A few weeks ago, my wife generously gifted me the Lego Concorde set. I got around to building it this weekend. It was the first time I had experienced a full Lego set in about twenty years, but it felt exactly as magical as I had remembered. As a kid, I would have felt all the joy and wonder of something so intricate — and so large; the Concorde model is over a metre long — replicating what has to be the most captivating airplane ever built.
Those emotions hit me pretty hard as an adult building it, too, but I could not help but think of how different the real-life version of projects like these used to be conceived compared to how they are now. In the Verge’s coverage of this Lego set, Sean Hollister notes a resurgent interest in supersonic planes, with orders from several airlines for the Boom Overture. As it happens, I am currently reading Ashlee Vance’s “When the Heavens Went on Sale” about the rapid privatization of space.
I am not an expert in any of this. This is not a history lesson, though I did try to avoid any factual errors. Call this little more than a late Sunday night rambling post of how I am feeling now. Pure vibes ahead.
Both the Concorde and the majority of space exploration are products of extraordinary engineering efforts backed by entire countries, bestowing them with a larger purpose than simple business economics. To be sure, it is incredible to read about how private spacecraft from Rocket Lab deliver into orbit tiny satellites made by Planet Labs which create global imagery that, for example, gets used by journalists to uncover oil tankers spoofing their location. That is incredible.
I also wish there was room for these kinds of big, national-level projects of collective pride. Landing on the Moon was a big moment for the entire world, but a particularly special one for people in the United States; the Space Shuttle continued the record of having a national space icon. Concorde was a partnership between British and French interests and it produced something (almost) entirely unique. I do not mean this in a nationalist sense, nor do I want to sound like a full-on communist — though it is strange to me how those two vastly different labels could be seen in the same set of things. Magnificent projects like these seem as though business motives were disregarded in favour of doing something really, really great. Something special.
It is hard to look at the 1950s or 1960s and want to bring almost anything to the present day. The world now is overall a much better place than it was then. Perhaps my rumination is misplaced. But it is bizarre to feel like efforts like these are not possible today because they lack a purpose we care about now. The closest approximation we have now seems to be NASA’s attempt to send people to Mars in the 2030s. NASA is planning to build to that by sending people to the Moon in around 2025, in a craft outsourced to SpaceX. This mission, like Boom’s existence, feels like a retro chic callback to a glorious past mixed with the financialized world of today. Perhaps I do not have an accurate point of reference but it would be nice, I think, if projects like these were a more collective effort that entire nations or the whole world could get behind, as projects for the good of humanity.
Standards Are Good
In case you have not already heard, let me break the news: this year’s iPhones have a USB-C port where the Lightning port used to be. Aside from the physical attributes of each, the main difference between these ports is that Lightning is a proprietary port specific to Apple devices, while USB-C is an open specification which anybody can use. Or, rather, it is an open set of specifications, and everybody who wants to sell a product in Europe must have a compliant charging port beginning next year. This situation is mostly good today, if a little confusing, and I think it will still be pretty good years in the future.
The main problems with USB-C have been well-documented, here and elsewhere. In short, while USB-C describes the shape of the plug, the indistinguishable cables and ports can each support a vast range of capabilities, from audio adapter mode, through power delivery and USB 2.0 speeds, all the way up to Thunderbolt 5. The plugs look the same, and the cords do not differ in any way other than thickness. This confusion is not exclusive to USB-C: the USB 3 standard was introduced with USB-A ports that looked the same as their USB 2 counterparts, especially in Apple’s implementation; and Lightning has supported USB 3 speeds on some iPad models, but only with some accessories that look very similar to their USB 2-only counterparts. But USB-C takes this mix-and-match approach of capabilities, ports, and cables to an extreme.
The confusion is the bad news. The good news is that I have read seemingly everywhere that most people do not sync their iPhones with a cable any longer. Apparently, there are “wireless” technologies which can do this stuff over the air. The living future is wild. If the only reason you connect your iPhone to a cable is to charge it, I have good news: basically none of this matters and just about any USB-C cable should work fine. I swapped the Lightning cable on my nightstand for a spare USB-A to USB-C cable that came with my keyboard — standards are great. If you, like me, still have an ample supply of USB-A wall adapters and have purchased a non-Apple device in the past five years, you probably have one laying around as well. This is the most any of this is relevant to many people.
But transfer speed matters to me and, well, this is my website. I still sync my iPhone over a wire: I do not trust Apple’s cloud music matching shenanigans and, while I have Wi-Fi syncing enabled, it is dramatically slower than even the miserable cable Apple has been shipping for a long time. I used iPerf to test the Wi-Fi transfer speed between my iMac and my MacBook Pro, and it reported an average of about 100 Mbps. That is a steep downgrade from even USB 2 speeds, never mind USB 3.1 This is important enough to me that it is one of the reasons why I bought the 15 Pro over the standard iPhone 15.
I currently sync around 107 GB of music from my Mac to my iPhone. While the math suggests that should be accomplished in around half an hour at USB 2 speeds, it is not so simple. From previous experience, I know a fresh sync usually takes at least 45 minutes, if not closer to a full hour. Unfortunately, while the iPhone 15 Pro is capable of transfer speeds twenty times faster than its predecessor, the cable in the box is not. However, I have a high-speed cable at my desk already — again, standards are great — so I could take advantage of this. The same fresh sync with my new iPhone took just twelve minutes.
Yeah, this rules.
Okay, so that is not even close to a 20× improvement, and those of you who have Android phones are probably laughing at how long it took for the iPhone to get here. To the latter crowd, I hear you. To the former, I do not think music syncing has ever run at full USB speed ever since it was baked into iTunes. I have no idea why.
Nevertheless, that is a huge improvement, which raises the obvious question: what took so long? If Lightning was capable of USB 3 transfer speeds, why was it limited to a handful of iPad Pro accessories? Why did Apple replace Lightning with USB-C in the iPad in 2018 but retain Lightning in the iPhone, AirPods, and its “Magic” line of Mac accessories? While I do not think it was spite or ego driven, Apple has not provided its own rationale. The closest it ever came to explaining Lightning’s longstanding presence was when it introduced the standard in 2012 — when Phil Schiller said it was a “modern connector for the next decade”. That is less of a defence than it is a commitment and, to be fair to Apple, it exceeded those expectations by one year.
So Apple established an ecosystem with its proprietary connector, and it said it would keep it around for ten years. But that does not preclude improving Lightning, as it did in the iPad Pro. There might be some great reasons why Apple never evolved the iPhone’s connector, but we are only able to speculate. That is also true for keeping a mix of USB-C and Lightning products in its lineup. It could have felt stung by the negative press coverage after the Lightning transition, or maybe it wanted to preserve its ecosystem of first- and third-party products out of stability and perhaps control.2 But we do not know because it has chosen to put its weight behind objecting to the E.U.’s mandated USB-C standard instead of explaining why Lightning is just so darn great.
So let us talk about that.
Apple’s Greg Joswiak, in an interview with Joanna Stern of the Wall Street Journal last year, said he prefers to understand what governments want to accomplish, but to leave the details to businesses like Apple. I kind of get where he is coming from on this. Joz also cites the E.U.’s previous dedication to standardizing around Micro USB, which likely would have sucked today, and it is not difficult to see a similar problem for the future. If Apple or some other business develops a wired connection which is better for the iPhone than USB-C but incompatible with its spec and plug shape, it will be hamstrung, right?
Not so: it already produces a dizzying array of iPhone SKUs, including region-specific variations: the United States has a version without a physical SIM card, while the version sold in China and Hong Kong supports dual physical SIM cards. In addition, there are two other versions depending on local cellular frequency requirements. When multiplied by colours and capacities, I count 232 individual iPhone 15 and 15 Pro SKUs. If Apple needs to make a special E.U. market version, it already has that capability — and if the rest of the world gets a much better iPhone, you can bet Apple will emphasize that in its marketing. E.U. users will complain to their representatives. It will work out just fine.
This is all speculative, however, and these arguments would be far easier to believe had Apple updated its Lightning implementation on the iPhone since its launch. If it was constantly innovating in port design or speed, sure, I would have more sympathy. But it has not and, so, I do not. Besides, the rumour mill is certain the next major innovation in iPhone ports is no ports at all. Selfishly, I hope that is not the case; see my own experiences above. We can also only speculate about whether the iPhone was due to get USB-C this year regardless of legislation pushed by the E.U., or if Apple would continue to ride the Lightning connector.
What I do know for sure is how much better my iPhone user experience has been out of the gate with this high-speed USB port. Setup was faster, accessories are more universal, it is a more capable product, and I faced no transition problems. Your experience may vary. Mine, though, is much better than it used to be, and it is baffling to consider the non-cynical reasons why it has taken this long to get here.
I am not sure why this is the case, as the router and devices on the same network each report internet speeds of upwards of 200 Mbps, and the router shows it is connected to each of my Macs at somewhere between 500 Mbps and 1 Gbps. Alas, I would rather have a nail through my foot than spend a weekend diagnosing network problems. What matters is how fast Wi-Fi syncing is in the real world — in my real world — not in theory, and wired connections blow it out of the water every time. ↥︎
The press coverage after the USB-C transition has been nothing like it was with Lightning eleven years ago. The most negative article I found was from the Telegraph and, frankly, that barely counts. CNBC went with a headline focusing on the cost of an adapter, Dan Moren, for Macworld, pointed out all the places Lightning still exists in Apple’s lineup, and USA Today published a weird article that places the iPhone’s cost on a timeline of its connector options. Maybe some publication crappier than the Telegraph posted something even click-baitier, but that is basically going to be disreputable by default. ↥︎
Normally, I would not cover a patch update, even if it does contain fixes for three actively exploited vulnerabilities — something which seems increasingly routine. In this case, it is notable because many of you will likely be receiving new iPhones shipping with iOS 17.0 in a matter of hours. (It is before 11:00 am in Australia as I write this.)
You may wish to make one of two choices:
update your current iPhone, and be sure to update the new one before trying to restore from backup; or
wait to update until after your new iPhone arrives tomorrow and you have restored from backup, and perhaps enable Lockdown Mode to be safe.
The latter option is probably not your best choice, but either way should preserve backup compatibility. Just something to keep in mind.
Update: Well, after I hit “publish”, I saw a tweet from Ramal showing an iOS 17.0.2 update that Apple says is available for all iPhone 15 models, and “fixes an issue that may prevent transferring data directly from another iPhone during set-up”.
Today at an event in New York, we announced our vision for Microsoft Copilot — a digital companion for your whole life — that will create a single Copilot user experience across Bing, Edge, Microsoft 365, and Windows. As a first step toward realizing this vision, we’re unveiling a new visual identity — the Copilot icon — and creating a consistent user experience that will start to roll out across all our Copilots, first in Windows on September 26 and then in Microsoft 365 Copilot when it is generally available for enterprise customers on November 1.
This is a typically ambitious effort from Microsoft. Copilot replaces Cortana, which will mostly be dropped later this year, and is being pitched as a next-generation virtual assistant in a similar do everything vein. This much I understand; tying virtual assistants to voice controls does not make much sense because sometimes — and, for me, a lot of the time — you do not want to be chatting with your computer. That is certainly a nice option and a boon for accessibility, but clear and articulate speech should not be required to use these kinds of features.
Microsoft’s implementation, however, is worrisome as I use a Windows PC at my day job. Carmen Zlateff, Microsoft Windows vice president, demoed a feature today in which she said “as soon as I copy the text, Copilot appears” in a large sidebar that spans the entire screen height. I copy a lot of stuff in a day, and I cannot tell you how much I do not want a visually intrusive — if not necessarily interruptive — feature like this. I hope I will be able to turn this off.
Meanwhile, a bunch of this stuff is getting jammed into Edge and Microsoft 365 productivity apps. Edge is getting so bloated it seems like the company will need to make a new browseragain very soon. The Office features might help me get through a bunch of emails very quickly, but the kinds of productivity enhancements Microsoft suggests for me have not yet materialized into something I actually find useful. Its Viva Insights tool, introduced in 2021, is supposed to analyze your individual working patterns and provide recommendations, but I cannot see why I should pay attention to a graphic that looks like the Solar System illustrating which of my colleagues I spoke with least last week. Designing dashboards like these are a fun project and they make great demos. I am less convinced of their utility.
I get the same kind of vibe from Copilot. I hope it will be effective at summarizing all my pre-reads for a meeting, but I have my doubts. So much of what Microsoft showed today requires a great deal of trust from users: trust in its ability to find connections; in its accuracy; in its ability to balance helpfulness and intrusion; in its neutrality to its corporate overlords. One demo showed someone searching for cleats using Microsoft’s shopping search engine and getting a deal with the browser-based coupon finder. It is a little thing, but can I trust Copilot and Microsoft Shopping are showing me the best quality results that are most relevant, or should I just assume this is a lightly personalized way to see which companies have the highest ad spend with Microsoft?
It seems risky to so confidently launch something like this at a time when trust in big technology companies is at rock-bottom levels in the United States, especially among young people. Microsoft is certainly showing it is at the leading edge of this stuff, and you should expect more from its competitors very soon. I am just not sure giving more autonomy to systems like these from powerful corporations is what people most want.
Peers have passed a controversial new law aimed at making social media firms more responsible for users’ safety on their platforms.
The Online Safety Bill has taken years to agree and will force firms to remove illegal content and protect children from some legal but harmful material.
Lawyer Graham Smith, author of a book on internet law, said the bill had well-meaning aims, but in the end it contained much that was problematic.
“If the road to hell is paved with good intentions, this is a motorway,” he told the BBC.
Remember how, a couple of weeks ago, there was lots of press coverage celebrating an apparent withdrawal of provisions in the bill which required encryption to be broken, largely based on a Financial Times report? You may recall my subtly different interpretation based on the actual words of Lord Parkinson promoting the bill’s passage, and an actual reading of the text of the bill, which indicated that regulators would be granted the power to build something impossible.
Well, I do not mean to gloat — this is a very serious issue — but it seems I was right. Did that sound like gloating? Sorry.
A clause of the bill allows Ofcom, the British telecom regulator, to serve a notice requiring tech companies to scan their users–all of them–for child abuse content.This would affect even messages and files that are end-to-end encrypted to protect user privacy. As enacted, the OSB allows the government to force companies to build technology that can scan regardless of encryption–in other words, build a backdoor.
So it seems the UK government’s idea is that Internet companies will be ordered to come up with ways to break end-to-end encryption while maintaining privacy. But don’t worry, because that magic encryption backdoor will only be there as a “safety net”, not as something that will ever be used routinely. Of course.
It seems plausible to me for regulators to avoid making any immediate orders that providers of encrypted messaging services should do the impossible. But one day a model case will come along — and we will be having this discussion all over again.
By the way, it is not just encrypted messaging which has been put at risk in the U.K. because of this bill. The resources of the Wikimedia Foundation will probably be blocked in the U.K. because those sites — wisely — do not engage in mass data collection or user profiling, so they cannot effectively verify users’ ages.
I was still using iTunes until 2019, when Apple decided to sunset the app and replace it with a new media player called Music (not to be confused with Apple Music, the streaming service). The appeal of the app remains the same: a media player where I can see my entire music library hosted on my local machine rather than in the cloud. […]
I sympathize with this — though, judging by the number of bug reports I have filed against it, I suspect Apple has forgotten it builds a Music app for MacOS.
[…] In fact, I have several libraries across different devices and drives that — much to my dismay — all differ from one another slightly. What I lack in portability, I make up for in security. […]
I cannot understand this. I have just one music library and I am determined to keep the metadata on each song and album just so. That is why there is no chance I will enable the “Sync Library” option; I have zero confidence in Apple’s ability to avoid fucking it all up. (Did I mention how many bug reports I have filed against the Music app?)
That separation is key, I think, and one reason I reject the premise of this article. The headline chosen by the Times is “Want to Enjoy Music More? Stop Streaming It”, which I find awfully prescriptive. Buying music and maintaining a local media library is meaningful to me and, I am sure, many other people. But I also enjoy sampling all the albums unlocked by my streaming subscription.
If anything, I think that is the recommendation I would give: if you want to enjoy music more, try enjoying more music. Listen to intimidating albums. Listen to stuff everyone else is listening to. Listen to things you do not understand. Listen to classic records you have not spent any time with. Check out the recommendations from reviewers, old-school blogs, and YouTubers. Try to make it through albums you think you dislike, and resist the urge to turn on something more familiar. Maybe your first impressions of any of these things will be confirmed, but maybe you will find something you like so much that you want to buy it.
Streaming services are all the piracy with none of the guilt. It is a broken model that is only slightly better than when this stuff came through illicit downloads from risky places. If someone can buy music outright, artists will benefit, but I cannot see how it implicitly makes them a better music enjoyer.
Apple’s iPhone 15 Pro and Pro Max bring a lot to the table across the board, from a gaming-ready chip, to USB-C, and — of course — photography. It is that last point where we are putting the emphasis, and this review is specifically for those of you who care about the iPhone as a camera.
If the iPhone is less a telephone and more of a camera, it makes sense to review it from that perspective. When the 24 megapixel mode was announced last week, I had to wonder why that became an option since it uses the same 48 megapixel sensor as the 14 Pro with the same pixel binning. Turns out it does wonders for retaining detail and reducing the over-processed look of iPhone photos.
The internet promised, among other things, absolute audience surveillance, full measurability, and perfect knowledge of who was watching what, when, and for how long. What it delivered, instead, was metric tons of metric bullshit. Endowed with new powers of self-measurement, media companies, advertising firms, and online platforms have turned metrics into something approaching misinformation. […]
Everyone knows it is not really possible to measure how many people see a print advertisement. A web ad, though, is supposed to have certainty, as Herrman writes: it is being shown to just the right audience this many times. None of that is true. But the people who are responsible for this have destroyed the privacy of billions of people while pretending this is a realistic goal. Just one more tracking script and one more data category — that ought to do it.
In 1972, the Temptations hit number one on the Billboard Hot 100 charts, winning three Grammys, with a seven-minute version of the song “Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone.” Before the Temptations sing a word, an instrumental introduction featuring organ, guitar, bass, and a hi-hat cymbal ebbs and flows for more than four minutes. If the group were in the studio today, the title chorus would most likely have been featured much earlier in the song. That’s because music streaming services pay artists based on the number of plays each month, and to count as a play, a user must listen to the song past the 30-second mark. […]
This is quite a good article about how streaming incentivizes big-name artists to release large quantities of shorter songs more frequently. This particular example — which sets up the article’s premise — bugged me, though perhaps it plays better in the book. In its context here, however, it suggests songs like the Temptations track in question were routine chart-toppers. This is not the case.
