Month: July 2019

Dara Sharif, the Root:

Donald Trump ramped up his efforts Wednesday night to demonize the four progressive, freshman congresswomen informally known as “the Squad,” reveling in a raucous crowd’s chants of “Send her back! Send her back!” in reference to his latest target, Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.).

Despite a House vote Tuesday to condemn racist comments Trump made telling Omar and her fellow “Squad” members to “go back” where they came from, Trump, during a Wednesday night “Make America Great Again” rally in Greenville, N.C., continued to lob the same refrain.

Goldie Taylor, the Daily Beast:

The president is a racist, in his words and his actions.

Before you go clutching your pearls and extolling the virtues of “civility,” let me say this: Put a sock in it.

Adam Serwer, the Atlantic:

[…] In the face of a corrupt authoritarian president who believes that he and his allies are above the law, the American people are represented by two parties equally incapable of discharging their constitutional responsibilities. The Republican Party is incapable of fulfilling its constitutional responsibilities because it has become a cult of personality whose members cannot deviate from their sycophantic devotion to the president, lest they be ejected from office by Trump’s fanatically loyal base. The Democratic Party cannot fulfill its constitutional responsibilities because its leadership lives in abject terror of being ejected from office by alienating the voters to whom Trump’s nationalism appeals. In effect, the majority of the American electorate, which voted against Trump in 2016 and then gave the Democrats a House majority in 2018, has no representation.

Hamilton Nolan, Splinter:

This evolution in our national tone, I assumed, was a permanent one. The battle was no longer mostly against explicit, legal racism, but rather against implicit racism and racist structures and inequality rooted and racism — all of which would always be denied, because racism itself was no longer considered respectable. The most obvious manifestation of this is the fact that “racist” seems to the one of the last things that white people genuinely object to being called. Even a powerful person who constantly speaks and acts in ways that are racist, and who pursues policies that will inarguably achieve racist ends, will bristle and wail at being branded a racist. It carries the power of a word that was forged in a social justice struggle spanning centuries. Those who explicitly embraced racism were pushed to the fringes; the price of staying in the mainstream was raised by a token amount, to the disavowal of racist ideals even if you in fact operated in a way that furthered oppression.

I’m afraid that even the very thin layer of perceptual progress that seemed to be permanent may be eroding after all. […]

I cannot imagine being part of a marginalized group in the United States at any point in history; but, in particular, I cannot imagine the gut-churning anxiety of the last four years and, in particular, the past several days. An election is not until next year, and this language will only get darker and more explicit until then. The oppressors are wearing their vilest of beliefs as badges of honour. As a neighbour, I urge my Amercian readers to stand against this with all they can muster. In Canada, we must do the same — we’re sliding into the abyss, too.

Remember how bad the battery life was in the first LTE phones? That’s nothing compared to the problems Joanna Stern saw in this first wave of 5G devices. When it works, it’s wildly impressive, but getting it to work presently requires an extraordinarily narrow set of circumstances.

A reminder that pundits have spent the past year or so claiming that Apple just has to introduce a 5G iPhone in 2019 or they’ll fall behind. It remains unclear what they should be so eager to catch up to.

Jennifer Miller of the New York Times wrote about the eruption of podcasting popularity — a seemingly evergreen topic. Nieman Lab wondered in 2017 if we had hit “peak podcast”, while Wired thought the same in 2015. Podcasts were “back” in 2012, according to Social Media Examiner, and also in 2014, according to the Washington Post. 2005 was the “year of the podcast”, according to Slate. Podcasting seems perpetually mainstream and, also, simultaneously on the verge of death.

Much as I think this story subject is well worn, there’s plenty of research in Miller’s article that helps provide a sort of status update on the podcasting industry. One stat she quotes near the end of the piece is particularly eye-opening: less than 20% of podcasts tracked by Blubrry issued a new episode between March and May. Unlike blogs, there doesn’t seem to be innumerable episodes of podcasts that begin with an apology for a lack of updates.

But Miller begins her piece with this curious anecdote:

In 2016, Morgan Mandriota and Lester Lee, two freelance writers looking to grow their personal brands, decided to start a podcast. They called it “The Advice Podcast” and put about as much energy into the show’s production as they did the name. (After all, no one was paying them for this. Yet.) Each week, the friends, neither of whom had professional experience dispensing advice, met in a free room at the local library and recorded themselves chatting with an iPhone 5.

“We assumed we’d be huge, have affiliate marketing deals and advertisements,” Ms. Mandriota said.

