Month: February 2023

Ben Taub, the New Yorker:

It was against this backdrop [of the “golden age of fraud”] that German institutions supported Wirecard. The country’s traditional industry is in cars and energy systems — BMW, Volkswagen, Daimler, Siemens. Wirecard represented the nation’s challenge to Silicon Valley, its leap into financial technology and the digital era. “German politicians were proud to be able to say, Hey, we have a fintech company!” Florian Toncar, a German parliamentarian, observed. Wirecard’s rising stock price was regarded as a sign that the business was dependable, that its critics were clueless or corrupt. The German business newspaper Handelsblatt called Wirecard’s C.E.O. a “mastermind” who had “come across the German financial scene like the Holy Spirit.” But it was not regulators or auditors who ultimately took the company down; it was a reporter and his editors, in London.


“You cannot understand Wirecard if you understand Wirecard only as fraud,” Felix Holtermann, a financial reporter at Handelsblatt, told me. “It’s not a Potemkin village, it’s not a Bernie Madoff case.” According to Holtermann, who has also written a book about the company, Marsalek routinely “used his power to override Wirecard’s very, very small compliance department” to issue bank accounts, credit cards, and debit cards to Russian oligarchs who were on European financial blacklists. “Germany was, and still is, the money-laundering saloon of Europe,” he said. “Only the biggest washing machine broke.”

The story of Wirecard is outside my usual reading catalogue; I do not spend a lot of time on the Financial Times’ Alphaville pages. So it is unsurprising that I missed the initial cracks of this story as they were reported in 2015. In a way, I am glad I only experienced this for the first time through Taub’s article. It is staggering.

Michael Steeber:

[…] No, there wasn’t a single store that opened in 2022 with pivot doors. The last set was installed at Apple Cherry Creek, which opened all the way back in February 2021. Before that? Apple Cherry Hill in September 2020. These stores weren’t just cherry-picked: in the five years prior, 44 more locations featured them. How did a once-defining feature of Apple Stores disappear from new projects almost entirely unnoticed?

I remember reading rampant speculation that these doors and the enormous aircraft hanger-style entrance of Apple Union Square were clear nods to selling cars in Apple’s retail locations.

Rosa Addario, communications manager for OpenMedia, in an op-ed in the Toronto Star:

Big Telecom may be waiting to pounce on vulnerable independent providers, but the blame falls directly on the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) and our Industry Minister François-Philippe Champagne, whose poor decisions created circumstances where indie ISPs are left no option but to sell.

The CRTC and federal government have both consistently failed to stand up for small providers. Over the past five years, we’ve seen them explicitly undercut the viability of small ISPs in Canada through siding with Big Telecom in their decisions time and time again.

Addario points to a study from Innovation, Science, and Economic Development Canada comparing cellular and fixed internet prices against preceding surveys and international rates. The headline figures are that wired internet prices are becoming more expensive, and we generally pay more than anywhere else. But I think there is just as much of a story in the study’s acknowledgement that “average regional prices tended towards uniformity” — internet rates are increasingly similar across the country. It is an indicator of a lack of competition at all levels. If the CRTC does not wish to encourage a more competitive market, it should end the drama by nationalizing our internet infrastructure. The policies we have right now are not working.

Max Tani, Semafor:

[…] In January, Spotify pushed out [chief content officer Dawn] Ostroff and canceled nearly a dozen shows at its highest-profile podcast investment, the studio Gimlet. Podcasting was a “big drag on our business in 2022,” the company’s chief revenue officer said earlier this month.

“In hindsight, I probably got a little carried away and overinvested relative to the uncertainty we saw shaping up in the market,” [Spotify CEO Daniel] Ek said on an earnings call in January. “So we are shifting to focus on tightening our spend and becoming more efficient.”

