SEC Sues Binance and Coinbase

Jonathan Yerushalmy and Alex Hern, the Guardian:

On Monday, after months of discussions, threats and warnings, the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) took aim at the most powerful force in the world of cryptocurrencies.

The US financial watchdog accused the crypto exchange Binance and its founder Changpeng Zhao of operating a “web of deception,” charging him and his exchange with 13 offences.


On Tuesday, the SEC accused another crypto platform, Coinbase, of putting customers at risk by operating as an “unregistered broker, exchange and clearing agency”.

Matt Levine of Bloomberg has the full rundown.

Ryan Broderick:

The Twitter account @unusual_whales noticed some very curious activity. Someone opened a bunch of puts on Coinbase’s stock on Monday and ended up making millions of dollars on the news of the SEC suit against the exchange. How lucky is that?!

Sounds like somebody is shocked — shocked — to find that gambling is going on at Coinbase.

Apple Completes Its Transition to Its Own Processors With a Weird New Mac Pro


Mac Pro delivers the groundbreaking performance of M2 Ultra, plus the versatility of PCIe expansion, taking the most demanding workflows to the next level. While the Intel-based Mac Pro started with an 8-core CPU and could be configured up from there, every Mac Pro has Apple’s most powerful 24-core CPU, an up to 76-core GPU, and starts with twice the memory and SSD storage. The new Mac Pro can also be configured with up to a massive 192GB of memory with 800GB/s of unified memory bandwidth. […]

Apple can compare this new model to the Intel-based Mac Pro all it wants, but its main competition is the updated Mac Studio. It is a Mac Studio with twice as many Thunderbolt ports, and lots more internal connectivity and space, with a hefty $3,000 price premium. Unlike the Mac Studio, the Pro comes with a keyboard and mouse, which explains the cost difference.

And, if you do choose to compare this Mac Pro to the Intel model it replaces, there are some changes which are difficult to swallow. It is $1,000 more expensive than the one it replaces. The outgoing model was endlessly upgradeable with dedicated video encoding hardware, graphics processors, and up to 1.5 terabytes of memory. The M2 Mac Pro appears to support none of those things. Apple has tried to preempt criticism by claiming this version effectively has the power of seven Afterburner video encoding cards built in, but there are no known differences between the M2 Ultra in the Pro and the one in the Studio. Even its PCIe slots are being marketed for comparatively less demanding workflows:

[…] From audio pros who need digital signal processing (DSP) cards, to video pros who need serial digital interface (SDI) I/O cards for connecting to professional cameras and monitors, to users who need additional networking and storage, Mac Pro lets professionals customize and expand their systems, pushing the limits of their most demanding workflows.

There is nothing about graphics or video expandability here. While the Mac Pro was rumoured to support memory upgrades, that did not pan out. One maybe good argument for buying a Mac Pro instead of a Studio is that you do not have to pay Apple’s abhorrent rates for storage upgrades: the company wants $2,200 (U.S.) to upgrade to eight terabytes of storage in either model, but you have other options with the Mac Pro.

Stephen Hackett:

The number of 2019 Mac Pros sold cannot be huge, but the new one’s numbers are going to be even smaller. As a Mac Pro fan that worries me. Yes, there are users who are reliant on PCI solutions and I’m sure those folks will upgrade to this new machine at some point. Those who purchased a Mac Pro in the past to have a machine they could keep current over the long haul are seemingly out of luck.

Are some extra Thunderbolt ports and a bunch of open PCI slots enough to justify the Mac Pro’s $3,000 premium over the Mac Studio? For most users, my guess is no. The days of the Mac Pro being the most powerful, most capable Mac are over, at least for now.

This is a worrisome sign that feels like a product which went horribly awry at some point. Mark Gurman reported a configuration with two merged M2 Ultra chips was scrapped, but maybe it — or a similar configuration differentiating it from the Studio — will be introduced in the future. But I fear that is not what will happen. It looks like this type of Mac could be on its way out in favour of the external extensibility. The pendulum is swinging back to the 2012 “trash can” Mac Pro in the form of the Studio.

The Strange Survival of Guinness World Records

Imogen West-Knights, the Guardian:

It is strange to think of Guinness World Records – a business named after a beer company, which catalogues humanity’s most batshit endeavours – as the kind of entity that could sell out. At first glance, it seems like accusing Alton Towers or Pizza Express of selling out. But the deeper I delved into the world of record breaking, the more sense it made. In spite of its absurdity, or maybe because of it, record breaking is a reflection of our deepest interests and desires. Look deeply enough at a man attempting to break the record for most spoons on a human body, or the woman seeking to become the oldest salsa dancer in the world, and you can find yourself starting to believe that you’re peering into humanity’s soul.

Maybe the strangest thing I learned from this article is that Guinness Record adjudicators are not permitted to drink alcohol while on the job, despite this entire book being created under the umbrella of the Guinness beer company.

New Privacy and Security Features at WWDC 2023

There is certainly plenty to talk about from WWDC this year, but the privacy and security updates are not to be missed. One notable highlight:

App Privacy Improvements

New tools give developers more information about the data practices of third-party software development kits (SDKs) they use in their apps, allowing them to provide even more accurate Privacy Nutrition Labels. These changes also improve the integrity of the software supply chain by supporting signatures for third-party SDKs to add another layer of protection against abuse.

Like existing privacy labelling in the App Store, this is naturally predicated on the honour system, but it is a step in the right direction. Third-party sharing is one of the shadiest sides of digital privacy in apps and on the web, and it is only good for light to be shined in this area.

Other improvements include optional automatic blurring of potentially sensitive images and video — as I suggested — two-factor authentication autofill from Mail messages, and automatic removal of tracking junk on links shared through Mail and Messages.

Update: More on the SDK disclosure requirements from Apple:

First, to help developers understand how third-party SDKs use data, we’re introducing new privacy manifests — files that outline the privacy practices of the third-party code in an app, in a single standard format. When developers prepare to distribute their app, Xcode will combine the privacy manifests across all the third-party SDKs that a developer is using into a single, easy-to-use report. With one comprehensive report that summarizes all the third-party SDKs found in an app, it will be even easier for developers to create more accurate Privacy Nutrition Labels.

This sounds promising but, again, relies on compliant developers and software vendors. Apple says it will name and shame common third-party SDKs later this year.

Engineering the Apple Watch’s Strap Buttons

Antonio G. Di Benedetto, the Verge:

While I often prefer a universal solution over a proprietary connector, here’s the thing — Apple’s band release button beats the hell out of fiddling with little spring bars and jeweler’s tools. Instead, you just press a near-invisible button, slide your band out, slide another one in, and get a lovely audible click as it locks in. No fuss, no muss; just a simple swap for a different visual vibe to match your style and wardrobe.

But how does it get that precise click, that nearly foolproof snap? Hint: it’s not magnets. My colleague Sean Hollister and I spoke with two ex-Apple engineers who worked on manufacturing the original parts. We quickly learned that it’s kind of the unsung hero of the Apple Watch — despite launching a $1 billion accessory ecosystem and remaining unchanged since its debut eight years ago.

The one thing I have missed most about the Apple Watch after not wearing one for a few years now is this mechanism and its compatible straps. Swapping bands quickly and easily without risking any damage to the watch or the strap is something I have wondered why others have not copied anywhere near as well. After reading this piece, though, I can appreciate why the Apple Watch remains in a league of its own in this regard.

Group Location Sharing Followup

I received more feedback than I had expected on my recent link to an article about people who routinely — and often permanently — share their live location with friends, and I thought it was worth highlighting here.

A reader sent me this by email, which I am publishing with permission:

[…] I do share my location with a couple of long-time trusted friends. I’m a full-time RVer, and I not only move around from place to place, but spend a lot of time boondocking in the desert or on other public lands. Having my friends able to see my location if necessary makes me feel a bit safer. I know other full-time RVers who do this, but we’re a small minority of the general population.

And, on a similar note, Stuart Breckenridge shares this use case:

It’s common in cycling clubs to share live location should something untoward happen. Garmin/Telegram/Find My (etc.) are all useful for this.

And Nathan Snelgrove:

I also actually know women who share locations with friends and tell them when they’re out with men they don’t know and where they should be on the map. That use case is very real.

Jennings also mentioned that use case in the article I linked to, citing a 2019 TechCrunch piece by Rae Witte, and noted how often families use it to know the whereabouts of their children. All of these responses make sense to me. This angle unfortunately explains the popularity of the Life360 app, which is now being sued for selling the location data of children to third-party data brokers. Safety is such a smart rationale that it is disappointing to see such private data entrusted to garbage businesses with exploitative side hustles.

I received a few other replies for why people use permanent location sharing, too, most commonly within families. One, also from Snelgrove:

My wife and my in-laws all do it. We started doing it together when we would ski together, because it’s so easy to lose each other skiing. But far and away the most common use now is checking to see how far away they are if we know they are coming over for dinner.

From Felix, via email, also published with permission:

Indispensable for one use case: Picking up kids from kindergarten. Spares us the question “got time to pick ’em up today?” As I can see whether my wife has already left the office or is still miles away. Also: I’d rather share my location with her than to feel guilty not seeing her message “where you at?” (Which, to me, feels more intrusive, ironically)

These both feel like good examples of the convenience of sharing locations within a family, which reflects my own use case: when I am making a timing-sensitive dinner, I occasionally check my partner’s location on her way home from work. But neither reflects the apparently common case of sharing with a bunch of friends.

Wil Turner, in 2015, wrote a lovely piece about how the Find My network led to chance encounters with friends while travelling:

I wait on an overhead walkway in the reflected lights of a Las Vegas evening for a friend. We live five hundred miles apart, and are lucky to be briefly so close. He is here with friends from high school, I with some from Houston, some from San Francisco. In a small bar we have a drink and he puts Johnny Cash on the record player. It’s a brief break from the rest of our weekends, which are a brief break from the rest of our lives.

Except in so many ways neither of these are a break, both of our lives are a mishmash of locations and people that we have somehow managed to keep up with for a decade or more. Thanks to jobs, education, and opportunities that take us from one place to another and to technology, from Instagram to Find my Friends, we’re in fact growing more connected to more people.

I guess I need to get out more.

Location Sharing Is Apparently Really Common Among Acquaintances

Rebecca Jennings, Vox:

Friends sharing their real-time locations with each other is a pretty recent facet of modern life. Though apps like Foursquare have been around since the dawn of the smartphone age, mass location sharing was only introduced around 2017, when Google rolled out location sharing on its Maps function and Snapchat launched Snap Map, allowing users to see where their contacts were at any moment. By the time Apple merged the Find My iPhone and Find My Friends apps into a single app called “Find My” in 2019, location sharing had become just another type of social networking, despite the fact that for many people, it still feels a little icky.

Shows how out of touch I am that I am only now learning this is an apparently common thing among friends. When Apple launched Find My Friends in 2011, these kinds of use cases were in its marketing pitch — why would someone need to know the location of their friends, even temporarily, “for a couple of hours for a dinner”? — and I do not know anyone who has actually used Find My in this way. None of my friends do; neither does my family.

U.S. FTC Settles With Amazon Over Insecure Ring Cameras

Lesley Fair, of the U.S.’ Federal Trade Commission:

Many consumers who use video doorbell and security cameras want to detect intruders invading the privacy of their homes. Consumers who installed Ring may be surprised to learn that according to a proposed FTC settlement, one “intruder” that was invading their privacy was Ring itself. The FTC says Ring gave its employees and hundreds of Ukraine-based third-party contractors up-close-and-personal video access into customers’ bedrooms, their kids’ bedrooms, and other highly personal spaces – including the ability to download, view, and share those videos at will. And that’s not all Ring was up to. In addition to a $5.8 million financial settlement, the proposed order in the case contains provisions at the intersection of artificial intelligence, biometric data, and personal privacy. It’s an instructive bookend to another major biometric privacy case the FTC announced today, Amazon Alexa.

To put the financial settlement in context, Amazon sold an estimated 1.7 million Ring cameras in 2021 — the most recent year for which I could find sales figures — and the cheapest Ring camera you could buy at the time retailed for $60. In response to years of contractor and public abuses of its insecure webcams, Amazon has to pay about three weeks’ worth of a single year of sales. That is hardly a punitive amount, and the FTC only says it is to be “used for consumer refunds”: sorry Amazon fibbed about the security of the cheap product it sold to 55,000 people, thus permitting many of them to be tormented and spied upon, but at least some of them can get their money back. And of course Amazon has to admit no culpability.

Russian Intelligence Baselessly Accuses Apple of Assisting the NSA in Breaching Officials’ iPhones

Daryna Antoniuk, the Record:

Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) is accusing U.S. intelligence of hacking “thousands of Apple phones” to spy on Russian diplomats.

According to FSB’s statement published on Thursday, the U.S. used previously unknown malware to target iOS devices.


Russian intelligence claims that the investigation revealed that Apple is collaborating with the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA).


Oleg Shakirov, an expert on foreign policy and security at the Center for Strategic Research, said that this type of accusation — which he referred to as “quasi-attribution” — is not unusual for Russian authorities.

Kaspersky discovered this malware. It has affected devices running versions up to iOS 15.7, and it has been seen in use as early as 2019.

The FSB, for its part, has shown no proof of Apple’s involvement — nor has Kaspersky made such an accusation — and Apple denied those claims in a statement to Reuters. Creating a loophole for law enforcement or intelligence purposes would deviate from its longstanding objections and be a blatant violation of users’ trust. Furthermore, the NSA does not need Apple’s help; there are plenty of spyware developers with which it would be happy to sign a contract. Finally, it is an accusation made by a government agency, and should be treated with at least the same level of skepticism of a similar claim made by any other spy agency.

This is a serious accusation, made without any proof, and should obviously be rejected until substantive evidence is shown.

