Written by Nick Heer.

Archive for April, 2022

Elon Musk Thinks Twitter Could Charge Third-Party Websites to Quote From Tweets

Elon Musk’s full plans for Twitter under his ownership — assuming he does not bail on the deal — are not yet known, but he has been gesturing at a few specific ideas. I worry about loosening moderation policies; anonymity does not seem to me to be as significant a motivator for uncivil behaviour as a community that tolerates it.

There is a growing theme with many of Musk’s ideas we know so far: they already exist, or they are patently stupid.

Mike Masnick, of Techdirt, who has been covering this acquisition with aplomb:

So, let’s look at Musk’s actual suggestions, phrased in the best possible light, and look at what Twitter has actually done and is doing… and again, you’ll realize that Twitter is (by far!) the social media service that has gone the farthest to make what he wants real, and in the few areas that he seems to think the company has fallen short, the reality is that it has had to balance difficult competing interests, and realized that its approach is the most likely to get to the larger goal of providing a platform for global conversation.

No platform has a perfect score of moderation and culling spam and I would love for Twitter to be better at both, but it is not for a lack of trying. Nobody wants a platform full of spam but, as Masnick explains, it is a vastly more complicated task than Musk saying “get rid of spammers”, as though the company has no incentive to do that right now.

Krystal Hu and Anirban Sen, Reuters:

Musk told the banks he also plans to develop features to grow business revenue, including new ways to make money out of tweets that contain important information or go viral, the sources said.

Ideas he brought up included charging a fee when a third-party website wants to quote or embed a tweet from verified individuals or organizations.

A bulletproof plan — if you disregard any other way of quoting from tweets. This is like a dumber and less plausible version of a link tax.

I am, for now, trying to set aside my personal feelings about Musk so I can just see him as a buyer of Twitter. His public statements are not comforting for the soon-to-be owner of this company. I guess the underwriters of the acquisition must see something I cannot; who can you trust if not an investment banker? But it does not look good so far.

Knotwords, or ‘You Got Your Sudoku in My Crossword’

John Voorhees, MacStories:

Knotwords is a deceptively simple new game from Zach Gage and Jack Schlessinger that combines elements of multiple word and logic puzzles into a unique, fun experience.

Each puzzle is composed of a set of squares that are divided into sections. Letters in the corner of a section establish which letters can be placed in that section of the puzzle. The goal is to arrange the letters, so they spell words vertically and horizontally throughout the puzzle. If that sounds simple, it is, but like any good game, just because the rules are easy to grasp doesn’t mean the game itself is easy.

This game is easy to figure out and often maddening to actually do — a perfect combination, in my world. Only one knock: the developers describe it as “minimal” in the App Store description, but it is nearly a gigabyte large. I wish it were as lightweight and blissful as it feels.

Good game, and not too expensive, either: free to download, then a couple of pricing tiers that get you more puzzles and a trickier game.

Older Android and iOS Apps Are Being Made Obsolete

Sarah Perez, TechCrunch:

The news that Apple is doing another cleanup of its App Store emerged this weekend, shortly after Google’s recent announcement that its Play Store will begin to block downloads for outdated apps.

Over the past few days, several iOS developers took to social media to report receiving notices from Apple that their older apps will be removed from sale within 30 days if no updates were submitted.

iOS also has a setting where the system will automatically remove infrequently used apps from your device and re-download them on demand. If these apps are removed, it means a whole bunch of rarely-used but functional apps could effectively disappear if you have not launched them for a while. That is a bummer. There are plenty of apps — utilities, single-purpose apps, and so on — I use infrequently, but when I need them I need them. I had to turn that setting off1 because iOS kept deleting apps I sometimes use.

And for what? There does not appear to be a reason why these apps are being culled now, so it appears to be just because Apple thinks the App Store needs cleaning up and, hey, some users and developers are going to suffer. Good luck to all the indie developers being forced to create a new build of their app just because.


