Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Archive for December, 2018

Microsoft Building New Browser Based on Chromium

Brad Sams, Petri:

With the launch of Windows 10, Microsoft tried to build a new browser that was based on their Trident rendering engine that we now know as Edge. But the browser has failed at its objective, to create a Microsoft-built browser that could compete with the likes of Chrome and Firefox.

Because of their lack of momentum since the release of Windows 10, the company is announcing a significant change today, they are building a new browser that is based on Chromium. And the company is bringing the new browser to every platform: Windows 7, 8, 10 and even MacOS.

While the company is not commenting on any timeline for availability aside from a preview build in early 2019, the basics are this: it’s building a new version of Edge, based on Chromium, that will be updated at a cadence that is not tied to Windows updates. Further, this app will not be in the Microsoft Store and will be serviced outside of that platform.

Chromium is already the most popular rendering engine in terms of worldwide browser share on any platform. This decision only builds upon that dominance, and it could lead to more websites built just for Chromium.

It’s funny, though, that the new Internet Explorer really is going to be the new Internet Explorer.

Ron Johnson Interviewed on ‘Without Fail’

I listened to this episode of Alex Blumberg’s “Without Fail” podcast last night and it is an absolutely terrific interview with Ron Johnson, the former head of Apple’s retail division and the guy who effectively brought the concept of the Apple Store to life. Johnson is such an easy conversationalist and a good storyteller.

One thing I thought about while listening to it is just how successful these stores are. To date, Apple has closed only two without a logical replacement. They are often packed with people, and Apple still has one of the best buying and support experiences in the consumer technology space. I still believe that there are elements of the store that have suffered, but they’re still leaps and bounds better than what you get anywhere else.

Google Is Discontinuing Allo, One of Its Messaging Apps, in March

Matt Klainer of Google:

We want every single Android device to have a great default messaging experience. We’ve been working closely with the mobile industry to upgrade SMS so that people around the world can more easily enjoy group chats, share high-res photos, and get read receipts on any Android device. Thanks to partnerships with over 40 carriers and device makers, over 175 million of you are now using Messages, our messaging app for Android phones, every month.

[…]

Allo will continue to work through March 2019 and until then, you’ll be able to export all of your existing conversation history from the app — here are instructions on how to do so. We’ve learned a lot from Allo, particularly what’s possible when you incorporate machine learning features, like the Google Assistant, into messaging.

Google’s desire for a great default messaging experience on every Android device has seen them launch and kill several apps with no clear argument, definable strategy, or even a sense of which one they think users should actually use.

Facebook Bought WhatsApp After Seeing Its Growth Through Onavo VPN

Charlie Warzel and Ryan Mac, Buzzfeed:

In February 2014, Facebook purchased the messaging service WhatsApp for $19 billion. The acquisition price was staggering for an app that made little money and was largely popular outside the United States.

Now, newly published confidential Facebook emails and charts show exactly why CEO Mark Zuckerberg spent a small fortune for the messaging app. For months, the company had been tracking WhatsApp obsessively using Onavo, a VPN and data analytics app, whose data showed that the messaging app was not just a rising competitor, but a potential Facebook killer.

The overall unrestricted growth of Facebook — and, in particular, its purchases of Onavo, WhatsApp, and Instagram — should be regarded as one of the greatest failures to apply antitrust regulations in decades.

Facebook Knew Android Call-Scraping Would Be ‘High-Risk’

Russell Brandom, the Verge:

In March, many Android users were shocked to discover that Facebook had been collecting a record of their call and SMS history, as revealed by the company’s data download tool. Now, internal emails released by the UK Parliament show how the decision was made internally. According to the emails, developers knew the data was sensitive, but they still pushed to collect it as a way of expanding Facebook’s reach.

The emails show Facebook’s growth team looking to call log data as a way to improve Facebook’s algorithms as well as to locate new contacts through the “People You May Know” feature. Notably, the project manager recognized it as “a pretty high-risk thing to do from a PR perspective,” but that risk seems to have been overwhelmed by the potential user growth.

The key message here is that Facebook is only concerned about how it looks publicly — not the reasons why it would be negatively received. They don’t care that asking Android users for permission to read and upload logs of their phone calls and text messages is a profoundly creepy thing to do. They care that, when it is reported, there are talking points ready to go.