But six episodes in, when neither Casper mattresses nor MeUndies had come knocking, the friends quit.

I’m not sure what this part of the story is communicating, other than sounding like an Onion article. Is it that the world of podcasting is not a surefire way to a product endorsement deal? And, if so, is that supposed to be surprising, especially after a handful of weak attempts? Is it just a given assumption that the aspiration of every podcaster is a product pitch person, or even that they’re looking for a career in internet broadcasting?1

Two excerpts that I think are warranted, though:

Call him cynical, but Jordan Harbinger, host of “The Jordan Harbinger Show” podcast, thinks there is a “podcast industrial complex.” Hosts aren’t starting shows “because it’s a fun, niche hobby,” he said. “They do it to make money or because it will make them an influencer.”


“So many of these are just painful,” said Tom Webster, the senior vice president of Edison Research, which tracks consumer media behavior. “We revere the great interviewers, but it’s an incredible skill that nobody has. What did Terry Gross do before she had her own show? Well, she was an interviewer, not a marketer for a software company.”

I don’t mean to denigrate software marketing podcasts or more conversational styles of episodes — everyone likes something different, and these are clearly enjoyable for lots of people. But these excerpts illustrate what makes some podcasts work for me: well-edited storytelling or interviews by enthusiastic hosts. Aching to be an “influencer” is like aspiring to be a QVC host.

  1. For what it’s worth, I’ve been writing this website for about nine years now as a labour of love, and I bet that it will stay that way. I’m okay with that. If you’d like to send me tens of thousands of dollars, though, I won’t say no. ↥︎

Lucas Shaw and Mark Gurman, Bloomberg:

Apple Inc. plans to fund original podcasts that would be exclusive to its audio service, according to people familiar with the matter, increasing its investment in the industry to keep competitors Spotify and Stitcher at bay.

Executives at the company have reached out to media companies and their representatives to discuss buying exclusive rights to podcasts, according to the people, who asked not to be identified because the conversations are preliminary. Apple has yet to outline a clear strategy, but has said it plans to pursue the kind of deals it didn’t make before.

Avi Salzman, Barron’s:

Podcasting could become a lot more like television — with shows siloed on different services and companies competing to host must-have content. That means you might have to pay up — or at least listen to extra ads — to hear your favorite podcasters.

Manton Reece:

No one is too alarmed by this Apple rumor, because maybe nothing will come of it. But a good way to think about it is to imagine if the popularity of Apple and Spotify were reversed. Imagine if Spotify was the one with 60% of the podcast app market and then they decided to release Spotify-only exclusive “podcasts”. It would be an obvious threat to the openness of podcasts.

This is an understandable, predictable, and inauspicious direction to take. Is anyone — aside from executives, of course — excited about an increased siloing of media? I doubt it.

You probably noticed the new app when it self-importantly plopped its icon into your MacOS dock today and jumped to the foreground on its own volition. It’s a very rude new app that occupies several times as much hard drive space because it includes a full copy of the Chromium embedded framework.

The poor folks running the Dropbox Support Twitter account have spent the day telling MacOS users that it is not possible to hide or remove the dock icon in MacOS, and helping users disable the new app. Always a good sign on launch day.

Turns out that you can remove the dock icon by disabling the new app. Go to Dropbox Preferences and, under the General tab, change the “Open Folders In” option to “Finder”. Then quit the Dropbox app and drag that icon out of the dock; it should remain in the menu bar and continue syncing.

Also, consider getting rid of your Dropbox account, because this is a symptom of a company with rotten priorities.

Update: Dropbox says that the wide release of the new app was inadvertent and they’re rolling users back to the previous version. A more cynical writer might see this as a way for the company to cover their ass in the wake of a poorly-received update, but I have no evidence to support such an assertion.

Update: Ben Sandofsky:

Quitting the new Dropbox file manager from the dock just hides it. It’s still sitting in the background, consuming resources for no reason. Your only option is to kill all of Dropbox, which includes syncing.

Gross. This app is part of a completely misguided shift in strategy towards an enterprise focus, and I can’t imagine it will be successful.

The MacBook Air should be the Volkswagen Golf of computers: everything the vast majority of people need with no easily-discovered compromises. It’s the thing you buy unless there’s a specific reason not to. Apple knocked it out of the park for years by shipping fast, thin, and light notebooks that lasted all day and didn’t cost a fortune. Truly, the 2010–2016 MacBook Air will be remembered as a category-defining product on the level of the iPhone or the iPad.