Many of Ostroff’s expensive investments appear to have been in courting celebrities, some of which simply did not pan out. But that is not the only factor: Spotify’s desire to own and silo popular podcasts is struggling, too. For example, Tani reports that Gimlet Media, which has seen several cancelled shows, was in financial trouble before Spotify bought it in 2019 — though many of its internal problems were only exposed after the acquisition. It may not have lasted this long without its parent company. Still, after Spotify bought so many exclusives, they get put on the same balance sheet and compared, which subjects them all to cost-cutting measures.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar:

What we need to always be aware of is that how we treat any one marginalized group is how we will treat all of them—given the chance. There is no such thing as ignoring the exploitation of one group hoping they won’t come for you.

This goes for us individually, but especially for a paper with a massive platform like the New York Times, which Abdul-Jabbar is responding to. A recent episode of Left Anchor is a good explanation of why the Times’ ostensibly neutral just-asking-questions coverage of trans people and issues is so unfairly slanted as to be damaging.

Marie Woolf, the Globe and Mail:

Google is testing ways of blocking Canadians’ access to news websites in response to the federal government’s online news bill, which would force the company and other tech giants to compensate news organizations for using their work.

The restricted access to global and Canadian news sites, which began earlier this month, will continue for five weeks, according to Google spokesman Shay Purdy.

To be more specific, it is not the case that Google is “blocking Canadians’ access” to news sites, only that it is not linking to news results for a small ratio of Canadian users.

Michael Geist:

The report that Google is conducting a national test that removes links to Canadian news sites for a small percentage of users sparked a predictable reaction as politicians who were warned that Bill C-18 could lead to this, now want to know how it could happen. None of this week’s developments should come as a surprise. Bill C-18 presents Google and Facebook with a choice: pay hundreds of millions of dollars primarily to Canadian broadcasters for links to news articles or stop linking. Both companies are doing precisely what they said they would do, namely considering stopping linking (Google conducted the same tests in Australia several years ago). Indeed, strip away the hyperbole and the bottom line is this: the costs of Bill C-18 are enormous (the government’s Senate representative suggesting the bill could result in revenues to cover 35% of news expenditures of every news outlet in Canada) and the revenues from news for the platforms are not (Facebook says news only constitutes 3 percent of posts and Google does not even run ads on its Google News product). As some have noted, the government says the companies are stealing content if they link and blocking content if they don’t.

I am apprehensive about bills which require companies like Facebook and Google to pay media outlets for linking to their stories; I disagree with the overall concept and Bill C–18, specifically. But I think it is disingenuous to call out Google’s similar experiment in Australia without acknowledging it ultimately agreed to the government’s terms. Also, while Google may not run ads on Google News, it has disproportionate and possibly illegal control over the advertising on any of the websites it links to.

This link tax scheme seems like a bad idea that will further enrich Canada’s media monopolists. Smaller publications will not benefit. Yet, I get the justification behind these policies from places like Canada, Australia, and countries in Europe: the online advertising market consolidated around a handful of American companies who pivoted to targeting the specific individual viewing a given page. It does not matter if that page is on a local news site or some blog on the other side of the world because it is possible for advertisers to reach the same reader, and for a dramatically lower cost. Advertisers seem happy and big ad companies profit handsomely, but it comes at the expense of smaller publishers. And if one of those ad companies has been tilting the global online ad market in its favour, it changes the calculation for how much we should credit it for linking to so many third-party news sites.

From a press release issued by the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada:

The privacy protection authorities for Canada, Québec, British Columbia and Alberta announced today that they will jointly investigate the short-form video streaming application TikTok.


The four privacy regulators will examine whether the organization’s practices are in compliance with Canadian privacy legislation and in particular, whether valid and meaningful consent is being obtained for the collection, use and disclosure of personal information. The investigation will also determine if the company is meeting its transparency obligations, particularly when collecting personal information from its users.

This comes after multiple European authorities have investigated TikTok or are in the process of doing so; the company has been fined for its practices in France and the Netherlands. It will be interesting to see what Canadian regulators can dig up.

