Month: March 2024

Candice L. Odgers, who is a “developmental psychologist with expertise in adolescent mental health”, reviewed Jonathan Haidt’s new book for Nature:

Two things need to be said after reading The Anxious Generation. First, this book is going to sell a lot of copies, because Jonathan Haidt is telling a scary story about children’s development that many parents are primed to believe. Second, the book’s repeated suggestion that digital technologies are rewiring our children’s brains and causing an epidemic of mental illness is not supported by science. Worse, the bold proposal that social media is to blame might distract us from effectively responding to the real causes of the current mental-health crisis in young people.

If you read the Penguin Random House page, you might get the impression that the New York Times called it an “important new book”. But it is telling that it is a quote from Michelle Goldberg’s generalist opinion column instead of the more critical review by Tracy Dennis-Tiwary, who is a professor of psychology:

Yes, digital absolutism might convince policymakers to change laws and increase regulation. It might be a wake-up call for some parents. But it also might backfire, plunging us into defense mode and blocking our path of discovery toward healthy and empowered digital citizenship.

So that is two psychologists who study the effects of digital technologies on adolescent health have serious qualms with the lack of nuance in Haidt’s writing, but one opinion columnist who thinks it is great. In fairness, Haidt is a social psychologist, but I get the impression from these and other reviews his pop psychology work does not carry a particularly high level of scholarly care.

In a way, Goldberg might be right: this may be a very important book, but for all the wrong reasons. Independent of the book, plenty of U.S. states are passing age verification laws for using social media platforms — there is a federal bill, too — and at least one Canadian party would like to do the same. Haidt has added four hundred pages of justification for ineffective and distracted laws.

Update: Haidt has responded to Odgers’ review.

Pranav Dixit, Engadget:

“WhatsApp is kind of like a media platform and kind of like a messaging platform, but it’s also not quite those things,” Surya Mattu, a researcher at Princeton who runs the university’s Digital Witness Lab, which studies how information flows through WhatsApp, told Engadget. “It has the scale of a social media platform, but it doesn’t have the traditional problems of one because there are no recommendations and no social graph.”

Indeed, WhatsApp’s scale dwarfs nearly every social network and messaging app out there. In 2020, WhatsApp announced it had more than two billion users around the world. It’s bigger than iMessage (1.3 billion users), TikTok (1 billion), Telegram (800 million), Snap (400 million) and Signal (40 million.) It stands head and shoulders above fellow Meta platform Instagram, which captures around 1.4 billion users. The only thing bigger than WhatsApp is Facebook itself, with more than three billion users.

This is a great look at WhatsApp’s history, its ups-and-downs, and some of the unique risks it has.

Via John Gruber:

Anecdotally, I’m seeing more American usage of WhatsApp too. Putting aside the (deeply misguided, IMO) antitrust arguments about iMessage, Apple’s decade ago decision to eschew an iMessage client for Android might be proven to have been a mistake the old-fashioned way: through market forces.

It is not only an anecdote; a January report from Apptopia indicates a growing U.S. user base.

The question of iMessage durability has been in the back of my mind as I have covered years of “blue bubble” lock-in chatter and, if I were a faster writer, it would have been in front of your eyes, too. For all the concern about Apple’s supposed ability to keep people using iPhones because of iMessage, it only affects a handful of countries. Even then, people use multiple clients. While I love the idea of separating the messaging protocol from its client in theory, it is hard to see a story of predatory behaviour.

One-to-one or small group messaging seems to me like a fragile basis for differentiation in its own right, and makes more sense as part of a larger suite of capabilities. WhatsApp seems to be growing that by way of Channels and its business platform. I cannot count the number of businesses I have seen in countries outside Canada and the U.S. that have a WhatsApp chat as the main point of contact — not email, and not a telephone number per se, but messaging through WhatsApp specifically.

Apple arguably has similar ambitions in building up Messages, though it has been slower to react. A few years ago, Apple added business chat through third-party messaging platforms. In the U.S., there is also the Apple Cash feature for peer-to-peer money transfers.

There are two questions about these messaging clients I have been mulling over, both of which were raised in social media mentions to me I cannot seem to find. The first is whether it makes sense to embrace WhatsApp and encourage the growth of a dominant platform run by a truly terrible company. That is a complicated and personal question but, thankfully, there is a Digital Markets Act solution: users in the E.U. will be able to securely message WhatsApp users without needing to use it directly.

The second question is more nuanced: if there is concern about messaging platforms based on their size, surely it makes sense to be just as worried about WhatsApp and iMessage depending on geography. In other words, my somewhat glib response to the Beeper Mini rollercoaster of support — “the most common reasons cited for cross-platform compatibility […] are resolved for everyone if we choose a different app” — ignores how iMessage is, for many people in the U.S., as central as WhatsApp is elsewhere. That is a fair response but, I think, still misses how plentiful messaging clients are. I think I would prefer a completely interoperable world so that my chats are not split between Messages, WhatsApp, Signal, and Instagram — but I also cannot say that it is so bothersome to have options. The market for messaging is not a pie chart, it is a bar chart.