The 2018 revision didn’t quite hit the same mark. It received welcome refinements drawn from Apple’s modern notebook strategy — Retina display, simplified unibody construction, and USB-C and Thunderbolt 3 connectors — but with noticeable compromises, most obviously with the unreliable “butterfly” keyboard design and the product’s higher cost.

Based on Bohn’s review, it seems like this year’s revision gets closer to correcting the balance. Get a decent keyboard in these things again and there ought to be no reason for most people with the money to spend to even consider buying anything else.

Benson Leung counts six:

Why did it come to this? This problem was created because the USB-C connectors were designed to replace all of the previous USB connectors at the same time as vastly increasing what the cable could do in power, data, and display dimensions. The new connector may be and virtually impossible to plug in improperly (no USB superposition problem, no grabbing the wrong end of the cable), but sacrificed for that simplicity is the ability to intuitively know whether the system you’ve connected together has all of the functionality possible. The USB spec also cannot simply mandate that all USB-C cables have the maximum number of wires all the time because that would vastly increase BOM cost for cases where the cable is just used for charging primarily.

Thunderbolt 3 makes this even more complicated, as it fits yet more functionality into a connector of exactly the same size and shape. USB 4 will merge the two standards, but I can’t work out whether that will make for more or less confusion.

William J. Broad, New York Times:

In 2000, the Broward County Public Schools in Florida received an alarming report. Like many affluent school districts at the time, Broward was considering laptops and wireless networks for its classrooms and 250,000 students. Were there any health risks to worry about?

The district asked Bill P. Curry, a consultant and physicist, to study the matter. The technology, he reported back, was “likely to be a serious health hazard.” He summarized his most troubling evidence in a large graph labeled “Microwave Absorption in Brain Tissue (Grey Matter).”

The chart showed the dose of radiation received by the brain as rising from left to right, with the increasing frequency of the wireless signal. The slope was gentle at first, but when the line reached the wireless frequencies associated with computer networking, it shot straight up, indicating a dangerous level of exposure.


Except that Dr. Curry and his graph got it wrong.

According to experts on the biological effects of electromagnetic radiation, radio waves become safer at higher frequencies, not more dangerous. (Extremely high-frequency energies, such as X-rays, behave differently and do pose a health risk.)

This is a great piece about how poorly-conducted research robbed of context can badly skew understanding for decades to come. I still think that Broad muddies his decent science reporting by ascribing too much weight to weak Russian propaganda efforts, though. There’s plenty of clear-headed reporting here that sufficiently debunks the meritless claims of a few.

Brian Feldman, New York magazine:

We are now entering the final hours of Prime Day, an alleged sales “event” from Amazon that is actually two days long. The catalyzing idea of Prime Day is ostensibly to conjure a shopping holiday out of thin air, which manifests in reality as “let’s just choose two days in which we bombard people with things they might impulse buy.” The problem with this is that, as far as I can tell, was designed by madmen who were challenged by the richest man on earth to build the most insane website on the planet.

Amazon is starting to remind me of one of those liquidation store brands that I remember being super popular in the late 1990s to early 2000s, or some surplus warehouse. Its inventory is a mix of knockoff items, high fashion next to suspiciously-branded goods, obvious crap, and genuine deals — all piled together, and staffed by overworked and underpaid employees in unsanitary and unsafe conditions.

Juli Clover, MacRumors:

The 2019 MacBook Air, refreshed last week, appears to have a slower SSD than the 2018 MacBook Air, according to testing by French site Consomac. Using testing with the Blackmagic Disk Speed benchmarking test, the site found that the read speeds of the new SSD are lower.

A test of the 2019 MacBook Air with 256GB of storage demonstrated write speeds of 1GB/s and read speeds of 1.3GB/s. An equivalent model released in 2018 featured write speeds of 920MB/s and read speeds of 2GB/s. While write speeds are on par with the older machine (and are even slightly better), read speeds have dropped 35 percent.

As far as compromises go, I think this is a pretty good one: very few people will notice this and, if it’s what allowed Apple to reduce prices, it’s beneficial to anyone who wants a larger internal drive and doesn’t want to remortgage their home.

Adam Walser, ABC Tampa Bay:

I-Team Investigator Adam Walser obtained records showing the state sold information on Florida drivers and ID cardholders to more than 30 private companies, including marketing firms, bill collectors, insurance companies and data brokers in the business of reselling information.

The Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles raked in more than $77 million for driver and ID cardholder information sales in fiscal 2017.

