. Pixure was already best suited for the iPad’s bigger display, but the latest version 2.2 adds PanelKit – a UI framework created by D’hauwe himself to turn traditional iPad popovers into floating panels.

I am genuinely surprised that Apple approved this, given the troubles Steven Troughton-Smith and Cabel Sasser had with getting clearance for conceptually multi-windowed app environments on the iPad. I hope that progress keeps being made in this direction. While something as sophisticated as the MacOS UI would likely translate poorly to the iPad, basic multi-window functionality combined with reduced modality would make the system leaps-and-bounds better for multitasking. Even something as simple as dragging and dropping between apps in Split View seems like a basic yet vital enhancement.