Month: March 2023

Mike Masnick, Techdirt:

These “big tech pays news” schemes break this fundamental idea. They announce that some companies, these big companies who apparently no one likes, must suddenly pay to link. And sure, you can easily state (1) these big companies can afford it, and (2) no one likes them any way, so maybe you think that’s good. But nothing good comes from breaking the fundamental principles of the open web.

Once you break this concept of the freedom to link, you’re flinging open Pandora’s box to all sorts of mischief. Once industries learn that the government has no problem stepping in and forcing companies to pay for links, does anyone really believe it will stop at news organizations? Of course it won’t. Then the whole internet just becomes a food fight for lobbyists to argue with politicians over which industries they can force to subsidize other industries.

It’s pure unadulterated crony capitalism at its worst. Those with the best connections get to have the government force those with weaker connections to subsidize their own failures to innovate and compete.

Regardless of what merits anyone sees in a link tax for companies like Google and Meta, this is the only argument which truly matters. It is the best explanation for why any site must be permitted to link to another without cost or penalty.

These two companies — which Masnick insists on calling “tech companies”, even though they are “advertising companies” in this context — take a disproportionate share of digital ad spending through, allegedly, no small amount of collusion. It is very difficult, almost impossible, to advertise on the web without giving money to Google. Even if media sites actively crave traffic from Google’s search engine and news aggregator by employing search optimization experts, for example, the resulting ad views will also benefit Google. Even if a Canadian company wants to advertise to a Canadian customer, there is little getting around paying a U.S.-based company something like 30% of the cost of the ad. This is not just the story of legacy systems failing to adapt to a new reality; it is the story of incumbents being crowded out at scale.

Even so, this is a bad bill and sets a terrible precedent. The issues above are at least partly addressable through enforcement of competition laws, not by putting a fee on links. The Canadian government is making it even worse through, as Michael Geist puts it, a “fishing expedition” in the communications of these platforms. This needs to stop.

Update: Marc Edge, Canadian Dimension:

The irony, noted The Line, was that the Heritage Committee was demanding by month’s end to see documents from Google and Facebook which, if journalists sought them in an Access to Information request to Ottawa, “would take years to get such a request fulfilled, and half if it would come back redacted.” It concluded that the politicians had things backwards. “The government is subject to this kind of transparency and disclosure because the government works for us. Not the other way around.”

Ignore the headline on this article — which I think takes the concerns a few steps too far — but do focus on what is written here. It is shameful.

Varun Mishra, Counterpoint Research:

Although overall global smartphone sales in 2022 fell 12% YoY due to macroeconomic difficulties, global premium (≥$600 wholesale price) smartphone sales climbed 1% YoY in contrast, which allowed the price segment to contribute to 55% of the total global smartphone market revenue for the first time ever.

The premium segment, which has been consistently outperforming the global smartphone market, captured more than one-fifth of total global smartphone sales as well.

Remember when the common cry of analysts was for Apple to make a low-cost iPhone to better compete with Samsung? It seems like only yesterday, but it was about ten years ago, right around the time the iPhone’s average selling price began a slow but steady climb.

Scott Everett of DPReview:

After nearly 25 years of operation, DPReview will be closing in the near future. This difficult decision is part of the annual operating plan review that our parent company shared earlier this year.

The site will remain active until April 10, and the editorial team is still working on reviews and looking forward to delivering some of our best-ever content.

I had no idea DPReview’s parent company is Amazon — shows how often I scroll to the footer, hey? — but this is heartbreaking news. Everett says the site will be available “for a limited period” following the stop publication date; not a promising phrase.

This has a local news component to it, too: Chris Niccolls and Jordan Drake, who make the company’s well-regarded review videos, are based in Calgary. They made a farewell video and say there is more to come.

Update: Niccolls and Drake are moving to PetaPixel.

Josh Hill:

During a Europe trip in May 2022, I uploaded over 6,000 photos and hundreds of videos to the cloud. Upon editing and deleting some of the photos, I encountered an issue with, which ultimately led to the complete wiping out of my entire cloud library. Despite my efforts to recover the lost data using tools such as Disk Drill and contacting Apple support, no useful recoverable files could be found. Unfortunately, Apple support refused to escalate the issue to the engineering team due to the use of a beta version of macOS Ventura.

