Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Archive for August, 2017

A Serf on Google’s Farm

Josh Marshall, editor of Talking Points Memo, in a must-read piece about Google’s dominance of the web:

What all of this comes down to is that we at TPM – and some version of this is the case for the vast majority of publishers – are connected to Google at almost every turn. (I’ve only mentioned the big ones.) Running TPM absent Google’s various services is almost unthinkable. Like I literally would need to give it a lot of thought how we’d do without all of them. Some of them are critical and I wouldn’t know where to start for replacing them. In many cases, alternatives don’t exist because no business can get a footing with a product Google let’s people use for free.

But here’s where the rubber really meets the road. The publishers use DoubleClick. The big advertisers use DoubleClick. The big global advertising holding companies use Doubleclick. Everybody at every point in the industry is wired into DoubleClick. Here’s how they all play together. The adserving (Doubleclick) is like the road. (Adexchange) is the biggest car on the road. But only AdExchange gets full visibility into what’s availability. (There’s lot of details here and argument about just what Google does and doesn’t know. But trust me on this. They keep the key information to themselves. This isn’t a suspicion. It’s the model.) So Google owns the road and gets first look at what’s on the road. So not only does Google own the road and makes the rules for the road, it has special privileges on the road. One of the ways it has special privileges is that it has all the data it gets from search, Google Analytics and Gmail. There’s more I’ll get to in a moment but the interplay between DoubleClick and Adexchange is so vastly important to the entirety of the web, digital publishing and the entire ad industry that it is almost impossible to overstate. Again. They own the road. They make the rules for the road. And they get special privileges on the road with every new iteration of rules.

I could quote nearly every paragraph of this piece. Much of it you’ve probably heard before, but Marshall walks through Google’s total monopolization of the online media industry from a perspective rarely told.

On the Intercept, Conflicts of Interest, and Journalistic Independence

David Dayen of the Intercept published a piece today criticizing the New York Times for failing to indicate in their coverage of new Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi that Khosrowshahi is on the Times’ board of directors:

As long as Khosrowshahi stays in place, questions will inevitably be raised about the paper’s deeper enterprise reporting into Uber’s business practices. The Times has generally done a credible job in covering Uber. It has broken unflattering news, such as venture capital firm Benchmark suing Kalanick and the use of a secret program called “Greyball” to deceive legal authorities who banned the service in certain locations. It has reported on a woman in India who was raped by an Uber driver and the company’s efforts to cover it up. A large interactive spread on Uber’s “psychological tricks” to boost ridership ran in April.

But none of those pieces were published while Uber had a presence on the Times Company’s board. And it will be difficult to gauge the organization’s transparency going forward without being privy to internal deliberations among the editorial staff.

The independence of journalistic organizations and the extent to which their funding and governance impacts their coverage has long been a pet favourite topic of media critics. It’s not unwarranted — management at the Las Vegas Review-Journal were accused of manipulating articles related to the paper’s sale to Sheldon Adelson, and Buzzfeed spiked stories concerning certain advertisers.

But this is a bit of a funny story coming from the Intercept, given what co-founding editor Glenn Greenwald wrote three years ago concerning an apparent scandal:

This morning, I see that some people are quite abuzz about a new Pando article “revealing” that the foundation of Pierre Omidyar, the publisher of First Look Media which publishes The Intercept, gave several hundred thousand dollars to a Ukraininan “pro-democracy” organization opposed to the ruling regime. This, apparently, is some sort of scandal that must be immediately addressed not only by Omidyar, but also by every journalist who works at First Look. That several whole hours elapsed since the article was published on late Friday afternoon without my commenting is, for some, indicative of disturbing stonewalling.

Greenwald’s defences against Pando’s report — which implies a lack of editorial independence for the Intercept owing to Omidyar’s foundation’s donations1 — amounts to the following:

  • This isn’t a real scandal.

  • This isn’t a problem because Omidyar’s donations were publicized. By that same criteria, Khosrowshahi’s new job also isn’t a problem because the Times’ board of directors is public knowledge and Uber made a public announcement.

  • This isn’t a problem because the Intercept is journalistically independent from Omidyar’s personal beliefs and politics. By that same criteria, this isn’t a problem for the Times because their editorial staff is independent from their directors’ beliefs and politics.

