Month: October 2023

Jose M. Gilgado:

In a world where constant change is the norm, finished software provides a breath of fresh air. It’s a reminder that reliability, consistency, and user satisfaction can coexist in the realm of software development.

There is confidence in being able to say a piece of software is completed. Not dead, not discontinued — just done; a full expression of what it needs to be.

Emma Roth, the Verge:

YouTube is broadening its efforts to crack down on ad blockers. The platform has “launched a global effort” to encourage users to allow ads or try YouTube Premium, YouTube communications manager Christopher Lawton says in a statement provided to The Verge.

“Encourage users” is quite the euphemism for a mechanism which will eventually prevent you from watching videos unless you permit ads.

In the statement, Lawton explained that ad blockers violate YouTube’s terms of service. Presumably, this is the restriction which states “You are not allowed to: […] (2) circumvent, disable, fraudulently engage with, or otherwise interfere with any part of the Service” which, in a strict reading, implies even programmatically hiding the comments section — as I do — is a violation. After all, I am disabling part of the service.

Zhenyi Tan:

YouTube isn’t rolling out the anti-adblock to everyone. It seems to depend on things like your account, browser, and IP address. And if you’re not logged in or you’re in a private window, you’re safe. As a result, there are a bunch of people saying, “I use XYZ and I haven’t seen an anti-adblock popup yet,” unknowingly spreading misinformation.

But here’s the thing: YouTube isn’t just targeting adblockers. Use Privacy Badger? You’ll get flagged. Use Malwarebytes? You’ll get flagged. Set your Edge browser’s tracking protection to “strict”? Yep, you’ll get flagged. So a lot of people think their extensions are safe to use, but actually they’re not.

One tiny correction: I am not signed into YouTube and I, too, have seen the anti-adblock campaign.

YouTube is in a unique position — one I imagine is enviable for pretty much any other ad-supported product. It is the web’s video host — well, the web’s general purpose video host, I suppose — and has no equal, so it can do basically anything it wants. It has spent years ratcheting up the ad load. It is now typical that any video you watch will be preceded by two unskippable ads, with more ads often appearing every few minutes. There is no third choice: users either watch ads, or pay for Premium.

Is it any wonder YouTube announced it hit 80 million paying members in November?

Alec Watson:

Seemingly few people know (or understand completely) that YT Premium is a good deal for all parties involved – it kills ads, creators get a cut of the membership, and (in my experience anyway) it neutralizes many of the platform’s weird tendencies because serving relevant ads to the viewer is no longer a concern.

I would advocate for it much more strongly (and I say 100% truthfully that Premium views pay me more than ad-supported views do) except YT continues to lump YT music into it.

As is often the case with something Watson does, this got me to think differently about YouTube Premium. If you think of YouTube only as an increasingly crummy free product pushing people toward paying a monthly fee, it looks extortive. Indeed, that is the way YouTube markets Premium — five mentions of “ad-free” on that page, yet not a single indication of revenue sharing. You have to go pretty deep into the documentation to find out about this extremely appealing quality.

Davey Alba and Leah Nylen, Bloomberg:

Google maintains a firewall between its ads and search teams so that its engineers can innovate on Google’s search engine, unsullied by the influence of the team whose goal is to maximize advertising revenue. But in February 2019, testimony at the antitrust trial revealed Tuesday, Google internally declared a “Code Yellow” amid concerns the company might not meet its goals for search revenue for the quarter.

As part of the emergency, which lasted for seven weeks, engineers from Google’s search and Chrome browser teams were reassigned to figure out why user queries had slowed, according to the documents.

This and the related internal presentation (PDF) is the closest this trial has so far come to suggesting the kind of juicing reported by Megan Gray earlier this month. The slide on page five of that April 2019 presentation, for example, notes that while there is a “strong separation between Ads and Search”, those two teams are now “working together to recapture this commercial intent”. This does not necessarily suggest something nefarious — a commercial query could perhaps have more accurate ads. Even if Gray’s interpretation is not proven, slides like these damage Google’s insistence that search is not influenced by ads.