The loss of my lifetime memories and tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of intellectual property is one of the most devastating experiences of my life. I believe it is crucial to highlight the importance of backing up all data, including cloud content, to prevent such a catastrophic loss.

This is among my worst nightmares and I feel terrible for Hill. It feels like an echo of problems of the past.

Via Michael Tsai:

Cloud syncing is not a backup. Apple doesn’t provide a way to directly download a backup of your photos, so you need to have Photos set to Download Originals to this Mac, which for most people means that they need to fit on your internal SSD. Then you can back them up yourself with Time Machine or to another cloud provider.

I agree with this on principle; in practice, though, a company like Apple probably has a better backup regimen than you or I do. I lost about a year’s worth of photos I took on my phone — from about mid-2013 through mid-2014 — because I backed up my iPhone to my computer, restored it, and it proceeded to overwrite the backup because it had the same UDID. Lesson learned: always back up your backup.

I expect big cloud providers have more redundancies than most of us do, which makes it all the more disappointing that none of this stuff comes with a guarantee. That is, even if Hill were only running production operating systems, Apple — like every major provider of consumer cloud services — does not obligate itself to perform data restoration. iCloud Photo Library may only officially be a syncing service, but it is easy to think of it as something more robust, especially when it is described as “safe”, where your photos are “always available”, “without worrying about space on your devices”. Not sure about you, but after reading Hill’s experience, I am less concerned about disk space and more concerned about whether those photos are actually as safe as they ought to be.

Simon Aarons:

Introducing acropalypse: a serious privacy vulnerability in the Google Pixel’s inbuilt screenshot editing tool, Markup, enabling partial recovery of the original, unedited image data of a cropped and/or redacted screenshot.

This was reported as CVE-2023-21036; Google says a fix is rolling out to Pixel devices. That is the good news. The very bad news is that every screenshot from a Pixel 3 or newer device is vulnerable to this bug, so long as the image has not been passed through an intermediate re-encoding process.

David Buchanan:

Although I’m currently an iPhone user, I used to use a Pixel 3XL. I’m also a heavy Discord user, and in the past I’d shared plenty of cropped screenshots through the Discord app.

I wrote a script to scrape my own message history to look for vulnerable images. There were lots of them, although most didn’t leak any particularly private information.

The worst instance was when I posted a cropped screenshot of an eBay order confirmation email, showing the product I’d just bought. Through the exploit, I was able to un-crop that screenshot, revealing my full postal address (which was also present in the email). That’s pretty bad!

There are some people in the replies to Aarons’ tweet claiming the same is true for cropped iPhone screenshots. In my testing, that is not exactly right: if you crop an iPhone screenshot and then share it with default sharing options, it does not transmit edit history or removed image data, as best as I can tell. When I AirDropped a cropped screenshot to myself, it sent a re-encoded JPG image instead of the HEIF original. In the iOS Share sheet, there is an “Options” button; if you want, you can toggle the switch to “include all photos data” which includes “edit history and metadata”, including image data removed via cropping. This option is off by default.

Update: It appears screenshots cropped with Windows 11’s Snipping Tool are also vulnerable.

Howard Oakley:

During Gatekeeper checks, two internet connections are normally made, to for notarization checks, and for the validity of the code-signing certificate. The first of those was attempted once, failed, and was promptly abandoned. The OCSP check was attempted multiple times, but was also abandoned quickly.

Failure of those two online checks didn’t prevent or delay successful app launching.

It sounds like this is a more graceful failure mode than the situation which plagued the Big Sur launch. A reminder that Apple said it would introduce a way of opting out of OCSP and, years after making that promise, it has yet to do so.

Chloe Xiang, Vice:

This blog post and OpenAI’s recent actions — all happening at the peak of the ChatGPT hype cycle — is a reminder of how much OpenAI’s tone and mission have changed from its founding, when it was exclusively a nonprofit. While the firm has always looked toward a future where [Artificial General Intelligence] exists, it was founded on commitments including not seeking profits and even freely sharing code it develops, which today are nowhere to be seen.


