Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Safari’s “Siri Suggested” Search Results Highlighted Conspiracy Sites

Charlie Warzel, Buzzfeed:

Apple’s Safari, one of the internet’s most popular web browsers, has been surfacing debunked conspiracies, shock videos, and false information via its “Siri Suggested Websites” feature. Such results raise questions about the company’s ability to monitor for low-quality information, and provide another example of the problems platforms run into when relying on algorithms to police the internet.

This isn’t a case where Google-suggested autocompletions are finding their way into Safari; I see the same results as Warzel and I have DuckDuckGo as my Safari search engine. This is just as toxic as Google suggesting the wrong voter registration dates or stating a bunk answer for who invented email — something they’re still doing, by the way.

Unfortunately, while Google provides a small “feedback” button for users to report problematic results, Apple’s procedure is, well, much worse:

“Siri Suggested Websites come from content on the web and we provide curation to help avoid inappropriate sites. We also remove any inappropriate suggestions whenever we become aware of them, as we have with these. We will continue to work to provide high-quality results and users can email results they feel are inappropriate to applebot@apple.com.”

It’s pretty quaint that a trillion-dollar company suggests you report problems to them by sending a direct email — to an address that, for what it’s worth, I did not know existed. As of writing, DuckDuckGo returns no results for it, while Google’s results almost entirely consist of answers that contain “applebot.apple.com”. There is one mention of that address on Apple’s website in this sole knowledgebase article.1


  1. By the way, I’m disappointed with the search results from both search engines. DuckDuckGo failed to find an Apple knowledgebase article containing my exact query on freakin’ Apple dot com, while Google flat-out disobeyed my use of quotation marks and suggested a bunch of stuff that is explicitly not what I was looking for. ↩︎

Instagram’s Co-Founders Are Leaving Amid Frustrations With Facebook

Mike Isaac of the New York Times got the scoop:

Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger, the co-founders of the photo-sharing app Instagram, have resigned and plan to leave the company in the coming weeks, adding to the challenges facing Instagram’s parent company, Facebook.

Mr. Systrom, Instagram’s chief executive, and Mr. Krieger, the chief technical officer, notified Instagram’s leadership team and Facebook on Monday of their decision to leave, said people with direct knowledge of the matter, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly.

Mr. Systrom and Mr. Krieger did not give a reason for stepping down, according to the people, but said they planned to take time off after leaving Instagram. Mr. Systrom, 34, and Mr. Krieger, 32, have known each other since 2010, when they met and transformed a software project built by Mr. Systrom into what eventually became Instagram, which now has more than one billion users.

Kurt Wagner, Recode:

Instagram co-founders Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger are resigning from the company they built amid frustration and agitation with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s increased meddling and control over Instagram, according to sources.

[…]

It’s not uncommon for founders to leave after selling their company. But Systrom and Krieger stayed longer than many would have guessed, and remained influential throughout their tenure. Systrom was the product visionary and was hands-on even after bringing in other product execs to do more of the day-to-day execution.

Krieger, meanwhile, was actively running Instagram’s engineering team, and was seen by many internally as the company’s “heart and soul.”

Instagram has been one of the few apps you could hold up as an example that being acquired by a massive and deeply unethical company might not necessarily be ruinous. Under Facebook, Instagram launched a reasonably complete website version, underwent a major rebrand, bookmarking, a better “Explore” tab that is a genuine improvement over the old search function, more tasteful filters, way better editing tools, and lots more. It has resisted a Facebook-ization; at its core, it still feels like Instagram.

But, now, I’m worried. The kinds of — ugh — growth hacking techniques that Facebook likes in its own apps are surely just around the corner. I don’t think that the Instagram many of us have stuck with and generally like is here for much longer.

Ars Technica’s Review of MacOS 10.14 Mojave

Andrew Cunningham continues John Siracusa’s tradition of publishing the best reviews of MacOS updates. This year’s is well worth reading because, in addition to obvious visual changes in MacOS Mojave, there are plenty of non-obvious but more consequential updates below the surface:

Mac OS X began life as a 32-bit operating system, but a slow, steady transition to 64-bit hardware and software has been happening for over 15 years. Today’s Macs — and any Mac running Mojave or any version of the operating system going all the way back to Mountain Lion — have been all-64-bit, barring a handful of first-party apps and background services and a steadily shrinking list of third-party apps. Still, 32-bit apps run just as well as they did when Snow Leopard shipped on 32-bit Intel Macs back in 2006.

That doesn’t change in Mojave, but this is the last version of macOS that will run those 32-bit apps at all.

There are also plenty of updates to the security and privacy features introduced in MacOS over the past few years:

[…] In High Sierra, Gatekeeper controls access to Location Services, Contacts, Calendars, Reminders, and Photos — any app that wants access to any of that data needs to ask for it and be granted permission first, and the app should fail over gracefully (i.e. not crash) when that permission is denied.

In Mojave, that access control extends to several other areas: access to Mail, Messages, Safari browsing data, HTTP cookies, call history, iTunes device backups, and Time Machine backups all require permission now. And like in iOS, macOS apps now need to ask permission to use any webcam or microphone attached to the system (Apple says this includes the built-in hardware plus any device that uses macOS’ default drivers, which covered both my Logitech C920 webcam and Scarlett Solo USB audio interface).

These changes have not been easy in certain specialized cases; but, for average users — and bugs aside — ought to be worthwhile protection.

I’ve been using MacOS Mojave about 50% of the time since July, and full-time for over a week. Generally speaking, it’s an excellent update: the new Desktop Stacks feature is brilliant and everything Stacks should have been in the first place; the enhanced iPad-inspired Dock is terrific; and the entire system feels rock solid and even a little faster. I’m not necessarily saying you should upgrade right away, but I, personally, did not have the same feeling of trepidation as the past couple of MacOS updates.

Update: One thing I forgot to mention is in regards to the new autofilling two-factor authentication code behaviour, similar to that which is in iOS 12. Here’s how Cunningham describes it:

When you receive two-factor authentication codes via SMS (and when you’ve got your iPhone configured to forward SMS messages to your Mac), Mojave will offer to insert those codes for you in Safari or any other app updated to target Mojave.

Unfortunately, Apple’s own two-factor authentication codes do not autofill because they are not sent over SMS.

Matt Birchler’s Review of WatchOS 5

I don’t think anyone does WatchOS reviews as well as Matt Birchler, and this year’s is no exception. I’ve been running the beta all summer, because I am a demonstrably stupid person, and I learned a few of the more hidden updates to WatchOS in Birchler’s review. For example, the Siri watch face now supports automatic sports alerts:

This is kind of a weird one, but I’m happy to see cards about my favorite sports teams appear on the Siri watch face. It’s weird because your favorite teams are set up in the…TV app. You’d think this might be in the main settings app or something, but yeah, any teams you have set as favorites in the TV app will show on your Siri watch face when they have games going on.

So, to recap: Apple’s house-brand TV shows are available in Apple Music, and Apple Watch alerts for sports are set up in the TV app on your iPhone.

My favourite new feature in WatchOS 5 is probably automatic workout detection. Birchler:

Usually it just takes a few minutes of working out for it to notice that you’re doing something and present the notification. The good news is that it gives you credit for the entire workout, not just from when you confirm you are indeed working out. So when it asks you 5 minutes into a run if you are indeed in a workout, you get credit for the time, distance, and calories burned for those 5 minutes. It’s pretty slick.

The sensitivity of workout detection has been fine-tuned throughout different builds and I think Apple hit a sweet spot by the time WatchOS 5 shipped. Every so often, it doesn’t detect my twenty minute walk to or from work until I’m about halfway, but it doesn’t matter because it typically gives me credit for most of that journey. However, I’ve found it’s not always terrifically accurate at figuring out what kind of workout I’m doing: instead of an outdoor walk, it often thinks I’m running and, a couple of days ago, it thought I was using an elliptical machine.

Updating an Apple Watch is still a gigantic pain in the ass — though the overnight update mechanism, new in WatchOS 5, does help with that — but it’s totally worth it for this version of the software. If you haven’t updated yet, I strongly suggest you do. Apple is honing in on what the Watch is good at, and making it truly excel in those areas.

A Look at How the New Fire, Water, and Vapour Apple Watch Faces Were Made

There aren’t many companies that would construct enormous scaled-up shells of a product to create custom videos specifically for it. Also, consider that each of these effects had to be created a second time with a different model, because these faces behave completely differently on pre-Series 4 watches. It looks like there’s an older-model Apple Watch rig at about twenty-five seconds into this video.

Joint CBC and Toronto Star Investigation Finds Ticketmaster Complicit in Ticket Scalping

Dave Seglins, Rachel Houlihan, and Laura Clementson, CBC News:

In July, the news outlets sent a pair of reporters undercover to Ticket Summit 2018, a ticketing and live entertainment convention at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas.

Posing as scalpers and equipped with hidden cameras, the journalists were pitched on Ticketmaster’s professional reseller program.

Company representatives told them Ticketmaster’s resale division turns a blind eye to scalpers who use ticket-buying bots and fake identities to snatch up tickets and then resell them on the site for inflated prices. Those pricey resale tickets include extra fees for Ticketmaster.

“I have brokers that have literally a couple of hundred accounts,” one sales representative said. “It’s not something that we look at or report.”

Not only does Ticketmaster ignore scalpers’ tactics, this report reveals that the company effectively encourages them to exploit potential buyers with its TradeDesk software. The software’s description in the App Store indicates that it’s built for high-volume resellers, with features like bulk price adjustments and large-scale inventory management.

This is why Ticketmaster does such a terrible job at stopping automated purchases: the fee that they get from direct sales is large, but the commission they get from the reseller platforms that they own is extraordinary. Meanwhile, artists get none of the markup, their fans get bilked into paying obscene ticket prices, and Live Nation — Ticketmaster’s parent company — has a near-monopoly on large-scale tours, events, and venues. That’s not right.

Alternative Influence

Here’s a fascinating new report (PDF) by Rebecca Lewis. From its executive summary:

This report presents data from approximately 65 political influencers across 81 channels. This network is connected through a dense system of guest appearances, mixing content from a variety of ideologies. This cross-promotion of ideas forms a broader “reactionary” position: a general opposition to feminism, social justice, or left-wing politics.

[…]

When viewers engage with this content, it is framed as lighthearted, entertaining, rebellious, and fun. This fundamentally obscures the impact that issues have on vulnerable and underrepresented populations — the LGBTQ community, women, immigrants, and people of color. And in many ways, YouTube is built to incentivize this behavior. The platform needs to not only assess what channels say in their content, but also who they host and what their guests say. In a media environment consisting of networked influencers, YouTube must respond with policies that account for influence and amplification, as well as social networks.

When I was in elementary and junior high during the early days of the World Wide Web, I was reminded regularly not to trust poorly-sourced or single-sourced information I found on the web. The situation now is completely different: these videos feature ostensibly intelligent and well-sourced individuals interviewed in a slick style aping that of legitimate news shows.

Similarly, earlier this month, Chris Hayes started a short thread on Twitter about how a simple query about the Federal Reserve quickly leads YouTube viewers down a conspiratorial tunnel.

John Gruber’s Review of the iPhones XS

Many of the iPhone XS reviews I’ve read today have repeated effectively the same thing: it’s an “S” year; this is an incremental update; the big one is really big. Well, yeah.

But John Gruber has, as usual, the best review of the new iPhones — largely because of his explanation of why the new camera system is so different despite seemingly-identical tech specs. And, as a bonus, it includes new information:

[…] I checked, and Apple confirmed that the iPhone XS wide-angle sensor is in fact 32 percent larger. That the pixels on the sensor are deeper, too, is what allows this sensor to gather 50 percent more light. This exemplifies why more “megapixels” are not necessarily better. One way to make a sensor bigger is to add more pixels. But what Apple’s done here is use the same number — 12 megapixels — and make the pixels themselves bigger. 12 megapixels are plenty — what phone cameras need are bigger pixels.

I think what makes this 32 percent increase in sensor size hard to believe, especially combined with a slightly longer lens, is that by necessity, this combination means the sensor must be further away from the lens. This basic necessity of moving the lens further from the sensor (or film) is why DSLRs are so big compared to a phone. But the iPhone XS is exactly the same thickness as the iPhone X, including the camera bump. (Apple doesn’t publish the bump thickness but I measured with precision calipers.) So somehow Apple managed not only to put a 32 percent larger sensor in the iPhone XS wide-angle camera, but also moved the sensor deeper into the body of the phone, further from the lens.

You can see the results of the bigger sensor and better HDR performance in Rafael Zeier’s comparison between the iPhone X and iPhone XS. Judging by the reviews I’ve seen so far, it looks like the result of that is, in part, more detail in images, though I’m not sure how much of that can be attributed solely to the larger sensor and not it in combination with adjusted noise reduction. I bet you’ll get some killer RAW photos on this thing.

Many reviewers are advising readers to wait for the iPhone XR, coming next month. I totally get that — in part, because it’s much less expensive, but also because you’ll get nearly everything that the iPhone XS has. But one thing you won’t get is the telephoto camera. I’ve used that camera for probably half of the pictures I’ve taken on my iPhone X since I got it, and I don’t think I could go back to a single-camera phone. If I were upgrading this year, I’d go for the XS in a heartbeat — just because it has a telephoto camera. In fact, I’d be comfortable with a single-camera iPhone that only had an approximately 56mm-equivalent camera. But that’s just me.

Also, it looks like most, if not all, writers received gold review units. I’m not sure the saturated colour of the steel frame fits my taste, but the cream-coloured back is gorgeous.

A History of Infinite Loop Told in Anecdotes

With the move of Apple’s headquarters from the Infinite Loop campus to Apple Park, Steven Levy interviewed several current and former Apple employees — including high-ranking individuals like Tim Cook, Phil Schiller, Eddy Cue, and Scott Forstall — about their memories of Infinite Loop. This one’s pretty good:

[Tony Fadell]: When I arrived in 2001 [to lead the iPod project], it still felt like a campus that wasn’t filled. There were all these empty offices everywhere in every building. All of the furnishings and everything had not been updated since it opened.

Cook: It was an awful time. The stock crashed, it goes down by 60 to 70 percent. We get a call from Ted Waitt, founder of Gateway. He wants to talk about acquiring Apple. Steve and I went to a meeting with Waitt and their CEO, and it’s a different Steve. Very calm, listening to the comments they made, how they’d probably keep the Apple brand. I was sitting there feeling like my organs were being cut out. Then they said maybe they could come up with a role for Steve, and I’m thinking—he’s going to blow! He’s going to blow any minute! Then they start talking about price. And Steve looks at them—he could look at you with eyes that just penetrated your soul—and says, “Who do you think is worth more, Apple or Gateway?” The meeting lasted only two or three minutes more. And in a few weeks they had some accounting scandal, and their stock crashed.

It’s odd to reflect that many of the products that have defined Apple’s renaissance and Steve Jobs’ legacy were created at a campus that he had no part in designing and, according to this profile, he disliked. Now, Apple is based out of a campus that was his dream; yet, he’s not around to take advantage of it, or be a physical part of this chapter in the company’s legacy.

The MacStories Review of iOS 12

As has become a bit of a tradition around here, I have a review of iOS 12 coming; however, it won’t be out today. Turns out trying to find an apartment in Calgary right now is difficult and time consuming.

In the interim, please read Federico Viticci’s excellent deep dive into iOS 12. It’s far more detailed than mine will ever be and, as the iOS automation expert, he’s uniquely gifted in explaining this update’s improvements to Siri and the new Shortcuts app.

Google China Prototype Links Searches to Phone Numbers

Ryan Gallagher, the Intercept:

Sources familiar with the project said that prototypes of the search engine linked the search app on a user’s Android smartphone with their phone number. This means individual people’s searches could be easily tracked – and any user seeking out information banned by the government could potentially be at risk of interrogation or detention if security agencies were to obtain the search records from Google.

[…]

Sources familiar with Dragonfly said the search platform also appeared to have been tailored to replace weather and air pollution data with information provided directly by an unnamed source in Beijing. The Chinese government has a record of manipulating details about pollution in the country’s cities. One Google source said the company had built a system, integrated as part of Dragonfly, that was “essentially hardcoded to force their [Chinese-provided] data.” The source raised concerns that the Dragonfly search system would be providing false pollution data that downplayed the amount of toxins in the air.

If this reporting is correct, there’s simply no other way to cut this: Google is exploring a deeper entry into the Chinese market by agreeing to assist in that government’s oppression and misinformation. I wonder how Google will respond the first time a report is released that implicates them in the imprisonment of an activist or a journalist in China, especially as it’s completely incongruous with their publicly-stated positions. It’s not a perfect comparison, but do you remember how “outraged” they were after reporting in the Washington Post implied that the NSA had a backdoor into their infrastructure? They responded by increasing their use of encryption within their own network over time.

Instead of fighting government surveillance, Google is apparently trying to be of assistance, and they’re dragging their employees into this mess. How many Google employees want to have such a toxic product on their resume? Apparently, several staffers, including senior engineers, have decided that this is too much to bear, and have consequently quit.

China is, of course, an enormous potential market for Google. By not being there, they’re leaving potentially billions of dollars of revenue on the table. However, they would also not be complicit in human rights abuses. How much is that worth? For a company with strict values and some semblance of ethics and morals, it should be a no-brainer.

Amassed Memories in Keychain Access

Earlier this year, I linked to a Twitter discussion started by Marcin Wichary about UIs that amass memories — consider, for example, your WiFi network connection history, or the “Open Recent” menu in applications you don’t use very often.

Anyway, I’m cleaning out my Keychain right now and it reminded me of this idea. I came across login items for websites I don’t visit any more, and accounts I created for a specific purpose long ago. But I also found my login details for websites that were a huge part of my online life for a long time and no longer exist, like dznr and FFFFOUND. I have real memories tied to many of these accounts — even tangible products, in some cases: I created a Club Monaco account to buy a pair of boots that I still wear, but I haven’t used the account since.

It’s striking how something as simple as a list of websites and user names can trigger a similar level of nostalgia as, for example, a photograph.

Goodbye, iPhone SE

Thomas Brand:

As someone who doesn’t value his cell phone as much as the next Apple nerd, the iPhone SE has been an important product for me because of its price. The iPhone SE kept me invested in the iOS ecosystem, and enabled me to purchase a Apple Watch without approaching the ~$700 iPhone ASP I normally attribute to laptop computers. Now that an updated iPhone SE is no longer an option, I am evaluating alternative cell phone platforms. I am sure I am not alone.

The smallest and cheapest iPhone that Apple now sells is the iPhone 7, which is a 4.7-inch device that fills out a typical pants pocket and starts at $449. But, as a two-year-old iPhone, it’s likely that it will support three more years’ worth of software updates (iOS 12 supports up to the five-year-old iPhone 5S). To be clear, that’s more than you can expect of practically any Android phone, but it’s also less than you might expect of an iPhone purchased today.

I’ve seen a lot of people on Twitter and across the web unhappy with the discontinuation of the iPhone SE. For a lot of people, it was a perfectly-sized device — the last one that many people could comfortably reach with their thumbs across the entire display without doing a little shimmy with their hand, and the last one with flattened sides that made it easier to hold for photos. The SE was a really good product, and it’s unfortunate that Apple has chosen to stop making it instead of releasing a successor. It’s one of the few bum notes from yesterday’s event, but it is perhaps the loudest.