    Greenwald is only too happy to share links to stories that prove the Intercept’s independence. Similarly, Dayen’s article about the appointment of Uber’s new CEO — as quoted above — links to several articles that show the Times’ indifference to how Uber or Khosrowshahi might feel about their coverage. Mike Isaac’s coverage of Khosrowshahi’s new job is highly critical of Uber. The Times’ board of directors also include former executives from Pandora, Verizon, Facebook, and other companies the Times has reported on, with seemingly no effect on their journalistic integrity.

Greenwald:

That funding [for quality journalism], by definition, is going to come from people rich enough to provide it. And such people are almost certainly going to have views and activities that you find objectionable. If you want to take the position that this should never be done, that’s fine: just be sure to apply it consistently to the media outlets and groups you really like.

Good point: consistency is important. For example, while Dayen knocks the Times for failing to indicate in their article that Khosrowshahi is a board member, prior articles on the Intercept that mention eBay — including one written by Dayen himself — do not state that funder Pierre Omidyar’s fortune comes primarily from eBay, which he founded.

Greenwald:

Journalists should be judged by the journalism they produce, not by those who fund the outlets where they do it. The real issue is whether they demand and obtain editorial freedom. We have. But ultimately, the only thing that matters is the journalism we or any other media outlets produce.

I couldn’t agree more, which is why I find Dayen’s article so baffling in its suspicion of the Times ability to maintain the quality of its coverage without executive meddling. Dayen even mentions that there’s “no indication the Times suppresses stories because of its board relationships”.

Media criticism is important. But generating a false controversy or creating an environment of mistrust is not the same thing, and — I think — muddies the message Dayen was trying to get across: when there may be even the impression of a conflict of interest, point it out. That goes for the Times; it also goes for the Intercept.


  1. Mark Ames, Pando:

    What all this adds up to is a journalistic conflict-of-interest of the worst kind: Omidyar working hand-in-glove with US foreign policy agencies to interfere in foreign governments, co-financing regime change with well-known arms of the American empire — while at the same time hiring a growing team of soi-disant “independent journalists” which vows to investigate the behavior of the US government at home and overseas, and boasts of its uniquely “adversarial” relationship towards these government institutions.

    ↩︎

The FCC’s Website Was Accepting Uploads of Virtually Any File Type

You might have already seen this amazing PDF that appeared earlier tonight on fcc.gov:

Dear American citizenry,

We’re sorry Ajit Pai is such a filthy spineless cuck.

Sincerely,

The FCC

That’s it. That’s the whole statement, with the exception of some FCC-like letterhead. It’s looks pretty much like an authentic FCC document, and it’s hosted on fcc.gov, so why would you doubt its authenticity? Aside from, you know, how obviously ridiculous it is.

Guise Bule explains:

Somewhat incredibly I am the first tech writer on the planet to break this story, but even more incredibly the FCC lets you upload any file to their website and make that file publicly accessible using the FCC.gov domain.

[…]

People seem to be experimenting uploading different filetypes, so far they have managed pdf/gif/ELF/exe/mp4 files up to 25MB in size, which means that you could easily host malware on the FCC.gov website right now and use it in phishing campaigns that link to malware on a .gov website.

For years, we’ve been helping our family members navigate dangers on the web by pointing out things like the HTTPS icon in a browser, so they can be more certain that what they’re downloading or interacting with is legitimate. And what could be more legitimate than a .gov domain with an SSL certificate?

Garbage Report Funded by ISPs Claims That Net Neutrality Comments on the FCC’s Website Are Worthless

Adam Clark Estes, Gizmodo:

The report in question comes from Emprata LLC, a DC-based data research company, and was paid for by Broadband for America, a big telecom lobbying group. That second detail is important, since the report ultimately claims that a larger proportion of the comments from verifiable addresses were in favor of repealing the open internet rules. On the flip side, Emprata found the vast majority of comments both for and against repealing the FCC’s open internet rules consisted of form letters, with many coming from “seemingly ‘fake’ email addresses.” These findings suggest that the protest against repeal is driven by bots and that more actual humans want the open internet rules repealed. Which certainly sounds like a conclusion that big telecom lobbyists would love. We’ve also seen evidence of the opposite being true.