  1. Settings, App Store, Offload Unused Apps. ↩︎

Twitter Is Not a Town Square

I skimmed through New York magazine’s list of “Twitter’s best moments” — which is what it says in the <title> tag if not the headline — and made the usual scrunched face I have when I read lists of the “best” or “worst” of something. It is a genre lab-created to incite eye rolling.

But there is one thing in this list which I think is worth your time, and it is this perfect paragraph by Melvin Backman:

Twitter is not a public square where everyone knows everything and can robustly discuss our collective happenings. Twitter is a glommed-together blob of private squares, a place where everyone is talking, always, over and around and at and through one another. Sometimes people talk to each other, but everything is only overheard. If you insist on an all-encompassing knowledge of every word uttered in your immediate vicinity, you need to put in the work.

Twitter has never been a town square, and trying to fit our understanding of it — and any other platform — into that mould is a wasted effort. I spend a lot of time thinking about Chris Hayes’ reflection on the everyday celebrity generator that is social media, and how so much of the discussions about either platform moderation or callout culture reflect worldwide growing pains with everyone being a broadcaster. There are huge benefits, but also new things to navigate. These are not town squares; they are places to have conversations with megaphones.

Apple’s Self Service Repair Now Available in the U.S.

Apple:

Apple today announced Self Service Repair is now available, providing repair manuals and genuine Apple parts and tools through the Apple Self Service Repair Store. Self Service Repair is available in the US and will expand to additional countries — beginning in Europe — later this year.

The store is, as internally acknowledged, operated by a third party, and it looks a little janky and pretty generic. Services are apparently being provided by a company formed in December called Service Parts or Tools, Inc., which shares its address with CTDI, a device refurbishing and repair logistics company. The site is built on a template that would normally use the system font, except its developers have overridden that so it uses Roboto instead. I wonder if that drives anyone at Apple nuts.

At the very least, it is about time we get access to official publicly available repair manuals for recent Apple products. And there are some surprises in those manuals. For example, each product’s manual has a different code you need to enter when ordering parts. Please, no brown M&Ms.

The separate website without “Apple” in the domain name, the cheap-looking presentation, and the specialized tools available to rent for a week at $49 all create enough hurdles so that only the most dedicated customers will attempt these repairs. I think this is an acceptable way of having people self-select whether they feel comfortable replacing parts.

Facebook Does Not Know What It Does With Users’ Data

Lorenzo Franceschi-Bicchierai, Vice:

In the last few years, regulators all over the world have tried to limit how platforms like Facebook can use their own users’ data. One of the most notable and significant regulations is the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which went into effect in May 2018. In its article 5, the law mandates that personal data must be “collected for specified, explicit and legitimate purposes and not further processed in a manner that is incompatible with those purposes.” 

What that means is that every piece of data, such as a user’s location, or religious orientation, can only be collected and used for a specific purpose, and not reused for another purpose. For example, in the past Facebook took the phone number that users’ provided to protect their accounts with two-factor authentication and fed it to its “people you may know” feature, as well as to advertisers. Gizmodo, with the help of academic researchers, caught Facebook doing this, and eventually the company had to stop the practice

According to legal experts interviewed by Motherboard, GDPR specifically prohibits that kind of repurposing, and the leaked document shows Facebook may not even have the ability to limit how it handles users’ data. The document raises the question of whether Facebook is able to broadly comply with privacy regulations because of the sheer amount of data it collects and where it flows within the company.

Facebook denied it was unable to control user data internally, but it is hard to read this document and conclude it has everything neatly organized and all permissions are correct. At Facebook’s scale, I am not surprised that is the case, but it is damning to see it written in plain text.

A Good Overview of the E.U.’s New Digital Services Act

Daphne Keller, writing at Stanford’s Center for Internet and Society blog:

For companies that handle user content, the DSA is something like the GDPR. It adds new compliance and process rules that will need new staffing, new internal tools, new external user interfaces, and new formal legal interactions in Europe. For Internet users, researchers, and platform critics, the DSA creates a range of new legal protections and tools for understanding or shaping platform behavior.