Even if you do not believe the results of Geekbench tests are representative of real-world performance, it is clear Apple’s system-on-a-chip lineup has written an extraordinary story for its own products. Its effects are unsurprisingly reminiscent of the switch from PowerPC to Intel — with a twist.

Think back to the mid-2000s: Apple was unable to deliver a PowerBook with a G5 processor because it used too much power and produced too much heat for such a small package. Apple was less than ten years’ removed from imminent bankruptcy and, despite renewed public interest in the company thanks to the iMac and iPod, it still was not selling many Macs. It needed something great to woo customers, and it could deliver way better laptops by using Intel processors. Great performance and great battery life solidified the MacBook Pro as the laptop for creative professionals working from anywhere.

Fifteen years after the first MacBook Pro models, Apple introduced updated versions which featured upgraded variations of its custom chips, dubbed the M1 Pro and M1 Max. Even the base models delivered Geekbench-graded performance comparable to the Intel-powered Mac Pro beast of a tower launched just two years prior. I bought one — a 14-inch model, which has to rank as one of the greatest Macs ever made. It felt refreshing; it felt like a rebirth for the Mac.

Which, when you think about it, is a little strange for a product made by a corporation that has been the world’s most valuable by market capitalization more-or-less consistently for over a decade. Alas, the stability the Intel switch provided the Mac lineup had turned to stagnation in the mid-2010s. Apple was busy making killer A-series chips for its iPhones and iPads; those efforts paid off and gave the Mac a sorely needed kick in the pants.

So what happens when raw power becomes normal, and the highest end products are extraordinarily capable?1 I posed that question after the Mac Studio was announced. Performance is great; it is incredible that my laptop is about as capable as a vastly more expensive tower from just two years prior. But these are tools in service of an end. What new things are possible because we have better equipment? What can we do with these products that would have been implausible or impossible without them?

Some of this miraculous performance is undoubtably going to be wasted thanks to induced demand. Applications do not need to be optimized to nearly the same degree because it is possible to get away with occasional peaks in CPU and RAM usage that would have been unacceptable before. That is not inherently problematic; I, a web designer and developer, appreciate high-speed connections plentiful enough that I no longer having to worry about every kilobyte. But a surplus of computing resources has also meant I need to put up with CPU consumption of 200–400% from the one–two punch of Microsoft OneDrive and Apple’s file provider daemon because efficient file syncing is a task too onerous for the world’s two most valuable corporations.

There are actual gains, though, and ones which can be seen in making day-to-day tasks a little better. Apple highlighted a variety of users in a promo video it showed yesterday, and noted a broad range of use cases in presenting its new M3 lineup: from filmmaking to scientific research to software development to music production. There is much to be said for the versatility of being able to do any of these things from anywhere with the same performance expectations as sitting at your desk.

But the new stuff that is enabled by gains in performance is plausibly answered by Om Malik:

Apple has a substantial opportunity to integrate generative AI into its core platform, mainly because of its chip and hardware-level integration. For example, by actively incorporating open-source generative AI models into their SDK and developer tools, Apple can leverage the evolving nature of the interaction between humans and machines in the digital world. The new M3-based computers thus provide developers with a compelling reason to remain within, or even return to, the Apple ecosystem.

If even Apple’s most consumer focused products can run demanding machine learning tasks locally, it is setting up a unique position for the company. It can create an expectation that everything it makes can run these tools without deferring to the web.

That presupposes quite a lot. Apple has not shown much of its generative work yet; its biggest announcement has been autocorrect in iOS 17 which, to be fair, is really, really good. Whether it is building things which are competitive with the work we have seen from Adobe, Google, Meta, and Microsoft is all rumour and speculation. We have also been down a similar road before: Apple has spent years sullying the iPad with software that has not taken advantage of its enormously capable hardware.