A quirk of the OPC is how it can make recommendations but has no authority to prosecute. After a similar investigation into Clearview’s facial recognition systems, it concluded the company conducted “mass surveillance of Canadians”, but could not issue fines or order Clearview to make changes. The company’s response was predictably weak: it created a manual opt-out mechanism and pulled out of the Canadian market. But Clearview is still conducting mass surveillance on all Canadians who have not requested removal.

Similarly, while the OPC may find embarrassing and dangerous things TikTok could be doing in Canada, Bytedance can simply deny any wrongdoing and carry on — unless the OPC pursues the matter in court.

I appreciated this short piece from Arvind Narayanan and Sayash Kapoor. The more products like these transform from the vaguely personable — something like Siri — into full-blown conversation simulators, the more wary journalists and pundits need to be of becoming too enamoured of their pseudo-human qualities. Note how the cautious names given to the products by Microsoft and OpenAI — Bing Chat and ChatGPT, respectively — are unlike the more human-sounding “Alexa” and “Siri”.

Update: See also Parker Molloy’s question-and-answer interview with ChatGPT demonstrating how ridiculous this is.

Zell Liew:

If you haven’t heard the news, Geoff Graham — the chief editor behind CSS Tricks — got fired by Digitial Ocean yesterday, a few months after they acquired it.


Chris had left. And now Geoff is gone too.

Graham’s acknowledgement of his dismissal is a heartbreaking read.

I have not handwritten much CSS is the last few years, but CSS Tricks has always been one of the places I turn to when I have a particularly gnarly layout problem or I need to remember the syntax for flex boxes. MDN is good too, obviously, but CSS Tricks delivers — delivered? — knowledge with panache.

Taras Buria, Neowin:

Being the default out-of-the-box browser on Windows 10 and 11 makes Microsoft Edge a go-to utility for downloading Chrome or another browser. That upsets Microsoft so much that it constantly comes with more aggressive and user-hostile methods to make customers stay on Edge. An attempt to install Chrome using Edge Canary now results in the browser displaying two ads: the first (tiny one) will pop on the screen when the Chrome website loads, and the second, a humongous full-size banner, will appear once the download starts. Yikes!

These appear to be a more intrusive version of the popups Microsoft added in 2021. Both claim Edge is like Chrome with the “added trust of Microsoft”. I do not know about you, but I would have less trust in my browser if it begged me to use its vendor’s own software when I browsed the websites of competitors. It looks so desperate.

And now for something completely different, in part because I do not want to write about green bubbles again.

You read the headline, so you know what this article is going to be about and, as a member of the “Millennial” generation, I could not be more thankful. For about fifteen years, the news has been full of stories about how people about my age are killing everything because we are narcissistic, lazy, and entitled. We are “too soft” in ways that are somehow different from all the times that has been said about every preceding generation.

But now the torch — or lightning rod? — has been passed to Generation Z, which is comprised of those born between 1997 and the early 2010s. The oldest zoomers are in their mid-twenties and, so, many of them are in their first years of salaried employment. But their relative youth and inexperience has not prevented many of them from being given managerial job titles, or so claims this bad article from Aki Ito at Insider.

The headline is “How Gen Z and the Great Resignation Created a Wave of Overinflated Job Titles”, and Ito sets up the problem, as it were, in the second paragraph:

But here’s the thing about inflation: It never ends. According to a new analysis of 2.4 million job postings by Datapeople, a provider of recruiting analytics, American job titles are even more grandiose today than they were back when Furnham was grousing about the state of corporate taxonomies. Since 2019, employers have tripled their use of the word “lead” in early-career tech jobs, upped their use of “principal” by 57%, and cut their use of the word “junior” by half. […]

It appears an increasing number of job titles do not match the work performed and, in the headline, the thesis seems clear: this is the result of zoomers with an elevated level of importance, and a desperate attempt to placate staff who would otherwise leave. As is the case for most publications, I bet Ito did not pick the headline for this story, but it is what caught my attention and is worth addressing. So, why blame zoomers?