It would be convenient for net neutrality advocates if the story was as simple as that. But as even the study itself admits, it’s “very difficult to draw any definitive conclusions from the comments found in the docket.” And it’s the FCC’s fault.

The vast majority of those who commented on the FCC’s proposal favour preservation of Title II classification for ISPs, but because many of them were submitted by people who either failed to provide complete contact information or used obviously phony email addresses, Emprata has managed to produce the conclusion that real people really want to repeal Title II classification. Never mind that thousands of those apparently real people were automated submissions.

Mind you, millions of real Americans supporting the preservation of net neutrality regulations is unlikely to have any effect on this hopeless FCC administration.

Essential Accidentally Starts a Mass Thread of Identification Requests

Dieter Bohn, the Verge:

Last night, some customers who had preordered an Essential phone received an email asking for a copy of their driver’s license, ostensibly to verify their address in an attempt to prevent fraud.

Dozens of customers replied with their personal information, but those emails didn’t just go to Essential; they went out to everybody who had received the original email. That means that an unknown number of Essential customers are now in possession of each other’s drivers license, birth date, and address information.

The incident is being reported as phishing by many outlets, because it looks and smells quite a lot like a phishing attempt: a weird request for personal information. After examining the email headers, it doesn’t look like this was an actual phishing attempt. It seems much more likely that this was a colossal screw up, the result of a misconfigured customer support email list.

It’s one thing to be late to ship preordered phones; it’s another to be late and uncommunicative. But this is almost cartoonishly sloppy.

Even if everything were correctly configured and this didn’t send replies to everyone in the thread, Essential should still have not requested users reply to an email with extremely personal information, like a copy of their driving license. Because it looks like a phishing attempt, recipients either won’t comply or are required to lower their defences. A better approach would be to request users send their driving license separately via a form or similar on the official Essential website in a way that would be accessible from a menu. That way, it makes it far clearer that this is an official and more secure request.

Spotify Won’t Enable Two-Factor Authentication

In 2015, Spotify user ThomasVH suggested that the company should enable two-factor authentication for user accounts. By then, two-factor authentication methods had become commonplace, especially after Mat Honan’s 2012 Wired article and loud calls for its adoption across the web in 2013.

Well, after two years of no activity, ThomasVH’s suggestion received an answer from Meredith at Spotify:

Hey @ThomasVH we’ve revisited this idea with the teams behind logging into Spotify. We’ve decided not to move forward with two-factor authentication at this time.

Last year, Sarah Perez of Techcrunch rightfully pointed out that a combination of password re-use and a lack of two-factor authentication lead to hundreds of Spotify accounts being compromised. User names and passwords for Spotify Premium show up all the time on illegitimate message boards. Password re-use is a problem, of course, but Spotify’s lack of willingness to implement a reasonable — if imperfect — precaution to protect accounts exacerbates the issue. They need to do better.

Tim Cook on Apple’s Moral Responsibilities

Andrew Ross Sorkin, New York Times:

And now Mr. Cook is one of the many business leaders in the country who appear to be filling the void, using his platform at Apple to wade into larger social issues that typically fell beyond the mandate of executives in past generations.

He said he had never set out to do so, but he feels he has been thrust into the role as virtually every large American company has had to stake out a domestic policy.

He was vocal, for example, in criticizing Mr. Trump after Charlottesville in a memo to his staff: “I disagree with the president and others who believe that there is a moral equivalence between white supremacists and Nazis, and those who oppose them by standing up for human rights. Equating the two runs counter to our ideals as Americans.”

Watching Mr. Cook over the years, I’ve been fascinated to see how he has become as animated when talking about big issues like education and climate change as he is when talking about Apple.

Though many of Apple’s environmental and ethical initiatives have roots during the Steve Jobs renaissance, these efforts have accelerated dramatically under Tim Cook. I applauded Cook’s response to a shareholder who questioned the company’s social commitments.

Even so, I feel as though Apple’s international tax avoidance strategies somewhat compromise their moral high ground. I think it’s great that Apple is stepping up to get diverse groups of community college students into programming, but perhaps they should simply pay taxes at a rate closer to what the tax code says it ought to be.