A final draft was announced this week, but we don’t yet have a public copy. This final version is the product of a “trilogue” reconciliation process, ironing out differences between earlier Commission, Council, and Parliament drafts of the law. Those earlier versions were largely similar in the big picture and in most of the smaller points, so for those wanting more detail this earlier draft is a decent source. (It’s also formatted for easy navigation using Google Docs’ left nav bar.) For those who want more recent language, the best sources are the leaked “four column drafts” from the trilogues. Those are harder to obtain and can be painful for even dedicated wonks to follow, though.

There will likely be some differences between the drafts upon which Keller has based her analysis, but this is a good summary of what will surely be an impactful new set of policies.

Most of it appears to be either uncontroversial or full of excellent ideas — I am glad there will be more transparency around algorithmic suggestions, and the mandated ability to opt out. Then there are the changes that seem worthwhile but could lead to some nasty side effects. For example, providing users the opportunity to dispute platform judgements against them could be beneficial, but it could also discourage platforms from moderating materials outside the scope of laws like these, thus incurring paperwork. Then there are things I have concerns about, like the requirement to rapidly remove speech flagged by E.U. governments. There are risks of abuse, slightly mitigated by the E.U.’s lackadaisical approach to reinforcing some of its other data regulations.

There is a lot to like in this policy for anyone concerned about a lack of oversight of the very powerful companies that now form the skeleton of much of our lives. Frankly, if self-governance is just so damn effective, maybe these companies should have been better at doing things before policies like these were seen as necessary. That is not to say everything is fine now or that all of these policies are great, only that many of the best ideas were proposed before but were ignored. Welcome to a new reality.

The Latest MacOS Beta Improves Studio Display Camera Quality, but Not by Much

Jason Snell, Six Colors:

Apple has released both developer and public beta versions of macOS 12.4 that include within them a beta version of the firmware for the Apple Studio Display. This is the first update to the Studio Display firmware since it shipped, and Apple says that it “has refinements to the Studio Display camera tuning, including improved noise reduction, contrast, and framing.”

[…]

In terms of image quality, beyond having access to extra pixels due to framing, it looks like the camera is being a bit less aggressive when it comes to softening the image and in trying to decrease contrast. In some of the lighting conditions I tested, the dynamic range of the image seemed to be a little wider—highlights weren’t as crushed down, though blacks were still a little more of a gray. Compare it to another Apple webcam like the iMac Pro and you can really see how much less contrast this camera provides.

James Thomson’s comparison between different versions of Studio Display firmware and a four year old iMac Pro is something to behold. One of those pictures is clearly better than the other two. Normally, this would not be such a blemish; except Apple is usually great at making cameras perform well and its marketing emphasizes the new camera system in this display. Something is going very wrong here.

The Last Time an Unlikeable Buyer Took Over a Likeable Social Network

In April 2012, Facebook bought Instagram. Ten years later, another social network I like is getting snapped up by a buyer I do not care for. What can the decade-long Instagram story tell us about where Twitter could be heading?

The influence of one person can be overstated, but I understand the anxiety if Elon Musk is, as reported, actually acquiring Twitter.

There are some who believe this will resemble something of a rebirth of the “free speech wing of the free speech party” mantra. Some of the people who are very excited by this are terrible. Though they do not represent everyone who may hope for a less moderated Twitter, it is worrying to see so much enthusiasm for that concept from unrepentant assholes. The failure of reactionary Twitter clones does not fill me with confidence. Why Musk — a man who justified cancelling a Tesla order because the customer was rude in a blog post — apparently represents the paragon of unimpeded speech is another matter.