Will this AI be shared responsibly, developed openly, and without a profit motive, as the company originally envisioned? Or will it be rolled out hastily, with numerous unsettling flaws, and for a big payday benefitting OpenAI primarily? Will OpenAI keep its sci-fi future closed-source?

This was published February 28, roughly two weeks before GPT-4 was launched.

Ben Schmidt, of Nomic AI, on Twitter:

I think we can call it shut on ‘Open’ AI: the 98 page paper introducing GPT-4 proudly declares that they’re disclosing *nothing* about the contents of their training set.

James Vincent, the Verge:

Speaking to The Verge in an interview, Ilya Sutskever, OpenAI’s chief scientist and co-founder, expanded on this point. Sutskever said OpenAI’s reasons for not sharing more information about GPT-4 — fear of competition and fears over safety — were “self evident”:

“On the competitive landscape front — it’s competitive out there,” said Sutskever. “GPT-4 is not easy to develop. It took pretty much all of OpenAI working together for a very long time to produce this thing. And there are many many companies who want to do the same thing, so from a competitive side, you can see this as a maturation of the field.”

In addition to effort and competition, Sutskever also raises questions about what it would mean for safety if the company was more transparent — something Schmidt pushes back on — while Vincent documents potential legal liability. But are these not foreseeable complications, at least for competition and safety? Why maintain the artifice of the OpenAI non-profit and the suggestive name? A growing problem with things like these is questions about their trustworthiness; why not pick a new name that is not, you know, objectively incorrect?

I though Joanna Stern’s look, for the Wall Street Journal, at the second-hand smartphone market was interesting as a whole, but one of the things Stern wrote is particularly notable:

[…] What I do know is that phones really do have a circle of life — cue Elton John — and selling booger-free used phones can benefit carriers, resellers and maybe Apple, too: Even a refurbished iPhone means a blue bubble in your messaging app.

As Apple’s services business is increasingly important to its overall financial picture, the long-tail effect of a healthy second-hand phone market is undoubtably attractive to the company. It reduces the cost for buying into the ecosystem while reducing pricing pressure on Apple’s part.

If your local library does not have a subscription to the Journal, the video is also on YouTube.

Brian X. Chen, Nico Grant, and Karen Weise, New York Times:

On a rainy Tuesday in San Francisco, Apple executives took the stage in a crowded auditorium to unveil the fifth-generation iPhone. The phone, which looked identical to the previous version, had a new feature that the audience was soon buzzing about: Siri, a virtual assistant.

This first paragraph vignette has problems — and, no, I cannot help myself. The iPhone 4S and Siri were unveiled on October 4, 2011 at Apple’s campus in Cupertino, not in San Francisco, and it did not rain until that night in San Francisco. It was a Tuesday, though.

Please note there are three bylines on this story.

Anyway, the authors of this Times story attempt to illustrate how voice assistants, like Siri and Alexa, have been outdone by products like OpenAI’s ChatGPT:

The assistants and the chatbots are based on different flavors of A.I. Chatbots are powered by what are known as large language models, which are systems trained to recognize and generate text based on enormous data sets scraped off the web. They can then suggest words to complete a sentence.

In contrast, Siri, Alexa and Google Assistant are essentially what are known as command-and-control systems. These can understand a finite list of questions and requests like “What’s the weather in New York City?” or “Turn on the bedroom lights.” If a user asks the virtual assistant to do something that is not in its code, the bot simply says it can’t help.

The article’s conclusion? The architecture of voice assistants has precluded them from becoming meaningful players in artificial intelligence. They have “squandered their lead in the A.I. race”; the headline outright says they have “lost”. But hold on — it seems pretty early to declare outright winners and losers, right?

John Voorhees of MacStories sure thinks so:

It’s not surprising that sources have told The New York Times that Apple is researching the latest advances in artificial intelligence. All you have to do is visit the company’s Machine Learning Research website to see that. But to declare a winner in ‘the AI race’ based on the architecture of where voice assistants started compared to today’s chatbots is a bit facile. Voice assistants may be primitive by comparison to chatbots, but it’s far too early to count Apple, Google, or Amazon out or declare the race over, for that matter.

