Written by Nick Heer.

Archive for May, 2017

Twitter Increases Ad Tracking, Now Ignores Do Not Track

Twitter:

As we work to make our content more relevant to people on Twitter, we also want to offer the best and most transparent privacy and data controls.

Today, we’re announcing a suite of industry-leading tools to give you more access to your information and greater, more granular control over how it’s used. We’ve also updated our Privacy Policy to reflect the improvements that we’ve made to Twitter.

With such strenuous emphasis on the ways in which this update “increases transparency” and gives users more control, it’s no surprise that the meat of this post is near the bottom: Twitter will, like Facebook, be using data gathered across the web from embedded posts and sharing buttons to increase targeting options for advertisers.

Tim Peterson, Marketing Land:

At the same time as Twitter is giving people more control over how they are targeted, it is removing support for Do Not Track, which people can use to ask every website they visit not to track their behavior in order to target them with ads. Twitter made a big deal about supporting Do Not Track in May 2012, so its reversal is a surprise — unless you’ve been following the wave of major ad-supported digital platforms opting to ignore Do Not Track requests. When Hulu announced last July that it would no longer support Do Not Track, it joined nine other major digital platforms that do not respond to these opt-out requests. Now Twitter has joined that list.

As Twitter was one of very few major websites that actually honoured browser-based Do Not Track requests, this is more of a conceptual setback. Still, I liked that Twitter did bother to ask users whether they were okay with being tracked; now, they’re just burying that confirmation in the privacy policy that nobody reads.

Like Google and Facebook, Twitter is now displaying the topics it thinks you’re interested in, how old it thinks you are, and what languages it thinks you speak — apparently, I speak Estonian and Portuguese. Twitter goes one step further and allows you to request a list of which advertisers are currently targeting your profile. As of writing, 874 advertisers have included my personal account in over two thousand of their audience lists, while 102 have for the Pixel Envy auto-posting account. I’m not sure how much can really be inferred from this information, but at least I now know that 102 advertisers — including KFC and Uber — are targeting my unmonitored robot-posting account.

JSON Feed

Brent Simmons and Manton Reece:

The JSON Feed format is a pragmatic syndication format, like RSS and Atom, but with one big difference: it’s JSON instead of XML.

For most developers, JSON is far easier to read and write than XML. Developers may groan at picking up an XML parser, but decoding JSON is often just a single line of code.

Beyond developer advantages, one of the really nice things about JSON is that it’s very nearly human-readable, even in code form. Take a look at my JSON feed — the most unreadable parts of it are the raw HTML blocks; everything else is pretty self-explanatory.

WordPress support is handled by an elegant plugin, via Michael Tsai.

Panic

Panic’s Steven Frank shares some arresting news:

Last week, for about three days, the macOS video transcoding app HandBrake was compromised. One of the two download servers for HandBrake was serving up a special malware-infested version of the app, that, when launched, would essentially give hackers remote control of your computer.

In a case of extraordinarily bad luck, even for a guy that has a lot of bad computer luck, I happened to download HandBrake in that three day window, and my work Mac got pwned.

Long story short, somebody, somewhere, now has quite a bit of source code to several of our apps.

That’s the bad news; the good news is that Panic have taken extraordinary steps — steps that even they admit are probably overkill — to help ensure that no harm will befall their customers.

Beyond the situation at hand, this announcement’s honesty and transparency is admirable. They’ve created some truly innovative stuff that would likely be considered proprietary knowledge, like a wicked fast FTP engine and a ridiculous toolbar. But the Panic people are good people, and their handling of this is a model for other companies to follow should they be faced with a similar situation.

Update: I’ve been thinking about this story all day. I wanted to underscore that Panic was able to receive such an understanding and sympathetic reception to this news because they do things right pretty much all the time. They’re good people making good software. I wrote above that this is a model response for other companies, but I’m not sure many others could announce similar news in this fashion: most other companies have too much baggage and aren’t as trusted as Panic. It’s not so much that this response is what other companies should copy; it’s Panic’s entire approach.

BGR: Apple to Discontinue iPad Mini

I never link to BGR, but Jonathan Geller heard an intriguing rumour that I think such a link is worth your time and attention:

First introduced in 2012, Apple’s iPad mini was a welcome alternative to the much larger, thicker, and heavier 9.7-inch iPad. There was no 5.5-inch iPhone Plus, so the iPad mini made a great choice for light reading and effortless web browsing, email, and gaming. The market doesn’t stand still, however, and we’re now looking at a redesigned iPad Pro to be launched this summer that should offer everything the current 9.7-inch iPad features, but in a smaller footprint with a larger 10.5-inch display.