Revisiting the Touch Bar

Chuq Von Rospach got an iMac, which means that he’s spending less time with his Touch Bar-equipped MacBook Pro. And he hasn’t missed it all that much:

It seems to me Apple fell in love with the technology of the Touch Bar system, which if you dig into it a bit is a stunning piece of engineering, and expected all of us to fall in love with it as well. The problem is: Apple rarely sells things to us based on neat technology, it sells us based on the stories of how that technology will solve problems for us, and right now, the problems a Touch Bar solves for us that we care about being solved are few and far between.

Can Apple find the “killer app” (god, I hate that term) for the Touch Bar? It sure needs it. I’m not sure what that would be, though, but I want to give them another release cycle of MacOS for them to figure it out.

Von Rospach followed up on this today with a largely-speculative post centred around the idea that Touch ID is a transitional technology on the way to fast and accurate facial recognition that may find its way across Apple’s product line. What he doesn’t speculate on, however, is how the Touch Bar may be improved, especially if Touch ID — arguably the most useful aspect of Touch Bar-equipped Macs — goes away.

That’s fair; as Von Rospach says, I think Apple might be taking a bit of a wait-and-see approach while prototyping future versions of the Touch Bar. My hunch is that it needs some form of tactile feedback. The Taptic Engine is a good start, but I think it needs to be more precise so that the haptics feel like they’re coming from a specific point across the width of the bar, not a generalized click.

But I also wonder if the very concept of the Touch Bar is far better suited towards some industries than others. I can see film and audio editors potentially using it to navigate long timelines efficiently, but it’s probably not solving any problems for programmers. I’m almost certainly writing more based on what I want rather than what is logical, but I’d love to the Touch Bar become a simple configuration option for any MacBook Pro. Users who don’t need or want it don’t have to equip it, and could have all the performance they need with a traditional keyboard.

AMP Spec Advises Platforms to Share Canonical Link When Possible

Federico Viticci on Twitter last week:

Very nice: when sharing AMP pages to iMessage or Reading List, iOS 11 Safari automatically removes AMP’s crap from the URL. Go Apple

Malte Ubl, the creator and tech lead of AMP, responded on Hacker News:

Just wanted to clarify that we specifically requested Apple (and other browser vendors) to do this. AMP’s policy states that platforms should share the canonical URL of an article whenever technically possible. This browser change makes it technically possible in Safari. We cannot wait for other vendors to implement.

A simpler solution is to not implement AMP in the first place. That way, users and browsers alike don’t have to worry about which link to share — it’s always the right link.

Also, if the AMP Project’s advice is to share canonical links, not AMP links, then what’s the point of AMP pages? I don’t think browsers should redirect to an AMP version if the user is on a mobile device, and I sincerely doubt any browser vendor but Google would build in such capability. So if AMP’s own spec doesn’t see AMP links being used for general referrals, social network referrals, or direct links, then their only function seems to be links from Google searches. That seems silly.

WiFi Location Privacy

Adam Grossman of the Dark Sky weather app:

It helps tremendously that Dark Sky is a for-pay app. The old trope of “when you don’t pay for the product, you are the product” gets trotted out often, usually with regards to in-app advertising. But it takes on much more ominous overtones in the context of location privacy. And as long as it’s possible to secretly share location data, some app makers will do so.

Because of this, we also believe that Apple and Google should do more to prevent this sort of behavior. They should set — and aggressively enforce — clear App Store rules forbidding the sharing of location data for any purposes not directly relevant to the app’s core functionality. If an app is caught breaking this rule, it should be removed from the store. This won’t stop all abuse, but it would, at the very least, put many of these data monetization companies out of the business of tracking where you go.

Here’s the thing, though: Grossman’s suggested response has been in place for years. Apple’s App Store Review Guidelines:

Use Location services in your app only when it is directly relevant to the features and services provided by the app.

And, from the Apple Developer Program Information (PDF):

You agree not to use any network data or information from end-users to bypass or override any end-user settings, e.g., You may not track an end-user’s WiFi network usage to determine their location if they have disabled location services for Your Application […]

All Apple had to do in this case was enforce their own rules.1 I understand that something will occasionally slip through the cracks and it will sometimes be with a high-profile app, but this is really the sort of thing that should have been caught. I think it’s great that App Review times are much faster now than they used to be, but I hope a flub like this isn’t repeated.