Furthermore, according to these emails, Facebook’s developers worked to remove the part where the app has to ask for users’ permission to read their call logs. They figured out a way to simply take it.

Facebook has made a series of disturbing choices unparalleled by any of its competitors. When they’re not mining individual users’ phones for details they can use to feed their advertising and user retention figures, they mislead users to download VPN software that helps Facebook know which apps are popular so that they can either buy or copy them. They also track web browsing activity, retain non-users’ contact details, and unfairly monopolize the web in developing nations. Oh, and they’ve been a contributing force in escalating violence and even genocide in Myanmar, Sri Lanka, the Philippines, and India.

To blame one company with a few websites and apps for so many of the world’s woes seems out of scale; however, it is not inaccurate — and perhaps that level of control and dominance is the most terrifying aspect of all. I can’t make the argument that Facebook ought to be shut down. But what would we really lose if that happened?

The Enormous Life of Anthony Bourdain

Anthony Bourdain died six months ago Saturday, but it is, for me, one of those deaths that will always feel fresh. GQ has headlined this piece “The Last Curious Man” — I hope that isn’t the case. If anything, his death should, at the absolute least, inspire more people to do what he did. Explore. Eat. Learn. However you can, within whatever budget you have.

Kuo: AirPods Are Apple’s Most Successful Accessory Ever

Todd Haselton, CNBC:

[Ming-Chi Kuo], who has a track record of accurately predicting Apple product launches, said AirPods are Apple’s most popular accessory ever.

In the note, Kuo said Apple AirPods have the fastest growth momentum of any Apple product. Kuo estimates Apple will ship 26 million to 28 million AirPod units this year, up from 14 million to 16 million in 2017. Kuo also expects Apple to release a new version of AirPods next year with wireless charging that will help propel shipments to 50 million to 55 million units next year, 70 million to 80 million units in 2020 and 100 million to 110 million units in 2021.

On a purely anecdotal basis, this doesn’t surprise me in the slightest. I’ve seen AirPods in increasing ears, especially in the past year. I’ve been in New York for much of the past week and it seems like a third of each subway car at rush hour is wearing their AirPods.

Oddly, even though Kuo’s sources indicate an early 2019 AirPods update — meaning April or before, if Kuo is using Apple’s definition of “early” — he does not mention the AirPower. Those products seemed to go hand-in-glove, and releasing the case without the charging mat would not be a good sign for the announced AirPower product.

By the way, I’m thrilled that the AirPods seem like such a fantastic product. Would it be too much to ask for a version that fits my ears, too?

Update: Victoria Song of Gizmodo points to a patent filing that suggests my wishes may eventually come true:

The patent drawings showcase a design that can be “symmetric so the earbud can be worn interchangeably in either a left or right ear.” The biometric sensors would then be used to tell which earbud was in what ear and automatically adjust sound accordingly. There’s also mention of using foam to provide “constant force independent of ear size”—a departure from the all-plastic design of current AirPods. […]

Hallelujah.

Data for 100 Million Quora Users Compromised

Adam D’Angelo of Quora:

For approximately 100 million Quora users, the following information may have been compromised:

  • Account information, e.g. name, email address, encrypted (hashed) password, data imported from linked networks when authorized by users

  • Public content and actions, e.g. questions, answers, comments, upvotes

  • Non-public content and actions, e.g. answer requests, downvotes, direct messages (note that a low percentage of Quora users have sent or received such messages)

A security breach is never a good thing, and the compromise of a hundred million users’ account details puts this up there with some of the biggest breaches.

However, I want to give kudos to Quora on three fronts. First, the response speed: they discovered this on Friday and we’re learning about it on Monday, shortly after they believe they fixed the flaw. Quick response times are rare in cases like this one, and they handled that well.

Second:

While the passwords were encrypted (hashed with a salt that varies for each user), it is generally a best practice not to reuse the same password across multiple services, and we recommend that people change their passwords if they are doing so.

It is never a great thing then passwords are leaked in any form. But Quora did password security right by uniquely-salting and hashing them.

And third:

Questions and answers that were written anonymously are not affected by this breach as we do not store the identities of people who post anonymous content.

This is fantastic. Lazy programmers would simply replace user-identifying attributes on the frontend with anonymized versions and call it a day. Sincere kudos to their engineering team for doing anonymous posting the correct way.