On the other side, there’s the 5.5-inch iPhone 7 Plus, which is large enough to negate the need for a tablet for many users. The device you take everywhere, that’s always with you, that has the best camera, and that has everything else you need. The device that you already own. Therein lies the problem, and that’s why we have heard from a source close to Apple that the iPad mini is being phased out.

There’s a fair amount of news to unpack here, so let’s start with the headlining item, which isn’t really a surprise when you think about it: the new 9.7-inch iPad has a starting price $100 less than the Mini, and the Mini is only available in a 128 GB configuration that’s priced identically to the 128 GB iPad. If Apple wanted to keep the Mini around, they would likely also retain its differentiated price, or at least keep the 32 GB model in the lineup.

I’ll miss the Mini, though. Quite apart from size, the weight difference between the Mini and the 9.7-inch iPad makes the smaller model so much nicer to hold with one hand. The Mini also has the highest-density display that ships in any iPad which, combined with the weight and size, makes it perfect for reading.

Geller also mentions that the 9.7-inch iPad Pro is being replaced this summer with a 10.5-inch model, a rumour which has been corroborated by multiple websites. However, no report I’ve seen yet mentions the 12.9-inch Pro, and that doesn’t make any sense to me: the 9.7-inch Pro was introduced more recently than its larger sibling and has features that the bigger model still doesn’t, like a True Tone display and higher-quality cameras. It would surprise me if Apple updated the 9.7-inch Pro first, or didn’t make a meaningful upgrade to the 12.9-inch model at the same time — yet, I haven’t seen a single rumour about the big iPad Pro. Very peculiar.

See Also: Neil Cybart’s analysis of iPad Mini sales relative to the rest of the iPad line.

Inside Apple Park

Apple is clearly excited about Apple Park; they’ve been showing it off to journalists at a regular clip. In March, they gave Steven Levy a tour, and he published his account of it today in Wired:

Of course I’ve seen images of it, architectural equivalents of movie trailers for a much-awaited blockbuster. From the day Jobs presented to the Cupertino City Council, digital renderings of the Ring, as Apple calls the main building, have circulated widely. As construction progressed, enterprising drone pilots began flying their aircraft overhead, capturing aerial views in slickly edited YouTube videos accompanied by New Agey soundtracks. Amid all the fanboy anticipation, though, Apple has also taken some knocks for the scale and scope of the thing. Investors urging Apple to kick back more of its bounty to shareholders have questioned whether the reported $5 billion in construction costs should have gone into their own pockets instead of a workplace striving for history. And the campus’s opening comes at a point when, despite stellar earnings results, Apple has not launched a breakout product since Jobs’ death. Apple executives want us to know how cool its new campus is — that’s why they invited me. But this has also led some people to sniff that too much of its mojo has been devoted to giant glass panels, custom-built door handles, and a 100,000-square-foot fitness and wellness center complete with a two-story yoga room covered in stone, from just the right quarry in Kansas, that’s been carefully distressed, like a pair of jeans, to make it look like the stone at Jobs’ favorite hotel in Yosemite.

Investors who prioritize lining their own pockets over improvements for employees are gigantic assholes, but this is a pretty indulgent project, even by Silicon Valley standards. That’s not necessarily a bad thing — as I’ve written before, it’s as much an Apple product as the stuff that you can find in a retail store, just on a vastly larger scale. It wouldn’t be very Apple-y to build their new office without considering every way of making it more elegant.

There’s an anecdote Levy shares midway through the article where he and Jony Ive are looking at the concrete structure of some of the parking garages. Ive points out that many of the utility needs — plumbing, wiring, and so on — were incorporated into the beams instead of being left exposed, as is typical. It’s the kind of detail that, when repeated across all of the buildings at Apple Park, probably increased construction costs considerably. As a result, most companies would have probably nixed it early on. But Apple’s treatment is far more considered and resolved.