  1. I didn’t find anything explicitly similar in Google’s developer policies. For what it’s worth, I don’t think it’s malicious, but I do think that it’s indicative of Google’s more lax stance when it comes to user privacy. That is, if they truly cared about user privacy, they would be more likely to catch its omission from drafts of these policies. ↩︎

Martin Shkreli Continues His Quest to Be an Irredeemable Asshole for Fun and Sport

Maxwell Tani, writing at Business Insider in March:

Former pharmaceutical executive Martin Shkreli is trolling journalists who have written about him by purchasing the internet domains associated with their names.

A recent look at the domains bought by Shkreli noted that he bought domain names for at least 10 people in the past several months, 5 of whom work in media and have written and tweeted about the former Turing Pharmaceuticals founder.

Tani followed up on that story earlier this week:

After sitting on the domain names for months, Shkreli appears to be customizing the sites, explicitly mocking reporters who have tweeted about him.

A website named after Maya Kosoff, a tech reporter at Vanity Fair, welcomes the visitor and adds, “Here we honor one of the most vibrant Social Justice advocates today,” alluding to “social justice warriors,” a derisive slur associated with advocacy for liberal causes.

Shkreli wrote a similar message on a website he bought associated with Caroline Moss, an editor at CNBC. A site associated with her name welcomes visitors and says it has “everything you need to know about this CNBC safe spacer,” a reference to colleges’ so-called safe spaces, which are often mocked by the right.

Cyrus Farivar, Ars Technica:

Shkreli has been offering to sell at least one of the domain names back to the reporters for thousands of dollars. In a public Facebook post, Shkreli has offered to sell the EmilySaul.com domain for $12,000. Saul, a reporter for New York Post, declined to comment further on the incident.

“Unfortunately, due to company policy, I’m unable to answer any questions and must decline comment,” she e-mailed Ars. “Best of luck with your story.”

Shkreli responded to Farivar’s request for comment by asking “what is an ars technica?” [sic].

Louise Matsakis of Vice checked and it appears that Shkreli might be breaking the law by abusing domain names like this. And, while there’s absolutely no excuse for what Shkreli is doing here, it’s a good reminder to always own your name as a domain name whenever possible.

Alex McLevy of A.V. Club came up with a good idea, though:

Therefore, in the spirit of cooperation with Shkreli’s trolling desires (#trollgoals), The A.V. Club would like to offer him a tremendous deal, really super, no one else will get Shkreli a deal like this. I’d like to offer him the chance to use my domain, alexmclevy.com, for one month, to do with as he pleases, all for the low, low price of $44,185.50 — otherwise known as the exact monthly cost of a lifesaving twice-a-day prescription for Daraprim, the drug for treating infections in people with HIV, after Shkreli bumped the price up 5,455 percent from $13.50 to $736.43 a pill.

I’d say that’s fairly generous. I don’t work for the A.V. Club, but I’d also be happy to turn over the FTP details to nickheer.com for a month, in exchange for a $44,185.50 donation to amfAR.

Shkreli should also be aware that the domain martinshkreli.sucks appears to be available for the very reasonable price of $330.

AccuWeather Removes Reveal Mobile From Their iOS App

AccuWeather:

AccuWeather’s app employed a Software Development Kit (SDK) from a third party vendor (Reveal Mobile) that inadvertently allowed Wi-Fi router data to be transmitted to this third-party vendor. Once we became aware of this situation we took immediate action to verify the operation and quickly disabled the SDK from the IOS app. Our next step was to update the IOS app and remove Reveal Mobile completely. At no time was this data accessed or used by AccuWeather and we have received assurances from the vendor that the same is true for them. AccuWeather takes our customers’ privacy seriously and is committed to maintaining the highest level of compliance and protection.

If AccuWeather took their users’ privacy seriously, they wouldn’t have sold their location data to Reveal Mobile. Even if you believe that Reveal Mobile never used collected base station IDs for tracking purposes — and I don’t, because collecting and using available location data is their business model — why would you believe that AccuWeather wouldn’t try the same trick again?