Initial Thoughts on the iPhone XS, iPhone XR, and Apple Watch Series 4 Event

If you were paying attention to rumour blogs prior to today’s event, you knew the names of the products announced today as well as what the iPhone XS and new Watch looked like. Those were not surprises; yet, even so, today’s event managed to pack in a lot of big news.

First up, the Apple Watch Series 4, with a bigger display, richer faces, and — amazingly — an FDA-certified electrocardiogram on the sapphire and ceramic back, which now appears on all models.

There are also a bunch of new faces that they say “react uniquely with the curved edges of the case”. This is curious to me because the Apple Watch HIG and the overall design of WatchOS has generally created the impression that there is no boundary around the display. For instance, the “honeycomb” home screen treats app icons almost like bubbles that float against a black backdrop and aren’t cut off. Or, recall the way Jony Ive described, in its introductory video, that “you can’t determine a boundary between the physical object and the software”. Much like the notch on the iPhone, it appears that they’re embracing the limitations of the hardware, which feels more honest to me.

I remember having an initially negative reaction to the Apple Watch when it was introduced. Now that I have owned the product for a few years and Apple has made radical improvements to the software, though, it’s one of my favourite personal technology things that I own, but neither the Series 2 nor the Series 3 compelled me to upgrade. Based on what I’ve seen so far, I’m sold on this new one. It is to the Apple Watch what the iPhone 4 is to the history of that product: a culmination of several years of learning, and leaving everything else in the dust.

My only concern is with the electrocardiogram feature. It’s only going to be available in the United States — presumably for certification and regulation reasons — and Apple says that it won’t be enabled until later this year.

Then there’s the iPhone XS and XS Max. Both are a substantial upgrade from the iPhone X, but — more importantly, as most people probably don’t upgrade every year — a huge leap from the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus: a faster processor, better Face ID, better displays, dual SIM capabilities, better battery life, and better camera processing. The Max model should satisfy those who are aching for an even bigger variant with features specific to it, like split views in some apps.

Finally, they launched the iPhone XR, which is a fascinating product once you get past Apple’s naming foibles. Apart from Apple employees, nobody is actually going to pronounce it “ten-arr”; likewise, most people are probably going to say “excess” rather than “ten-ess”. Also, it turns out that the “R” — and “S”, for that matter, in “iPhone XS” — is neither uppercase nor lowercase but, rather, small caps, because Apple’s marketing team apparently hates everyone who writes about their products. They will be “XS” and “XR” here.

The XR sits at the bottom end of Apple’s pricing range; but, at 6.1 inches diagonally, it’s in the middle of the 5.8-inch iPhone XS and 6.5-inch iPhone XS Max. Its display is an LCD at 326 pixels per inch — exactly the same pixel density as the iPhone 8, and with very similar technical specifications.1 However, its introduction means that Apple’s new iPhone lineup entirely follows the modern gesture-driven design language started by the iPhone X. Unlike the iPhone X and XS, it has some of the same software capabilities as iPhones with Plus- or, now, Max-sized displays, such as split screen in supported apps.

The iPhone XR also marks the first iPhone launched since the SE without 3D Touch. Instead, it has something they’re calling “Haptic Touch”, which appears to simply be haptic feedback triggered by long presses in certain 3D Touch-like contexts.2

I have complaints about that.

For a start, it’s confusing: there are maybe eight people on Earth who can adequately articulate the differences between Haptic Touch, 3D Touch, and Force Touch, which is still what Apple calls the display on the Apple Watch. In the keynote presentation, Phil Schiller compared it to the trackpad in the MacBook Pro, but that’s marketed as a Force Touch thing. I might be an idiot, but this is unfathomable.3

Second, it’s conceptually muddy. There seemed to be specific rules Apple was adhering to with their use of 3D Touch on past iPhones — it opens app menus on the home screen, for instance, or allows you to preview something in a list before opening it. But this indicates that there’s either no difference between a long press and a Force/3D/Haptic Touch press, or there’s no consistency in Apple’s application of it. If Apple doesn’t know what the standards should be, users can’t even begin to understand what they should be doing. I like 3D Touch a lot, but if Apple continues to be confused by their own technology after it has been on the market for three years, I don’t think they should keep it around.

Inside, it features the same A12 SoC as the iPhone XS and XS Max and has a similar wide angle camera, but it does not have a telephoto camera. Even so, it can apparently do the same Portrait Mode and three of the five Portrait Lighting effects.

Its body is made of aluminum, and it’s offered in six gorgeous colours. I’m looking forward to seeing these in person — the vibrant peach-like “Coral” colour, in particular, looks beautiful. I bet these will be hot sellers: they’re colourful, they have the gesture-driven design, and they start at $250 less than the XS. They don’t go on sale until next month, however.

There’s always a catch — in this case, there are three. This iPhone lineup no longer includes the headphone jack adaptor; all iPhones still come with a five-watt charger; and all iPhones still ship with only a USB-A cable instead of a USB-C cable. I don’t get it.

Apple also announced today that they will be updating the HomePod on Monday with multi-timer support, the ability to make phone calls, and the ability to use Siri Shortcuts.

While many of the announcements today were revealed early, one surprise is that there was absolutely no mention of the AirPower. There’s nothing about it on the new iPhone marketing pages, and John Gruber tweeted that nobody at Apple is talking about it. Something clearly went deeply wrong in its development and Apple seems to have no idea when — or if — it will be launched.


  1. Apple bills this display as a “Liquid Retina” display but, even after watching the keynote and reading all about it, I still have no idea what this means or what sets it apart. The only reason to give it a cool marketing name, that I can think of, is if it’s going to be used repeatedly. So, I expect to see references to a “Liquid Retina” display in upcoming iPad marketing materials as well. ↩︎

  2. I also think we’ll see this “Haptic Touch” language used in new iPad marketing materials. ↩︎

  3. Also, they call it “Haptic Touch” but it’s powered by the “Taptic Engine”. Gah↩︎

European Parliament Gives Approval to Over-Broad Copyright Reform Bills

Natasha Lomas, TechCrunch:

The European Parliament has just voted to back controversial proposals to reform online copyright — including supporting an extension to cover snippets of publishers content (Article 11), and to make platforms that hold significant amounts of content liable for copyright violations by their users (Article 13).

[…]

BEUC, the European Consumer Organisation, also denounced the result of the plenary vote, warning that if the plans MEPs backed today become EU law the “benefits of the Internet for consumers will be at risk”.

“It is beyond comprehension that time and again EU policy makers refuse to bring copyright law into the 21st century. Consumers nowadays express themselves by sampling, creating and mixing music, videos and pictures, then sharing their creations online. MEPs have decided to thwart this freedom of expression which is dangerous for creativity and innovation,” said Monique Goyens, director general of BEUC, in a statement.

I understand the impetus for stricter adherence to copyright law by forcing platforms to be responsible for users’ uploads, but it’s hard to see how rights-holders will actually benefit from these new laws. A smarter way to update copyright law for the internet wouldn’t look like a giant filter between users and platforms, nor would it charge a fee for merely linking to or citing news stories.

However, this legislation isn’t the law yet:

While the parliament has now agreed its position on the reform the process is not yet over. There will be trilogue negotiations with Member State representatives, via the European Council, and a final vote — likely early next year.

If you live in the E.U., please call or write your local representative and urge them to find a way to make these reforms — since they are likely to pass — less stupid.

Release Types Now Organized Differently in Apple Music

A promising update on an issue surfaced earlier this year. Federico Viticci, MacStories:

While the old artist page design of Apple Music mixed albums, singles, EPs, live albums, and more under the same ‘Albums’ section, the new Apple Music features separate sections for different types of music releases. The new sections include singles and EPs, live albums, essential albums recommended by Apple Music editors, compilations, and appearances by an artist on other albums. As pictured above, Apple Music now also highlights an artist’s latest or upcoming release at the top of the page.

Separation between albums and other releases isn’t a new idea. Beats Music, the streaming service Apple acquired in 2014 and subsequently relaunched as Apple Music in 2015, featured separate views for albums, EPs, and compilations. Three years after its relaunch, it appears Apple has implemented most of Beats Music’s organization of artist releases, which was arguably one of the original service’s most useful and innovative functionalities.

There’s an interesting little side story regarding this news and the last three Nine Inch Nails releases. All three are about half an hour long but, while the first two are classified as EPs — as you might expect for five-track sets — the most recent, released in June, is listed as an LP. The reason for that, according to NIN frontman Trent Reznor, is because streaming services treat EPs as “lesser” albums. Beats Music, which Reznor was heavily involved in the design of, used to do that, but Apple Music didn’t until just recently.

And, strangely, all three recent NIN releases are classified as “Albums” in Apple Music; in Spotify, the two EPs are buried as “Singles”.

EPs are often just as important to an artist’s repertoire as LPs. While I think separating them can be beneficial from a categorization perspective, I would hate to see an artist’s recent release buried just because it’s listed as an EP.

Viticci:

I’d still like to see better grouping options for different editions of the same album: while Beats Music used to group explicit, remastered, and re-issued albums under a single sub-section, these versions aren’t grouped by Apple Music yet.

While we’re at it, I would love to be able to hide clean releases across Apple Music, and have Siri default to the explicit — read: canonical — version of any request.

A Profile of Mark Zuckerberg

This is a long profile by Evan Osnos in the New Yorker and, while it paints a well-researched vignette of Zuckerberg, it’s also confirmation of what you had already probably seen or expected. For example, it catalogues Facebook’s internal belief that if they launch a new feature that has negative reactions, users will eventually come around, even on issues of privacy — the withdrawal of Beacon being one notable exception where user feedback was actually listened to. And on the Alex Jones debacle:

Facebook relented, somewhat. On July 27th, it took down four of Jones’s videos and suspended him for a month. But public pressure did not let up. On August 5th, the dam broke after Apple, saying that the company “does not tolerate hate speech,” stopped distributing five podcasts associated with Jones. Facebook shut down four of Jones’s pages for “repeatedly” violating rules against hate speech and bullying. I asked Zuckerberg why Facebook had wavered in its handling of the situation. He was prickly about the suggestion: “I don’t believe that it is the right thing to ban a person for saying something that is factually incorrect.”

Jones seemed a lot more than factually incorrect, I said.

“O.K., but I think the facts here are pretty clear,” he said, homing in. “The initial questions were around misinformation.” He added, “We don’t take it down and ban people unless it’s directly inciting violence.” He told me that, after Jones was reduced, more complaints about him flooded in, alerting Facebook to older posts, and that the company was debating what to do when Apple announced its ban. Zuckerberg said, “When they moved, it was, like, O.K., we shouldn’t just be sitting on this content and these enforcement decisions. We should move on what we know violates the policy. We need to make a decision now.”

This confirms reporting by Charlie Warzel and Dylan Byers that Apple’s decision was the impetus for Facebook, among other companies, to make a move. Last week, Apple also banned Jones’ company from the App Store. “De-platforming” — as it is known — works, and it’s a decision that Apple, Facebook, and other companies should have made a long time ago.

This irks me:

For many years, Zuckerberg ended Facebook meetings with the half-joking exhortation “Domination!” Although he eventually stopped doing this (in European legal systems, “dominance” refers to corporate monopoly), his discomfort with losing is undimmed. A few years ago, he played Scrabble on a corporate jet with a friend’s daughter, who was in high school at the time. She won. Before they played a second game, he wrote a simple computer program that would look up his letters in the dictionary so that he could choose from all possible words. Zuckerberg’s program had a narrow lead when the flight landed. The girl told me, “During the game in which I was playing the program, everyone around us was taking sides: Team Human and Team Machine.”

I’m a hundred percent sure this was done in good fun. Nevertheless, it reminds me of something that has been rattling around in my head for a while. I’m a competitive person and I want to win at board games; but, I also want to have fun. I like playing with people who also make an effort to win, because it challenges me. Even when I know I’m going to lose, I still have a great time. But I dislike playing with people who need to win. They’re the kind of people who deliberately block all your routes in Ticket to Ride, or buy up one of every property colour in Monopoly. It’s not wrong to do those things, but it doesn’t actually make the game any good. People who have a problem with losing or being wrong sometimes are, generally speaking, destructive assholes.

Rhett Jones, Gizmodo:

The New Yorker can spill thousands of words probing Zuckerberg’s psyche and speaking to colleagues about how he’s growing in his unprecedented role of social media Pope to 2.2 billion users, but it’s still the same Zuckerberg who would apparently rather think about scaling and “community” than real-world consequences his company might be involved in.

Facebook has been aware of its role in violence and ethnic cleansing in Myanmar since at least 2014. It entered a market that it knew little about, where traditional media to inform the public was extremely limited, and found that it had built the perfect weapon for organizing mob violence and propaganda. We’ve seen similar situations in Sri Lanka, Libya, the Philippines, and India. One Sri Lankan official characterized the situation to the New York Times, “The germs are ours, but Facebook is the wind.”

But Zuckerberg keeps repeating the same talking points about being “slow” to recognize the problem and how it’s going to take time to fix it. He told the New Yorker that he plans to have 100 people working on translating and moderation in Myanmar by the end of the year. The fact that a company can connect 2 billion people in a little over a decade but can’t hire 100 people over the course of a few years is telling. But the real issue is scale, and the inability of current technology to keep up with that scale.

Facebook can’t play dumb here. According to Osnos’ profile, the “growth” team was the most celebrated and admired inside the company, and their goals were the company’s goals. If they wanted to “dominate” — as Zuckerberg half-jokingly closed every meeting with — they have no excuse for being bad at it when they actually started to do so, and continuing to be terrible years later.

Purported Security Apps in the Mac App Store Found to Be Stealing User Data

Thomas Reed of Malwarebytes, with a small collection of apps available on the Mac App Store that exfiltrate user data:

It’s blindingly obvious at this point that the Mac App Store is not the safe haven of reputable software that Apple wants it to be. I’ve been saying this for several years now, as we’ve been detecting junk software in the App Store for almost as long as I’ve been at Malwarebytes. This is not new information, but these issues reveal a depth to the problem that most people are unaware of.

We’ve reported software like this to Apple for years, via a variety of channels, and there is rarely any immediate effect. In some cases, we’ve seen offending apps removed quickly, although sometimes those same apps have come back quickly (as was the case with Adware Doctor). In other cases, it has taken as long as six months for a reported app to be removed.

In many cases, apps that we have reported are still in the store.

These are exactly the kinds of things I expect the app review process should catch before apps like these and the aforementioned Adware Doctor make it into the store. The Mac App Store should, if nothing else, be a place for any user to find safe software. Ideally, it’s also one with high-quality, useful, top-tier apps, but security and privacy ought to be the baseline.

(Thanks to Anthony Reimer.)

“Does Anyone’s Ideal World Have Social Media?”

Lauren Oyler in the Baffler:

There’s an argument to be made about social media as a force for political mobilization — or, say, making friends, whom I may speak to multiple times a week but see only two or three times a year, if ever; research shows shared hatreds are more binding than shared interests — but first I’d like to talk a little bit more about myself. When I wake up every morning I look at my phone to see what has transpired in the night, the final waking moment of which is usually the last time I looked at my phone. This is bad for my sleep cycle, I know, and for the nerves in my hands — I refuse to get one of those knobs you can put on the back of your phone to make it easier to hold, which I see as not just admitting I have a problem but resigning myself to it, as well as broadcasting to strangers who see me using my phone in public that I am a Phone Person (worse: a Phone Woman) — but more important, it is just bad. What I dislike about my life are not the facts of it but its texture, the false tension and paranoia and twitchiness. I exist in a state of “might always be checking something,” and along with being unpleasant, it’s embarrassing.

The sentence I quoted for this link’s title comes in the last paragraph of this essay, but it’s not exactly in the context as you might expect from an essay questioning the substantive value of constant connection. It’s very good.

Apple Removes Adware Doctor From Mac App Store for Covertly Sharing User Browser History

Nicole Nguyen, Buzzfeed:

[Security researcher Patrick Wardle], who shared his findings with TechCrunch, found that Adware Doctor requested access to users’ home directory and files — not unusual for an anti-malware or adware app that scans computers for malicious code — and used that access to collect Chrome, Safari, and Firefox browsing history, and recent App Store searches. The data is then zipped in a file called “history.zip” and sent to a server based in China via “adscan.yelabapp.com.” Two independent security researchers confirmed to Motherboard that Wardle’s report was accurate.

In his blog post, Wardle noted, “The fact that application has been surreptitiously exfiltrating users’ browsing history, possibly for years, is, to put it mildly, rather f#@&’d up!”

Security researcher Privacy 1st tweeted that they initially contacted Apple about the Adware Doctor issue on Aug. 12.

One of the theoretical advantages of the Mac App Store — or any app marketplace with a review process — is that spyware like this could be caught before it is published. Yet Adware Doctor has been in the Mac App Store for years and it could have been pilfering user data for any amount of that time. Apple was even notified about it last month, but it was not removed until today. Either Apple dropped the ball hard here, or there’s something missing to explain why it was apparently not a high priority investigation.

For Second Time in Three Years, Mobile Spyware Maker mSpy Leaks Millions of Sensitive Records

Brian Krebs:

mSpy, the makers of a software-as-a-service product that claims to help more than a million paying customers spy on the mobile devices of their kids and partners, has leaked millions of sensitive records online, including passwords, call logs, text messages, contacts, notes and location data secretly collected from phones running the stealthy spyware.

Less than a week ago, security researcher Nitish Shah directed KrebsOnSecurity to an open database on the Web that allowed anyone to query up-to-the-minute mSpy records for both customer transactions at mSpy’s site and for mobile phone data collected by mSpy’s software. The database required no authentication.

This kind of software is pretty gross to begin with. I’m not a parent, so I might be completely off-base here, but it seems to me that there’s an extraordinary amount of risk that is assumed in collecting everything your kid does relative to the actual benefits you might get out of doing so. Spying on your partner — or, potentially, employees — seems completely unethical.

Krebs:

Shah said when he tried to alert mSpy of his findings, the company’s support personnel ignored him.

“I was chatting with their live support, until they blocked me when I asked them to get me in contact with their CTO or head of security,” Shah said.

KrebsOnSecurity alerted mSpy about the exposed database on Aug. 30. This morning I received an email from mSpy’s chief security officer, who gave only his first name, “Andrew.”

This is a chickenshit response. Regardless of the ethical implications of mSpy’s spyware, a report of a security breach should be treated with more gravity than this. Why wouldn’t they prioritize this? Are they so afraid of making mistakes that they evade acknowledging, fixing, or apologizing for them?

In general, it is appalling to me the lengths that individuals and organizations alike will go to in order to cover up or hide from a mistake or a controversy. If you have any integrity whatsoever, you own your values and your actions. If they are seen as problematic, you try to understand why. If you want to stand by those actions, you should be able to produce evidence for your defence. But change can also be cathartic for everyone involved. There is no honour or benefit in trying to hide from actions that are being questioned.

Shooting and Editing Photos With Halide and Darkroom

The editors over at the Sweet Setup asked me to write a short piece on taking pictures with Halide and editing them in Darkroom. It’s the first thing I’ve written in which I specifically recommend not trespassing, so I think it’s worth reading for those curious about jumping beyond the built-in Camera and Photos apps for shooting and editing.