I was intrigued by some of the criticisms of the building that Levy chose to include in his article:

As Apple Park inches toward completion, its critics are getting louder, and what began with aesthetic judgments of the digital renderings — the Los Angeles Times’ architecture critic called the Ring a “retrograde cocoon” — has lately turned to social and cultural critiques. That the campus is a snobby isolated preserve, at odds with the trendy urbanist school of corporate headquarters. (Amazon, Twitter, and Airbnb are all part of a movement that hopes to integrate tech employees into cities as opposed to having them commute via fuel-gobbling cars or numbing Wi-Fi-equipped buses.)

I don’t necessarily object to these criticisms, but I have three observations:

  1. The rise of employees working from home or in remote locations means that the physical location of any corporate headquarters isn’t necessarily as impactful as it once was.

  2. I live in a city with a well-defined downtown core full of office towers, surrounded by largely-residential neighbourhoods. At night and on the weekend, the downtown core can feel apocalyptic.1 Corporate campuses outside of a city centre are kind of like an inverted version of that: their employees return to the city centre on weeknights and weekends, rather than leaving it.

  3. Apple Park really isn’t that far away from major commercial strips in Cupertino and San Jose, and it’s surrounded by residential neighbourhoods. If employees wish, they can live within walking or cycling distance of Apple Park.

Levy also notes that Apple Park lacks childcare facilities. In a 2014 Fortune story, Apple explained that their paternity leave policies extend to a total of eighteen weeks for expectant mothers, and up to six weeks for other expectant parents. Is that really enough support for new parents?


  1. This is changing. I’ve lived in the downtown core for about three years and I’ve noticed loads more people lately spending their evenings and weekends in the commercial core than I used to see. ↩︎

Apple’s New Retail Store at Piazza Liberty

How fitting is it that sixteen years after Steve Jobs showed the world the original format of the Apple Store comes what is likely their most ambitious location yet?

Piazza Liberty will be much like their Fifth Avenue and Pudong store locations, with the actual store located underground. But instead of a giant glass-encased Apple logo sitting above the entrance, they’re envisioning a massive renovation to the square, and placing the entrance behind a water feature.

I’ve been a little skeptical of Angela Ahrendts’ proposal to overhaul the stores to become the “third place” for groups of teenagers and young adults. It seems a little strange to go hang out at a computer shop. But the Piazza Liberty location looks like it could be a completely different kind of concept, because it really uses the historical space to give a true common area that just happens to be near an Apple Store.

Sending iTunes to a Farm Upstate Somewhere

MG Siegler comments on Microsoft’s announcement that iTunes would be coming to the Windows Store:

Anyway, the jokes came fast and furious on Twitter after the news was announced. But what’s actually funny here is that the jokes are basically the exact opposite of the one Steve Jobs made. Whereas Jobs noted that many Windows users would write to Apple to tell them that their favorite software on Microsoft’s OS was iTunes, no one says that anymore. In fact, no sane macOS user, myself included, would dare say such a thing about iTunes. Because it has been awful for the better part of this past decade now.

In fact, at this point, it’s old hat to rag on iTunes. It has been so bad, for so long, that the joke is stale. And yet, somehow Apple doesn’t seem to be in on the joke. Because if they were, surely iTunes would no longer exist.

I’ve long argued against the idea of splitting up iTunes into its myriad functions. I see the value in it — iTunes has almost become its own self-contained operating system — but I’ve long felt like it could be more complicated. To buy an album, put a few tracks in a playlist, and then sync it to your iPhone, you’d have to open the iTunes Store, purchase the record, then open the Music app to add the songs to a playlist, then open the Sync app — or whatever — to pop it onto your iPhone.

Except, that’s not right any more, at least not for many customers. To add a few songs from an album to a playlist on their Mac and then sync the playlist to their iPhone, they just have to add the songs in the Apple Music view of iTunes to the playlist of choice, and then iCloud should handle the rest.

The other piece of evidence that I had for why Apple would be reluctant to split iTunes into several core apps is that it would likely mean doing the same for Windows. But that investment would be far easier to stomach if they were required to make major changes in order to release iTunes on the Windows Store.1

I can’t think of many new features I’m aching for in the next major version of MacOS. One item that has persisted on my wish list for about ten years is a totally overhauled iTunes. Maybe that’s not what’s needed; it’s time to kill it and replace it entirely.


  1. Will Apple really be paying Microsoft’s 30% Windows Store fee for songs purchased in iTunes? ↩︎

Reports of the MP3’s Death Have Been Greatly Exaggerated

You may have heard that the company that invented the MP3 codec just recently killed it off, but you have heard wrong. If anything, it’s almost the opposite: the MP3 format has been set free.