There are others who are deeply concerned about what a Musk-owned Twitter looks like. Some are re-evaluating their use of the platform — whether they follow through over the long term is a different matter — and worry about the broader implications of Twitter’s outsized influence falling under the purview of someone who does not understand platform moderation. Musk is also somebody who has used Twitter in ways that are despicable and illegal. Management at one of his Tesla factories allegedly subjects black employees to a “pattern of rampant racism and harassment”. It is worrying this is the guy who could be running Twitter.

Though I sympathize with the latter views, the most significant changes will not happen over the short term and, unlike many of Facebook’s changes to Instagram, are harder to predict. There are key differences between these acquisitions — especially in buyer intent and long-term interests. For example, Musk appears to actually like Twitter and wants more direct influence; whether his ideas are improvements is another matter. Facebook did not buy Instagram for those reasons. It bought the company because Mark Zuckerberg saw it was a threat.

After its acquisition, Facebook moved Instagram to its internal infrastructure, improving its stability and also making it harder to decouple. It also added features. Video was a natural extension of the app’s longtime square photo format: it came first to posts, and then in long-form, short-form, and even shorter form versions through IG TV, Reels, and Stories, respectively. Facebook added direct messaging, added more user controls to reduce abuse, and made it possible to search for photo topics.

But Facebook also added its unique brand of financialization. Every layer of the app has been tuned and tweaked for optimal monetization. Every fourth post in the timeline is now an ad. There are several ads between Stories. The app has a mall inside it.

Even the core photo sharing functionality has changed, most famously by swapping a feed sorted based on time for one based on what Instagram thinks you will be most interested in, mimicking the longtime behaviour of Facebook’s News Feed. At first, users still saw posts from users they follow but organized differently. Instagram later augmented those photos with “suggestions”, first at the end of recent posts, and then scattering them throughout users’ feeds. All of these things are designed to encourage people to use Instagram longer and more often, damn the consequences.

These are the long-term product decisions I worry about. Perhaps some of these changes would have been made to Instagram regardless of ownership, but Facebook’s fingerprints are all over the reality of its reality today. Every possible path is being squeezed for revenue and engagement, which has birthed a dubious industry of SEO-like specialists who claim to help improve popularity on Instagram. Along the way, Instagram has dropped its original audience; it has no need for you to share a nice photo when it wants everyone else to shop for a bike, or scroll through an endless feed of short videos as it hopes you do not switch over to TikTok and do the same thing.

The unique thing about Twitter is how, at its core, it is the same as it was when I joined fifteen years ago. It has moved slowly to change — sometimes to a fault, like how reluctant it was to answer calls for more aggressively moderation of its platform. This is in direct contrast to Facebook’s “move fast and break things” ideology. Musk is different, too: he often promises to radically change the world overnight, but rarely meets his goals of either time or quality. There are Teslas everywhere, but the long-promised $35,000 model vanished shortly after launch. SpaceX is as much a staggering achievement as the Boring Company’s tunnels are a failure. Whatever you think Musk’s plans for Twitter could be, it may be in your best interest to scale back your forecasts.

I think it is unlikely Musk will take Twitter to new heights; this is not his forte, nor something he has expressed particular knowledge about. I just hope he does not do what Facebook did for Instagram by radically upending the platform and chasing away longtime users. Perhaps he simply gets bored, or realizes platform moderation is a difficult task. Whatever the case, it still seems surreal that Twitter — this still-weird platform I enjoy — is about to be owned by one person.

Anomaly Six’s Surveillance Powers

Sam Biddle and Jack Poulson, the Intercept:

Anomaly Six software lets its customers browse all of this data in a convenient and intuitive Google Maps-style satellite view of Earth. Users need only find a location of interest and draw a box around it, and A6 fills that boundary with dots denoting smartphones that passed through that area. Clicking a dot will provide you with lines representing the device’s — and its owner’s — movements around a neighborhood, city, or indeed the entire world.