What follows is a short complaint about a couple of things I have written about occasionally over the past couple of years: proprietary chargers and Amazon’s rapid decline in trustworthiness. I am prefacing it with this disclaimer because perhaps you do not want to read a complaint today or, very likely, ever. But maybe you do.

The proprietary charger in question is for a Garmin watch, and I really did hope to find one in just two days because I am meeting up with a traveler. I checked a couple of electronics and sporting goods stores here but because Garmin does not have the presence of, say, Apple, only a handful of places seem to stock their unique cables, and none that I could get to before Sunday afternoon.

But, hey, we have an Amazon Prime account — mostly, it seems, for “Jack Reacher”. Prime is a modern human-powered logistics marvel. If ever there was a time when it would save the day, it would be in unique circumstances like these, right?

Well, only if you have a certain level of comfort for pseudo-branded products of questionable quality. I tried, but I could not find a “Garmin” cable, only a bunch of ones from companies that do not really exist. Do any of them have a warranty? Will the off-brand business be around a couple of months from now? The cables are less expensive, to be sure, almost to a point where there is no need to make a quality product because they can be treated as disposable. I do not like that; it feels rather wasteful. And even if I felt comfortable buying one of these cables for someone else, it would not have arrived in time, so even the Prime promise did not work out.

To be clear, my problem is not that Amazon could not serve me up a cable in a matter of hours. It is that Garmin’s choice to use a proprietary charger created complication, and that the best marketplace solution is so sketchy. Virtually all of these cables were marked “Amazon’s Choice”, which does not mean what it implies.

This is far from a one-time problem with Amazon which, not so long ago, was a perfectly reputable online store. Not any longer. I just recently noticed the Frigidaire water filters I bought with Amazon have typos on the packaging and filters themselves that make me wonder if they are real. I thought I had found an authentic part after dodging obvious knock-offs and plenty of questionable ads, but it seems I may have been conned.

Everything about this feels dirty. I just wanted a charging cable, and I found myself annoyed by one brand’s protectionism and another’s self-destruction. Neither of those things help me in the moment, and they do not make me feel good as a little peek into the broader context they represent.

Supriya Dwivedi, a “senior advisor to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau”, in the Toronto Star:

Critics are once again engaging in bad faith tactics and are trying to frame the issue of online harms as a false dichotomy between freedom of expression and clamping down on online harms, including online hate speech. Don’t let them.

[…]

While our government is certainly up for debate on how to improve the bill — including hearing from stakeholders, experts, and everyone in between on which provisions they feel should be fired into the sun — we need to have a conversation that is rooted in reality. Unfortunately, a lot of the commentary on the bill has been light on facts and heavy on hyperbole.

It would be easy to dismiss this as boosting by a person close to a government pushing this bill if not for a cautiously optimistic post I read a month ago from Michael Geist:

My initial post made the case that “this feels like the first Internet regulation bill from this government that is driven primarily by policy rather than implementing the demands of lobby groups or seeking to settle scores with big tech.” Upon reflection, I think that remains true for the provisions focused on the Internet platforms, which are the product of several years of expert panels and public consultations. There is still a need to address Bill C-63 concerns involving enforcement and the powers of the proposed Digital Safety Commission, but Internet regulation to counter identifiable harms remains justified since leaving the issue solely to the police is unlikely to mitigate against the risks of amplification of those harms on social media services.

There are things Geist wants to see changed, clearly, and they are not small. But if someone as careful as Geist is not seeing creeping authoritarianism or a free speech emergency in this bill, it is a good sign everyone should take a deep breath.

Jim Dalrymple:

Siri has done what no person could for 30 years: Make me stop using an Apple product.

I am giving up on my 8 HomePods/minis out of the sheer frustration of trying to use Siri.

I’ve been in tech for 30 years and this is one of the worst technologies ever and only getting worse

Via Michael Tsai, who has collected recent quotes from other critics.

You could go back one, five, or ten years and find people complaining about pretty much the same problems. The ways it fails me today are pretty much the same as the way it has failed for me for years, and there is no excuse: I speak English with a mild Canadian accent, I do not have a stutter or any other disability, and I am using the latest version of iOS on the newest-model iPhone. Of course, that is not what Siri is tripped-up by — it transcribes me perfectly most of the time. But it delivers utter nonsense.

Sometimes, after I ask Siri to reply to a message, it will ask which contact details to use instead of just sending the message to the phone number or email address from which it came. Just now, I asked Siri how much three tablespoons of butter weighs, and it responded in litres. This is basic shit.

A voice interface is such a difficult interaction model to get right because there is no predictable boundary. A user must trust the computer to interpret and execute each command accurately and, if it fails them once, why would they attempt to do the same thing in the future? They know it does not work.

