Month: April 2024

Timothy B. Lee, writing in Asterisk:

Over the last decade, Silicon Valley elites have grown increasingly frustrated with media coverage of their industry. And they aren’t wrong that coverage has grown increasingly negative. But I think they’re wrong to assume this reflects a hostility toward Silicon Valley in particular.

A more banal explanation is that companies like Google, Facebook, and Uber aren’t startups anymore. It no longer makes sense to publish positive profiles introducing readers to these companies. So reporters have switched to treating Silicon Valley giants like other big companies, which means mostly writing about them when they do something wrong.

Lee is right that tech journalism often consists of thin stories built off press releases and simplistic narratives — but so, too, does most general audience journalism. While there is the occasional nuanced story with correct weighting given to affirming and dissenting views, it is far more common to see misapplied view from nowhere journalism. But, critically, this is true of all beats. Erwin Knoll once said “everything you read in the newspapers is absolutely true except for the rare story of which you happen to have firsthand knowledge”, and that includes knowledge of media itself. Given how pressured journalists are, as Lee is careful to note, it is not difficult to see why stories across a range of topics become either pure boosterism or damp scandals.


Starting May 1, 2024, new or updated apps that have a newly added third-party SDK that‘s on the list of commonly used third-party SDKs will need all of the following to be submitted in App Store Connect:

  1. Required reasons for each listed API

  2. Privacy manifests

  3. Valid signatures when the SDK is added as a binary dependency

Jesse Squires:

Historically, Apple has rarely, if ever, explicitly acknowledged any third-party SDK or library. It took years for them to even acknowledge community tools like CocoaPods in Xcode’s release notes. Thus, it is interesting to see which SDKs they have deemed important or concerning enough to explicitly mandate a privacy manifest. And, in typical Apple fashion, I’m pretty sure SDKs authors were not notified about this in advance. We all learned which SDKs need privacy manifests at the same time — when the list was published.

When this requirement was announced at WWDC last year, I assumed this list would be dominated by SDKs for analytics, authentication, logging, advertising, and other potentially sensitive use cases. After all, it came on the heels of reporting by the Markup and the Wall Street Journal about SDKs invisible to end users and implicated in mass surveillance, with one such software package — X-Modebanned by Apple and Google.

This list of SDKs contains seemingly few such packages. As of writing, there are 87 SDKs on Apple’s list and fully one-quarter of them — by my count — are Flutter packages intended to simplify cross-platform development. I can see how there could be risks to file and photo pickers, for example, but this list sure looks more like it is comprised of popular SDKs, not necessarily ones of privacy concern. Kits from Facebook and Snap are on the list, but TikTok’s is nowhere to be found. Several Google SDKs are on the list, including Firebase analytics, but Google’s standalone ads framework is not; Unity is on the list, but not Unity’s ad kit.

As Squires writes, any documentation about why these SDKs are on Apple’s list would be helpful. I would even take a sentence fragment.

Robert Simmon, Nightingale:

The launch of Ikonos was one of a handful of developments that allowed newsrooms to expand from reporting on rocket launches and satellite hardware, to using remote sensing data as an essential tool to help tell stories. A wide variety of satellite data are now used to provide context to the news, to document events, and as a tool for investigation.

It still blows my mind that I — a nobody — can open Google Earth any time I want and see aerial photography with a level of detail that would have been classified not too long ago. Years of imagery are available, too, so if I want to see how an area has changed, it is just a few button clicks away. I appreciated Simmon’s look at how capabilities like these have allowed journalists at places like Bellingcat and Buzzfeed News to document events in ways that would not have been possible before widespread consumer satellite photography.

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Rarely do I link to something just because I want you to go read it, but this piece by Alex Ross in the New Yorker is just such an occasion. It is a wonderful piece about how we sometimes embrace noise and sometimes reject it, and what “noise” even means. (Via Matt.)