When JobSage, an employer-review site, surveyed workers last year, 58% of Gen Z respondents said they expect to be promoted every 18 months, compared with 20% of baby boomers and 27% of Gen Xers. Gen Z workers also estimated that it takes a mere three to six years to become a vice president. Boomers, by contrast, said becoming a VP requires a decade or more of experience.

Note how this is a survey of different generations on August 1, 2022, not different generations at the same point in their respective careers. There is nothing here which suggests young people today are uniquely more likely to expect more rapid career advancement than past generations did at the same age. If anything, it basically just means younger people have less life experience. This is not new: a 2008 literature analysis (PDF) questioned whether the career expectations of young people were “absurdly ambitious?” in its title, and noted similar observations of American teenagers going back as 1964.

This is the only rationalization in this article of zoomer responsibility for inflated job titles, and it is not even clear to me that employers are bending to the demands of young people. It is a weak case for the article’s headline thesis. But it is only one of four explanations offered for these job titles, and the other three are far more convincing and, in what is unlikely to be a coincidence, they are things which directly benefit employers.


In higher-paid jobs, employers are using title inflation to try to attract a higher caliber of candidates and keep employees from jumping ship. Compared with enticements like higher pay and better benefits, tacking an extra “senior” onto somebody’s job title is free.

This has nothing to do with generational differences, and it barely has anything to do with the “great resignation” as also posited by the headline. In the same JobSage survey used for the Gen Z explanation, giving employees a different title in lieu of a raise only worked for 22% of managers. When this strategy is effective, it only benefits the employer, but it is mostly not an explanation. Next reason?

Making junior and midlevel staff seem more important to external clients.

This one makes sense. Ito cites a 2012 Wall Street Journal story in which Goldman Sachs says about a third of all its employees are “vice presidents”. I have personally experienced this, too: at one job, I was asked to pick my own title, and the one I first came up with was rejected for not being impressive enough for prospective clients. Some people just want to feel like they are being doted upon by the firm’s senior management. This is entirely plausible. As with the retention explanation, it is only beneficial to employers and costs nothing. In fact, not only might it draw more business — thereby earning employers more money — it might actually save them costs over the long term. The rationale presented first in Ito’s article is the one I have saved for last because it is a doozy:

Federal law requires employers to pay workers for their overtime hours — unless they’re classified as salaried managers. So companies are exploiting the loophole by giving important-sounding titles to low-wage workers.

Ito cites a working paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research (PDF) in which the authors found employers stiff staff at a rate of about $4 billion per year by getting creative with job titles. This figure needs context: U.S. employers paid workers $9.7 trillion in 2021, with private wages comprising about $8.3 trillion of that total. But the NBER estimates wage theft due to managerial titles amounts to a loss of over 13% of overtime pay for already low-salary jobs; its paper only looked at jobs with a weekly salary of $405 to $505, so as to examine the use of what its authors call “strategic” managerial titles. This seems like the actual headline — and, in fairness, Ito did link to Insider’s coverage this paper from when it was published in January. But, in this article, it is not — the headline unfairly blames young people for the expansion of seemingly frivolous job titles out of vanity and inflated expectations.

This is the sort of article that deeply frustrates me. It is a drop in a sea of similar stories where younger generations are scapegoated for some presumed societal ill or changing expectation; but, if you look even a little more closely, the real story is one of increasingly concentrated power and wealth in an already powerful and wealthy group. Gen Z has its own problems to confront: its members began their adult lives in the middle of a pandemic with a whiplashing economy and, in many parts of the world, an overheated market for renting or owning a home. Surveys show they want a healthier balance between their work and personal lives, and they understand developing a successful career takes time and constant learning. They do not want to be pandered to; they just want a reasonable level of respect, as with pretty much everyone else.

Stories like these are unhelpful at best, and damaging at worst. Someone skimming the Insider homepage uncritically might see this headline and chuckle at how coddled the kids are these days. That simply is not the case. The kids are alright. It is, as ever, the rich and truly powerful — the actual managerial bureaucracy — who are enriching themselves at the expense of the rest of us.