Google Purchased Bulk Transaction Data from Mastercard to Link Online Ads and Offline Purchases

Mark Bergen and Jennifer Surane, Bloomberg:

Alphabet Inc.’s Google and Mastercard Inc. brokered a business partnership during about four years of negotiations, according to four people with knowledge of the deal, three of whom worked on it directly. The alliance gave Google an unprecedented asset for measuring retail spending, part of the search giant’s strategy to fortify its primary business against onslaughts from Amazon.com Inc. and others.

[…]

Through this test program, Google can anonymously match these existing user profiles to purchases made in physical stores. The result is powerful: Google knows that people clicked on ads and can now tell advertisers that this activity led to actual store sales.

Google is testing the data service with a “small group” of advertisers in the U.S., according to a spokeswoman. With it, marketers see aggregate sales figures and estimates of how many they can attribute to Google ads — but they don’t see a shoppers’ personal information, how much they spend or what exactly they buy. The tests are only available for retailers, not the companies that make the items sold inside stores, the spokeswoman said. The service only applies to its search and shopping ads, she said.

This appears to be part of the data set that the Washington Post previously reported was being used to attribute purchases to ads.

Initially, Google devised its own solution, a mobile payments service first called Google Wallet. Part of the original goal was to tie clicks on ads to purchases in physical stores, according to someone who worked on the product. But adoption never took off, so Google began looking for allies. A spokeswoman said its payments service was never used for ads measurement.

Since 2014, Google has flagged for advertisers when someone who clicked an ad visits a physical store, using the Location History feature in Google Maps. Still, the advertiser didn’t know if the shopper made a purchase. So Google added more. A tool, introduced the following year, let advertisers upload email addresses of customers they’ve collected into Google’s ad-buying system, which then encrypted them. Additionally, Google layered on inputs from third-party data brokers, such as Experian Plc and Acxiom Corp., which draw in demographic and financial information for marketers.

This entire program — but particularly these two paragraphs — indicates so much about how all of these companies view the consumer landscape. The solution to not-quite-precise-enough numbers has been to collect more data, and the response to privacy concerns is to fuzz that data a little bit when it’s shared between companies. Based on the actions the surveillance capitalism industry has taken, they have not chosen the correct response of collecting less data.

It is worth noting that privacy was one of Apple’s goals for the design of Apple Pay. According to this Bloomberg report, the complete opposite was true of Google Wallet. As much as we view decisions by any companies as financially-motivated, we should remember to also think of Google’s moves — and those of credit card companies, data brokers, and so forth — as inherently creepy, invasive, and also likely not in the best interests of consumers.

The Outline Lays Off Support Staff and Remaining Staff Writers

Cale Guthrie Weissman, Fast Company:

The Outline, the Joshua Topolsky-founded culture website, laid off the last of its two remaining staff writers today. On Twitter, one staff writer, Paris Martineau, announced the shakeup. I’ve confirmed that the other full-time staff member, Ann-Derrick Gaillot, has also been let go. And other non-editorial employees seem to be impacted too. Editors appear to be the only full-time editorial staff the site has left.

John Bonazzo, the Observer:

The source also noted that The Outline plans to slash its freelance budget despite the dearth of staff writers. The site will likely move from its current Lower East Side office to an undisclosed WeWork location.

The Outline had ambitious goals, launching with 26 employees from companies like Vox, Vice and BuzzFeed. Most recently, it completed a $5 million funding round in May.

These are worrying signs — an online magazine without writers is hardly encouraging. I hope they can recover; the Outline is a particularly interesting publication, and Martineau was one of my favourite writers there.

Mozilla to Block Slow and Cross-Site Trackers in Firefox

Nick Nguyen of Mozilla:

Anyone who isn’t an expert on the internet would be hard-pressed to explain how tracking on the internet actually works. Some of the negative effects of unchecked tracking are easy to notice, namely eerily-specific targeted advertising and a loss of performance on the web. However, many of the harms of unchecked data collection are completely opaque to users and experts alike, only to be revealed piecemeal by major data breaches. In the near future, Firefox will — by default — protect users by blocking tracking while also offering a clear set of controls to give our users more choice over what information they share with sites.

This will be rolled out in two stages: Firefox 63 — two major releases away from the current build — will start blocking slow-loading trackers, while Firefox 65 will block cross-site tracking. The latter sounds a little bit like Safari’s Intelligent Tracking Prevention feature. However, instead of blocking scripts based on behaviour, Firefox will rely upon a list of trackers created by Disconnect Me.

Mozilla’s Asa Dotzler:

When pop-ups got out of control in the early ’00s Firefox took a stand and killed them all dead. Now Firefox is taking a stand against tracking on the web because it too has gotten out of control.

Firefox also spearheaded the renaissance of web standards over the past fifteen years or so, but I’m not sure whether it has the kind of sway it once did. Even so, the combination of Apple’s and Mozilla’s prioritization of user privacy is a formidable one.

Of course, Google still makes the world’s most popular browser. There’s simply no way they can join the club of companies that actually care about user privacy with their current business model.

9to5Mac Obtains Promotional Photos of Apple Watch Series 4, iPhone XS

You’ve probably seen the images of the new Apple Watch and iPhones published by 9to5Mac. Unlike most leaks, these aren’t parts or sketchy spy photos, nor are they firmware or operating system leaks — these are promotional images designed to be used on Apple’s website and in marketing materials. They’re also noteworthy for another reason: neither Zac Hall nor Guilherme Rambo disclosed their source for these images in any capacity.

The American Press Institute:

Transparency means show your work so readers can decide for themselves why they should believe it.

  • Don’t allow your audience to be deceived by acts of omission — tell them as much as you can about the story they are reading.

  • Tell the audience what you know and what you don’t know. Never imply that you have more knowledge than you actually do.

  • Tell the audience who your sources are, how they are in a position to know something, and what their potential biases might be.

In other words, reporters are obligated to tell readers what they know, and also how they know it. It is only in very rare cases that this guideline will be broken. I don’t see anyone doubting the veracity of these images, and I certainly am not, so their validity is entirely driven by the credibility of the reporters.

Rambo is uniquely gifted at picking through Apple’s software releases for information about forthcoming products, but these images didn’t come from software. These are graphics that you can expect on Apple’s marketing webpages for these products, and I don’t think it’s a coincidence they were leaked on the same day as the company announced the event where they will, presumably, officially unveil these products. This is entirely speculative; I don’t have any more specific information directly about these graphics. It’s just an especially curious situation because Apple’s marketing team pretty much never leaks.1 Final product names are only known by a relatively small group of people until they’re said on stage, and they, too, almost never leak. The team at 9to5Mac is reasonably confident that “iPhone Xs” is the name of the next iPhone.2 My guess is that these images were loaded onto an obscure-but-unprotected CDN and someone told 9to5Mac or Rambo, directly, where to look — perhaps not even an Apple employee, but someone very well-placed.

I’m not trying to out a source here. I’m curious about the way such a surprisingly thorough leak could occur. I’m also trying to understand why other forthcoming products, like the rumoured 6.1-inch LCD-based iPhone and the new all-screen iPad Pro, were not leaked at the same time.

Recall that 9to5Mac first made waves by leaking a marketing image of the third-generation iPod Nano in 2007.

Update: I was wrong. Rambo just guessed the URLs.


  1. A noteworthy exception to this was when Power Mac G5 specs were published on Apple’s website a couple of weeks prior to its announcement. ↩︎

  2. Per my house style, I won’t be lowercasing the s↩︎

NetNewsWire Transferred Home to Brent Simmons From Black Pixel

Brent Simmons:

You probably know that I’ve been working on a free and open source reader named Evergreen. Evergreen 1.0 will be renamed NetNewsWire 5.0 — in other words, I’ve been working on NetNewsWire 5.0 all this time without knowing it!

It will remain free and open source, and it will remain my side project. (By day I’m a Marketing Human at The Omni Group, and I love my job.)

Black Pixel will stop selling their versions of the app, and will turn off the syncing system and end customer support — all of which is detailed in their announcement. (Important note: I will not get any customer data from them, nor will I be doing support for Black Pixel’s NetNewsWire.).

I’ve been using Evergreen for about a year now and it feels similar to how NetNewsWire felt when I first started using it in 2007. It’s vibrant, exciting, and makes RSS feel appropriately simple. This announcement feels completely right to me.

An Excerpt From a CNBC Interview with Nilay Patel and Jason Koebler

There’s some good discussion in this video, but this part from Nilay Patel is wonderful:

I think one of the major things we need to shift our thinking about is [that] regulating individual pieces of speech is very difficult. Regulating behaviour is probably a better approach, where you can say “well, these people are consistently behaving in a way that goes against our values, and we don’t have to, like, write A.I. that finds words. We can actually look holistically at behaviour.” None of the platforms seem to be ready to do that. They are not willing to articulate strong values that they stand for — Twitter, in particular, seems to be very hands-off. Mark Zuckerberg is talking about a Facebook court.

Those are all very legalistic interpretations. I think they’re not going to work unless these companies have strong values that they believe in, and the government decides it wants to pursue a non-discriminatory approach. […]

The most awful corners of Twitter have gotten very good at evading automatic detection of targeted harassment and discriminatory language, even though it’s clear that their behaviour, as a whole, is harassing and discriminatory. When you report a user to Twitter for this kind of behaviour, they ask that you add up to five relevant tweets even when their entire account is a problem. Twitter’s rules prohibit targeted abuse, but you can still find plenty of users who reference who reference the “fourteen words” and “blood and soil” in their bios, or any of the other coded language used in the context of white supremacy and white nationalism.

Banning Nazism is, for me, the baseline of good platform moderation — if a company can’t or won’t prioritize removing Nazis from their platform, who will they remove?

Firmware Update Available for AirPort Express With AirPlay 2 Support

Juli Clover, MacRumors:

Apple in April announced that its entire AirPort wireless router lineup, AirPort Express included, had been discontinued. Apple sold the AirPort Express until available stock ran out, but it is no longer available for purchase at this time.

Because the AirPort Express was discontinued, it wasn’t clear if it would indeed gain AirPlay 2 support because Apple’s AirPort unit was disbanded, but Apple did indeed opt to introduce support for customers who are still using the AirPort Express units.

According to John Voorhees over at MacStories, this only works for the second-generation AirPort Express that looks like a white Apple TV, and it needs to be added manually to the Home app — that is, you can’t just scan it to add it. But, all told, it apparently works quite well. Kudos to Apple for continuing to support a discontinued product, though it raises the question — for me, at least — as to why they decided to no longer build a great and inexpensive combination of an AirPlay 2 receiver and a WiFi signal repeater.

Panic and House House Announce 2019 Launch of Untitled Goose Game

From the Steam page:

Untitled Goose Game is a slapstick-stealth-sandbox, where you are a goose let loose on an unsuspecting village. Make your way around town, from peoples’ back gardens to the high street shops to the village green, setting up pranks, stealing hats, honking a lot, and generally ruining everyone’s day.

This speaks to me in a way no other video game ever has.

Americans’ Views on News Content From Internet Companies

Holly Wolf of Gallup:

This representative survey of U.S. adults found that most Americans are concerned with the prospect of internet companies tailoring news to users based on their interests and behavior. Seventy-three percent of U.S. adults prefer that companies show all people the same set of news topics, rather than tailor topics based on their interests, past browsing details or search history. Further, 80% think the choice of news organizations’ stories they show people should be similar, rather than varying news organization stories based on a person’s past internet activity.

These findings are bizarre because, in most cases, users self-select what information they see by following specific news organizations or aggregators. Furthermore, the idea that internet companies can provide neutral news information without editorializing it is preposterous — neutrality is, itself, an editorial decision.

Even though Americans express concerns about major internet companies playing a news editorial function, they tend not to believe those companies are endorsing a story’s message or its accuracy when it appears on their website or app. Forty-three percent of U.S. adults equate an internet companies’ displaying content on its platforms as an endorsement of it, while 55% do not. A minority of Democrats (27%) compared to a majority of Republicans (62%) believe that internet companies are endorsing the news stories that they display.

The question, as asked in the survey (PDF), was: “When a major internet company like Google, Facebook or Yahoo displays a particular news item on your news feed, do you believe that they are endorsing that news item — that is, telling you they believe it is accurate and that they agree with its message?”

It is remarkable that even 43% of respondents answered “yes” to that.

Cryptocurrency Mining Now Accounts for Approximately One Percent of the World’s Energy Consumption

Drew Millard, the Outline:

It is well-established established that Bitcoin mining — aka, donating one’s computing power to keep a cryptocurrency network up and running in exchange for a chance to win some free crypto — uses a lot of electricity. Companies involved in large-scale mining operations know that this is a problem, and they’ve tried to employ various solutions for making the process more energy efficient.

But, according to testimony provided by Princeton computer scientist Arvind Narayanan to the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, no matter what you do to make cryptocurrency mining hardware greener, it’s a drop in the bucket compared to the overall network’s flabbergasting energy consumption. Instead, Narayanan told the committee, the only thing that really determines how much energy Bitcoin uses is its price. “If the price of a cryptocurrency goes up, more energy will be used in mining it; if it goes down, less energy will be used,” he told the committee. “Little else matters. In particular, the increasing energy efficiency of mining hardware has essentially no impact on energy consumption.”

The creation of every single conventional currency does not consume one percent of the world’s power production today. According to the power generation stats provided by the International Energy Agency and figures on the environmental impact of gold mining from Coinbase — which, by the way, includes the worst example of a “life cycle” diagram I’ve seen in a long time — it’s possible that gold mining is a more energy-efficient industry than cryptocurrency creation.

Theophite on Twitter:

Imagine if keeping your car idling 24/7 produced solved Sudokus you could trade for heroin.

What a terrific analogy.

Moderating the Planet

Jason Koebler and Jordan Cox of Vice penned a blockbuster investigation into Facebook’s content moderation practices that’s worth your time. They interviewed “dozens” of sources, including several on-the-record conversations with Facebook employees in charge of their moderation efforts:

The thing that makes Facebook’s problem so difficult is its gargantuan size. It doesn’t just have to decide “where the line is” for content, it has to clearly communicate the line to moderators around the world, and defend that line to its two billion users. And without those users creating content to keep Facebook interesting, it would die.

Size is the one thing Facebook isn’t willing to give up. And so Facebook’s content moderation team has been given a Sisyphean task: Fix the mess Facebook’s worldview and business model has created, without changing the worldview or business model itself.

“Making their stock-and-trade in soliciting unvetted, god-knows-what content from literally anyone on earth, with whatever agendas, ideological bents, political goals and trying to make that sustainable—it’s actually almost ridiculous when you think about it that way,” Roberts, the UCLA professor, told Motherboard. “What they’re trying to do is to resolve human nature fundamentally.”

In that sense, Facebook’s content moderation policies are and have always been guided by a sense of pragmatism. Reviewing and classifying the speech of billions of people is seen internally as a logistics problem that is only viable if streamlined and standardized across the globe.

Maya Kosoff, Vanity Fair:

The problem, of course, is Facebook’s tireless drive to expand. Until recently, for example, the company reportedly had few moderators who spoke Burmese, allowing the platform in Myanmar to be infiltrated by anti-Muslim hate speech. (Facebook’s hate-speech detecting A.I., it said, hadn’t yet learned Burmese.) But instead of treating the issue as the result of a choice to expand into a country where it knew it couldn’t adequately evaluate and police what was posted, Facebook viewed the issue as a failure of technology. “We still don’t know if it’s really going to work out, due to the language challenges,” Guy Rosen, V.P. of product management at Facebook, told Motherboard. “Burmese wasn’t in Unicode for a long time, and so they developed their own local font, as they opened up, that is not compatible with Unicode.” In the meantime, United Nations human-rights experts have cited Facebook’s struggle to remove hate speech as playing a role in a possible genocide in the country.

Facebook may be a publicly-traded company that is trying to do right by its shareholders — and the best thing for them, it perceives, is conquering the world. But this is an abhorrent dereliction of ethical responsibility. Kosoff is entirely correct: it is a choice for them to expand to places they don’t fully comprehend. It is arrogant, and demonstrates a lack of sensitivity in attempting to merge American values with those in every region they operate. I don’t think that’s possible.

Google Is Highlighting the Wrong Voter Registration Deadline for Several States

On Twitter, Kate Rabinowitz noted that Google displays the wrong date in its Featured Snippets box when searching for Texas voter registration deadline. I tried with all other states, and a similar issue is also present when searching for the deadline in Alabama, Delaware, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Washington.

Oh, yeah, and Featured Snippets still says that Shiva Ayyadurai was the inventor of email.

Facebook Removes Onavo VPN From App Store After Apple Says It Violates Data Collection Policies

Juli Clover, MacRumors:

Facebook today removed VPN app Onavo Protect from the iOS App Store after Apple decided that it violates App Store data collection policies, reports The Wall Street Journal.

Apple earlier this month told Facebook officials that the Onavo app, which serves as a virtual private network, violates June App Store rules that prevent apps from harvesting data to build advertising profiles or contact databases.

Recall that Facebook uses Onavo — which is still available on the Google Play store for Android — to find trending apps to either acquire or copy by spying on usage. Ultimately, Apple shouldn’t have to police this; regulators should have a better handle on unscrupulous developers burying the true purpose of their apps in turgid legal policies.

The History of Aperture

Stephen Hackett wrote a great retrospective for MacStories of Aperture, one of my all-time favourite applications:

In short, Aperture was designed to let photographers import a mountain of large RAW files, sort them, perform light editing, and then export them to Finder, the web, or prints. If a user needed to carry out additional editing, Aperture included the ability to round-trip an image to Photoshop and back with just a click. If that all sounds like pro-level stuff, it was, and Aperture’s $499 price point reflected that fact.

I didn’t use Aperture until I got my mid-2007 MacBook Pro, but I remember it working pretty well for my circumstances. I knew there were plenty of satisfied Lightroom users, but its workflow just didn’t match how I edit pictures. Even today, I am a reluctant Lightroom user; I can’t tell you how much I wish Aperture were still around, with support for iCloud Photo Library. For all its faults and bugs, I always got a kick out of editing my photos in Aperture. In Lightroom, it feels like a chore.

Thousands of Stores Will Soon Use Facial Recognition Without Consent

Anis Heydari, CBC News:

Cadillac Fairview says they’ve been using facial recognition software in their mall directories since June to track shoppers’ ages and genders without telling them.

The company now says they are suspending use of the cameras inside mall maps, including at Chinook Centre and Market Mall in Calgary.

The move comes after both the Alberta and federal privacy commissioners announced they were launching investigations into the use of facial recognition technology without the public’s consent.

When news of this first spread late last month, I asked Cadillac Fairview, Mappedin — which created the software that was being used at these malls — and the Privacy Commissioner of Alberta for comment. Mappedin denied to comment and told me to ask Cadillac Fairview; a Cadillac Fairview spokesperson told me that, because no photos or videos of shoppers were stored, they did not need to ask permission. The Privacy Commissioner’s office declined to comment even generally about whether this interpretation of the law was correct.

The Cadillac Fairview spokesperson also did not comment on whether the age and gender estimates they were creating through this facial recognition system were being associated with other data, like search queries on the mall directory or device tracking.