Tom Wheeler, former FCC chairman, writing for the Brookings Institution in October, following a vote to begin the process of reclassifying broadband as a “Title II” telecommunications service, regarding efforts to paint net neutrality regulations as no big deal:

It is the conduct of the ISPs that is in question here. Because telephone companies were Title II common carriers, their behavior had to be just and reasonable. Those companies prospered under such responsibilities; as they have morphed into wired and wireless ISPs, there is no reasonable argument why they, as well as their new competitors from the cable companies, should not continue to have public interest obligations.

Jon Brodkin, Ars Technica:

The Federal Communications Commission voted 3–2 to impose net neutrality rules today, restoring the common-carrier regulatory framework enforced during the Obama era and then abandoned while Trump was president.


ISPs insist the rules aren’t necessary because they already follow net neutrality principles yet also claim the rules are so burdensome that they will be prevented from investing more in their networks. Lobby group USTelecom today said the “relentless regulation” comes at the cost of “failing to achieve Internet for all.”

Karl Bode, Techdirt:

While broadband providers have already started whining about the rules and threatened to sue, privately (just like last time) broadband industry executives doubt the rules will have any meaningful impact on their businesses. The rules aren’t onerous, won’t likely be enforced with any consistency, and big companies like AT&T and Comcast have never, ever really had to worry about serious FCC penalties for any of their various predatory, anti-competitive, or illegal behaviors.

Bode has, for years, covered the effort to paint the reversal of net neutrality rules as inconsequential. Contrary to popular belief, the reclassification to a Title I service produced plenty of ill effects. Part of the problem was in mainstream coverage of what the rules meant and, similarly, in what their 2018 undoing would entail. Given the U.S.’ pivotal role in internet products worldwide, this protective measure to reduce the power of ISPs is a welcome one.

Michael Tsai:

I had another instance of my Apple ID mysteriously being locked. First, my iPhone wanted me to enter the password again, which I thought was the “normal” thing it has done every few months, almost since I got it. But after doing so it said that my account was locked.

Chance Miller, 9to5Mac:

There appears to be an increasingly widespread Apple ID outage of some sort impacting users tonight. A number of people on social media say that they were logged out of their Apple ID across multiple devices on Friday evening and forced to reset their password before logging back in…

There is (unsurprisingly) nothing relevant on Apple’s system status page, but the developer version shows two instances of “maintenance” affecting Apple accounts. It is unclear to me if it is affecting only accounts associated in some way with a developer Apple ID. Neither of my Apple IDs — both of which are connected to developer tools — were affected by this problem.

This problem is about eighteen hours old. It would be useful if Apple said literally anything useful to acknowledge the issue.

Waldo Jaquith:

I made a new Mastodon bot, called “I Hope This Email Finds You.” Twice a day it proposes a novel way to conclude that sentence that opens so many emails. (It uses phrases from Google Books that include the phrase “finds you.”) I’ve been having fun reading these, so I turned it into a bot because you, too, might have fun reading them.

This bot is excellent. At times sweet, at times absurd.

Update: The link has been changed to reflect a server move. Links to old posts remain at the old server.

Malcolm Coles:

10+ years ago I created an annual list of websites that FORBADE you from linking to them, DEMANDED you write to ask for permission or LIMITED links to only their home page. Royal Mail even promised to post me a paper licence.

Now a decade has passed, let’s see who’s still doing it … And yes I’ve linked to your websites to prove this. Uh oh.

Some of these are even more bizarre than a blanket link ban, like Which? limiting people to a maximum of ten links to their site per webpage. Why would anyone want to prevent links? Perhaps terms like these are are a clumsy way of restricting hotlinking or poorly protected nonpublic sections of a site, but there are better options than some legal document with questionable enforceability.

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Mark Stenberg, reporting for Adweek in January:

Digital media company G/O Media is shopping around its portfolio of editorial assets in hopes of securing buyers for individual titles, part of a broader effort to divest the properties ahead of another challenging year for the media industry, according to four people familiar with the efforts.