Wishing Well 2023

It has already been a busy year for Apple, and the company has not yet held a single presentation. Just two weeks into the new year, it launched new Macs and a refreshed HomePod, followed by some services updates, and new iPad software. All of those things — and more — were launched via press release instead of the full power of a real demo. They are all things which do not require much of a demo.

What Apple is rumoured to have in store for WWDC, however, demands the pomp and circumstance of one of its signature events.

The rumour mill paints a picture of a headset in the company style. The hardware is allegedly a technical masterstroke.1 But none of that is very interesting, nor does it tell the story of this product. Apple has not tried to quell the rumours and expectations leading up to Monday; on the contrary, it is marketing the conference as a “new era”. The single thing everyone will be asking going into this WWDC is what a mixed reality headset can do when it is developed by a company famously obsessed with the bigger picture.

Earlier entries in the field have come from the usual suspects, with familiar results. Google’s Glass was an interesting but antisocial experiment. Microsoft spent most of 2022 attempting to convince HoloLens users of the future of the device, but announced layoffs in January which affected its augmented and mixed-reality pursuits. Meta is as enthusiastic about these kinds of products as it is institutionally visionless.

The one thing these products have had in common is their lack of a use case that piques the interest of more than a niche audience. Make no mistake: this will disappoint anyone expecting a product which immediately and obviously usurps the iPhone’s place as the go-to, do-anything device for a billion people. I do not think it will feel as capable as a Mac, either, nor do I think it will be as limiting as an Apple Watch.

What it will be, undeniably, is fascinating. It could very well represent a vision of the future of how we all use computers, though it may not be immediately so at its introduction. But even if you lower the massive expectations for this product, it is at the very least a new Apple product category, which is inherently interesting. It may not be a company making just four Macs, but its product line still is not very large. Another category appearing in the main navigation on Apple’s website is a big deal.

Whatever it is, it will also likely represent the kind of product which few of us will buy immediately, even if we want to. If the rumours are correct, the price tag will make our eyes pop, the features will feel somewhat limited, and the hardware — while powerful and polished — will be obviously compromised. While many of us are waiting for a day many years from now when this category feels more attainable, we will be using our existing devices — two billion of them. If much of Apple’s own attention has been directed at the future, what does that mean for its here-and-now lineup?

This is an honest question, not just a rhetorical one. As Apple’s operating system line has grown from one to at least five — more if you count the HomePod’s audioOS and BridgeOS for Macs with T-series chips — the limitations of scale have begun to show. New versions of iPadOS oscillate between key feature updates to fundamental parts of the system, like multitasking, one year, and tepid improvements the next. iOS is a mature platform and, so, it makes sense for there to be fewer core feature updates, but one wishes the slower development cycle would bring increased stability and refinement; actual results have been mixed. MacOS is the system which feels like it ought to be the closest to some imagined finish line, but it also seems like it is decaying in its most core qualities — I am having problems with windows losing foregrounding or not becoming focused when they should. Also, why are Notifications still like that?

Whatever the future may bring, what I hope for this WWDC is what I hope for every year: bug fixes and performance improvements. If iPadOS represents one vision for the future of computing and xrOS is another, more distant one, the most mature products in Apple’s line should reflect a level of solidity and reliability not yet possible for its more ambitious ideas.

I believe coverage of its event should reflect that, too. As magnetic as an entirely new Apple product may be, I hope that can be balanced with scrutiny of the updates which affect the billions of devices already in use. After all, these operating systems and devices go hand-in-hand; neither is available without the other. That represents a great deal of trust between vendor and customer in a weakly competitive market. As excited as I am for what is new and what is next, I know my world for the foreseeable future will be tied to what is announced for the products I already own. They are the tools I use for work and play. I need to have confidence in them, which has been dimmed by Apple’s mediocre record for changes. I filed an average of something like three bug reports every week last year solely from a user-facing perspective. I would love to be able to close some of those and, by doing so, feel like the computers I use today are a solid foundation on which the next generation of digital environments will be built.

  1. Like some kind of reality distortion field. ↥︎

Internal TikTok and ByteDance Reports Say Some Non-China User Data Is Stored in China

Sapna Maheshwari and Ryan Mac, New York Times:

[…] According to the documents obtained by The Times, the driver’s licenses of American users were also accessible on the platform [ByteDance’s Lark], as were some users’ potentially illegal content, such as child sexual abuse materials. In many cases, the information was available in Lark “groups” — essentially chat rooms of employees — with thousands of members.


TikTok has played down the access that its China-based workers have to U.S. user data. In a congressional hearing in March, TikTok’s chief executive, Shou Chew, said that such data was mainly used by engineers in China for “business purposes” and that the company had “rigorous data access protocols” for protecting users. He said much of the user information available to engineers was already public.

The internal reports and communications from Lark appear to contradict Mr. Chew’s statements. Lark data from TikTok was also stored on servers in China as of late last year, the four current and former employees said.

Alexandra S. Levine, Forbes:

TikTok uses various internal tools and databases from its Beijing-based parent ByteDance to manage payments to creators who earn money through the app, including many of its biggest stars in the United States and Europe. The same tools are used to pay outside vendors and small businesses working with TikTok. But a trove of records obtained by Forbes from multiple sources across different parts of the company reveals that highly sensitive financial and personal information about those prized users and third parties has been stored in China. The discovery also raises questions about whether employees who are not authorized to access that data have been able to. It draws on internal communications, audio recordings, videos, screenshots, documents marked “Privileged and Confidential,” and several people familiar with the matter.

In testimony before Congress earlier this year, TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew claimed U.S. user data has been stored on physical servers outside China. “American data has always been stored in Virginia and Singapore in the past, and access of this is on an as-required basis by our engineers globally,” he said under oath at a House hearing in March.


“Even if TikTok was not a subsidiary of a Chinese company, this would be pretty alarming IT security malpractice,” Bryan Cunningham, a former national security lawyer for the White House and CIA, told Forbes. He described tax records as some of the most sensitive data there is.

Add these to the long list of things being investigated by European regulators since September 2021, especially as it now falls under its list of Very Large Online Platforms. If there are concerns about Europeans’ private data being intercepted by U.S. intelligence agencies, a similar level of worry should apply in this case as well.

Zippyshare Has Shut Down

Andy Maxwell, writing at TorrentFreak in March:

After almost 17 years online, file-hosting veteran Zippyshare will shut down at the end of the month. Founded in 2006, Zippyshare was known for its free, no-nonsense, no-frills approach to storing files online. Having changed very little over the years, Zippyshare’s operators say the platform is now a dinosaur that costs too much to run in a world where ad-blocking is widespread.

I missed this news when it was announced, but I wanted to call it out. Zippyshare joins a long line of file hosting services — most notably Megaupload and RapidShare — which have either shut down willingly or been forced to do so by law enforcement. All of these services have been historically used by, among others, plenty of old-school music blogs. There are many reasons to object to file sharing, but I do think there is something special about that era of online publishing.

These abandoned blogs — many full of rare albums usually unavailable without carefully watching the Discogs marketplace for an expensive vinyl record — now have a series of worthless links at the bottom of each post. It somehow feels appropriate, as though these records will always elude all but the most dedicated collector.

Cyberweapon Developers Are Ingratiating Themselves With U.S. Officials

Thomas Brewster, Forbes, 2021:

Paragon Solutions doesn’t have a website. There’s very little information at all about them online, even if the Tel Aviv-based smartphone surveillance startup’s employees are all over LinkedIn, more than 50 of them. That’s not a bad headcount for a company that’s still in stealth mode.


With an American backer, it appears Paragon is going to try and crack American law enforcement agencies where others like NSO have failed. According to a LinkedIn profile, a 30-year veteran of Israeli intelligence, Menachem Pakman, has been employed to help find business in the U.S. There’s no indication that they have clients across the Atlantic yet, however.

Mehul Srivastava and Kaye Wiggins, Financial Times:

The Israeli start-up had watched local rival NSO Group, makers of the controversial Pegasus spyware, fall foul of the Biden administration and be blacklisted in the US. So Paragon sought guidance from top American advisers, secured funding from US venture capital groups and eventually scored a marquee client that eludes its competition: the US government.


President Joe Biden signed an executive order in March barring any US agency from purchasing spyware that “poses risks to national security or has been misused by foreign actors to enable human rights abuses around the world.”

The wording of the executive order is seen by experts as targeting NSO, while carving out a space for companies like Paragon to continue selling similar spyware, but only to the closest of US allies. The American expectation — still unproven — is that friendly nations are less likely to abuse such a weapon on civil society, or to spy on US government officials deployed abroad.

According to a New York Times report last month, the U.S. government is very much a client of NSO Group. It seems the Biden administration’s policies are neither motivated by a moral objection to an unregulated spyware market, nor heeded by U.S. officials, making Paragon’s more cautious on-side approach look a little unnecessary. These are scuzzy companies no matter how careful their public relations teams frame them.

A.I. Developers Say Their Product Creates a ‘Risk of Extinction’ in Self-Serving Statement

Hundreds of experts in artificial intelligence — including several executives and developers in the field — issued a brief and worrying statement via the Center for AI Safety:

Mitigating the risk of extinction from AI should be a global priority alongside other societal-scale risks such as pandemics and nuclear war.

The Center calls out Meta by name for not signing onto the letter; Elon Musk also did not endorse it.

OpenAI’s Sam Altman was among the hundreds of signatories after feigning an absolute rejection of regulations which he and his peers did not have a role in writing. Perhaps that is an overly cynical take, but it is hard to read this statement with the gravity it suggests.

Martin Peers, the Information:

Perhaps instead of issuing a single-sentence statement meant to freak everyone out, AI scientists should use their considerable skills to figure out a solution to the problem they have wrought.

I believe the researchers, academics, and ethicists are earnest in their endorsement of this statement. I do not believe the corporate executives who simultaneously claim artificial intelligence is a threat to civilization itself while rapidly deploying their latest developments in the field. Their obvious hypocrisy makes it hard to take them seriously.

Mark Gurman Tried a Prototype of Meta’s Quest 3

One week before WWDC is scheduled to begin, during which Apple is widely expected to introduce its take on a mixed-reality headset, Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman spent some time with a prototype of Meta’s Quest 3 headset, and it is a bizarre article.

Begin, naturally, with the title, which now reads “A First Look at the Headset That Could Be Apple’s Biggest Competition”. That appears to have been changed. If early tweets, the page title, and the metadata in this archived version are anything to go by, it originally ran under the headline “Meta Quest 3 Real Life Hands-On: How It Compares to Apple Mixed-Reality Headset”. That is what I remember reading yesterday when it dropped into my inbox, and I had to wonder how Gurman would compare a prototype product to one which does not yet exist.

Then there is the story of how Gurman got a hands-on with a product which Meta has not yet announced. Presumably, it was a demo arranged by Meta in an attempt to anchor reporting of a forthcoming announcement from Apple. But Gurman does not say, and there is the possibility this is an unsanctioned demo from someone who is working on the device or, perhaps, a third-party developer. Such details would help the reader form a clearer understanding about the intention of this article — how much of it is Gurman trying to provide context, and how much is Meta attempting to sway coverage?

The story itself seems fine if highly speculative. It is a hands-on experience with a prototype, which may or may not be representative of the product Meta announces or ships. If Meta is responsible for arranging this demo, it is a clever way of getting people thinking about what the company could announce later this year — at least until Monday.


TimeGuessr is a fun game that, as you might expect, plays a lot like GeoGuessr except it involves still photography. The object is to guess where the photo was taken on a map and when, on a timeline from 1900–2023. Also notable, to me, is the use of Apple’s MapKit JS instead of the Google Maps or OpenStreetMap embed you might expect.

Via this week’s Web Curios.

U.S. Class Action Over Butterfly Keyboards Is Wrapping Up

Mike Scarcella, Reuters:

A U.S. judge on Thursday approved Apple Inc’s $50 million class-action settlement resolving consumer claims over certain defective MacBook keyboards, in a ruling that spurned challenges to the deal.


The plaintiffs’ lawyers announced the deal a year ago. Apple denied any wrongdoing.

Class members will receive $50 up to $395 based on the number and nature of repairs made to a keyboard.

More than 86,000 claims for class member payments were submitted as of early March, Davila’s order showed.

$15 million of that settlement will be paid to the lawyers representing the eleven lead plaintiffs.

I am still irritated this lawsuit was settled before substantive information was publicly disclosed. Perhaps the similar Canadian class action will help explain how these keyboards were developed and then stayed on the market for so long.

The Massive Meta Fine in the E.U. Is Really About the NSA

Mike Masnick, Techdirt:

[…] Last year, the US and the EU announced yet another deal on transatlantic data flows. And, as we noted at the time (once again!) the lack of any changes to NSA surveillance meant it seemed unlikely to survive yet again.

In the midst of all this, Schrems also went after Meta directly, claiming that because these US/EU data transfer agreements were bogus, that Meta had violated data protection laws in transferring EU user data to US servers.

And that’s what this fine is about. The European Data Protection Board fined Meta all this money based on the fact that it transferred some EU user data to US servers. And, because, in theory, the NSA could then access the data. That’s basically it. The real culprit here is the US being unwilling to curb the NSA’s ability to demand data from US companies.

As noted, and something which aligns with other examples of GDPR violations.

There is one aspect of Masnick’s analysis which I dispute:

Of course, the end result of all this could actually be hugely problematic for privacy around the globe. That might sound counterintuitive, seeing as here is Meta being dinged for a data protection failure. But, when you realize what the ruling is actually saying, it’s a de facto data localization mandate.

And data localization is the tool most frequently used by authoritarian regimes to force foreign internet companies (i.e., US internet companies) to host user data within their own borders where the authoritarian government can snoop through it freely. Over the years, we’ve seen lots of countries do this, from Russia to Turkey to India to Vietnam.

Just because data localization is something used by authoritarian governments does not mean it is an inherently bad idea. Authoritarian governments are going to do authoritarian government things — like picking through private data — but that does not mean people who reside elsewhere would face similar concerns.