[…]

To fully impress upon its audience the immense power of this software, Anomaly Six did what few in the world can claim to do: spied on American spies. “I like making fun of our own people,” Clark began. Pulling up a Google Maps-like satellite view, the sales rep showed the NSA’s headquarters in Fort Meade, Maryland, and the CIA’s headquarters in Langley, Virginia. With virtual boundary boxes drawn around both, a technique known as geofencing, A6’s software revealed an incredible intelligence bounty: 183 dots representing phones that had visited both agencies potentially belonging to American intelligence personnel, with hundreds of lines streaking outward revealing their movements, ready to track throughout the world. “So, if I’m a foreign intel officer, that’s 183 start points for me now,” Clark noted.

Clark was able to show the location history for each of those nearly two hundred devices for, according to Biddle and Poulson, up to a year’s worth of tracking. Any of these devices were easily de-anonymized because, well, Anomaly Six had their entire location history. It is worth being cautious about their capabilities given the self-promotional context of these claims, but multiple experts told the Intercept they felt believable.

Byron Tau of the Wall Street Journal has previously reported on Anomaly Six’s capabilities, which are derived from the inclusion of its SDK in third-party apps as well as the broader data broker economy. That economy is potentially open to users from other countries, given the United States’ almost non-existent protections on personal data privacy. Much of the world’s tech industry is also based in the U.S. and their privacy policies often say U.S. jurisdiction applies.

Not only does the American military-industrial complex have the ability to spy on the world’s devices, adversarial nations could create similar capabilities — again, partly thanks to the weak privacy protections afforded by U.S. law and its concentration of tech companies.

It does not really matter how well-educated you are as a consumer or user. Short of not owning anything that connects to the internet, there is no reliable way of opting out of surveillance by a company nobody really thinks about. The only way this gets improved is by minimizing data generation and collection, and through stricter privacy laws. Perhaps this is one reason why American lawmakers have been reluctant to pass such laws.

Nuance in the YouTube Rabbit Hole

Shira Ovide, New York Times:

A group of academics found that YouTube rarely suggests videos that might feature conspiracy theories, extreme bigotry or quack science to people who have shown little interest in such material. And those people are unlikely to follow such computerized recommendations when they are offered. The kittens-to-terrorist pipeline is extremely uncommon.

That doesn’t mean YouTube is not a force in radicalization. The paper also found that research volunteers who already held bigoted views or followed YouTube channels that frequently feature fringe beliefs were far more likely to seek out or be recommended more videos along the same lines.

“Nuance” is used in the headline of Ovide’s article, and I think that is a good way of framing this research. Just as it was never the case that YouTube’s recommendation always pushed people toward extremism, it is also not the case that it never does; this research does not automatically disprove past studies or articles about extremist pipelines on YouTube.

Zeynep Tufekci wrote in 2018 about her experiences seeing extremist videos recommended by YouTube after watching, for example, a Trump rally. I remember when YouTube used to recommend the same Ben Shapiro and Jordan Peterson clips on its homepage, no matter whether I accessed YouTube regularly or in private browsing. But in 2019, Google made changes so YouTube would less frequently recommend fringe videos and conspiracy theories.

This new study (PDF), from Annie Chen et al., suggests those changes may have worked. Their participants browsed YouTube between July and December 2020:

Using data on web browsing, we provide behavioral measures of exposure to videos from alternative and extremist channels on YouTube. Our results indicate that exposure to these videos after YouTube’s algorithmic changes in 2019 is relatively uncommon and heavily concentrated in a small minority of participants who previously expressed high levels of hostile sexism and racial resentment. These participants frequently subscribe to the channels in question and reach the videos that they produce via external links. By contrast, we find relatively little evidence of people falling into so-called algorithmic “rabbit holes.” Recommendations to videos from alternative and extremist channels on YouTube are very rare when respondents are watching other kinds of content and concentrated among subscribers to the channels in question.