Sean Sperte, in response to a joke:

This is why Siri’s ineptitude is a branding problem for Apple more than anything else. (I believe it’s also the reason HomePod isn’t a bigger hit.)

To interpolate one of the few good moments from a bad show, Apple has a P.R. problem because it has an actual problem in Siri.

John Gruber:

First impressions really matter, but in Siri’s case, it’s over a decade of lived experience. If I were at Apple and believed the company finally had a good voice assistant experience, I’d push for a new brand.

I would not be surprised if Apple used a complete rearchitecting of Siri to change its name.

Something I cannot help but wonder is whether Siri would still be so bad if users could pick something else. That goes for any platform and any product, by the way — what if you could pick Google’s assistant on an Amazon device, or Siri on a Google device? I am not suggesting this is how it ought to be. But what if these voice assistants actually had to compete with each other directly instead of in the context of the products in which they are sold? Would that inspire more rapid development, higher quality, and more confidence from users?

Instead, here we are: Apple may as well give up on Siri as it is currently envisioned. It seems many users do not really trust it. I have given up on it for anything more complicated than setting a timer.

Marco Arment:

If I ran a website that supported Google-account login, I’d be pretty pissed at how they’re suddenly putting up an obnoxious overlay over my site’s layout.

Why is this not bothering more people? Does anyone give a shit about their websites anymore?

This aggressive dialog has been present since last year and it sucks. It looks horrible, it covers a large part of the page, and it effectively functions as an ad for Google on any third-party website that has implemented its authentication feature. Complete contempt for users.

I blocked these universally with my user stylesheet in Safari, and you can use a similar rule to mine in an ad blocker. StopTheMadness also hides this gross dialog.

Mike Rogoway, Oregon Live:

Oregon became the fourth state to pass a bill giving consumers a legal right to fix their own home electronics Monday with legislation that requires manufacturers provide access to the tools, parts and manuals required to repair their gadgets.

[…]

“We remain very concerned about the risk to consumers imposed by the broad parts-pairing restrictions in this bill,” John Perry, principal secure repair architect for Apple, said at a legislative hearing last month.

While Apple supports consumers’ right to repair their devices, Perry — who works at an Apple office in Beaverton — said the language in Oregon’s bill is too broad. He said it could introduce vulnerabilities to biometric security and battery safety and could potentially increase theft.

Quick note: the bill (PDF) specifically exempts restrictions on parts pairing related to battery safety in paragraph 3(f). Of course, Apple has made the same dire warnings for years in protest of right-to-repair legislation, and it is hard to know how seriously to take these claims. Oregon’s law does impose some new rules about the ways parts pairing can be used which appear to address some gaps in Apple’s repair policies. It was signed into law today.

One thing we do not know yet is how many people are using resources like Apple’s Self Service Repair Store or Google’s Pixel parts store on iFixit. I could not find a press release from either party about how many products have been repaired, how many kits have been sold, or similar celebrations.

A lack of uptake, however, is not a reason to argue about whether laws like these ought to exist. Right-to-repair legislation is imposed as a baseline expectation for how businesses ought to approach products. It should be possible to repair things and, where pairing or calibration are needed, those practices ought to be justified. If they are legitimate, there should be no problem.

Garry Ing, writing for the third issue of the HTML Review:

On my personal websites view source meant being able to adapt and remix ideas. Like drawing a map, elements and pages acted as landmarks in the browser to be navigated between. As a self-initiated learner, being able to view source brought to mind the experience of a slow walk through someone else’s map.

This ability to “observe” software makes HTML special to work with. In particular, it’s sense of “transparency” as Clay Shirky wrote in April, 1998, numerating on what makes for “good” software: […]

This is a lovely article, with meaningful presentation; I encourage you to view it on a device which supports hover better than your smartphone browser likely does.

This world is unfortunately becoming lost or, at least, degraded — not because it is no longer possible to view the source of a webpage, but because that source is often inscrutable, even on simple webpages. There are still the familiar building blocks of paragraph tags, blockquotes, and all-purpose divs, but markup is oftentimes dense and littered with utility CSS classes. I am not dumping on new ways of doing things just because they are unclear to me; I am dumping on them because they are unclear for everyone. Markup is structure visible to all.

Lorenzo Franceschi-Bicchierai, TechCrunch:

In 2016, Facebook launched a secret project designed to intercept and decrypt the network traffic between people using Snapchat’s app and its servers. The goal was to understand users’ behavior and help Facebook compete with Snapchat, according to newly unsealed court documents. Facebook called this “Project Ghostbusters,” in a clear reference to Snapchat’s ghost-like logo.

[…]

Later, according to the court documents, Facebook expanded the program to Amazon and YouTube.

It is worth underscoring that this happened between 2016 and when Meta shut down Onavo in 2019. Meta — then Facebook — was not a small company at this time. Yet what it was doing with Onavo is so unethical it feels criminal: one of the world’s biggest corporations spying on millions of users through something it presented as a VPN for their privacy and security.