Jason Koelber, Vice:

Fraunhofer’s announcement notes that the company is “terminating” the “licensing program” for the MP3, opening the door for royalty- and licensing-free use of the format. While it’s true that there are more efficient and higher quality methods of encoding audio these days (Spotify, iTunes, and other streaming services use OGG or AAC), this means that it’s now easier to make MP3s than it has ever been.

“If you look carefully, they weren’t announcing the death of the mp3, they’re announcing the end of their licensing program,” Witt told me. “That program has been in decline for years because of streaming, but now you no longer have to go to Fraunhofer to get their permission to use it. Fraunhofer made many billions of dollars of this thing, but as a profit source for them, it’s over. Now it’s kind of free technology and free use.”

The MP3 spec represents an antiquated way of compressing audio — compared to today’s formats, it requires a higher bitrate to achieve quality comparable to an AAC file, and isn’t nearly as good at preserving anything in the extremes of the audible spectrum. But it’s not dead and, unlike AAC, a license is no longer required to encode or decode an MP3 file.

How to Accidentally Stop a Global Ransomware Attack

“MalwareTech”:

I woke up at around 10 AM and checked onto the UK cyber threat sharing platform where i had been following the spread of the Emotet banking malware, something which seemed incredibly significant until today. There were a few of your usual posts about various organisations being hit with ransomware, but nothing significant…yet. I ended up going out to lunch with a friend, meanwhile the WannaCrypt ransomware campaign had entered full swing.

When I returned home at about 2:30, the threat sharing platform was flooded with posts about various NHS systems all across the country being hit, which was what tipped me of to the fact this was something big. Although ransomware on a public sector system isn’t even newsworthy, systems being hit simultaneously across the country is (contrary to popular belief, most NHS employees don’t open phishing emails which suggested that something to be this widespread it would have to be propagated using another method). I was quickly able to get a sample of the malware with the help of Kafeine, a good friend and fellow researcher. Upon running the sample in my analysis environment I instantly noticed it queried an unregistered domain, which I promptly registered.

The key takeaway in this story is that “MalwareTech” followed their usual protocols; the effect was simply far more profound in this instance. Incredible stuff.

Today’s Global Ransomware Attack Justifies Apple’s Stance in the San Bernardino iPhone Case

Paresh Dave, Los Angeles Times:

Law enforcement agencies may want a way into highly secure gadgets and apps to further their investigations — such as when the FBI pressed Apple last year to hack into the iPhone used by a gunman in the San Bernardino terror attack. But the companies have repeatedly pointed out that there’s no safe way to build an entry point just for trusted government organizations.

Though the NSA hasn’t confirmed it was hacked, the purported leak of its tools shows that even supposedly secret vulnerabilities can get into the wrong hands.

“It goes back to the mafia expression,” said John Bambenek, threat research manager at Fidelis Cybersecurity. “The only way to keep a secret is for three people to know it and two of them to be dead.”

Because the potential contents of the San Bernardino iPhone involved such a high-profile and politically-charged case, Apple’s decision sounded, to some, like they were being either insensitive or overly politically correct. Most people with a technical background could see the implications if Apple was compelled to create a special version of iOS that would allow the FBI to breach that iPhone’s passcode. However, intervening time and major security breaches have proved their stance to be correct. Good for Apple to withstand political and public pressure to do what was right.

Alexa Doesn’t Support Caller Blocking

Nicole Nguyen, Buzzfeed:

To use Alexa calling and messaging, users need to verify their phone number and import their entire address book, which a spokesperson says is stored “securely in the Amazon cloud.” Your phone number essentially becomes your username and, like on WhatsApp and Signal, anyone with your phone number will be able to contact you on your at-home Echo or Echo Dot (including, er, PR people, much to the chagrin of this reporter). The key difference is that WhatsApp and Signal allow users to block certain contacts, while Alexa does not.

[…]

There are other privacy concerns as well. There’s no password protection to use Alexa calling, which means anyone in your household can make an Alexa call using your account. They can also ask your Echo device, “Play my message” when you receive a new text or voice message (Alexa calling does not support voicemail) and listen to that message without your consent.

The worst part of all of this? You need to phone Amazon to get them to deactivate it. Yeah — you can enable it via the app, but you have to wait on hold for someone else to deactivate it. That’s atrocious.