“Your reporting is largely incorrect. As with many multi-title media properties, we are always entertaining opportunities,” said a representative for G/O Media. “We have sold sites and purchased sites. Having said that, we do not comment on transaction rumors and speculation.”

It was “largely incorrect”, according to G/O Media, to suggest the company was thinking about selling off its portfolio of sites just two months after selling two of its sites to Paste. CEO Jim Spanfeller even gave an “exclusive” interview to Sara Fischer, of Axios, to dispel the rumours. Weeks later, the company sold and purged the shell of Deadspin, and then it sold the A/V Club and the Takeout.

Katie Robertson, New York Times:

G/O Media announced on Thursday that it had sold The Onion, a satirical news site, to a group of digital media veterans.


The real-life Global Tetrahedron is owned by Jeff Lawson, a co-founder and former chief executive of the technology communications company Twilio. The chief executive is Ben Collins, who was a senior reporter at NBC News until recently.

G/O Media still owns six publications — for now. For its part, the Onion says you should feed it one dollar.

Mary Jo Foley:

In a perfect world, Microsoft would take security seriously again. It would be transparent about breaches. Its execs would stop gloating about increasing security service revenue at a time when Microsoft can’t secure its own employees, let alone customers, against incidents that are happening with increasing frequency. And Microsoft would include must-have security capabilities as part of existing subscriptions instead of selling them as add-ons.

Microsoft sure is lucky to be so deeply enmeshed in the operations of businesses and governments that it is able to sell security for a fee because its all-in-one offering has basically no competition.

Hardika Singh, Wall Street Journal:

Bartash isn’t alone. Scores of individual investors have piled into Tesla shares in recent years, lured by the company’s technology, visionary chief executive and mammoth stock market gains. Through the end of last year, the stock was one of the top 10 wealth-creating companies for investors over the past decade, according to Morningstar, rising from about $10, on a split-adjusted basis, to $250.

But the shares have since hit a rough patch, down almost 40% in 2024. Tesla is the second-worst performer in the S&P 500 and off more than 60% from its peak in November 2021. The company’s market value fell below $500 billion last week for the first time in nearly a year, after climbing as high as $1.235 trillion.

It is hard to blame these people for sticking with Tesla despite its actual performance. Tesla’s stock is in the tank for the year, and Singh’s story was published Monday, one day before a bleak earnings report. Income was less than half was it was a year prior, revenue and margin fell, and it sold many fewer vehicles than it made.

Even so, Tesla’s stock jumped 12% because its CEO said “A.I.”, and he recently promised a robotaxi service once again and a less expensive model. Investors apparently believe him.

Ed Zitron read a bunch of the emails released in United States v. Google and believes the quality of Google’s search engine has been in decline since early 2019 thanks to new leadership:

These emails are a stark example of the monstrous growth-at-all-costs mindset that dominates the tech ecosystem, and if you take one thing away from this newsletter, I want it to be the name Prabhakar Raghavan, and an understanding that there are people responsible for the current state of technology. 

Because these are only a sampling of the emails released as part of that trial, they paint a necessarily incomplete picture, and one that is possibly wrong.

Zitron’s reporting focuses on similar themes to Megan Gray’s retracted story for Wired in which Google allegedly “alters queries billions of times a day”, each time making a “behind-the-scenes substitution of your actual query with a different query that just happens to generate more money for the company”. These claims were not actually proven in court, as far as I can figure out, but gestures toward them were found by Davey Alba and Leah Nylen of Bloomberg, and can be found in Zitron’s story:

A day later, Gomes emailed Fox and Thakur an email he intended to send to Raghavan. He led by saying he was “annoyed both personally and on behalf of the search team.” in a long email, he explained how one might increase engagement with Google Search, but specifically added that they could “increase queries quite easily in the short term in user negative ways,” like turning off spell correction, turning off ranking improvements, or placing refinements — effectively labels — all over the page, adding that it was “possible that there are trade offs here between different kinds of user negativity caused by engagement hacking,” and that he was “deeply deeply uncomfortable with this.” He also added that this was the reason he didn’t believe that queries were a good metric to measure search and that the best defense about the weakness of queries was to create “compelling user experiences that make users want to come back.”