But maybe — maybe — this narrative is an indicator of why Apple wants so much power in all of its products. It is not there merely for its own sake. It is, perhaps, in service of a future which it can — in its specific phrasing — loudly proclaim as something only Apple can do.

  1. This is admittedly myopic. Apple’s most powerful SoCs are comparable in CPU benchmarks to Intel’s most capable, but they are buried when it comes to OpenCL and, to a lesser extent, Metal↥︎

Leica last week launched the M11-P which, as I am sure you know, is the kind of news I am a total sucker for and it is embarrassing. Aside from the usual stuff you might expect from a “P”-type Leica, there is buried in the camera an implementation of an open image authentication system which sounds interesting but, as it turns out, needs clarifying.

Tim Bray:

I’ve been impressed by the whole C2PA idea ever since I first heard about it, but damn is it hard to explain. Every time I post about it, I get annoying replies like “I don’t want my camera to track me!” and “This is just NFTs again!” and “It’ll be easy to fake by tampering with the camera!” All of which are wrong. I conclude that I’m failing to explain clearly enough.

Whatever, let’s try again.

I found this entire piece illuminating and I suspect you will, too. There is understandable fretting over how much we are able to trust photography in an age of manipulation which is easier and more convincing than ever before. C2PA could, it seems, be a key feature, and I am curious to see if it catches on.

Apple held a short presentation tonight to introduce its first M3 SoCs — built with the same three-nanometre process as its A17 Pro chip in the iPhone 15 Pro — and updated Macs which use those chips: a refreshed iMac and MacBook Pro line. Aside from the SoC, there appears to be little new in either line; the MacBook Pro’s display is a little brighter, and there is a new darker grey finish for M3 Pro and M3 Max models.

Perhaps the most curious part of these new Macs is that Apple is pitching them specifically to people who own Intel models — or, in the words of John Ternus, anyone “still” using a computer Apple stopped selling just two years ago. Of course, these are significant upgrades from comparable Intel models; whether you believe the 24-inch iMac is comparable to a 27-inch 5K model, on the other hand, is a matter of interpretation. I do not think it is, and Apple’s insistence that it is “the perfect size and resolution to replace both the 4K and the 5K” Intel iMacs is robbing me of any hope of a larger version to eventually replace my 5K model.

The rumour mill was a curious beast this time around. Just two weeks ago, Mark Gurman said there would be no new Macs this month, with the earliest M3 Macs coming out “between early and spring 2024”. In the next newsletter, however, Gurman reversed his predictions, claiming new iMacs and MacBook Pro models would be launched soon. Then, after Apple announced this presentation last week, Ming-Chi Kuo said new M3-based MacBook Pros would be its focus. Gurman said a lower-cost model of the MacBook Pro featuring the base M3 chip would not be launched until next year, and claimed the new iMac’s accessories would have USB-C ports instead of Lightning ports. Also, Ben Lovejoy of 9to5Mac found it “sketchy” that a supposed new MacBook Pro box leaked with a “crude” and “boring” desktop picture.

Kuo was, as it turns out, right. Gurman’s predictions were a mess; there is no way that Apple changed its mind about running this event in the past two weeks. Lovejoy flubbed it.

There was one special treat at the end of the presentation, when Apple noted the entire thing was shot on the iPhone 15 Pro Max — “all presenters, locations, and drone footage”. There was not a single moment when something felt off, or different, or questionable. Of course, just because something is shot with specific equipment, it does not mean what we are seeing in the final edit is entirely from that footage. But I have quietly wondered if Apple would start using its own cameras for these presentations. Now, we have our answer: it just did, and nobody was the wiser until the credits rolled.

Update: Apple has now published a behind-the-scenes look at shooting on iPhones.

David Montgomery of YouGov:

Physical books are a much more common thing for Americans to own than electronic books or e-books. Only around half of Americans say they own even one e-book, and only 9% of Americans say they own at least 100 e-books.

This is a trick question, since many e-books are encumbered by DRM and cannot be owned, only licensed. In 2009, Amazon famously revoked customers’ access to several e-books, including “1984”, due to a licensing issue.