Apple’s Long-Term Investment in Corning

With today’s news from Apple that they’re investing $200 million from their recently-announced Advanced Manufacturing Fund in Corning Glass, I thought it might be fun to revisit how Corning became such an integral part of today’s consumer electronics.

Bryan Gardiner, Wired:

From above, Corning’s headquarters in upstate New York looks like a Space Invaders alien: Designed by architect Kevin Roche in the early ’90s, the structure fans out in staggered blocks. From the ground, though, the tinted windows and extended eaves make the building look more like a glossy, futuristic Japanese palace.

The office of Wendell Weeks, Corning’s CEO, is on the second floor, looking out onto the Chemung River. It was here that Steve Jobs gave the 53-year-old Weeks a seemingly impossible task: Make millions of square feet of ultrathin, ultrastrong glass that didn’t yet exist. Oh, and do it in six months. The story of their collaboration — including Jobs’ attempt to lecture Weeks on the principles of glass and his insistence that such a feat could be accomplished — is well known. How Corning actually pulled it off is not.

Apple’s attempt to switch to sapphire crystal for the iPhone 6 is something else that has been well-documented. While it didn’t work out for them, its failure seems to have ultimately strengthened their relationship with Corning.

The Software Security Model Is Broken

Chris Baraniuk, BBC News:

A massive ransomware campaign appears to have infected a number of organisations around the world.

Computers in thousands of locations have apparently been locked by a program that demands $300 (£230) in Bitcoin.

There have been reports of infections in more than 70 countries, including the UK, US, China, Russia, Spain, Italy and Taiwan.

Many security researchers are linking the incidents together.

BBC News:

NHS services across England and Scotland have been hit by a large-scale cyber-attack, which is being treated as a major incident.

The prime minister said the incident was part of a wider attack affecting organisations around the world.

Some hospitals and GPs cannot access patient data, after their computers were locked by a malicious program demanding a payment worth £230.

The individual aspects of this story aren’t necessarily new, but the scale of this attack is, as far as I can figure out, unprecedented. And, because of how widespread this attack is, the low ransom demand also appears to be a relatively new tactic. Instead of banking on a single target paying tens of thousands of dollars, the perpetrator can assume that more people will be willing to pay just $300 to get back to work.

Some reports are framing this attack through the method of its operation: it uses a method developed by the NSA and patched by Microsoft on March 14, before being leaked by Shadow Brokers a month later.

But, while that’s interesting, I don’t think it’s the main story. This attack reveals something that’s obvious to anyone whose main role during the holidays is updating their family’s computers: the software security model is deeply flawed. There are simply too many points of failure, and all of them are human.

Developers leave bugs in the software they build all the time. Sometimes, these bugs can be exploited in a way that allows someone to gain an elevated level of permissions. These bugs are typically only found when someone is actively trying to find them. Patches can be made available, but it’s up to users to decide to update.

Users have been conditioned to be wary of installing any software updates because it’s risky: software updates regularly break applications that users rely upon. In a home environment, that’s irritating; in an enterprise environment with life-or-death consequences — like in the NHS — an incompatibility can be disastrous.

Update: This specific strain of the malware should no longer spread now that a “sinkhole” domain was registered by a security researcher, completely by accident.

Is the Gig Economy Working?

The short answer: it depends on who you ask, and for what reasons.

Nathan Heller, the New Yorker:

The American workplace is both a seat of national identity and a site of chronic upheaval and shame. The industry that drove America’s rise in the nineteenth century was often inhumane. The twentieth-century corrective—a corporate workplace of rules, hierarchies, collective bargaining, triplicate forms—brought its own unfairnesses. Gigging reflects the endlessly personalizable values of our own era, but its social effects, untried by time, remain uncertain.

Support for the new work model has come together swiftly, though, in surprising quarters. On the second day of the most recent Democratic National Convention, in July, members of a four-person panel suggested that gigging life was not only sustainable but the embodiment of today’s progressive values. “It’s all about democratizing capitalism,” Chris Lehane, a strategist in the Clinton Administration and now Airbnb’s head of global policy and public affairs, said during the proceedings, in Philadelphia. David Plouffe, who had managed Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign before he joined Uber, explained, “Politically, you’re seeing a large contingent of the Obama coalition demanding the sharing economy.” Instead of being pawns in the games of industry, the panelists thought, working Americans could thrive by hiring out skills as they wanted, and putting money in the pockets of peers who had done the same. The power to control one’s working life would return, grassroots style, to the people.