This is not the same thing as what Gray claimed, even though it is along similar lines. Google allegedly sacrificed an update to its search engine which improved the quality of results for users because it was less profitable. This was done, according to these emails and documents, with cooperation between search and ads. And it could do all of this because Google’s management team knows it has a search monopoly and that does not come cheap.

Adam Demasi:

In iOS 17.4, Apple introduced a new system called eligibilityd. This works with countryd (which you might have heard about when it first appeared in iOS 16.2) and the Apple ID system to decide where you physically are. The idea is that multiple sources need to agree on where you are, before giving you access to features such as those mandated by the Digital Markets Act.

I cannot remember a time when Apple so aggressively restricted system features by geography. Most often, options show up if you change the device region in Settings; that is how Apple News can be accessed outside regions where it is officially available. But someone accessing News is only positive for Apple. There are other things locked by geography, like like Apple Cash, which only works with U.S. banking information, and special obligations to China which are active for devices sold only there. Those are legal obligations which someone either deeply tied to systems in a particular country — in the case of the former — or something people likely would not want.

The DMA features, on the other hand, are probably something a lot of users would like access to. Perhaps not a majority of iPhone owners, but a lot of them. Engineers at Apple have worked very hard to make a lot of features, and also to prevent them from being used. Clearly, these are features Apple did not want to make at all, but it is notable how much effort it is making to lock them down.

Following the passage of the Online News Act, the Media Ecosystem Observatory studied the behaviour of Canadian Facebook and Instagram users. The resulting report (PDF) is a brief but useful read.

Sara Parker, et al. summarizing two of its findings:

The Facebook Pages of national news outlets lost approximately 64% of their Facebook engagement following the end of news availability for Canadian users. Local news outlets lost approximately 85%. Almost half of all local news outlets stopped posting on Facebook entirely in the four months following the ban. 

Engagement with politically relevant pages and groups has remained unchanged since the ban, suggesting politically-oriented users have not reduced their Facebook usage.

Surprised? Me neither.

According to these researchers’ findings, many users simply posted screenshots of news articles without a direct link, thereby depriving media outlets of even meagre ad revenue. Interestingly, among a set of known misinformation sources catalogued by the Global Disinformation Index, sharing of news-like nonsense also dropped following Meta’s policy change.

Dr. Drang:

I have a feeling many longtime Mac users are like me: some special characters are typed directly, some are done through expansion, and the rest — never used before and never expected to be used again — come through the Character Viewer.

When the Mac turned forty earlier this year, I made an effort to mention the “ability to type special characters by using the option key” as one of my favourite MacOS features. But I neglected to mention text replacement — which I use to transform, for example, cmdkey into ⌘, and xtimes into × — and Character Viewer. You may know the latter as the emoji picker, but you can click the icon in the upper-right of the panel to display the full Character Viewer. Oh, and another way of inserting special characters is to simply hold down a key on the keyboard, just like on iOS.

All of these seem like pretty intuitive ways to insert characters which do not appear on the keyboard, and do not require you to memorize Unicode values. I use all the entry methods available in MacOS and they, collectively, are among my favourite system features.

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Aaron Tilley, Liza Lin, and Jeff Horwitz, Wall Street Journal:

Meta Platforms’ WhatsApp and Threads as well as messaging platforms Signal and Telegram were taken off the Chinese App Store Friday. Apple said it was told to remove certain apps because of national security concerns, without specifying which.

“We are obligated to follow the laws in the countries where we operate, even when we disagree,” an Apple spokesperson said.

A good argument for supporting protocols over platforms. Threads may have been ejected but it seems impossibly difficult to prohibit ActivityPub entirely. It is not as though HTTP or SMTP are banned in China.