Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Archive for February, 2022

As War Rages on in Ukraine, Don’t Forget the Real Victim: Disney

Mike Masnick, Techdirt:

Like many of you, I’m sure, I’ve spent the past week following the news of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and feeling mostly helpless about such tragic events. On the other hand, Disney wants you to remember the real tragedy happening here: how this invasion might negatively impact its profits. As Jamie Love points out on Twitter, Disney Music Group’s Peter Jansson sent an email to a public mailing list to highlight what really matters here: the lack of royalties that will be coming from Russia and Ukraine.

Spare a thought for Disney. Does not have to be a good thought; just a thought of any kind.

Jim Dalrymple Is Retiring From Writing

Jim Dalrymple:

This is the most difficult, but at the same time, the most exciting story I have ever written. After almost 30 years of reporting on Apple, I am retiring.

[…]

From the early days at MacCentral in 1994, then to MacWorld in 1999, and starting The Loop in 2009, I have always tried to be honest in my reporting. I look back at my career with satisfaction and pride, knowing that I did the best I could.

So long, thanks for all of the yeps, and congratulations to Dalrymple on his semi-retirement and forthcoming wedding.

Catalogue Music’s Dominance Extends to Streaming Platforms

Ted Gioia, the Honest Broker:

I had a hunch that old songs were taking over music streaming platforms — but even I was shocked when I saw the most recent numbers. According to MRC Data, old songs now represent 70% of the US music market.

[…]

I can understand the frustrations of music lovers getting no satisfaction from the current songs, though they try and they try. I also lament the lack of imagination on many current hits. But I disagree with their larger verdict. I listen to 2-3 hours of new music every day, and I know that there are plenty of outstanding young musicians out there. The problem isn’t that they don’t exist, but that the music industry has lost its ability to discover and nurture their talents.

Gioia explores many possibilities for why catalogue music — recordings from more than eighteen months prior — is dominating charts. Maybe big artists are delaying releases due to the pandemic, causing audiences to retreat to songs they already know and love. Perhaps TikTok is to blame for keeping tracks with endlessly reusable choruses — like Gayle’s “ABCDEFU” — on the charts, though how that explains Glass Animals’ “Heat Waves” spending over a year on the Billboard Hot 100 is anyone’s guess.

But there is a simpler reason I think makes the most sense.

Ben Gilbert, Synchtank:

Kriss Thakrar, consultant at MIDiA Research, believes the answer is connected to both technology and demographics. “The audiences of streaming platforms are getting older. Most of the early adoption was from millennials who are now in their late 20s and 30s. There are twice as many people over the age of 35 as there are under 25 on streaming so the listening habits will naturally skew towards older music, coupled with younger listeners also being inclined to listen to older songs,” he told Synchtank.

“However, millennials remain Spotify’s core audience and music from this millennium (but still over two plus years old) forms the vast majority of music consumption. With catalog forming the majority of consumption on streaming, it is no wonder that the owners of that catalog are set to benefit the most. This creates new opportunities for older artists to monetise their catalog and overall it works well for labels and publishers,” commented Thakrar.

No matter how much new music I listen to, there is an ever-growing depth of stuff I have already listened to which I am able to return to. That is not to say there is only a singular factor, nor that no new stars have emerged from the music industry — Lil Nas X and Doja Cat have established their presence with aplomb. But in an aging nation (PDF), like the U.S., it surely seems like more people gravitating toward the familiar means older music has an edge.

Social Media in New Wartime

I have little to add. The atrocities committed by Russia are unspeakably worrying; I hope Ukrainians can find safety.

This collection of links has been helpful for me to process some of the more concerning information trends that have accelerated in the past few days.

Abbie Richards, Media Matters:

In particular, the reuseable audio feature — the backbone of TikTok, originally designed for lip-syncing and making memes — is proving to be a major source of digital misinformation in a time of conflict. Some users are putting their own videos on top of existing audios of explosions and armed conflict. Audio from a February 18 viral video (before the invasion began) containing gunfire was used in over 1,700 videos before TikTok finally removed it. Many of these videos added shaky camera footage on top of this audio to give the appearance of other videos of conflict.