For what it is worth, a whole-year survey of Canadian book buyers found over 70% of books sold in 2022 were print copies, with e-books and audiobooks at just 17% and 6% respectively. People switched to digital music and movies with little hesitation, but books seem to hold a different place in our lives.

Mia Soto, the Verge:

Thai Food Near Me isn’t the first business to think of the Google-first naming convention. There are reminders of Google’s kingmaker status in online discoverability everywhere in cities across the country.

Among the businesses I was able to find: a chain of half a dozen Affordable Dentist Near Me’s in Texas; an Antiques Near Me two hours outside of New York City; seven Plumber Near Me businesses; a Phone Repair Near Me in Cape Cod, Massachusetts; a Psychic Near Me in Chicago; and more than 20 iterations of “Notary Near Me” across the US.

It is funny to recognize a clear difference between businesses which used to game the Yellow Pages decades ago — with names like “A Aaaaa Bcalvy” — and those which are doing the same thing for Google today. If the former still exist, they have probably been around since a phone book was the first place you would look for services; it feels ironic that a bit of outdated trickery might be an indicator of long-time quality.

Google says this strategy does not work, and my testing seems to confirm that. There is a chain of businesses in Calgary called “Towing Near Me”, but searching both Google and Google Maps for that exact phrase does not surface that business. Instead, I see towing companies with locations near my IP address in central Calgary, which is what I would expect.

Kate Knibbs, Wired:

As artists are quick to point out, Meta’s insistence that people provide evidence that its models have trained on their work or other personal data puts them in a bind. Meta has not disclosed the specifics about which data it has trained its models on, so this set-up requires people who want to remove their information to first figure out which prompts might elicit responses that include details about themselves or their work.

Even if they do submit evidence, it may not matter. When asked about mounting frustration with this process, Meta responded that the data deletion request form is not an opt-out tool, emphasizing that it has no intention of deleting information found within its own platforms. “I think there is some confusion about what that form is and the controls we offer,” Meta spokesperson Thomas Richards told WIRED via email. “We don’t currently offer a feature for people to opt-out of their information from our products and services being used to train our AI models.”

Meta also has limited exclusion options for data scraped from the open web.

I mostly agree with arguments that using public web data for machine learning purposes is a fair use of available data. That is, not necessarily “fair use” in a legal definition — though that is being tested in court — but in a more common understanding that it seems okay to absorb and interpret websites and images for these models. That is not necessarily a comfortable position. These are commercial models scooping up information at vast scale, transforming it, and reselling products created from it without credit.

But intellectual property is a weak argument against technology which combines sources and synthesizes something new. Most anyone who makes a new creative product has probably relied on things protected by copyright at some point in that process, whether as inspiration or direct source material. The problem, as I see it, is relying on a legal and moral flexibility which protects something created by people like you or I, and extending those courtesies to giant, well-funded commercial entities.

One simple way to counteract this power imbalance is to give people an opt-in or opt-out choice. This should be entirely uncontroversial. Anyone should be able to say that they do not want their material used to train models, and the use of a product or service should not be contingent on whether users agree to provide training data. It should not be in the same contract. Meta is famously disrespectful to its users. It is not surprising that has continued in its latest efforts.

Natasha Lomas, TechCrunch:

The MEPs said they had reached agreement on a substantially revised version of the draft legislation.

Key changes parliamentarians have found agreement over — on the detection side — include putting a number of limits on scanning. Firstly their proposal would limit scanning to individuals or groups who are suspected of child sexual abuse (making it targeted, not blanket); it would also limit it to only known and unknown CSAM (removing the requirement to scan for grooming); and — importantly — it would limit scanning to platforms that are not end-to-end-encrypted (E2EE); thereby removing the risk the legislation could force E2EE platforms to backdoor or weaken their security.