Update: Will Strafach:

latest AccuWeather: no connections to Reveal now…but I do see my precise GPS long/lat/alt going to “nexage.com” (ad company).

See what I mean?

The Problems With Abandoned Apps

Marc Zeedar, writing in TidBits last month:

The looming threat that I see is abandoned apps. They have always been cluttering the edges of the App Store to an extent, but the number of abandoned apps has grown lately for three reasons:

  • The age of the App Store is such that even many wildly popular and successful apps have reached their natural end of life. It’s rare even in the desktop world for an app to exist for more than decade — technology just changes too much for many programs to stay relevant. Mobile apps live fast and die young.

  • Apple recently began deleting apps that developers haven’t updated in years, under the assumption that they aren’t being supported.

  • While Apple has required that apps be compiled for 64-bit for over a year, old 32-bit apps won’t even launch in iOS 11 (see “Apple to Deprecate 32-bit iOS Apps,” 15 May 2017).

Individually, none of these factors would be cause for undue alarm. But bringing all three together could result in a catastrophic tsunami for smaller developers.

In Zeedar’s case, nearly one in four apps he has on his iPhone and iPad are unsupported in iOS 11 because they’re 32-bit only. My hunch is that his case is an outlier; I have just two apps in 209 on my iPhone that are unsupported and a similar number on my iPad.

But even if you only have a couple of abandoned apps on your iPhone, you might still find the upgrade to iOS 11 somewhat jarring. One of the unsupported apps on my phone is Birdhouse. I forgot to export draft tweets from it prior to upgrading, so I’m pretty sure they’re gone for good, unless I feel like monkeying around in the file system. That’s not catastrophic data loss by any measure — it’s not even data loss, really — but it still sucks.

No, I haven’t used Birdhouse in a long time. Yes, I was warned upon trying to open it in iOS 10 that it was a 32-bit app and would be unsupported at some point in the future. No, I did not take action because it wasn’t a priority for me at the time. Yes, I understand that’s pretty short-sighted.

If this was MacOS, I could simply root around in the file system or find another app to open the same files. But that obviously isn’t always the case on iOS. Because it’s a sandboxed, tightly-controlled system, there aren’t shared data stores for apps. That’s great for security, privacy, and every other advantage that has ever been brought up during any debate about it — if I were in charge of iOS, I’m not sure I’d change that model. However, it is a model that exacerbates the effects of an abandoned app.

The solution is to use apps that support Dropbox or iCloud storage options. That doesn’t exactly fix apps which are abandoned today, though, does it?

The Ruinous Sameness of Kinja and Medium Websites

Earlier this year, Univision announced that the Onion, A.V. Club, and Clickhole would be moving to the Kinja CMS that they acquired along with Gizmodo Media Group. The Root also migrated to Kinja, as was Fusion, rebranded as Splinter. Today, the A.V. Club launched their new Kinja site.

This reminds me a little of the mass migration to Medium of a few notable publications last year. Kinja and Medium each have such uniquely-branded platforms that it makes it very difficult for me to remember which website I saw an article on — Gizmodo or Jezebel, Monday Note or any old Medium account. They all just sort of blur together on their respective platforms. That’s not to say the websites are ugly, per se, but they are generic, drab, and unidentifiable.

Change is afoot on the Medium side of things. Earlier this year, Film School Rejects and Pacific Standard moved away from the platform; this month, the Awl announced that they went back to WordPress with their old custom theme. The Ringer and Backchannel also left Medium. Once again, I can tell those sites apart from each other.

All of this is to say that I hope Clickhole and the Onion don’t look like Deadspin when they launch on Kinja. They’re very different websites, and their design should articulate that. I think the Onion would be markedly less funny if it didn’t look like a hard news website, and giving it the generic Kinja treatment would be a bleak milestone for one of the most consistently brilliant places on the web.

The Village Voice’s Print Edition Bites the Dust

Benjamin Mullin, Poynter:

The Village Voice, a storied progressive alt-weekly that has watchdogged New York’s political and business classes for more than half a century, is ending its print edition, its owner announced Tuesday afternoon.

The announcement is a symbolic blow for alternative weeklies across the United States, which have endured successive cuts and closures in recent years as print advertising revenue has dried up. The Village Voice, founded in 1955, is regarded as one of the first alt-weeklies and counts among its alumni crusading journalists and literary authors such as Wayne Barrett and Norman Mailer.