While housing user data in the U.S. may offer protection for citizens, it compromises the privacy and security of others. Consider that non-U.S. data held on U.S. servers lacks the protections ostensibly placed on U.S. users’ information, meaning U.S. intelligence agencies are able to pick through it with little oversight. (That is, after all, the E.U.’s argument in its charges against Meta.) Plenty of free democracies also have data localization laws for at least some personal information without a problem. For example, while international agreements prevent the Canadian government from requiring data residency as a condition for businesses, privacy regulations require some types of information to be kept locally, while other types must have the same protections as Canadian-hosted data if stored elsewhere.

The Scum Economy

It has been a while since I checked into the cryptocurrency and alternative financial instruments space, mostly because it has been a while since I wanted to read anything about the pump-and-dump schemes of NFTs and gambling of real money on bits of fictional and untethered value.

Ed Zitron:

Cryptocurrency has become a monument to the absolute worst and most exploitative systems of the internet, where hucksters con rubes into joining get-rich-quick schemes using decades-old internet memes, only to be sued by a law firm representing the corporate entities that exist solely to protect their copyrights.


Their whining about the SEC “regulating by enforcement” — as in regulating by enforcing the law — is just a tacit admission that they knew they were on the wrong side of history, and had simply decided that they were special snowflakes that deserved even more special treatment. 

These people don’t deserve your pity. They deserve your disgust, and in a just world would have their unimaginable riches torn from them as a punishment for leading so many regular customers into the loser’s casino of crypto.

Same as it ever was.

The Online Safety Bill Is a ‘Playbook for Dictators’

Signal CEO Meredith Whittaker, in the Telegraph:

During my two decades in tech I’ve seen governments manufacture public outrage to serve their desire for control more times than I can count. There’s a predictable pattern that starts with a complex social problem receiving widespread attention. Everyone acknowledges the gravity of the issue. There is a rush to “do something”.

But “something” too often involves magical thinking and specious “solutions”. Frequently, technology is painted as both cause and solution. Problems are presented as existing “online” and thus their solution is framed as technological. This almost always involves some combination of expanding surveillance and curbing the fundamental human right to privacy and free expression.

Technology is not neutral, and I do not think Whittaker is implying that to be so. These opening paragraphs are a worthwhile reminder of understanding the nature of the problem in attempting to solve it. There is more to blame than end-to-end encryption for the problems it may exacerbate, and there are solutions which do not require making everybody less safe nor setting a horrible precedent.

Survey of E.U. Member Countries Indicates Strong Support for Weakening End-to-End Encryption

Lily Hay Newman, Morgan Meaker, and Matt Burgess, of Wired, acquired an official survey (PDF) of the views held by E.U. countries’ governments about end-to-end encryption:

For years, EU states have debated whether end-to-end encrypted communication platforms, such as WhatsApp and Signal, should be protected as a way for Europeans to exercise a fundamental right to privacy—or weakened to keep criminals from being able to communicate outside the reach of law enforcement. Experts who reviewed the document at WIRED’s request say it provides important insight into which EU countries plan to support a proposal that threatens to reshape encryption and the future of online privacy.

Of the 20 EU countries represented in the document leaked to WIRED, the majority said they are in favor of some form of scanning of encrypted messages, with Spain’s position emerging as the most extreme. “Ideally, in our view, it would be desirable to legislatively prevent EU-based service providers from implementing end-to-end encryption,” Spanish representatives said in the document.

Most of these governments — save for Estonia, Finland, and Germany — are in alignment with American and British authorities in their wish to weaken privacy and security.

This is the latest evidence in this shared, albeit largely independent, project. I have not gone all conspiracy theorist on you, I promise. Governments and law enforcement the world over hate end-to-end encryption and are working to undermine it, both with technical means and in the public mindset. The unique horror of CSAM is an understandable vehicle for messaging that compromising encryption is the correct position, and those who oppose these goals must have something to hide. But supporting strong privacy and security is not a radical position in an era of communications which are permanent, centralized, and outside our control.

Meta Fined €1.2 Billion and Ordered to Halt E.U.–U.S. Data Flow

The European Data Protection Board:

Following the EDPB’s binding dispute resolution decision of 13 April 2023, Meta Platforms Ireland Limited (Meta IE) was issued a 1.2 billion euro fine following an inquiry into its Facebook service, by the Irish Data Protection Authority (IE DPA). This fine, which is the largest GDPR fine ever, was imposed for Meta’s transfers of personal data to the U.S. on the basis of standard contractual clauses (SCCs) since 16 July 2020. Furthermore, Meta has been ordered to bring its data transfers into compliance with the GDPR.

Meta’s Nick Clegg and Jennifer Newstead:

Today, the Irish Data Protection Commission (DPC) has set out its findings into Meta’s use of this common legal instrument to transfer Facebook user data between the EU and the US. Despite acknowledging we had acted in good faith and that a fine was unjustified, the DPC was overruled at the last minute by the European Data Protection Board (EDPB). We are appealing these decisions and will immediately seek a stay with the courts who can pause the implementation deadlines, given the harm that these orders would cause, including to the millions of people who use Facebook every day.

Natasha Lomas, TechCrunch:

As noted above, with today’s decision, the DPC [Irish Data Protection Commission] is actually implementing a binding decision taken by the EDPB [European Data Protection Board] last month in order to settle ongoing disagreement over Ireland’s draft decision — so much of the substance of what’s being ordered on Meta today comes, not from Dublin, but from the bloc’s supervisor body for privacy regulators.

This apparently includes the existence of a financial penalty at all — since the Board notes it instructed the DPC to amend its draft to include a penalty, […]

A report earier this month from the Irish Council for Civil Liberties found the DPC frequently negotiates decisions on a case-by-case basis, which leads to enforcement which is both unclear and not sufficiently dissuasive. Ireland is, of course, where many U.S. tech companies locate their international headquarters for tax avoidance purposes — as Dr. Johnny Ryan noted (PDF) in that report, those businesses include Airbnb, Apple, Google, Microsoft, Tinder, Twitter, and Yahoo, in addition to Meta.

As Lomas writes, European authorities have become increasingly worried about data transfers between the E.U. and the U.S., and has been treating the possibility of interception and espionage as a GDPR violation. Meta seems to be right in pleading scapegoat for a technique used by plenty of other businesses. However, few can claim the scope and scale of Meta’s violations, and especially its frequency. Companies owned by Meta represent seven of the ten greatest penalties issued under GDPR rules. Maybe Meta just sucks at privacy protections.

Mimestream, My Favourite Gmail Client for MacOS, Hits 1.0

Jason Snell, Six Colors:

[…] Neil Jhaveri, who previously worked on the engineering team for Apple Mail itself, founded a company to build a new email app: Mimestream. After a few years in open beta development, on Monday Mimestream 1.0 was officially released.

If you don’t use Gmail as your mail service or need to use the same app across Mac and iOS, Mimestream isn’t for you—yet. I asked Jhaveri what he meant when he said the company will be “turning its attention a bit broader” in the future, and he told me that while the company needed to focus in order to launch a compelling new app, “our mission is to just be the best general-purpose prosumer email client on the market.” That will take time, and the next step is probably an iOS version.

Neil Jhaveri:

Today’s launch culminates a public beta of over 2 years, with more than 167,000 users joining the beta. During this time, we released 220+ updates, made 2500+ improvements, added 100+ new features, and grew the company from a solo founder to a team of 5. Mimestream is mature, reliable, ready to take on your most serious email workloads, and will continue improving.

I cannot remember how early into the public beta cycle I started using Mimesteam, but I do remember being completely sold on it very quickly. It has been a key reason I have stuck with Google’s email service, and I was only too happy to pay Jhaveri as soon as it was possible to do so in February.

Unlike a lot of email clients which have been released in recent years, Mimestream does not really have any gimmicks to help you manage your email better or read it faster. I consider that a good thing because it means Mimestream is fully compatible with other clients on other platforms. That is important as it is Mac-only right now.

I cannot overstate how great, how polished, and how nice Mimestream feels to use. It is damn good Mac-assed software, and is my favourite mail client for MacOS.

Photomator for Mac

Pixelmator recently announced a new version of its photo editing software, now called Photomator and available for MacOS:

Today’s a big day! Our team has just released Photomator for Mac. From state-of-the-art color adjustments to intelligent AI tools, powerful Repair and Clone tools, and batch editing, Photomator for Mac is a photo editing powerhouse. Built from the ground up for macOS, it runs incredibly smoothly and fast, redefining the photo editing experience on Mac.

It has been a while since I took this app for a spin, and I figured it was time to experiment with it.

As is so often the case, some of these tools did not work as well for me as are shown in demos. For example, the Repair tool is shown to fully remove a foreground silhouette covering about a quarter of the image area. On one image, I was able to easily and seamlessly remove a sign and some bollards from the side of the road. But, in another, the edge of a parked car was always patched with grass instead of the sidewalk and kerb edge. I also found the machine learning-powered cropping tool produced lacklustre results, and the automatic straightening feature only worked well about a quarter of the time.

But, as these are merely suggestions, it makes for an effectively no-lose situation: if the automatic repair or cropping works perfectly, it means less work; if neither are effective, you have wasted only a few seconds before proceeding manually.

The Photos integration is fantastic. If you have ever used a mixed Lightroom and iCloud Photos environment, the simplified workflow is a dream come true. Photomator is also a damn good RAW photo editor. While Photos has some editing tools built in, they are cumbersome for experienced users — there are three modes for white balance editing in Photos, but you cannot select Temperature/Tint as the default, for example. Photomator feels like it has been designed by people who edit photos for people who edit photos. The layering and masking tools are excellent, and the built-in presets are a good starting point, if a little extreme.

The free trial is a full-featured version of the app, but you can only save three photos. It is a great way to give the app a try for your needs. It is priced monthly, with a yearly subscription, or for life. For some people, I could see Photomator being a replacement for Lightroom.

Lux, Makers of Halide, Launch Skylight for Golden Hour Predictions

Rebecca Sloan of Lux:

Today we’re excited to launch a new little app: Skylight Forecast. Skylight is an iPhone app that predicts your evening light. With the help of dozens of atmospheric factors and some of our own intelligent prediction technology, Skylight makes a daily forecast of the golden hour, sunset and afterglow — to tell you whether you can expect a spectacular sunset, an average glow, or barely anything at all.

Lux launched this app last week and I have been using it since, with impeccably poor timing: Calgary has been immersed in smoke ever since. Not ideal photography conditions, to be sure.

Nevertheless, I have tried to use it for much of the past week, but have been disappointed. While this is a challenging environment, I have to wonder why Skylight’s forecast is not reflecting that. Instead of telling me golden hour and the sunset will be good to great, I wish it was more accurate to the sad and grey conditions. I emailed Lux to ask about this but, as of writing, have not heard back.

Also, I wish there were a morning forecast for sunrise and early golden hour, especially since it seems to be clearer when I wake up than in the evenings.

There is good news. The app is beautiful, and the widgets are simple and easy to understand. It is privacy sensitive. And, while there is an subscription cost, its forecasting premise makes sense as it needs ongoing access to weather data.

There is a free week-long trial, so I recommend playing around with it. If your forecast is more accurate than mine has been, I could see why someone would use this regularly — especially professional photographers and filmmakers. For me, it has been a mixed bag, and I will have to try it again when it is less smoky for a clearer picture.

Apple’s New Tysons Corner Store Has a Genius Bar

Michael Steeber:

Today, Apple revealed its most comprehensive redesign of the Apple Store experience in nearly a decade. The Genius Bar is returning with a reimagined design. There’s an all-new space for more immersive product discovery. Store accessibility has been improved, and new design elements emphasize sustainability. It was 22 years ago at Tysons Corner that Steve Jobs showed the world how to “Shop Different.” Now Apple is back in the mall where it all began to start a new chapter.

Seven years ago, Apple debuted a series of changes to its retail branding in an effort to turn them into destinations. It replaced Genius Bars with Genius Groves, and even reduced the prominence of the word “store”. But this era of changes has not translated well to Apple’s mall locations. Where would you go for help in this store? Compared to the older design, the newer stores are more confusing. The changes shown by Steeber are a welcome course correction.

I have questions about how long all that wood panelling will continue looking good, though.


The biggest story in tech for the past fifteen years has been the convergence of a bag full of stuff into a single, pocket-sized, take-everywhere product. From its beginnings on the hips of Wall Street types, it rapidly became the best-selling piece of consumer electronics ever — and it is not even a close race.

I mean, of course it is a success without equal. Many of us can leave our houses with scarcely more than our phone and a set of keys, and the latter is becoming optional, too.

But its Jack-of-all-trades status of course implies it is a master of none. And, as great as a smartphone is, there are still things which other devices do better. That argument was the premise for the introduction of the iPad. It is the reason why I drafted the first notes for this on my phone, but I am currently writing it on a laptop. A smartphone is by no means the best camera you can buy, for example, so it is not uncommon to see people carrying a dedicated camera even if they own a smartphone. I am one of those people.

What if there are other categories for which most people currently find a smartphone useful, but which a dedicated device could do a better job? What if the big story in tech for the next fifteen years — aside from the rise of A.I. — is an undoing of this great convergence, at least in part?

This is not entirely speculative; or, at least, not any more so than the future of tech is in general. The device Humane previewed at TED earlier this year is approximately a standalone version of Siri, for example. Whether it will be a success is a good question, and I have doubts. But some people clearly believe someone would buy one of these things for use in addition to a smartphone, if not to replace one entirely for some people.

So, this is an article of mostly guesswork. I have no confidence in this; let us not even call them “predictions”. But there seems to be something worth exploring here and, since this website has no market swaying powers, I feel totally fine with spending a few hundred words thinking more deeply about this.