The I-Team wanted to know how much of that money came from marketing firms, but the agency in charge of driver information estimated it would take 154 hours of research and cost nearly $3,000 for the state to give taxpayers an answer.

TechCrunch reporter Sarah Perez pointed to several similar stories from South Carolina, Pennsylvania, Alabama, and other states.

It’s no wonder policymakers are loathe to strictly regulate the use and dissemination of private data — they’re in on the grift.

Dan Nosowitz, Modern Farmer:

So the cranberry industry is saying that it is unfair for them to have to correctly label their added sugars, because a product, like, say, raisins naturally have a high sugar content, and thus (correctly) do not need to use the “added sugar” phrasing. But dried cranberries — WHICH HAVE SUGAR ADDED TO THEM BECAUSE OTHERWISE THEY TASTE BAD — should not be penalized. After all, cranberry producers are only adding sugar to them so they can taste as good as products like raisins, which have no sugars added to them because they taste good as they are.

You may remember previous discussion about the power of the cranberry lobby in a Last Week Tonight segment that aired nearly five years ago. I don’t know why you would choose to eat cranberries when currants exist, but that’s just me.

Emily Glazer, Ryan Tracy, and Jeff Horwitz broke the news for the Wall Street Journal:

The Federal Trade Commission has endorsed a roughly $5 billion settlement with Facebook Inc. over a long-running probe into the tech giant’s privacy missteps, according to people familiar with the matter.

FTC commissioners this past week voted 3-2 in favor of the agreement, with the Republican majority backing the pact while Democratic commissioners objected, the people said. The matter has been moved to the Justice Department’s civil division and it is unclear how long it will take to finalize, one of the people said. Justice Department reviews are part of FTC procedure but typically don’t change the outcome of a decision by the commission.

Cecilia Kang, New York Times:

In addition to the fine, Facebook agreed to more comprehensive oversight of how it handles user data, according to the people. But none of the conditions in the settlement will restrict Facebook’s ability to collect and share data with third parties. And that decision appeared to split the five-member commission. The two Democrats who voted against the deal sought stricter limits on the company, the people said.

Mike Isaac:

[T]he fact that [Facebook] shares surged instead of sank on the FTC news is the story.

This fine is at the upper bound of what Facebook estimated earlier this year, but it’s still pretty weak. The company booked $15 billion in revenue last quarter alone. This is a cost of doing business and, combined with the company’s cynical efforts to redefine “privacy”, will likely have little effect on their ability to exploit users’ behaviour at a global scale.

Jon Brodkin, Ars Technica:

WarnerMedia, the division AT&T created when it bought Time Warner, today announced a new online streaming service called “HBO Max.” HBO Max will debut in the spring of 2020 and include exclusives that will no longer be available on other streaming platforms.

HBO Max will have exclusive streaming rights to all episodes of Friends, The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, and Pretty Little Liars. Friends and Pretty Little Liars are currently available on Netflix, so they’ll both leave that service by the time HBO Max launches.


AT&T is making Time Warner shows exclusive to HBO Max even though it told government officials that it would continue to distribute Time Warner content as widely as possible.

Karl Bode, Techdirt:

On its surface this doesn’t seem like that big of a deal. After all, Friends is an old show, and most users probably won’t care. And it’s certainly not the only show getting this treatment (Comcast NBC Universal just made The Office exclusive to its streaming platform, and Disney is also pulling Netflix content for exclusive use on its own looming Disney+ service). But more broadly, the more essential content AT&T makes exclusive to its own platform (especially and likely inevitably, HBO), the more difficult it will be to compete with AT&T. Knowing AT&T, there’s going to be far more exclusives where this came from.

This is all before you even get to net neutrality and AT&T’s domination in broadband, which has allowed it to behave anti-competitively in different, even more problematic ways (like only imposing arbitrary usage caps if you use a competitor’s service). Letting companies like Comcast NBC Universal and AT&T Time Warner dominate both the conduit and the content will ultimately result in a universe of headaches for competitors and consumers alike. And Judge Leon’s failure to see (or acknowledge) this will be a “gift” that keeps on giving for the next decade.

The gutless lack of enforcement of American antitrust laws is going to make everyone beg for the days of paying eighty bucks a month for a hundred cable channels you didn’t need so that you could get the six you actually wanted.

Update: The calculus here is that Friends is worth more than $100 million per year to AT&T for its HBO Max platform.