The New York Times carried today an editorial from ex-employee Tom Robbins:

It was a paper so famously cantankerous that Norman Mailer, a co-founder, quit writing for it out of rage over a copy-editing error; a paper where writers like Jack Newfield and Alexander Cockburn took up chunks of the letters page with pointed barbs against each other’s politics; where the poet and columnist joel oppenheimer wrote only in lower case; where the often feverish sentences of the dance critic Jill Johnston became an adventure in themselves; where the critic Ellen Willis properly called out the largely white male staff on their feminist failures.

It was a paper whose tabloid layout lent itself to Jules Feiffer’s wistful Village characters, and the often bizarre antics of the street people depicted by his fellow cartoonists Stan Mack and Mark Alan Stamaty. Its pages carried a constant stream of photographs by The Voice’s Fred McDarrah, who managed to capture everyone from the Village political boss Carmine DeSapio to Andy Warhol hard at work in the Factory.

There’s something about the shutting down of a print edition that makes any news publication feel somewhat lesser. Only so many newspapers and magazines can afford to layout and publish physical copies; on the web, the Voice is, on some level, just another website. Maybe it’s just nostalgia or some other illogical vibe, but that’s heartbreaking.

The good news is that the Voice still publishes quality work, like Fahmida Rashid’s piece on the vagarities of an education in cybersecurity.

Verizon Will Soon Limit Their Unlimited Plans

Jon Brodkin, Ars Technica:

Verizon Wireless will start throttling video streams to resolutions as low as 480p on smartphones this week. Most data plans will get 720p video on smartphones, but customers won’t have any option to completely un-throttle video.

1080p will be the highest resolution provided on tablets, effectively ruling out 4K video on Verizon’s mobile network. Anything identified as a video will not be given more than 10Mbps worth of bandwidth. This limit will affect mobile hotspot usage as well.

Verizon started selling unlimited smartphone data plans in February of this year, and the carrier said at the time that it would deliver video to customers at the same resolution used by streaming video companies. “We deliver whatever the content provider gives us. We don’t manipulate the data,” Verizon told Ars in February.

A brief aside: regular readers will be aware of how much I adore the strenuous euphemisms and clear contradictions that PR departments use for announcements like these. Verizon’s press release is actually titled “Verizon Unlimited”, the word “unlimited” is used twenty-two times, and the release contains a reference to business customers using jet packs without worrying about data costs — last I checked, jet packs are actually fairly bandwidth-friendly.

I think this is silly. Video is data just like anything else. Yes, it requires a much more robust network, but that’s something Verizon should have arguably been building out anyway. At the very least, this should not be billed as “unlimited”, when that’s clearly untrue.

CrashPlan Discontinues Their Consumer Remote Backup Service

Joe Kissell, TidBits:

I’ve been using CrashPlan since 2007, shortly after its initial release, and I was so impressed by it from day one that I’ve been evangelizing it ever since. I wrote a book about it; I recommended it in numerous other books, including “Backing Up Your Mac: A Joe On Tech Guide”; and it was (until today) my top pick in a Wirecutter round-up of online backup services. In short, I have had a significant personal and professional investment in CrashPlan, based on countless hours of research and testing — I’ve evaluated more than 100 backup apps! — and now, with a mixture of anger and disappointment, I have to tell you that it’s time to find something else.

This is a complete nightmare for customers; Kissell is one, of course, and Michael Tsai is another:

They’re keeping the small business plan, which at $10/month is twice the cost of the individual version (which itself had gone up quite a lot in recent years). This is the only transition option that will preserve your years of backup history. If you switch to another provider and later find out that you need to restore a version of a file from 2016, you’re out of luck. Plus, depending on your data set and connection speed — my mother has less than 100 GB of data but only a DSL connection — it may take months just to upload the current versions of your files to another provider.

Code42, the developers of CrashPlan, are working with ex-competitor Carbonite to offer a transition deal for CrashPlan Home users, but Kissell is wary of their service:

Unfortunately, while Carbonite is not bad on Windows, I would not recommend it to Mac users, because the Mac version offers neither versioning nor the option to use a personal encryption key. Plus, Carbonite artificially restricts upstream bandwidth, making it significantly slower than many competitors.