Pirate Party and E.U. Parliament member Patrick Breyer:

Even if this compromise, which is supported from the progressive to the conservative camp, is not perfect on all points, it is a historic success that removing chat control and rescuing secure encryption is the common aim of the entire Parliament. We are doing the exact opposite of most EU governments who want to destroy digital privacy of correspondence and secure encryption. Governments must finally accept that this highly dangerous bill can only be fundamentally changed or not be passed at all. The fight against authoritarian chat control must be pursued with all determination!

Quite a different outcome from the new legal powers granted in the U.K.. Despite concerns that lawmakers in Europe would mandate weakening end-to-end encryption, it seems they have listened to experts and concluded that doing so would be detrimental to security and privacy.

Imran Rahman-Jones and Chris Vallance, BBC News:

Powers in the act that could be used to compel messaging services to examine the contents of encrypted messages for child abuse material have proved especially controversial.

Platforms like WhatsApp, Signal and iMessage say they cannot access or view anybody’s messages without destroying existing privacy protections for all users, and have threatened to leave the UK rather than compromise message security.


The government has said the regulator Ofcom would only ask tech firms to access messages once “feasible technology” had been developed.

Reassuring as that may seem, you should recall that Ofcom can — in the words of Lord Parkinson — “require companies to make best endeavours to develop or source a new solution” to working around encryption with “no intention by the Government to weaken the encryption technology used by platforms” and “ensur[ing] that users’ privacy is protected”.

The aims of this bill are noble — it makes sense to ask how industry giants can mitigate the criminal or dangerous misuse of their products and services. After all, there are plenty of consumer protection laws in other fields which work well. But expecting tech platforms to solve something they and a slew of independent experts have said is impossible is, frankly, ridiculous. If there is merely an expectation that platform operators will make their best efforts, that seems like it could be fine; however, if Ofcom will require operators to trade privacy and security for law enforcement’s ease, I expect businesses that have made privacy a part of their core identity to leave the market instead of compromising.

Earlier this month, the Wall Street Journal published an article authored by four reporters — Byron Tau, Andrew Mollica, Patience Haggin, and Dustin Volz — explaining how data collected by ad tech ends up in the hands of U.S. government agencies. They cited the case of Near Intelligence, which received data from apps like Life360 and then sold that data through intermediaries to U.S. military and intelligence.

I found this story via an Electronic Frontier Foundation post, which calls it an “investigation from the Wall Street Journal” which “identified a company called Near Intelligence”. An earlier version of the story referred to it as a “WSJ News Exclusive”.

But this was not a Journal investigation nor an exclusive — not really. The Journal did not break the news of Near Intelligence, it was not the first to report on Life360’s privacy violating side hustle, and it did not discover links between Near and Life360. All of those stories were first reported by two journalists at the Markup, Jon Keegan and Alfred Ng, in 2021. That September, they wrote about Near Intelligence in a story about data brokers more generally, the first instance I can find of an article where any journalist scrutinized the company. Then, in December, those same reporters broke the story of Life360 selling location data collected from its users and feeding it to the data broker industry, including Near Intelligence. Because of the outcry over the latter story, Life360 said it would reduce location data sales.

None of this solid journalism goes acknowledged in the Journal story. There is not one link or credit to the Markup despite repeated references to the results of its investigations. To be fair, it is not as though the four reporters for the Journal did not add anything: in fact, they obtained internal emails showing senior leadership at Near was fully aware that it was selling data without permission, among adding further colour and context. But Keegan and Ng at the Markup laid the groundwork for this story and ought to be recognized.

Mark Gurman, Bloomberg:

The company is preparing a new version of the [Apple TV] app for release around December as part of an upcoming tvOS software update, said the people, who asked not to be identified because the plan is private. The app, which first launched in 2016, aggregates content from iTunes, the Apple TV+ subscription service, live sports networks and third-party offerings like Amazon Prime.

As part of the overhaul, the company will discontinue its dedicated apps on the Apple TV set-top box that let users rent and buy movies and shows. It will also remove the movie and TV show sections from the iTunes Store app on iPhones and iPads. An Apple spokeswoman declined to comment on the move.