Back to Humane. Its product looks like an unbundled and perhaps better personal assistant. Smart speakers are already one example of a device extricated from the confines of the smartphone world, and Humane’s product is effectively one which you can wear, having seemingly similar benefits and restrictions. You cannot watch a movie on one, but you can ask it for nearby recommendations or to translate something. It is a peek at a world seamlessly augmented by high technology.

That future is something which is apparently in the works at every giant computer company. Microsoft released a video in 2008 — you can tell it was 2008 because everything is typeset in Gotham — predicting magic translation glasses by the year 2040. Google actually released augmented reality glasses in 2012 without success. Scaled-back attempts at similar devices have been released by Snap and Meta. The latter is also reportedly working on a more capable product to the point it staked its very identity on its ability to deliver. Apple might be working on some kind of augmented reality glasses as well.

The devices we have today already allow us a taste of an augmented reality experience. It works fine, I suppose. I have used it to place furniture in my living room and try on eyeglasses. I have also used it to plunk a giant skeleton inside my house.

The devices which have been released after the smartphone seem more specialized than ever. Perhaps that is in part because nearly anything looks more specialized than a smartphone, but there are also whole categories of seemingly niche products. Headphones were barely thought of as a device before the craze for wireless earbuds; the market for advanced fitness trackers and smart watches has been booming for years. These were niche markets, yes, until they were not.

This is what got me thinking about this more deeply: these are products which do not need to do everything better all of the time; they are things which can do a lot of things better some of the time, or a handful of things better a lot of the time.

Products with an increased degree of specialization have business justifications, too, since there are more products to sell. It may be very difficult to beat the smartphone in terms of raw sales of another single product, but it is possible to get similar results in the aggregate. It seems like this would benefit tightly integrated businesses, too.

One reason the smartphone is so popular is because it has become possible to make very good phones for not very much money — partly thanks to standardization, partly thanks to components no longer needing to be cutting-edge to be very good, and partly due to exploitative labour practices. As a result, it has become possible for people across income brackets and around the world to use a smartphone. As remarkable as that may be, it is worth remembering technology is not a panacea. Smartphones will not correct the inequality we see in cities or around the world. That said, these devices have been beneficial in developing regions and for individuals of a wide range of incomes. They are the best-selling devices ever created for a reason: they connect just about everyone. People are able to make a living by selling goods through WhatsApp, and can find jobs and services locally.

It therefore seems unlikely to me for the smartphone to disappear in the near future. But, for some, perhaps it becomes increasingly optional. Perhaps the story for them is of less convergence and more specialization. That was an early vision for the Apple Watch. Maybe some of those ideas, while premature, will finally begin to come to fruition in a more meaningful sense for more of us. For what it is worth, I cannot imagine giving up my iPhone but, then again, I could not imagine how truly great a smartphone could be before I saw one.

Satisfied With Its TikTok Clone, Meta Is Working on a Twitter Clone

Lia Haberman:

You might have read about a new, decentralized, social network Instagram is building for “creators and public figures.”


All new details have surfaced based on secret calls Meta has been having with select creators, hinting at a potential release in late June. Here’s what I’ve been told by a creator who met with Meta.

I keep arguing that Meta has no vision for its products. Its biggest long-term bet is obviously its ideas about augmented and virtual reality, but none of that is really taking off and it is unclear whether it ever will. While it waits, Meta appears to know what it does not want for its existing products — for them to stagnate — but it does not seem to know what it should do. It is treating Instagram as an amorphous container into which it can stuff whatever apparently trendy ideas surface for its still hot-to-advertisers space, without any coherent narrative for what Instagram is supposed to be. It has cloned Snapchat, it has cloned TikTok, and now it is cloning Twitter.

Is desperation a synonym for strategy?

It Is Not Amazing That a Tesla Using FSD Blew Through a Crosswalk

Collin Woodard, Jalopnik:

“One of the most bullish / exciting things I’ve seen on Tesla Full Self-Driving Beta 11.4.1. It detected the pedestrian, but rather than slamming on the brakes it just proceeded through like a human would knowing there was enough time to do so,” they wrote.

Sorry, but that’s not remotely exciting or amazing in any way. And while it may be what some humans do, it’s also against the law. A pedestrian crossing at a marked crosswalk has the right of way, and you’re supposed to yield to them. The fact that the Tesla didn’t stop is a major problem. Why doesn’t the software know to yield to pedestrians?

If I were this pedestrian, I would feel like I nearly got hit by this Tesla. It had plenty of time to stop.

Advocates of autonomous vehicles often say increased safety is one of its biggest advantages over human drivers. Compliance with the law may not be the most accurate proxy for what constitutes safe driving, but not to a disqualifying extent. Right now, it is the best framework we have, and autonomous vehicles should follow the law. That should not be a controversial statement.

Location Data About Abortion Provider Visitors Is Still Being Stored and Exploited

After the Supreme Court of the United States overturned Roe v. Wade last year, a bunch of the corporations which have built their business on knowing the physical locations of people without their knowledge or explicit permission said they would not permit the use of that information for health-related reasons. Google promised it would delete records of visits to abortion providers, domestic violence shelters, and rehab centres; when Accountable Tech checked several months later, it found much of that information was still retained.

Geoffrey Fowler, of the Washington Post, decided to look again:

To test Google’s privacy promise, I’ve been running an experiment. Over the last few weeks, I visited a dozen abortion clinics, medical centers and fertility specialists around California, using Google Maps for directions. A colleague visited two more in Florida.

In about half of the visits, I watched Google retain a map of my activity that looked like it could have been made by a private investigator.


This didn’t happen every time. After I sat for 15 minutes in the parking lots of two clinics south of San Francisco, Google deleted each from my location history within 24 hours. It did the same for my colleague’s two visits to clinics in Florida.

To state the obvious, about half the time, Google will keep a record of a visit to a sensitive location even though a user might not have been aware it was tracking them, which is better than all the time, but substantially worse than none of the time.

Google is one of the most valuable businesses in the world and cannot reliably prevent a record of a visit to a more sensitive location. What about a smaller business similarly built on violating individuals’ privacy?

Byron Tau and Patience Haggin, the Wall Street Journal:

A Midwest antiabortion group used cellphone location data to target online content to visitors of certain Planned Parenthood clinics, according to people familiar with the matter and documents reviewed by The Wall Street Journal.


Near, the location broker whose data was used to geofence the Planned Parenthood clinics and extract the mobile-phone data, was one among a number of similar companies that faced inquiries from regulators last year over whether its data set could be used for tracking people seeking abortions.

The company told investors it received an inquiry from members of the House of Representatives about abortion tracking in July. “We communicated to the Members that the company doesn’t allow the use of its data for law enforcement or healthcare purposes, including the disclosure of reproductive rights information,” Near said in a filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

Why anybody is wasting their time pretending that companies with this business model are willing and able to protect users’ privacy would be laughable if it were not so dangerous. This is a solvable problem, but the answer will not be provided by organizations like these.

Unskippable Thirty-Second Ads Coming to YouTube on TVs

Todd Spangler, Variety:

At the YouTube Brandcast upfront event Wednesday in New York, execs announced the introduction of 30-second unskippable ads in top-performing YouTube content on TVs — you know, just like the commercials that have run on broadcast and cable networks for decades. YouTube also will start testing new “Pause Experiences” for YouTube on TV screens, showing an ad when viewers pause a video akin to the pause ads Hulu first bowed four years ago.

A couple years ago, after YouTube began testing a set of three pre-roll ads, I had to wonder what its upper limit could be before people begin tuning out. So far, it looks like it can just keep piling on the ads. And, each time, YouTube Premium gets a little more valuable.

I Give It Eighteen Months

Earlier this week, the people behind the Hill launched a new, crappy web publication called the Messenger; Joshua Benton of NiemanLab has a good roundup of its Daily Mail-esque strategy. But, to me, something seemed missing. When Semafor debuted last year, it needed a big gimmick and chose an irritating story format, much like Axios’s bullet-point lists or the Outline’s bizarre stacks.

The Messenger was just a WordPress blog. It did not have a gimmick. That is not how you launch an online media brand, you dummies. You oafs.

Alas, the crisis has been averted, according to Darren Samuelsohn, Maggie Severns, and Steve Reilly:

Introducing The Messenger Scale, a new system designed to cut through the noise and help you understand what really matters in the news.

It’ll be like the “Richter scale” for measuring earthquakes, but in this case we will be assigning a simple 1-10 number based on input from our panel of more than 80 “news seismologists” from the worlds of politics, policy, law, history, academia and media. Our panel spans the entire political spectrum in order to provide readers with a balanced response to major news events.

Investors gave them $50 million to start a news site and this is the best they could come up with.

Update: Matt Sephton:

Why would they publish a news story that scores low on their scale?

A very good question, indeed. If the release of a report into an investigation of the last president and the release of a different report about the current president both scored below a five, out of ten, what would be the score for new beer packaging, and why would the Messenger publish something so inconsequential?

Yet Another Bug in Facebook Ads

Aisha Counts and Alex Barinka, Bloomberg:

On the morning of April 23, an error on Meta’s automated ad platform caused some advertisers to spontaneously spend more than intended on Facebook, or to use their budgets in inefficient ways. In the weeks since the glitch, advertisers and their agencies have reached out to Meta for refunds, but the company has responded slowly, if at all. “It’s just radio silence,” said Tyler Garner, head of media buying at digital marketing agency GrowRev.

Some advertisers did receive refunds from Meta beginning on May 12, although the amounts have been doled out inconsistently and it’s not clear why some businesses received more money back than others. In the past, advertisers that spent a lot on Facebook or had personal connections at the company had better luck getting refunded, according to several agency representatives.

Strange how Meta, previously Facebook, keeps having problems with its video and advertising products in ways which benefit the company. It should really look into why that is so often the case.

Apple Touts Fraud and Abuse Prevention in the App Store

A news release today from Apple appears to shed light on its App Store crime and fraud prevention tactics in 2022 but, much like previous versions, many questions are left unanswered or unexplained. Here is one such paragraph which makes me scratch my head:

In 2022, nearly 1.7 million app submissions were rejected from the App Store for various reasons, including concerns related to fraud and privacy. In more than one case this year, App Review caught apps using malicious code with the potential to steal users’ credentials from third-party services. In other instances, the App Review team identified several apps that disguised themselves as innocuous financial management platforms but had the capability to morph into another app. Nearly 24,000 apps were blocked or removed from the App Store for bait-and-switch violations such as these in 2022.

The first statistic here — 1.7 million app rejections — can be contextualized by a stat from the previous paragraph: 6.1 million App Store submissions in the same year. Roughly 28% of submissions were rejected, which is down from over 30% in 2017–2019, and perhaps as high as 40% in 2020. It is hard to read anything into that trend, though: it does not necessarily mean Apple lowered its standards or that developers were more compliant, as both could be true. Also, neither.

Apple also says it stopped “more than one” app that has “the potential” for credential theft. But how many is that? Is it two? Is it fifty? A bigger number would be more fitting for the apparent objective of this kind of report — to explain why iOS software distribution ought to be permitted only through the Apple-administered App Store instead of third-party stores — so the use of “more than one” is conspicuous.

Here is another lump of stats:

Last year, Apple blocked nearly 3.9 million stolen credit cards from being used to make fraudulent purchases, and banned 714,000 accounts from transacting again. In total, Apple blocked $2.09 billion in fraudulent transactions on the App Store in 2022.

Good stuff, though I will note Apple’s graphic for this section uses the phrase “potentially fraudulent transactions” — emphasis mine. While it is great news Apple is so careful in this area, it is not as though other payment gateways do not have their own anti-fraud mechanisms.

Again, the unspoken rationale for these news releases — which Apple started publishing around the time European regulators began looking into its App Store-only iOS software distribution policy — is that Apple is uniquely suited to protecting its users from fraud and abuse. But it has also repeatedly struggled with preventing pretty obvious scams. I do not think its failure to achieve a perfect success rate is an indication that App Store protections are ineffective, but the company’s own statistics are also not necessarily painting a complete picture.

U.K. Law Enforcement Accelerating Development of Internet Connection Records Storage

Matt Burgess, Wired:

Official reports and spending documents show that in the past year, UK police have deemed the testing of a system that can collect people’s “internet connection records” a success, and have started work to potentially introduce the system nationally. If implemented, it could hand law enforcement a powerful surveillance tool.

Critics say the system is highly intrusive, and that officials have a history of not properly protecting people’s data. Much of the technology and its operation is shrouded in secrecy, with bodies refusing to answer questions about the systems.

It is worth reading this alongside British efforts to undermine and fearmonger over end-to-end encryption, as it paints a bleak picture of what the government appears to be hoping for.

Reading between the lines here, the internet connection records, which British law enforcement could order ISPs to retain, would be an individual customer’s DNS connection history, subject to technical limitations. For example, insecure web connections contain the domain and path of access, while secure connections only permit ISPs to learn the domain. That is, an ISP knows you have accessed right now, but not which articles you are reading; they could also know you accessed, but not what you were searching.

If law enforcement agencies believe they are entitled to reduced encryption on devices so they are able to see their full contents, I think it is reasonable to assume they would also want some kind of back door in secure web traffic. The contents of a criminal’s web search may be of investigative relevance after all, is how they could justify such a stance. This is not hypothetical: ten years ago, we learned the GCHQ and NSA intelligence agencies had figured out how to breach SSL traffic. Perhaps the thinking of these agencies has evolved: instead of going through all that effort to find vulnerabilities, why not legislate security weaknesses? There are already attempts to do so for device encryption; why would secure web traffic be let off the hook?

Why Is Cloud Storage Sold With a Fixed Maximum, Anyway?

Ben McCarthy, in a post about how difficult it is to manage a massive number of photos:

Additionally, I’d like for Apple to offer additional iCloud Storage options. Right now, the maximum capacity is 4TB; 2TB if you subscribe to Apple One’s Premier Tier and another 2TB if you pay a monthly fee for additional storage.