The last part of this paragraph is, I think, still concerning. On page 20, the researchers show that recommendations typically match the type of materials users are already watching. So if someone saw a video from a mainstream media channel, they got mostly mainstream media recommendations. Similarly, someone watching videos from an extremist channel would fill their recommendations for other extremist media. To me, this appears to be an acknowledgement that YouTube’s recommendations can serve to deepen a hole the company began digging many years ago, but it is mostly sequestering those users into their own bubble. I am not sure that is a good thing — is it good for society that YouTube automatically encourages some people to binge-watch David Duke’s bile and spew? It seems more responsible to remove videos from these kinds of channels from everyone’s recommendations.

Notably, the study found that there is still a small pipeline from dreadful but not extremist YouTube channels to more extreme videos. Compare the list of what the researchers refer to as “alternative channels” on page seven against the referral chart shown on page 17. Perhaps just as significant is the “off-platform referrer” chart shown on page 18, which indicates that “alternative social” media is the biggest external referral source for extremist videos.

European Parliament Agrees to Standardize ‘Small and Medium-Sized’ Devices Around USB-C

From a European Parliament press release:

On Wednesday the Internal Market and Consumer Protection Committee adopted its position on the revised Radio Equipment Directive with 43 votes in favour (2 against).

The new rules would make sure consumers no longer need a new charger and cable every time they purchase a new device, and can use one charger for all of their small and medium-sized electronic gadgets. Mobile phones, tablets, digital cameras, headphones and headsets, handheld videogame consoles and portable speakers, rechargeable via a wired cable, would have to be equipped with a USB Type-C port, regardless of the manufacturer. Exemptions would apply only for devices that are too small to have a USB Type-C port, such as smart watches, health trackers, and some sports equipment.

The straight-line way of reading this is that future iPhones and iPads will have to have a USB-C port instead of a Lightning one. An irony of introducing a policy like this now instead of, say, eight years ago is that it is likely to generate a massive amount of short-term waste as new device purchasers adopt the new standard. One of the Lightning cables I am still using is one that came in the box with my iPhone 6S because my current iPhone still uses that same connector, but I might have to stop using that — and all the other Lightning cables I have — when I upgrade.

A bizarro world way of interpreting this press release is that Apple could submit the connector currently known as Lightning to the USB standards people for certification, perhaps as a USB-C Mini connector. Depending on how these regulations are written, if it is being forced to adopt a standard and forego royalties from its proprietary connector, why would it not use a connector it actually likes and is familiar with? Sure, that does not fit the E.U.’s goal of adopting a single universal cable, but surely there are flexibilities built into the law so future inventions are not hampered by the requirement of forever using the standards available today, right? Because that would be pretty silly.

Right?

Update: The regulations would not apply if a device uses only a wireless charging mechanism.

When a Security Engineer Nearly Gets Scammed

This story from Robert Heaton resonated with me as I, too, have nearly fallen into a similar trap.

A while back, I received what appeared to be an automated cPanel email alerting me that one of my web servers was nearly full. I first saw the email on my phone and it looked perfect, but I was not prepared to administer cPanel while grocery shopping.

When I checked it out on my computer later, the button’s link was hidden behind a URL shortener. That seemed odd. I decided to log into my server using a known good address and I was relieved for two reasons: first, the server was nowhere near full; second, I did not become the victim of a clever phishing scam.

The hoax Heaton nearly fell for was a banking one, but it is broadly similar in its attention to detail. There feel like two main categories of scam. One attempts to con only the most vulnerable people by using tactics that feel obviously fake to the vast majority of us, in the hope that we will self-select ourselves out of becoming scammed. The other is far more clever and really does feel legitimate. The criminals have done enough work to understand their specific target. That is pretty scary.

One of the things that would have saved me from the cPanel phishing attempt, had I clicked on the button, is that my username and password would not have autofilled from iCloud Keychain because the domain was different. That likely would have tipped me off that something was not right. I know it is trite advice, but use a good password manager — not only for the more obvious reasons, but also because it will give you a moment to think when it does not work as expected.