Leticia Miranda, Buzzfeed:

Retailers are turning to facial recognition software to identify potential thieves by comparing scanned images of shoppers’ faces against a database of known shoplifters. But as more retail stores consider using the technology, privacy advocates and industry stakeholders are debating how the technology should be regulated and how shoppers should be informed about when their faces are scanned.

[…]

Shoppers don’t have a say about whether or not the software scans them. That’s because companies are not legally required to get consent from shoppers to collect so-called biometric data like face images, except in Illinois where it has been illegal to collect biometric data without written consent since 2008.

It’s shocking to me that, in the U.S. and Canada at least, there is little oversight for the collection of this kind of data. Pretty much every retailer and mall has security cameras and there are notices at entrances that notify visitors. But there is a big difference between using those cameras to monitor for shoplifters and continually processing video feeds for behavioural analytics purposes.

Prevalence of Third-Party Cookies Reduced Across European News Websites

Shan Wang, Nieman Lab:

A prequel report from RISJ, released a few weeks before the General Data Protection Regulation came into effect May 25, found that some news sites researchers looked at were worse than popular non-news websites when it came to third-party content. These news sites averaged 40 different third-party domains per page and 81 third-party cookies per page, compared to an average of 10 and 12, respectively, for other popular non-news websites. (Researchers collected the data in the first three months of this year.)

This time around, researchers found declines in cookie prevalence on the 200-plus news sites they tracked, across several categories, from cookies related to advertising and marketing to ones related to design optimization (they looked at the difference between the sites in April and then the sites in July). On average, total cookies related to design optimization dropped 27 percent; cookies relating to advertising and marketing dropped 14 percent.

I’m not surprised by these findings. With GDPR warnings in place, collectors of lots of data can do one of two things: ask visitors for permission, or reconsider just how much data they need to collect. Conversely, without GDPR, it’s unlikely that data collectors would do either.

The Landowner and the Apartments

Over ten years ago, there was this big piece of land that was carefully landscaped and prepared by the landowners for lots of people to use. We could take up any spot on that land that we would like. Forward-thinking as they were, the landowner built in various hookups for utilities and amenities. It was nice.

Very quickly, some enterprising people began building apartments on the land. These apartments often offered new amenities that made use of the existing infrastructure established by the landowner; sometimes, new infrastructure was built to better provide amenities that the landowner had not considered. Eventually, we had a great deal of choice of apartments. There were a couple of boutique buildings that people could live in, a few bigger ones that were a little nicer, or — for those who had the ability — enterprising residents were welcome to build our own block and lease it to anyone who wanted to stay in it.

Then, the landowner decided to buy one of the nicest apartment buildings on the site. And, slowly, residents of that apartment started to notice little changes being made. It began to receive new amenities, some of which were unavailable to anyone else on the land. Many people found that to be irritating but, as they were the owners, understandable.

More changes were made to the very nice apartment building. Over time, it stopped feeling like the original apartment, and the owners decided to tear it down and build a new one. It looked pretty nice, but suffered from some shoddy materials and craft. They put billboards on the side of it, and began pestering everyone to meet their neighbours and their friends’ neighbours. They started giving different amenities to different people, like some sort of science experiment to see which residents would crack first. Even so, most people wanted to live in that apartment because it had all of the amenities, and it had the landowner’s name on it, so it felt more official.

But there were still lots of other apartments for people to live in if you didn’t like some of the strange experiments happening in the big, popular apartment, and could live without a few nice amenities. The landowner mostly left these places alone because residents were still contributing to the community, and all of those apartments were disproportionately contributing to the value of the land.

One day, though, the owners decided to set a limit on the number of people who could live in each apartment building. They also very quietly began telling the management of each building that they didn’t want apartments on their land any more, but didn’t tell management when they would be making the final call on that. They also acknowledged just how important these apartments are to the overall community, and pledged to keep the plumbing and electricity hooked up indefinitely. Those mixed signals made management concerned but, as no decision was made, each apartment kept being maintained and renovated.

And then, out of the blue, the landowner made the call. They decided to charge apartment companies lots of money per resident to stay on the land, and they said that they would be turning off some of the utilities at a later date. Some of the renters saw the writing on the wall and decided to move into the big apartment run by the landowner, and they were happy. Others tried moving in only to find it gaudy and horrible, and moved right back into their old place. Management at these apartment pleaded with the landowner to help them figure this out for their tenants, but the landowners didn’t budge.

The day came for the landowner to turn off some of the less essential utilities to all of the smaller apartments. Some people stuck around – even with limited amenities, they still preferred living in those apartments to the popular-but-tacky one. A few people decided to find some new land, because the landowner was clearly only interested in putting all of their resources behind the apartment they also owned. There was little disagreement on their right to do so — it’s their land, of course. But by pretending that the land’s value was due to the big apartment rather than the overall community, the landowner made many residents question whether they knew what they were doing with their land. That feeling was deepened when the landowner also let a bunch of actual, literal Nazis stay on their land and call up any of the residents whenever they felt like it. That seemed like a bad idea.

Today, the landowner is spending much of their time attempting to convince the community to move out of their independently-managed apartments and into the big one. As they also keep saying that they want to help with the upkeep of the indie apartments, it’s very difficult to know what residents ought to do if they would like to remain in the community. And, given the poor communication from the landowner, it’s unclear what their next steps are and how it will affect the community in the months and years to come.

Much appreciation and credit to Joshua Arnao and Josh Calvetti for the inspiration.

Twitter Deprecates Parts of Their API, Forcing Third-Party Clients to Remove Key Features

John Voorhees, MacStories:

Whichever app you use, the biggest changes are to timeline streaming and push notifications. Twitterrific used to allow you to live-stream your timeline over WiFi, which is no longer possible. Instead, your timeline will refresh every two minutes or so over WiFi or a mobile data connection when the app is running. Tweetbot doesn’t support streaming anymore either, but it too will periodically refresh your timeline when the app is open.

Notifications are more limited as well. Tweetbot and Twitterrific used to allow users to turn on notifications for mentions, direct messages, retweets, quote tweets, likes, and follows, but don’t anymore.

[…]

How these changes shake out for third-party clients remains to be seen. I’ve used the beta update for Tweetbot over the past week, and the elimination of its Stats and Activity section has left me feeling like there is something missing from the app. I still prefer it to the official app, but the removal of that section is a meaningful loss. A similar hole will be left in Twitterrific when the Today section no longer works. Both apps have also lost their Apple Watch apps and live-streaming. If those are critical features to your use of Twitter, you may want to give the official client another try.

I’ve been using Twitter pretty much constantly for about eleven years,1 and I don’t think I’ve ever spent any time regularly using their first-party client on my phone. At a previous job, I used their Mac client, but that’s the extent of my first-party experience for my entire time using the platform. I started with Twitterrific on the desktop and phone, used a bunch of other third-party apps while there was a sincere market for them, and then settled on Tweetbot several years back.

I wanted to be fair, so I gave the official client another shot this week. It still isn’t my jam. It isn’t the ads that are a problem — they’re distracting, of course, but they’re a known kind of distraction. It’s something about the app that makes Twitter, as a concept, feel heavy and burdensome. It’s not solely the prompts to follow other accounts, or the strange reversal of the reverse-chronological timeline when a self-replying thread appears, or the real-time updates to retweet and like numbers — it’s a combination of all of those things, and many more. When I use the first-party client, I feel like I’m being played around with for business reasons.

Tweetbot makes Twitter feel light and friendly to me. I’m still using it for this reason; you may feel differently, and using the first-party client may be totally fine with you, which is great. But, for a long-time user, it’s a hard adjustment to make; and, it’s one that I worry I’ll have to make sooner rather than later, because I don’t see Twitter continuing to support third-party clients for much longer.


  1. This is probably not good for my health. ↩︎

FCC Under Ajit Pai Resists Proposal to Raise American Broadband Standard

Karl Bode, Vice:

For example, in early 2015 the FCC voted to upgrade the standard definition of broadband from a paltry 4 Mbps down, 1 Mbps up — to a more respectable 25 Mbps down, 3 Mbps up.

At the time, giant ISP executives, lobbyists, and numerous, ISP-loyal Senators whined incessantly about the changes. Commissioner Ajit Pai (who hadn’t yet been promoted to agency head) was quick to vote against the effort, joining alongside cable lobbying organizations who lamented the changes as “unrealistic and arbitrary.”

[…]

And once again, Ajit Pai is hoping to keep the broadband definition bar set at ankle height.

In a Notice of Inquiry published last week, Pai’s FCC proposed keeping the current 25/3 definition intact, something that riled his fellow Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel.

An FCC report in February based on data collected until the end of 2016 found that barely over half of American census blocks had two or more options for 25/3 broadband in their area, and 15% have a choice of 100/10 providers. Those numbers are almost certainly better now, but it’s past time that the definition of “broadband” ought to be much higher.

The Competition Bureau of Canada is in the process of conducting a broadband availability study, too. In 2016, the CRTC ruled that a 50/10 broadband connection was a basic service; the CRTC’s own glossary, however, still defines broadband as a connection supporting a miserable 1 Mbps download speed.

Lifting All USB-C Boats

Chris Hannah (via Matt Birchler):

What would happen if Apple added a USB C port to the iPad?

It would, of course, have to be alongside the Lightning port in my opinion. But that would open up a whole new bunch of possibilities:

[…]

It would boost the USB C world just slightly more. Or at least move in the direction of having a single port that’s available on all Apple devices. For example, you’d get one external drive, and maybe an external display, but you’d be able to connect your Mac or iPad. It sounds super simple, but that’s what it should be.

I don’t see a circumstance with Lightning and USB-C ports on the same device; Apple has always favourited reducing the number and type of ports, and their functionality would be largely duplicative. I also doubt the handful of rumours that have been floating around claiming that next year’s iPhones will replace the Lightning port with a USB-C port.

However, this is the best argument I’ve heard yet for why Apple could be interested in switching. The USB-C market so far has been lacklustre, not to mention confusing. Remember how fast airport convenience stores and knick-knack shops started selling products with the Lightning connector? Apple is selling about 50% more iPhones than they did when the iPhone 5 was released, so that’s huge incentive for peripheral makers.

I’m still not convinced that this is what will happen. I believe there are technical reasons why the current crop of iPhones couldn’t fit a USB-C port, too. This is just the best argument I’ve heard yet for why it might be beneficial.1


  1. I think it’s more likely that an updated Lightning port could be adopted as a USB standard. ↩︎

Turning Off Location History in Google Maps Does Not Prevent Google From Keeping a History of Your Location

Ryan Nakashima, AP:

For the most part, Google is upfront about asking permission to use your location information. An app like Google Maps will remind you to allow access to location if you use it for navigating. If you agree to let it record your location over time, Google Maps will display that history for you in a “timeline” that maps out your daily movements.

Storing your minute-by-minute travels carries privacy risks and has been used by police to determine the location of suspects — such as a warrant that police in Raleigh, North Carolina, served on Google last year to find devices near a murder scene. So the company will let you “pause” a setting called Location History.

This may be a minor quibble, but this is some pretty strange framing for an otherwise well-reported story. The privacy risks of giving your real-time location to a targeted advertising company are glossed over; the implication is that the reason you may wish to disable this feature is because you might be doing criminal activity.

Moving on:

Google says that will prevent the company from remembering where you’ve been. Google’s support page on the subject states: “You can turn off Location History at any time. With Location History off, the places you go are no longer stored.”

That isn’t true. Even with Location History paused, some Google apps automatically store time-stamped location data without asking. (It’s possible, although laborious, to delete it .)

[…]

To stop Google from saving these location markers, the company says, users can turn off another setting, one that does not specifically reference location information. Called “Web and App Activity” and enabled by default, that setting stores a variety of information from Google apps and websites to your Google account.

These settings appear to only be available in Google’s My Account section; I couldn’t find the same settings in the Google Maps app on my iPhone. I did, however, find a setting, under “About, Terms & Privacy”, called “Location Data Collection”, which was switched on; I disabled it.

My account’s settings were the inverse of what I expected, too: “Web and App Activity” was turned off, but “Location History” was switched on; I turned it off, too.

The Creepy Ten-Year History of Facebook’s ‘People You May Know’ Feature

Kashmir Hill, Gizmodo:

Facebook didn’t come up with the idea for PYMK out of thin air. LinkedIn had launched People You May Know in 2006, originally displaying its suggested connections as ads that got the highest click-through rate the professional networking site had ever seen. Facebook didn’t bother to come up with a different name for it.

“People You May Know looks at, among other things, your current friend list and their friends, your education info and your work info,” Facebook explained when it launched the feature.

That wasn’t all. Within a year, AdWeek was reporting that people were “spooked” by the appearance of “people they emailed years ago” showing up as “People They May Know.” When these users had first signed up for Facebook, they were prompted to connect with people already on the site through a “Find People You Email” function; it turned out Facebook had kept all the email addresses from their inboxes. That was disturbing because Facebook hadn’t disclosed that it would store and reuse those contacts. (According to the Canadian Privacy Commissioner, Facebook only started providing that disclosure after the Commission investigated it in 2012.)

Because about one in three people on Earth use a Facebook product, it’s almost a certainty that your contact details have been uploaded by one or more of your contacts, and that the company has the capability to map out at least part of your real-life social network — even if you are not a Facebook member and have never consented to this. There appear to be few laws against this practice despite its obviously devastating privacy impact.

A Generation Grows Up in China Without American Internet Giants

Li Yuan, New York Times:

A generation of Chinese is coming of age with an internet that is distinctively different from the rest of the web. Over the past decade, China has blocked Google, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, as well as thousands of other foreign websites, including The New York Times and Chinese Wikipedia. A plethora of Chinese websites emerged to serve the same functions — though they came with a heavy dose of censorship.

Now the implications of growing up with this different internet system are starting to play out. Many young people in China have little idea what Google, Twitter or Facebook are, creating a gulf with the rest of the world. And, accustomed to the homegrown apps and online services, many appear uninterested in knowing what has been censored online, allowing Beijing to build an alternative value system that competes with Western liberal democracy.

It’s easy to see why China is able to do this where no other country can: the population there is big enough to support a gigantic isolated ecosystem. For context, all of the regions that major American tech companies tend to optimize for — the United States, the European Union, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand — have a combined population that is about the same as China’s alone.

I see no problem with American tech companies finding it difficult to conquer other countries — there should be healthy skepticism about the risk of having much of the world’s information on platforms operated largely by people on the west coast of the United States. China is a very special case, though, as it is one of the world’s most oppressive administrations, and Yuan’s reporting indicates that a new generation of people has grown up not being fully aware of the degree to which all the information they see is being censored and controlled by an authoritarian regime.

Some Wireless Audio Equipment Rendered Obsolete By Reallocated RF Spectrum — Again

I know the headline of this link sounds esoteric and boring, but this is actually a fascinating story from David Zweig in Wired:

Random Farms, and tens of thousands of other theater companies, schools, churches, broadcasters, and myriad other interests across the country, need to buy new wireless microphones. The majority of professional wireless audio gear in America is about to become obsolete, and illegal to operate. The story of how we got to this strange point involves politics, business, science, and, of course, money.

[…]

The upheaval around wireless mics can be traced to the National Broadband Plan of 2010, where, on the direction of Congress, the FCC declared broadband “a foundation for economic growth, job creation, global competitiveness and a better way of life.” Two years later, in a bill best known for cutting payroll taxes, Congress authorized the FCC to auction off additional spectrum for broadband communications. In 2014, the FCC determined it would use the 600 MHz band — where most wireless microphones operate — to accomplish that goal.

According to Zweig, this is the second time in ten years that part of the RF spectrum used for wireless audio equipment has been reallocated; so, for many users, this is the second time in recent memory they’re having to spend thousands of dollars on new gear. And there appears to be no indication that the FCC will cordon off a specific spectrum for these kinds of devices to operate on, which is foolish.

Apple Responds to Congressional Questions About User Privacy

Marrian Zhou, CNet:

Apple’s iOS system encrypts location information and doesn’t associate that information with any name or Apple ID. The iOS operating system also permanently deletes data from an iPhone if the phone doesn’t connect to Wi-Fi or power for seven days.

iPhones without SIM cards will send a limited amount of information about cellular towers and Wi-Fi hotspots to Apple if the user has enabled location services. The information will be encrypted and isn’t used for targeting advertising. If location services are turned off, the iPhone won’t send any data to Apple.

And from Apple’s response itself:

Consistent with Apple’s view that privacy is a fundamental human right, we impose significant privacy-related restrictions on apps that are made available through the App Store. The App Store is a marketplace for third party apps and, when a customer chooses to download an app to an Apple device, the customer and app developer enter into a direct contractual relationship with one another governed by the terms of the developer’s end user license agreement and privacy policy. Apple is not a party to these relationships; rather developers are fully responsible for the content and services they provide in their apps. Notwithstanding the developer’s responsibilities and direct relationship with customers, Apple requires developers to adhere to privacy principle, including consumer choice, and has implemented technical- and policy-level controls to help ensure those principles are respected.

However, as Sarah Frier points out at Bloomberg, Apple has no control over data use after a user has agreed to share their data with a third-party developer:

Apple has built in two direct consumer controls: one, when you agree to share your contact information with the developer; and the other, when you toggle the switch in your settings to deny that permission. But neither is as simple as it seems. The first gives developers access to everything you’ve stored about everyone you know, more than just their phone numbers, and without their permission. The second is deceptive. Turning off sharing only blocks the developer from continued access — it doesn’t delete data already collected.

Notwithstanding that users can, of course, also deny permission when first prompted, there is no mechanism for them to pull their data completely using a simple toggle switch or similar. It’s more likely that they will need to ask the company specifically to remove their historical data, and they will only have legal standing to demand it in Europe — thanks to GDPR — and other companies with strong privacy protections.

Apple probably can’t — and, arguably, should not — police user data in the hands of third-party developers when permission has been granted for its use. They would end up having to regulate any number of companies that are notoriously bad stewards of user data, like Facebook and Google. Users shouldn’t be required to read the excessive and overly-permissive contracts in every app. That’s something governments ought to regulate instead, and we should be expecting them to do a better job.

First Amendment Experts Warn Facebook Banning InfoWars Could Set Completely Reasonable Precedent For Free Speech

The Onion:

Acknowledging the widespread repercussions from the act of corporate censorship, first amendment experts warned Monday that Facebook’s decision to ban InfoWars could set a completely reasonable precedent for free speech. “If we allow giant media platforms to single out individual users for harassing the families of murdered kindergarteners, it could lead to a nightmare scenario of measured and well-thought-out public discourse,” said Georgetown law professor Charles F. Abernathy, cautioning that it was sometimes very easy for private organizations to draw a line between constitutionally protected free speech and the slanderous ravings of a bloated lunatic hawking snake oil supplements. […]

There’s no reason any platform should feel compelled to carry this unique brand of paranoia-based propaganda.

Update: Steve Kovach, CNBC:

Apple was the first major tech company to make a move against Alex Jones of Infowars on Sunday night by removing his podcast from iTunes.

But the Infowars iPhone app, which hosts some of the same content and themes found on the podcast, still lives on in the company’s App Store. In fact, the app had skyrocketed from below the top 10 to become the fourth most popular app in the news category — beating out the CNN and Fox News apps — by Tuesday morning. The boost was likely caused by increased downloads given the news Monday that Infowars was banned from several tech platforms.