During the week it hit number one on the Billboard Hot 100, the next nine songs below it were almost all about three-and-a-half minutes long, with the exceptions of the 2:44 “I Can See Clearly Now” by Johnny Nash, and “I’d Love You to Want Me” by Lobo which is just over four minutes long. Oddly enough, there wasone other seven-minute song on the list that week, but it was in fortieth place, down from a peak of 27, and earlier that year, Don McLean’s nine-minute “American Pie” topped the charts.1 But the vast majority of songs in the top 50 did not even cross the four-minute mark.
Stories about how hit songs are getting shorter are a populargenre with similar diagnoses — streaming incentivizes brevity. Unfortunately, most of these articles rely on a single study which only stretches back to 2000. A more fulsome analysis by Mark Bannister shows peaks of much longer songs in the early 1980s through early 1990s, plateauing at a higher average in the mid-to-late 1990s, before falling. Today’s average song lengths would be fairly typical on the charts of fifty years ago.
This is fascinating to me. Without reading the book — though it is on my list and I am looking forward to it — it suggests the things which motivated single and album releases in the 1960s are somewhat replicated in today’s streaming environment. You can kind of see that if you start looking: pop songs were short and catchy, typically written by someone other than the performer, and singles were bundled with a bunch of filler songs to make an LP. Buying an entire record is no longer the point, but getting people to listen to a entire record’s worth of songs is. iTunes created a market for singles in the digital era; streaming services have created a market for relentless single-length songs.
Still, sometimes trend breakers appear. A couple of years ago, a Taylor Swift song hit number one on the Billboard charts, which is not extraordinary in itself. What was notable is its length: a shade over ten minutes.
Microsoft’s Yusuf Mehdi, who oversees its consumer marketing efforts, is taking over the firm’s Surface and Windows businesses with the external PC makers and retail partners, as longtime product chief Panos Panay steps down.
Bloomberg reported that Panay is being hired by Amazon.com to run the unit responsible for the firm’s Alexa and Echo products, replacing David Limp, the unit’s current chief who has said he plans to retire this year.
I promise I am nearly done with new iPhone posts, but I want to leave you with this one from Max Read:
Here in 2023, that air of mystery and expectation is gone. Every phone looks the same; every announcement has been widely leaked. But there is still a good reason to attend to Apple’s marketing extravaganzas: The fake texts.
A truly rich text — and, appropriately, there is someone named Rich in this year’s texts.
iPhone Pricing and Inflation
I thought this analysis by Wally Nowinski, of PerfectRec, was intriguing, but perhaps not completely convincing. Nowinski says the most recent batch of iPhones are, with the exception of the Pro Max, the “most affordable” iPhones since the product’s launch, when adjusting for inflation, and has the figures to prove it. The data is sound. The point of this is what I did not find as compelling.
For a start, it is purportedly a price comparison of unlocked iPhone models in the United States, which immediately makes it less relevant to me. But it is worth noting that Apple did not sell unlocked iPhones in the U.S. until the iPhone 4 in June 2011 — just before the launch of the iPhone 4S — and that the original iPhone was $499 but only worked with AT&T when it came out.
A brief aside, as we are discussing the historical value of unlocked iPhones: while the original iPhone was released without a subsidized contract, it was so tied to AT&T that the first strategies for unlocking one for use on another carrier involved soldering the board. Unlocked iPhones were so coveted at the time that George Hotz swapped the second one he made for a Nissan 350Z and three (locked) iPhones.
This is going to seem self-defining, but Nowinski’s analysis is true for any fixed price because that is how inflation works, and central banks have encouraged modest inflation. Everything else is getting more expensive and a dollar has less spending power, but a thousand-dollar iPhone is still a thousand dollars with more money going around. But that has been true for any thousand-dollar product in the U.S. since the iPhone’s launch, save for a few months in 2020 and the fallout from the 2008 housing crash.
What is more curious to me is that this is the only metric by which the flagship iPhone has become less expensive since its 2007 release. According to this analysis, the base price of a flagship model iPhone has increased from an inflation-adjusted $732 for the original model to $999 for the iPhone 15 Pro. And the Pro models are, I think, the true successors of the iPhone lineage — they get the new SoCs, the new cameras, and new industrial designs. The non-Pro models now get last year’s Pro camera systems, last year’s SoC, and — in the case of the iPhone 15 — last year’s special industrial design touch by way of the Dynamic Island.1 They are a newer expression of the n–1 strategy.
Across the history of each of the product lines, in fact, there are only two instances in which Nowinski’s pricing table shows price decreases:
The iPhone 5C is grouped with the iPhone SE line and, thus, appears to show a $150 decrease from the 5C to the SE.
I do not think this is the correct grouping for these models. The simultaneous releases of the iPhone 5C and 5S were more akin to today’s regular and Pro split. The iPhone 5C was an iPhone 5 with a plastic case instead of aluminum, and Apple only shipped the iPhone 5 for one year. The 5C was not the budget line that is the iPhone SE, but it was not the flagship that year either.
The iPhone XR was $50 more expensive than the iPhone 8 of the previous year, and that was matched by a $50 decrease with the iPhone 11 the following year. But, again, not the flagship.
Though it is possible to find isolated cases of Apple dropping the nominal price of its products — like the second-generation iPod Mini, the iMac G4, and the MacBook Air — it has been fairly rare since the iPhone’s introduction. Instead, it tends to hold price points steady for as long as it can. For example, it has tried to maintain a consumer laptop at the sub-thousand-dollar price point since at least 2002. And, sure enough, this analysis basically holds true for that product, too: today’s 13-inch base model MacBook Air with the M2 chip may cost a hundred dollars more than an iBook G3 did in 2002, but the iBook would today cost an inflation-adjusted $1,700.
What I find more interesting about Nowinski’s analysis is the cost of the Plus-model iPhones. They had an inflation-adjusted cost that was just about a thousand dollars — the same price point that today’s “Pro” iPhones start at. Those were the models which introduced a multi-camera setup to the iPhone line and added new photography capabilities. It proved there are plenty of people who will put up with an enormous iPhone if it has the best camera — which sounds familiar. To be sure, many big iPhones are sold to people who want big iPhones. But I would bet a large number of iPhone 7 Pluses, iPhone 12 Pro Maxes, and — now — iPhone 15 Pro Maxes are sold to people who want the best camera in an iPhone, hands and pockets be damned.
A ProMotion display with a higher refresh rate, however, remains a Pro-only thing. ↥︎
I have never seen a mobile device be built like this from a major company, especially one that costs $500. Usually this style of “individual components sparsely mounted on risers” is reserved for counterfeit SSDs that are really just thumb drives and a lead weight repackaged in a bigger box, or maybe “mini” consoles that end up being a single chip in a box. I cannot overstate how strange it is to see a major OEM just mount a few spare parts in a box and call it a day.
I am sure it is a fine tablet, and there are probably reasons for this, but it really looks like a hobbyist effort. Bizarre.
Finally, we come to Jason Snell’s surprise at how light the 15 Pro seemed when he played with it in the hands-on area. He mentioned this not only in his Macworld article, but also in the post-keynote episode of Upgrade. You wouldn’t expect a change from 206 g for the 14 Pro to 187 g for the 15 Pro would be that noticeable, but Greg Joswiak mentioned it in the keynote and Jason confirmed it. How can that be?
Drang questions if where the mass is distributed within the iPhone’s body could play a role in how much lighter the phone feels — apparently, more than its specs suggest. But most people upgrading to a new iPhone will probably have a phone much older than last year’s model. The iPhone 15 Pro weighs just two grams less than my 12 Pro, according to Apple’s spec sheet, which is a negligible difference. If the weight distribution plays a role, it is possible it will feel much lighter than it actually is.
The last time I can remember commentators remarking upon the weight savings of a new iPhone was with the iPhone 5, which was 112 grams compared to its predecessor’s 140 grams, and the iPhone 5 spread that weight across a taller body. The weight difference then was 28 grams compared to just 19 between the 14 Pro and 15 Pro.
Update: I feel obligated to mention that the iPhone 4S to iPhone 5 weight savings was the result of two materials changes: the iPhone 4S’ stainless steel band and back glass panel were both replaced with aluminum.
Apple today announced its first-ever carbon neutral products in the all-new Apple Watch Lineup. Innovations in design and clean energy have driven dramatic reductions in product emissions of over 75 percent for each carbon neutral Apple Watch. This milestone marks a major step in the company’s journey toward its ambitious Apple 2030 goal to make every product carbon neutral by the end of the decade, including the entire global supply chain and the lifetime use of every device Apple makes.
When it comes to climate commitments, boasts about a specific product’s sustainability can distract from the far more important goal of reducing the company’s overall environmental impact. Apple has a goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2030, the key measure for which we should hold it accountable.
The explainer video Apple showed during the presentation was a clever and surprisingly entertaining way of stating its environmental progress. Apple’s goals are laudable and it is making progress — it even bragged about repairability today — but even the best efforts should not escape scrutiny. In that video, for example, various Apple executives (and actors) rattle off clear, specific changes: no plastic in product packaging by the end of next year, and using recycled aluminum in all MacBook, Apple TV, and Apple Watch enclosures. Then there are two claims which need more context:
Someone representing Apple says the company is “shipping more products by ocean […] which reduces transportation emissions by 95%” compared to air travel, but does not clarify what is the total effect this will have on all of Apple’s transportation emissions.
Lisa Jackson says Apple has reduced water usage by 63 billion gallons, but it is not clear how much that represents. That is obviously a lot of water in absolute terms. But how much is it relative to the company’s total water usage?
Some additional context is provided on page 50 of Apple’s annual environmental report (PDF), where it clarifies this is a total water savings since 2013. It also says water usage in its supply chain represents 99% of its footprint, and that its own facilities in 2022 used 1.5 billion gallons. That may mean its total water footprint in 2022 was 150 billion gallons, but it is not clearly stated, and I am not sure these figures are actually comparable in the way that I did.
Like all corporate responsibility programs, there is an undercurrent of marketing cynicism that is hard to unwind from the honest good happening here. That is a shame because I really do believe Jackson, and Tim Cook, and Apple want to minimize the environmental impact of the company’s products. I think that is something they care about earnestly.
Even so, this ought not be the effort of a single corporation — or even multiple ones — that they opt into or out of. The value of the Earth is not a competitive advantage. Nor, for that matter, should individuals have to make purchasing choices on that basis. If we really consider our environment a priority, these are things we should be investing in on a societal basis and with legal teeth.
The iPhone 15 Pro line announced today managed to tick most of the rumour boxes: it is made of titanium and available in a range of tinted greys, it will be able to take spatial video compatible with the forthcoming Vision Pro, the big model has a more impressive telephoto camera, and it has a USB-C port in place of Lightning. Apple cites a wide range of benefits:
The iPhone 15 Pro lineup offers convenient new ways to charge, find friends in busy places, and stay connected while travelling. Both models use the USB‑C connector, a universally accepted standard for charging and transferring data, allowing the same cable to charge iPhone, Mac, iPad, and the updated AirPods Pro (2nd generation). Users can also charge AirPods or Apple Watch directly from iPhone with the USB‑C connector. iPhone 15 Pro and iPhone 15 Pro Max support USB 3 for data transfer speeds up to 10 gigabits per second, up to 20x faster than before.
But, as rumoured, the speed advantages are limited to the Pro models. Even if you use a faster cable with the standard iPhone 15, it will only support USB 2 speeds — the same data transfer standard used by the iPods Apple sold twenty years ago. It also appears to me that the cable included with the Pro models is limited to USB 2 speeds and taking advantage of the faster speeds of a standard now ten years old requires the purchase of another cable.
I know lots of people will write this off as a petty complaint for a feature not many people will use and even fewer will take full advantage of — that USB 2 is good enough for most people. But the thousand-dollar “Pro” model iPhones are not supposed to be good enough; they are supposed to be the flagship models, showcasing the best of what Apple is able to do for that year. Besides, USB 2 has not actually been good enough for a very long time. It was Apple’s decision to neglect that connectivity even at a time when more people were regularly using wired data transfers.
But, at the very least, it is here: you can buy a $10 braided cable from Monoprice and get fast wired transfers plus, as Apple is wont to brag, universal charging for all your stuff. Imagine that.
One rumour that did not pan out as expected is a $100 across-the-board price increase. Greg Joswiak emphasized that the iPhone 15 Pro “will start at the same price as last year, $999” and noted that, while the Pro Max appears to have a $100 price increase, it starts at a 256 GB of storage instead of 128 GB, so it is also the same price as an equivalent iPhone 14 Pro Max. The U.S. press release reiterates this claim — “iPhone 15 Pro remains at the same starting price”.
That is not necessarily true elsewhere. In Canada, Apple increased the price of a base model iPhone 15 Pro by $50 compared to the equivalent outgoing model, while there is a $100 price bump in Australia and New Zealand. In the U.K., the new models are £100 less expensive than their predecessors.
I am looking forward to reading some reviews of these next week. My early impressions are pretty positive as far as what I was looking for. It is barely lighter than my 12 Pro, but it is a little narrower and thinner (Update: I got mixed up; it is actually thicker by 0.85 mm); its telephoto camera is much improved, though not as much as the one in the Pro Max; and it has considerably better battery life. Based on what I have seen so far, I think I know what I am getting: a 15 Pro in Natural Titanium. And a handful of Monoprice cables.
Apple and Microsoft have argued with Brussels that some of their services are insufficiently popular to be designated as “gatekeepers” under new landmark EU legislation designed to curb the power of Big Tech.
Separately, Apple argued that iMessage did not meet the threshold of user numbers at which the rules applied and therefore should not comply with obligations that include opening the service to rival apps such as Meta’s WhatsApp, said the two people.
So far, it seems the only two messaging services impacted by the Digital Markets Act are Meta’s: Whatsapp and Facebook Messenger. Perhaps the best argument in favour of displaying messages from other clients within dominant apps was made by Meta itself when it began merging its many messaging clients.
In our research, four out of five people who use messaging apps in the US say that spending more time connecting with friends and family on these apps is important to them, yet one out of three people sometimes find it difficult to remember where to find a certain conversation thread. With this update, it will be even easier to stay connected without thinking about which app to use to reach your friends and family.
Of course, I have many questions about this would mean from a security and privacy standpoint. I have no idea what this would look like. Perhaps third-party clients will be able to develop plugins for Meta’s messaging apps which will permit their functionality — including end-to-end encryption — in a secure environment?
Much of the reporting on this suggests it was a big loss for the Biden administration. The reality is that it’s a mostly appropriate slap on the wrist that hopefully will keep the administration from straying too close to the 1st Amendment line again. It basically threw out 9.5 out of 10 “prohibitions” placed by the lower court, and even on the half a prohibition it left, it said it didn’t apply to the parts of the government that the GOP keeps insisting were the centerpieces of the giant conspiracy they made up in their minds. The court finds that CISA, Anthony Fauci’s NIAID, and the State Department did not do anything wrong and are no longer subject to any prohibitions.
Note that in the paragraph above, the one that the 5th Circuit uses to claim that the platform polices were controlled by the CDC, it admits that the sites were reaching out to the CDC themselves, asking them for info. That… doesn’t sound coercive. That sounds like trust & safety teams recognizing that they’re not the experts in a very serious and rapidly changing crisis… and asking the experts.
It bothered me when I saw criticism of platforms for involving the CDC and Surgeon General and taking their advice. It seemed like a knock against the very idea of expertise, and a celebration of forced topical ignorance.
There are those who believe platforms should not take any moderation action against any posts made by users, but they are a fringe group and largely not worth taking seriously. The question about moderation is not if platforms should be involved, but where they should draw the line — and there are many circumstances where the answer to that will be unclear. Why would they not ask subject matter experts for their input? Platforms are still able to make their own choices about which posts are violative and what action may be taken against them. Involving experts seems like moderators are taking their responsibilities to balance expression and safety more seriously, not less — even when those experts work for the government.
Every city has its secrets. Washington, D.C., may have more than most, but I wasn’t there to dig up bodies, corporeal or political. My interest in visiting our nation’s capital was to find out more about a covert society, an organization of carpoolers who use codes and word of mouth to work around D.C.’s notorious traffic jams and exorbitant tolls. Under cherry blossoms light as dreams and in the long shadow of the Washington Monument, I set out in search of slugs.
Families visiting Chessington World of Adventures Resort can avoid Sadiq Khan’s hated Ultra Low Emission Zone (Ulez) by parking nearby for free and getting a bus — as visitors share tips on how to dodge £20 charges.
Commuters in Washington DC are avoiding “notorious traffic jams and exorbitant tolls” by carpooling; people in the U.K. are “dodging” expanded emissions pricing by taking public transportation and walking. Regardless of whether you think high-occupancy lanes and the ULEZ are good ideas, this is the system working as designed. There has got to be a name for this framing of intended behaviour as acts of defiance.
Anyway, Apple is going to introduce phones with the universal USB-C port tomorrow instead of its proprietary Lightning port.
Why will Apple be so upbeat about a change it didn’t ask for? That’s because the company has an iron-clad rule: When it’s introducing a new product or dealing with the media, it always wants to operate from a position of strength. Apple’s keynote presentation won’t mention the European Union or make reference to the many times over the past few years that it criticized the government’s decision to require USB-C.
Apple — like any company — is going to market its products as good and innovative regardless of circumstance. Its presentation of USB-C will likely be no different, but it will be conspicuous how much this decision matches legislated requirements, even if Apple wants to present it as a decision it made for users’ benefit.
Already, one of the book’s critical passages has sparked geopolitical drama — and an embarrassing public walk-back by Isaacson. In an excerpt from the book published in The Washington Post on Friday, Isaacson recounts how Musk single-handedly foiled a Ukrainian sneak attack on a Russian naval fleet in Crimea by cutting off the Starlink satellite internet service Ukraine’s drones were relying on. Isaacson writes that Musk made the decision because he feared the attack could lead to nuclear war, based on his conversation weeks earlier with a Russian ambassador.
But when CNN obtained the excerpt and reported on it, Musk tweeted a different account. He said he didn’t cut Ukraine’s Starlink service in Crimea; it was already deactivated there, and he refused the Ukrainians’ emergency request to activate it so they could carry out the attack. Isaacson tweeted Friday that Musk’s version of the story was accurate, meaning the passage in his book is misleading.
This can be considered, at best, a mixed review of Isaacson’s book, but is that fair? If there is already one pretty significant error in Isaacson’s original reporting in this high-profile, all-access biography — one that its own author is pointing out days ahead of its Tuesday release — that gives me pause, especially considering Musk himself is not a reliable narrator.