Tech Worker Unionization

Annie Palmer, in an April 1 CNBC article:

Employees at an Amazon warehouse on New York’s Staten Island voted Friday to join a union, a groundbreaking move for organized labor and a stinging defeat for the e-commerce giant, which has aggressively fought unionization efforts at the company.

[…]

The union is led by Christian Smalls, a former JFK8 manager, who was fired by Amazon in 2020 after the company claimed he violated social distancing rules. Smalls argued he was fired in retaliation for staging a protest in the early weeks of the coronavirus pandemic to call for stronger safety measures.

Smalls was smeared by Amazon’s general counsel in internal memos after his firing. Gerald Bryson was also fired from his job at JFK8 for protesting lacklustre safety measures with Smalls; Amazon was just told to reinstate his job. Amazon says it is appealing. I disagree.

Lauren Kaori Gurley, Vice:

An Apple Store in Atlanta has filed for a union election with the Communications Workers of America, becoming the first of Apple’s 272 brick-and-mortar stores in the country to do so.

[…]

The news coincides with a wave of burgeoning and growing union drives at Apple stores at least half a dozen Apple store locations, including locations in New York City and Maryland. Apple store employees are unionizing with at least three different national unions, a reflection of the siloed nature of Apple’s retail store locations. The CWA campaign is part of CODE-CWA, an initiative to unionize tech and games workers, and has members from Activision-Blizzard and Google.

Good for all of these workers. These are two of the most valuable companies on the planet, and their non-tech workforce should absolutely be negotiating for better pay and conditions. Both may pay higher than average wages for their roles but there is no reason why that should be a ceiling. Employees at the Genius Bar, in particular, used to be given unique experiences that made them feel like an integral part of Apple. Now? Not so much. These core workforces can expect better.

Apple to Roll Out Child Safety Feature That Locally Screens Messages for Nudity to U.K., Canada

Alex Hern, the Guardian:

A safety feature that uses AI technology to scan messages sent to and from children will soon hit British iPhones, Apple has announced.

The feature, referred to as “communication safety in Messages”, allows parents to turn on warnings for their children’s iPhones. When enabled, all photos sent or received by the child using the Messages app will be scanned for nudity.

[…]

Apple has also dropped several controversial options from the update before release. In its initial announcement of its plans, the company suggested that parents would be automatically alerted if young children, under 13, sent or received such images; in the final release, those alerts are nowhere to be found.

Hern repeatedly writes about this “iPhone” feature, but Apple says this feature is on iPads and Macs, too. Rene Ritchie says the feature will also be coming to Canadian devices. Ritchie does not say when it will roll out, but I bet it will happen in the same software updates as the U.K. launch.

I maintain this feature is a welcome one and should be an option for all users, at least on the receiving side. This is not the far more controversial CSAM detection feature, which Apple has yet to release or communicate updates. Apple first rolled out this feature in the U.S. with iOS 15.2 in December. I remain concerned about the power of an algorithmic process unaudited by a third party, and whether it will intervene with Goldilocks sensitivity. If it uses a similar photo recognition process as the Photos app, that is not the most confidence-inspiring start.

Even so, in this case, I truly believe doing something is better than doing nothing. If its false positive rate is acceptably low, it may feel more trustworthy, though I think Apple needs to better communicate the use of on-device processing for such a sensitive feature — recall the ‘brassiere’ incident of 2017. The flip-side concern is its false negative rate. That is obviously a concern but, it must be noted, the worst case scenario of failing to flag nudity is the present situation.

Waxy.org Turns Twenty

Andy Baio’s Waxy.org turned twenty years old last week and, to mark the occasion, Baio assembled a list of his favourite posts in the past ten years. (In 2012, Baio compiled his favourites from the first ten years.) There are so many significant pieces here — and it does not even include the well-curated external links published in that time — that it underscores why Waxy.org is a daily must-read for me.