As Gurman writes, the TV app already has purchasing and rental options for movies and shows.

Kirk McElhearn:

Soon, all that will be left of the iTunes brand is the iTunes Store for music. And people buy much less music in the past, having mostly shifted to streaming. Will the iTunes name finally fade away as music sales dwindle? It’s hard to imagine Apple stopping digital music sales entirely; even if fewer people buy digital music, the market isn’t dead, not by a long shot. Global digital music sales peaked in 2012 at around $4.4 billion, and in 2021 they had dropped to $1.1 billion. That’s a decline of about 75%, but Apple still earns a hefty amount of money from selling digital music.

John Gruber:

I’ve been wondering about the same thing for a few years. I purchase/rent all my movies and TV shows on my Apple TV, where “iTunes” isn’t mentioned. (And in the age of streaming, I really only purchase/rent movies — the TV shows I watch are all streamed nowadays.) So why keep the iTunes Store app around on iOS — they could just add a Store tab to the Music app. Buy your music — if you buy music — in Music, and buy your movies in TV.

Adding a “Buy” button to every album in Music could add clutter, but it would make sense. In a bizarre twist, I can see how putting a purchasing option right there could entice people to buy more music, too, simply by being where they are, but I am fully aware most people do not buy much music any more. There remain good reasons for doing so, however.

This piece from Benedict Evans is wonderful — one of his best, I think — but I wanted to highlight a smaller and less consequential point than the one Evans ultimately makes toward the article’s end:

Meanwhile, lots of people tried to build a better Craigslist and a better Twitter, but though a better product was pretty easy, the network effects were too strong and none of them really worked. Instead, we unbundled use cases one by one. As Andrew Parker pointed out in 2010, a whole range of people from Airbnb to Zillow to Tinder unbundled separate pieces of Craigslist into billion dollar companies that didn’t look like Craigslist and solved some individual need much better. This is often the real challenge to tech incumbents: once the network effects are locked in, it’s very hard to get people to switch to something that’s roughly the same but 10% better — they switch to something that solves one underlying need in an entirely new way.

Twitter was, of course, created from a single feature in a completely different product, in a sort of self-inflicted version of unbundling.

Now, it is Twitter which is finding itself unbundled. People have moved their short message conversations to different pockets of the web: for some, Mastodon has the right audience; for others, Bluesky or Threads works better. People have realized the value in keeping some conversations private in places like Discord and Slack, and found joy in blogging. That is just the written word; there is a whole universe of audio and video, too. None of these things needs to totally dominate for it to be successful for its audience.

There is that long-running joke that any social network is mostly made up of screenshots of all the other ones. This seems to be intended derisively. I see it as pretty excellent. It is a sign of a healthy web that these platforms are decreasingly insular, and that any of them is comprised of different pieces from elsewhere. Yes, there are problems of attribution and linking to sources, but there is also joy that comes from our feeds becoming a giant mashup. A remix.

The U.S. Department of Justice:

James Wan, M.D., has pleaded guilty to paying a hitman he found on the dark web to murder his girlfriend.


After learning about the threat to the victim’s life, FBI agents notified the victim, provided her protection, and questioned Wan. Wan admitted that he had placed the order, made the payments, and checked the status of the order daily on the dark web marketplace. Records from Wan’s cellular telephone and his Bitcoin wallet corroborated Wan’s confession. After speaking with FBI agents, Wan canceled the order on the dark web marketplace.

The FBI loves to talk about what it calls the “going dark” problem of private and secure technologies preventing the ability for law enforcement to do its job. But here we have yet another case where the use of nominal privacy protections like Tor and cryptocurrency were insufficient to prevent the FBI from learning about a crime in progress. According to the judge’s final report (PDF), that is because the FBI was tipped off by a news organization that spotted someone with the user name “jwan6725241” who had posted their order on a hitman-for-hire site. Wan then demonstrated unlocking that same account using facial recognition on his phone when questioned by the FBI.