Ideally there would be an infinite option, or at the very least the ability to purchase multiple 2TB add-ons, that just stack as you need more. It would be expensive, sure, but better than running out of storage with no other recourse.

From one data hoarder to another, this is music to my ears. But why is this not already how cloud storage is sold? I can buy as many external hard disks as I can afford, but the amount of stuff I can store in iCloud is limited by Apple’s constraints, not my budget. It is not just Apple, either: most consumer cloud storage is sold in these kinds of fixed tiers. Why is there a maximum?

Mind you, I would feel more comfortable storing any amount of data with these services if they had a warranty. In my world, that should perhaps be a higher priority, and then it makes more sense to store several terabytes’ worth of photos on someone else’s computer.

I Will Defend Free Speech to the Death. Or Until an Autocrat Asks Me to Stop

Mike Langley, McSweeney’s:

As a free speech absolutist, only death could stop me from defending the rights of Twitter users to speak without censorship. Well, either death or a request from an autocratic leader asking that I censor certain content that could be sensitive for their regime. Whichever comes first.

Jimmy Wales:

What Wikipedia did: we stood strong for our principles and fought to the Supreme Court of Turkey and won. This is what it means to treat freedom of expression as a principle rather than a slogan.

File under: things which should be values, not hobbies.

Google I/O, Google A.I.

Mat Honan, MIT Technology Review:

Google I/O is a highly, highly scripted event. For months now the company has faced criticism that its AI efforts were being outpaced by the likes of OpenAI’s ChatGPT or Microsoft Bing. Alarm bells were sounding internally, too. Today felt like a long-planned answer to that. Taken together, the demos came across as a kind of flex — a way to show what the company has under the hood and how it can deploy that technology throughout its existing, massively popular products (Pichai noted that the company has five different products with more than 2 billion users).

Google I/O was a far cry from its scrambled and awkward presentation earlier this year, and it is notable how much it built on its similarly A.I-heavy I/O presentation last year and the year before.

Casey Newton:

But while I imagine the features will vary in quality and usefulness, one thing is becoming clear about the near-term AI future: technology alone is not enough to totally reset the competitive landscape. Incumbents can gain significant ground simply by bringing new features into the products that people are already using — and getting users to switch platforms is proving more difficult some imagined it would be.


The lesson here is that, with the possibly lone exception of ChatGPT, users are mostly not seeking out AI as a destination unto itself. Rather, they’re waiting for it to transform into useful products and services — ideally, products and services that they’re already using.

Early predictions of Google’s impeding demise — to Bing, of all things — appear to have been greatly exaggerated. Regardless of the hype around the newer, smarter Bing, Google’s market share has not been dented. Google has cunningly allowed Microsoft to take the first steps into the unknown and, consequently, avoided some early mistakes.1

These technologies are undeniably exciting and perhaps concerning, but I think it is worth throwing cold water on media declarations of winners and losers at this stage. There is still no meaningful competition in the search engine business. Google’s announcements this week have ensured its unwillingness to permit public mindshare from slipping in Microsoft’s direction, even if actual usage remains safely Google’s domain.

  1. Meta’s take on virtual reality seems like it has similar early mover problems↥︎

User Growth at Bluesky, Mastodon, and Twitter

MacKenzie Sigalos and Jonathan Vanian, reporting for CNBC with quite a rosy introduction:

Elon Musk’s Twitter is facing new competition from a rival called Bluesky, a so-called decentralized communications app that is backed by Twitter co-founder and twice-former CEO, Jack Dorsey.

Sure sounds promising. So how popular is this new “Bluesky” thing which ought to be spooking Twitter?

The social messaging app had 628,000 mobile downloads in April, representing a 606% rise from March when it became available on Android in addition to iOS. Meanwhile, Twitter had 14.9 million app downloads in April, which is a 2% increase from the 14.6 million downloads it accumulated in March.


Bluesky appears to be gaining more attention than decentralized messaging app Mastodon, which attracted a lot of interest in November as a possible alternative to Twitter. In April, for instance, Mastodon only had 90,000 downloads, the Sensor Tower data showed.

It is not until several paragraphs later that Sigalos and Vanian acknowledge it is only possible to participate in Bluesky by invitation. Even so, it racked up hundreds of thousands of app downloads in April — or, from a different perspective, about 95% fewer than Twitter managed. Quite the competitor.

It is all rather irrelevant, however. Measuring the popularity of decentralized services based on the number of app downloads seems like, at best, a flawed metric. Because Bluesky is available only by invitation, it has only about 65,000 users. And, while Sigalos and Vanian have effectively written off Mastodon based on the number of downloads of its official app, an independent bot reported over 210,000 new users in the last week of April. If the numbers from Mastodon User Tracker’s bot are to be believed, the network had 10,526,195 users at the end of March and 11,509,031 at the end of April, a difference of nearly a million users.

Neither of these services have anywhere near as many users as Twitter, obviously, but the apparent popularity of Bluesky and its comparison to Mastodon should be more correctly contextualized. As of today, I have been using both — you can follow me on Bluesky or Mastodon — and the former feels more akin to a Twitter clone. The latter is clunkier, though it recently made signing up easier. Do not get me wrong: I like Mastodon a lot, and I see good reasons to use both. But I could see Mastodon taking on a more Tumblr-like role of developing its own quirky culture and being better for it. Right now, neither one feels like a product — which is really cool. It all reminds me of an earlier era. I like how this is going.

Moderator Mayhem

So you think you can be a platform moderator?

I was skeptical, too, until I tried Moderator Mayhem, a new browser-based game from Techdirt, where you have to assess reported posts and determine whether they should remain live or be removed in accordance with some basic policies. Oh, and you also have to handle occasional disputes. And there is a time limit.

Now I know — I could not be a platform moderator.

‘Blatant Propaganda […] Bolstering the Venture Capitalist’s Bottom Line’

Venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz released a “State of Crypto Report” for 2023:

Our 2023 report aims to address the imbalance between the noise of fleeting price movements – and the data that tracks the signals that matter, including the durable progress of web3 technology. Overall, the report reflects a healthier industry than market prices may indicate, and a steady cycle of development, product launches, and ongoing innovation.

Molly White expertly dismantled it:

If there is one thing that I want you to take away from this article, it’s that venture capital firms and other heavily invested players in the crypto space should not be trusted to give us the facts on the industry they desperately need to promote. They will produce superficially objective-looking reports full of numbers and charts, but a critical reading shows just how blatantly they are manipulating numbers to arrive at the conclusions that fit their narratives. There is no consequence to Andreessen Horowitz for doing it, and certainly if someone tried to hold them accountable for their blatant twisting of the facts, they would just point to their cover-your-ass disclosures slide in which they disclaim everything in the report.

It is almost surprising A16Z stopped publishing Future, its crypto-Pravda, last year, just as the market settled into what it calls a “steady cycle”.

Meta’s Position on Bill C–18

Meta says Nick Clegg — its president of global affairs and the former Deputy Prime Minister of the U.K. — would have spoken before a Canadian committee in response to Bill C–18, but:

Late on Thursday, the committee notified Meta that the title of the hearing had changed to ‘Tech Giants’ Current and Ongoing Use of Intimidation and Subversion Tactics to Evade Regulation in Canada and Across the World’. Clearly, it would be a very different hearing to the one Nick Clegg was invited to. As such, we have notified the committee that he will no longer be appearing. Meta representatives in Canada will attend the hearing.

Amazing. I appreciate the pointed title change.

In lieu of Clegg’s appearance, Meta published his full prepared remarks. They are roughly what you would expect, but I think this is worth quoting:

I spent 20 years of my life as a legislator, so I understand how difficult it is to craft good policy and sensible legislation. In this instance, I believe C-18 is flawed legislation which would deliver bad economic policy too. The Parliamentary Budget Officer estimates that most of the funds generated by the Act will go to broadcasters, not the local and regional publishers it was supposed to support. It’s Robin Hood in reverse. The Act would subsidize big broadcasters at the expense of independent publishers and digital news sites, skewing the playing field so it’s even harder for smaller players.

Should this link tax pass, Clegg reiterated Meta would prevent links to news articles from being posted on Facebook and Instagram.

Humane’s Device Preview at TED

Last month, we caught glimpses of Imran Chaudhri’s preview of the device being developed by Humane. Chaudhri presented this sneak peek at the TED conference in Vancouver, and the full presentation was published today.

While it is important not to rush to judge a device which none of us have used, I feel like its debut in a TED Talk is worrisome. It is a conference that has become synonymous with catchy hacks and apparently counterintuitive thinking which have little basis in reality. That is not a great sign.

Also, and this is a little thing, TED says (PDF) “speakers may never use the TED or TEDx stage to pitch their products or services”, and that “if it feels like an advertisement, it probably is”. Chaudhri’s talk is all about how great artificial intelligence is going to be, but it is all structured around a device debut which feels like a supercut of iPhone launch presentations.

‘Where Is My Mind?’ Stops the Alarm on Google Pixel Phones

Jordan Potter, Far Out:

Recently, a Reddit user took to the platform to report a strange occurrence. After setting their alarm to use songs at random from a playlist, one morning, the alarm failed to activate. Fortunately, they had woken up earlier and investigated the issue. As it turns out, Frank Black yelling “stop!” at the beginning of the song [“Where Is My Mind?”] pre-emptively disables the alarm on Google Pixel phones.

Delightful little bug. Reminds me of the days when saying “hey Siri” would make any iPhone obey one’s command, even if it was not their own.

Update: If any readers own a Google Pixel, there are plenty of other songs worth trying this with. I wish I had a Pixel to do the same. Alas, I have some kind of feeling for which I am struggling to find a two-word summary.

Google Will Pay the New York Times About $100 Million Over Three Years

The New York Times Company in February:

The New York Times Company and Google announced an expansion of their collaboration with a multi-year commercial agreement today. The companies will work together on tools for content distribution and subscriptions, using Google tools for marketing, ad product experimentation, and further on Subscribe with Google and Google Ad Manager.

Alexandra Bruell, Wall Street Journal, today:

The New York Times is getting around $100 million from Google over three years as part of a broad deal that allows the Alphabet unit to feature Times content on some of its platforms, according to people familiar with the matter.


The deal gives the Times an additional revenue driver as news publishers are bracing for an advertising-market slowdown. The company posted revenue of $2.31 billion last year, up 11% from a year earlier. It also more than offsets the revenue that the Times is losing after Facebook parent Meta Platforms last year told publishers it wouldn’t renew contracts to feature their content in its Facebook News tab. The Wall Street Journal at the time reported that Meta had paid annual fees of just over $20 million to the Times.

Earlier today, I pointed to David Pierce’s look at the development, rise, and decline of Google’s AMP format, in which Pierce writes Google “across the publishing industry [is] no longer seen as a partner”. A hundred million dollars begs to differ.

Into Thin AirPods

Casey Johnston, Defector:

This is the part where I say I’m aware that everyone — Apple, law enforcement, any friends with good judgment within earshot — strenuously discourages ever, under any circumstances, trying to do vigilante justice with the Find My app. If you so much as mention the possibility, like four people will jump out of the woodwork with stories about someone they knew who was shot or assaulted trying to confront a thief in the act. I’d like to emphasize that I’m firmly on the side of reason, and a steadfast believer that having crime done to me is not an occasion to show off how brave I am.

But! I have watched Veronica Mars so many times. I dream idly of mysterious cases falling into my lap, and solving them through the careful piecing together of data, clues, and information, plus the judicious application of wiles and streetwise know-how. And, honestly, I did want my ridiculously expensive AirPods back.

It is just a story of Johnston trying to find her lost AirPods using the Find My app, but it is one of the most suspenseful things I have read recently. Gripping. Five stars.

Judge Bounces FTC’s Suit Against Kochava

In August, the FTC sued location broker Kochava over its sale of device-specific location data. The company asked for the suit to be dropped and, this week, it got its wish.

Jessica Lyons Hardcastle, the Register:

An FTC lawsuit against Kochava, alleging the data broker harmed Americans by selling records of their whereabouts, has failed.

That said, a federal court has given the US government agency 30 days to come up with a better legal argument and try again.

If this feels familiar, it may be because a judge rejected the first FTC complaint against Facebook — filed in December 2020 — before agreeing to hear an amended version.


In a ruling on Thursday, the federal court agreed with Kochava in that the FTC’s lawsuit didn’t make a strong enough case to prove consumer injury.

“Although the FTC’s first legal theory of consumer injury is plausible, the FTC has not made sufficient factual allegations to proceed,” US District Court Judge Lynn Winmill wrote [PDF]. “To do so, it must not only claim that Kochava’s practices could lead to consumer injury, but that they are likely to do so, as required by the statute.”

This is a frustrating argument. To the same extent there may be questions about whether Kochava’s sale of personal data could be injurious to consumers is likely or merely possible, there is little awareness of data collection by this specific company. Consumers do not know they are providing their location to Kochava for resale when using a given app. They are increasingly aware of the privacy risks of using smartphones, I am sure, but not of these specific contracts. How should any consumer realistically protect themselves when data brokers are prevalent yet invisible in their lives?

Meanwhile, it is worth noting, the harm of an unregulated market for private data is far from a theoretical concern. Trying to figure out whether it is definitively the data bought from a specific broker’s market which leads to some awful circumstance is a profoundly idiotic pursuit. The only reasonable course of action is a comprehensive prophylactic federal data privacy law.

Sponsor: A Letterpress-Printed Book About Printing History by Tech Journalist Glenn Fleishman

If you’re interested in the history of how books and other printed materials were made told through technological improvements, Six Centuries of Type & Printing by Glenn Fleishman lays out the entire tale. Starting with what’s known about printing in China and Korea before it was introduced in Europe, the book takes a trip across nearly 600 years of continuous development that took us from a small shop in Mainz, Germany, to ink-jet printers in every home around the world.