Lente Van Hee, Ruben Van Den Heuvel, Tim Verheyden, and Denny Baert, VRT:

It is true that Google does not eavesdrop directly, but VRT NWS discovered that it is listening in. Or rather: that it lets people listen in. We let ordinary Flemish people hear some of their own recordings. ‘This is undeniably my own voice’, says one man, clearly surprised.

A couple from Waasmunster immediately recognise the voice of their son and their grandchild.

What did we do? VRT NWS was able to listen to more than a thousand excerpts recorded via Google Assistant. In these recordings we could clearly hear addresses and other sensitive information. This made it easy for us to find the people involved and confront them with the audio recordings.

David Monsees of Google:

We just learned that one of these language reviewers has violated our data security policies by leaking confidential Dutch audio data. Our Security and Privacy Response teams have been activated on this issue, are investigating, and we will take action. We are conducting a full review of our safeguards in this space to prevent misconduct like this from happening again.

We apply a wide range of safeguards to protect user privacy throughout the entire review process. Language experts only review around 0.2 percent of all audio snippets. Audio snippets are not associated with user accounts as part of the review process, and reviewers are directed not to transcribe background conversations or other noises, and only to transcribe snippets that are directed to Google.

Surely, with such a low proportion of audio clips that humans review, Google could ask for permission before the review process begins, right? This is particularly important for any of these smart assistant appliances that are scattered throughout the home.

Jason Kint:

I’m not sending link but Google and Facebook’s reps (called the Internet Association), just launched a propaganda site intended to undermine new California privacy law (CCPA) by confusing public into thinking their surveillance advertising is necessary to fund free content. Lies.

This is the same strategy Google and Facebook backed in Europe. Efforts like this show the insincerity, if not lies, of their CEOs Pichai and Zuckerberg when they write op-eds stating they embrace privacy and try to gaslight lawmakers and the public. Unlike Microsoft and Apple.

The campaign is called Keep the Internet Free, and it’s a crock of shit. The new privacy laws enacted in California do not prohibit advertising, nor do they prohibit data collection outright. But the Internet Association — members of which include Google, Facebook, Airbnb, Uber, Reddit, Twitter, and Microsoft — is deliberately conflating advertising and behaviourally-targeted surveillance. If user tracking is prohibited, it will not outlaw advertising on the web or in apps, nor will it kill the tech landscape as we know it. It will just mean ads that are less creepy.

Katie Notopoulos, BuzzFeed News:

Facebook launched a transparency tool this week that will give people a little more information about how their targeted ads work (good!). Now you can see more details about why you’re seeing an ad in your feed, how it is linked to an ad agency or data broker, and how to opt out of interest-based ad campaigns run by businesses that have your information. The bad news is that looking at it may end up just making you feel worse about how your data is passed around by third-party data brokers — credit reporting bureaus and marketing agencies — like Halloween candy.

This should at least partially solve the mysterious presence of cross-country car dealerships and furniture stores — typically, other clients associated with these data brokers — appearing on the advertising settings page for many users. But this doesn’t go far enough. If we’re going to put up with behaviourally-targeted advertising — and we should not, because it is deeply corrosive to our privacy, unethical, and not particularly effective — but if we are, then these ads should be required to list every single targeting method they’re using, plus all of the companies that had a hand in placing that ad on your screen.

One thing that keeps nagging at me — and which is supported by the reporting in this episode — is the concentration of toxicity enabled by metrics-optimized platforms. This detrimental environment is exacerbated by the scale and anticompetitive network effects of these platforms. It’s worrying how easily the most vile of fringe views can be elevated by seemingly-benign features when they’re applied at the scale of YouTube or Facebook.

Zack Whittaker, TechCrunch:

Apple has released a silent update for Mac users removing a vulnerable component in Zoom, the popular video conferencing app, which allowed websites to automatically add a user to a video call without their permission.

The Cupertino, Calif.-based tech giant told TechCrunch that the update — now released — removes the hidden web server, which Zoom quietly installed on users’ Macs when they installed the app.

Apple said the update does not require any user interaction and is deployed automatically.

Howard Oakley:

According to information given to TechCrunch this evening, Apple says that this update removes the hidden web server installed by previous versions of the Zoom client. If this is the case, it is the first known deployment of MRT to remove a vulnerable product like this, rather than malware. However, TechCrunch doesn’t mention the use of MRT.

You can check whether this update has been installed by opening System Information via About This Mac, and selecting the Installations item under Software.

Even if users don’t update their copy of Zoom to the newest version that lacks the silently-installed web server, this step should mean that this serious vulnerability has been closed off.

It’s also notable that Apple now has several avenues by which it can disable software without any user interaction.