Christopher Mims, Wall Street Journal:

Technologists broadly agree that the so-called generative AI that powers systems like ChatGPT has the potential to change how we live and work, despite the technology’s clear flaws. But some investors, chief executives and engineers see signs of froth that remind them of the crypto boom that recently fizzled.


“The people talking about generative AI right now were the people talking about Web3 and blockchain until recently—the Venn diagram is a circle,” says Ben Waber, chief executive of Humanyze, a company that uses AI and other tools to analyze work behavior. “People have just rebranded themselves.”

One difference between this wave of hype and those which have come before it is how anyone can imagine how they might use these services. Who gives a shit about virtual reality meetings? Pretty much nobody so far. Generative services seem like a more lasting proposition, assuming it is possible to make them more accurate and comprehensive.

In the latest episode of the Sprawlcast, Jeremy Klazus explored the run of the Calgary Herald, from its peak in the 1980s to its now nadir, which may best be marked by the January sale of its former building to U-Haul. Some of this story — much of it, in fact — is similar to the sagas of newspapers across the country; some of it is more specific to our city. The Calgary metro area has about one-and-a-half million people in it, and its goings-on are covered by two versions of the same newspaper, neither of which has a fixed newsroom.

It is a well-reported episode — also available as a text transcript — and I recommend checking it out. I wanted to highlight this section:

KLASZUS: The Calgary Herald and Calgary Sun would now be owned by the same company. For anyone familiar with the news industry, all kinds of alarm bells went off. You don’t want the same owner for both daily newspapers in a city. But [joint owner] Postmedia’s CEO at the time, Paul Godfrey, argued that because of the internet, newspapers were no longer competing with each other, but with American tech companies.

PAUL GODFREY: We need this scale and of course time to be able to compete with a giant foreign owned digital only companies like Google, Facebook, Yahoo, Twitter.

This is a common explanation, but a change in the advertising marketplace makes it true only on the revenue side. News gathering and reporting is not so different — more accessible and with more possible places to publish, for sure, but the process is still similar. That is an important distinction in light of accusations that Google’s advertising network has become an illegal monopoly.

Mark Zuckerberg:

Good morning and new product announcement: this week we’re starting to roll out Meta Verified — a subscription service that lets you verify your account with a government ID, get a blue badge, get extra impersonation protection against accounts claiming to be you, and get direct access to customer support. This new feature is about increasing authenticity and security across our services. Meta Verified starts at $11.99 / month on web or $14.99 / month on iOS. We’ll be rolling out in Australia and New Zealand this week and more countries soon.

I reposted that in full because Facebook’s temperamental login wall may prevent you from seeing it, as it has for me for most of Zuckerberg’s posts.

This product was announced early on a Sunday morning, a few hours after Matt Navarra published screenshots. Perhaps Navarra forced Meta to tip its hand earlier than it expected.

I have many questions, though there is one thing I would like to highlight off the top: like Twitter Blue, Meta Verified costs more on iOS — $15 per month, compared to $12 if you subscribe on the web.1 This — alongside YouTube Premium — seems to me like high-profile highlighting of App Store commissions.

  1. I do not know if many people are eager to pay $180 per year — it sounds more appealing to organizations — but that is not the point. ↥︎

The Economist:

Campaigners detect a sea change. Even a few years ago “there was a sense that we were the weirdos,” says Doug Gordon, a founder of “The War on Cars”, a podcast based in New York. Now, he says, “more and more elected officials are adopting positions that were [until recently] on the fringe.” After a century in which the car remade the rich world, making possible everything from suburbs and supermarkets to drive-through restaurants and rush-hour traffic jams, the momentum may be beginning to swing the other way.

Not my usual focus here but a trend I very much appreciate — a renewed emphasis on long-ignored urban policies is welcome news. In Calgary, we are getting more permanent bike lanes, wider sidewalks, and better lighting. While this city is still frustrating to navigate without a car, it has changed dramatically in only the last ten years.