Lora Kolodny, CNBC:

Judge Charles Breyer in the Northern District of California wrote in his ruling that while X claimed the case was about breach of contract and unlawful data scraping, it was clearly about speech.

[…]

Musk is pursuing similar cases against other groups.

In one instance, X has sued an Israeli web data collection company called Bright Data over its allegedly unauthorized scraping of data from its social media platform. And in Texas, X sued Media Matters for America and one of its staff members over an investigative report the watchdog published titled, “As Musk endorses antisemitic conspiracy theory, X has been placing ads for Apple, Bravo, IBM, Oracle, and Xfinity next to pro-Nazi content.”

I briefly mentioned this lawsuit when it was filed in July but, as it was one of several similar cases — as noted above — I have found it difficult to keep track.

The judge’s direct response (PDF) is quite something to read. This is from page 40–41:

Here, CCDH is alleged to have used Twitter’s own search tool to collect 9,615 public tweets from ten Twitter users, […] It is not plausible that this small-scale, non-commercial scraping would prompt X Corp. to divert “dozens, if not over a hundred personnel hours across disciplines,” […] of resources toward the repair of X Corp.’s systems. […]

It is clear to the Court that if X Corp. was indeed motived to spend money in response to CCDH’s scraping in 2023, it was not because of the harm such scraping posed to the X platform, but because of the harm it posed to X Corp.’s image. […]

It goes on like this: paragraph after paragraph dismantling Twitter’s nonsense.

Semafor published in a new format it calls Signals — sponsored by Microsoft, though I am earnestly sure no editorial lines were crossed — aggregated commentary about the U.S. iPhone antitrust case:

If the government wins the suit, “the walls of Apple’s walled garden will be partially torn down,” wrote New York Times opinion columnist Peter Coy, meaning its suite of products will be “more like a public utility,” available to its rivals to use. “That seems to me like stretching what antitrust law is for,” Coy wrote. Tech policy expert Adam Kovacevich agreed, writing on Medium that people have long gone back and forth between iPhones and Android devices. “People vote with their pocketbooks,” Kovacevich said. “Why should the government force iPhones to look more like Androids?”

Many argue that this is an issue of consumer choice, and the government shouldn’t intervene to help companies such as Samsung gain a better footing in the market. The Consumer Choice Center’s media director put it this way: “Imagine the classroom slacker making the case to the teacher that the straight-A student in the front of the class is being anti-competitive by not sharing their lecture notes with them.”

The Kovacevich article this links to is the same one I wrote about over the weekend. His name caught my eye, but not nearly as much as the way he is described: as a “tech policy expert”. That is not wrong, but it is incomplete. He is the CEO of the Chamber of Progress, an organization that lobbies for policies favourable to the large technology companies that fund it.

It also seems unfair to attribute the latter quote to the Consumer Choice Center without describing what it represents — though I suppose its name makes it pretty obvious. It positions itself at the centre of “the global grassroots movement for consumer choice”, and you do not need the most finely tuned bullshit detector to be suspicious of the “grassroots” nature of an organization promoting the general concept of having lots of stuff to buy.

Indeed, the Center acknowledges being funded by a wide variety of industries, including “energy” — read: petroleum — nicotine, and “digital”. According to tax documents, it pulled in over $4 million in 2022. It shares its leadership with another organization, Consumer Choice Education. It brought in $1.5 million in 2022, over half of which came from the Atlas Network, a network of libertarian think tanks that counts among its supporters petroleum companies and the billionaire Koch brothers. The ostensibly people-centred Center just promoting the rights of consumers is, very obviously, supported by corporations either directly or via other pro-business organizations that also get their funding either directly from corporations or via other — oh, you understand how this works.

None of that inherently invalidates the claims made by either Kovacevich or Stephen Kent for the Consumer Choice Center, but I fault Semafor for the lack of context for either quote. Both people surely believe what they wrote. But organizations that promote the interests of big business exist to provide apparently independent supporting voices because it is more palatable than those companies making self-interested arguments.

The U.S. antitrust case against Apple was not a closely guarded secret. Stories in the New York Times and Bloomberg spoiled not just the general timing of the case, but its contours as well. That gave Adam Kovacevich, of Chamber of Progress, the confidence to dispute the government’s arguments before the lawsuit was filed — a risky choice, I think.

Kovacevich is the CEO and co-founder of Chamber of Progress, a nominally progressive lobbying organization for large technology companies. It was launched in 2021, and is funded by corporations you know like Amazon, Apple, Google, and Uber; Kovacevich used to work on public policy at Google. The Chamber uses its support of progressive causes like voter rights and universal health care as cover for its main activity, which is reflecting the priorities of its funders. The Chamber routinely argues on its blog and in legal filings in defence of big business as usual.

Kovacevich begins his attempt at front-running the government’s arguments by transforming a possibility into an definite:

This suit has been rumored for months, so we have a good idea of what it will include. It will likely force iPhones to work more like Android devices.