It’s genuinely remarkable and alarming that such a garbage source is the fourth most popular free news app on the App Store right now, even in Canada.

But why is it still there? Apple clearly doesn’t want to index Jones’ hours of supplement sales radio interspersed with paranoia-driven intimidation and outrageous commentary, so why would it host an app that provides the same? The same is true of Google — the app is still available in the Google Play store, despite Jones being banned from YouTube.

Google Maps’ Influence on Neighbourhood Names

Jack Nicas, New York Times:

For decades, the district south of downtown and alongside San Francisco Bay here was known as either Rincon Hill, South Beach or South of Market. This spring, it was suddenly rebranded on Google Maps to a name few had heard: the East Cut.

[…]

The swift rebranding of the roughly 170-year-old district is just one example of how Google Maps has now become the primary arbiter of place names. With decisions made by a few Google cartographers, the identity of a city, town or neighborhood can be reshaped, illustrating the outsize influence that Silicon Valley increasingly has in the real world.

[…]

The service has also disseminated place names that are just plain puzzling. In New York, Vinegar Hill Heights, Midtown South Central (now NoMad), BoCoCa (for the area between Boerum Hill, Cobble Hill and Carroll Gardens), and Rambo (Right Around the Manhattan Bridge Overpass) have appeared on and off in Google Maps.

I wanted to know if this was widespread, so I opened Google Maps and found one straight away: apparently, Calgary has a community called Grandview which, so far as I can tell, doesn’t actually exist — the area Google Maps designates as Grandview is entirely in Ramsay. Even the area I grew up in, West Hillhurst, is called Upper Hillhurst in Google Maps, which is just north of Westmount, another neighbourhood that doesn’t exist. It’s easy to verify all of this because the municipal government publishes a list (PDF) of every neighbourhood in the city, and none of these areas are on it.

A Low-Power Mode for the Mac

Marco Arment:

Laptop battery life is decreasingly relevant to me as more airplanes offer power outlets. But sometimes you lose that lottery, as I did on my latest 8-hour daytime flight.

Apple’s “Up to 10 hours” claim doesn’t apply to my work, which is usually a mix of Xcode, web browsing, and social time-wasting, so I knew I’d have to seriously conserve power.

Sometimes, you just need Low Power Mode: the switch added to iOS a few years ago to conserve battery life when you need it, at the expense of full performance and background tasks.

I’ve long wanted something like this in MacOS, and not just for battery life. All too often, I find myself in a hotel or at a public WiFi hotspot and MacOS will still try to upload photos or download a software update. Many Canadian ISPs also have monthly bandwidth caps, and it would be rude to gobble up their monthly allowance with my giant RAW files. You can disable all of these things individually, but it’s a pain; I’d rather have a single toggle to temporarily reduce my computer’s resource use.

Update: Tully Hansen reminded me about TripMode, a third-party app that allows you to restrict bandwidth on a per-app basis.

Sarah Jeong Joins the New York Times, Finds Herself the Subject of Coordinated Harassment

The New York Times Company:

What would it be like if we all deleted Facebook? What does the future of online privacy look like?Why can’t the tech industry diversify? Are monkeys allowed to sue over copyrights? And what in the world is #cockygate?

To answer questions like these, the editorial board will soon be turning to Sarah Jeong, who will join us in September as our lead writer on technology. Sarah will also collaborate with Susan Fowler Rigetti, our incoming tech op-ed editor, and Kara Swisher, our latest contributor on tech issues.

Jeong is one of my favourite writers; this is terrific news. Unfortunately, some goblins dug up old — and mostly funny — tweets that she posted, and deliberately took them out of context to imply that she’s racist. There are understandable contextual differences between her tweets and, for example, Rosanne Barr’s.

The Verge, Jeong’s current employer, published an editor’s note admonishing this reprehensible abuse campaign:

Online trolls and harassers want us, the Times, and other newsrooms to waste their time by debating their malicious agenda. They take tweets and other statements out of context because they want to disrupt us and harm individual reporters. The strategy is to divide and conquer by forcing newsrooms to disavow their colleagues one at a time. This is not a good-faith conversation, it’s intimidation.

So we’re not going to fall for these disingenuous tactics. And it’s time other newsrooms learn to spot these hateful campaigns for what they are: attempts to discredit and undo the vital work of journalists who report on the most toxic communities on the internet. We are encouraged that our colleagues at The New York Times are standing by Sarah in the face of feigned outrage.

This is a good statement, but I agree more with Libby Watson of Splinter:

The New York Times really fucked this one up. Instead of ignoring this ridiculous complaint and letting it die — which it would have, because who the fuck cares what The Gateway Pundit is doing — they have validated it. (At least they didn’t fire her, you might say, but even responding to this garbage sets a terrible precedent and legitimizes a completely illegitimate, bad faith campaign to discredit Jeong and the Times itself.)

Now, according to the Times, it is fair to say that being rude about white people serves “to feed the vitriol that we too often see on social media,” and that her tweets represent a “type of rhetoric” at all and not just… jokes, nothingnesses, completely mundane and honestly quite boring observations that have no wider importance or meaning. Do we think Sarah Jeong actually enjoys chasing down and bullying old white men for fun? Do we think she earnestly wants to “cancel” white people? No, because that doesn’t mean anything — “cancel” doesn’t mean “do genocide to.”

Fringe trolls only have this kind of power if it is granted to them.

I look forward to reading Jeong’s columns in the Times starting next month.

Apple Removing iOS and Mac App Sales From Affiliate Program on October 1

This is the email everyone in Apple’s affiliate program received this afternoon:

Thank you for participating in the affiliate program for apps. With the launch of the new App Store on both iOS and macOS and their increased methods of app discovery, we will be removing apps from the affiliate program. Starting on October 1st, 2018, commissions for iOS and Mac apps and in-app content will be removed from the program. All other content types (music, movies, books, and TV) remain in the affiliate program.

Followed by some boilerplate stuff about the affiliate program and — in my copy, at least — a Japanese translation, but only a Japanese translation. Strange.

Stephen Hackett:

I can’t help but feel that Apple is waving off the wide array of sites that help consumers find apps as being unnecessary in light of Apple’s new editorial content within the App Store. I simply don’t believe that to be the case. The App Store is massive, and the crop of websites that have come to make a name for themselves comparing and reviewing apps add value to the ecosystem.

Federico Viticci:

Apple killing the affiliate program for apps feels downright hostile and petty.

Marco Arment:

Anyone still waiting for Apple to decrease its 30% cut?

One of the things that Apple has done fairly well is to encourage and cultivate a community of users who care deeply about the Apple products they use — not because they’re from Apple specifically, but because it’s a community of people who appreciate the tools that are essential components in their lives. Part of that community manifests as websites and blogs that focus on different aspects of the company: rumours, product reviews, retail stores,1 and new software.

A move like this is a frustrating kick in the teeth to that community. There are great websites that are built, in large part, on this revenue stream. It feels especially like a dick move coming just one day after Apple announced their highest-ever quarterly revenue from services and biggest third financial quarter in the company’s history. Is it for financial reasons? Is it because there are bad actors abusing the program? Nobody outside Apple knows for certain, but it feels like it’s dismissive of the greater Apple community.


  1. I’m reminded of Gary Allen’s IFO Apple Store every time I see an article about a new store “Town Square” opening. I miss him. ↩︎

Mac Sales in Apple’s Third Quarter of 2018

Joe Rossignol, MacRumors:

Apple on Tuesday reported that it sold 3.72 million Macs in its third quarter, which spanned April 1 through June 30, the fewest in any single quarter since it sold 3.47 million in the third quarter of 2010.

It’s almost like a product’s freshness and degree of activity surrounding it correlates with sales.

iPhone and iPad Sales in Apple’s Third Quarter of 2018

Jason Snell, Six Colors:

Now, iPhone unit sales are still down from the days of the iPhone 6. What’s changed is that the average selling price of an iPhone is up—way up. That’s mostly thanks to the iPhone X, which has a record-breaking price tag that hasn’t seemed to matter one whit in terms of consumer acceptance. (And for those who don’t want to spend $1000 on an iPhone X, apparently the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus hits the spot.)

[…]

The math is pretty straightforward: Apple sold 11.6 million iPads, which is slightly more than they sold in the year-ago quarter, but iPad revenue was down 5 percent, which means the average selling price of an iPad dipped. This isn’t surprising, because the more pricey iPad Pro models are long in the tooth and the cheap iPad is relatively new. What it suggests is that the iPad sales price will rise once new iPad Pros arrive (presumably this fall), but in the meantime the release of the low-cost iPad is keeping things afloat.

It’s almost like a product’s freshness and degree of activity surrounding it correlates with sales.

The Bullshit Web

My home computer in 1998 had a 56K modem connected to our telephone line; we were allowed a maximum of thirty minutes of computer usage a day, because my parents — quite reasonably — did not want to have their telephone shut off for an evening at a time. I remember webpages loading slowly: ten to twenty seconds for a basic news article.

At the time, a few of my friends were getting cable internet. It was remarkable seeing the same pages load in just a few seconds, and I remember thinking about the kinds of the possibilities that would open up as the web kept getting faster.

And faster it got, of course. When I moved into my own apartment several years ago, I got to pick my plan and chose a massive fifty megabit per second broadband connection, which I have since upgraded.

So, with an internet connection faster than I could have thought possible in the late 1990s, what’s the score now? A story at the Hill took over nine seconds to load; at Politico, seventeen seconds; at CNN, over thirty seconds. This is the bullshit web.

But first, a short parenthetical: I’ve been writing posts in both long- and short-form about this stuff for a while, but I wanted to bring many threads together into a single document that may pretentiously be described as a theory of or, more practically, a guide to the bullshit web.

A second parenthetical: when I use the word “bullshit” in this article, it isn’t in a profane sense. It is much closer to Harry Frankfurt’s definition in “On Bullshit”:

It is just this lack of connection to a concern with truth — this indifference to how things really are — that I regard as of the essence of bullshit.

I also intend it to be used in much the same sense as the way it is used in David Graeber’s “On the Phenomenon of Bullshit Jobs”:

In the year 1930, John Maynard Keynes predicted that, by century’s end, technology would have advanced sufficiently that countries like Great Britain or the United States would have achieved a 15-hour work week. There’s every reason to believe he was right. In technological terms, we are quite capable of this. And yet it didn’t happen. Instead, technology has been marshaled, if anything, to figure out ways to make us all work more. In order to achieve this, jobs have had to be created that are, effectively, pointless. Huge swathes of people, in Europe and North America in particular, spend their entire working lives performing tasks they secretly believe do not really need to be performed. The moral and spiritual damage that comes from this situation is profound. It is a scar across our collective soul. Yet virtually no one talks about it.

[…]

These are what I propose to call ‘bullshit jobs’.

What is the equivalent on the web, then?

1

The average internet connection in the United States is about six times as fast as it was just ten years ago, but instead of making it faster to browse the same types of websites, we’re simply occupying that extra bandwidth with more stuff. Some of this stuff is amazing: in 2006, Apple added movies to the iTunes Store that were 640 × 480 pixels, but you can now stream movies in HD resolution and (pretend) 4K. These much higher speeds also allow us to see more detailed photos, and that’s very nice.

But a lot of the stuff we’re seeing is a pile-up of garbage on seemingly every major website that does nothing to make visitors happier — if anything, much of this stuff is deeply irritating and morally indefensible.

Take that CNN article, for example. Here’s what it contained when I loaded it:

  • Eleven web fonts, totalling 414 KB

  • Four stylesheets, totalling 315 KB

  • Twenty frames

  • Twenty-nine XML HTTP requests, totalling about 500 KB

  • Approximately one hundred scripts, totalling several megabytes — though it’s hard to pin down the number and actual size because some of the scripts are “beacons” that load after the page is technically finished downloading.

The vast majority of these resources are not directly related to the information on the page, and I’m including advertising. Many of the scripts that were loaded are purely for surveillance purposes: self-hosted analytics, of which there are several examples; various third-party analytics firms like Salesforce, Chartbeat, and Optimizely; and social network sharing widgets. They churn through CPU cycles and cause my six-year-old computer to cry out in pain and fury. I’m not asking much of it; I have opened a text-based document on the web.

In addition, pretty much any CNN article page includes an autoplaying video, a tactic which has allowed them to brag about having the highest number of video starts in their category. I have no access to ComScore’s Media Metrix statistics, so I don’t know exactly how many of those millions of video starts were stopped instantly by either the visitor frantically pressing every button in the player until it goes away or just closing the tab in desperation, but I suspect it’s approximately every single one of them. People really hate autoplaying video.

Also, have you noticed just how many websites desperately want you to sign up for their newsletter? While this is prevalent on so many news and blog websites, I’ve dragged them enough in this piece so far, so I’ll mix it up a bit: this is also super popular with retailers. From Barnes & Noble to Aritzia, Fluevog to Linus Bicycles, these things are seemingly everywhere. Get a nominal coupon in exchange for being sent an email you won’t read every day until forever — I don’t think so.

Finally, there are a bunch of elements that have become something of a standard with modern website design that, while not offensively intrusive, are often unnecessary. I appreciate great typography, but web fonts still load pretty slowly and cause the text to reflow midway through reading the first paragraph. And then there are those gigantic full-width header images that dominate the top of every page, as though every two-hundred-word article on a news site was the equivalent of a magazine feature.

So that’s the tip of the bullshit web. You know how building wider roads doesn’t improve commute times, as it simply encourages people to drive more? It’s that, but with bytes and bandwidth instead of cars and lanes.

2

As Graeber observed in his essay and book, bullshit jobs tend to spawn other bullshit jobs for which the sole function is a dependence on the existence of more senior bullshit jobs:

And these numbers do not even reflect on all those people whose job is to provide administrative, technical, or security support for these industries, or for that matter the whole host of ancillary industries (dog-washers, all-night pizza delivery) that only exist because everyone else is spending so much of their time working in all the other ones.

So, too, is the case with the bullshit web. The combination of huge images that serve little additional purpose than decoration, several scripts that track how far you scroll on a page, and dozens of scripts that are advertising related means that text-based webpages are now obese and torpid and excreting a casual contempt for visitors.

Given the assumption that any additional bandwidth offered to web developers will immediately be consumed, there seems to be just one possible solution, which is to reduce the amount of bytes that are transmitted. For some bizarre reason, this hasn’t happened on the main web, because it somehow makes more sense to create an exact copy of every page on their site that is expressly designed for speed. Welcome back, WAP — except, for some reason, this mobile-centric copy is entirely dependent on yet more bytes. This is the dumbfoundingly dumb premise of AMP.

Launched in February 2016, AMP is a collection of standard HTML elements and AMP-specific elements on a special ostensibly-lightweight page that needs an 80 kilobyte JavaScript file to load correctly. Let me explain: HTML5 allows custom elements like AMP’s <amp-img>, but will render them as <span> elements without any additional direction — provided, in AMP’s case, by its mandatory JavaScript file. This large script is also required by the AMP spec to be hotlinked from cdn.amp-project.org, which is a Google-owned domain. That makes an AMP website dependent on Google to display its basic markup, which is super weird for a platform as open as the web.

That belies the reason AMP has taken off. It isn’t necessarily because AMP pages are better for users, though that’s absolutely a consideration, but because Google wants it to be popular. When you search Google for anything remotely related to current events, you’ll see only AMP pages in the news carousel that sits above typical search results. You’ll also see AMP links crowding the first results page, too. Google has openly admitted that they promote AMP pages in their results and that the carousel is restricted to only AMP links on their mobile results page. They insist that this is because AMP pages are faster and, therefore, better for users, but that’s not a complete explanation for three reasons: AMP pages aren’t inherently faster than non-AMP pages, high-performing non-AMP pages are not mixed with AMP versions, and Google has a conflict of interest in promoting the format.

It seems ridiculous to argue that AMP pages aren’t actually faster than their plain HTML counterparts because it’s so easy to see these pages are actually very fast. And there’s a good reason for that. It isn’t that there’s some sort of special sauce that is being done with the AMP format, or some brilliant piece of programmatic rearchitecting. No, it’s just because AMP restricts the kinds of elements that can be used on a page and severely limits the scripts that can be used. That means that webpages can’t be littered with arbitrary and numerous tracking and advertiser scripts, and that, of course, leads to a dramatically faster page. A series of experiments by Tim Kadlec showed the effect of these limitations:

AMP’s biggest advantage isn’t the library — you can beat that on your own. It isn’t the AMP cache — you can get many of those optimizations through a good build script, and all of them through a decent CDN provider. That’s not to say there aren’t some really smart things happening in the AMP JS library or the cache — there are. It’s just not what makes the biggest difference from a performance perspective.

AMP’s biggest advantage is the restrictions it draws on how much stuff you can cram into a single page.

[…]

AMP’s restrictions mean less stuff. It’s a concession publishers are willing to make in exchange for the enhanced distribution Google provides, but that they hesitate to make for their canonical versions.

So: if you have a reasonably fast host and don’t litter your page with scripts, you, too, can have AMP-like results without creating a copy of your site dependent on Google and their slow crawl to gain control over the infrastructure of the web. But you can’t get into Google’s special promoted slots for AMP websites for reasons that are almost certainly driven by self-interest.

3

There is a cumulative effect of bullshit; its depth and breadth is especially profound. In isolation, the few seconds that it takes to load some extra piece of surveillance JavaScript isn’t much. Neither is the time it takes for a user to hide an email subscription box, or pause an autoplaying video. But these actions compound on a single webpage, and then again across multiple websites, and those seemingly-small time increments become a swirling miasma of frustration and pain.

It’s key to recognize, though, that this is a choice, a responsibility, and — ultimately — a matter of respect. Let us return to Graeber’s explanation of bullshit jobs, and his observation that we often experience fifteen-hour work weeks while at the office for forty. Much of the same is true on the web: there is the capability for pages to load in a second or two, but it has instead been used to spy on users’ browsing habits, make them miserable, and inundate them on other websites and in their inbox.

As for Frankfurt’s definition — that the essence of bullshit is an indifference to the way things really are — that’s manifested in the hand-wavey treatment of the actual problems of the web in favour of dishonest pseudo-solutions like AMP.

An actual solution recognizes that this bullshit is inexcusable. It is making the web a cumulatively awful place to be. Behind closed doors, those in the advertising and marketing industry can be pretty lucid about how much they also hate surveillance scripts and how awful they find these methods, while simultaneously encouraging their use. Meanwhile, users are increasingly taking matters into their own hands — the use of ad blockers is rising across the board, many of which also block tracking scripts and other disrespectful behaviours. Users are making that choice.

They shouldn’t have to. Better choices should be made by web developers to not ship this bullshit in the first place. We wouldn’t tolerate such intrusive behaviour more generally; why are we expected to find it acceptable on the web?

An honest web is one in which the overwhelming majority of the code and assets downloaded to a user’s computer are used in a page’s visual presentation, with nearly all the remainder used to define the semantic structure and associated metadata on the page. Bullshit — in the form of CPU-sucking surveillance, unnecessarily-interruptive elements, and behaviours that nobody responsible for a website would themselves find appealing as a visitor — is unwelcome and intolerable.

Death to the bullshit web.