Update: In a lengthy interview with Shawn McCreesh of New York, Isaacson seems to believe Musk has sent a rocket to Mars, something which has not happened.
I like Kagi’s idea of shuffling indie blog posts — kind of like a directory-based StumbleUpon — but I am most curious about its announcement that it will be elevating posts from these sites in search results.1 Surely authority and relevance carry heavier weighting in ranking these search results, but the idea of bringing more independent voices with fresh links onto a search results page is intriguing. The fact that it is based on an allow-list means it is more limited, but also perhaps less prone to manipulation.
The path of vanilla to our table is less straightforward, and its provenance is often still elusive on commercial labels. But already you can find vanilla beans from Madagascar at Walmart and order beans and bottles for making homemade vanilla extract (alcohol not included) on Amazon. Small companies like VanillaPura and Native Vanilla offer rarer specimens online, from the Malabar Coast of India, the Amazon rainforest and the Mexican Yucatán; Sri Lanka, Papua New Guinea, Tanzania, Uganda, Ecuador and Peru; and the islands of Comoros, Oahu, the Marquesas and Vanuatu. You are enticed with notes of toffee, guava, flowers, earth, ripeness, shimmer. In a word, the world.
For the last few months Instagram has served me a constant stream of ads for hard drugs, stolen credit cards, hacked accounts, guns, counterfeit cash, wholesale quantities of weed, and Cash App scams, as well as a Russian-language job posting seeking paid-in-cash massage therapists. Nearly all of these advertisements link directly to Telegram accounts where the drugs or illegal services can be directly purchased. With one tap, I was repeatedly taken from bouncing through Instagram stories of my friends on vacation to Telegram chat accounts where I could buy automatic weapons, meth, and stolen credit cards.
Besides being delivered directly to me by Instagram’s algorithm, thousands of these ads can be trivially found on Meta’s ad library by searching “t.me,” which is the link shortener for Telegram, exposing a massive content moderation and ad screening failure by the company.
A Meta spokesperson originally told me that views for illegal goods make up less than .05 percent of what people see, though with billions of users, that still makes up potentially millions of views. Again, Meta is being paid to inject these into people’s feeds (but has no problem throttling journalism about its practices).
So, two weeks later, let’s see if one of the richest and most powerful companies in the world has discovered how to perform a basic search on its own platform.
In addition to guns, drugs, counterfeit currency, and duplicated credit cards, I also found counterfeit passports, betting rings on what are claimed to be fixed soccer matches, steroids, and various foreign exchange investment schemes which are likely fraudulent. It is plausible to me that a similar problem may exist on Google Ads, but its Ads Transparency Center does not permit full-text search. I often see ads for sketchy supplements, financial advice from deep-faked celebrities, and variations of the power saver scam.
All of these ads would be rejected by any ad provider worried about maintaining a reputation for quality. For Google and Meta, they are an everyday occurrence.
In November 2022, the password manager service LastPass disclosed a breach in which hackers stole password vaults containing both encrypted and plaintext data for more than 25 million users. Since then, a steady trickle of six-figure cryptocurrency heists targeting security-conscious people throughout the tech industry has led some security experts to conclude that crooks likely have succeeded at cracking open some of the stolen LastPass vaults.
Dan Goodin at Ars Technica reported and then confirmed that the [LastPass] attackers exploited a known vulnerability in a Plex media server that the employee was running on his home network, and succeeded in installing malicious software that stole passwords and other authentication credentials. The vulnerability exploited by the intruders was patched back in 2020, but the employee never updated his Plex software.
I completely missed this development, which was reported earlier this year, regarding the cause of the LastPass breach. It is an extraordinary heist: a security problem in Plex, of all things, has probably resulted in the theft of $35 million worth of cryptocurrency from a bunch of LastPass users.
The UK government will concede it will not use controversial powers in the online safety bill to scan messaging apps for harmful content until it is “technically feasible” to do so, postponing measures that critics say threaten users’ privacy.
A planned statement to the House of Lords on Wednesday afternoon will mark an eleventh-hour effort by ministers to end a stand-off with tech companies, including WhatsApp, that have threatened to pull their services from the UK over what they claimed was an intolerable threat to millions of users’ security.
The statement is set to outline that Ofcom, the tech regulator, will only require companies to scan their networks when a technology is developed that is capable of doing so, according to people briefed on the plan. Many security experts believe it could be years before any such technology is developed, if ever.
The government has denied that its position has changed. In a statement in the House of Lords, the minister, Lord Parkinson, clarified that if the technology to access messages without breaking their security did not exist, then Ofcom would have the power to ask companies to develop the ability to identify and remove illegal child sexual abuse content on their platforms.
Indeed, the Bill already stated that the regulator Ofcom would only ask tech firms to access messages once “feasible technology” had been developed which would specifically only target child abuse content and not break encryption.
The government has tasked tech firms with inventing these tools.
The statement, which begins at around 16:16:57 in this recording, does not sound to me exactly as the Financial Times described. Here is what Lord Parkinson, speaking in alignment with the government as a Conservative, said, as best as I could transcribe it:1
A number of Noble Lords have mentioned — and I am aware of — press coverage about encryption. There is, let me be clear, no intention by the Government to weaken the encryption technology used by platforms, and we’ve built strong safeguards into the bill to ensure that users’ privacy is protected.
While the safety duties apply regardless of design, the bill is clear that Ofcom cannot require companies to use proactive technology on private communications in order to comply with these duties. Ofcom can only require the use of a technology — [sic] a private communications service by issuing a notice to tackle child sexual exploitation and abuse content under clause 122. A notice can only be issued where technically feasible, and where technology has been accredited as meeting minimum standards of accuracy in detecting only child sexual abuse and exploitation content. Ofcom is also required to comply with existing data protection legislation when issuing a notice under clause 122 and, as a public body, is bound by the Human Rights Act of 1998 and the European Convention on Human Rights.
When deciding whether to issue a notice, Ofcom will work closely with the service to help identify reasonable, technically feasible solutions to address the child sexual exploitation and abuse risk, including drawing on evidence from a skilled persons report. If appropriate technology does not exist which meets these requirements, Ofcom cannot require its use. That is why the powers include the ability for Ofcom to require companies to make best endeavours to develop or source a new solution. It is right that Ofcom should be able to require technology companies to use their considerable resources and their expertise to develop the best possible protections for children in encrypted environments.
That has been our longstanding policy position. Our stance on tackling child sexual abuse online remains firm, and we have always been clear that the bill takes a measured, evidence-based approach to doing so.
The second paragraph, as I have transcribed it, appears to be missing a connecting word — “by”, perhaps? Even though that is unclear, this argument is tautological: the government is arguing that technology companies will not be required to use technology which does not exist or is impossible. Which, well, duh. But then it says Ofcom is empowered to demand tech companies develop this impossible technology to the best of their abilities: “that is why the powers […] require companies to make best endeavours to develop” something which can meet the requirements it sets out.
I could be misinterpreting this, but I do not think I am. It really sounds like the U.K. government wants operators of encrypted services to throw their “considerable resources” at doing as much as possible to solve the impossible. And then Lord Parkinson has the gall to conclude this bill is “evidence-based”.
Another view is that this is an attempt at a last-minute diplomatic resolution in which neither the tech firms nor the government lose face: the government says it knew all along that the tech did not exist and removes immediate pressure from the tech firms to invent it, and the tech firms claim a victory for privacy.
This seems like the most realistic interpretation of this statement and, perhaps, it will close the book on the specific risks of the online safety bill for now. But, make no mistake, we will be having this same conversation in a few years. Maybe it will not be in a British accent — there are plenty of governments which are eager to weaken end-to-end encryption based on a wide variety of excuses — but we will be talking about this again very soon.
Update: Reader Ashley pointed me via email to the official transcript of Lord Parkinson’s remarks in which it is clarified that he had said (emphasis mine) “Ofcom can require the use of a technology by a private communication service only by issuing a notice to tackle child sexual exploitation and abuse content under Clause 122″.
Dark mode is more popular than ever. You might even think it’s essential — at least if you were to read many of the web-design articles devoted to the topic. However, it takes valuable time and resources to fully support dark mode and “wear it well” because most designs are built in light mode first. To understand how much dark mode impacts users, we recently conducted a survey and some mobile usability-testing sessions in dark mode on mobile.
In all cases, the best thing you can do is mirror a user’s preferences and the system default. On the web, this can be achieved very simply by using CSS variables to define page colours for light mode, and then use a prefers-color-scheme: dark media query to redefine those same variables for dark mode. (Or, if you prefer, the other way around.)
One finding I was surprised by is how many people surveyed by the NNG did not notice when an app violated their preference by showing a light-mode screen when it should have been in dark mode or vice-versa. For many, it seems dark mode is mostly an aesthetic preference, though the NNG notes some possible benefits for those with visual disabilities.
Car makers have been bragging about their cars being “computers on wheels” for years to promote their advanced features. However, the conversation about what driving a computer means for its occupants’ privacy hasn’t really caught up. While we worried that our doorbells and watches that connect to the internet might be spying on us, car brands quietly entered the data business by turning their vehicles into powerful data-gobbling machines. Machines that, because of their all those brag-worthy bells and whistles, have an unmatched power to watch, listen, and collect information about what you do and where you go in your car.
All 25 car brands we researched earned our *Privacy Not Included warning label — making cars the official worst category of products for privacy that we have ever reviewed.
General Motors announced earlier this year that its cars will no longer support CarPlay. The objective, according to Brian Sozzi of Yahoo Finance, is that it is “aiming to collect more of its own data to not only better understand drivers, but to pad its longer-term profit margins“. According to Mozilla’s researchers, GM’s major brands — including Chevrolet and GMC — are among the worst of this very bad bunch.
Mozilla has supplementary articles about how automakers collect and use personal data, and they are worth a read. It is entirely possible these privacy policies reflect an overly broad approach, that cars do not actually collect vast amounts of personal information, and that the data brokers who have partnered with automakers are marketing themselves more ambitiously than they are able to deliver. But is that better? Automakers either collect vast amounts of private information which they share with data brokers and use for targeted advertising efforts, or they are lying and only wish they were collecting and sharing vast amounts of private information.
The iPhone 12 Pro: A Three-Year Review
I want to try something a little bit different: a review of a product at what is likely the end of my using it. Early product reviews are great buyer’s guides, but they tend to dwell on the novel, which is understandable for using a product for only a week or two. I have lived with my iPhone 12 Pro for nearly three full years — I got mine on its release day in October 2020 — so I know it very well. Here is what I am still impressed by, what has not held up as well, and what I will be looking for when I replace it this year.
This was one eye-catching phone out of the box. Compared to the standard iPhone 12’s glossy glass back, the bead-blasted glass of the Pro models is a subtly luxurious and almost soft finish. I chose the silver model, which I still think is the nicest of the four colours it was available in at launch — the others being graphite, gold, and a finish Apple insists on calling “pacific blue”, all lowercase — and the flat polished steel of the phone’s edge trim lost its magic after just a few months. I rarely use a case and, so, I was expecting scratches. But I did not anticipate some kind of corrosion or blooming on its top edge, which has made the stainless steel look more like chrome-mimic plastic. I bought a stainless steel wristwatch with similar polished surfaces the same year and, despite being knocked around a fair bit and sitting immediately on my skin, it has held up far better.
The steel body is also pretty heavy. It is only fifteen grams heavier than the iPhone X it replaced in my pocket, which was also a steel phone, but I wish iPhones were trending in the other direction. Thinner and lighter may be widely mocked, but for devices carried every day, it is better for me if they dissolve into my life.
Thankfully, the iPhone 15 Pro is rumoured to be made of titanium which — all else being equal — is considerably lighter than steel. The standard iPhone 15 will likely continue to be made of aluminum, which means either model would likely be a lighter phone than the ones I have carried for the past six years. I do have some questions about the wear-and-tear I will be able to expect with a titanium body. Titanium has a mixed history at Apple, but retrospective reviews of Apple Watches made of the material indicate it is holding up far better.
The battery life of my iPhone 12 Pro has also seen some wear-and-tear. After three years of daily use and an uncareful charging regiment, the Battery Health screen says it has retained 87% of its from-new capacity. That is not too bad, especially considering some iPhone 14 Pro owners are reporting similar capacities after just one year. But this generation of iPhone was notable for a slight regression in battery life expectations compared to its predecessor when it was shiny and new, and I have felt that in particular when it is not connected to Wi-Fi. This has been used almost exclusively as an LTE phone — more on that later — and its cellular radio seems hungry.
I bought the 12 Pro over either of the standard iPhone 12 models primarily because of the 56mm-equivalent camera and the larger RAM package. And I am glad I did — around 43% of photos I shot with this phone are from that telephoto camera, compared to 51% captured with the main camera, and only about 6% using the ultra-wide.
These two cameras — the main and telephoto — have performed well. iPhone photos have leaned toward neutrality, with only a minor warm bias, and the images I have captured with the 12 Pro have been no exception. Images captured outdoors in bright daylight are an accurate representation of the scene, with clean HDR matching my own perception. Where this camera shines most is in low-light scenes indoors, and outdoors at night. This is the area where phone cameras have struggled — small sensors do not capture as much light as bigger sensors, of course — and software advancements have played a key role in creating images which look less noisy, more colourful, and better lit. Automatic Night Mode remains a difficult adjustment for me: three years into owning this phone, I still have not gotten used to the idea of holding it in near-stillness for longer than it takes me to tap the shutter button.
I have also noticed a dramatic improvement in images shot in Portrait Mode. While it is supposed to approximate the foreground and background separation you might see with a larger sensor and a portrait lens, I rarely used it on my iPhone X because subjects looked like they were crudely cut from the scene. It is a night-and-day difference with this iPhone: there is a more natural falloff from in-focus areas to backgrounds, the faux bokeh looks more realistic, and it does a better — though still imperfect — job of understanding glassware. I do not take many pictures of people; here are some photos of food I shot with Portrait Mode:
I still find Apple’s photo processing pipeline too eager to reduce noise and, consequently, detail, though this is somewhat offset by other parts of the pipeline like Deep Fusion. This is exacerbated in Night Mode, of course, because it is beginning with a grainier image. I understand why Apple uses high levels of noise reduction; shooting RAW on an iPhone will reveal what the sensor captures before it is put through that pipeline. A very grainy image is probably not going to be appreciated by most people. But these sensors are very good for their size and, in most lighting conditions, some grain is more tasteful to me.
The other thing I feel compelled to mention about the iPhone 12 Pro’s cameras is how they are not the same as those in the 12 Pro Max — unfortunately. The Pro Max had a much larger sensor in its main camera and better stabilization, and its telephoto camera was a little different as well. It is unfortunate because I am not interested in buying a larger phone; the smaller Pro size Apple has settled on is already too large for my liking. And, while successive model pairings — the 13 Pro/Pro Max and 14 Pro/Pro Max — shared identical camera systems between the smaller and larger sizes, rumours suggest the line will repeat the 12 Pro’s bifurcation. If that is true, I will be disappointed, even if it is for good and practical reasons. Not upset that physics cannot be bent to accommodate my purchasing preferences, mind you, just painfully aware of the compromise I would make with either choice.
The iPhone 12 lineup was the first iPhone to support the MagSafe accessory connector, and the first to support 5G cellular networking. I have used neither extensively. I do have an Apple case which is identified by MagSafe by its colour, but I never purchased a compatible charger or any other accessories. As for 5G, my cellular provider only recently added support on its network. Working from home for most of the past three years has meant little cellular data usage, so I would not have taken advantage of any possible improvements if I had switched to a carrier which adopted 5G earlier. My provider recently added 5G support and, in the interest of being comprehensive, I recently upgraded to a 5G plan to see what it would be like in my area. From my desk, using the Speedtest app, 5G transfer speeds were 129 Mbps down and 39 Mbps up; LTE from the same spot recorded 113 Mbps down and 28 Mbps up. I have seen LTE speeds as high as 156 Mbps down and 45 Mbps up from the same spot. On my balcony, 5G tested at 178 Mbps down and 15 Mbps up, while LTE was 74 Mbps down and 18 Mbps up. Latency and jitter differences are a similar tossup. I was promised life-and-death stakes and all I got was this slightly more expensive phone plan.
Neither of these features holds any weight for my iPhone 15 purchasing decisions. The iPhone 15 line will almost certainly switch to a USB-C port after eleven years of iPhones with slow, proprietary, and unchanged Lightning ports. Alas, that means the cables on my nightstand and desk — and in my bag and car — will need to be swapped, though one will be included in the box. I may have avoided noticing this change had I purchased MagSafe charging cables. But, at $55 Canadian a pop, it would have been an expensive way to make the transition easier.1 Since USB-C is an industry standard connector, I can buy all the cheap and fast cables I need.
The iPhone 12 Pro line was also the first phone from Apple to include a LiDAR sensor on the back, which apparently helps with autofocus in low light scenes, and enables better spatial tracking for augmented reality. It is hard for me to say whether I get faster or more accurate autofocus, but I have found the A.R. enhancements surprisingly useful and fun. It is not something I am using every day. But when I stumble across a furniture website with A.R. options, for example, it is immediately rewarding to see the piece in my space and get a pretty accurate impression of its size, with pretty stable real-world object tracking. The biggest knock against anything using the LiDAR sensor is the hit it takes on battery life, which you can feel by how warm the phone gets. Visually, A.R. experiences are smooth and fast, but the warmth you feel is an indication that this phone is being pushed to some kind of limit.
So, that is my three-year experience with the iPhone 12 Pro. I am not somebody who feels compelled to upgrade every year, and even before Apple announces this year’s iPhone lineup in less than one week’s time, I can already expect big changes based on the models available today: a brighter, faster display; better cameras paired to a better image processing pipeline; macro photography; and emergency rescue features I hope to never need. But there are also plenty of unknowns, like whether the new models will continue to increase battery life, or if the phone will feel more pocket-friendly — the iPhone 13 Pro was heavier than my phone, and the 14 Pro heavier still.
I have occasionally wondered whether the 12 Pro was worth the extra cost over the standard 12 for me. The standard models had way better colour options and a Mini version, and the 12 Pro is 15% heavier than the regular model of the same size. But the camera breakdown speaks for itself: I use the telephoto camera so often that it really is a no-brainer. That is what I am looking for most of all in an iPhone 15 model: a better telephoto camera and better battery life in a model that is lighter than this one.