Six Centuries of Type and Printing

For those not initiated in the old mysteries of how type was made of a lead alloy, laid out, inked, and pressed into paper, Glenn provides a solid grounding, told in a friendly tone with some key illustrations. Printing arose from a combination of historical confluences and spread like wildfire as soon as its principles were established. The story continues into the modern era, looking at the transition from metal type and relief or letterpress printing into phototypesetting, flat “offset” presses, and eventually digital typesetting and plate making.

The book’s production retraces history. Written and laid out on a computer, the book’s work shifted to a hot-metal typesetting firm in North Yorkshire, Effra Press, which relies on a computer interface to drive metal typesetting. Illustrations were etched onto magnesium plates in London. The resulting materials were combined at Hand & Eye in London, one of the few remaining commercial letterpress shops. The book’s printed sheets then headed to Germany, to Spinner Bookbinders near the Black Forest, for sewing, binding, slipcase manufacture, and foil stamping.

For a typophile or as a gift, Six Centuries of Type & Printing, printed in an edition of just over 400, is unique, informative, and an heirloom. For readers of this blog, use coupon code PIXELENVY for $10 off the $150 price of the letterpress/ebook bundle. (Price includes shipping within the U.S.)

Artificial Intelligence McKinsey

Ted Chiang, the New Yorker:

Today, we find ourselves in a situation in which technology has become conflated with capitalism, which has in turn become conflated with the very notion of progress. If you try to criticize capitalism, you are accused of opposing both technology and progress. But what does progress even mean, if it doesn’t include better lives for people who work? What is the point of greater efficiency, if the money being saved isn’t going anywhere except into shareholders’ bank accounts? We should all strive to be Luddites, because we should all be more concerned with economic justice than with increasing the private accumulation of capital. We need to be able to criticize harmful uses of technology — and those include uses that benefit shareholders over workers — without being described as opponents of technology.

The whole article is terrific — as the headline alludes to, an imagining of artificial intelligence technologies performing a sort of McKinsey-like role in executing the worst impulses of our economic system — but this paragraph is damn near perfect.

Not too long ago, in the era of gadget blogs and technology enthusiasm gone mainstream, there was a specific kind of optimism where every new product or service was imagined as beneficial. Tides turned, and criticism is the current default position. I think that is a healthier and more realistic way of viewing this market, even as it feels more negative. What good is thinking about new technologies if they are not given adequate context? We have decades of personal computing to draw from, plus hundreds of years of efficiency gains. On the cusp of another vast transformation, we should put that knowledge to use.

Exploring Deceptive Design Patterns

Caroline Sinders, the Pudding:

I wanted to explore the malicious, confusing, and deceitful things that occur after signing up for digital services, as well as how design can nudge us to forget about a free trial or accidentally sign up for things that we didn’t intend to.

Dark patterns are often most egregious with subscriptions and free trials, especially when attempting to cancel, so I focused on those.

I ran an experiment from August 2 to October 4, 2022, signing up for 16 different services and immediately tried to unsubscribe or cancel.

The New York Times is famously hostile, but it seems Vimeo is the newly crowned champion of awful design patterns. It seems to tick every item on a list of what not to do. I am not sure what is going on there — previously mentioned — but it sucks to see a once-likeable video host reduced to the kinds of scummy tactics that seem so commonplace in business- and enterprise-focused companies.

As is typical for a Pudding thing, this article is well-presented thanks to Tynesha Foreman and Matt Daniels. Even if all of this stuff is known to you, I recommend checking it out just for the way it looks and feels.

Canada Breaks the Internet

Justin Ling, the Globe and Mail:

Individually, all these ideas are bad. Taken together, they’re worse.

Mr. Trudeau’s plans amount to a Rube Goldberg machine, shaking down Silicon Valley companies for cash while subjecting them to a gauntlet of Ottawa-based Star Chambers every time the platform’s users act badly. In trying to Canadianize the internet, it will destroy what makes it incredible: Its neutrality, its supranationality, its chaos.

Much as I agree with the premise, it is Ling’s conclusion that leaves me feeling hollow — that the two opposition parties should collaborate and vote against legislation like Bill C–18. Those three parties are the Conservatives, the Bloc Québécois, and the NDP. While members of the former overwhelmingly voted in opposition to C–18, the very concept of a link tax on media is part of their party platform. As for the latter two, they have more-or-less voted in agreement with the Liberal party.

These policies should absolutely be opposed. However, it is necessary for the Liberal party itself to recognize how damaging they will be to the open web and Canadians alike. We need principled internet policy which stands for an open web, and rejects attempts to compromise that. Canadian political parties may differ in the details, but they are aligned in internet outcomes.

Content Moderators in Kenya Form Labour Union

Odanga Madung, Nation:

At a meeting held in Nairobi on Monday, 200 content moderators from Sama and Majorel — the firms that serve Facebook, YouTube, TikTok and Chat GPT — took a stand against tech giants’ mistreatment of their workers by coming together to lobby for their rights.

In a first-of-its-kind event, moderators covering 14 different African languages came together on Labour Day to vote for establishing a union to address issues including mistreatment of workers.

Majorel is based in Luxemborg; Teleperformance, based in France, recently offered to buy it. Sama is based in the United States and was, last year, sued by a former moderator. The vast distance between these companies, their employees in Kenya, and their clients mostly located in Silicon Valley is not only geographic. These are some of the people who remove the worst of the web and make artificial intelligence work better.

Good for them.

Inside the SolarWinds Breach

Kim Zetter, Wired:

As summer turned to fall, behind closed doors, suspicions began to grow among people across government and the security industry that something major was afoot. But the government, which had spent years trying to improve its communication with outside security experts, suddenly wasn’t talking. Over the next few months, “people who normally were very chatty were hush-hush,” a former government worker says. There was a rising fear among select individuals that a devastating cyber operation was unfolding, he says, and no one had a handle on it.

In fact, the Justice Department and Volexity had stumbled onto one of the most sophisticated cyberespionage campaigns of the decade. The perpetrators had indeed hacked SolarWinds’ software. Using techniques that investigators had never seen before, the hackers gained access to thousands of the company’s customers. Among the infected were at least eight other federal agencies, including the US Department of Defense, Department of Homeland Security, and the Treasury Department, as well as top tech and security firms, including Intel, Cisco, and Palo Alto Networks—though none of them knew it yet. Even Microsoft and Mandiant were on the victims list.

Zetter’s thorough investigation into the circumstances of the 2020 SolarWinds breach — including her previously reported story about the FBI’s foreknowledge — is worth your time. It is also a reminder to me that the circumstances of Bloomberg’s Supermicro story, another supposed supply chain compromise, remain mysteriously uncorroborated and without similar on-the-record journalism.

Apple and Google Propose Specification for Unwanted Tracking Devices

From Apple’s Newsroom:

Today Apple and Google jointly submitted a proposed industry specification to help combat the misuse of Bluetooth location-tracking devices for unwanted tracking. The first-of-its-kind specification will allow Bluetooth location-tracking devices to be compatible with unauthorized tracking detection and alerts across iOS and Android platforms. Samsung, Tile, Chipolo, eufy Security, and Pebblebee have expressed support for the draft specification, which offers best practices and instructions for manufacturers, should they choose to build these capabilities into their products.

I cannot claim to understand the spec, but it appears to me that it creates a way for unwanted trackers to communicate with a non-owner’s device, not necessarily a means of figuring out whether a tracker is present. In other words, this spec should prevent people from needing to install a bunch of proprietary detection apps. How a device differentiates between legitimate and creepy uses of trackers is something left to a platform’s “unwanted tracking algorithms”.

Look for a software update later this year which brings this tracking protection to Android and iOS. The Canadian version of this press release is inexplicably different and contains no such pledge.

Twitter Went Great

The people behind Twitter is Going Great are shutting it down:

Deluded billionaire Elon Musk continues to spew stupid ideas that exhausted engineers are forced to rush through half baked, the company moves inexorably closer to bankruptcy, white supremacists increasingly dominate everyone’s feeds, the few remaining lawyers cave instantly to authoritarians, the platform’s reliability plummets ever downwards… and we need a break.

So while Twitter slowly sinks into quicksand of its own making, we’re sunsetting this site.

Twitter, for what it is worth, is currently logging users out and breaking their timelines. It is still going so, so great.

Thirty Years of the Web in the Public Domain

Coralie Mercier, on the W3C’s blog:

Today marks the 30th anniversary of the release of the World Wide Web into the public domain, for general use, and at no cost, on 30 April 1993 by CERN.

This quiet gesture, advocated by Web inventor Sir Tim Berners-Lee, has had implications beyond what he or anyone imagined at that time: the Web, free for everyone, has changed our lives.

Can you imagine how different the world would be had the web been encumbered by patents owned by a litigious organization? It would have killed the very promise of the web. A small taste of that possibility contributed to the downfall of Gopher, according to Christopher Lee. The innovation of the past thirty years has been made possible because so much of its foundation was — and remains — open and free.

Sponsor: Type and Printing History Told in a Letterpress Volume by Tech Journalist Glenn Fleishman

Glenn Fleishman here! I’m sponsoring Pixel Envy because Nick’s writing reminds me of the heyday of blogs: surfacing interesting fresh events with a personal and opinionated spin—sometimes just a link, sometimes an essay. As I’ve rediscovered RSS in the wake of Twitter’s implosion, Nick’s posts rise to the top.

I wanted to support Nick in his efforts by sponsoring, and I know that you fellow readers also would likely be interested in something I made a few years ago that tickles the typophile and technology bones: Six Centuries of Type & Printing, my letterpress-printed romp through the history of printing and type told through technological innovations.

Six Centuries of Type and Printing

If you only know Gutenberg’s but aren’t sure what his inventions were, and have heard that movable type printing—printing with letters and other characters that can be reused again and again—was invented in Asia, this book will fill you in. Gutenberg’s creation of a workable system in Mainz, Germany, around 1450 appears to be a separate discovery that grew out of a lifelong acquaintance with goldsmiths (and possibly training in the art itself), and a mechanical bent that led him to experiment over decades.

My book starts in Asia, shifts to Germany, and then spans 600 years of development in creating type, improving printing presses, and moving toward digital production. The book was printed by letterpress in London from type set in hot metal in North Yorkshire, England. It was bound in Germany, with a hardcover luxuriously wrapped in a foil-stamped green cloth. The book comes in a slipcase of the same material. I had an edition of just over 400 made.

For readers of this blog, use coupon code PIXELENVY for $10 off the $150 price of the letterpress/ebook bundle. (Price includes shipping within the U.S.)

The Information: Siri’s Flagging Quality Is the Result of ‘Turf Wars’

Normally, I would not link to something for which I have not read the source story. In this case, I will make an exception, as the original is by Wayne Ma of the Information, who has a solid track record. I hope these two summaries are accurate reflections of Ma’s reporting.

Hartley Charlton, MacRumors:

The extensive paywalled report explains why former Apple employees who worked in the company’s AI and machine learning groups believe that a lack of ambition and organizational dysfunction have hindered Siri and the company’s AI technologies. Apple’s virtual assistant is apparently “widely derided” inside the company for its lack of functionality and minimal improvement over time.


Apple executives are said to have dismissed proposals to give Siri the ability to conduct extended back-and-forth conversations, claiming that the feature would be difficult to control and gimmicky. Apple’s uncompromising stance on privacy has also created challenges for enhancing Siri , with the company pushing for more of the virtual assistant’s functions to be performed on-device.

Samuel Axon, Ars Technica:

For example, it reveals that the team that has been working on Apple’s long-in-development mixed reality headset was so frustrated with Siri that it considered developing a completely separate, alternative voice control method for the headset.

But it goes beyond just recounting neutral details; rather, it lays all that information out in a structured case to argue that Apple is ill-prepared to compete in the fast-moving field of AI.

By the sound of that, Ma is making a similar argument as was reported by Brian X. Chen, Nico Grant, and Karen Weise in the New York Times last month. I linked to it noting two things: first, that the headline’s proclamation that Apple has “lost the A.I. race” is premature; second, that the vignette in the lede is factually incorrect. But there was a detail I think is worth mentioning in the context of Siri’s capabilities:

Siri also had a cumbersome design that made it time-consuming to add new features, said [former Apple employee John] Burkey, who was given the job of improving Siri in 2014. Siri’s database contains a gigantic list of words, including the names of musical artists and locations like restaurants, in nearly two dozen languages.

That made it “one big snowball,” he said. If someone wanted to add a word to Siri’s database, he added, “it goes in one big pile.”

This is a claim sourced to a single person, but it would not surprise me if the entire Siri backend really is a simple database of known queries and expected responses. Sources the Times reporters spoke to say this structure cannot be adapted to fit a large language model system and, so, Apple is far behind.

Maybe all that is true. But what I cannot understand is why anyone would think users would want to have a conversation with Siri, when many would probably settle for a version of that basic database association schema working correctly.

Siri is infamously frustrating to use. It has unknowable limits to its capabilities — for example, requesting a scoreboard works for some sports but not others, and asking for a translation is only available between a small number of languages. It, like other voice assistants, assumes a stage-practiced speech cadence, which impairs its usability for those with atypical speech, or queries with pauses or corrections. But the things which bum me out in my own use of Siri are the ways in which it does not seem to be built by the same people who made the phone it runs on.

I know reading a list of bugs is boring, so here are two small examples:

  1. My wife, driving home, texts me while I am making dinner to ask if there is anything she should pick up. I see the notification come in on the Lock Screen, but my hands are dirty, so I say “hey Siri, reply to [her name]”. Instead of the prompt asking “okay, what would you like to say?”, I am instead asked “okay, which one should I use?” with the list of phone numbers from her contact card.

    There are three things wrong with this: my query uses the word “reply”, so it should compose a message to whatever contact method from which she sent the message; for several versions of iOS now, Messages consolidates conversations from the same contact, so Siri’s behaviour should work the same way; and, I am trying to send something to one of my most-messaged contacts, so it feels particularly dumb.