Meanwhile, oft-recommended Backblaze doesn’t create a byte-for-byte perfect backup, omitting app files and metadata the company deems unnecessary.

I’ve written recently about the risks of having the tech industry too consolidated behind a handful of largely-American companies. But, in the case of backups, I think I’d like an offering from a company that feels more robust. I’d love to see Apple come out with an iCloud-compatible Time Machine, for instance. While Apple, iCloud, and Time Machine aren’t perfect, I think I’d feel a lot more comfortable if they held onto my backups, rather than a smaller company that could get distracted at any time by a different industry — as Code42 did today.

Sebastian Sztabzyb on Building Phil & Sebastian

If you love your coffee and you’ve never heard of Phil & Sebastian, I think you’re really missing out. They roast some of the finest coffees on the planet, and they do an exceptional job every single time I visit one of their cafés or brew a cup with their beans at home. Co-founder Sebastian Sztabzyb appeared last week on the WorkNotWork podcast to explain how they evolved the company from a small stand at a farmer’s market into the vertically-integrated multi-location business of today. They have a very Apple-y, obsessive approach to coffee — both co-founders are ex-engineers, too — and you can clearly hear that in this interview.

AccuWeather’s iOS App Is Sending Location Information to a Data Monetization Firm

You’ll find AccuWeather near the top of the App Store charts for weather apps constantly, which raises the stakes of this advisory from Will Strafach:

The AccuWeather application for iOS requests location access under the premise of providing users localized severe weather alerts, critical updates, and faster launch time. Granting access to location information will also cause the application to send the following bits of information off to “revealmobile.com”:

  • Your precise GPS coordinates, including current speed and altitude.

  • The name and “BSSID” of the Wi-Fi router you are currently connected to, which can be used for geolocation through various online services.

  • Whether your device has bluetooth turned on or off.

Strafach also noticed that if you deny AccuWeather access to your location, Reveal Mobile will still get the WiFi router information, which can be used to derive your location.

Zack Whittaker, ZDNet:

For its part, Reveal Mobile executives said on a call last week with ZDNet that though company does collect Wi-Fi data and MAC address information, it “does not use it” for location data.

“Everything is anonymized,” said Brian Handley, the company’s chief executive. “We’re not ever tracking an individual device,” but described a situation where his company can point advertising to customers inside a Starbucks location, for example.

Just a few weeks ago, I linked to a piece in the Guardian by Alex Hern which showed that ostensibly anonymous web browsing data can be associated with individuals’ identity. I see no reason why that would be much different when collecting base station names at someone’s office, during their commute, and at home.

Whittaker again:

According to one AccuWeather executive, Reveal Mobile’s technology “has not been in our application long enough to be usable yet.”

“In the future, AccuWeather plans to use data through Reveal Mobile for audience segmentation and analysis, to build a greater audience understanding and create more contextually relevant and helpful experiences for users and for advertisers,” said David Mitchell, AccuWeather’s executive vice president of emerging platforms, on the call.

Even though it’s usually possible to get information about a product’s audience, it’s not always right to do so. In fact, if an explicit opt-in would make most users wince, I’d say that collecting deep analytics about them is ethically wrong.

To their credit, Reveal Mobile announced today that they are issuing an updated API that doesn’t collect any information that could be used to derive a user’s location — with the exception of IP addresses — if the user doesn’t allow the app to use location services.

Apple Releases Videos Showcasing iOS 11 on the iPad

I’ll have more to say on these in about a month, if past years’ timing is any guidance and I write this review a lot faster than I currently am. The short version is that iOS is, to my eyes, gaining complexity at an increasing pace but without sacrificing much ease-of-use. These how-to videos will get new and longtime users alike discovering these somewhat hidden new features, no matter whether they choose to use them.

I wonder if these videos will be included with the shipping version of iOS 11, in a somewhat similar fashion to the way trackpad features are shown in System Preferences on the Mac. For what it’s worth, I think they should be in the system: releasing them now is good for publicity and good for getting people excited about what they will soon be able to do with their iPads, but it would be even better if users were exposed to the new multitasking features shortly after they install the update.