People can use as many layers of secure communication and payment services as they might like, but they are often dumb, too. Evil and cold, to be sure but also very, very dumb.

Philip Sherburne, Pitchfork:

We don’t know what is going to happen, but now is the time to begin imagining and building new alternatives. First of all: Anyone worried about losing their Bandcamp collection might want to try Batchcamp, a Chrome extension for bulk-downloading all of their Bandcamp purchases, before it’s too late. The next thing fans can do is to reaffirm their support for record stores: local shops, online retailers like Rough Trade, Boomkat, Bleep, Beatport, Qobuz — you name it. Of course, that alone wouldn’t be enough to make up for the loss of Bandcamp, should it fall; a de facto monopoly, Bandcamp is too entrenched, too central to the business of independent music in the 2020s. For that very reason, we desperately need a host of competitors, a vibrant ecosystem to diversify the market and encourage innovations that will improve the current situation for artists, labels, and fans alike.

Miranda Reinert, writing at Welcome to Hell World:

The companies that buy up sites like Bandcamp are interested in nothing except ensuring the executives’ pockets get lined appropriately. Growth is the only thing of interest. It’s the story of capitalism, but here, like with MySpace, it becomes a matter of cultural preservation. They can – and will – ruin everything you love and wipe it from existence. MySpace lost 13 years of music, photos, and videos. We can talk about what was going on on MySpace and interview people who were there, but the data being erased remains an unimaginable culture loss. […]

It remains a problem that so many digital services are consolidated around single platforms. It is possible and not very difficult to set up a paid newsletter independently, but Substack does all the heavy lifting. Distributing audio files is marginally more difficult but, again, Bandcamp made it really simple. As a bonus, both these services help with marketing, too, and Bandcamp reports sales to SoundScan and other charts.

It is tempting for technologists to argue that we should create better ways for artists and writers and filmmakers and others to distance themselves from centralized platforms like these and become entirely independent. But I do not think that is what the world is calling for. It is not as though those products do not already exist; the reality is that most people do not want to maintain a website.

There need to be more platforms like these — “more internet”, as Katie Notopoulos put it. There should be requirements that user data is securely backed up, and that user data is also portable. If a musician does not like a platform’s new direction or they get a better deal somewhere else, it should be trivial for them to export their catalogue and migrate their mailing list, not a silly hack. Platforms ought to have the confidence that they are doing so well for their users that a single-click migration button is seen as trust-building, not a risk.

Online privacy isn’t just something you should be hoping for — it’s something you should expect. You should ensure your browsing history stays private and is not harvested by ad networks.

By blocking ad trackers, Magic Lasso Adblock stops you being followed by ads around the web.

Sponsor: Magic Lasso, ad blocking for speed and privacy

It’s a native Safari content blocker for your iPhone, iPad, and Mac that’s been designed from the ground up to protect your privacy.

Rely on Magic Lasso Adblock to:

  • Remove ad trackers, annoyances and background crypto-mining scripts

  • Browse common websites 2.0× faster

  • Double battery life during heavy web browsing Lower data usage when on the go

So, join over 280,000 users and download Magic Lasso Adblock today.

My thanks to Magic Lasso Adblock for sponsoring Pixel Envy this week.

Benjamin Mullin, John Koblin, and Tripp Mickle, New York Times:

Jon Stewart’s show on Apple’s streaming service is abruptly coming to an end, according to several people with knowledge of the decision, the result of creative differences between the tech giant and the former “Daily Show” host.


But Mr. Stewart and Apple executives had disagreements over some of the topics and guests on “The Problem,” two of the people said. Mr. Stewart told members of his staff on Thursday that potential show topics related to China and artificial intelligence were causing concern among Apple executives, a person with knowledge of the meeting said. As the 2024 presidential campaign begins to heat up, there was potential for further creative disagreements, one of the people said.

I am taking the rationale cited in this report with a grain of salt. When working at the Wall Street Journal, Mickle was one of the reporters on a story about Apple’s apparent aversion to sexual, violent, profane, and dark media. It is hard to see that story as accurate; Apple has several shows which contain all of those things to some degree.