When a Stranger Decides to Destroy Your Life

Kashmir Hill, Gizmodo:

But in September 2015, she was suddenly plunged into an American nightmare. She got a call at 6 a.m. one morning from a colleague at Re/Max telling her something terrible had been posted about her on the Re/Max Facebook page. [Monika Glennon] thought at first she meant that a client had left her a bad review, but it turned out to be much worse than that.

It was a link to a story about Glennon on She’s A Homewrecker, a site that exists for the sole purpose of shaming the alleged “other woman.” The author of the Homewrecker post claimed that she and her husband had used Glennon as their realtor and that everything was going great until one evening when she walked in on Glennon having sex with her husband on the floor of a home the couple had been scheduled to see. The unnamed woman went into graphic detail about the sex act and claimed she’d taken photos that she used to get everything from her husband in a divorce. The only photo she posted though was Glennon’s professional headshot, taken from her bio page on Re/Max’s site.

Glennon was horrified. The story was completely fabricated and she had no idea why someone would have written it. Someone on Facebook named Ryan Baxter had posted it to the Re/Max page; Baxter also went through Glennon’s Facebook friend list and sent it to her husband, family members, and many of her professional contacts.

This story comes in cyclical waves of fury and heartbreak.

iOS 12 Performance

Benjamin Mayo:

It’s sad that we ever got to a point where the keyboard can be shown 50% faster, but I’m thrilled to see these pain points addressed. It translates into meaningful, real-world, improvements. The overall reception to iOS 12 is going to be very positive because of it. It speaks volumes that performance is the first section on Apple’s iOS 12 features page.

When something in the UI is slow, even subtly, we notice it; when a lot of things are even a tiny bit slow, it can make using the OS feel tedious. Speed improvements like these go a long way to making iOS feel like a joy to use. I hope this continues to be a priority for every iOS release.

See Also: Designing Fluid Interfaces.

YouTube’s Poorer Performance in Non-Chrome Browsers

If you follow me on Twitter, you may have caught wind of my frustration a couple of weeks ago with YouTube’s universally slow pages and my inability to find a Safari extension to put me out of my misery. Well, turns out I’m not alone. Chris Peterson of Mozilla:

YouTube page load is 5x slower in Firefox and Edge than in Chrome because YouTube’s Polymer redesign relies on the deprecated Shadow DOM v0 API only implemented in Chrome. […]

YouTube serves a Shadow DOM polyfill to Firefox and Edge that is, unsurprisingly, slower than Chrome’s native implementation. On my laptop, initial page load takes 5 seconds with the polyfill vs 1 without. Subsequent page navigation perf is comparable.

This is hugely frustrating because there really is no alternative to YouTube. Peterson points to a Firefox extension which restores the older YouTube layout that does not require polyfills to work; but, for other browsers, the easiest method is to manually add a cookie.

Tom Warren of the Verge:

It’s the latest case of Google building and tuning its web services so they work better or only work in the company’s Chrome browser. Google Meet, Allo, YouTube TV, Google Earth, and YouTube Studio Beta have all blocked Microsoft Edge in the past, and Google Meet, Google Earth, and YouTube TV have all also been blocked if you use Firefox. Google even blocked its Google Maps service on Windows Phone years ago in a passive-aggressive move that it eventually reversed. It’s an ongoing problem that means Chrome is slowly turning into the next Internet Explorer 6.

The implication here seems to be that Google has built YouTube to run well specifically in Chrome because they want more people using their own browser, and that it’s somewhat anticompetitive in the vein of their blocking of other products on competing platforms. I get that angle, but I think it’s misapplied here. It seems more likely to me that Google just didn’t adequately test YouTube in non-Chrome browsers, probably because they’re less popular and maybe because they don’t care. It’s not malicious; it’s laziness bordering on incompetence.

Apple Releases Software Update to Address Throttling Bug on 2018 MacBook Pro Models

Owen Williams, writing for Vice:

Over the last few days we’ve seen outcry about Apple’s new MacBook Pro, which offers an optional top-end i9 processor, and how its performance is throttled to the point of parody as the laptop heats up over time.

Sparked by a video from YouTuber Dave Lee, who demonstrates that the only way to get Apple’s quoted performance from the MacBook Pro is by keeping it in a refrigerator, the outcry has been brutal.

I elected to take a wait-and-see approach to this apparent scandal, especially after word spread that Apple was investigating this with Lee. But some, like Williams this morning, decided that it would be easier to conclude that — as always — Apple’s obsession with thin and light products was largely to blame:

Apple’s insatiable thirst for thinner, which we can see across the iPhone and Mac, appears to have finally caught up with the company. Its new hardware is the most powerful yet, but the form factor betrays that on-paper performance, because the laptop’s form factor means it’s thermally constrained.

[…]

Outside of making the MacBook thicker — which is unheard of, for Apple — there’s little the company can do to solve this. This isn’t the only thermally constrained machine Apple builds, either. After years of silence, Apple admitted in 2017 that the top-end Mac Pro was stagnant because “[…] we designed ourselves into a bit of a thermal corner, if you will.”

For what it’s worth, each new iPhone has become thicker than its predecessor since the iPhone 6S; so, no, it would not be unheard-of for Apple. Especially egregious, though, is Williams’ assertion that there’s little that Apple can do to fix it.

Jason Snell, Six Colors:

After a week of controversy following the posting of a video that claimed the new 15-inch MacBook Pro could experience massive slowdowns, Apple on Tuesday acknowledged that the slowdowns exist — and that they’re caused by a bug in the thermal management software of all the 2018 MacBook Pro models. That bug has been fixed in a software update that Apple says it’s pushing out to all 2018 MacBook Pro users as of Tuesday morning.

This is the kind of thing you would expect Apple to catch before they shipped an expensive flagship product, but a week from identifying the bug to shipping a software fix seems fairly reasonable.

Williams’ article also — as usual for this kind of piece — blames Apple for the industry’s broader woes:

The pursuit of thinner, lighter laptops, a trend driven by Apple, coinciding with laptops replacing desktops as our primary devices means we have screwed ourselves out of performance — and it’s not going to get better anytime soon.

Apple may prioritize thin and light in their portable products, but that doesn’t make a trend. The industry following their lead does make a trend, but that’s the fault of those companies. If they thought that they would be constrained by the thermal envelope of thinner notebooks or that Apple was making a mistake in their priorities, they could have released different products. You can, of course, buy gaming laptops that are thicker and allow high-performance processors to run at their fullest potential, if that is your objective. But how many of those do you actually see people using in the real world, compared to those using MacBook Pro-like notebooks? In my experience, the latter dominates.

The Decline of the Declarative Online Status Indicator

I like this simple but profound observation from Casey Johnston, of the Outline, regarding Instagram’s online status indicator in its messaging section:

When status indicators were originally introduced — the listing of screen names and opening- and slamming-of-door sounds by people signing on and off and posting of away messages on AOL Instant Messenger, may it rest — and continued to proliferate on services like Gchat and Facebook’s chat feature, we were all still using computers. Sometimes we were on those computers; sometimes, we were living our lives and not on computers.

Smartphones do not, and have never, faced this dichotomy of existence. Anyone who has Instagram, by definition, has a smartphone. If you have a smartphone, you are online no matter where you are or what you are doing.

Johnston indicates that the online status indicator is dead, but I think that’s an exaggeration. Perhaps the declarative online status indicator is on the wane, but I think the inferred status indicator is on the rise. I grew up with IRC, AIM, and MSN Messenger, and explicitly declaring your online status — and, often, your mood and chat readiness — was a hallmark of those platforms and protocols. Facebook retained that format even before the site had chat functionality. And declarative status indicators still exist, to an extent — Slack has several defaults to choose from, like “out sick”, “in a meeting”, or “commuting”.1

These kinds of statuses have largely been replaced by a more inferred or suggested status, by way of things like read receipts. This isn’t entirely new; answering machines and voicemail have long played the role of a passive status indicator. Read receipts are a subtle indicator to the sender that the recipient is or has been online. But they aren’t perceived in the same way — users often report feeling ignored if they see that a message they’ve sent has been read, but not responded to, even if it’s likely that the recipient is simply busy.


  1. Statuses like these are how you know Slack is a serious business tool, not some goofy IRC-like chat room. ↩︎

Facebook Suspends Crimson Hexagon’s Access to User Data

Hannah Kuchler, Financial Times (this article may be behind a paywall):

Facebook has suspended Crimson Hexagon, as it investigates if the analytics firm violated any of the social network’s policies, including whether it harvested user data to build surveillance tools.

The social network said it does not yet have any evidence that the Boston-based company obtained Facebook or Instagram data improperly. Crimson Hexagon could not be reached for comment.

[…]

Crimson Hexagon describes itself as an artificial intelligence-powered consumer insights company for brand managers, marketers and executives. The company says it has the world’s largest library of public social data, including over one trillion posts.

Even though these are entirely public posts, it’s disconcerting to think that our offhand remarks and pictures of meals are seen as widgets to be collected by a creepy company to be resold as fodder for advertisers and marketers. Facebook users are already granting permission for Facebook to mine their online life in service of advertisers, of course, but this is a third-party company with whom data is not explicitly being shared for this purpose. I completely understand that public is public, and this information can be used this way legally and ethically. It’s still gross to think that the entire web is seen by companies like these solely as material to target ads.

DuckDuckGoogle

DuckDuckGo aired several anti-competitive grievances they had with Google in the wake of the latter’s record-setting E.U. antitrust decision. Among them was this nugget:

Google also owns http://duck.com and points it directly at Google search, which consistently confuses DuckDuckGo users.

DuckDuckGo was founded in 2008. According to a Security Trails domain record search, duck.com was transferred from Level 3 Communications/On2 Technologies to Google in November 2010, about a year after On2 was acquired by Google. I’m having a hard time understanding why Google would use this domain for this purpose for any reason other than to bully confused DuckDuckGo searchers, as it appears to have redirected to google.com ever since unlike, say, on2.com.

Update: Google is now showing an intermediate page that offers to redirect visitors to DuckDuckGo and provides some context about why they own the domain.

Allowing Customization of Default Apps on iOS

Dan Moren, Macworld:

For users, the benefits of choosing default apps is obvious. Right now if you tap a web link in most apps you get taken to Safari, regardless of whether you’d rather use Chrome or Firefox. The same for mail links: if you’d rather compose your messages in Outlook or Gmail, you have to jump through some hoops to make it happen.

Not everybody is going to switch to a third-party app if this happens. Most people probably are probably happy enough with the defaults. But for those folks who want a feature that Apple’s apps don’t currently have — like snoozing mail message alerts or sync between Chrome on iOS and your PC — the choice to use that app as the default should be available.

Since you can now remove Mail, in particular, from iOS, this seems like it should be a natural next step. If you tap on a mailto: link without Mail being installed any more, you get an error message telling you that no apps are installed that can handle that type of link. But that’s awkward, confusing, and only partially true — no apps are available because no other apps are allowed to register themselves as capable of handling mailto: links.

The amazing thing about iOS is that most system apps can easily be replaced without the need for setting a third-party app as the default. I never touch Apple’s weather app, and the only time I don’t use Fantastical to create appointments is when I tap on a data detector and Apple’s default sheet appears. But iOS would be a little better if Mail and Safari — and perhaps Maps and Camera, too — could be swapped out for third-party apps as the defaults for their data types.

Bringing Common UI Controls Nearer to the Bottom of the Screen

Theo Strauss (via Michael Tsai):

In most apps, it’s common to see a search bar up at the top of the screen. On social media platforms, such as Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, and even Snapchat, the search bar is at the top of almost every main screen. In transportation apps, that style is almost ubiquitous.

Why is this? Apple doesn’t suggest that a search bar sit towards the top of an app’s UI, nor does the HIG suggest that it should be persistent.

[…]

Lyft took a different approach with their search bar. Instead of a floating field up top, they added it to an overlay towards the bottom-mid section of the screen. This simple change made it more accessible for almost 100% of users.

This is also one of the reasons why I prefer using Apple’s Maps app over Google’s, despite better data in the latter.

Contra Strauss’ point that the HIG doesn’t say that the search bar should be at the top of the app, Apple does indicate that, by default, it’s often part of the navigation bar at the top, and so designers may feel that it’s more consistent across the system to place it there. But, as Lyft and Apple Maps demonstrate, it’s completely possible to place it wherever it ought to be.

I think there’s a deeper argument here for a more comprehensive adjustment to the way iOS, in particular, is designed. The layout of a typical app hasn’t really changed much since the first iPhone — from top to bottom: status bar, then navigation bar, then the main view, then a tab bar at the bottom. While that worked great on a 3.5-inch screen with an iPhone that easily fit in your hand, I don’t think that’s the case with today’s iPhones — and, if the rumour mill is correct, the smallest of this year’s models will be the size of the iPhone X.

Third-party app designers and Apple, alike, seem to understand this in the examples above, but too many of the default apps that set the standard are still designed for smaller displays. Worse still is a gesture like the one to invoke Control Centre on the iPhone X, which — in my right-handed use — requires shuffling the phone slightly downwards with my palm and fingers to allow my thumb to extend enough into the top-right corner of the display.

That Control Centre gesture feels like it’s from the past; Lyft and Maps feel like they’re bang up to date.

Apple Confirms 2018 MacBook Pro Keyboard’s Silicone Membrane is Designed to Protect the Mechanism From Debris

Joe Rossignol, MacRumors:

In an internal document distributed to Apple Authorized Service Providers, obtained by MacRumors from multiple reliable sources, Apple has confirmed that the third-generation keyboard on 2018 MacBook Pro models is equipped with a “membrane” to “prevent debris from entering the butterfly mechanism.”

John Gruber also heard separately from his sources that durability was part of the reason for this redesign.

Sam Lionheart of iFixit tested the new keyboard against debris:

Okay, now to the nitty-gritty testing. We pumped this keyboard full of particulates to test our ingress-proofing theory. We started with a fine, powdered paint additive to add a bit of color and enable finer tracking (thanks for the tip, Dan!). Lo and behold, the dust is safely sequestered at the edges of the membrane, leaving the mechanism fairly sheltered. The holes in the membrane allow the keycap clips to pass through, but are covered by the cap itself, blocking dust ingress. The previous-gen butterfly keys are far less protected, and are almost immediately flooded with our glowing granules. On the 2018 keyboard, with the addition of more particulate and some aggressive typing, the dust eventually penetrates under the sheltered clips, and gets on top of the switch — so the ingress-proofing isn’t foolproof just yet.

It sounds like it’s better than its predecessor, but I’d be more interested to know how this new keyboard compares to a pre-butterfly design in durability and reliability.

TechCrunch’s Report on Control Over iCloud Data in China

Jon Russell, TechCrunch:

The operator’s Tianyi cloud storage business unit has taken the reins for iCloud China, according to a WeChat post from China Telecom. The company agreed to a deal with Guizhou-Cloud Big Data (GCBD), the original partner that Apple signed on with when it first migrated the data earlier this year.

Apple’s transition of the data from its own U.S.-based servers to local servers on Chinese soil has raised significant concern among observers who worry that the change will grant the Chinese government easier access to sensitive information. Before a switch announced in January, all encryption keys for Chinese users were stored in the U.S., which meant authorities needed to go through the U.S. legal system to request access to information. Now the situation is based on Chinese courts and a gatekeeper that’s owned by the government.

Apple itself has said it was compelled to make the move in order to comply with Chinese authorities, and that hardly eases the mind.

GCBD is a provincially-owned company; Chinese iCloud users have, since earlier this year, had effectively a contract between themselves, Apple, and the Guizhou provincial government. Now, the federal government is taking over. See update below. Because there’s no due process or legal recourse in China that’s comparable to that of most other countries, it seems that the only way for Apple to protest this would be to turn off any of their user data services in the country.

Russell:

It’s ironic that the U.S. government has pursued Chinese telecom equipment maker ZTE on account of national security and suspected links to Chinese authorities, and yet one of America’s largest corporates is entrusting user data to a state-owned company in China.

Without debating the meaning of irony itself, I don’t think these situations are comparable. Without minimizing how bad this is for Chinese iCloud users, it is solely their data that is affected by this deal, not users from any other country. That is not to say that their data is worth any less or ought to be protected to a reduced degree, should it be legally permitted. The entirely different worry about ZTE’s devices and equipment is that they could perhaps pilfer data from users outside China and give it to the Chinese government.

Update: Russell’s post is based on a misunderstanding. Ben Lovejoy, 9to5Mac:

However, we understand this to be essentially nothing new. Apple has always stored encrypted blocks of data on third-party servers like Amazon Web Services, and in China Tianyi Cloud has long been one of these.

I have updated the headline to this piece to reflect this. My apologies for the mix-up. My criticism of the statement comparing iCloud in China to ZTE still stands, however.

Venmo Transactions Are Public By Default

Olivia Solon, the Guardian:

Anyone can track a Venmo user’s purchase history and glean a detailed profile – including their drug deals, eating habits and arguments – because the payment app lacks default privacy protections.

[…]

By accessing the data through a public application programming interface, Do Thi Duc was able to see the names of every user who hadn’t changed their settings to private, along with the dates of every transaction and the message sent with the payment. This allowed her to explore the lives of unsuspecting Venmo users and learn “an alarming amount about them”.

The default state for transactions when a user signs up to the app is “public”, which means they can be seen by anyone on the internet. Users can change this to “private” by navigating to the app’s settings, but it’s not clearly highlighted during sign-up.

Hang Do Thi Duc’s resulting work, Public By Default, is extraordinary. She has extrapolated fairly rich narratives from payment data alone. It’s worth checking out in full.

But let’s not waffle here: why was — and is — Venmo’s transaction data public? Sure, it doesn’t show the amounts, but who would have designed any payments system with a totally unauthenticated method to view anyone’s payment history? Isn’t that a base expectation of any finance-related system? Am I missing something here, or is this just unbelievably stupid of Venmo?

Triangulating and De-Anonymization

Olivia Solon, the Guardian:

Nameless New York taxi logs were compared with paparazzi shots at locations around the city to reveal that Bradley Cooper and Jessica Alba were bad tippers. In 2017 German researchers were able to identify people based on their “anonymous” web browsing patterns. This week University College London researchers showed how they could identify an individual Twitter user based on the metadata associated with their tweets, while the fitness tracking app Polar revealed the homes and in some cases names of soldiers and spies.

“It’s convenient to pretend it’s hard to re-identify people, but it’s easy. The kinds of things we did are the kinds of things that any first-year data science student could do,” said Vanessa Teague, one of the University of Melbourne researchers to reveal the flaws in the open health data.

[…]

“One of the failings of privacy law is it pushes too much responsibility on to the consumer in an environment where they are not well-equipped to understand the risks,” said [Anna Johnston, a director of consultancy Salinger Privacy]. “Much more legal responsibility should be pushed on to the custodians [of data, such as governments, researchers and companies].”

While we ought to try to inform ourselves about the privacy implications of the entirety of our online behaviour, I don’t think it’s possible for the vast majority of users to understand the depth of knowledge that advertising, analytics, and data brokerage companies have on each of us. We’ve often never heard of these companies, and we certainly haven’t explicitly consented to giving them any of our information.