If you’re among the millions of Americans who have purchased an iPhone because of integrated features like Find My Phone, Apple Pay, iMessage, or integration with Airpods and Apple Watch, you better hope that this lawsuit fails.

Because if it succeeds, there will no longer be any difference between your iPhone and an Android device.

This is flagrantly untrue. Maybe you are willing to cut Kovacevich some slack because this article was written before the complaint was filed, but I am not, because Kovacevich could have just waited one extra day to see if he was right. But, even on Wednesday, it would have been outside reasonable grounds to think the case would pitch enough stuff that, if successful, would remove “any difference between” iPhones and Android phones. Even the E.U.’s Digital Markets Act, for how comprehensive it is, will not have that result.

In a press release published after the suit was filed — otherwise known as the correct time to react to something: after it has happened — Kovacevich did pull back to a more cautious position of saying it “would make iPhones more like Androids”, emphasis mine. But that is so vague, even in its full context of “forc[ing] Apple to open up its software and hardware”, it is almost meaningless. Is a private API for the NFC chip really part of what makes an iPhone so different from an Android phone? That seems like a pretty flimsy argument when there is so much about iOS that is actually meaningfully different from Android and not for reasons hostile to competition.

Kovacevich:

This lawsuit wasn’t spurred by consumer or voter complaints. Instead, companies like Tile, Beeper, Spotify, Match Group (a former client of DOJ Antitrust Chief Jonathan Kanter), banks, and payment apps have all spent months pushing the DOJ to bring this lawsuit. They would be the largest beneficiaries of the lawsuit.

Whether Americans’ complaints “spurred” the Department of Justice to act is a good question, but it is untrue to argue there have been no complaints. Most people in the U.S. have, for years, responded favourably to polls asking if they support regulating the largest technology firms, though they have not ranked it as a top priority. Even the Chamber of Progress’ own polling found support for regulations, somewhat undermined by the specific examples of consequences.

It is probably true that business complaints were the primary drivers of the DoJ’s action, though. An annotation I wrote for one part about payment apps in my copy of the complaint reads “sounds like a bank wrote this”. But protesting this on the grounds of corporate involvement is pretty rich coming from the guy who runs a lobbying firm arguing for the positions of even bigger corporations. Are we really supposed to be mad if Tile benefits?

Kovacevich:

More than 135 million Americans own an iPhone. And for many of them, the ease and simplicity of iPhone’s integrated experience is why they purchased the device in the first place.

I have owned Tile tracking devices. Apple’s AirTags and Find My Phone work much better.

I have owned Android Watches. But the connection between my Apple Watch and my iPhone is seamless.

When I pop in my AirPods, my iPhone recognizes them right away. And iMessage just works across my phone, computer, and iPad.

When I purchase an app on my phone, it’s automatically available on my iPad too.

Despite years of hype over “mobile payments,” I never even considered leaving my traditional wallet at home until I started using Apple Pay.

Why, specifically, are these third-party products less capable on an iPhone compared to first-party options, Adam?

More to the point, what is the goal here? The government’s position is not that Apple should reduce the capabilities of its own products, but that Apple should not so aggressively restrict third-party capabilities. What if other smartwatches or tracking devices or headphones worked better with iPhones? Maybe not entirely to Apple’s first-party standards but, you know, better. That sounds like a more preferable situation than one in which consumers are compelled to remain within the confines of first-party products allegedly because of deliberate attempts to avoid competition.

Kovacevich:

I understand fully why Tile, Beeper, and Match Group have agitated for this lawsuit. It would surely benefit them. But US competition law is designed to help consumers, not competitors. And this suit will force Apple to break the seamless experience that millions of customers have chosen.

That is one perspective on U.S. competition law. But it is not an argument shared by everybody, and it is disingenuous to claim that is how the law has been “designed” so much has how it has been shaped since the 1970s.

The argument in favour of also balancing a desire for competition has been criticized by lobbyists for large technology firms, but it is a discussion worth having: what problems are created by the mere existence of uniquely large businesses? The Chamber and the CCIA say their size is what lets them offer things like comprehensive services and free shipping, which consumers like and, therefore, there is no need to intervene. But are there negative outcomes, too, especially if smaller businesses struggle to compete due to those apparently inherent advantages of being big? That is a core question of newer perspectives on antitrust.

Kovacevich then takes on the question of whether the iPhone has “market power” or “monopoly power”, which are different things that he seems to conflate. The title of this section is “Courts Have Found that iOS Doesn’t have Market Power”, and I wanted to focus on this:

Furthermore, Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers found in the Epic v. Apple case that:

Apple’s market share is below the general ranges of where courts found monopoly power under Section 2…[the] Court cannot conclude that Apple’s market power reaches the status of monopoly power in the mobile gaming market.

I am always suspicious when I see mashed-together quotes like these. Indeed, the first part of the quote comes from two pages before the second. While it was fair to eliminate some of the discussion and assessment of the market, this mashup eliminates significant context from before and after.