The basis for such confidence was largely demographic. Though statistics about gigging work are few, and general at best, a Pew study last year found that seventy-two per cent of American adults had used one of eleven sharing or on-demand services, and that a third of people under forty-five had used four or more. “To ‘speak millennial,’ you ought to be talking about the sharing economy, because it is core and central to their economic future,” Lehane declared, and many of his political kin have agreed. No other commercial field has lately drawn as deeply from the Democratic brain trust. Yet what does democratized capitalism actually promise a politically unsettled generation? Who are its beneficiaries? At a moment when the nation’s electoral future seems tied to the fate of its jobs, much more than next month’s paycheck depends on the answers.

This is a long article, but it’s worth spending some time with. Heller does a fantastic job of delving into the nuances of “gig economy” jobs, and how participants are frequently sold a myth. That’s not to say that these jobs can’t be good, but rather that the groups of people who benefit most are often as imbalanced as in the broader economy.

The FCC Pretends to Support Net Neutrality and Privacy While Moving to Gut Both

Kit Walsh, writing for the EFF:

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai has proposed a plan to eliminate net neutrality and privacy for broadband subscribers. Of course, those protections are tremendously popular, so Chairman Pai and his allies have been forced to pay lip service to preserving them in “some form.” How do we know it’s just lip service? Because the plan Pai is pushing will destroy the legal foundation for net neutrality. That’s right: if Pai succeeds, the FCC won’t have the legal authority to preserve net neutrality in just about any form. And if he’s read the case law, he knows it.

The FCC is dearly underestimating the intelligence of American voters. Despite tens of thousands of bogus comments made on their proposal to deregulate ISPs, the vast majority of what I’ve seen of the million-plus filings indicate overwhelming support for the continued classification of ISPs under Title II.

Analyzing a Counter-Intelligence Operation

Adam Nossiter, David E. Sanger and Nicole Perlroth, New York Times:

The National Security Agency in Washington picked up the signs. So did Emmanuel Macron’s bare-bones technology team. And mindful of what happened in the American presidential campaign, the team created dozens of false email accounts, complete with phony documents, to confuse the attackers.

Gadi Evron, writing for Hacker Noon:

So Macron’s people, and specifically Mounir Mahjoubi, who I want to make sure and meet one day, claim to have fed APT28 false data in a “counteroffensive”. Maybe they have’ maybe they haven’t. Maybe they did something else entirely. Maybe it wasn’t them.

Regardless, their PR win as shown above — planned or not — with or without cyber, was in the bag.

This is an incredible story, and its lessons should ripple through the information security world. The big takeaway is that Macron’s technology group guessed — correctly — that the campaign would be infiltrated at some point, so they planned around that assumed eventuality. At this point, that should be the default security mode for any major campaign or corporation: assume that a breach will occur, if it hasn’t already.

The FCC’s Net Neutrality Proposal Is Being Spammed

Zack Whittaker, ZDNet:

So much so that more than 58,000 identical comments have been posted since the feedback doors were opened, now representing over one-in-ten comments on the FCC’s feedback docket.

“The unprecedented regulatory power the Obama Administration imposed on the internet is smothering innovation, damaging the American economy and obstructing job creation,” the comment says. “I urge the Federal Communications Commission to end the bureaucratic regulatory overreach of the internet known as Title II and restore the bipartisan light-touch regulatory consensus that enabled the internet to flourish for more than 20 years.”

The comments follow the same pattern: the bot appears to cycle through names in an alphabetical order, leaving the person’s name, and postal address and zip code.

We reached out to two-dozen people by phone, and we left voicemails when nobody picked up. A couple of people late Tuesday called back and confirmed that they had not left any messages on the FCC’s website. One of the returning callers specifically said they didn’t know what net neutrality was. A third person reached in a Facebook message Tuesday also confirmed that they had not left any comments on any website.

Several people have pointed out how similar this comment is to a 2010 CFIF anti-net neutrality press release:

“The unprecedented regulatory power the Obama Administration seeks over the Internet is both unnecessary and dangerous,” said Timothy Lee, CFIF’s VP of Legal and Public Affairs. “The type of Net Neutrality regulations the administration seeks to impose on the Internet threaten to cut off tens of billions of dollars in private investment annually, and will cost our struggling economy good-paying American jobs at a time when we can least afford it.”