“Siri” and “Alexa” are just marketing names. The underlying technologies can change. It is naïve to think Google is not working to integrate something like the Bard system into its Assistant. I have no idea if any of these companies will be able to iterate as quickly as OpenAI has been doing — I have been wrong about this before — but to count them out now, mere months after ChatGPT’s launch, is ridiculous, especially as Siri, alone, is in a billion pockets.

I promise this has something to do with computers, software, and my usual jibber-jabber, but I want to talk about cooking. And before I get to that, I need to preface this by acknowledging my use of an unfortunate premise: stoves. I started writing this in September, well before this became a bizarre and fracturing issue. A better writer would have canned the whole thing or found a better metaphor; instead, I procrastinated until that particular culture war fizzled out. Enough throat clearing.

We recently bought a new range for our kitchen which, as it turns out, is a dizzying task. I would have preferred an induction model, but nearly all of them have capacitive touch controls which are terrible — worse than physical knobs in almost every way. I just want to turn a dial to change the temperature, not poke at a barely responsive slab of glass. And we thought we had done it: we thought we had found the sole perfect induction model in the showroom. But it turned out to be a standard electric stove. Oh, well; put it on the truck, I guess.

In my heart of hearts, what I really wanted was a gas stove. Unfortunately and tautologically, they are fuelled by flammable gas which, when burned, releases toxic fumes into a home. This can be mitigated by having a venthood that properly exhausts fumes to the outdoors, which I do not have, but if I did I would need to face the guilt and self-flagellation for adding to the consumption of petroleum products when I know better. I do not want a gas stove in this form, but I do want the effect of one in my kitchen. I want to cook with fire.

At its core, a gas stove is a fantastically simple invention. A combustible material is fed in, it is set alight, and a valve in the middle controls how big the flame is. This sounds imprecise in the sense that it is difficult to hit a specific heat output, but it offers a unique level of control to the cook. It rarely matters exactly how many thermal units are being produced so long as you can change that factor quickly. Perhaps as important, fire can make food taste different. You can toast items directly on the iron grate. When you toss food in the pan, it gets kissed by the flame, burning sugars and oils and alcohol. In Cantonese and with the assistance of enough heat, it is known as wok hei, though achieving this requires a more powerful burner than most home stovetops can produce. But it cannot happen without fire.

An induction stove offers much of the same level of control and is a triumph of efficiency. Instead of placing a heat source near the pan’s base, the electromagnetic field in each “burner” causes the pan itself to get hot. It offers the best conversion of energy to cookery of any stovetop type and provides just as much control as a gas burner. It produces no excess heat; the only reason the cooktop’s surface would be warmed is from the heat absorbed by and reflected off the pan. It is a more intelligent, more future-forward way of cooking.

But I still want fire. There is something alluring about that simplicity — something primal. It sparks something inside me that makes anything electric feel sterile. Yes, the cooktops are doing the same job, but not in the same way.

There are a handful of logical arguments for preferring a gas cooktop over electric, and the degree to which they matter will vary from person to person. But, for what it is worth, I have used an electric stovetop all my life and have learned how to compensate for its unique qualities, even as something of an enthusiastic home cook. I often use a wok, toast tortillas in a cast iron pan, and roast peppers under the broiler instead of directly against a flame. It is not exactly the same, of course, but nor is it so different that it is ruinous to whatever I am cooking. That may be different for you. Food is deeply personal and, for me, it is about maximizing what I have and not trying to always hit a goal of being the best of something, which I have long regarded as unobtainable.

Many of the reasons people prefer a gas cooktop seem more emotional than logical. I am certainly in that camp — just look at most of the arguments I am making above. It is exciting to work with fire; it makes you feel like more of a chef, even if all you are doing is boiling an egg. When Alec Watson — of the delightful Technology Connections YouTube channel — replaced his gas stove with an electric model, he found the electric one often boils water faster than the unit he replaced, but it feels slower. “When you turn on a gas stove,” Watson says, you get the “tick-tick-tick whoomph, and you get a flame, and you can see and hear that flame”. An electric stove has a glowing red visual clue that something is happening, while an induction burner shows almost nothing. There is no palpable excitement in this kind of efficiency. And I do think that is a problem.