For background, on page 87, the judge notes that this is a calculation of the global mobile gaming market, of which Apple’s share is apparently nearly 60% by dollar value despite the iPhone’s 16% share of global devices. Whether this global share will be relevant to the 2024 trial is a question for the courts.

Immediately before the first part of that mashup quotation, the judge writes on page 137:

[…] That Apple has more than a majority in a mostly duopolistic, and otherwise highly concentrated, market indicates that Apple has considerable market power.

So to Kovacevich’s section title — “Courts Have Found that iOS Doesn’t have Market Power” — I would note that courts have also found iOS does have market power. And here is what the judge wrote immediately following the second part of that mashed-up quote, as it appears on page 139:

That said, the evidence does suggest that Apple is near the precipice of substantial market power, or monopoly power, with its considerable market share. Apple is only saved by the fact that its share is not higher, that competitors from related submarkets are making inroads into the mobile gaming submarket, and, perhaps, because plaintiff did not focus on this topic.

The impression you might get if you read Kovacevich’s summary is that Apple is definitely not a monopoly. But the actual argument made by the judge in this case is that if Apple’s share grows only a little more, it may be have a monopoly position.

Kovacevich wraps by comparing the duopoly of device options to Disneyland and Yosemite National Park:

It’s great for consumers that we have these two alternative models of mobile devices — one closed and integrated, one open and flexible. People vote with their pocketbooks — and have switched back and forth between Androids and iPhones.

So why should the government force iPhones to look more like Androids?

I enjoy visiting the safe, sanitized environment of Disneyland and the wild of Yosemite National Park. But I would hate to see the government force Disneyland to look more like Yosemite (or vice versa).

Tourist attractions are a poor analogy for owning a smartphone. A better one, if you want an analogy, is something like a really powerful company town compared to a normal city. Everything you can buy and do is filtered through a paternalistic owner, there are seemingly arbitrary rules, and despite all the bureaucracy, it is unwise for businesses to ignore setting up shop there because its residents seem to spend more money.

People make all kinds of trade-offs when they buy something as complex and convergent as a smartphone, and it is difficult to know how much of that is a fair vote with their wallet and how much of it is a side effect of the platform owner’s impositions.

We saw this play out before the iPhone 6 was introduced. Apple still sold plenty of iPhones even though its models had smaller displays than competing products, and it was unclear whether people were buying iPhones because they were small or in spite of their size. The still-unbeaten unit sales of the iPhone 6 models shows lots of people wanted a bigger iPhone. Some of those buyers formerly used an Android phone, but others were existing iPhone customers who bought previous models even though they wished they could be bigger. Still others were like me: people who still bought an iPhone because of other factors, even though they were now — and remain — too big.

Questions like these are far too complicated to simplify into the catchy but wrong claim that “government [will] force iPhones to look more like Androids”. There are undoubtably some — many, probably — who really like the way their iPhone works today. But I know people who have other smartwatches who wish they worked better with their iPhone. There are iPhone features which I bet would work better if Apple had meaningful competition within its own platform.

That lots of people buy iPhones is not inherently a vote of confidence in each detail of the entire package. If some of those things changed a little bit — the U.S. government’s suit is not a massive overhaul of the way the iPhone works — I doubt people would stop liking or trusting the product.

Whether they will like or trust their bank’s attempt at a wallet app is another discussion entirely.

In January, Semafor’s Max Tani obtained a memo from Anna Wintour announcing Pitchfork would become part of GQ. Though Wintour emphasized “our coverage of music can continue to thrive within” Condé Nast, it is hard not to see this as the beginning of an ending for the version of Pitchfork many of us grew up with.

Casey Newton, of Platformer, argued one of the main reasons Pitchfork lost relevance is because of streaming services:

The most important change arrived in 2006, when Spotify was born. (It arrived in the United States five years later.) Spotify was Napster, but legal: a celestial jukebox that let you listen to almost anything you could imagine, on demand and for pennies a day.

Before Spotify, when presented with a new album, we would ask: why listen to this? After Spotify, we asked: why not?

It’s hard to overstate what a challenge this posed to music criticism. As consumers of music, we came to Pitchfork to ask one question — is this worth listening to? — and got an entire education in return. But with the arrival of streaming music that question lost its meaning, and suddenly we had fewer and fewer reasons to seek out criticism.

I have been ruminating on this conclusion for two months and I think I have figured out why it makes me uneasy: the problem, as it were, is not the delivery system but how it is used. Trent Reznor, in an interview with Rick Rubin, is right in saying “Spotify’s homepage [feels] like I’m at the mall walking past the same shit I would see the billboards of going down Sunset Boulevard”; Newton is right in arguing it commoditized music and transformed it to be “consumed at the point of curation”.

Frank Rojas, New York Times:

Have your Sunday scaries ever given way to a “Nervous Ocean Monday Morning”? Does the weekend truly begin on Friday, or on a “Wild and Free Chaotic Thursday Afternoon”? How should one dress for a “Paranormal Dark Cabaret Evening”?