I will tell you what was expensive, which was the USB-C to Lightning cable I bought last year for my travel bag. I have gotten one year’s very light use out of that $25 cable. ↥︎
Elon Musk on Monday posted that he was against antisemitism and blamed the Anti-Defamation League for lost advertising revenue since his acquisition of X, formerly known as Twitter.
The tech mogul posted his stance on free speech and antisemitism seemingly out of the blue on his verified account Monday afternoon. When asked by a user who was questioning his stance, Musk alleged that the ADL has been “trying to kill this platform by falsely accusing it & me of being anti-Semitic.”
The ADL said Monday that as a matter of policy it does not comment on legal threats. A spokesperson referred NBC News to a general statement the organization made in response to a recent #BanTheADL campaign on the platform, which Musk has engaged with.
When I opened Twitter today to look into this, the first advertisement I saw was for a show on Apple TV Plus. According to the “why this ad?” screen, the reason I saw the ad was because I am over 25 years old, and I am in Canada; it does not appear that it had anything to do with the device I was using it on, for example.
It could not be clearer whose pockets are lined by a Twitter ad spend: it is a private platform with, nominally, a single owner who happens to be the richest man on Earth yet pretends to be some kind of heterodox underdog deep thinker, fighting a supposed establishment — of which he is somehow not part of — with his contrarian ideas. Nonsense. This is not considered thinking; it is scapegoating from a conspiracy poisoned brain. It seems inconsistent, at the very least, with Apple’s professed values to continue giving money to this caustic rich lunkhead. The ADL may be an imperfect activist organization but it is pretty clear which audience is thrilled with the new Twitter direction.
On a recent Wednesday evening, a university professor in a large town in western Germany was preparing several paintings to be sold through the British auction house Christie’s. Using his iPhone, he took pictures of the inherited works at his home to upload to the company’s website. Within a few weeks, the site promised, Christie’s would give him an estimate of their value and tell him if it was interested in auctioning them.
But by uploading the images, he not only sent pictures of the pieces to Christie’s, he also revealed their exact location for anyone to see online, according to two German cybersecurity researchers. Hundreds of other would-be Christie’s clients, including Americans, were exposed to the same vulnerability, the two researchers, Martin Tschirsich and André Zilch, told The Washington Post.
Linking to that exploration of EXIF metadata reminded me of this story from last month.
The reaction from Christie’s’ representatives seems like it should raise questions about the organization’s trustworthiness. Stripping metadata is a common practice when photo uploads are permitted, if for no other reason than to save a little server space. Sure, everybody makes mistakes, but denying assistance from researchers and neglecting to inform potential clients of their exposure is poor.
According to iOS’ Photos application, I’ve taken 73,281 photos over the past 14 years of owning an iPhone.
Each one of those images doesn’t just contain the photo you see as you scroll through the Photos app — it contains a wealth of information stored encoded directly into the image file itself. It details useful metadata such as where the photo was taken (so that you can view your photos on a map at a later date), the time and date the image was taken at, which lens and zoom levels were used, the exposure, ISO, and aperture, amongst many others.
This is an excellent exploration of EXIF data and how it can be used, including in some pretty surprising and privacy-hostile ways. I cannot recommend enough that you play around with ExifTool, just to see what is known about different files — and not just photos: while it may be named for a photographic term, ExifTool can surface all kinds of metadata.
It seems extraordinary to me that services can decide to change their entire raison d’être and longtime users have barely three choices: accept the new contract, make their account private, or delete their account.
In this case, the management running the slowly decaying corpse of Twitter has decided to go all-in on machine learning as part of the company’s new strategy to do everything, all of the time. For seventeen years, users have posted little messages — most of them public — which the company can now mine as fuel for what it hopes is its future. You did not think that was what you were agreeing to when you tweeted that funny thing your kid did ten years ago, but that is now part of the reservoir for the new big thing.
Setting Up a Time Machine Server in MacOS Ventura Requires Psychic Powers
Stephen Hackett today updated a great, easy-to-follow guide for setting up a Time Machine server on your network. This is something I have been meaning to do for about a year and I figured a Friday evening before a long weekend would be a superb time to make it happen. After all, I already had a Mac to use as a server — my MacBook Air I upgraded from last year — and a hard drive. And Hackett describes it as “easy”.
How hard could it be?
Well, the first series of steps in Hackett’s guide took me fifteen minutes, and ten of those minutes were spent trying to find a Thunderbolt cable. Then I got to the part in the guide where it says I should be able to authenticate and mount the drive, and I hit a wall: I could not move past the user name and password dialog. It was not that my password was being interpreted as though it was incorrect — that comes later — but that it would accept it and then show the dialog again. I could not even mount the external drive in Finder, and sometimes it struggled to mount any drive on the host MacBook Air. I kept seeing errors like “The operation can’t be completed because the original item for ‘Remote Backup’ can’t be found”, and “There was a problem connecting to the server ‘Remote Backup’. You do not have permission to access this server.”
At some point, I also managed to lose access to my MacBook Air through the Screen Sharing app on my MacBook Pro. I would type my user name and password and it would reject it, as though I got either one wrong. But if I launched Screen Sharing from the network-mounted MacBook Air in Finder, it worked fine.
Hours later, I found the solution. System370 on Reddit pointed out in a months-old thread that smbd needs to be granted Full Disk Access permissions in System Preferences on the host Mac. That is the SMB protocol daemon; SMB is the file sharing protocol used to mount the drive on a remote Mac. I enabled Full Disk Access for the daemon, completed Time Machine setup on my MacBook Pro, and it is now creating a Time Machine backup remotely.
I mean absolutely no criticism of Hackett or this guide. In fact, I am grateful for the reminder to set this thing up — finally. But none of the error messages I saw on either machine nor any of Apple’s support articles mention this simple yet critical step.
So, here it is again: if you are enabling File Sharing for a remote disk and something is not working, skip all the troubleshooting you find elsewhere on the web. First, ensure smbd has Full Disk Access, under System Preferences (or System Settings), Security & Privacy.
I hope this keyword-filled post saves others some troublesome troubleshooting, and that Apple will reconsider its strategy of erroring in silence or with irrelevant messages. This is apparently a known problem because, yes, my host MacBook Air is stuck on Catalina.
[…] This week, a new child safety group known as Heat Initiative told Apple that it is organizing a campaign to demand that the company “detect, report, and remove” child sexual abuse material from iCloud and offer more tools for users to report CSAM to the company.
Today, in a rare move, Apple responded to Heat Initiative, outlining its reasons for abandoning the development of its iCloud CSAM scanning feature and instead focusing on a set of on-device tools and resources for users known collectively as Communication Safety features. The company’s response to Heat Initiative, which Apple shared with WIRED this morning, offers a rare look not just at its rationale for pivoting to Communication Safety, but at its broader views on creating mechanisms to circumvent user privacy protections, such as encryption, to monitor data. This stance is relevant to the encryption debate more broadly, especially as countries like the United Kingdom weigh passing laws that would require tech companies to be able to access user data to comply with law enforcement requests.
That Apple got out in front of this is unusual for the company, but not surprising. CSAM is an obviously awful subject; even the mere act of writing about it and its consequences is upsetting to me. What is a little bit surprising is that Apple gave to Wired a copy of the email (PDF) Gardner sent — apparently to Tim Cook — and the response from Apple’s Erik Neuenschwander. In that letter, Neuenschwander notes that scanning tools can be repurposed on demand for wider surveillance, something it earlier denied it would comply with but nevertheless remains a concern; Neuenschwander also notes the risk of false positives.
Here is where I got confused; Neuenschwander:
Scanning of personal data in the cloud is regularly used by companies to monetize the information of their users. While some companies have justified those practices, we’ve chosen a very different path — one that prioritizes the security and privacy of our users. Scanning every user’s privately stored iCloud content would in our estimation pose serious unintended consequences for our users. Threats to user data are undeniably growing — globally the total number of data breaches more than tripled between 2013 and 2021, exposing 1.1 billion personal records in 2021 alone. As threats become increasingly sophisticated, we are committed to providing our users with the best data security in the world, and we constantly identify and mitigate emerging threats to users’ personal data, on device and in the cloud. Scanning every user’s privately stored iCloud data would create new threat vectors for data thieves to find and exploit.
I quoted the entire paragraph so you can be sure I am not taking anything out of context.
The first two sentences appear to reference ad tech companies’ exploitation of users’ data, but it is unclear to me which businesses and information this is gesturing at. Google, for example, says it does not use Gmail, Google Drive, or Google Photos data for advertising. If this is simply a general statement about the use of any data in third-party hands being used for any monetization purposes, it feels like a non sequitur in this context.
The next sentences reference data breaches. This is relevant only in the sense that Apple encrypts users’ files in iCloud, and cloud-based CSAM scanning technologies require unencrypted files in order to function as designed. The quoted paragraph appears to be Apple’s justification for encrypting user data before it is in the company’s hands, and the subsequent paragraphs in the letter seem like a defence against using scanning mechanisms more generally.
I can understand the arguments raised by Gardner in this letter to Cook and on the campaign’s website, but the proposed approach remains necessarily risky for all users. It is not too far removed from proposals against encryption as a whole, which require all users to forego significant privacy and security protections from worldwide threats. One of the stories on Heat Initiative’s website concerns a man who abused his then-fiancé’s daughter in photo and video recordings, some of which were stored in his personal iCloud account. It is not clear to me how this case and others like it would have been discovered by Apple even if it did proceed with its proposed local CSAM detection solution as it would only alert on media already known to reporting authorities like NCMEC.
More generally, there should be a clearer separation between what is personal and what is public, and there should be more assertive expectations for each. I do not think anything I store in iCloud should be property of anyone but myself; it should be treated as an extension of my local storage. That is obviously not a defence of anybody creating or storing these heinous materials; I simply think my own files are private regardless of where they are stored. Public iCloud photo albums are visible to the world and should be subject to greater scrutiny. Apple could do at least one thing differently: it is surprising to me that shared public iCloud albums do not have any button to report misuse.2
Lots of good new things were announced today, so I will stay on that wavelength with the release of Longplay 2 from Adrian Schoenig. I covered the first version of the app and I really liked it, so I was excited when Schoenig let me know last week that its successor’s release was imminent.
It’s worth noting that Longplay 2.0 adds support for CarPlay, Last.fm scrobbling, Listenbrainz, Shortcuts, and alternate icons. Plus, the update adds Home Screen widgets that include a grid of albums from your library that can be tapped to play the album on which you tap. This isn’t widget interactivity. Instead, the app is deep-linking to the album and must open Longplay, but it’s a fantastic feature, and I hope true interactivity is on the horizon for the app. […]
I have not tried CarPlay integration, but the addition of Last.fm scrobbling makes me very happy. These, by the way, are the smaller updates to this version; lots more to check out in Voorhees’ review and the app itself. It remains an excellent way of rediscovering entire albums you may not have listened to in years.
Obscura, the iPhone camera app for pro users, has released a new major version called Obscura 4 with support for the iPad. It also brings new features, such as dual reticule mode to have different points on the viewfinder for focus and exposure.
Obscura has long been a neat dual-purpose app. While Mehta calls out its pro features, it also has plenty of stuff for a less technically invested user like tasteful filters and video capabilities.
I have been using Obscura 4 for a few months and the little design touches have consistently impressed me. McCarthy highlights a few, like the exposure dial and image detail card, but I want to point you to the smooth transitions between screens and modes. These animations never get in the way, and they make the whole app feel fluid and lively.
Also, a tiny new thing I love: you can now set a default exposure compensation. My iPhone 12 Pro consistently produces RAW images that are much too bright for my liking, but it is easy enough to set Obscura to launch with exposure set one-and-one-thirds’ stop down.
If you have not yet read it, Tyler Vigen’s story about researching the reason for building one specific pedestrian bridge over one stretch of a highway in Minnesota is — hand on heart — as good as everyone says it is, and I recommend spending the time with it and its many notations. A full mystery, told fully.
It starts with a big text box; you put in your list of items you want to rank, you click rank, you rank, and then you get the results. I then wanted two other features. After you rank, I wanted a quick button to copy the ranking to your clipboard so you can share it. And then I wanted a share button that would share the list of items you just ranked so someone else could rank the same list as you. This took a little bit of extra work, but it makes this whole thing much more fun.
So we were concerned when we started hearing from multiple sources that Hurricane Electric, a Tier 1 ISP, is interfering with traffic. Confirmation of the details has been difficult, in part because Hurricane itself has refused to respond to our queries, but it appears that the company is partially denying service to a direct customer, a provider called Crunchbits, in order to disrupt traffic to a site that is several steps away in the stack. And it is justifying that action because activity on the site reportedly violates Hurricane’s “acceptable use policy” — even though Hurricane has no direct relationship with that site. Hurricane argues that the policy requires its direct customers to police their customers as well as themselves.
If the site in question were Reddit, or Planned Parenthood, or even EFF, the internet would be up in arms. It is not, and it’s not hard to see why. The affected site is an almost universally despised forum for hateful speech and planning vicious attacks on vulnerable people: Kiwi Farms. For many, the natural response is to declare good riddance to bad rubbish — and understandably so.
Last year, Cloudflare halted service to Kiwi Farms after spending a considerable amount of time and goodwill defending itself for helping the forum with its security and speed, and I supported that decision. I still do. Cloudflare is not an internet service provider and, while popular, has many competitors across its business interests. It should be more selective about which websites it is willing to support technically, if in no other way.
But internet service providers are entirely different. They are utility providers and ought to maintain neutral about what material passes through their network. Be outraged by other levels of material support received by Kiwi Farms — I encourage it — but internet providers should not be in the moderation business. They are too busy figuring out how to be one of the most essential yet maddening things we all spend money on every month.
Update: In a Twitter thread, Alejandra Caraballo points out that the Kiwi Farms website is unique in that its owner operates its ISP. That is a subtly different argument, and one I think the EFF should have been clearer in making.
While efforts to challenge the gender binary are evident in how we talk, dress for work and wear makeup, a visit to the cocktail bar might transport you back to the 1950s. Bartenders say that many men appear as committed as ever to drinking out of “manly” glasses and avoiding glassware they deem too feminine.
“It’s an industry joke that we tend to stereotype people based on their glassware preferences,” said Kaslyn Bos, 30, a bartender at Donna in the West Village. At Donna, the drinks are colorful, sometimes heavily garnished with fruit and cocktail umbrellas and often served in “shapely glasses,” she said.
Ms. Bos has fielded requests — only from men — to transfer a cocktail from one glass to another. She noted that a manly glass, to those asking, is always a rocks glass.
In the Philippines, one of the world’s biggest destinations for outsourced digital work, former employees say that at least 10,000 of these workers do this labor on a platform called Remotasks, which is owned by the $7 billion San Francisco start-up Scale AI.
Scale AI has paid workers at extremely low rates, routinely delayed or withheld payments and provided few channels for workers to seek recourse, according to interviews with workers, internal company messages and payment records, and financial statements. Rights groups and labor researchers say Scale AI is among a number of American AI companies that have not abided by basic labor standards for their workers abroad.
If “Scale AI” sounds familiar to you, it may be because you read similar previous reporting by Josh Dzieza for New York or Andrew Deck for Rest of World. All of these stories are worth your time — though I wish the Post had credited either Dzieza or Deck for their work. As I wrote earlier this year, while these supposedly magical technologies demonstrate achievement in software, they are only made possible by low-paid “gig” workers. We should not obscure that reality.
Mobile phone processors are becoming more powerful, and computer vision algorithms continue to advance. These innovations will minimize image noise, auto-correct imperfections, and optimize images for screen displays. The software’s capacity to merge data from multiple lenses signifies another leap. AI platforms such as MidJourney and Stable Diffusion will enable the transformation of captured images into unique stories. The hefty investments in software, chips, and algorithms present a significant challenge to traditional camera entities.
As this transformation continues, many camera companies grapple with even the most rudimentary software features. While these companies excel in hardware, they stumble in software development. Brands like Sony, Nikon, Canon, Fuji, and Leica pride themselves on their lens craftsmanship. Yet, when the topic shifts to software, their offerings seem lacking in polish and sophistication, almost as if they’re an afterthought.
This feels true to me. As much as I love my dedicated camera, its software is pretty frustrating. When I am in image playback mode, for example, navigating between images will often lag and, after freezing for a couple of seconds, the photo will jump to one nowhere close in the sequence of images I shot. That is without getting into some of the more advanced qualities increasingly expected of today’s cameras — could you imagine if the best full-frame sensor and high-quality lens were paired with some of the computational techniques from smartphones?
At the same time, I have to wonder if the effort and rethinking that it would take for these established camera makers to become great at software would be a significant distraction for them individually. How many businesses can you think of without a flawed product? If you can, chances are pretty good they are a smaller and more focused organization.
This is only a little bit related: I have noticed a withdrawal of how much I have used my phone camera in the past year or so. I have always been a big fan and supporter of smartphone photography as a creative medium, and Instagram as a fairly natural “exhibition” space. The changes to that platform’s priorities have made it much less attractive to me, to the extent that my most recent post is almost a year old. This is entirely personal and I am sure it is not reflective of any broader trend, so do not read anything more into this than what I am explicitly saying. However, it is a new phone year for me, and I am questioning my default choice of the Pro model more now than I have before, especially since posting on Glass is encouraging me to carry my proper full-frame camera more often than ever.
Whenever anyone proposes new rules or regulations, the people affected always have reasons why this is a terrible idea that will cause huge damage. This applies to bankers, doctors, farmers, lawyers, academics… and indeed software engineers. They always say ‘no’ and policy-makers can’t take that at face value: they discount it by some percentage, as a form of bargaining. But when people say ‘no’, they might actually mean one of three different things, and it’s important to understand the difference.
This is a good piece categorizing the three types of “no” by industries facing new policies as: an aversion to lawmakers telling them what to do, plausible negative consequences of regulation, and technical impossibilities. But Evans does not give nearly enough weight to how often big industry players and their representatives simply lie. They often claim the effects of new regulations will be of the second or third type when there is no evidence to support their claims.
Corporations lying to get their way is not news, of course. A common thread among the examples cited by Evans is that policies which actually do fall into the categories of causing unintended negative effects or being impossible to achieve are noted as such by truly independent experts.
In 2015, after Uber launched in Calgary, the city proposed reasonable and sensible rules, which Uber claimed were entirely “unworkable” for ride sharing as a genre. Many, including popular media outlets, concurred with Uber and begged the city to fold. But it compromised on only a single rule; everything else was passed, meaning that Uber drivers were subject to the same sorts of regulations as taxi drivers because they do the same job. And guess what? Uber has been happily operating in Calgary ever since.