I do not think we should dismiss emotional arguments out of hand. It seems obvious to prefer rational arguments rooted in facts and logic, but our enjoyment of using something often comes just as much from how good it feels as how well it works. That applies to stoves, but it is increasingly true across the board, for almost anything you can think of.

I promised earlier to relate this to computers; thank you for sticking with me. In an infamous 2011 op-ed for the Wall Street Journal, venture capitalist and Mosaic browser inventor Marc Andresseen observed that “software is eating the world”:

More and more major businesses and industries are being run on software and delivered as online services—from movies to agriculture to national defense. Many of the winners are Silicon Valley-style entrepreneurial technology companies that are invading and overturning established industry structures. Over the next 10 years, I expect many more industries to be disrupted by software, with new world-beating Silicon Valley companies doing the disruption in more cases than not.

Twelve years later, Andresseen’s forecast seems more true than ever and, also, a little bit like a threat. Not because of how unreliable and frustrating software often is — at least, not solely for that reason — but because electronic things often feel inferior despite their manifold advantages. For as clever as the world is becoming, it can also be unsatisfying.

It does not have to be.

Unfortunately, explaining how is difficult as what we find delightful is wholly subjective. You may have reached this part of the article entirely disagreeing with what I have written so far. Maybe you find something charming about a stovetop that somehow heats pans but not the surface using magnets. But that efficiency leaves me cold, in much the same way as compact discs are less delightful than vinyl records despite being more accurate reproductions of the source audio.

Sometimes, a sense of charm comes in the form of the old, the familiar, and the nostalgic. Consider the common practice of mimicking film in most movies shot digitally, or analogue audio effects like crackle and tape warp in some new music. In real estate listings, older houses with original details are marketed as “character homes”.

All of this can make it seem as though careful and precise engineering is the opposite of delight, but that would be an oversimplification and, arguably, untrue. When Ferdinand Piëch ran the Volkswagen Group, he pushed for some radically over-engineered models, any of which would elicit excited giggles from a mechanically inclined person. If you want to get a little upmarket, there is true joy in using a perfectly assembled Leica for even the simplest photograph, an image which will have a finesse unlike anything else. The key difference, I think, is that efficiency and precision must be in the service of something more visceral. I think one moment from the introduction of the Apple Watch is a good example of where that was not successful.

Tim Cook:

We set out to make the best watch in the world — one that is precise. It is synchronized with the Universal Time Standard. It’s accurate within plus or minus 50 milliseconds.

Wow, that sure sounds great. So why has it felt underwhelming every time I have seen that clip? I think John Gruber’s explanation gets to the heart of the matter:

The funny thing about this marketing angle is that it rings utterly hollow to serious watch people. $30 quartz watches generally keep very accurate time — much more accurately than mechanical watches that cost tens of thousands of dollars. The gold standard for quality watch movements is COSC certification — a series of tests administered by the Swiss Official Chronometer Testing Institute. To be COSC-certified, a mechanical watch need be accurate only to -4/+6 seconds per day. Apple is advertising Apple Watch as being accurate to 5 hundredths of a second. Accuracy isn’t even close to the primary appeal for mechanical watch aficionados.

Gruber also points out how very precise clocks are not new to computers, either.

I am not in the right tax bracket to be a serious watch person — incidentally, this seems like a good time to plug my Patreon — but this is a good explanation of why precision for precision’s sake is not very interesting in a wholly computerized era. Improving the accuracy of a mechanical watch requires precise craft which is as artful as it is obsessive. This is subjective, but the story behind Network Time Protocol is not as compelling. This is not a money thing, either: while mechanical watches are often a signifier of wealth, it is hard to imagine the timekeeping apps on an Apple Watch being more interesting than the springs and gears of a mechanical movement regardless of its price.

The watch is just one product categories in which mechanical versions, once dominant, are now a niche. Everything is a computer; the Andresseen Doctrine has comfortably won. But that does not mean we must cede the emotionally powerful qualities of these objects to cold, raw efficiency. Digital does not necessarily mean boring. Apparently, younger people are discovering the joy of older cameras, saying they have “a layer of personality” not present in phone cameras. A smartphone is more like an appliance; a point-and-shoot is a tool for creativity.