Update: Craig Mod, reflecting on his nomination of — and the media frenzy that ultimately surrounded — Morioka, Japan, as a New York Times city worth visiting in 2023:

The headline for the print edition of the Times piece was, “Morioka, a city that ‘enables its residents to thrive’.” To which you might think: Don’t all cities enable their citizens to thrive? Absolutely not. So many cities actively subvert the thriving of their citizens.

We can change that. We should.

Dan Goodin, Ars Technica:

GoDaddy said on Friday that its network suffered a multi-year security compromise that allowed unknown attackers to steal company source code, customer and employee login credentials, and install malware that redirected customer websites to malicious sites.

GoDaddy is one of the world’s largest domain registrars, with nearly 21 million customers and revenue in 2022 of almost $4 billion. In a filing Thursday with the Securities and Exchange Commission, the company said that three serious security events starting in 2020 and lasting through 2022 were carried out by the same intruder.

GoDaddy says it “continue[s] to investigate the root cause of the incident”. The best time to get off GoDaddy was 2007; the next best time is now.


Non-Twitter Blue subscribers that are already enrolled will have 30 days to disable this method and enroll in another. After 20 March 2023, we will no longer permit non-Twitter Blue subscribers to use text messages as a 2FA method. At that time, accounts with text message 2FA still enabled will have it disabled. […]

Even though this is transparently a cost-saving measure, it may not be the worst idea. SMS-based verification is the least secure of all two-factor authentication methods, and Twitter itself was fined last year by the FTC for using the phone numbers it collected for marketing purposes.

If this change affects you, now seems like a good time to remind you that you may not need a third-party app for verification codes. MacOS and iOS support generating codes in the Passwords section of Settings. seems very healthy.

Update: Ricky Mondello:

[…] The time and effort it takes for a person to set up what Twitter calls “Authentication apps” stymies their adoption. The fact that hardware security keys cost money naturally limits peoples’ interest in them.

SMS 2FA has documented and frequently-discussed limitations in terms of the security benefits it provides. It can also trip people up in terms of usability, like when people switch phones, or when they can’t receive texts at their phone number, like when they’re on an airplane, or sometimes when they’re traveling internationally.

Despite its limitations, I’ll argue that SMS 2FA is a huge success story in actually reducing the harm caused by weak and reused passwords.

This is a fair argument.

It seems pretty clear Twitter is not abandoning SMS two-factor authentication because is is a less secure method, even though that is how the company is framing it in its announcement. Twitter’s claim that “we have seen phone-number based 2FA be used — and abused — by bad actors” makes little sense as an isolated statement — who cares if “bad actors” protect their accounts with codes sent by SMS? — until you recognize Twitter is actually complaining about how much it costs them to send these texts.

Jon Keegan, the Markup:

When you hit the checkout line at your local supermarket and give the cashier your phone number or loyalty card, you are handing over a valuable treasure trove of data that may not be limited to the items in your shopping cart. Many grocers systematically infer information about you from your purchases and “enrich” the personal information you provide with additional data from third-party brokers, potentially including your race, ethnicity, age, finances, employment, and online activities. Some of them even track your precise movements in stores. They then analyze all this data about you and sell it to consumer brands eager to use it to precisely target you with advertising and otherwise improve their sales efforts.


“I think the average consumer thinks of a loyalty program as a way to save a few dollars on groceries each week. They’re not thinking about how their data is going to be funneled into this huge ecosystem with analytics and targeted advertising and tracking,” said John Davisson, director of litigation at Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) in an interview with The Markup. Davisson added, “And I also think that’s by design.”

Some people surely understand that loyalty programs have at least a minor privacy trade-off, in that they permit stores to track which items are popular among specific demographics. Like so many privacy-hostile practices enabled by insufficient regulation and a collect-it-all mindset, this goes so far beyond reason and expectation. Kroger brags of holding “over two thousand” data attributes for each shopper. Allowing a margin for some marketing bullshit, that is still a staggering amount of information to collect about people buying groceries. Even the most fundamental building block of life — food — has been leveraged as yet another piece of this abhorrent data marketplace.