Apple spent years opposing repair legislation on the basis that people would hurt themselves replacing batteries, and that any state which passed such laws would become a “mecca for bad actors”. That line of argument was echoed by some, only for Apple to now support such legislation — with caveats — despite using exactly the same type of battery it says is dangerous for people to swap themselves.
I think the structural problem here, across all three kinds of ‘no’, is that this is pretty new to most of us. I often compare regulation of tech to regulation of cars – we do regulate cars, but it’s complicated and there are many different kinds of question. ‘Should cars have different emissions requirements?’ is a different kind of question to ‘does the tax code favour too much low-density development?’ and both questions are complicated. It’s a lot easier to want less congestion in cities than to achieve it, and it’s a lot easier to worry about toxic content on social media than to solve it, or even agree what ‘solve’ would mean.
But we all grew up with cars. We have a pretty good idea of how roads work, and what gearboxes are, even if we’ve never seen one, and if someone proposed that cars should not come with seats or headlights because that’s unfair competition for third-party suppliers, we could all see the problem. When policy-makers ask for secure encryption with a back door, we do not always see that this would like be telling Ford and GM to stop their cars from crashing, and to make them run on gasoline that doesn’t burn. Well yes, that would be nice, but how? They say ‘no’? Easy – just threaten them with a fine of 25% of global revenue and they’ll build it!
The comparison to regulating cars is apt, though bungled by Evans. In the earliest days, cars killed a lot of people — drivers, passengers, and others. Some manufacturers introduced features like seatbelts, but safety was not an effective sales pitch (PDF). The U.S. federal government responded by passing the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act which mandated the installation of various safety features, and Ralph Nader published “Unsafe at Any Speed” the same year. Laws were passed to encourage use of seatbelts and discourage drunk driving, and the rate of death and serious injury has fallen even as the sales and use of automobiles have risen. These laws were disputed by automakersand the public but they worked well.
Ever since, most laws which govern cars have trended toward increasing their efficiency, decreasing their damage to the environment, and improving their safety. These laws have arguably not gone far enough. Because many of the pickup trucks and SUVs which are sold to suburban families who dodge potholes and puddles are very heavy, they are exempt from stricter U.S. fuel economy standards. And I would be filled with regret if I did not remind you of the extensive lobbying orchestrated by automakers over the past century-and-a-bit to make walking across a road a crime, reduce taxes on auto sales, and lots of other things.
Lawmakers should of course be attentive to instances where everyone who knows about a topic is telling them it is impossible to do in the way they are proposing. It is not possible to create encryption which ensures no criminals or rogue states are able to intrude but permits execution of a secret wiretap warrant.
But can you really blame lawmakers when regulations are disputed by industry representatives? It sure does not help when the press and public repeat the myths they have created. If industries want to be regulated more effectively, they need to start by being honest. The press can help by more carefully scrutinizing corporate claims; even conservative, business-focused publications should be able to see that simply opposing regulation by parroting public relations pap is a worthless use of their time and words.
From Friday, a host of internet giants – including Meta’s Facebook and Instagram platforms, Apple’s online App Store, and a handful of Google services – will face new obligations in the EU, including preventing harmful content from spreading, banning or limiting certain user-targeting practices, and sharing some internal data with regulators and associated researchers.
The EU is seen as the global leader in tech regulation, with more wide-ranging pieces of legislation – such as the Digital Markets Act and the AI Act – on the way. The bloc’s success in implementing such laws will influence the introduction of similar rules around the world.
While the new laws apply only in Europe, their effect will ripple globally. Brussels’ regulations are often templates for others, which typically leads tech platforms to implement some changes worldwide. And the breadth of the rules is feeding a shift toward a compliance culture within some companies that originated in the techno-libertarian hothouse of Silicon Valley.
“This is a Glass-Steagall moment for big tech,” said Brian Wieser, a tech analyst and former investment banker, referring to the Depression-era law that reined in banks. “They’re going from effectively no regulation to heavy regulation.”
There is understandable anxiety about these robust and thorough regulations; I have also expressed concerns. However, I am just as excited by the possibilities of requiring some of the most valuable corporations on the planet to actually compete with smaller players on more even terms. The next several years could be some of the industry’s most exciting and dynamic — or, to use a term Silicon Valley will understand, some of the most disruptive.
The top reason for the mandate, Yuan said at the August 3 meeting, is that it’s difficult for employees to get to know each other and build trust remotely.
“In our early days, we all knew each other,” Yuan said. “Over the past several years, we’ve hired so many new ‘Zoomies’ that it’s really hard to build trust.”
I did not buy the gotcha framing of many reports of Yuan’s back-to-the-office directive as I think different approaches can work well for different organizations. A hybrid approach is not a rejection of Zoom’s premise. But these trust-based claims are something Zoom markets itself on. According to Zoom itself, 95% of its customers “report a greater sense of trust” — though it does not clarify in what context. Trust in the software? Trust in each other? Happily, Zoom itself clarifies this on a different page, where it says video conferencing “[i]ncreases openness with others they are communicating with and builds trust” compared to audio-only calls, chat, or email.
It seems like Zoom is trying to thread a needle very carefully in marketing its product as a replacement for in-person meetings for many organizations and an essential part of working remotely, but that its own organization is better with a more mixed approach. Imagine being the copywriter responsible for conveying that in a convincing manner.
In a surprise move, Apple this week penned a letter to California state senator Susan Talamantes Eggman, voicing support for SB 244, a “right to repair” bill currently making its way through Sacramento’s State Capitol building.
Apple has, of course, softened its stance on right to repair legislation in recent years, including last year’s addition of a Self-Service Repair program. The offering, which was viewed by many as a preemptive measure against looming state and federal legislation, provides users with rental tools to repair iPhones and Macs at home.
Jason Koebler of 404 Media posted a full copy of Apple’s letter (PDF). If you are interested in how SB 244 evolved over time, I have uploaded a comparison between the bill text introduced and the latest version. One update that caught my eye is that, according to the definition on line 56, a “desktop computer, laptop, tablet, or cellphone” are all considered “general” or “all-purpose” computers.
Just months after the advent of ChatGPT late last year, hundreds of websites have already been identified as using generative artificial intelligence to spew thousands of AI-written, often misinformation-laden “news” stories online.
As the world nears a “precipice” of AI-driven misinformation, experts tell the Star that the tech industry pushback to Canada’s Online News Act — namely Google and Meta blocking trusted Canadian news sources for Canadians — may only make the issue worse.
Also, I have no time forpeoplewho treat the exchange of news and information on Facebook or Instagram — or other social media platforms — as a mistake or some kind of dumbing-down of society. It is anything but. People moved their community connections online long ago, and their hosting is migrated to wherever those people congregate. And, for a long time now, that has been Facebook.
But, while it is Meta that is affecting the distribution of news on its platform, it is for reasons that can best be described as a response to a poorly designed piece of legislation — even though that law is not yet in effect. If Meta is told that it must soon pay for each news link shared publicly on its platforms, it is obviously going to try its best to avoid that extra variable expense. The only way it can effectively do that is to prohibit these links. It is terrible that Meta is standing firm but this feels like a fairly predictable consequence of a law based on links, and it seems like the federal government was ill prepared as it is now requesting Meta to stand down and permit news links again.
The irony of the fallout from this law is that any supposed news links in a Canadian’s Facebook or Instagram feed will be, by definition, not real news. The advertising businesses of Google and Meta surely played a role in encouraging more publishers to move behind paywalls, but they were not solely responsible. News has always been expensive to produce and that puts it at odds with a decades-long business obsession of maximizing profit and minimizing resources and expenses no matter how much it strains quality. Research and facts and original reporting will increasingly be treated like luxuries — in the same was as well made long-lasting products — if we do not change those priorities.
This is the result of a secret weapon criminals are selling access to online that appears to tap into an especially powerful set of data: the target’s credit header. This is personal information that the credit bureaus Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion have on most adults in America via their credit cards. Through a complex web of agreements and purchases, that data trickles down from the credit bureaus to other companies who offer it to debt collectors, insurance companies, and law enforcement.
A 404 Media investigation has found that criminals have managed to tap into that data supply chain, in some cases by stealing former law enforcement officer’s identities, and are selling unfettered access to their criminal cohorts online. The tool 404 Media tested has also been used to gather information on high profile targets such as Elon Musk, Joe Rogan, and even President Joe Biden, seemingly without restriction. 404 Media verified that although not always sensitive, at least some of that data is accurate.
“It should absolutely not be allowed,” Rob Shavell, CEO of DeleteMe said of credit bureaus feeding credit header data to wider industries. Of all the entities that are the root cause of this data, “the credit bureaus are number one,” Shavell added. “They are the ones that should be subject to the strictest compliance and ultimately be held to a higher privacy standard by the federal government and by state governments than they are being,” he said.
The newest part of what Cox found appears to be the Telegram bot which automates the lookup based on stolen credentials, but there are hundreds of services which offer more-or-less similar information because of how leaky the credit reporting industry is. You can look on DeleteMe’s site and find a whole bunch of websites which promise results, so long as you pinky promise not to break the law.
The White House on Tuesday held a roundtable examining potentially harmful data broker practices, part of an administration wide push to protect Americans’ privacy in the era of AI.
This, like so many privacy issues, has seemed critically important for decades yet has seen little to no progress. At Techdirt, Karl Bode points out two good reasons for that: the industry is rich, and it creates a workaround to avoid messy things like civil liberties.
A paper from U.K.-based researchers suggests that OpenAI’s ChatGPT has a liberal bias, highlighting how artificial intelligence companies are struggling to control the behavior of the bots even as they push them out to millions of users worldwide.
The study, from researchers at the University of East Anglia, asked ChatGPT to answer a survey on political beliefs as it believed supporters of liberal parties in the United States, United Kingdom and Brazil might answer them. They then asked ChatGPT to answer the same questions without any prompting, and compared the two sets of responses.
Here’s what we found. GPT-4 refused to opine in 84% of cases (52/62), and only directly responded in 8% of cases (5/62). (In the remaining cases, it stated that it doesn’t have personal opinions, but provided a viewpoint anyway). GPT-3.5 refused in 53% of cases (33/62), and directly responded in 39% of cases (24/62).
It is striking to me how the claims of this paper were widely repeated with apparent confirmation that tech companies are responsible for pushing the liberal beliefs that are ostensibly a reflection of mainstream news outlets.
You can still do a clean install of Windows, and it’s arguably easier than ever, with official Microsoft-sanctioned install media easily accessible and Windows Update capable of grabbing most of the drivers that most computers need for basic functionality. The problem is that a “clean install” doesn’t feel as clean as it used to, and unfortunately for us, it’s an inside job — it’s Microsoft, not third parties, that is primarily responsible for the pile of unwanted software and services you need to decline or clear away every time you do a new Windows install.
This is obviously not isolated to operating systems; similar nags show up in third-party software, encouraging you to upgrade to the next subscription level or add more features. It is relentless. The subscription model proliferation has radically upended the relationship we have as users with vendors into a tense never-ending contract.
But it is dirtier to find in operating systems. Cunningham compares Microsoft’s approach primarily to Apple’s, but says similar upsells and self-promotional junk are present across products from Amazon, Google, and other device makers who encourage or require “some kind of account sign-in, the better to lure you into a wider subscription ecosystem that can keep shareholder-mandated continuous growth going“. Because these operating systems are the platforms upon which the entire digital ecosystem is built, they should face greater scrutiny by users, at the very least, if not by regulators. We are increasingly inundated by messages from the richest businesses on the planet that they are not yet extracting enough money from us.
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Twitter has seen a dramatic decrease in its Top Downloaded chart position across both platforms since the app was renamed to X. Why? The situation presents a fascinating case study at the intersection of brand equity and mobile platform dynamics.
At this moment, Threads is #2 on the App Store’s top free downloads list, and X is #51. On the Play Store, Threads is #6 and X is (scroll, scroll, scroll…) #66. This rebranding would be a firing offense if the mastermind behind it didn’t own the company. (So much for Threads being the one that’s supposedly gasping for air.)
In the list of all free apps in the Canadian App Store, Threads is #3, while Twitter is #76 because it is now called “X” and that character means so little it is literally used as a placeholder for people to think of other, better stuff. Once installed, it remains a nagging pain. Because I have no idea where this app is on my iPhone, I launch it by through Spotlight; typing “tw” no longer shows the app and it takes me a beat or two to remember what its new name is.
It is remarkable to me how the only social network that really clicked with me and which I used steadily for over fifteen years became, in less than a year, something I barely think about or interact with.
A recent story in the New York Times is the most recent iteration of the theme that people — especially young people — are increasingly using subtitles when watching movies and shows. It is more-or-less a retread of a late June story in IndieWire, which was similar to an early June story in the Atlantic, which was an awful lot like a February article from ABC News, which reflected a January story from the Guardian, which was not dissimilar to a 2021 BBC News article — and I am slowly running out of ways to explain how much reporting there has been about this phenomenon.
“It’s getting worse,” said Si Lewis, who has run Hidden Connections, a home theater installation company in Alameda, Calif., for nearly 40 years. “All of my customers have issues with hearing the dialogue, and many of them use closed captions.”
The garbled prattle in TV shows and movies is now a widely discussed problem that tech and media companies are just beginning to unravel with solutions such as speech-boosting software algorithms, which I tested. […]
In Chen’s reporting, this home theatre installer blames unclear audio on the tiny speakers in flat screen televisions, while a sound engineer blames the difficulty of transitioning from big theatres to smaller devices and a lack of consistent specifications in streaming.
But, surely, none of this represents a complete explanation. Movies have been enjoyed first in a theatre and then at home for decades, and streaming services have been around for long enough to become a known constant. It cannot be an issue only with flat screens, as I have a pair of decent speakers hooked up to my receiver and a lot of media still sounds like muddy garbage; music played through the same system, on the other hand, does not. A home audio system is never going to match a theatre’s quality. But if lots of people are complaining about this problem — and havebeendoing sofor years — it surely means movies and shows are not being mixed for how people actually watch them.
In real life, if someone crashed a gathering of strangers and started disrupting conversations while shouting abuse, they’d quickly be bounced from the party. Yet on social media, this sort of caustic conduct is not only tolerated but sometimes celebrated. In our day-to-day lives, getting disciplined for misbehavior is how we learn to be better. But because such norms were never upheld on the internet, many spaces turned toxic, and many people never got the feedback they needed to grow out of their bad habits. Blocking is part of that feedback. […]
Though harassment and abuse are the most obvious cases for blocking another user, I find a low threshold is necessary for a more enjoyable use of these platforms. It removes from your view any user who spoils your experience for any reason. That is excellent. If anything, I think using the “block” button on social media is increasingly necessary, as platform owners have decided to decrease the extent to which users control their own experience.
A user’s Twitter feed used to contain only the accounts they followed. Twitter then began injecting tweets your followed accounts “liked” from other users, and now promotes all kinds of tweets from accounts users do not follow. The launch of Threads went in entirely the opposite direction: for the first several weeks of availability, the only feed you would see contained a mix of posts from accounts you followed and “suggestions” from other accounts.
There are benefits to this — Threads looked lively without a user needing to follow a single account. But it requires a liberal use of the “block” button to regain any semblance of control.
Microsoft is really hitting it out of the park with its AI-generated travel stories! If you visit Ottawa, it highly recommends the Ottawa Food Bank and provides a great tip for tourists: “Consider going into it on an empty stomach.”
The article was pulled for users using British English, but remains accessible in American English and, perhaps more relevant, Canadian English. How hard can it be to remove all versions of this obviously dumb article?
Way of the future.
Update: Microsoft seems to have pulled the article entirely. I cannot find a language code which works.
I discovered earlier this week that my website is no longer being indexed by Bing and DuckDuckGo. In fact, it appears that it has been deliberately removed from their search indexes. On Bing, rather than display a “no results” message, it displays a “Some results have been removed” message, which is very concerning. Notably, however, Google search is working fine.
Many people don’t realize that DuckDuckGo sources its search results from Microsoft Bing. I learned this when I was looking into advertising on DuckDuckGo, and I found that they also outsource their advertising to Microsoft. It turns out that my business web site was removed from Bing, which explains why it’s missing from DuckDuckGo.
It came to my attention that my site does not appear on DuckDuckGo search results. Even when searching for “daverupert.com” directly. After some digging, DuckDuckGo used to get their site index from Yandex, but now gets their site index from Bing and sure enough… I didn’t appear on Bing either.
Either way, a few hours later DuckDuckGo added back… a single link(!) to Techdirt’s front page, which we mentioned in an update. The next day, I heard from a couple people who said they had reached out to people at Microsoft, and I was told that this sometimes happen, and that the Bing team will eventually fix it (though it might happen faster if something gets public attention). Either way, about a day after I had written about Techdirt being erased, we were back in both Bing and DuckDuckGo and I considered it a one-off bug that had been fixed.
But… it’s back. I happened to just check on Bing and saw that we’re gone again (though now there’s also a big obnoxious box trying to get me to chat):
Based on links collected by Michael Tsai, this appears to be a somewhat common issue where Bing — and, consequently, the many small search engines which rely on its results — will completely de-index a website for no apparent reason. Bing still shows zero results for a query for site:techdirt.com, though it does again say “some results have been removed” and links to a generic help page.
Starting today, if you have YouTube watch history off and have no significant prior watch history, features that require watch history to provide video recommendations will be disabled – like your YouTube home feed. This means that starting today, your home feed may look a lot different: you’ll be able to see the search bar and the left-hand guide menu, with no feed of recommended videos thus allowing you to more easily search, browse subscribed channels and explore Topic tabs instead.
I received this change today and it is a pleasant update. My YouTube homepage no longer features rage bait, reaction videos, or body language experts — just a white screen, a search box, and a nag from YouTube for me to re-enable my history. This also applies to the YouTube iOS app, as you may expect.
Owners of some older iPhone models are expected to receive about $65 each after a judge cleared the way for payments in a class-action lawsuit accusing Apple of secretly throttling phone performance.
The Cupertino cell phone giant agreed in 2020 to pay up to $500 million to resolve a lawsuit alleging it had perpetrated “one of the largest consumer frauds in history” by surreptitiously slowing the performance of certain iPhone models to address problems with batteries and processors.
I remain stunned that anyone at Apple thought it would be completely fine to kneecap iPhones with underperforming batteries without telling users. Asking for forgiveness instead of permission works when you borrow a coworker’s pen, not when you alter the product characteristics of millions of smartphones without a word of communication. It has got to be one of the stupidest decisions made by this company in the past decade.