This is not a veneer. It is a more important quality than it seems. For all we focus on products’ utility, I wish there was as much consideration given to how they feel — to the emotional connection they create. I, for one, do not want to live in a world dominated by appliances. I want to love the things I use, and I am sure I am not alone. Do not get me wrong: I appreciate so many of these things; they are brilliant in ways I can barely comprehend. But clever is not a substitute for soul. Too many of the products and services I use feel more advanced and less compelling than those of, say, ten or twenty years ago. We should find that quality again.

Aram Zucker-Scharff:

The VCs are flipping their position on government bailouts after spending years arguing that they shouldn’t be constrained by any regulations or rules, financial or otherwise. People, both with and without a historical understanding of the marketplace, are understandably upset when they perceive a clear and certian statement that for all the talk of “wealth generation” and the moral burden of taking loans and running a buisness that VCs have done over the years these same self-identified gurus clearly feel no particular ethical requirements themselves. Apparently the moral hazard of the market is for us lesser beings, not the startups and their funders.

I spotted a few of the links in my last post in Zucker-Scharff’s running feed of related topics. This original piece is great, too.

This weekend’s news of the second- and third-largest bank failures in U.S. history has been hard for me to process. I live somewhere that has not had a bank go bust since the mid-1990s, so what happened over the past several days is entirely unfamiliar to me. If you feel similarly confused, I have some links which helped me understand it better, and may hopefully do the same for you.

Tabby Kinder, et al., Financial Times:

[Silicon Valley Bank] serves about half of all venture-backed US tech and life sciences companies and has total assets worth $212bn, making it the 16th-largest bank in the US. Founded 40 years ago, it has grown into a fixture in global tech, having banked groups such as Cisco, Ring, Beyond Meat and Shopify in their earliest stages.

It is being rocked as tech start-ups face the biggest collapse in their value since the dotcom bubble burst in the early 2000s. SVB’s market capitalisation has fallen from a peak of more than $44bn less than two years ago to $17bn today.

This article was published three weeks ago; as of Friday, SVB was history.

Matt Levine, Bloomberg:

Also, I am sorry to be rude, but there is another reason that it is maybe not great to be the Bank of Startups, which is that nobody on Earth is more of a herd animal than Silicon Valley venture capitalists. What you want, as a bank, is a certain amount of diversity among your depositors. If some depositors get spooked and take their money out, and other depositors evaluate your balance sheet and decide things are fine and keep their money in, and lots more depositors keep their money in because they simply don’t pay attention to banking news, then you have a shot at muddling through your problems.

But if all of your depositors are startups with the same handful of venture capitalists on their boards, and all those venture capitalists are competing with each other to Add Value and Be Influencers and Do The Current Thing by calling all their portfolio companies to say “hey, did you hear, everyone’s taking money out of Silicon Valley Bank, you should too,” then all of your depositors will take their money out at the same time.

Silicon Valley Bank was just one of three — holy shit! — U.S.-based banks to become insolvent or announce an impending closure in the same week. Two days before SVB was shuttered, Silvergate Capital said it would begin closing down; two days later, Signature Bank was closed. There seem to be many differences in the reasons for the failure of each; one is that Signature and Silvergate were more involved in cryptocurrency markets than SVB. Put a pin in that; I will return to it after two block quotes.

So, what to do? Jeanna Smialek and Alan Rappeport, New York Times:

The reckoning came after the Federal Reserve, Treasury and Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation announced Sunday that they would make sure that all depositors in two large failed banks, Silicon Valley Bank and Signature Bank, were repaid in full. The Fed also announced that it would offer banks loans against their Treasuries and many other asset holdings, treating the securities as though they were worth their original value — even though higher interest rates have eroded the market price of such bonds.

The actions were meant to send a message to America: There is no reason to pull your money out of the banking system, because your deposits are safe and funding is plentiful. The point was to avert a bank run that could tank the financial system and broader economy.

Steve Clemons, Semafor:

Economics writer Noah Smith made the case against the term “bailout” on similar grounds: “No regular folks will owe any money, SVB no longer exists, and SVB management will lose their jobs.”