[…]

Beyond the platform’s features that are allowing misrepresentation to proliferate through these videos, TikTok’s algorithm is subsequently building on users’ anxiety surrounding the conflict by surfacing old or unrelated videos on the platform’s main feed, the “For You” page. For instance, there’s a February 4 post that features footage from Almaty, Kazakhstan, and has 32.5 million views. There’s been a barrage of English-language comments on the video within the last two days indicating users think the footage is from Ukraine, even though the creator has noted the location of the footage and that it’s from January 5.

There is a surreal aspect to viewing the outbreak of war through the conveniences offered by social media, and I doubt we are ready to comprehend its consequences. A report earlier today said the invasion was detected by Google Maps’ traffic features before it was announced. I watched near-live footage of helicopters dropping flares in Snapchat’s world map feature.

Abby Ohlheiser, MIT Technology Review:

The fast-paced online coverage of the Russian invasion of Ukraine on Wednesday followed a pattern that’s become familiar in other recent crises that have unfolded around the world. Photos, videos, and other information are posted and reshared across platforms much faster than they can be verified.

The result is that falsehoods are mistaken for truth and amplified, even by well-intentioned people. This can help bad actors to terrorize innocent civilians or advance disturbing ideologies, causing real harm.

[…]

Harmful propaganda and misinformation are often inadvertently amplified as people face the firehose of breaking news and interact with viral posts about a terrible event. This guide is for those who want to avoid helping bad actors.

Everything about this is disturbing and I do not think social media companies are ready for their inevitable role of being a dumb pipe for propaganda and misinformation. One of the little ways we can all help Ukrainians for the foreseeable future is to be vigilant and avoid spreading rumours.

Making a Good Example of a Bad Example

John C. Welch (via Michael Tsai):

As most of y’all know, I’ve been kind of up in the OneDrive debacle for a while, going back to when the “new” OneDrive was only available on the Insider builds and breaking everything. But like everything that goes this epically wrong, there’s a lot others (and the OneDrive team) can learn from this epic situation

This is a terrific list. Item number one?

One Major Change At A Time

One of the biggest things that’s hitting OneDrive Mac users is that there’s two fundamental changes hitting them at once. This isn’t new chrome or a slight reordering of things, OneDrive on the Mac has made two fundamental changes that affect everyone using the app. One of those, the moving of the OneDrive root was imposed on them via API changes from Apple. The other is the Files-On-Demand being no longer optional. My guess is the latter was in the works when the former hit, and rather than delay the FoD changes, they went ahead with them anyways, “may as well have all the pain at once.”

Developers, if anyone ever suggests this to you, fight back as hard as possible, because this will cause you pain for years. Years. […]

This is such a good attempt of making the best of a terrible situation. These two big changes have many implications, and it has robbed me of any trust I had in OneDrive. I already disliked its behaviour, but at least I understood it. Now, that rug has been pulled out in a way that is profoundly upsetting. I am still working through problems caused by this update. For example, placeholder files are not automatically created for the entire OneDrive directory, only for files and folders I have opened. This means Spotlight cannot index those files and folders, which means I cannot fully search OneDrive on my Mac. It does not matter to me whether this is Microsoft’s fault or Apple’s. It matters that I am surprised — daily — by new roadblocks in my existing workflow caused by software updates and under-hood changes no user should have to think about.

I know there are smart people building these products, but it oftentimes feels like nobody in charge of shipping them cares about how damaging this kind of stuff is for users. It is insulting.

The Associated Press Wanted to Sell an NFT of Video of Migrants Adrift at Sea

Molly White, in her excellent Web3 is Going Just Great project:

However, on February 24 they announced that their newest NFT would show a short, top-down video of around fifty migrants crammed into a small inflatable boat, adrift at sea in the Mediterranean. Any goodwill the AP might have had for their NFT project was likely shattered by their choice to monetize a video of human suffering. The already horrific NFT announcement was particularly ill-timed, given its juxtaposition on many Twitter feeds amongst news of Russian military action against Ukraine. The Associated Press deleted the announcement tweet four hours later.