[…]

So who is responsible for the peculiar titles? Spotify users who have been amused by these thrice-daily servings of word salad might be surprised — or, just as likely, not — to learn that the playlist names are ginned up by A.I.

If your music listening experience is mostly driven by playlists and suggestions, you might be less interested in reviewers and critics. That is not a denigration of how anyone listens to music, mind you — I am not a prescriptivist about this kind of stuff. You should experience art in the way you choose.

But streaming music is ultimately just a catalogue into which anyone can dive. It reduces the bar to entry and, on the other side of the same coin, reduces the cost of exiting. If you do not like an album, there is not a $20 sunk cost compelling you to keep going. But you also do not need to spend $20 to experiment with something you are unsure if you will like. This was always the selling point of high quality piracy and it continues to be the thing that makes streaming alluring — if you want it to be. Critics still exist, even if Pitchfork seems to have lost its relevance, and they can help you navigate the overwhelming amount of new music released each week.

Elizabeth Lopatto, of the Verge, wrote a great profile of the site’s rise and fall. This part, in particular, was brutal to read:

What’s more, Condé has long seemed confused about the difference between traffic and a loyal audience. Pitchfork’s homepage attracts far more visitors than those of GQ or Vogue, three people familiar with Condé’s traffic told me. As referrals from social media and Google decline, a loyal audience is more important than ever — but only if you’re smart enough to cultivate one. Anna Wintour, global chief content officer of Condé Nast, doesn’t care about music and doesn’t understand the internet, two former Pitchfork staffers told me. She didn’t even take her sunglasses off when she fired Pitchfork’s employees.

It probably does not help that, at some point over the past year, Pitchfork moved the reviews on its homepage to below a section of fairly generic music news.

For what it is worth, I was never a huge Pitchfork reader, but I appreciate the mark its critics left. Its elevation of independent music has been a uniquely important contribution to my life, and many of those highly rated albums soundtracked my early-to-mid 2000s. It is a shame it appears to be on its way out.

Mayank Parmar, Windows Latest:

While using Google Chrome, I encountered a Bing pop-up on the right side of the browser. For a moment, I thought Chrome was infected with malware, but it turned out to be a new Microsoft campaign.

In a statement to Windows Latest, Microsoft confirmed the company is testing a “one-time” notification that encourages people to use Bing as a default search in Google Chrome. The pop-up also advertises Bing’s free access to ChatGPT-4, where users can get “hundreds of daily chat turns with Bing AI”.

Speaking of things first-party platform vendors can do, this is an ad delivered by Windows within Chrome. Many things have changed since that antitrust trial, but something that remains the same is the contempt for users shown by corporate attempts to grab market share.

John Heilemann, for Wired in November 2000, wrote a sprawling play-by-play of Microsoft’s antitrust trial. There is an awful lot here to digest — close to fifty thousand words — and much of it rhymes with Apple’s situation, as David Piece put it.

This, though, is a core issue in both cases:

Monopoly or no, Windows was unquestionably an enormous asset for Microsoft. (“An asset of the shareholders of Microsoft,” as Gates put it.) And it was one over which the company had claimed total freedom — the freedom to add a ham sandwich, for instance. Was there any limit to how far he was willing to press the advantage of owning the dominant operating system?

“I don’t know what you mean by ‘advantage,'” he said, inspiring in me the brief fantasy that I was David Boies. “It is one of the more proven things that just because we put something in the operating system doesn’t mean people will use it,” Gates went on, citing the early, failed versions of IE, as well as the MSN client software. “Putting new features in the OS is a very, very good thing. Some of those features will end up being used heavily and some won’t. All you have to do is look at the growth of the software industry to say this is an industry that’s delivering for consumers in a fantastic way. So, yes, innovation is OK.”

Gates hadn’t answered the question, so I asked it again, this time more precisely: “Is there any limit to what you regard as appropriate to put into the operating system?”

In other words, how much is it okay for a first party to advantage themselves over third parties? If there is a line, where should it be, and who should establish it? There is obviously deep resistance to government intervention among the industry and its commentators, but there is also little incentive for operating system vendors to restrain themselves from prioritizing their own products and services. Gates, at this time, could not articulate any reason why Microsoft should not follow any competitive path it chose, even if that meant doing things third-party developers could not.

This is an obviously daunting article but, if it makes you feel any better, it is illustrated with pictures of Microsoft executives in ’90s corporate chic.

Alfred Ng, Politico:

The data-privacy bill passed Wednesday, the Protecting Americans’ Data from Foreign Adversaries Act, H.R. 7520, is highly targeted: It prevents any companies considered data brokers — third-party buyers and sellers of personal information — from selling that information to China, Russia or other “foreign adversaries.”

Though far narrower than previous bills, it would establish a precedent as the first federal law to govern data privacy in years.