Others disagreed, saying the Fed and FDIC were intervening in ways that made clear to banks and large depositors across the country that the government would go beyond any established interpretation of the law to rescue them. This was especially galling, some noted, because SVB and other banks had successfully lobbied to loosen post-2008 regulations intended to prevent similar crashes.

“It is a bailout and it does set a precedent,” Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, told Semafor. “It is a bit infuriating to see us bailing out Silicon Valley geniuses who couldn’t be bothered to do ten minutes of homework on a bank where they are parking tens of millions of dollars.”

So, the terrible short history of this part of this mess: in 2010, following the Great Recession, U.S. lawmakers passed the Dodd–Frank Act to reduce the risk to world financial markets by more closely regulating U.S. banking and investments. Half of its name comes from U.S. representative Barney Frank who, after leaving Congress, joined the board of Signature Bank, saying “[t]hey don’t get involved with exotic derivatives and credit default swaps”. Interesting point, Rep. Frank. A couple of years later, he helped fellow Democrats come around to a position of weakening some of the regulations he helped write. In an interview Sunday with Bloomberg, he admitted cryptocurrency was “new and […] potentially destabilizing” and today said the closure of Signature was more about sending a message. At the very least, it sure looks conflict-of-interest-y and also pretty shitty.

Whether the Trump administration’s kneecapping of Dodd–Frank, encouraged by one of the bill’s namesake authors himself, played a significant role in these developments has yet to be determined. Committing to any narrative is, at this point, probably a bad idea. But if you are interested in right and wrong framing, an opinion piece at the Wall Street Journal is very committed to being wrong; check out the good alt text in the followup screenshot.

The sick sense of humour in me appreciates that we are doing the same Jim Cramer thing in March again, but it is worrying, and it also involves mortgage backed securities. I feel like I have seen this movie before. I did not enjoy it. Maybe CNBC could just fire Jim Cramer.

Those are the articles which helped me understand this situation better — though, let me be clear, not entirely comfortably or wholly. Maybe they could similarly help you, particularly if you also live in a place where this sort of thing is uncommon. If you are more financially literate than myself, please let me know if I have written anything stupid here.

Jessie Char posted a great Twitter thread about why it makes sense for apps focused on classical music listening — such as the forthcoming Apple Music Classical — to be separated from apps for streaming pop music. If you are less familiar with classical music and want to try the app when it launches on March 28, this may give you a sense of what to look for.

Kirby Ferguson’s latest is not to be missed: a thoughtful exploration of artificial intelligence within his “Everything is a Remix” framework. Great soundtrack, too.

It is also, Ferguson says, his last video. In an April email to subscribers — which I cannot figure out how to link to — Ferguson says further works will be more likely written rather than videos, owing in part to time constraints. If this is indeed the end of Ferguson’s personal video career, it is a beautiful way to bow out. If you have not checked out his back catalogue, it would be worth your time.

Thanks, Kirby.

Marie Woolf, the Globe and Mail:

The bill would make Google and Meta compensate news organizations for posting or linking to their work.

A spokesperson for Meta, which owns Facebook and Instagram, said the company is planning to remove Canadians’ access to both written and broadcast news after Bill C-18 becomes law, if changes to the legislation are not made. The tech giant said it would warn Canadians of changes to its services in advance.

Regardless of how you feel about this bill — and I am not fond of it — it is worth remembering Meta used the same negotiating tactic in Australia when its government was working on the same kind of law, which it passed. It has threatened to do the same in the U.S. if Congress moves forward on a similar proposal. The bill may be bad, but Meta’s scare tactics are feeling a little stale.

I thought this exploration by Reddit user ibreakphotos of Samsung’s Moon detection feature was well done. It is a smart test which lines up with previous experiments in its conclusions: these pictures are simply more detailed than is possible from even an impressive zoom lens.

Samsung has explained how its camera works for pictures of the Moon, and it is what you would probably expect: the camera software has been trained to identify the Moon and, because it is such a predictable object, it can reliably infer details which are not actually present. Whether these images and others like them are enhanced or generated seems increasingly like a distinction without a difference in a world where the most popular cameras rely heavily on computational power to make images better than what the optics are capable of. Also, these Moon pictures sure seem like a gimmick — how many mediocre pictures need to be posted to Instagram of the Moon with nothing else in the frame?