When I first saw a screenshot of this tweeted by Rob Sheridan, I could barely believe it was real, but it was. The AP really decided it would be a fantastic idea to sell the ownership — in whatever bizarre way an NFT constitutes “ownership” — of a video of migrants escaping their homeland.

The Associated Press:

We deleted an earlier tweet promoting an upcoming NFT auction. This was a poor choice of imagery for an NFT. It has not and will not be put up for auction.

No shit. Consider that at least a few people were surely involved in this process: someone to operate the NFT auction, a social media person to write the tweet, and some managers along the way. This is a clearly terrible idea that somehow sailed through the approvals process because, I guess, the lure of NFTs is simply too good to second-guess the humanity of the situation.

Margrethe Vestager Says Tech Giants May Prefer Fines to Compliance

Foo Yun Chee, Reuters:

European Commission Vice President and digital chief Margrethe Vestager said Apple’s behaviour could indicate other big companies behave similarly.

“Some gatekeepers may be tempted to play for time or try to circumvent the rules,” she said in an online speech at a U.S. awards ceremony on Tuesday.

“Apple’s conduct in the Netherlands these days may be an example. As we understand it, Apple essentially prefers paying periodic fines, rather than comply with a decision of the Dutch Competition Authority on the terms and conditions for third parties to access its App Store.”

The maximum fine Apple will pay in the Netherlands is €50 million. Apple made over $330 million every day in Europe during its most recent quarter — admittedly, the winter holiday quarter. This penalty seems to be insufficient to compel urgent change for a company with bottomless wealth.

Major Publishers Are Working on an AMP Exit Strategy

Alexandra Bruell, Wall Street Journal:

Companies including Vox Media LLC, BuzzFeed Inc.’s Complex Networks and Bustle parent BDG said they have started testing or are considering using their own versions of mobile-optimized article pages, instead of building them using the Accelerated Mobile Pages framework, which Google introduced in 2015 and is supported by an open-source working group. The Washington Post has gone a step further, abandoning AMP last summer.

A potential exit from AMP would make media companies slightly less reliant on Google, whose dominance in digital advertising has strained its relationship with publishers and been referenced in a December 2020 lawsuit by state attorneys general alleging anticompetitive behavior.

About a year ago, Google stopped artificially boosting AMP pages in its search engine. Publishers may have found the format a worthwhile trade-off when Google restricted results in the news carousel for mobile users, but not any more. Good riddance.

I am amused that publishers are working on specific mobile versions of their websites again. The whole point of smartphone web browsers was that WAP — not that — versions were no longer needed; smartphones could render webpages just the same as a desktop computer. Responsive design helped optimize layouts so webpages could fit better on a smaller screen. But publishers jammed pages so full of video ads and tracking scripts and giant images that a mobile version seems to make sense again. A few CSS media queries cannot get rid of all of that junk.

An alternative is to make webpages without so much needless tinsel so they load quickly and work great regardless of what device someone may be using, but that is just too much to ask.

Who Is Policing the Location Data Industry?

Alfred Ng and Jon Keegan, the Markup:

There is an estimated $12 billion market of companies that buy and sell location data collected from your cellphone. And the trade is entirely legal in the U.S.

Without legislation limiting the location data trade, Apple and Google have become the de facto regulators for keeping your whereabouts private — through shifts in transparency requirements and crackdowns on certain data brokers.

[…]

Workers in the location data industry told The Markup that data brokers are increasingly collecting data directly from app developers instead of relying on SDKs, which often leave a digital footprint. And it’s unclear how Apple and Google could even monitor how apps are sharing and selling data once they obtain it.

The short version is that nobody is policing it, and location data collected from anyone with a smartphone and commonplace third-party apps has become a massive unregulated market.

I understand the argument for Apple and Google to operate their platforms by their rules, but privacy should not be a policy decision made by a parent company. Nobody should have to decide what unknown privacy tradeoffs they are making by choosing software from one company over another. There must be clear rules restricting the collection and use of this information, and the U.S. desperately needs those laws since most of the world’s major technology companies are based in that country.