However, its geopolitical exposure was another rumoured point of contention. In 2019, Alex Kantrowitz and John Paczkowski reported for Buzzfeed News that Apple was one of several studios which wanted to avoid irking powerful people in China. It is risky for any large studio to be unable to show its productions in China but, as has become a normal point of discussion for me, Apple’s exposure is even greater because of its manufacturing requirements.

In February 2020, I wrote about this question:

[…] But there is unique risk in attaching a provocative entertainment arm to the body of a consumer goods company — one of those, of course, is the Apple’s relationship with China. Hollywood studios are choosing to censor films to have a shot at the lucrative Chinese market. But they, unlike Apple, don’t rely on factories in the country to produce the bulk of their revenue. It is not unreasonable to speculate that this is at least one of the reasons Apple is being particularly cautious about the portrayal of China in its original programming.

Apple is a big, sprawling conglomerate. If it cannot handle Stewart’s inquiries about China or our machine learning future, I think it should ask itself why that is, and whether those criticisms have merit.

Update: It would make sense to me that Stewart’s show could have been cancelled at least in part because of its popularity or lack thereof. But because streaming services do not disclose viewership numbers, we are left with only proxy measurements. On YouTube, for example, “The Problem” has 1.27 million subscribers while “Last Week Tonight” — comparable in both format and the host’s names — has over nine million. The most popular “Tonight” video has 41 million views, while the most popular “Problem” video has just four million. On TikTok, the ratio is reversed: John Oliver’s show has just 132,000 followers and less than a million total “likes”, while Stewart’s show has 897,000 followers and nearly seven million “likes”.

Those metrics are flawed for lots of reasons, but the main question I am left with is staring us right in the face: was Stewart’s show not popular enough for Apple? Surely it is not the least watched show Apple made — for what it is worth, nobody I know has personally recommend I watch even high-profile programming like “The Morning Show” or “For All Mankind”.

Lumafield, which makes X-ray scanners for inspecting manufacturing quality, has done a bit of content marketing:

Does Apple’s Thunderbolt 4 cable really warrant its $129 price tag? Or does a $5 cable get the job done just as well? We’ve used our Neptune industrial X-ray CT scanner to uncover the hidden engineering differences between them.

This is, at most, an interesting look inside different cables. Apparently, it is critical for paired circuit traces to be of identical length, so one part of a trace on the board inside the Thunderbolt cable’s plug includes a wiggly area to make its length match. That is neat to see and, also, something I clearly do not understand.

I do happen to understand different types of USB cables a little bit, and Lumafield has not presented a useful way to pit the very expensive Thunderbolt cable against comparable alternatives. Instead, the three other cables Lumafield selected are: one from Amazon Basics that is limited to USB 2.0 transfer speed; one from an off-brand sold through Amazon that claims USB 3.1 speed, but Lumafield did not test this claim; and a different off-brand sold through Amazon which carries data at USB 2.0 speed. Notably, none of these cables are Thunderbolt 4 cables.

I would have loved to see what makes Apple’s $130 cable different from, say, Monoprice’s $50 equivalent or a $20 Maxonar-branded cable. Both seem to have the same specs as Apple’s, and I think assessing the construction differences between those would be more useful. Perhaps Apple’s price tag is not pure markup; there is a surprising difference in the quality of power adapters, for example.

Katie Notopoulos, writing for MIT Technology Review:

Here’s the good news. We’re in a rare moment when a shift just may be possible; the previously intractable and permanent- seeming systems and platforms are showing that they can be changed and moved, and something new could actually grow.


The fix for the internet isn’t to shut down Facebook or log off or go outside and touch grass. The solution to the internet is more internet: more apps, more spaces to go, more money sloshing around to fund more good things in more variety, more people engaging thoughtfully in places they like. More utility, more voices, more joy.

Technology criticism is often interpreted as wallowing in the negative, but Notopoulos puts on a more hopeful twist. This is excellent.