Unlike the TikTok bill, this is meaningful privacy legislation for people in the United States — and it passed without a single negative vote. It is also likely to make its way to a Senate vote, according to Ng. It is similar to the executive order signed last month and therefore has similar caveats. Data brokers can still sell U.S. data to another broker in any non-adversarial country, for example, and it could be re-sold from there.

This may not be stellar legislation which limits the activity of data brokers within the U.S. or restricts the kind of mass data collection which permits these kinds of data sales, but it is progress.

Adam Engst, TidBits:

Longtime Mac users often get caught up in looking at the amount of free space reported by the Finder. We’ll check the storage numbers shown in a Get Info dialog, delete something, and check again. Don’t waste your time! Space management on the Mac is now largely indeterminate thanks to APFS, Time Machine snapshots, purgeable space, and more, as Howard Oakley explains. These technologies render the Finder-reported number unreliable at any given point in time. Even after you empty the Trash, it may take macOS several hours or more to update its free space reports. Restarting may or may not help trigger a recalculation.

Instead of stressing about exact numbers, I want to offer you a set of steps that will clear space quickly and easily on most Macs. Apple has advice here, and it’s not wrong, but it’s far from comprehensive. macOS also provides tools to help reduce unneeded drive usage at System Settings > General > Storage. Some are worthwhile; others do little or are incomplete. I’ll cover the helpful ones below.

Via Michael Tsai:

Removing local copies of iCloud Drive files is not great because then they are no longer backed up. You can do this in a pinch, but I don’t think it’s a good long-term plan.

I would also be reluctant to delete local copies of iCloud-stored files, either automatically or manually, especially given a bug affecting file versions in the latest release of MacOS Sonoma in certain conditions.

In light of the way APFS and “purgeable” stored files work, Engst is right that it is better to focus on an overall picture of a Mac’s drive rather than specific numbers. I do not know that I will ever get used to the mismatch between what is reported in Finder and the numbers in Disk Utility, but I guess that is just how things will be.

Anyway, I recently wanted to clear up some space on my iMac, and here are two things that worked and one which, for many, will not:

  1. For whatever reason, when iTunes was replaced with Music, MacOS did not remove the now-irrelevant cached Apple Music files from iTunes. Deleting that folder freed up 38 GB of space.

  2. While my photo library is stored on an external disk in Photos, I export selected RAW files to a folder on my local disk and edit those ones in Lightroom. It turns out those files are able to be losslessly compressed through a Lightroom feature called “Update DNG Previews & Metadata”. It is poorly documented and ambiguously named, but running it on my library resulted in a 40% disk space savings — huge, across thousands of photos.

  3. The one thing which did not work for me — and this will depend on your specific situation — was sorting applications by size and, in theory, removing the largest unused ones. The problem I have is that virtually all of those really big applications are the ones I need for work. They are typically made by massive and dominant vendors like Adobe, Cisco, Google, and Microsoft, and none of them respect you or your disk space.

    Google Chrome retains old versions in its application file. Microsoft’s OneDrive client for MacOS is 1.2 GB, and all the files for Cisco’s WebEx client occupy around 2 GB, for a file transfer application and a video calling app, respectively. Installing just one of the core Microsoft 365 applications, like Word, will install about 9 GB of shared frameworks.

It feels like users should simultaneously not need to think about disk space and be able to have more direct command over what is stored on it. But there are enough reporting discrepancies, long-expired caches, and uncivil developers making products which are core to many users’ careers to make it seem like we control far less than we would like to believe.

Update: I updated the description of the iCloud bug in Sonoma based on Adam Engst’s feedback to reduce its apparent severity.

Foo Yun Chee, Reuters:

Apple on Monday fended off criticism that it has not done enough to open up its closed eco-system as required under the European Union’s Digital Markets Act, saying it has complied with the landmark legislation.

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The company told apps developers, business users and rivals at a day-long hearing organised by the European Commission that it has redesigned its systems to comply with the DMA.

Dan Moren, Six Colors:

During the workshop, [Riley] Testut used his time to ask about the Core Technology Fee. Under Apple’s new business terms in Europe (required for apps looking to be distributed via non-Apple app marketplaces or the web), there’s a €0.50 fee per app install over the first million. Testut rightly points out that a free app, such as the one he made in high school, that becomes popular could easily accrue enough costs to ruin a young developer’s life.

Apple VP of Legal Kyle Andeer responded sympathetically, saying that the company is continuing to try and find a good solution, and to “stay tuned.”

Even with this softened tone, I am certain the Core Technology Fee is just about the last thing Apple will meaningfully relax due to either regulatory pressure or developer outcry. Still, a flash of hope, and something to check in on later.

Other, similar compliance workshops are coming up all week long. Meta’s begins just a few hours from the time I am writing this.

Update: Steve Troughton-Smith ran the hearing through MacWhisper to create an unofficial transcript. It may not be wholly accurate but it is on my reading list anyhow.