Twitter Needs a Retraction Mechanism

Will Truman:

I think the concerns about an edit button are overblown, but there would be very little downside to Twitter having a “retraction” option, wherein the tweet is left up but with a strikethrough indicating it is not or is no longer valid.

This is a fantastic idea. How many times have you seen a tweet with tens of thousands of likes and retweets, only to be followed by a less popular self-reply correction? The current mechanism for modifying a tweet is clearly inadequate, and deleting an offending tweet means a record of the origin of some piece of incorrect information may be lost. Brilliant.

Everything We Are Told About Website Identity Assurance Is Wrong

Troy Hunt on Twitter:

Why are you still claiming this @digicert? This is extremely misleading, anyone feel like reporting this to the relevant advertising standards authority in their jurisdiction? https://www.digicert.com/faq/when-to-use-ev-ssl.htm

The linked page touted some supposed benefits of Extended Verification SSL certificates. Those are the certificates that promise to tie a company’s identity to their website, which was ostensibly confirmed by the company’s name appearing in a web browser’s address bar alongside the HTTPS icon.

Troy Hunt:

I have a vehement dislike for misleading advertising. We see it every day; weight loss pills, make money fast schemes and if you travel in the same circles I do, claims that extended validation (EV) certificates actually do something useful:

[…]

Someone had reached out to me privately and shared the offending page as they’d taken issue with the false claims DigiCert was making. My views on certificate authority shenanigans spinning yarns on EV are well known after having done many talks on the topic and written many blog posts, most recently in August 2019 after both Chrome and Firefox announced they were killing it. When I say “kill”, that never meant that EV would no longer technically work, but it killed the single thing spruikers of it relied upon – being visually present beside the address bar. That was 2 and a half years ago, so why is DigiCert still pimping the message about the green bar with the company name? Beats me (although I could gue$$), but clearly DigiCert had a change of heart after that tweet because a day later, the offending image was gone. You can still see the original version in the Feb 9 snapshot on archive.org.

Website identity is a hard thing to prove, even to those who are somewhat technically literate. Bad security advice is commonplace, but it is outrageous to see companies like DigiCert using such frail justifications for marketing fodder.

The Average Person Has No Chance With the Smart Home

Owen Williams, TechCrunch:

I researched devices for weeks to avoid as much pain as possible when setting up our new home, ultimately settling on a set of brands that I’d stick to throughout the home because I knew they worked with Google Home, Amazon Alexa and Apple’s HomeKit platform. For smart lights, I replaced all of my light switches with Lutron Caseta, which are widely regarded as “rock solid,” and I refused to introduce any other brand of smart switch. Since we were moving into a new home with no blinds, we also invested in Lutron’s Serena Shades smart blinds, which allow automation of your blinds and connect to the same system. In any lamps or for accent lighting, Philips Hue is my go-to, and so on.

I’m not immune to the pitfalls I described, ironically: I already owned a few Kasa smart plugs before moving into our new home, which aren’t compatible with HomeKit, and would have meant I would be unable to automate them in the Apple Home app to work with my other devices, and our house came with a Samsung smart fridge and oven that also aren’t compatible.

Sounds like living in a nightmare, and exactly like every smart home story I have read. I have no desire to be a part of this chaotic world. But while it is a luxurious choice for me, there are plenty of people who would like to depend on products like these because they have disabilities. Figuring this stuff out should be better for anyone who is interested, but especially because of those whose lives would be radically improved by its success.

The ‘Carbon Footprint’ of Ads and Stats on Media Websites

Caroline Schneider and Clément Le Biez, of Marmelab:

What is the environmental impact of visiting the homepage of a media site? What part do advertising, and analytics, play when it comes to the carbon footprint? We tried to answer these questions using GreenFrame, a solution we developed to measure the footprint of our own developments.

The results are insightful: up to 70% of the electricity consumption (and therefore carbon emissions) caused by visiting a French media site is triggered by advertisements and stats. Therefore, using an ad blocker even becomes an ecological gesture. But we also suggest actions web editors could take to reduce this impact.