  2. Siri is, as of a recent version of iOS, hardwired to associate music-related commands to Apple Music. It will sometimes ask if the user wants an alternative app. But it also means it does not reliably play music from a local library, and it has no awareness of whether one has turned off cellular data use for Music.

    So if you are driving along, with a local library full of songs, and you ask Siri to play one of them, it will stream it from Apple Music instead; or, if you have cellular data off for Music, it will read out an error message. Meanwhile, the songs are sitting right there, in the library.

Neither of these examples, as far as I can see, should require a humanlike level of deep language understanding. In fact, both of these queries used to work as expected before becoming broken. It seems likely to me the latter was a deliberate change made to promote Apple’s services. In a similar vein, Ma, via Charlton, reports “specific decisions [were made] to exclude information such as iPhone prices from Siri to push users directly to Apple’s website instead”. If true, it is a cynical decision that has no benefit to users. The first problem I listed is simply baffling.

Perhaps these kinds of bugs would be less common if Siri were based on large language models — this is completely outside my field and my inbox is open — but I find that hard to believe. It is not the case that Siri is failing to understand what I am asking it to do. Rather, it is faltering at simple hurdles and functioning as an ad for other Apple services. I would be fine with Siri if it were a database that performed reliably and expectedly, and excited for the possibilities of one fronted by more capable artificial intelligence. What I am, though, is doubtful — doubtful that basic tasks like these will become meaningfully better, instead of a different set of bugs and obstacles I will need to learn.

Ma reports, via Charlton, that some people working on Siri left because there was too much human intervention. I wish it felt anything like that.

StopTheMadness Turns Five

StopTheMadness was released five years ago this Sunday. It is one of those Safari extensions that quickly became indispensable for me because it lets me override bad decisions made by some web developer, marketing person, or executive who is not thinking about what is best for users.

In recognition, Jeff Johnson has dropped the price to just $5 until Monday. I think that is a great deal for an extension which, in a perfect world, would not need to exist. Alas, we are not living in that world, and Johnson’s Safari extension makes some of those little daily annoyances go away.

Researchers Taught Parrots to Video Call Other Parrots

Schuyler Velasco, of Northeastern University’s Global News publication:

Rébecca Kleinberger, an assistant professor at Northeastern; Jennifer Cunha, a parrot behaviorist and Northeastern researcher; and Ilyena Hirskyj-Douglas, an assistant professor at the University of Glasgow, showed a group of parrots across a range of species and their volunteer caregivers to use tablets and smartphones how to video-call one another on Facebook Messenger.

The researchers then observed how the birds used that newfound ability over a three-month period. They wondered: If given the choice, would the birds call each other?

The answer, relayed in delighted squawks and head bobs, was a resounding yes. “Some strong social dynamics started appearing,” Kleinberger says.

Maybe the best story you will read this week. There are videos.

General Motors Is Dropping CarPlay for Subscription Revenue

One more story to complete the car news trifecta, and it is sort of like a cocktail of the last two stories: a little General Motors idiocy mixed with a dash of CarPlay confusion.

Molly Boigon, Automotive News:

Nearly a decade after most automakers touted smartphone mirroring through CarPlay and Android Auto as a standard feature, many wonder if they surrendered an important part of the car to big tech and are looking to reclaim the vehicle interface before Apple can expand its reach.

The automakers are emulating newcomers such as Tesla and Rivian Automotive, which opted to develop their own advanced interfaces instead of mirroring a smartphone screen. They want to claim an attractive revenue stream — subscriptions to software features sold to drivers directly through the infotainment center.

It is like all the worst trends of the past decade are coming together in the toxic sludge that is the second quoted paragraph. Touch screens in cars replacing common button-based controls? Check. Consumer data harvesting? Oh yeah. Subscriptions? Better believe it.

According to surveys quoted in this article, people do not actually want any of this stuff. Car buyers want CarPlay because it beats the stock infotainment system pretty much always, and requires no fiddly configuration to get music and maps onto the dashboard. But people prefer physical controls for features like climate control and seat operations.

Also, high praise to Boigon for these two sentences later in the story:

GM is designing its new interface using Android Automotive, Google’s open-source software development kit. It is a different product from Android Auto, Google’s automotive phone mirroring software. […]

Truly a story that has everything, including Google’s unintelligible product strategy and naming conventions. I need to lie down.

Drivers Are Demanding Real Buttons and Knobs

David Zipper, Slate:

Happily, there is one area where we are making at least marginal progress: A growing number of automakers are backpedaling away from the huge, complex touchscreens that have infested dashboard design over the past 15 years. Buttons and knobs are coming back.


It will be interesting to see how this plays against Apple’s CarPlay plans for this year, which requires a stunning amount of screen space in its prototypical application. If customers are increasingly frustrated by distracting and dangerous touch screens and demand physical controls, perhaps automakers will reject deep CarPlay integration on that basis alone.

General Motors Kills Another Electric Car

Dan Seifert, the Verge:

This [the Chevrolet Bolt] was a brand-new EV for a total cost well under $30,000. There’s literally nothing quite like it on the road, and it’s a shame that GM has decided it no longer has a future.


But Americans don’t like to buy compact hatchbacks (RIP, BMW i3, another small EV that’s no longer available). Other parts of the world already or soon will have their choice of many compact and affordable EVs, including ones made by GM itself. Instead, we’ll get cars and trucks with obscene amounts of horsepower and oversize battery packs that cost more to produce and charge and aren’t practical for the kind of driving most Americans actually do.

First, an obligatory note that a world in which every internal combustion car is replaced with an electric car still incentivizes the same bad city planning behaviours, and that we should encourage building other options wherever possible. I am a cycling commuter and it is actually faster for me than driving. Trains are great, too.

But some people are still going to use cars, at least some of the time. It would be great if there were more choices — not just in price or brand, but in form factor, too. Unfortunately, the Canadian auto market is basically the same as the U.S. one and, so, we end up with a sea of samey SUVs, crossovers, and trucks, all of which are too big to the extent a separate license should be required to drive many of them. They make the roads more dangerous for others, which drives some people to buy a similar-sized vehicle for their own safety perception. It is madness.

Bill C–11 Becomes Law

Richard Raycraft, CBC News:

After years of debate, the Senate gave its final approval Thursday to Bill C-11, also known as the Online Streaming Act. It received royal assent shortly after.

The bill makes changes to Canada’s Broadcasting Act. The legislation requires streaming services, such as Netflix and Spotify, to pay to support Canadian media content like music and TV shows.

It also requires the platforms to promote Canadian content. Specifically, the bill says “online undertakings shall clearly promote and recommend Canadian programming, in both official languages as well as in Indigenous languages.”

As promising as the bill sounds on first pass for the Canadian arts industry, Ramneet Bhullar explained last year its faulty premise and the risk of its more overly-intrusive regulations.

Michael Geist:

The lengths the government was willing to go to avoid compromise still astonishes me. Canadian Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez, who has largely avoided publicly addressing the bill ever since he was surprised by tough questions on it from Vassy Kapelos at the Prime Time Conference, spent months denying what was evident to anyone who took the time to read it (including the former chair of the CRTC, independent Senators, experts, and digital creators), namely that user content is subject to potential regulation in Bill C-11. There was no bottom to these false denials: indigenous creators were disrespected, opponents investigated, critics ignored, and debate repeatedly cut off with time allocation motions.

A list of truly unforced blunders, in pursuit of a law which is so over-broad as to be worrisome. Its effects will be watched closely.

Archiving Datpiff

Jason Scott:

Datpiff, one of the main sources present and historical for mixtapes, is pivoting in a different direction, and contacted the Archive about hosting a library of pretty much all past releases. I naturally said yes.

Sometimes, websites just say they are going to delete a whole bunch of user data in a matter of weeks, and that really sucks. It is refreshing to hear Datpiff is proactively archiving its massive collection of mixtapes.

TikTok Shopping Is Booming in Indonesia

Aisyah Llewellyn, Rest of World:

It’s been TikTok’s ambition to boost its vast audience into a moneymaking shopping arm, TikTok Shop, for two years now. That effort is being stymied in the U.S. by concerns of a potential countrywide ban, and had collapsed in the U.K. last year under a cloud of missed targets and management concerns. But TikTok Shop is sweeping across Indonesia, the company’s second-biggest market behind the U.S. — home to an estimated 110 million users, according to consultancy DataReportal.

A counterpoint to my speculation last year that the supposed reinvention of shopping is unlikely to pan out after the failure of Amazon’s Dash buttons, and direct-to-consumer brands opening physical storefronts. There is a caveat, though: Llewellyn says some of these DIY shopping channels are streaming constantly for eighteen hours a day.

iPhones Account for About Half the Worldwide Refurbished Smartphone Market

Scharon Harding, Ars Technica:

Selling a new smartphone is the hardest it has been in years. Rising device costs, limited differences between model upgrades, and economic and environment-related desires to keep electronics alive as long as possible are making people turn to refurbished phones, data shared this week by analyst Counterpoint found. And if someone is buying a refurbished phone, there’s a good chance it’s an iPhone.

Quite the counterargument to the longstanding narrative that Apple kneecaps older phones to encourage upgrades. The reverse is more true: Apple wants to support users with older models because an increasing part of its revenue picture is services and, as Joanna Stern wrote last month, “[e]ven a refurbished iPhone means a blue bubble”.

A ‘Concert Mode’ for AirPods

Mark Bramhill:

It’s no surprise Apple is looking to double-down on health for AirPods Pro. Features like Adaptive Transparency and Live Listen are amazing — refining these and getting official certification for their health applications is a no-brainer. But I think Apple has an opportunity in front of them, without any regulatory hurdles, to disrupt a whole product category: concert earplugs.

This is a great idea in every way, with the sole exception of the optics of a crowd of people watching their favourite band while apparently listening to something else. That will never not look strange to me.

I was at the supermarket the other day behind someone who had a set of AirPods in while talking with the cashier. I know AirPods have passthrough modes and I am sure this person was using one of them because they appeared to be participating in the conversation just fine. But, still, it looked odd, and more than a little rude.

Perhaps this is all part of a societal shift we will be obliged to make. At some point, it may not just be headphones which create a barrier of potential distraction between people.

Location-Gated Sideloading Rumoured for iOS 17

In December, Mark Gurman was first to report the possibility of app sideloading coming in iOS 17, in addition to expanding third-party capabilities for other features:

Currently, third-party web browsers, including ones like Chrome from Alphabet Inc.’s Google, are required to use WebKit, Apple’s Safari browsing engine. Under the plan to meet the new law, Apple is considering removing that mandate.

Apple is also working to open up other features to third-party apps, including more camera technologies and its near-field communications chip — at least in a limited fashion. Currently, only the company’s Wallet app and Apple Pay service can use the NFC chip to enable mobile wallet functionality. Apple has faced pressure to let third-party financial apps have the same capability.

Gurman noted these kinds of changes would only be enabled for European users, setting up an intriguing public relations dilemma. In his newsletter last week, Gurman claimed sideloading is still expected for the next version of iOS; Michael Tsai has a good roundup of related commentary.

A question remains about how Apple may restrict sideloading to only European devices. For many past location-gated features, Apple’s guardrails have been flexible. For example, switching an iPhone’s region to “United States” — in Settings, General, Language & Region — is often enough to enable features like Apple News or Apple Pay Cash. It is not possible complete setup of Apple Pay Cash without U.S. payment information, but it is surfaced merely through this Settings change. Sideloading is tempting for some users; it is not beneficial for Apple. It is obviously reluctant to embrace the changes mandated in the European Union, and it appears it is building a more robust way to ensure it is only active where legally required.

Filipe Espósito, 9to5Mac:

Based on our findings, the new system internally called “countryd” was silently added with iOS 16.2, but is not being actively used for anything so far. It combines multiple data such as current GPS location, country code from the Wi-Fi router, and information obtained from the SIM card to determine the country the user is in.

With all this information combined, it will become harder for users to bypass these restrictions, but at the same time easier for the device to automatically ignore them when you travel to another region. Code seen by 9to5Mac makes it clear that this system is designed to set restrictions determined by government regulators.

If this is effective at preventing non-European users from peering over the garden walls, it seems possible it could more aggressively enforce other geographically gated features. For example, FaceTime is banned in the United Arab Emirates, but changing the device region is a well-known workaround. It is also plausible to me that Apple would only use this new system for E.U.-specific changes. I expect we will find out in a few weeks.

Update: After thinking about this more, I am increasingly worried Apple’s development of the countryd system will compel it to rigorously adhere to the demands of more controlling regimes. If it is as described, all the location-gated features and restrictions which may currently be bypassed by changing the device’s region will be scrutinized by governments which made those demands.

E.U. And U.S. Officials Are Collaborating to Turn Public Opinion Against Encryption

Global Encryption Coalition:

Among the troubling strategies of those who are threatening the right to privacy, whatever their stated motives, overtly shaping public opinion against encryption is once again rearing its head. Recent media reports state that senior government officials in the US and EU agreed to cooperate on measures to shape public opinion with the goal of legitimising the demands of law enforcement agencies to access encrypted communications. […]

The “reports” link is, unfortunately, a paywalled Politico Pro article, but European Digital Rights published an article concurrent with the GEC’s and summarized the issue so:

The leak meeting report between EU-US Senior Officials on Justice and Home Affairs from March 2023, reveals transatlantic plans to influence public opinion around ‘law enforcement’s legitimacy to investigate’ encrypted communications and on ‘the need to mirror privacy by design with lawful access by design’. This is an unacceptable clear intention to undermine end-to-end encryption, privacy and confidentiality of communication, which are essential for democratic digital societies.

Matthew Green:

Many folks in law enforcement and politics seem genuinely confused about the popularity of end-to-end encrypted messaging, like we all just decided to become anarchists or something. That’s not at all the dynamic we’re seeing here. The entire basis of our communications infrastructure shifted in a direction that’s inimical to privacy; encryption is the obvious solution.

