Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Archive for August, 2018

Some Wireless Audio Equipment Rendered Obsolete By Reallocated RF Spectrum — Again

I know the headline of this link sounds esoteric and boring, but this is actually a fascinating story from David Zweig in Wired:

Random Farms, and tens of thousands of other theater companies, schools, churches, broadcasters, and myriad other interests across the country, need to buy new wireless microphones. The majority of professional wireless audio gear in America is about to become obsolete, and illegal to operate. The story of how we got to this strange point involves politics, business, science, and, of course, money.

[…]

The upheaval around wireless mics can be traced to the National Broadband Plan of 2010, where, on the direction of Congress, the FCC declared broadband “a foundation for economic growth, job creation, global competitiveness and a better way of life.” Two years later, in a bill best known for cutting payroll taxes, Congress authorized the FCC to auction off additional spectrum for broadband communications. In 2014, the FCC determined it would use the 600 MHz band — where most wireless microphones operate — to accomplish that goal.

According to Zweig, this is the second time in ten years that part of the RF spectrum used for wireless audio equipment has been reallocated; so, for many users, this is the second time in recent memory they’re having to spend thousands of dollars on new gear. And there appears to be no indication that the FCC will cordon off a specific spectrum for these kinds of devices to operate on, which is foolish.

Apple Responds to Congressional Questions About User Privacy

Marrian Zhou, CNet:

Apple’s iOS system encrypts location information and doesn’t associate that information with any name or Apple ID. The iOS operating system also permanently deletes data from an iPhone if the phone doesn’t connect to Wi-Fi or power for seven days.

iPhones without SIM cards will send a limited amount of information about cellular towers and Wi-Fi hotspots to Apple if the user has enabled location services. The information will be encrypted and isn’t used for targeting advertising. If location services are turned off, the iPhone won’t send any data to Apple.

And from Apple’s response itself:

Consistent with Apple’s view that privacy is a fundamental human right, we impose significant privacy-related restrictions on apps that are made available through the App Store. The App Store is a marketplace for third party apps and, when a customer chooses to download an app to an Apple device, the customer and app developer enter into a direct contractual relationship with one another governed by the terms of the developer’s end user license agreement and privacy policy. Apple is not a party to these relationships; rather developers are fully responsible for the content and services they provide in their apps. Notwithstanding the developer’s responsibilities and direct relationship with customers, Apple requires developers to adhere to privacy principle, including consumer choice, and has implemented technical- and policy-level controls to help ensure those principles are respected.

However, as Sarah Frier points out at Bloomberg, Apple has no control over data use after a user has agreed to share their data with a third-party developer:

Apple has built in two direct consumer controls: one, when you agree to share your contact information with the developer; and the other, when you toggle the switch in your settings to deny that permission. But neither is as simple as it seems. The first gives developers access to everything you’ve stored about everyone you know, more than just their phone numbers, and without their permission. The second is deceptive. Turning off sharing only blocks the developer from continued access — it doesn’t delete data already collected.

Notwithstanding that users can, of course, also deny permission when first prompted, there is no mechanism for them to pull their data completely using a simple toggle switch or similar. It’s more likely that they will need to ask the company specifically to remove their historical data, and they will only have legal standing to demand it in Europe — thanks to GDPR — and other companies with strong privacy protections.

Apple probably can’t — and, arguably, should not — police user data in the hands of third-party developers when permission has been granted for its use. They would end up having to regulate any number of companies that are notoriously bad stewards of user data, like Facebook and Google. Users shouldn’t be required to read the excessive and overly-permissive contracts in every app. That’s something governments ought to regulate instead, and we should be expecting them to do a better job.

First Amendment Experts Warn Facebook Banning InfoWars Could Set Completely Reasonable Precedent For Free Speech

The Onion:

Acknowledging the widespread repercussions from the act of corporate censorship, first amendment experts warned Monday that Facebook’s decision to ban InfoWars could set a completely reasonable precedent for free speech. “If we allow giant media platforms to single out individual users for harassing the families of murdered kindergarteners, it could lead to a nightmare scenario of measured and well-thought-out public discourse,” said Georgetown law professor Charles F. Abernathy, cautioning that it was sometimes very easy for private organizations to draw a line between constitutionally protected free speech and the slanderous ravings of a bloated lunatic hawking snake oil supplements. […]

There’s no reason any platform should feel compelled to carry this unique brand of paranoia-based propaganda.

Update: Steve Kovach, CNBC:

Apple was the first major tech company to make a move against Alex Jones of Infowars on Sunday night by removing his podcast from iTunes.