I have qualms with this. The idea of a “carbon footprint” was invented by British Petroleum to direct focus away from environmental policies that would impact its business, instead blaming individuals for not recycling correctly or biking to work more. A “carbon footprint” is also a simplistic view of how anything contributes to global warming, and that it seems to be used here as a synonym for bandwidth and CPU consumption. And, finally, the study’s authors say the entire digital technology industry accounts for “4% of global greenhouse gas emissions”; even if everyone blocked ads and tracking for the entire web, that only represents a tiny fraction of this industry’s environmental impact.

That is where I think this well-intentioned study falters. Even so, it is absurd that up to 70% of a media website’s CPU and bandwidth consumption is dedicated to web bullshit. Remember: the whole point of web bullshit is that it is not just the ads, it is about an entire network of self justifying privacy hostile infrastructure constructed around them.

Wordle’s Vibe Shift

Kate Lindsay:

Suddenly, the vibe shifted. The homegrown, humble game of Wordle receiving the backing of a corporate owner was like watching your favorite indie band get big and do a Doritos commercial. Rather than the story being “Wordle creator unexpectedly gets a ton of money for making something nice” we all saw it the same way: Wordle had sold out, and now we hate it.

For what it is worth, I did not feel like Joshua Wardle “sold out” by selling Wordle. Some people have a coffee and a cigarette every morning; since December, my daily routine has started with a coffee and this one puzzle.

But I love the association between Wordle and that vibe shift article that has been going around Twitter. It does not necessarily surprise me how some people have latched onto the virtually non-existent changes made by the New York Times as evidence the game does not feel the same as it did. But I think we should be honest: the only thing the Times made worse is jamming it full of tracking scripts.

Spotify’s Acquisitions of Chartable and Podsights

Om Malik:

Spotify is buying Chartable and Podsights, two podcasting-focused analytics companies, for an undisclosed amount of money. Spotify said it would use the Podinsights technology in its broader advertising-oriented network in a news release.

[…]

In many ways, Chartable and Podinsights acquisitions remind me of Facebook’s under-the-radar purchase of Onavo, the VPN/data tracker. It paid $200 million in 2013 for a company that allowed it to gather deep intelligence into what was happening with various apps — who was hot, who was not, and what was going to be hot. Many sources over the years told me that Onavo allowed Facebook to figure out the potential of Snap even before Snap founders knew what they had on their hands. Onavo data was crucial in making deals for Instagram and Whatsapp, amongst other things.

That is certainly a foreboding comparison.

Spotify has been on a bit of an acquisition tear, buying up an audiobook company and a monetization business, too. It sure seems like Spotify would like to be a part of the movement taking whatever is great about the free and open parts of the web, combining it into one big platform, and digging a big moat around it. Social networks did that for discussion boards, and Spotify wants to do it for podcasting and radio — monetized, in part, by gross personalized ads that depend on massive data collection and tracking.

The Travel Focus Mode

Matthew Bischoff shares a clever use of Focus modes and automation. I still find both Focus and Shortcuts too fiddly and tedious to set up, but I am always impressed with results of smart use cases like this one. If you are planning on flying anywhere in the near future, perhaps give this idea a shot.

Obscura 3

Jaron Schneider, PetaPixel:

Obscura originally launched in 2015 and Obscura 2 came out in 2018 which was downloaded more than a million times.

The app’s third iteration is focused on adding more powerful features while also making them more pleasant to use. The app’s creator Ben McCarthy says it offers a wide range of camera features but squeezes them into a well-designed, simple control system that he says anyone can master through a balance of aesthetics, ergonomics, and intuitiveness. All the camera controls can be reached with one thumb, and gestures and haptics combine to create a tactile experience that allows photographers to stay focused on their subjects.

I have been playing with Obscura 3 for a few weeks now and it is a solid update. There are some exciting UI design details that make one-handed winter shooting a breeze, with plenty of pay-off if you choose to explore a little further. I also love the new app icons; my choice is a metallic copper-coloured version that tastefully recreates mid-2000s interface design hedonism. Obscura 3 is just ten bucks — a retro flat rate purchase in a time of subscriptions.