If it sounds like I am being flippant, it is only because I think this becomes more worrisome if it moves away from marketing stunts, as it seems likely to. In the case of these Moon pictures, it seems pretty clear to me that Samsung’s camera software is mapping known detail onto a known object. It is untruthful, but not too impactful. What happens as the categories of known scene types are expanded? As I wrote last month, there were already problems with a simple compression algorithm used in Xerox copiers, which ended up subtly changing numbers in documents. Without getting into FUD territory, imagine those sorts of errors or assumptions in photography, and with the complexity of a machine learning black box in the capture pipeline.

Jade Markus, CBC News:

The amount that phone scammers have stolen from Albertans has nearly doubled compared to two years prior, mirroring a national trend with fewer victims, but millions of dollars lost.

Data from the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre shows that in 2022 there were 849 reported victims of scam calls in Alberta, totaling more than $5.4 million.

In 2021, 757 Albertans lost $3.4 million and in 2020, 927 people lost $2.1 million. The data relies on what was reported to the centre.

The federal government says around $530 million was lost to scams of all types across Canada in 2022, 40% more than in the year prior which was a 130% increase over 2020. While I leave open the possibility the RCMP is overestimating, I have noticed an increase in the number of scam calls I have been receiving, often multiple per day. I ask them if they are okay with how much they are stealing from people who do not know better, and they often say yes. Sometimes, I think about how sad this is for everyone involved.

With the entry into the public consciousness of “deepfaked” impersonation videos came the inevitable concern from policymakers around the world, including in the United States. Congresspersons Adam Schiff, Stephanie Murphy, and Carlos Curbelo sent a letter (PDF) to the Director of National Intelligence in 2018 warning that “by blurring the line between fact and fiction, deep fake technology could undermine public trust”. Senators Mark Warner and Marco Rubio followed up a year later with concern that “deepfakes pose an especially grave threat to the public’s trust in the information it consumes” which “will have a corrosive impact” on democracy. Well, what they actually said was “our democracy”, but the principle would certainly apply to any democracy. A 2021 report by the Department of Homeland Security (PDF) concludes that the “mere existence of deepfakes could undermine the primacy of credibility and authority of traditional social institutions”.

Sam Biddle, reporting this week for the Intercept:

U.S. Special Operations Command, responsible for some of the country’s most secretive military endeavors, is gearing up to conduct internet propaganda and deception campaigns online using deepfake videos, according to federal contracting documents reviewed by The Intercept.

The plans, which also describe hacking internet-connected devices to eavesdrop in order to assess foreign populations’ susceptibility to propaganda, come at a time of intense global debate over technologically sophisticated “disinformation” campaigns, their effectiveness, and the ethics of their use.

Deepfakes undermine trust and will corrode democracy — and it is important for SOCOM to get started using them as quickly as possible.

Michelle Boorstein and Heather Kelly, Washington Post:

A group of conservative Colorado Catholics has spent millions of dollars to buy mobile app tracking data that identified priests who used gay dating and hookup apps and then shared it with bishops around the country.


One report prepared for bishops says the group’s sources are data brokers who got the information from ad exchanges, which are sites where ads are bought and sold in real time, like a stock market. The group cross-referenced location data from the apps and other details with locations of church residences, workplaces and seminaries to find clergy who were allegedly active on the apps, according to one of the reports and also the audiotape of the group’s president.

Boorstein and Kelly say some of those behind this group also outed a priest two years ago using similar tactics, which makes it look like a test case for this more comprehensive effort. As they write, a New York-based Reverend said at the time it was justified to expose priests who had violated their celibacy pledge. That is a thin varnish on what is clearly an effort to discriminate against queer members of the church. These operations have targeted clergy by using data derived almost exclusively by the use of gay dating apps.

Data brokers have long promised the information they supply is anonymized but, time and again, this is shown to be an ineffective means of protecting users’ privacy. That ostensibly de-identified data was used to expose a specific single priest’s use of Grindr in 2021, and the organization in question has not stopped. Furthermore, nothing would prevent this sort of exploitation by groups based outside the United States, which may be able to obtain similar data to produce the same — or worse — outcomes.

This is some terrific reporting by Boorstein and Kelly.