Jason Snell wrote about the history of the iMac on its twenty-fifth anniversary for the Verge:
While PC makers spent many years trying (and failing, for the most part) to make iMac knockoffs, it was really a transitional device. While Apple still has a nice business selling iMacs to families, schools, and hotel check-in desks, most of the computers it sells are laptops.
Still, I think the iMac pointed the way to the era of ubiquitous laptops. (What is a laptop but an all-in-one computer? Fortunately, laptops don’t weigh 38 pounds like the iMac G3.) From the very beginning, the iMac was criticized as being limited and underpowered. Apple frequently used laptop parts in the iMac, whether it was for cost savings or miniaturization reasons. Today, Mac desktops use more or less the same parts as Mac laptops.
Over the past month, I’ve spoken with engineers at Apple about how Maps started to get good. They told me that as well as data from city officials, including digital dashboards that update maps automatically, they also monitor changes from riders themselves. They can see if there is an unusually large number of people riding bikes in a particular location and then send someone with a backpack or a car to see if there’s a new bike path in that area. Sometimes they get this information before it’s been officially recorded by the government.
These kinds of techniques mean that while Apple has become more competitive with Waze and Google Maps on driving instructions, it’s on cycling and public transit that Apple Maps has built perhaps the most impressive resource yet available — with incredibly detailed instructions than can open up a city even for a nervous cyclist (Eddy Cue, unsurprisingly, describes it as the best cycling map in the world).
As of early August 2023, Google appears to be rolling out Apple Maps-style road markings in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Seattle:
There are interesting differences between Google’s and Apple’s approaches. Google, for instance, denotes parking spots along roads, while Apple doesn’t. But Apple denotes areas marked as bus stops, while Google doesn’t:
They also have different approaches to displaying cycling lanes:
Cue says all of the right things in the Guardian interview and the article makes Apple Maps look good. It is promising to hear Cue’s apparent passion for proper cycling directions, interior mapping at airports, and various points of interest. O’Beirne’s article is a worthy complement to Wolfson’s story as I think Apple’s presentation of cycle lanes, especially, is so much better than Google’s.
I hope to see such investment locally and there are clues that Apple is working on it: Apple says it has begun collecting data with its backpack kit in several areas in Calgary which appears to be a prerequisite for the Detailed City Experience.
As Cue himself recognises, “there are really only two mapmakers left in the world, in ourselves and Google” – and that monopoly of information, says Clancy Wilmott, a professor specialising in digital cartographies at Berkley, has consequences.
As far as I can figure out, this is simply untrue. OpenStreetMap is a well-known and widely used alternative to maps from Apple and Google, Collins Bartholomew is a longtime mapmaker, and Felt is a newer startup. Here, Nokia’s old mapping business, is still around too, as is TomTom. I believe all gather data independently of one another and, crucially, two of them — OpenStreetMap and TomTom — provide data for Apple Maps.
But there is some truth to what Cue is saying, at least for consumers, and I am not sure the world is best served by depending on two Californian tech giants for its place and direction needs. Both offer more capability in the United States than in any other nation and, anecdotally, point-of-interest data is more accurate inside the U.S. than elsewhere.
The prevalent critique of the DMA often rests on vague condemnations, perpetuating the belief that the EU creates impractical laws. Our analysis showed quite the opposite.
Drafted by experts in law and technology, the DMA tackles numerous industry issues, benefiting consumers and smaller companies trying to compete with tech giants. It regulates market dominance, dark patterns, and unfair practices, aiming to prevent a few corporations from monopolizing choices.
I view this as a cornerstone of civil rights and customer rights in the same vein as the GDPR. The EU does not get everything right and are not the foremost authority on how this all should work. But they are in the same place as the United States Government was before passing the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act. When the corporations involved have decided that they don’t feel like doing anything, what else is left to do?
I appreciated iA’s careful exploration of the Digital Markets Act. I hope that analysis is more accurate than the alarmist takes I have seen from this side of the Atlantic, as I am more optimistic than many about seeing what happens when platform owners are forced to compete.
I am also worried that the tech companies affected by this Act will treat it with contempt and make users’ experiences worse instead of adapting in a favourable way. After GDPR was passed, owners of web properties did their best to avoid compliance. They could choose to collect less information and avoid nagging visitors with repeated confirmation of privacy violations. Instead, cookie consent sheets are simply added to the long list of things users need to deal with — alongside classics like subscribe to our newsletter!, Enable notifications!, Share your location!, and It looks like you are shopping from Canada! — any time they visit most popular websites. It is hard to blame them, though, given how the online ad market works, and overhauling that seems like too great a burden to place on a single piece of privacy legislation.
Somehow, this page is still up on Apple’s website, albeit with a big red non-Retina banner reading “Apple TV app is the new home of iTunes Movie Trailers” that doesn’t actually link anywhere. What a sad way to die.
I am one of the approximately eight remaining users of the iTunes Movie Trailers page and its corresponding app. Both say trailers are migrating to the Apple TV app, but clicking or tapping on the banner has no effect. I also cannot find any trailers in the TV app, the name of which is rapidly becoming hilarious for all of the things it does.
Update: Several of you have written to tell me trailers are now in the TV app, under the Store tab. I believe you but I am still not seeing them, and I bet it is a Canadian availability problem.
For years, the Internet Archive has been carefully preserving 78 RPM records created with fragile shellac for something it calls the Great 78 Project. The idea is that it is impossible to tell whether digital recordings or original records will last longer, so it is archiving both, and has built up quite the library of recordings.
Record labels including UMG, Capitol and Sony have filed a copyright infringement lawsuit in the United States targeting Internet Archive and founder Brewster Kale, among others. Filed in Manhattan federal court late Friday, the complaint alleges infringement of 2,749 works, recorded by deceased artists, including Frank Sinatra, Billie Holiday, Louis Armstrong and Bing Crosby.
I am not a lawyer; I do not know how valid this suit is. But, writing as a layperson, this threat stinks. While versions of some of these recordings are present in newer formats, there is to me a vast difference between preserving these specific pressings compared to making available any version. I have no idea if that makes a legal difference — again, not a lawyer — but there are artistic and technical reasons which should not be ignored. Different record pressings sound different, sometimes by a lot.
Besides, it is not as though people are treating the Great 78 Project as a replacement for a streaming service. The Internet Archive does not show total plays or downloads, but the most-viewed recording in the collection has less than 140,000 views as of writing. Notable for a 1942 folk recording, for sure, but the most popular song from the same artist on Spotify has over half a million plays.
For these record labels to claim that the Internet Archive is “undermin[ing] the value of music” is laughable. They are preserving specific recordings in an industry that sees all versions of an album as identical, and treated the loss of thousands of original masters as an inconvenience.
It’s quite possible the consultants were taking them for a ride or are just wrong. But it’s also possible that the SEO people who follow this stuff really closely for a living have figured out something non-intuitive and unexpected. Google obviously doesn’t want to say that it incentivizes sites to delete content, and the algorithms are probably not intentionally designed to do that, but that doesn’t mean this result isn’t an emergent property of complex algorithms and models that no one fully understands.
While CNET might not be the most reliable side, Google telling content owners to not play SEO games is also too biased to be taken at face value.
It reminds me of Apple’s “don’t run to the press” advice when hitting bugs or app review issues. While we’d assume Apple knows best, going against their advice totally works and is by far the most efficient action for anyone with enough reach.
Both of these are fair arguments for why it does not make sense to trust Google’s description of its own indexing and ranking criteria. I thought it was worthwhile bringing them to your attention.
Despite working closely with them in various capacities for much of my career, I have a bias against search optimization experts because I think most of what they suggest is either superstition, or done in greater volume and to a higher degree by scammers and machines. The latter have a nominally adversarial relationship with Google as it would prefer to direct people to articles which are useful and authoritative, not just regurgitating something taken from elsewhere.1 The objective of chum producers is to rank well on Google, and it does not matter much how or what it takes. They are not motivated to produce useful information, but to get as many clicks as possible because their websites are monetized through ads and referral links. The more they behave badly, the more legitimate businesses mimic their tactics, and the closer Google gets to adjusting its criteria to compensate. But the chum producers will always be one step ahead.
I look at Google search similar to the way I look at the stock market. I do not know if I need a disclaimer that this is not financial advice; it is obviously not. Here is what I figure: I can try to beat the market by buying shares in some business or hedging against some commodity in the hopes that I can beat the odds. But I am not a trader; I do not have time to commit to doing that for a living. The best thing I can do — and the only thing I actually do — is park some money in an index fund and hope for slow gradual gains.
Google is kind of the same way, I figure. You can try all sorts of games to improve your website’s rankings, but there are people who are motivated to beat everyone else. Their tactics will motivate Google to adjust its criteria, and chum producers can adapt more quickly than a legitimate business. I think search optimization experts see a number of effects and do their best to ascribe them to causes. Because Google deliberately keeps its inner workings nonspecific, as Tsai quite rightly points out, it is plausible for older material to have some impact on the site as a whole. But it does not make sense to me to purge old stories from a news site like you would remove out-of-stock products from a storefront.
The whole entire point of a publisher like CNet is to chronicle an industry. It is too bad its new owners do not see that in either its history or its future.
My top suggestion with a bullet is to stop having this [subscribe] modal appear every single time I read a post from a newsletter I’m not subscribed to. It’s even worse when I subscribe via RSS, so I’ve already subbed, even if they don’t know it.
Call this a co-sign. Substack’s modal subscribe dialog — and its sibling nag screen when I leave a tab open for a while — makes for a uniquely terrible way of reading blog posts from authors who have increasingly moved to this platform.
Do you like reading articles in publications like Bloomberg, the Wall Street Journal or the Economist, but can’t afford to pay what can be hundreds of dollars a year in subscriptions? If so, odds are you’ve already stumbled on archive.today, which provides easy access to these and much more: just paste in the article link, and you’ll get back a snapshot of the page, full content included.
The Internet Archive is a legitimate 501(c)(3) non-profit with a budget of $37 million and 169 full-time employees in 2019. archive.today, by contrast, is an opaque mystery. So who runs this and where did they come from?
This unique resource is as useful as it is likely to be fleeting. I am amazed it has survived for as long as it has.
I find the alarmist tone of this series of reports from NewsGuard to be largely unwarranted. People used to worry about blogs or the internet itself spreading misinformation, which has undeniably been the case, but you could make that argument about every publishing medium in history. Do not get me wrong; I understand why robots churning out fact-free nonsense in an trustworthy tone is concerning. I am just unsure that it is a unique problem. It is just more nonsense in the sea in which we are already swimming.
Tech news website CNET has deleted thousands of old articles over the past few months in a bid to improve its performance in Google Search results, Gizmodo has learned.
Whether or not deleting articles is an effective business strategy, it causes other problems that have nothing to do with search engines. For a publisher like CNET — one of the oldest tech news sites on the internet — removing articles means losing parts of the public record that could have unforeseen historical significance in the future. It also means the hundreds of journalists who’ve published articles on CNET could lose access to their body of work.
Google says this whole strategy is bullshit. A bunch of SEO types Germain interviewed swear by it, but they believe in a lot of really bizarre stuff. It sounds like nonsense to me. After all, Google also prioritizes authority, and a well-known website which has chronicled the history of an industry for decades is pretty damn impressive. Why would “a 1996 article about available AOL service tiers” — per the internal memo — cause a negative effect on the site’s rankings, anyhow? I cannot think of a good reason why a news site purging its archives makes any sense whatsoever.
The Canadian Association of Broadcasters and U.S.-based National Association of Broadcasters have issued a joint statement condemning Meta for preventing users from linking to news on its platforms in Canada following the passage of the Online News Act:
Meta – a nearly trillion-dollar company – repeatedly chooses to restrict news content for its users to avoid compensating news producers for the value it gains on their vital journalism. These retaliatory tactics demonstrate Meta’s monopolistic dominance over the advertising marketplace and its ability to dictate how radio and TV broadcasters, newspapers and others can reach audiences online. […]
The nature of Meta’s business is that it gains value just about any time anyone interacts with its platforms, but broadcasters are in a class of their own for demanding payment for external links to their work. I understand their argument: if a business in Calgary wants to advertise online to an audience in Calgary, they will likely buy advertising from U.S. companies instead of through Calgary-based media outlets. But a tax on links is a poor way to address a problem with the business model. Also, Meta does not have a monopoly on online advertising, nor does it dominate.
The broadcasters are asking the Competition Bureau to investigate Meta over what it sees is a “retaliatory” measure. The Bureau says it is looking into whether it has any reason to intervene.
Threads’ user base seems to be an object of fascination among the tech press. Mark Zuckerberg says it is “on the trajectory I expect to build a vibrant long term app” with “10s of millions” of users returning daily. Meanwhile, third-party estimators have spent the weeks since Threads’ debut breaking the news that its returning user base is smaller than its total base, and that people are somewhat less interested in it than when it launched, neither of which is surprising or catastrophic.1 Meanwhile, Elon Musk says Twitter is more popular than ever but, then again, he does say a lot of things that are not true.
All that merits discussion, I suppose, but I am more interested in the purpose of Threads. It is obviously a copy of Twitter at its core, but so what? Twitter is the progenitor of a genre of product, derived from instant messenger status messages and built into something entirely different. Everything is a copy, a derivative, a remix. It was not so long ago that many people were equating a person’s ban from mainstream social media platforms with suppression and censorship. That is plenty ridiculous on its face, but it does mean we should support more platforms because it does not make sense for there to be just one Twitter-like service or one YouTube-like video host.
So why is Threads, anyway? How does Meta’s duplication of Twitter — and, indeed, its frequent replication of other features and apps — fit into the company’s overall strategy? What is its strategy? Meta introduced Threads by saying it is “a new, separate space for real-time updates and public conversations”, which “take[s] what Instagram does best and expand[s] that to text”. Meta’s mission is to “[give] people the power to build community and bring the world closer together”. It is a “privacy-focused” set of social media platforms. It is “making significant investments” in its definition of a metaverse which “will unlock monetization opportunities for businesses, developers, and creators”. It is doing a bunch of stuff with generative artificial intelligence.
But what it sells are advertisements. It currently makes a range of products which serve both as venues for those ads, and as activity collection streams for targeting information. This leaves it susceptible to risks on many fronts, including privacy and platform changes, which at least partly explains why it is slowly moving toward its own immersive computing platform.
Ad-supported does not equate to bad. Print and broadcast media have been ad-supported for decades and they are similarly incentivized to increase and retain their audience. But, in their case, they are producing or at least deliberately selecting media of a particular type — stories in a newspaper, songs on a radio station, shows on TV — and in a particular style. Meta’s products resemble that sort of arrangement, but do not strictly mimic it. Its current business model rewards maximizing user engagement and data collection. But, given the digital space, there is little prescription for format. Instagram’s image posts can be text-based; users can write an essay on Facebook; a Threads post can contain nothing more than a set of images.
So Meta has a bunch of things going for it:
a business model that incentivizes creating usage and behavioural data at scale,
But does any of this suggest to you an ultimate end goal or reason for being? To me, this just looks like Meta is throwing stuff at people in the hope any of it sticks enough for them to open the advertising spigot. In the same way a Zara store is just full of stuff, much of it ripping off the work of others, Meta’s product line does not point to a goal any more specific than its mission statement of “bring[ing] the world closer”. That is meaningless! The same corporate goal could be used by a food importer or a construction firm.
None of this is to say Meta is valueless as a company; clearly it is not. But it makes decisions that look scatterbrained as it fends off possible competitors while trying to build its immersive computing vision. But that might be far enough away that it is sapping any here-and-now vision the company might have. Even if the ideas are copies — and, again, I do not see that as an inherent weakness — I can only think of one truly unique, Meta-specific, and successful take: Threads itself. It feels like a text-only Instagram app, not a mere Twitter clone, and it is more Meta-like for it. That probably explains why I use it infrequently, and why it seems to have been greeted with so much attention. Even so, I do not really understand where it fits into the puzzle of the Meta business as a whole. Is it always going to be a standalone app? Is it a large language model instruction farm? Is it just something the company is playing around with and seeing where it goes, along the lines of its other experimental products? That seems at odds with its self-described “year of efficiency”.
I wish I saw in Meta a more deliberate set of products. Not because I am a shareholder — I am not — but because I think it would be a more interesting business to follow. I wish I had a clearer sense of what makes a Meta product or service.
SimilarWeb has a fancy graphic illustrating its data acquisition and delivery process, which it breaks down into collection, synthesis, modelling, and digital intelligence. Is it accurate? Since neither Apple nor Google reports the kind of data SimilarWeb purports to know about apps, it is very difficult to know. But, as its name suggests, its primary business is in web-based tracking, so it is at least possible to compare its data against others’. It says the five most popular questions asked to Google so far this year are “what”, “what to watch”, “how to delete instagram account”, “how to tie a tie”, and “how to screenshot on windows”. PageTraffic says the five most-Googled questions are “what to watch”, “where’s my refund”, “how you like that”, “what is my IP address”, and “how many ounces in a cup”, and Semrush says the top five are “where is my refund”, “how many ounces in a cup”, “how to calculate bmi”, “is rihanna pregnant”, and “how late is the closest grocery store open”. All three use different data sources but are comparable data sets — that is, all from Google, all worldwide, and all from 2023. They also estimate wildly differing search volumes: SimilarWeb’s estimate of the world’s most popular question query, “what”, is searched about 2,015,720 times per month, while Semrush says “where is my refund” is searched 15,500,000 times per month. That is not even close.
But who knows? Maybe the estimates from these marketing companies really can be extrapolated to determine real-world app usage. Colour me skeptical, though: if there is such wide disagreement in search analysis — a field which uses relatively open and widely accessible data — then what chance do they have of accurately assessing closed software platforms? ↥︎
Zoom’s updated policy states that all rights to Service Generated Data are retained solely by Zoom. This extends to Zoom’s rights to modify, distribute, process, share, maintain, and store such data “for any purpose, to the extent and in the manner permitted under applicable law.”
What raises alarm is the explicit mention of the company’s right to use this data for machine learning and artificial intelligence, including training and tuning of algorithms and models. This effectively allows Zoom to train its AI on customer content without providing an opt-out option, a decision that is likely to spark significant debate about user privacy and consent.
We changed our terms of service in March 2023 to be more transparent about how we use and who owns the various forms of content across our platform.
To reiterate: we do not use audio, video, or chat content for training our models without customer consent.