But the Infowars iPhone app, which hosts some of the same content and themes found on the podcast, still lives on in the company’s App Store. In fact, the app had skyrocketed from below the top 10 to become the fourth most popular app in the news category — beating out the CNN and Fox News apps — by Tuesday morning. The boost was likely caused by increased downloads given the news Monday that Infowars was banned from several tech platforms.

It’s genuinely remarkable and alarming that such a garbage source is the fourth most popular free news app on the App Store right now, even in Canada.

But why is it still there? Apple clearly doesn’t want to index Jones’ hours of supplement sales radio interspersed with paranoia-driven intimidation and outrageous commentary, so why would it host an app that provides the same? The same is true of Google — the app is still available in the Google Play store, despite Jones being banned from YouTube.

Google Maps’ Influence on Neighbourhood Names

Jack Nicas, New York Times:

For decades, the district south of downtown and alongside San Francisco Bay here was known as either Rincon Hill, South Beach or South of Market. This spring, it was suddenly rebranded on Google Maps to a name few had heard: the East Cut.

[…]

The swift rebranding of the roughly 170-year-old district is just one example of how Google Maps has now become the primary arbiter of place names. With decisions made by a few Google cartographers, the identity of a city, town or neighborhood can be reshaped, illustrating the outsize influence that Silicon Valley increasingly has in the real world.

[…]

The service has also disseminated place names that are just plain puzzling. In New York, Vinegar Hill Heights, Midtown South Central (now NoMad), BoCoCa (for the area between Boerum Hill, Cobble Hill and Carroll Gardens), and Rambo (Right Around the Manhattan Bridge Overpass) have appeared on and off in Google Maps.

I wanted to know if this was widespread, so I opened Google Maps and found one straight away: apparently, Calgary has a community called Grandview which, so far as I can tell, doesn’t actually exist — the area Google Maps designates as Grandview is entirely in Ramsay. Even the area I grew up in, West Hillhurst, is called Upper Hillhurst in Google Maps, which is just north of Westmount, another neighbourhood that doesn’t exist. It’s easy to verify all of this because the municipal government publishes a list (PDF) of every neighbourhood in the city, and none of these areas are on it.

A Low-Power Mode for the Mac

Marco Arment:

Laptop battery life is decreasingly relevant to me as more airplanes offer power outlets. But sometimes you lose that lottery, as I did on my latest 8-hour daytime flight.

Apple’s “Up to 10 hours” claim doesn’t apply to my work, which is usually a mix of Xcode, web browsing, and social time-wasting, so I knew I’d have to seriously conserve power.

Sometimes, you just need Low Power Mode: the switch added to iOS a few years ago to conserve battery life when you need it, at the expense of full performance and background tasks.

I’ve long wanted something like this in MacOS, and not just for battery life. All too often, I find myself in a hotel or at a public WiFi hotspot and MacOS will still try to upload photos or download a software update. Many Canadian ISPs also have monthly bandwidth caps, and it would be rude to gobble up their monthly allowance with my giant RAW files. You can disable all of these things individually, but it’s a pain; I’d rather have a single toggle to temporarily reduce my computer’s resource use.

Update: Tully Hansen reminded me about TripMode, a third-party app that allows you to restrict bandwidth on a per-app basis.

Sarah Jeong Joins the New York Times, Finds Herself the Subject of Coordinated Harassment

The New York Times Company:

What would it be like if we all deleted Facebook? What does the future of online privacy look like?Why can’t the tech industry diversify? Are monkeys allowed to sue over copyrights? And what in the world is #cockygate?

To answer questions like these, the editorial board will soon be turning to Sarah Jeong, who will join us in September as our lead writer on technology. Sarah will also collaborate with Susan Fowler Rigetti, our incoming tech op-ed editor, and Kara Swisher, our latest contributor on tech issues.

Jeong is one of my favourite writers; this is terrific news. Unfortunately, some goblins dug up old — and mostly funny — tweets that she posted, and deliberately took them out of context to imply that she’s racist. There are understandable contextual differences between her tweets and, for example, Rosanne Barr’s.

The Verge, Jeong’s current employer, published an editor’s note admonishing this reprehensible abuse campaign:

Online trolls and harassers want us, the Times, and other newsrooms to waste their time by debating their malicious agenda. They take tweets and other statements out of context because they want to disrupt us and harm individual reporters. The strategy is to divide and conquer by forcing newsrooms to disavow their colleagues one at a time. This is not a good-faith conversation, it’s intimidation.