A Former Foxconn Executive Tries to Explain What Went Wrong in Wisconsin

In this episode of the Verge’s “Decoder” podcast, Nilay Patel and Josh Dzieza interviewed Alan Yeung, who formerly led Foxconn’s efforts to build a factory in Wisconsin. Yeung wrote a book about how the plan came together, and is apparently writing another volume about how it actually panned out. This discussion is excruciating. Here is a taste:

NP: We are running out of time, and I need to ask you a few questions that I have been dying to know the answer to. Josh actually pivoted to these. Your book and Foxconn talked a lot about AI 8K+5G, but it was never defined as far as I could tell. We searched and searched. What on earth is AI 8K+5G?

That will actually be in the next book.

NP: It’s in this book.

You can read the transcript, but you have to listen to this episode to really feel how uncomfortable and frustrating Yeung’s answers are. Dzieza’s reporting about this partly abandoned project has been second-to-none, yet even Yeung — who professes having no current relationship with Foxconn and who claims not to be defending the company — cannot produce a satisfying answer to very simple questions.

What Happens When a Smart Home Vendor Goes Away and Takes Its Servers With It?

Stacey Higginbotham:

Lilleness is a former executive at Nokia who lives in Seattle and invested $7.3 million in the Smartlabs business before taking on his leadership role at the company. At the time he expressed optimism that Insteon’s proprietary technology could become the underpinning of a big shift to smarter homes. However, the adoption of proprietary technologies such as Insteon didn’t pan out as Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and Zigbee prevailed. And now, with the looming launch of the Matter smart home interoperability standard, Insteon’s core tech will be even further marginalized.

However, this means thousands of Insteon users, who I know as a vocal and pretty satisfied bunch, will be left with gear that doesn’t work. Insteon does provide local control of its smart lights and nodes through hubs in the home, but there are plenty of cloud components to get the system to talk to Alexa or Google. Last year, an outage in Insteon’s AWS cloud frustrated users for several days.

I am feeling confident in my skepticism of smart home devices. I can only hope this market does not go the way of smart TVs.

It Is Ridiculously Difficult to Buy a ‘Dumb’ TV

Jeff Somers, Lifehacker:

That’s a lot of reasons to want a smart TV in today’s hyper-connected age but there are actually a lot of reasons why you don’t want a smart TV—and why you should strongly consider buying a “dumb” TV that offers an incredible viewing experience, and leave all the smarts to a separate device. In fact, here’s why you should buy the dumbest TV you can find.

Karl Bode, Techdirt:

You used to own a TV for ten years, and you’d just swap in and out HDMI-connected hardware as technologies evolved. But by integrating an OS and trying to dominate the hardware space, TV vendors have created a new, wasteful paradigm that shortens the shelf-life of televisions. Frustrated by the slow OS of a four year old TV? Better just buy an entirely new one!

Commenters on Bode’s post appear to have suggestions, but I was unable to find any of them on Amazon’s Canadian store. Bode references a 65-inch Samsung model, but I could not find that on Samsung’s site. Most online stores do not have a way to filter for non smart TVs, either.

I am sure there is a chunk of the market that is totally fine with this situation, but I am also sure there is a huge chunk of the market that is not. I am one of the people in the latter. And I find it hard to believe vendors could not sell these televisions if they wanted to.

I bet consumer demand is not the reason for the proliferation of smart TVs. It is almost certainly the result of an anti-privacy ad economy that makes so much money for these brands, the viewing data they are also paid to collect, and deals with streaming services to embed their apps. Given the rate at which iOS users have attempted to opt-out of tracking, many people probably prefer a TV option they are unable to find.

I sympathize with John Siracusa.

Update: In case I am reading this later, when I am next in the market for a TV, Staples and Walmart have a yes-or-no filter for smart TVs.