Where Mac Catalyst Falls Short

Steve Troughton-Smith:

Mac Catalyst is in a great place; it has improved substantially every year since its introduction, and for most developers it is by far the best way to build great Mac-like Universal apps that run across iPhone, iPad and Mac. Its hybrid nature allows a developer to pick and choose which elements of UIKit, SwiftUI, and AppKit they need to achieve the experience they’re looking for, or combine them all for the best of both worlds. It clearly has a lot of traction inside Apple’s product teams, as it’s become the enabling technology for Messages, Maps, Podcasts, Find My, Playgrounds, Books, Voice Memos, Stocks, Home, and News. Paired with SwiftUI, it’s rapidly becoming the defacto standard for new Mac apps on the App Store, for better or for worse — all the more reason that the remaining rough edges be given priority. Each one of the remaining barriers just gives a developer reason to avoid trying for that extra mile, relying on the iOS behavior they know and that works.

Troughton-Smith has been among the most vocal supporters of Catalyst so I am not too surprised to see this mostly positive framing of its shortcomings. I do not mean that as a slight, or in a passive-aggressive way: it is refreshing to hear from a developer about a more successful cross-platform framework than the genre has generally produced. But, still, it is missing a lot:

The biggest glaring hole in UIKit on macOS is its handling of document-based apps. There are many reasons it falls flat, but let’s start with the basics: Xcode’s ‘Document App’ template for iOS crashes on launch when you add Mac Catalyst support, because it lacks the basic entitlements for opening files. Even after fixing that, and adding the requisite document types in its Info plist, actually trying to open a file will send the document browser into an endless loop of showing the file picker. This alone might be the instant death of a potential document-based app, because even experienced developers will suddenly be lost at sea trying to patch the built-in template to run as expected.

I suppose this is more of an Xcode problem than a purely Catalyst problem, but it is clear through Troughton-Smith’s many examples that document-based apps simply are not yet front of mind for Apple’s vision for Catalyst.

I still cannot point to a Catalyst app that I love, by which I mean an app I love that happens to be built with Catalyst. The best I can say is that Maps and Messages in Monterey feel fine most of the time and, if I were not told, I would not know they share underpinnings with their iOS siblings. More than anything, I am glad developers increasingly have a theoretically viable way to target iOS and MacOS with largely similar code. But this is a big list of shortcomings to get through, and I hope we see some of these to-dos checked off during this year’s WWDC after 2021’s more tepid approach to Catalyst. Right now, it feels a little bit like the three main MacOS app frameworks are floating in unanchored space: AppKit is not the future, Catalyst is not ready to replace it, and using SwiftUI remains a long way off for big, complicated apps.

Meta Launders Its Reputation Through Small Businesses

Jeran Wittenstein, Bloomberg:

Meta Platforms Inc. has tumbled out of the world’s 10 largest companies by market value, hammered by its worst monthly stock decline ever.

Once the world’s sixth largest company with a valuation in excess of $1 trillion, the Facebook parent closed on Thursday with a value of $565 billion, placing it in 11th place behind Tencent Holdings Ltd., according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

Please accept my condolences.

Huge changes in market value like Meta is currently experiencing can partly be attributed to the massive market capitalization reflected in today’s top ten. The Economic Research Council published a chart in 2019 showing the ten most valuable publicly traded companies for twenty years prior and, as recently as 2014, only one was worth more than a trillion dollars. That is not the world we live in any more. Even normal day-to-day fluctuations reflect billions of dollars that ostensibly reflect investors’ confidence.

But there is also an undeniable loss of confidence in Meta’s ability to maintain the success of its core product — targeted advertising — in the face of increasing regulatory scrutiny, and changes made by operating system vendors. Meta’s virtual reality efforts, with which it is hoping to become an operating system owner itself, are still far away, and I do not think the company has yet demonstrated a compelling case for its existence.