Zoom is trialling a summary feature which uses machine learning techniques, and it appears administrators are able to opt out of data sharing while still having access to the feature. But why is all of this contained in a monolithic terms-of-service document? Few people read these things in full and even fewer understand them. It may appear simpler, but features which require this kind of compromise should have specific and separate documentation for meaningful explicit consent.
Uber Technologies posted its first-ever operating profit in the second quarter, a milestone in its long-term efforts to stem losses in its businesses carrying people and delivering food.
Since its 2009 founding, Uber has not once proved it is actually profitable — until now. Two reasons it has been able to achieve this milestone are because it is showing more ads — which is not a convincing demonstration that its core model of underpaying drivers in pirate taxis is sustainable — and because it is increasing its prices while cutting driver earnings. The end of free money is requiring Uber to behave like a real business.
In the decision, which was unsealed on Friday, Judge Amit P. Mehta of U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia dismissed four claims in the lawsuits and allowed government lawyers to move forward with three.
Judge Mehta wrote that a trial was warranted to assess whether Google’s exclusivity deals for web browsers and preloading its services on Android devices illegally helped the internet company maintain a monopoly. But he said the government had not “demonstrated the requisite anticompetitive effect” to prove that Google broke the law in other ways, such as by boosting its own products in search results over those of specialized sites, like Amazon and Yelp.
The authors of this article do not link to the judge’s decision (PDF). This is not difficult. In addition to what has been mentioned above, the judge found merit in trialling an accusation that Google delayed adoption of features for Microsoft Ads in its Search Ads 360 product for anticompetitive reasons.
For Goldman, the deal is also very low-profit, as it doesn’t take a cut of interchange fees paid by merchants for transactions. The lack of other fees also limits Goldman’s other revenue sources from the operation, unlike other cards that include late or annual fees.
I am certain you are as heartbroken as I am that Goldman Sachs, of all companies, is struggling to cover the costs of a credit card program which charges between 16–27% interest but does not have an assortment of hidden fees.
Apple and Goldman have not commented publicly on the future of this relationship beyond the latter’s partial retreat from consumer banking. But Apple yesterday trumpeted the success of the savings account feature tied to Apple Card:
Today, Apple announced that Apple Card’s high-yield Savings account offered by Goldman Sachs has reached over $10 billion in deposits from users since launching in April. Savings enables Apple Card users to grow their Daily Cash rewards with a Savings account from Goldman Sachs, which offers a high-yield APY of 4.15 percent.
“We are very pleased with the success of the Savings account as we continue to deliver seamless, valuable products to Apple Card customers, with a shared focus on creating a best-in-class customer experience that helps consumers lead healthier financial lives,” said Liz Martin, Goldman Sachs’s head of Enterprise Partnerships.
In January, a couple months before this savings account was launched, Goldman said it had over $100 billion in deposits like these.
This CBC Article About the Online News Act Is a Real Stinker
Today, Meta announced it is beginning the process of ending Canadians’ access to news publications as a consequence of Bill C–18, now known as the Online News Act. This is an entirely predictable consequence of the Act, which requires big tech companies like Google and Meta to decide between having an unpredictable bill for all their news links, or having a fixed cost of zero dollars. In the fullness of time, we will find out if fewer Canadians are using their services because they cannot use them for news coverage, but it seems to me like a safe gamble on the part of Meta and, soon, Google.1
When I tried finding third-party coverage of this announcement, I turned to Google — DuckDuckGo’s news results are filled with articles syndicated at MSN and Yahoo — and had a hard time finding a non-wire report from a Canadian publication. Many were either from Canadian Press or Reuters. Happily, CBC News’ Darren Major filed an original report, but it did not take me long to find problems with both the reporting and the subjects it profiled:
Social media giant Meta says it has officially begun ending news availability on its platforms in Canada starting Tuesday.
Meta, which owns Facebook and Instagram, has been signalling the move was coming after the government passed its Online News Act, Bill C-18, in June.
Those “signals” include the company stating outright that “news availability will be ended on Facebook and Instagram for all users in Canada”, which is not so much a nod as it is a direct confirmation. The news here, as it were, is that Meta followed through on things it said repeatedly.
The law requires big tech giants like Google and Meta to pay media outlets for news content they share or otherwise repurpose on their platforms.
This is not accurate. It requires operators of large social media businesses and search engines to pay for news links either shared by users or which publishers have permitted to be indexed. The tech company does not meaningfully share links itself. This is more fuzzy around links found through search engines, but publishers have control over whether they want their articles to be included in results.
Major’s introduction to this story is not great. Perhaps even more objectionable material can be found in quotations from various elected officials. For example:
Newly appointed Heritage Minister Pascale St-Onge said Meta has refused to participate in the regulatory process.
“This is irresponsible,” she said in a statement. “They would rather block their users from accessing good quality and local news instead of paying their fair share to news organizations.”
This legislation demands preposteriously that publications are owed some kind of “fair share” of revenue from referral sources, but nothing about that reflects how the web works. This feels like the “Mad Men” clip where Don tells Peggy “that is what the money is for”, except it is links.2
The Canadian media landscape sucks. The online ad marketplace sucks. I concede that publications regularly post links to their own work on social media and permit search engines to index their websites out of an expectation that we will find them there, and that it is currently hard to know the true value of these third party referrals to the revenue streams of publishers. But this legislation is a bad way to address that imbalance, and the dichotomy St-Onge presents is wrong. Canadians are not being blocked from accessing news, and there is no “fair share” to be had.
Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre put the responsibility squarely at the feet of the Liberal government.
“It’s like Nineteen Eighty-Four,” he said. “Who would ever have imagined that in Canada the federal government would pass laws banning people from effectively seeing the news?”
Predictably, Poilievre is just plain wrong. Even the most charitable reading of this statement — one which moves the word “effectively” to between “would” and “pass” — is a ludicrous bad faith reading of this Act and it is embarrassing that political rivals use this sort of language instead of trying to navigate the nuances of a particular topic.
Martin Champoux, heritage critic for the Bloc Québécois, accused Meta of trying to intimidate parliament into rescinding the law.
“This deplorable decision serves no one. In fact, the big losers are the users who will be deprived of their news on social networks,” Champoux said in a statement in French.
It is no secret that Meta has been arguing against the Online News Act since it was first proposed. But what is missing from this criticism is that Meta has actually been making good points all along, and the law is very bad. I am obviously no fan of Meta’s and I trust policymakers more than seemingly most people in the technology commentary space, but even I can acknowledge this Act is poor and these are reasonable concerns:
“In order to provide clarity to the millions of Canadians and businesses who use our platforms, we are announcing today that we have begun the process of ending news availability permanently in Canada,” Rachel Curran, Meta’s head of public policy in Canada, said in a statement.
“In the future, we hope the Canadian government will recognize the value we already provide the news industry and consider a policy response that upholds the principles of a free and open internet,” Curran said in her statement.
This is completely fair. As Casey Newton wrote earlier this year, there are plenty of other ways the government can support Canadian media without resorting to a link tax.3 But they decided to go after a fundamental component of the web in a way that will, as the Liberal Party acknowledges, create a precedent:
St-Onge said the government will continue to “stand its ground” and suggested other countries are considering drafting similar legislation.
This is a dangerous piece of legislation — one which the government has dug in its heels for and pushed through despite protests from open web activists and major corporations alike. You do not have to be a fan of Google or Meta to recognize how flawed it is. You only need to see the obvious conclusion that requiring sources of web traffic to pay up is going to make them less likely to play that role.
This is entirely unrelated to the topic at hand, but I think it is fascinating how successful the “Meta” brand has become compared to, say, Google’s attempt to introduce Alphabet. To be fair, the commitment to the “Alphabet” branding is pretty weak; the Meta website is more than just a landing page for investors. But something I noticed last week is how Meta still uses “Facebook” branding on its quarterly earnings statements (PDF). Place your bets now on whether “X” takes off. I think everyone except the Elon Musk fanbase will keep calling it Twitter, and keep calling posts “tweets”. ↥︎
It is truly unfortunate that crappy Instagram gurus of business and men’s advice take “Mad Men” literally. ↥︎
A paid link, unfortunately, but I believe you know where to find a workaround. ↥︎
Apple doesn’t have to create modular phones that are incredibly easy to repair, although it would be fantastic if it applied its undoubted engineering prowess to doing so. There are a lot of things it could do which aren’t as radical as that. Apple could publish its calibration processes, which would make third party repair easier. It could publish the schematics for its devices, as for example Fairphone do (but other phone makers don’t). It chooses not to do these things. Everything about Apple’s behaviour here is a choice, one that it could and should change.
I think this is entirely right. We do not know why Apple has made individual engineering decisions, some of which impact repairability, but it should not affect how the company could choose to respond. It is the right choice for the planet and, increasingly, Apple itself.
Ricky Panesar, CEO of UK repair firm iCorrect, told Forbes that screens replaced on newer iPad Pros (fifth and sixth-generation 12.9-inch and third and fourth-generation 11-inch models) do not deliver straight lines when an Apple Pencil is used to draw at an angle. “They have a memory chip that sits on the screen that’s programmed to only allow the Pencil functionality to work if the screen is connected to the original logic board,” Panesar told Forbes.
A Reddit post from May 23 from a user reporting “jittery” diagonal lines from an Apple Pencil on a newly replaced iPad mini screen suggests the issue may affect more than just the Pro line of iPads.
Usually I would point you to the original source — in this case, Forbes — rather than a rewrite, but I made an exception for the author of this Ars piece. If you recognize the name “Kevin Purdy”, it could be because he used to work for iFixit, which is acknowledged in this article.
At iFixit, Purdy was responsible for repeatedly claiming Apple was sabotaging device repairs, citing as evidence the inability to swap the camera between iPhone 12 units and the Face ID system between iPhone 13s. Unofficial iPhone 11 display swaps showed a message saying the display was not genuine and, importantly, True Tone also could not be enabled. And now we have this iPad and Apple Pencil issue to add to the list.
One thing all of these features — synchronicity between the Pencil and iPad screen, Face ID, cameras, and True Tone — have in common is that they are features which require precise coordination between hardware and software. Different parts perform differently, even if they were made by the same company in the same factory at the same time. Apple achieves a level of uniform behaviour on its devices through a proprietary calibration process.
I find Purdy’s analysis of these issues to be frustratingly shallow and lacking. Every time one of these parts calibration problems arises, Purdy immediately ascribes it to a deliberate repair lockout strategy, even though software updates have ensured these parts remain functional and have even fixed some problems spotted by iFixit. iOS 14.4 correctedcamera problems for iPhone 12 models with swapped modules and iOS 15.2 re-enabled Face ID for screen-swapped iPhone 13s. In general, I feel that a warning in Settings that a screen or camera is not an official part is a fair way to notify users about what is going on in the mystery box of electronic wizardry they are holding, especially since the iPhone resale market is stronger than phones from any other company by a huge margin, and some of the components for which Apple requires calibration are for security features like Touch ID and Face ID.
The problem I have with a Machiavellian explanation for Apple’s repair idiosyncrasies is that it does not address the actual problems created by its decisions about device construction and maintenance. Hector Martin put it well:
You need to stop pushing these ridiculous conspiracy theories and instead focus on reality: these machines are complex, their production is complex, their repair is complex, and just swapping parts around willy nilly may not result in a quality result, and that is *normal*. Advocate for Apple to provide access to their calibration re-provisioning processes instead, so you can actually get things set up properly and working as intended by the manufacturer. Them not providing those tools sucks and is anti-repair. The product engineering that requires those tools for a proper outcome is not.
From the perspective of users, it does not matter whether Apple is actively making it harder to repair devices or if that is a side effect of other priorities. And, from the perspective of activists and policymakers, I am not sure it makes much difference either. If hardware and software need to go through some process to become better acquainted with one another and work properly, that is fine by me. If it is all a ruse, that sucks, but ultimately is not relevant.
People should be able to swap screens and batteries — at the very least — without having to find a specifically authorized technician with provisioned access to some internal Apple tool. Not every Apple device owner lives in a big city in a rich country, where Apple’s network of technicians is concentrated. The software should be part of the toolkit available to anyone repairing their device outside the Apple Authorized Service Provider channels.
In fact, that is not too far off from what Apple has been doing. In addition to making parts and tools available and improving device repairability, it recently announced it would be making the System Configuration step entirely self-guided. This is progress. Even so, I see room for improvement. The self-service program is currently offered through a website that looks barely legitimate, let alone connected to Apple, is something the company only offers in a handful of countries which does not currently include Canada, and can alter or stop providing it at any time. Good public policy could ensure most common repairs can be done by anyone who is inclined, with quality parts and tools made available.
Barring evidence proving otherwise, I am not convinced Apple’s final software calibration step is some kind of evil manoeuvre to subvert repairs and kneecap its products. Framing it in those terms is a distraction from effective right-to-repair activism. I am not someone who believes Apple cannot do bad things; any regular reader is well aware of that. But I do believe these kinds of motivations demand proof beyond typical and fair suspicion of big corporations.
Apple has granted a rare exception to its strict App Store rules, allowing Twitter to rebrand as X and become the first one-character iPhone app.
A “rare exception”? I guess in the vastness of the App Store, any atypical behaviour could be considered “rare”. Apps that have been granted most entitlements, like those which support CarPlay, are rare amongst the 1.8 million iOS apps out there. But bigger, well-known developers are grantedexceptions to both App Store rules and punishments for breaking them.
Anyway, X Corporation is threatening to sue the Center for Countering Digital Hate over research the latter published into what it found was a rise in hate speech on Twitter after Elon Musk’s acquisition.
The subtitles that appeared on Turner Classic Movies were made for a Karagarga release, too but weren’t necessarily sourced through the site. The fansubs may be available through other subtitle repositories as well.
TorrentFreak contacted TCM to find out if the company has any idea how the subtitles ended up on the official broadcast, but the company didn’t immediately reply (see update below). The problem may lie with a third party, as the Criterion streaming service reportedly shows the same subtitles.
If I were betting on the accuracy of subtitles, I would put all my money on the communities of enthusiasts over official channels.
It hasn’t paid very well, but what [Mike] Masnick doesn’t have in wealth he makes up for in influence. Lawmakers, activists and executives consider him an essential guide for what’s happening in the technology world and what to do next.
“Whenever tech policy news breaks I always want to see what Mike’s take is going to be,” said Senator Ron Wyden, Democrat of Oregon, in a statement. Mark Zuckerberg, the head of Meta, has called him “insightful and reasonable.” The tech entrepreneur Anil Dash said he “shows up and ships every day” and has been “filing constantly for decades on a beat that is thankless.”
Great profile, and deservedly so. When there is news about tech policy or overarching trends, Masnick’s voice is one of sanity and trust. When I disagree, I still find his opinion a valuable gut-check.
As part of our ongoing national investigation into platforms like Airbnb and their role in the housing crisis, we’ve been tracking and identifying the largest players in some of Canada’s hottest rental markets. These property owners and entrepreneurs operate vast networks of unlicensed, and often illegal, ghost hotels.
Until this week [Mike] Firmin was the second largest host in Montreal, offering 76 listings spread across the metropolis. Considering the data only accounts for one of many accounts connected to him, it’s possible that he was the largest host in Montreal at the time.
The “ghost hotel” nomenclature refers to an entire apartment building which is functionally a hotel because most or all units are short-term rentals instead of tenant-occupied.
Huge chunks of cities with ongoing housing affordability crises are dominated by Airbnbs; in Canada, Vancouver and Toronto are standouts. According to the data on Inside Airbnb, nearly 40% of those in Vancouver are unlicensed, and over 70% are in Toronto. We can all pretend these are mostly people who rent out a spare room, or maybe they are away and can offer their entire place, but I think we all know that is not true. There are over twenty-five thousand homes in Toronto which are Airbnbs, and over fifteen thousand of them — as of writing — have not been booked in the past year. The vast majority of these are rentals of twenty-eight days or longer because Toronto law only permits short-term rentals of someone’s primary residence. Airbnb sits between tenants and landlords in an all-too-perfect definition of rent-seeking.
Tesla years ago began exaggerating its vehicles’ potential driving distance – by rigging their range-estimating software. The company decided about a decade ago, for marketing purposes, to write algorithms for its range meter that would show drivers “rosy” projections for the distance it could travel on a full battery, according to a person familiar with an early design of the software for its in-dash readouts.
Tesla supervisors told some virtual team members to steer customers away from bringing their cars into service whenever possible. One current Tesla “Virtual Service Advisor” described part of his job in his LinkedIn profile: “Divert customers who do not require in person service.”
Such advisors handled a variety of issues, including range complaints. But last summer, Tesla created the Las Vegas “Diversion Team” to handle only range cases, according to the people familiar with the matter.
Tesla also updated its phone app so that any customer who complained about range could no longer book service appointments, one of the sources said. Instead, they could request that someone from Tesla contact them. It often took several days before owners were contacted because of the large backlog of range complaints, the source said.
A large portion of this report conveys Tesla’s internal decision-making based on the word of a single source. I am a little surprised Reuters decided to publish it.
Scott Case, of Recurrent, which is a service that monitors electric vehicle batteries and provides information to current owners and buyers of used vehicles:
The reality is that the laws of physics apply to Tesla, too – Tesla is not much different than other automakers. When you need to heat and cool your car – and your battery – in hot and cold weather conditions, you can’t drive as far. That impact is substantially lessened when a car is equipped with a heat pump and advanced thermal management, which many newer Teslas (and other cars) are.
It’s also worth noting that it’s not like other manufacturers have perfected accurate range estimates either. Actual range varies according to all kinds of different factors, like speed, temperature or use of climate control. Every other automaker has a different approach to sharing those estimates, but it often tends to be closer to reality than Tesla’s approach.
All electric cars are affected by temperature because people turn on the heater or air conditioner. So, too, are cars with internal combustion engines — the Canadian government estimates fuel consumption is increased by up to 20% because of air conditioners.
But there are chemistry changes which are specific to electric vehicles, and the combined impact on range is notable. Recurrent’s data indicates the Chevrolet Bolt and Ford Mustang Mach-E both get around 65% of their EPA-estimated range in sub-freezing temperatures, while Tesla models get less than half their estimated range. Even at more temperate spring or autumn temperatures, Teslas only give around 60% of the range estimated by the EPA, while it is between 90% and a little over 100% for the Bolt and Mustang. What is unique about the Tesla models is how they consistently display a range of around 90% of the EPA sticker, no matter the conditions.