It’s easy to say that users should be better educated, particularly for those with a vested interest in users’ ignorance. It absolves data collectors of the responsibility to get explicit permission, which users almost certainly won’t give. The incentives for data collectors are aligned with implied consent wherever possible, and then vague explanations beyond that point. Data collectors have insisted for decades that they can be trusted to self-regulate, but their behaviour in that time has repeatedly shown that they cannot — largely, it seems, because regulations are diametrically opposite to growth incentives.

Apple’s App Store Continues to Generate More Revenue for Developers Than Google Play

Sarah Perez, TechCrunch:

Apple’s App Store continues to outpace Google Play on revenue. In the first half of the year, the App Store generated nearly double the revenue of Google Play on half the downloads, according to a new report from Sensor Tower out today. In terms of dollars and cents, that’s $22.6 billion in worldwide gross app revenue on the App Store versus $11.8 billion for Google Play – or, 1.9 times more spent on the App Store compared with what was spent on Google Play.

[…]

The growth in spending can be partly attributed to subscription apps like Netflix, Tencent Video, and even Tinder, as has been previously reported.

[…]

Consumer spending on games grew 19.1 percent in the first half of 2018 to $26.6 billion across both stores, representing roughly 78 percent of the total spent ($16.3 billion on the App Store and $10.3 billion on Google Play). Honor of Kings from Tencent, Monster Strike from Mixi, and Fate/Grand Order from Sony Aniplex were the top grossing games across both stores.

This is a remarkable trend, especially when you consider that Sensor Tower has estimated that around 15 billion app downloads came from Apple’s App Store, compared to 36 billion from Google Play. On average, App Store downloads are worth about four-and-a-half times as much as Google Play downloads. That’s astounding.

Instapaper Has a New Owner, Same As the Last Owner, Kind Of

The Instapaper team:

Today, we’re announcing that Pinterest has entered into an agreement to transfer ownership of Instapaper to Instant Paper, Inc., a new company owned and operated by the same people who’ve been working on Instapaper since it was sold to betaworks by Marco Arment in 2013. The ownership transfer will occur after a 21 day waiting period designed to give our users fair notice about the change of control with respect to their personal information.

We want to emphasize that not much is changing for the Instapaper product outside the new ownership. The product will continue to be built and maintained by the same people who’ve been working on Instapaper for the past five years. We plan to continue offering a robust service that focuses on readers and the reading experience for the foreseeable future.

Alex Heath:

Some clarification from a Pinterest spokesperson: The two employees Pinterest brought on from the Instapaper acquisition will continue working at Pinterest and run Instapaper independently on the side. So sounds like Instapaper wasn’t really working out inside of Pinterest.

I don’t think it’s a great sign when a product is transferred from an official offering to something akin to a hobby.

iFixit Found a New Silicone Membrane in the Mid-2018 Macbook Pro’s Keyboard

Sam Lionheart of iFixit:

Here’s an inflammatory take for you: Apple’s new quieter keyboard is actually a silent scheme to fix their keyboard reliability issues. We’re in the middle of tearing down the newest MacBook Pro, but we’re too excited to hold this particular bit of news back:

Apple has cocooned their butterfly switches in a thin, silicone barrier.

This is a promising discovery.

The biggest lingering question for me is whether this keyboard is being swapped into repaired 2016 and 2017 MacBook Pros. If you get your MacBook Pro keyboard repaired over the next couple of months and notice any changes, let me know.

Update: Joe Rossingol, MacRumors:

When asked if Apple Stores and Apple Authorized Service Providers will be permitted to replace second-generation keyboards on 2016 and 2017 MacBook Pro models with the new third-generation keyboards, if necessary, Apple said, no, the third-generation keyboards are exclusive to the 2018 MacBook Pro.

I hope there’s a purely technical reason for this decision.

Apple Discontinues Photo Printing Service

In the giveth corner today are the new MacBook Pro models; in the taketh away corner is this news from Benjamin Mayo at 9to5Mac:

Apple is discontinuing its Photo Print Products service, which has been integrated into iPhoto since its launch in 2002. The service expanded from simple prints, to albums, photo books, and calendars. It stayed around on the Mac when iPhoto was replaced with the Photos app a couple of years ago, but the service never made the leap to iOS.

Later this year, Apple will stop offering the service altogether. A new message in macOS 10.13.6 Photos app says that final orders for Apple’s built-in service must be placed by September 30, 2018.

Via Michael Tsai, who linked to the Wirecutter’s roundup of the best photo book printing services:

If you have a Mac, don’t bother with Shutterfly. Apple’s own Photo Books service makes a better photo book with brighter images and more handsome layouts. If you’ve ever used the Photos app before, you’ll find the software familiar and easy to use — Apple also offers a detailed tutorial if you need help. Plus, unlike any of the other services, the colors will print on the page how they looked on your screen, including the cover. A master printer and Wirecutter’s photo and design editors all fawned over the Apple photo book for its spot-on colors, gorgeous layouts, and small design elements, such as page numbers, panoramic spreads, and a dust jacket that matches the cover.

Damn; this sucks.

For the past several years, I’ve created a book of photos for my parents to show them where I’ve travelled and what I’ve been up to. The books I’ve received have always been perfect and of the highest quality. I’ve ordered from other services in the past, and I’ve never found anything that was quite as good as Apple’s.

Updated MacBook Pros With Performance Improvements, True Tone Displays, and ‘Hey, Siri’ Support

Apple PR:

Apple today updated MacBook Pro with faster performance and new pro features, making it the most advanced Mac notebook ever. The new MacBook Pro models with Touch Bar feature 8th-generation Intel Core processors, with 6-core on the 15-inch model for up to 70 percent faster performance and quad-core on the 13-inch model for up to two times faster performance — ideal for manipulating large data sets, performing complex simulations, creating multi-track audio projects or doing advanced image processing or film editing.

Already the most popular notebook for developers around the world, the new MacBook Pro can compile code faster and run multiple virtual machines and test environments easier than before. Additional updates include support for up to 32GB of memory, a True Tone display and an improved third-generation keyboard for quieter typing. And with its powerful Radeon Pro graphics, large Force Touch trackpad, revolutionary Touch Bar and Touch ID, dynamic stereo speakers, quiet Apple-designed cooling system and Thunderbolt 3 for data transfer, charging and connecting up to two 5K displays or four external GPUs, it’s the ultimate pro notebook.

I like surprises and I like spec bumps, so this update is very much up my alley.

Dieter Bohn of the Verge was among a handful of journalists invited to a small demo event:

We got only minutes (and no more) to interact with the new hardware. So at best, I can tell you that the keyboard does seem quite a bit less clacky than current MacBooks, though key travel is the same.

[…]

When we asked Apple representatives at the event exactly how the keyboard was changed to make it quieter, they declined to specify.

I’m conflicted about this. There is evidence to suggest that Apple has been improving the durability of the keyboard in the MacBook Pro, and I would be surprised if that trend has not continued given the cost of repairs to them. Nothing has been mentioned to that regard, though; Apple’s statements about the keyboard have been fairly substance-free.

But would Apple mention reliability improvements if they had indeed made any? They’ve maintained that the reported problems with the keyboard are not widespread, and I’m sure Apple would rather not have press coverage around these updates be specifically about the keyboard, thereby refocusing the issue on its susceptibility to defeat by dust. But, also, given the coverage so far about the unreliability of the butterfly keyboards, wouldn’t they want users to know that they’ve heard the complaints and can trust the revised version?

Tenth Anniversary of MobileMe’s Launch

Overshadowed by the tenth anniversary of the App Store came another milestone this week: ten years since the launch of MobileMe. Stephen Hackett:

When MobileMe launched in 2008, Microsoft Exchange really was its most direct competitor, in terms of features. However, Google was steadily improving Gmail, Google Contacts and Google Calendar.

Starting in 2009 or so, it was possible to leave MobileMe behind with a handful of now-defunct applications. By 2010, syncing data from Google directly with iOS and OS X was trivially easy.

In October 2011, just over three years after announcing MobileMe, Apple replaced with a free service: iCloud.

When Steve Jobs introduced iCloud at WWDC 2011, he pointed out that MobileMe was “not [Apple’s] finest hour”, and he’s certainly right about that. I would argue that not seeing earlier that Google could usurp MobileMe’s position for many iPhone users was also a poor showing.

But, while imperfect — a free tier that hasn’t changed in seven years, for example — iCloud has proved that Apple can absolutely do a fantastic job in online services. I use nearly all of iCloud’s features, with the exception of iCloud Music Library, and it has been, for years, increasingly reliable, fast, and dependable.

The Power of Tech Giants

John Herrman, in an editorial for the New York Times:

The companies most vulnerable to easy questions tend to be the ones that can no longer be understood in terms of former competitors or current peers — because they don’t really have any. Google doesn’t have to worry about losing its users; it simply wants them to use Google more and to use more Google products. Vindicated by growth, these businesses take the liberty to redesign more of our online lives than any of us have asked for. As with Facebook, and to some extent now Amazon, there is no overarching pitch to its users beyond: Where else could you possibly go?

Are tech companies now too big to fail? It sure seems like it: Amazon and Google are now part of the infrastructure of the web; Facebook owns WhatsApp, which is an essential communications product for much of the world.

Univision Says It’s Exploring Sale of Former Gawker Sites and the Onion

Todd Spangler:

Univision Communications is officially looking to unload the Gizmodo Media Group — which mostly comprises the sites it acquired in the bankruptcy auction of Gawker Media — and its stake in comedy and entertainment publisher The Onion.

[…]

The GMG digital portfolio includes Gizmodo, Jezebel, Deadspin, Lifehacker, Splinter, The Root, Kotaku, Earther and Jalopnik and The Onion portfolio includes, The Onion, Clickhole, The A.V. Club and The Takeout.

Max Tani posted the email Univision CEO Vince Sadusky sent to all staff:

[Gizmodo Media Group] and The Onion are great assets. I read The Onion regularly in college and the many Gizmodo brands have become key sources for content to tens of millions of consumers.

Who writes like that? Also, a 53 year-old CEO referencing his long-past college years is not the first time that a Univision executive was kind of a dick about the Onion. Apparently, the company’s “head of digital” couldn’t remember a single article from the site that he liked.

Worth reading is this piece from May, by Kate Conger, David Uberti, and Laura Wagner, and published at the Univision-owned Special Projects Desk:

From routine human resources fuckups to vastly overselling the prospects of an IPO whose ultimate doom this March precipitated the company’s current cost-cutting spree, Univision has been deeply mismanaged and is in the midst of making huge cuts that have, among other things, already claimed vast swaths of Univision Noticias—the most vital newsgathering operation serving the Spanish-speaking community in the U.S.—and Fusion Media Group. Consultants from Boston Consulting Group, who have reportedly recommended budget cuts of up to 35 percent in some parts of the company, have been combing through the books for months, and more than 150 people have been laid off so far. Plenty more cuts are pending (Univision president of news Daniel Coronell reportedly described them as “catastrophic” to his newsroom), including at GMG, the staff of which fears the newsroom may be cut by up to a third by the end of June, perhaps as part of a broader pivot toward video and branded content. What is happening to the company is not ultimately a failure of editorial or even executive management, though: If Univision was a mammoth whose failure to adapt slowed it down, it was private equity investors, consumed by the thought of turning their riches into more riches, who brought it down and bled it dry.

Gizmodo, the Onion, the AV Club, Deadspin, the Root, Jezebel, Splinter — these publications are good, and the (semi-)indie media landscape would be worse if they did not exist. The predicament they face now is due in part to an excessively-aggressive settlement for publishing a Hulk Hogan sex tape, and now because of vulture capitalists of the type that also decimated Toys R Us.

Maintaining the Narrative

Andrew Orlowski, the Register:

One day Apple may look back on its great iPhone X adventure and view it as an embarrassing midlife crisis, like running off with the au pair.

The iPhone 8, based on a four-year-old design, was the best-selling phone in the world in May, according to Counterpoint Research. Samsung’s Galaxy S9 Plus took second place. The X still sold well, but in third place.

Counterpoint Research attributes the success of the iPhone 8 to new advertising, but it’s also worth noting that the 8 and 8 Plus got the Product Red treatment this spring. Even so, May marks the first month since its launch, the iPhone X was not the best-selling iPhone model in the lineup, and the Register is treating this as confirmation that the iPhone X is a mistaken experiment. Even in this two-paragraph excerpt, Orlowski transitions from calling the iPhone X an “embarrassing midlife crisis” to acknowledging that it sold well.

Orlowski, later in this article:

The X is far from a flop, but Cook acknowledged it wasn’t the runaway success Apple wanted. Apple faced many questions about inventory on its most recent earnings, claiming that the lower-than-hoped demand had resulted in component glut (mostly someone else’s problem) rather than an iPhone X glut (definitely Apple’s problem).

No, you don’t have a giant gap in your memory: I looked for any indication that Tim Cook had ever stated that the iPhone X didn’t sell as well as expected — which would be quite the story — and can’t find anything matching that. The link on “acknowledged” goes to another story Orlowski wrote summarizing an anaylist’s research note issued ahead of Apple’s Q2 2018 conference call, where Cook confirmed that the iPhone X’s sales were strong every week since it launched. That linked article does not contain a single mention of Tim Cook.

I know that the Register is just a tabloid, but it’s also widely-read, and this is a clear example where the story is being driven by the narrative that the iPhone X is a flop. Orlowski so desperately wants that to be true, apparently, but I don’t understand why. What difference does it make to him which iPhone model is selling better?

Smart TVs in Millions of U.S. Homes Track Everything Users Watch

Sapna Maheshwari, New York Times:

Still, David Kitchen, a software engineer in London, said he was startled to learn how Samba TV worked after encountering its opt-in screen during a software update on his Sony Bravia set.

The opt-in read: “Interact with your favorite shows. Get recommendations based on the content you love. Connect your devices for exclusive content and special offers. By cleverly recognizing onscreen content, Samba Interactive TV lets you engage with your TV in a whole new way.”

[…]

“The thing that really struck me was this seems like quite an enormous ask for what seems like a silly, trivial feature,” Mr. Kitchen said. “You appear to opt into a discovery-recommendation service, but what you’re really opting into is pervasive monitoring on your TV.”

[…]

Jeffrey Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy, said few people review the fine print in their zeal to set up new televisions. He said the notice should also describe Samba TV’s “device map,” which matches TV content to mobile gadgets, according to a document on its website, and can help the company track users “in their office, in line at the food truck and on the road as they travel.”

Do people truly want to be tracked for advertising purposes by nearly every device that they interact with? Survey after survey for years has indicated that they do not, yet we seem to have shrinking opportunities to object to it. Nearly every TV you’ll find at an electronics store today is a smart TV, and many of them have some form of this kind of tracking built in. The number of ways we’re being tracked on the web has exploded, and the number of companies that trade and collect that information in bulk keeps going up.

This is all buried in multi-thousand-word privacy policies that are not reasonable for the average user to read and interpret correctly. This is one reason I’m so supportive of GDPR — even though it doesn’t adequately regulate behavioural data collection, it does at least require full disclosure of privacy-intrusive practices to allow users more control the sharing of their data.

Technology companies are increasingly not operating in users’ best interests because users have few options besides disconnecting entirely.

Maheshwari, continued:

The Times is among the websites that allow advertisers to use data from Samba to track if people who see their ads visit their websites, but a Times spokeswoman, Eileen Murphy, said that the company did that “simply as a matter of convenience for our clients” and that it was not an endorsement of Samba TV’s technology.

As I wrote in April, website administrators have a responsibility to their users — and, in the Times’ case especially, their paying subscribers — to be careful with their website’s third-party data collection and sharing practices. Their agreement with Samba is an implicit endorsement that advertisers can target their users with data collected in an ethically-dubious manner.

‘Stylish’ Browser Extension Shares Browsing History With SimilarWeb

Robert Heaton:

Unfortunately, since January 2017, Stylish has been augmented with bonus spyware that records every single website that I and its 2 million other users visit. Stylish sends our complete browsing activity back to its servers, together with a unique identifier. This allows it’s new owner, SimilarWeb, to connect all of an individual’s actions into a single profile. And for users like me who have created a Stylish account on userstyles.org, this unique identifier can easily be linked to a login cookie. This means that not only does SimilarWeb own a copy of our complete browsing histories, they also own enough other data to theoretically tie these histories to email addresses and real-world identities.

I bet the vast majority of Stylish users have no idea that this simple browser extension would not be scraping their browsing history and selling it to a scummy marketing technology company. I bet that most of them would not have explicitly agreed to such an obvious privacy intrusion. This is deeply unethical.

Facebook’s Political Rule Blocks Ads for Bush’s Beans, Singers Named Clinton

Sarah Frier, Bloomberg:

The three ads have in common the use of the word “bush.” Facebook Inc.’s system automatically associated the word with the former presidents of that family name, flagging them as political and blocking them, pending verification of the advertiser’s identity. They now appear in Facebook’s searchable archive of political advertising – the company’s newly launched initiative to increase transparency around who is paying to promote certain political ideas. The archive is home to dozens of ads that don’t belong there, from various schools, towns, brands and people that happen to share names with presidents.

[…]

“Clinton” is one of the most popular names for cities in the U.S., not just the surname of the political family. In Clinton, Indiana, a vacation bible school was blocked from advertising a free lunch event for kids aged 3 to 12. “Come learn how COOL Jesus’s love is!” it said, including a picture of a flier featuring animated penguins. In Clinton, Iowa, an insurance company was blocked from advertising its annual family baseball night for customers and friends, featuring a backpack drive for needy children. And in Clinton, Tennessee, Facebook’s system took down an ad for performances of Twelfth Night and the Jungle Book, featuring actors from local high schools.

This is an indication to me that Facebook simply isn’t taking this problem seriously. Instead of employing more humans to verify automatically detected ads, they’ve apparently added a basic string matching filter. Consider, for a start, all of the public buildings in the United States named after former presidents and other officials. Text matching without context isn’t good enough to serve as a filter.

Re-Emphasizing the Decentralized Feed

Luc Lewitanski has a pretty good theory on why Google killed Reader five years ago Sunday:

@Google killed its Reader in 2013 because RSS as a format gives readers agency, doesn’t track browsing to sell ads, and lets the user chose what they want to read. As opposed to algorithmic personalisation which siloes [sic] us into increasingly homogenous demographics for advertisers

Aral Balkan:

Time was, you couldn’t browse the web without seeing RSS icons of all persuasions gracing the façades of Web 1.0’s finest. This was before they were mercilessly devoured by the tracking devices … ahem … “social sharing buttons” of people farmers like Google and Facebook.

[…]

[…] You can start making RSS more visible again today by finding the URL for your own RSS feed and exposing it visibly on your site.

It’s not complicated: just a link in the head of your page and a link in the body with an RSS icon and Bob’s your decentralised Uncle.

Badges, buttons, and links to RSS feeds used to be all over the web; now, they’re almost like a nerd calling card — it’s an indication that a website is cool with an audience reading new material on their terms. I’d like to think there’s a certain confidence in a website indicating to its readers that it doesn’t need a precise count of how many people visited the website, nor does it need all the tracking and surveillance nonsense that comes with that.