So we’re not going to fall for these disingenuous tactics. And it’s time other newsrooms learn to spot these hateful campaigns for what they are: attempts to discredit and undo the vital work of journalists who report on the most toxic communities on the internet. We are encouraged that our colleagues at The New York Times are standing by Sarah in the face of feigned outrage.

This is a good statement, but I agree more with Libby Watson of Splinter:

The New York Times really fucked this one up. Instead of ignoring this ridiculous complaint and letting it die — which it would have, because who the fuck cares what The Gateway Pundit is doing — they have validated it. (At least they didn’t fire her, you might say, but even responding to this garbage sets a terrible precedent and legitimizes a completely illegitimate, bad faith campaign to discredit Jeong and the Times itself.)

Now, according to the Times, it is fair to say that being rude about white people serves “to feed the vitriol that we too often see on social media,” and that her tweets represent a “type of rhetoric” at all and not just… jokes, nothingnesses, completely mundane and honestly quite boring observations that have no wider importance or meaning. Do we think Sarah Jeong actually enjoys chasing down and bullying old white men for fun? Do we think she earnestly wants to “cancel” white people? No, because that doesn’t mean anything — “cancel” doesn’t mean “do genocide to.”

Fringe trolls only have this kind of power if it is granted to them.

I look forward to reading Jeong’s columns in the Times starting next month.

Apple Removing iOS and Mac App Sales From Affiliate Program on October 1

This is the email everyone in Apple’s affiliate program received this afternoon:

Thank you for participating in the affiliate program for apps. With the launch of the new App Store on both iOS and macOS and their increased methods of app discovery, we will be removing apps from the affiliate program. Starting on October 1st, 2018, commissions for iOS and Mac apps and in-app content will be removed from the program. All other content types (music, movies, books, and TV) remain in the affiliate program.

Followed by some boilerplate stuff about the affiliate program and — in my copy, at least — a Japanese translation, but only a Japanese translation. Strange.

Stephen Hackett:

I can’t help but feel that Apple is waving off the wide array of sites that help consumers find apps as being unnecessary in light of Apple’s new editorial content within the App Store. I simply don’t believe that to be the case. The App Store is massive, and the crop of websites that have come to make a name for themselves comparing and reviewing apps add value to the ecosystem.

Federico Viticci:

Apple killing the affiliate program for apps feels downright hostile and petty.

Marco Arment:

Anyone still waiting for Apple to decrease its 30% cut?

One of the things that Apple has done fairly well is to encourage and cultivate a community of users who care deeply about the Apple products they use — not because they’re from Apple specifically, but because it’s a community of people who appreciate the tools that are essential components in their lives. Part of that community manifests as websites and blogs that focus on different aspects of the company: rumours, product reviews, retail stores,1 and new software.

A move like this is a frustrating kick in the teeth to that community. There are great websites that are built, in large part, on this revenue stream. It feels especially like a dick move coming just one day after Apple announced their highest-ever quarterly revenue from services and biggest third financial quarter in the company’s history. Is it for financial reasons? Is it because there are bad actors abusing the program? Nobody outside Apple knows for certain, but it feels like it’s dismissive of the greater Apple community.


  1. I’m reminded of Gary Allen’s IFO Apple Store every time I see an article about a new store “Town Square” opening. I miss him. ↩︎

Mac Sales in Apple’s Third Quarter of 2018

Joe Rossignol, MacRumors:

Apple on Tuesday reported that it sold 3.72 million Macs in its third quarter, which spanned April 1 through June 30, the fewest in any single quarter since it sold 3.47 million in the third quarter of 2010.

It’s almost like a product’s freshness and degree of activity surrounding it correlates with sales.

iPhone and iPad Sales in Apple’s Third Quarter of 2018

Jason Snell, Six Colors:

Now, iPhone unit sales are still down from the days of the iPhone 6. What’s changed is that the average selling price of an iPhone is up—way up. That’s mostly thanks to the iPhone X, which has a record-breaking price tag that hasn’t seemed to matter one whit in terms of consumer acceptance. (And for those who don’t want to spend $1000 on an iPhone X, apparently the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus hits the spot.)

[…]

The math is pretty straightforward: Apple sold 11.6 million iPads, which is slightly more than they sold in the year-ago quarter, but iPad revenue was down 5 percent, which means the average selling price of an iPad dipped. This isn’t surprising, because the more pricey iPad Pro models are long in the tooth and the cheap iPad is relatively new. What it suggests is that the iPad sales price will rise once new iPad Pros arrive (presumably this fall), but in the meantime the release of the low-cost iPad is keeping things afloat.

It’s almost like a product’s freshness and degree of activity surrounding it correlates with sales.