For now, it has ads to sell across its platforms, and that is getting harder as public pressure mounts against its business practices. Unfortunately, as Meta’s empire is increasingly scrutinized, small businesses that depend on it are feeling the squeeze.

Suzanne Vranica, Patience Haggin, and Salvador Rodriguez, Wall Street Journal:

Martha Krueger, who runs a gift-basket business called Giften Market, used to spend her entire advertising budget on Meta Platforms Inc.’s Facebook and Instagram. She picked up a new customer for every $14 she spent.

When Apple Inc. introduced a privacy feature for mobile devices last year that restricts user tracking, she said, her costs to acquire such customers rose 10-fold. In October, she shifted her whole ad budget to search ads on Alphabet Inc.’s Google.

I empathize with the owners and marketers who work with businesses like these, which have depended on precisely targeting advertising to lower their marketing costs and get more customers. However, I think we have lost sight of how Meta was able to be so successful in the first place: it tracked users’ behaviour without their explicit consent or knowledge. What I find so frustrating about this is how Meta defends its practices by invoking the trust these businesses have placed in it:

Meta said in a written statement that it has more than 10 million advertisers. “Apple’s harmful policy is making it harder and more expensive for businesses of all sizes to reach their customers,” it said. “We believe Facebook and Instagram remain the best platforms for businesses to grow and connect with people, and we’ll always keep working to improve performance and measurement.”

Meta constructed a fundamentally unethical business model that allowed it to offer cheap ads, and it is laundering that scummy behaviour through the much better reputation of coffee shops, and florists, and travel agents, and other small business owners. Entrepreneurs should not be blamed for taking advantage of the marketing opportunities available to them.

This is a complex problem with a simple root: in a more just world, where the privacy of individuals is truly respected, Meta would never have offered these kinds of ads in the first place. But the company recognized that it was on legally firm ground to follow users’ activity across the web and through third-party apps, and it built its entire business around milking that strategy for everything it could give. It gave small business owners the ability to buy better advertising at lower rates, but has cost all of us our privacy online with little in the way of notice, consent, or control.

So that is how we got into this mess, and lawmakers in many regions around the world are trying various ways of getting us out of it. But Apple, having a business model more conducive to privacy and being an operating system vendor, realized it could also do something about tracking without due consent. It asks a simple question when apps want to track a user: do you want to permit this? Most people answer in the negative.

This naturally leads to the question of what business it is of Apple’s to have a say in other companies’ practices. It has a long history of doing so and a familiar future ahead. That is a discussion way too long for a single post, especially one I am publishing on a Friday evening. But there is one argument I think can be addressed in short order: all Apple did to push Meta’s buttons is that it now requires explicit consent for tracking. If Meta’s business model cannot handle a simple question of permissions, that is a pretty crappy business model. It should have been better prepared for a day when lawmakers started asking questions. But it was not. Meta’s best move has been to use the plight of small businesses, lured by its short-term promises, to excuse its unethical practices. Shame.

Hey, Larry David, Your Super Bowl Commercial Was Pretty, Pretty, Pretty Bad

Here is a link I am posting in part because I am trying to bury my inability to remember what year we are currently living in, and also because it relates to the NFT op-ed I linked to Wednesday.

Timothy Noah, the New Republic:

Larry David appeared in a Super Bowl ad on Sunday. It was extremely funny. It showed David in various period costumes pooh-poohing a succession of transformative innovations: the wheel, the fork, the toilet, the Declaration of Independence, the light bulb, the moon shot, portable music.

But the punch line wasn’t funny at all. In modern dress, David demonstrated similar skepticism sitting across a desk from a man who told him that FTX, a new cryptocurrency exchange, was “a safe and easy way to get into crypto.” “Eeeh, I don’t think so,” David answered. “And I’m never wrong about this stuff. Never.”

FTX’s ad is called “Don’t Miss Out”, which seems pretty on the nose to me. It gives the whole game away: the current wave of this stuff is entirely based on a fear of missing out. Do not be fooled by this faux urgency; it is okay to wait and see if this means anything in the years to come. (Thanks to Brenden Becherer for sending this my way.)