RSS and JSON Feed are both terrific formats for reading — not just on the web, but reading generally. They work with a lot of different client applications that can be set up to your liking, and you can subscribe to as many or as few websites as you like. You can be a completionist with your subscriptions, or you can let new posts flow by and only focus on a handful. You can even have a combination of the two, using something like Lire and its excellent Discover section — you can see that, even with an obnoxious amount of unread items overall, it’s possible to prioritize what to look at first. Best of all, you are in control of RSS and JSON Feeds, not a mysterious algorithm that you don’t fully understand.

Personal Data in 340 Million Records Leaked From Exactis Databases

Abrar Al-Heeti, CNet:

If you’re a US citizen, your personal information — your phone number, home address, email address, even how many children you have — may have just become easily available to hackers in an alleged massive data leak.

Florida-based marketing and data aggregation firm Exactis exposed a database containing nearly 340 million individual records on a publicly accessible server, Wired reported. Earlier this month, security researcher Vinny Troia found that nearly 2 terabytes of data was exposed, which seems to include personal information on hundreds of millions of US adults and millions of businesses, the report said.

“It seems like this is a database with pretty much every US citizen in it,” Troia told Wired.

It’s remarkable and deeply troubling how a private marketing company in Florida that most people haven’t heard of could conceivably have a database containing every American citizen. I doubt Exactis is the only company in possession of a database like this, too.

Some Third-Party Email Apps Let Employees Read User Emails

Juli Clover, MacRumors:

Return Path, a service for email marketers that has 163 app partners, two years ago allowed its employees to read approximately 8,000 full customer emails to train the company’s software.

Similarly, Edison Software, a company that makes the Edison Mail app for iOS, had employees read the emails of hundreds of users to craft a new “smart replies” feature.

According to The Wall Street Journal, neither company asked users for specific permission to read their emails, but have said the practice is covered in their user agreements. Employees who read the emails were governed by “strict protocols,” and in Edison’s case, user information was redacted.

I’m still uncertain why anyone would pass their email through any third party like these, nor why either of these companies would think that this is a good idea even if it’s theoretically covered by their privacy policy.

500px Nukes Over One Million Creative Commons Photos

Michael Zhang, PetaPixel:

500px just shut down its Marketplace stock photo platform in favor of selling photos directly through Getty Images and VCG, as the company announced a month ago. And as part of the major change, 500px has wiped out over 1 million of the Creative Commons photos photographers had uploaded to the service.

Creative Commons licensing allows photographers to make their works freely available for others to build upon and share while following certain guidelines. 500px introduced the licensing option back in 2012, following in Flickr’s footsteps.

But overnight, all of the CC photos that have been uploaded since 2012 have been nuked from 500px. Users can no longer choose a CC license during uploading, search for CC photos, or download them.

And prior to the wipeout, 500px provided no migration path for 500px users wishing to keep their CC photos on the service alive.

This sucks for anyone who wants to share their photography while maintaining control over its use or licensing it to third parties.

Flickr, meanwhile, has been shuttled around from owner to owner before landing with SmugMug earlier this year. Aside from Instagram, there really aren’t any successful photo-centric sharing websites or services — at least, not in North America. Why is that? Is it simply because Instagram consumes the entire market in much the same way that YouTube is the video sharing platform?

Apple Is Rebuilding Maps From the Ground Up

Matthew Panzarino, TechCrunch:

Maps needs fixing.

Apple, it turns out, is aware of this, so it’s re-building the maps part of Maps.

It’s doing this by using first-party data gathered by iPhones with a privacy-first methodology and its own fleet of cars packed with sensors and cameras. The new product will launch in San Francisco and the Bay Area with the next iOS 12 beta and will cover Northern California by fall.

Every version of iOS will get the updated maps eventually, and they will be more responsive to changes in roadways and construction, more visually rich depending on the specific context they’re viewed in and feature more detailed ground cover, foliage, pools, pedestrian pathways and more.

This is nothing less than a full re-set of Maps and it’s been four years in the making, which is when Apple began to develop its new data-gathering systems. Eventually, Apple will no longer rely on third-party data to provide the basis for its maps, which has been one of its major pitfalls from the beginning.

This is huge news. As Panzarino points out, only one other company owns a data set like this, and that’s Google. Mark Gurman first reported on this project for 9to5Mac in 2015.

It’s also a gigantic undertaking — obviously. It combines truly anonymized and minimized data gathered from iPhones — which can be turned off — with data gathered from those Apple Maps vehicles that have been driving around nearly a dozen countries over the past few years. Those vehicles are gathering more than just images and information about the roads; they’re also helping model cities in 3D.

It really does seem like Apple is committed to radically improving the most painful parts of their mapping data. They trusted that the information they were getting from third-party sources was accurate; but, in my experience, the majority of errors I’ve reported have been for places that were permanently shut long before Apple Maps launched. There simply wasn’t a mechanism in place at launch to verify that this third-party information was correct. Five years ago, they started hiring people as their “ground truth” team, but that doesn’t seem to have had the effect they wanted. So, they’re starting from scratch with the source data and, as Panzarino reports, have made it easier for their staff to keep everything up to date. Whether they actually can do so, at worldwide scale, is another matter; I have my doubts.

Apple says that they will be rolling this out across the United States next year, after launching initially in the Bay Area, of course. They’ve been driving extensively throughout the U.K. for about the same amount of time as in the U.S., so I would imagine that its revised cartography won’t be far behind.

Apple hasn’t even begun to drive Canada yet, though — not even Toronto. However, I’ve been watching their vehicle schedule page for a while and there are some smaller communities in the U.S. that they seem to have driven through over and over. My guess is that they’ve been perfecting the vehicle rig, and will rapidly scale their use of those rigs worldwide. The biggest question now is: when can we expect Maps to be entirely powered by Apple’s own data? It has already been six years since Apple launched their own Maps app with iOS 6, and it seems like there’s still a long way to go before they are no longer dependent on third parties like Tom Tom and Yelp.

Apple Is Building a Media Platform Like Never Before

Ryan Christoffel, MacStories:

[…] Once not long ago, Apple’s primary media platform was iTunes. Now, hundreds of millions of users consume media every day through Apple’s suite of spiritual successors to iTunes:

  • Apple Music

  • Apple TV (the app)

  • Apple Podcasts

  • Apple Books

  • Apple News

  • And the App Store

Apple has one unified goal, I believe, driving all its media efforts: it aspires to utilize hardware, software, and services to provide the entirety of a user’s media experience. If you consume media, Apple wants to provide the full stack of that consumption, from media delivery to media discovery. My aim in this story is to share an overview of how that goal is being fulfilled today.

This is big — the kind of thing that, in hindsight, was indicated when they dropped “Computer” from the “Apple Computer, Inc.” name.

Apple Rumoured to Be Considering a Combined Media Subscription

Anna Washenko, Radio and Internet News:

Apple may be planning a new type of multimedia content subscription. The Information (paywall) reports that Apple is considering a single package that would combine Apple Music with the company’s original TV and video projects and its overhauled news app. Each of the services would still be available individually, but a single access point would position Apple as a single-stop purveyor of entertainment.

Several of the other leading tech companies have pursued similar paths. Amazon Prime combines several perks for repeat customers of the ecommerce giant and Google’s YouTube Premium is making another effort to blend subscription music and video on the platform. The potential for Apple to incorporate its recent acquisition of Texture, frequently billed as “the Netflix of magazines,” is a new wrinkle for this type of joint package.

This makes complete sense to me: let people subscribe to individual services that they’re most interested in, but incentivize them to get everything. But will the Apple TV subscription be closer to a true Netflix competitor? I hope so.

The Butterfly Keyboard and Expensive Repairs

Kyle Wiens of iFixIt:

Which brings us back to the point. Why did it take so long, and so many complaints, for the repair program to be put in place? Why do you need to send your MacBook Pro away for upwards of a week for a repair? That’s easy: because Apple made their product hard for them to repair, too. Apple’s new warranty program is going to cost them a lot of money.

Apple’s profit on every machine that they warranty under this new program has been decimated. There is a real business impact caused by unrepairable product design. Samsung recently had a similar experience with the Note7. Yes, the battery problem was a manufacturing defect. But if the battery had been easy to replace, they could have recalled just the batteries instead of the entire phone. It was a $5 billion design mistake.

But this isn’t just about warranty cost—there is a loud outcry for reliable, long-lasting, upgradeable machines. Just look at the market demand for the six-year-old 2012 MacBook Pro — the last fully upgradeable notebook Apple made. I use one myself, and I love it.

Notebooks have long been less modular than desktops. When the Nvidia GPU failed in my mid-2007 MacBook Pro about ten years ago, Apple had to replace the entire logic board. Since then, their notebooks have become increasingly sealed — first, by placing the battery behind the screwed-on bottom plate, then soldering the RAM to the board, and finally by making the SSD also part of the board.

A couple of friends were mentioning in a small Slack room that they had some warranty-covered service done recently — one with a MacBook Pro, and one with a MacBook Air. In both cases, Apple replaced nearly all of the parts of the computer without doing a whole-machine swap.

Stories like these, and especially this new keyboard replacement program, make me wonder if this trend is being reconsidered. Of course, there haven’t been widespread complaints similar to the MacBook Pro’s keyboard about the SSD or RAM failing, or about the battery not being removable. Perhaps these failures are a relatively small, somewhat expensive step back after years of moving forward. If anything about the design of Apple’s portables is being reconsidered, though, I hope that it isn’t just the financials that would be the primary factor; likewise, if no such discussions are happening.

Jack Dorsey Met With American Conservative Leaders and Media Personalities to Hear Their Complaints About Alleged Bias

Tony Romm, Washington Post:

In response, the Twitter executive heard an earful from conservatives gathered at the table, who scoffed at the fact that Dorsey runs a platform that’s supposed to be neutral even though he’s tweeted about issues like immigration, gay rights and national politics. They also told Dorsey that the tech industry’s efforts to improve diversity — after years of criticism for maintaining a largely white, male workforce — should focus on hiring engineers with more diverse political viewpoints as well, according to those who dined with him in D.C.

Hadas Gold:

What I find fascinating about the several meet-ups social media has had w/ conservatives, is the feeling that there’s an inherent need for these platforms to be unbiased and run by unbiased folks… as though they’re a public utility

Ashley Feinberg:

Meanwhile I’ve talked to like a dozen people over the past week who have tried to get tweets with their addresses and phone numbers removed as Twitter keeps telling them it’s not a violation […]

Are the CEOs of Twitter and Facebook not supposed to have their own viewpoint? That’s a bizarre notion.

Let’s look at this from a free market perspective. If Twitter truly were censoring conservatives — they’re not, but let’s pretend that there’s a movement at Twitter targeting conservative voices for a moment — this should just sort itself out, right? Dorsey has heard the complaints of Grover Norquist, Sean Hannity, and Ted Cruz, and will likely make no changes: the company has been growing steadily for a couple of years, so this (completely fictional) conservative censorship project seems to be paying off. Conservatives could continue to suffer on Twitter, or they could build a competitor that is either conservative-focused or truly neutral. Maybe that competitor will be a rousing success amongst conservatives, or the public at large; maybe it won’t. Either way, that’s the free market making the decision, right?

In the real world, though, Dorsey and other Twitter executives have repeatedly insisted that they are not banning or silencing users for expressing conservative viewpoints. They have been trying to combat harassment and that has resulted in the moderation of users of different political orientations — including those who tweeted a news story purportedly containing Stephen Miller’s cellphone number.

This is an entirely silly, bad faith line of argument. If Dorsey needs to meet with American conservatives and take seriously their complaints about being the victims of silencing — the Republican President has used Twitter to threaten a congressperson, while conservatives also control Congress and, soon, the Supreme Court — then that’s his game to play. But it isn’t worth pretending it isn’t horseshit.

Update: Max Read, New York:

That either Dorsey or Zuckerberg might be taking these complaints seriously is troubling. What’s galling is not the staleness of the charges — reporters are too liberal to neutrally cover politics! Editors suppress conservative stories! Newspaper coverage is biased against conservatives! — but the context in which they arrive. The conservative movement has found itself with complete control of the federal government and in power in a majority of states across the country — and it’s taken that power thanks in a large part to social media like Twitter and Facebook.

iTunes Remote Updated

Benjamin Mayo:

Looking slighter wider, what is the point of this app existing? Remote controlling your Mac’s iTunes app makes little sense in an era of AirPlay 2 and HomePod speakers. Also, Apple now has three separate places to find ‘media remotes’. There’s the iTunes Remote app, Apple TV Remote app, and the Apple TV Remote platter in Control Centre. Each of these tread on each other’s toes in different ways, but there’s not one app for everything either. It is messy. Before today, I was assuming iTunes Remote had run its course and was heading towards extinction. With this update, I just don’t know what the roadmap is here. Apple isn’t normally prone to carrying around legacy baggage.

I completely agree that having two different remote apps — plus a Control Centre widget — is confusing, but I hope that being able to control iTunes playback from an iPhone doesn’t disappear. Because my music library and bookshelf speakers are still connected to my Mac, I use the iTunes Remote app all the time. It’s nice to see this app updated.

Apple News Says Its Midterm Elections Section Is More Trustworthy Because It’s Run by Humans

Mathew Ingram, Columbia Journalism Review:

Apple launched a special section of its News app on Monday dedicated to the upcoming midterm elections, a section it said will be filled with stories and features curated by Apple News editors from “trusted publishers.” And while the name Facebook didn’t appear anywhere in the company’s press release, the description of the new section seemed like one long subtweet of the social network.

While Facebook continues to try to overcome a reputation for misinformation—especially the kind distributed by Russian trolls—and fights with publishers about lumping their news stories in with political advertising, Apple makes a point of noting that its stories are curated by human beings, and that it has solid relationships with leading news publishers. […]

The skeptical and cynical counterpoint that I’ve seen repeated on Twitter today is that humans are fallible and have their own biases. No shit. But I don’t think Apple’s promotion of this is entirely marketing bluster. There’s a reason human editors still work in newsrooms and decide what’s most worthy to appear on the front page, no matter whether that’s the homepage of their website or A1 — what is most popular can be important, but it’s their job to decide what is most newsworthy, and that’s often not the same thing.

Maybe Apple’s human editors will accidentally place something of little value in the midterm section; they may even promote a story that is later revealed to have critical mistakes. But they are less likely to surface something simply because of its virality without accounting for its news value.

MacOS Mojave Preview

Jason Snell:

With macOS Mojave, available today to the general public as a part of a public beta, the story is different. macOS Mojave feels like a macOS update that’s truly about the Mac, extending features that are at the core of the Mac’s identity. At the same time, macOS Mojave represents the end of a long era (of stability or, less charitably, stagnation) and the beginning of a period that could completely redefine what it means to use a Mac.

Is macOS Mojave the latest chapter of an ongoing story, the beginning of a new one, or the end of an old one? It feels very much like the answer is yes and yes and yes.

Given the somewhat frustrating Mac hardware situation, I’d be deeply concerned for the future of the platform if this year’s MacOS release was a boring one. It isn’t — Mojave shows that there’s lots of life left in the Mac. Even simple things, like Desktop Stacks, make a difference in real-world everyday usability.

Last year’s migration to APFS pays off in a big way for those of you thinking about trying the public beta of Mojave on a separate partition. I don’t know how many of you had to run fsck in single-user mode to get previous beta partitions working, but I did — every year. Not this time, though. It took a minute flat to create a Mojave “container” and begin installing. Nice.

AT&T Reportedly Has a Special Working Relationship With the NSA Because of Its Deep Ties to Communications Infrastructure

Ryan Gallagher and Henrik Moltke, the Intercept:

Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles, New York City, San Francisco, Seattle, and Washington, D.C. In each of these cities, The Intercept has identified an AT&T facility containing networking equipment that transports large quantities of internet traffic across the United States and the world. A body of evidence – including classified NSA documents, public records, and interviews with several former AT&T employees – indicates that the buildings are central to an NSA spying initiative that has for years monitored billions of emails, phone calls, and online chats passing across U.S. territory.

The NSA considers AT&T to be one of its most trusted partners and has lauded the company’s “extreme willingness to help.” It is a collaboration that dates back decades. Little known, however, is that its scope is not restricted to AT&T’s customers. According to the NSA’s documents, it values AT&T not only because it “has access to information that transits the nation,” but also because it maintains unique relationships with other phone and internet providers. The NSA exploits these relationships for surveillance purposes, commandeering AT&T’s massive infrastructure and using it as a platform to covertly tap into communications processed by other companies.

This article is fairly American-centric, because it is unconstitutional for the NSA to be monitoring the contents of Americans’ communications. But it also raises questions about the extent to which the American government is monitoring the world’s communications.

To the best of my understanding, the NSA is legally able to gather intelligence from any non-U.S. communications. The main reason they didn’t do so historically was because it’s not as efficient as a more targeted collection sttategy. But, after building a massive data centre in Utah and creating software to automatically sift through all they collect, it has become reasonable for them to broaden their scope. This article from the Intercept reinforces that: AT&T is a valuable NSA partner because they have access to, effectively, much of the world’s communications through their peering agreements. Legally, this is apparently fine by the NSA’s mandate; ethically, it’s outrageous. My communications and yours, probably, have been scooped up and could be sitting on a hard drive somewhere in the United States, without a warrant or any suspicion of wrongdoing, in a repugnant dismissal of common-sense morals.

Two Keyboards at a Bar

Michael Lopp:

BARTENDER: Can I get you something?

TOUCHBAR: Can I get a Blue Hawaiian?

APPLE EXTENDED II: And nachos.

MACBOOK PRO: NACHOS? Wait, WHOA WHOA. You didn’t say we’d be eating food. I’ve got work tomorrow, and a single bit of chip, a smear of cheese, or a bit of jalapeño and I’m screwed.

I can’t put my finger on why this is the case, but there’s something so right about an anthropomorphized Touch Bar ordering a Blue Hawaiian.

Mark Gurman’s Report on the Status of the AirPower

Mark Gurman, Bloomberg:

Apple didn’t say when in 2018 it would release AirPower, but engineers hoped to launch the charger by June. The aim now is to put it on sale before or in September, according to one of the people. In recent months, some Apple engineers have ramped up testing of the device by using it as their charger at the office, another person said.

Gurman doesn’t say when the shipping target was originally set as June. If that was the case when they announced it last year, why not hold the announcement until WWDC? Regardless, if the new deadline is September, that will make it a full year between announcement and shipping — and for what? Most iPhone buyers probably don’t remember that Apple announced the AirPower because, let’s face it, it’s nowhere near as exciting as new iPhones. Judging by my Twitter feed and comments around the web, many of those who do remember the announcement of the AirPower are disappointed that it’s taking so long.

This saga is a blunder, and I’d be shocked to find out that it wasn’t a preventable one.

Apple Launches Repair Program for Faulty MacBook and MacBook Pro Keyboards

Juli Clover, MacRumors:

Apple today launched a keyboard repair program for MacBook and MacBook Pro models equipped with butterfly keys to address complaints over letters or characters that repeat unexpectedly, letters or characters that do not appear, and keys that feel “sticky” or do not respond in a consistent manner.

According to Apple, a “small percentage” of MacBook and MacBook Pro keyboards from 2015 to 2017 can experience these symptoms.

This is good news for anyone affected by this, whether in the past, now, or with future sales of this same generation of MacBooks. My only question is whether they’ve somehow quietly fixed the problem, or if a faulty keyboard repaired with another of the same design will one day require fixing again.