The Reuters report portrays the range estimate as deliberately misleading in the sense that it is intelligently giving drivers an optimistic number: it uses “algorithms for its range meter that […] show drivers ‘rosy’ projections”. But I think the reality is even worse — it is actually a very dumb estimate which is not adjusted based on any real-world factors. These cars are supposed to be so smart they nearly drive themselves, but they use a range calculation that is the definition of ‘ignorance is bliss’? Choosing to use this misleading estimate is obviously beneficial to Tesla because it is not affected by actual driving. Even in a best-case scenario, the data collected by Recurrent suggests a Tesla’s displayed range is not actually achievable.
Recurrent’s data also shows why so many electric cars seem to be overbuilt, and please forgive me for this slow-to-realize lightbulb moment. There are plenty of people for whom a car with a 100 kilometre range would be acceptable, and it would make electric cars more affordable.1 But if it gets closer to 50 or 60 kilometres on one charge for several months a year when it is brand new and at its best, that is a severe compromise in the ugly sprawling car-centric cities of Canada and the United States.
Reuters’ source also told the reporters that customers complaining about range problems would be denied an appointment for service. That makes sense: Tesla allegedly knew its range estimates were not a reflection of reality, so there really was nothing wrong with the cars themselves. But it is horrible for customer trust. Just two days ago, Tesla settled class-action lawsuit which claimed the company would sign a contract for installing solar panels on customers’ homes, then argue their roofs had too many angular bits and increase the cost. This does not appear to be a company that prides itself on service or communication.
Whether there is a buying market for these cars is another matter entirely. Most buyers of pickup trucks and SUVs do not need a large vehicle with those capabilities. But they are routinely the best-selling vehicles in Canada and the U.S. because people buy what they want, not what actually fits their life or their garage. ↥︎
Readers from the United States, allow me to direct you to Fight for the Future’s current initiative about Bad Internet Bills. They are profiling crappy bills — many of which appear to promise great things — that will erode security and privacy. You may recognize the Cooper Davis bill from this website last week, and there are five others worth your attention.
This initiative is running for a couple more days, and there are resources indicating what you can do about it. There is a prefilled form letter but, if you are able, a phone call or a personalized message work better.
“I am taking on a significant project to demonstrate how one of the most popular gadgets today — Apple’s AirPods Pro — could have been easily made repairable with minimal effort,” [Ken] Pillonel says in a press release. “My primary objective is to encourage consumers to be more mindful of their choices and to motivate manufacturers to prioritize sustainability.”
With his project, Pillonel attempted to recreate each component of the AirPods Pro charging case before modifying them to be held together with nuts and screws rather than glue. The modifications make it easier to get inside the charging case without breaking it in order to swap out the battery — no soldering required.
Pillonel’s making-of video is extraordinary. It is still hard for me to believe that there exists a range of headphones priced from $130 up to $549 that need to be thrown away after just a few years, even if all the components are still good, because the battery can no longer hold a charge. Pillonel has not yet demonstrated a way to replace the batteries in the headphones themselves, but this is an impressive DIY effort that solves half the problem.
The trust relationship between websites and clients is frequently established through the collection and interpretation of highly re-identifiable information. However, the signals that are considered essential for these safety use cases can also serve as a near-unique fingerprint that can be used to track users across sites without their knowledge or control.
We would like to explore whether a lower-entropy mechanism – Web Environment Integrity – could help address these use cases with better privacy respecting properties.
The goals of this project are laudable. Between this and features like PassKeys, you can imagine browsing a web where you are less frequently challenged to prove your identity and, when that happens, it is less interruptive.
Unfortunately, the likely reality is more worrisome. Since awareness of this API began bubbling up early last week, I have read and re-read Google’s proposal trying to make sense of it. I could not quite hit on an explanation that resonated with me.
Then I read Ron Amadeo’s summary, for Ars Technica, and it made complete sense — it is DRM for the web:
Google’s plan is that, during a webpage transaction, the web server could require you to pass an “environment attestation” test before you get any data. At this point your browser would contact a “third-party” attestation server, and you would need to pass some kind of test. If you passed, you would get a signed “IntegrityToken” that verifies your environment is unmodified and points to the content you wanted unlocked. You bring this back to the web server, and if the server trusts the attestation company, you get the content unlocked and finally get a response with the data you wanted.
If this comes to pass and becomes popular, it will be a sad day for the open web. Unfortunately, Google has both the incentive to release it, and the position to standardize it. To wit, the first argument Wiser, et al., makes for why user integrity is important:
Users like visiting websites that are expensive to create and maintain, but they often want or need to do it without paying directly. These websites fund themselves with ads, but the advertisers can only afford to pay for humans to see the ads, rather than robots. This creates a need for human users to prove to websites that they’re human, sometimes through tasks like challenges or logins.
It goes without saying — so I will anyway — that publishers and advertisers want to ensure humans look at ads. Google does as well. As the world’s largest online ad company — perhaps criminally so — Google has to toe a fine line between doing right by its advertising customers and doing right by the users of its web browser, which just so happens to be the world’s most popular. I am not calling conspiracy here, but I do think the objective alignment is noteworthy.
Besides, there are plenty of other reasons to differentiate legitimate human traffic from illegitimate and automated traffic. That is why the CAPTCHA exists. And Wiser does say write that, should this standard be adopted, users ought to be able to view pages even if they do not pass the Web Integrity check.
But what that could look like in practice is for unauthenticated users to be aggressively challenged by login prompts and CAPTCHAs. If website operators can be confident the vast majority of their user base can be validated by Web Integrity attestation, they could adjust the threshold for robot detection to present more CAPTCHAs more of the time. As the purveyor of the world’s most popular search engine, video streaming site, email provider, and maps product, Google is positioned perfectly to force adoption, similar to how it strong-armed publishers into using AMP.1
More worrisome is what this means for the open web. While native app marketplaces have rules about what is permissible for some platforms, the web is entirely free on those same devices. Google’s proposal makes the web less open and less free.
Of course, Google isn’t the first to think of this, but in fact they’re not even the first to ship it. Apple already developed & deployed an extremely similar system last year, now integrated into MacOS 13, iOS 16 & Safari, called “Private Access Tokens”: […]
That said, it’s not as dangerous as the Google proposal, simply because Safari isn’t the dominant browser. Right now, Safari has around 20% market share in browsers (25% on mobile, and 15% on desktop), while Chrome is comfortably above 60% everywhere, with Chromium more generally (Brave, Edge, Opera, Samsung Internet, etc) about 10% above that.
Apple’s lower market share could explain why I see so many more CAPTCHAs and have more trouble accessing pages when using iCloud Private Relay and Safari. It is a little crummy preview of what the web looks like if this technology becomes an expectation.
When I use Google to search the web instead of DuckDuckGo, it is usually because I am combing through its more extensive results for something specific. I often use advanced search operators. This is something Google is especially sensitive about — if I repeatedly search a website by using the site: or inurl: operators, I will see a CAPTCHA for just about each page of search results. I am picturing that, but for every few YouTube videos I watch. ↥︎
CarPlay’s Road Ahead
At WWDC 2022, Apple previewed a new version of CarPlay. It promised deeper integration, taking over for things like ventilation controls, seat position, and dashboard dials. Such an update will basically require expansive screen space, and it will also permit CarPlay to span multiple screens.
A list of supported models is not expected until much later this year, but it appears we are beginning to see glimpses already in a raft of automaker announcements. Some manufacturers — mostly luxurious brands like Porsche — were already toying with all-screen dashboards. That style is becoming increasingly standard and moving downrange. New models from BMW, Chevrolet, Ford, Hyundai, and Lincoln each have a big, long screen stretching from at least the driver’s side across the centre console with digital dials replacing analogue gauges. While none of the mockups show the new version of CarPlay, this layout seems to be designed with it in mind. The mockup Lincoln showed was so similar to CarPlay that, when iMore asked about it, a spokesperson acknowledged it was “uncanny”.
To be clear, none of these mockups seem to show CarPlay, but they do show a new all-digital interface projected across the entire dashboard — exactly how CarPlay will be presented. Stay tuned for the inevitable acknowledgements by Apple and automakers later this year.
Whether people will like these changes is a different matter altogether. A recent JD Power survey indicates people are increasingly dissatisfied with manufacturer-created digital controls, and prefer integration with their phone, which suggests further development might be well-received. But people also prefer physical controls for common functions like turning on seat heaters or adjusting the air conditioning. Volkswagen is dropping the touch controls it added to its steering wheel in favour of real buttons, for example, while Hyundai says it will keep using buttons even as huge screens sweep across the dashboard of its newest models — see above, for example. Porsche may have been an early adopter of an all-screen dashboard with its Taycan, but the new Cayenne manages to retain tactile controls while also embracing digital ones.1
And I still have not acknowledged the potential for increased screens to become more dangerous. We already know that offloading common controls to screen-based interfaces is more distracting. Some of Apple’s mockups show a series of widgets spread across the dashboard with information about the weather, calendar appointments, smart home devices, music, and world clocks. All this while the vehicle is apparently travelling at around 44 miles per hour (70 kilometres per hour) approaching a crosswalk on a street which is signposted for 30 (50). Yes, I know it is a mockup, but it feels realistic: people really do check their calendar while speeding through intersections. Distractions like these are dangerous to everyone on or near a roadway, including cyclists and pedestrians. In the United States, pedestrian fatalities soared, reaching levels not seen in forty years.
But the story seems more complex than the one these U.S. statistics appear to tell. The Canadian auto market mimics the U.S. one, with a similar proportion of different body styles sold, and distracted driving being responsible for fatal collisions at a similarrate. Even so, fatal collisions in Canada have been declining for the same period where they have been rising south of the border. Crucially, this has been true for the 2019–2021 timeframe for pedestrians as a share of fatalities after rising in 2018, and pedestrian injuries have also been on a declining trend. It is not true for cyclists; however, there is no clear pattern either way.
I am most frequently in those latter two categories of road user: I am usually a pedestrian, and often a cyclist. Despite the wide availability of smartphone integration for many years, I still see people in newer cars holding and looking at their phones while driving erratically. Windscreen mounts remain popular, often immediately in front of the driver.
After digging into what is to come in newer cars and recent statistics, I am left with concern and confusion. It seems that something is different in the United States compared to Canada, though the NHTSA recently announced a turnaround for the first part of 2023. But screen-based controls create increased risk, and I find it hard to believe that will be mitigated by bigger screens and more distractions. I worry that drivers five years from now will be sitting in a massive boxy SUV with a dashboard full of touch-activated widgets, and they will still be staring at the phone in their hand.
After years of different answers for ways to avoid touching phones while behind the wheel — CarPlay and its Android counterpart, voice controls, Bluetooth — it seems that is something some drivers will never be able to give up.
In fact, it looks to me like some functionality is duplicated: there appears to be a seat heater icon in both the centre console and onscreen, suggesting the tactile switches could be stateless. ↥︎
Grab and GoTo, south-east Asia’s biggest start-ups before their listings, took inspiration from the grandfather of superapps, Tencent’s WeChat. The Chinese app is the world’s most popular, with more than a billion users, and combines messaging, online payments, ecommerce, video conferencing, video games, photo sharing and a host of other functions.
Now the model — which relied on enticing customers with expensive subsidised perks such as free delivery, discounts and gifts to dominate markets from Thailand to the Philippines — faces a reckoning. In addition to laying off 11 per cent of its workforce, or more than 1,000 people, last month, Grab also cut its cloud-kitchen business, rolled back subsidies in areas such as food delivery and is spending less time on expansion into units such as entertainment.
The comments posted on gofundme.com’s medical fundraisers form a revealing archive. These messages express care, well wishes, sympathy and generosity in the face of personal adversity and systemic failure. This is an archive of mutual aid in response to a ruthless for-profit health system.
I was waiting to see this letter before linking to the BBC story, since I think it is necessary to see the fullest context of these kinds of arguments. The policy proposed gives the Home Office extraordinary power to approve or deny security and privacy features, and to disable them without acknowledgement, which is a wildly dangerous overreach. Alas, these proposals are also in line with the dreams of other countries. Combined with permanent records storage — also getting closer to reality — policies like these would make the U.K. a test bed for truly authoritarian domestic surveillance.
In digging around the website of the National Bureau of Economic Research for that last post, I stumbled across a working paper entitled “Consumer Surveillance and Financial Fraud” (PDF) by Bo Bian, Michaela Pagel, and Huan Tang. These researchers used Apple’s App Tracking Transparency feature — and the lack of a similar feature on Android phones — to calculate its potential effect on fraud in the United States:
[…] Our results demonstrate that limiting the tracking and sharing of personal information has a significant impact on reducing financial fraud. Specifically, our analysis of CFPB complaints shows that a 10% increase in the share of Apple users in a zip code leads to a 2.63% reduction in the number of financial fraud complaints. Accounting for the 82% opt-out rate of ATT, this translates to a 3.21% reduction in financial fraud complaints. We also establish that areas with high and low iOS share experience similar pre-treatment trends in the likelihood and number of financial fraud complaints.
[…] We estimate that the reduction in tracking reduces money lost in all complaints by 4.7% and money lost reported in internet and data security complaints by 40.1%.
A 3% reduction in fraud complaints may not sound like much, but an estimated 40% cut in internet-based losses is quite something. The math in this paper is way beyond me, so I cannot vouch for the accuracy of its findings. Still, I think it is an interesting approach.
Researchers looking into online toxicity found a way to connect supposedly anonymous posts on the site Economics Job Market Rumors (EJMR) to IP addresses over the past dozen years, according to a draft paper leaked early online.
While EJMR is an academic jobs forum, it “also includes much content that is abusive, defamatory, racist, misogynistic or otherwise ‘toxic,’” the paper says.
The paper does not simply say that. The posts on the site represent a vile and cruel internal culture with surface-level moderation — one which is so arrogant that its administrator promised a million-dollar reward for anyone who could figure out their IP address from a post. Yet the mechanism for anonymizing posters was weak, without any basic security enhancements. I do not think this paper’s authors are expecting a payout.
Quinn links to a draft copy (PDF) of the paper. Slides (PDF) were posted today at a conference website, as was a revised version of the paper. The paper is not publicly linked, is stamped “confidential” on every page, and the first page contains a plea to “not cite or circulate”; however, in an ironic twist, it is trivial to guess its URL based on the address for the slides. The paper’s lead author has been notified in case this was unintentional.
Kevin David Mitnick, 59, died peacefully on Sunday, July 16, 2023, after valiantly battling pancreatic cancer for more than a year. Kevin is survived by his beloved wife, Kimberley Mitnick, who remained by his side throughout their 14-month ordeal. Kimberley is pregnant with their first child. Kevin was ecstatic about this new chapter in his and Kimberley’s life together, which has now been sadly cut short.
Mitnick’s exploits are legendary, and his first book remains an essential read for anyone curious about security, hacking, manipulation, or human behaviour. (Via Boing Boing.)
For the first time, Beats has enabled USB-C wired audio on the Studio Pro. In addition to listening to high-resolution and lossless tunes, you can also take calls while the headphones are actively charging. The Studio Pro has a built-in digital-to-analog converter (DAC) that can accommodate sample rates up to 24-bit/48kHz. That’s enough to handle the high-res streaming from Apple Music, Amazon Music HD and Tidal. Beats has also included three USB-C sounds profiles for wired listening: Signature, Entertainment and Conversation. As the names suggest, each one is tailored to music, movies/TV shows and calls, adjusting the frequency curve for what the company thinks is the best in each scenario. And yes, there’s still 3.5mm playback, which can be used with ANC and Transparency Mode as needed.
Curious to see wired lossless audio support land in a set of Beats headphones first when Apple has its own brand of headphones which are getting closer to their third birthday, and were originally marketed for their audio quality despite being incompatible with the lossless audio library added to Apple Music just a few months later.
“My @delta flight got canceled from JFK. The customer service line was huge, so I google a Delta JFK phone number. The number was 1888-571-4869 Thinking I reached Delta, I started telling them about getting me on a new flight,” he tweeted Sunday.
But that phone call led him to a scam, he said. And, after more digging, Evers said he discovered at least six other airlines with what he suspected were scam numbers listed on Google.
In 2014, Nitasha Tiku reported for Valleywag that a network engineer was able to suggest new phone numbers for law enforcement offices’ listings in Google Maps. Nine years later, it seems people are still able to exploit the same kinds of vulnerabilities. Remember how I wrote I trust Google Maps more often? I should not be so confident.
While Apple might not need the app to sell any more iPhones, the company’s lofty ambitions with cars and augmented-reality headsets depend on maps people actually like using.
“Maps has come a long way, and people have noticed,” Craig Federighi, Apple’s head of software, said during the company’s 2020 Worldwide Developers Conference.
About a year ago, Randall Munroe published a comic in which Apple Maps was referred to as “kind of good now”. I wrote about my then-recent experiences with Apple Maps which were, in short: pretty good directions, pretty bad place listings.
A year and a bit later, and the story remains basically the same where I live. A place listing in Google Maps will almost always give me accurate hours, and will often show when they were last confirmed by the business. In Apple Maps, I still see occasional listings for businesses which permanently closed a decade or more ago. Petroleum companies located on the ninth floor of some skyscraper are still marked as gas stations. These things are not confidence boosting, and it is no surprise to me that business hours are often inaccurate.
Then there are missing features like cycling directions, announced with iOS 14. Three years later, only three cities in Canada have been updated with support — none of them Calgary — which, I suppose, beats Spain where they are only available in Barcelona.
Apple Maps is eleven years old but it does not feel nearly as capable or reliable as Google Maps did at the same age in 2016. I prefer it for directions but, for everything else, it is still catching up.
Vox Media, the parent company to websites such as New York Magazine, Eater and SB Nation, will no longer use Chorus — its proprietary content management system — to power its own websites, sources told Axios.
Vox Media will move its own websites off of Chorus and into WordPress VIP, the enterprise arm of the 20-year-old CMS company.
Last year, Vox stopped licensing Chorus to third parties, but some sites are still using the platform, including the Ringer and the Chicago Sun-Times. Incredibly, Vox Media also operates two other proprietary CMSes: Clay and Pinnacle. In a press release from September, Vox said it planned to move everything to a new “publishing platform” called Duet, which Axios says will continue to be used on the front-end.
WordPress continues its slow absorption of the web. Soon, everything will be blogs again, and publishers will just be publishers. The stars are aligning.
I thought this interview with Alan Dye by Debbie Millman, recorded in June shortly after WWDC, was entertaining and occasionally enlightening. If you spent the weeks after WWDC immersed in news about Apple’s Vision Pro, I am not sure there is much new here — mostly because I am not sure there was much polished work to talk about beyond what was shown during the keynote. Dye is an enthusiastic speaker about the craft of design; I think that is reason enough to give it a listen.