I doubt the CFIF is being this campaign to discredit the FCC’s open comment process, but this looks like astroturfing by an organization that wants to undo net neutrality rules. If it is, that’s shameful. I hope the FCC ignores these clearly automated comments.

Amazon Announces $229 Box With Screen

James Vincent, the Verge:

Amazon has officially unveiled its latest Echo product: a touchscreen device with built-in Alexa called the Echo Show. The device was extensively leaked this week, but is now available to pre-order from Amazon for $229.99.

The Show has the same basic capabilities as the regular, voice-only Echo (like setting timers and listening to music) but the built-in display adds plenty of new functionality. The Show’s screen will give users more information about their Alexa queries (displaying a full weather report or the steps in each recipe, for example), and can be used to play videos, including news briefings from the likes of CNN, and content from YouTube and Amazon Video.

This sounds promising, right? Kind of like having an iPad Mini that’s always on and features a way better version of Siri. Only one small problem: it’s hideous. Nostalgia may be a powerful force, but I don’t imagine many people are nostalgic for a mid-1980s appliance. It weighs a kilo, so it’s meant to sit in one place all the time, and that place is probably going to be somewhere in the open because of the kind of device this is. People will see it.

I’m not saying that it should look like an iMac, either. In fact, I’m glad it isn’t yet another product aping Apple’s design language, because I think there are plenty of other ways to design consumer electronics. But that doesn’t mean it needs to be ugly.

This might sell well; it might sell poorly. I don’t know, and I wouldn’t want to prognosticate failure simply because the Echo Show doesn’t look good. But I wouldn’t buy this iteration of it.

Update: Perhaps the biggest Amazon news of today wasn’t the Echo Show, but the rebuilt Alexa app that is going head-to-head with iMessage and FaceTime.

Go FCC Yourself

Jon Brodkin, Ars Technica:

Comedian John Oliver has once again asked his viewers to fight on behalf of net neutrality, and the Federal Communications Commission website wasn’t able to handle the immediate influx of angry comments.

On HBO’s Last Week Tonight, Oliver yesterday announced a new URL, gofccyourself.com, that redirects to the FCC proposal to eliminate net neutrality rules. (Clicking “Express” is the easiest way to submit a comment.) The comments website promptly crashed, making it difficult or impossible to file comments last night and this morning. The comments site has started working, but only intermittently.

As of writing, approximately 140,000 people have submitted feedback encouraging the FCC to keep ISPs classified as Title II companies. Three years ago, however, about four million submission were posted for the then-proposed rules that also would have destroyed net equality. If you’re American, you should comment.

Marguerite Reardon, CNet:

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai wants a do-over of the rules governing net neutrality.

But he’s trying to keep an open mind about the proceedings.

“I don’t have any predetermined views as to where we’re going to go,” he said in an interview with CNET on Thursday. “That’s the reason that we call it a notice of proposed rulemaking. It’s not a decree.”

Later in the same interview:

“Are we going to treat this new technology as we do the water company, or the electric company, or Ma Bell from the 1930s?” he said.

The internet is not a new technology any longer, and Pai’s feigned ignorance of that makes it sound like he’s made up his mind: he doesn’t believe the internet is as much of a utility as it truly is.

“Ultimately, my hope is that a return to that bipartisan, Clinton-era light-touch approach, one that served us well for 20 years, is going to be one that finds bipartisan support again,” he said.

Pai has called the Title II classification of ISPs a “partisan” issue on several occasions — you can see another instance of it in Oliver’s piece. But net neutrality hasn’t been a partisan issue or decision until the Republican party decided to make it one by framing it as “Obamacare for the internet”. It isn’t a partisan issue, not really. It’s a power struggle between every American and a handful of corporate interests, and Pai is on the ISPs’ side.

JP Morgan: Free AirPods With the Next iPhone

Tom Sykes at the Apple Post:

Apple’s upcoming iPhone 8 is building itself up to be one of the most anticipated iPhone releases of all time, and the latest research note published by analyst JP Morgan adds to the anticipation by claiming Apple will offer free AirPods with the premium iPhone 8, music to the ears of many who are eager to get their hands on Apple’s wireless earbuds.

I’m not saying this absolutely cannot or will not happen, but why would Apple give away a product for which it is currently struggling to meet demand, and which gives them the potential of an extra $160 per iPhone buyer? The answer, of course, is that they wouldn’t, so something — or, more likely, everything — about this rumour is wrong.