It is hard to shake the feeling that law enforcement and intelligence agencies had a brief window into a world where they could endlessly mine the permanent records we are inadvertently creating about all that we do, and they long for that ease again. Now, we have devices which are encrypted and communications which are protected end-to-end. But we must not forget how everything used to be analogue; much of it was ephemeral, and anything written down could be destroyed by burning it.

Scam ‘A.I.’ Apps and Shady Developers in the App Store

Alex Kleber:

In the last 30 days, I have been closely monitoring the Mac App Store and have made a disturbing discovery. In the midst of the OpenAI frenzy, several apps have surfaced that are copying the iconic OpenAI logo and color scheme in order to mislead unsuspecting MacOS App Store users. But that’s not all — I also found that some developers are abusing Apple’s Developer Agreements by spamming multiple accounts and flooding the store with nearly identical applications. […]

Kleber notes these apps are paywalled with “no close button”. That is not quite true: in very small text, the developer offers the option to “Continue with free plan”, but it is highly misleading. This should be the sort of thing Apple polices against in the App Store. These apps ride a rising tide of interest in a specific product, they offer in-app purchases, and they appear to be duplicative.

These apps are all still available in the Mac App Store, by the way, and this is not the first time fake ChatGPT apps have climbed the charts. In fact, upon opening the App Store on my iPhone, the first thing I saw was an ad on the search page for an app which looks, at first glance, like an official OpenAI app — same colours, similar logo, and a description with a conspicuous use of the word “Open”. As of writing, it is the ninth most popular app in the Productivity category — and, yes, of course it offers paid subscriptions.

Humane Previews Projection-Based Wearable Computer at TED 2023

Ina Fried, Axios:

Ex-Apple employee Imran Chaudhri gave TED attendees on Thursday an early glimpse of the AI-powered wearable that his startup, Humane, has been developing.

The screenless device, which does not require a nearby cell phone to work, uses a combination of voice and gestures for input and can display information by projecting it onto nearby objects.

Fried embeds a photo from Twitter of the device in action, and Ray Wong posted a video of the phone call demo in action. A free copy of the TED Talk should be posted online in the coming days, but it appears to be available now for those of you who have a spare $150 burning a hole in your pocket. My curiosity is piqued.

Update: Wong has been updating his report about the demo at Inverse:

Another function according to [Zarif] Ali: “a camera-enabled dietary feature that lets you check if you can eat a certain food based on your dietary restrictions.”

[Michael] Mofina told Inverse that in another demo, the wearable “gave [Chaudhri] a specific answer about going shopping in a nearby district.” Such a feature would be useful while traveling.

Almost like it is augmenting reality, to borrow a term.

End-to-End Encryption Is on the Line in the U.K.

On its blog, WhatApp published an open letter co-signed by representatives of Signal, Wire, and other messaging apps which support end-to-end encryption:

The UK government is currently considering new legislation that opens the door to trying to force technology companies to break end-to-end encryption on private messaging services. The law could give an unelected official the power to weaken the privacy of billions of people around the world.

We don’t think any company, government or person should have the power to read your personal messages and we’ll continue to defend encryption technology. We’re proud to stand with other technology companies in our industry pushing back against the misguided parts of this law that would make people in the UK and around the world less safe.

Shiona McCallum and Chris Vallance, BBC News:

Mr Cathcart has told BBC News WhatsApp would rather be blocked in the UK than weaken the privacy of encrypted messaging.

Ms Whittaker has said the same – Signal “would absolutely, 100% walk” should encryption be undermined.

And Swiss-based app Threema has told BBC News weakening its security “in any way, shape, or form” is “completely out of the question”.

Paige Collings and Joe Mullin, of the Electronic Frontier Foundation:

If it passes, the censorious, anti-encryption Online Safety Bill won’t just affect the UK — it will be a blueprint for repression around the world. The UK promoters of this bill talk about the worst content online, like pro-terrorism posts and child abuse material. But the surveillance won’t end there. Companies will be pushed to monitor wider categories of content, and to share information about users between jurisdictions. Journalists and human rights workers will become targets.

It has been said before but it bears repeating: there is no method for a hole in encryption through which only authorized people are able to peek. Whether they admit it or not, U.K. lawmakers have a record of opposing encryption and have repeatedly shown their intention to ban it.

The End of Buzzfeed News

Ben Smith, Semafor:

My old boss and partner Jonah Peretti announced today that he’s shutting down BuzzFeed News, which we built together starting in 2012.


Peretti created BuzzFeed in 2006 while he was working at Huffington Post, as it was then called, which he co-founded. In 2020, BuzzFeed — shaky but still apparently ascendant —acquired HuffPost off the hands of its latest owner, Verizon. (As I recall, they basically paid BuzzFeed to take it off their hands.)

Make no mistake: this is a significant loss. Defying its laughingstock initial reception, Buzzfeed’s news division began breaking one important story after another. From allegations against R. Kelly and Kevin Spacey, to the U.S. government’s failure to correctly account for deaths in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria, to bizarre inner-workings of investor-state dispute settlement — for which it was a Pulitzer Prize finalist — to the FinCEN Files, its reporters have broken important stories for years. I will miss it.

By the way, I got many of the above links from the membership page for Buzzfeed News which, as of writing, is still live and accepting subscription purchases.

In a memo to staff, Peretti blames his own failure to adapt to a series of rapid and significant changes as the SPAC bubble burst. This news comes after repeated layoffs and cost-cutting measures. Even so, Peretti is not resigning.

Citizen Lab Finds Three New Exploit Chains Used by NSO Group

Citizen Lab found three new ways in which NSO Group is able to get its Pegasus spyware onto devices running iOS 15 and iOS 16. That is the bad news. The good news is that Lockdown Mode, introduced with iOS 16, appears to prevent those exploit chains from working:

Apple’s Lockdown Mode feature makes signs of an attempted PWNYOURHOME attack visible to the phone’s user by displaying notifications (Figure 4). We have seen no recent notifications on Lockdown Mode, nor have we seen any evidence of successful PWNYOURHOME compromise on Lockdown Mode. Given that we have seen no indications that NSO has stopped deploying PWNYOURHOME, this suggests that NSO may have figured out a way to correct the notification issue, such as by fingerprinting Lockdown Mode.

Lockdown Mode adds many restrictions which would make a device much more cumbersome for regular users. But for high-risk users and likely targets, it should be considered essential.


Cory Doctorow:

This is enshittification: surpluses are first directed to users; then, once they’re locked in, surpluses go to suppliers; then once they’re locked in, the surplus is handed to shareholders and the platform becomes a useless pile of shit. From mobile app stores to Steam, from Facebook to Twitter, this is the enshittification lifecycle.


An enshittification strategy only succeeds if it is pursued in measured amounts. Even the most locked-in user eventually reaches a breaking-point and walks away, or gets pushed. […]

This essay has been enthusiastically passed around since it was published earlier this year, but I keep forgetting to put it into the syllabus I call a website. It is true of online platforms, software-as-a-service providers, operating systems, and services. You may quibble with individual aspects of Doctorow’s argument — tech company layoffs, for example, are probably less a result of their self-preferencing strategies and more likely because the company overbuilt itself by assuming the trend line of the pandemic would remain at a similar rate. There is little denying its compelling underlying premise, however.

Microsoft Keeps Finding New Ad Slots for Its Subscription Products in Windows 11

Kyle Barr, Gizmodo:

Microsoft’s Windows 11 Start Menu is becoming more and more like a dancing inflatable tube man gesticulating wildly outside a used car lot. The last Windows 11 update added advertisements for Microsoft’s OneDrive cloud backups for some users when they click on the little Windows icon on the desktop. Now the Redmond, Washington company wants to bombard you with more ads for its other “free” services every time you go to sign out.

Last year, Microsoft began testing upsell ads in File Explorer. Subscription services have created a conflict of interest for platform builders as they choose to relentlessly promote their revenue opportunities in parts of the system previously treated as users’ space.

Other Apps From Chinese Developers Are Also at Risk

Amy Hawkins and Helen Davidson, the Guardian:

In theory, many of the accusations that have been levelled against TikTok – such as that it is bad for children’s mental health or engages in censorship of political topics – should be less applicable to other Chinese apps that are popular in the west. Fast fashion and cheap cosmetics are less controversial than algorithmically delivered content that is seen as shaping young minds. And shopping apps like Temu and Shein are dependent on physical supply chains, so they are less able to change or mask their Chinese links.

But US lawmakers have warned that any Chinese-owned apps could be vulnerable to data privacy breaches or interference from the Chinese Communist party.

This was one of the problems with last month’s TikTok hearing: the lack of focus muddied any substantive discussion which may have accidentally occurred. Because some lawmakers were preoccupied with the effects of social media on the health of children, their questions to TikTok’s CEO were a mix of legitimate worries about all social media apps, private parenting concerns, and moral panic.1 Others spent time questioning the influence of the Chinese government, with one representative calling the app a “Chinese spy balloon in your pocket”.

Setting aside the questionable logic of that metaphor, if privacy and security are topics of concern, banning individual apps is a laughable countermeasure. Not only will it be an extraordinary amount of work — especially with all the time the government will spend in court because of how it is legally dubious — but it will be useless so long as the United States lacks strong privacy legislation.

By the way, though this Guardian article and, therefore, my response are focused on the U.S., it applies similarly to countries around the world, including the one I live in. The something we have here is better than nothing, but it is nowhere near as effective as it needs to be. The question is whether the Canadian government will grow a spine and prohibit things which will necessarily render some parts of our digital economy unviable.

  1. The recently passed bill in Montana which, upon being enacted, will ban TikTok in the state contains this excellent preamble:

    WHEREAS, TikTok fails to remove, and may even promote, dangerous content that directs minors to engage in dangerous activities, including but not limited to throwing objects at moving automobiles, taking excessive amounts of medication, lighting a mirror on fire and then attempting to extinguish it using only one’s body parts, inducing unconsciousness through oxygen deprivation, cooking chicken in NyQuil, pouring hot wax on a user’s face, attempting to break an unsuspecting passerby’s skull by tripping him or her into landing face first into a hard surface, placing metal objects in electrical outlets, swerving cars at high rates of speed, smearing human feces on toddlers, licking doorknobs and toilet seats to place oneself at risk of contracting coronavirus, attempting to climb stacks of milkcrates, shooting passersby with air rifles, loosening lug nuts on vehicles, and stealing utilities from public places […]

    Moral panic as law. Many of these either predate TikTok or are complete fiction↥︎

Twitter Removes Policies Against Deadnaming and Deliberate Misgendering


Prior to the rule change, Twitter’s Hateful Content Policy stated: “We prohibit targeting others with repeated slurs, tropes or other content that intends to dehumanize, degrade or reinforce negative or harmful stereotypes about a protected category. This includes targeted misgendering or deadnaming of transgender individuals.”

The final sentence, specific to transgender users, has since been removed. According to the Wayback Machine, the sentence referring to targeted misgendering and deadnaming was present on April 7th, but was stricken from the policy on April 8th. The previous version is here, the current version is here.

This is not the only change Twitter made to this policy, but it is a notable one. Twitter also removed a list of examples of groups of people who are more likely to be marginalized, and clarified places where it will restrict an offending tweet’s visibility.

GLAAD notes the policy against deadnaming and misgendering transgender people has been in place since 2018, and that its removal comes at a time when the humanity of trans and non-binary people is being used as a political issue by the worst kind of assholes, some of whom have associated the mere existence of people who are not cisgender with heinous criminal acts. To the extent Twitter still has policies against targeted harassment, it is — at best — unhelpful to make them more vague. But that is being generous; it is hard to read this as anything other than tacit permission for Twitter users to bully people who are trans or non-binary.

There are some people who seem to believe everything is up for debate — that we need to resolve everything from first principles over and over, just to make sure. And, look, sometimes it is fair to question whether the precedent which has been set is the correct one. But when policies are a de facto encouragement of discrimination and othering of people for who they are, it means the authors of that policy are unprincipled assholes. The humanity of people is not a debate, and policies which undermine that do not encourage careful thought. They encourage a mob.

How Dicey Rumours Get From Apple to Your Computer Screen

Macworld published two separate articles in the past few days about the recently contradictory and ever-changing Apple rumour mill. The first is by Jason Cross:

Apple is a famously secretive company, and the rumor mill for its upcoming products has never been particularly reliable or steady. And the further in the future you try to predict, the worse it gets.

But lately, it seems even our most reliable analysts, leakers, and supply chain watchers are all over the place. Their predictions disagree with one another and then turn around entirely.

And the second from Dan Moren:

The most important thing to remember about Apple rumors is the things they lack visibility into. Details like marketing and pricing, for example, tend to be far more closely held, since that information is generally the purview of the company’s high-level executives, and just doesn’t make its way down to the supply chain.

Cross is a senior editor at Macworld, pleading with analysts and reporters to “step back, take a deep breath, and give it a little time” before rushing to publish the latest rumour. But, as he documents in his article, his very publication often rushes to cover whatever is the most recent version of the iPhone 15’s volume buttons or the augmented reality headset.

This is an editorial policy which can change; Cross and fellow rumour enthusiast Michael Simon — who is the executive editor of Macworld — can make that decision.

Obviously, reasons for their not doing so may be reflective of search traffic, competitiveness, or a desire to be viewed as always current. Those are also editorial choices which may be weighed against the repetitional risk of running rumours which are questionable. It seems as though Macworld has made its choice about the balance it would like to strike, which makes it look a little rich publishing articles decrying the mercurial rumour mill.

Twitter Puts ‘Government-Funded Media’ Tag on CBC Account

CBC News, in an article posted without a byline:

Twitter has put a “government-funded media” label on CBC’s account in what is the latest move by the social media company to stamp public broadcasters with designations.


“Twitter’s own policy defines government-funded media as cases where the government ‘may have varying degrees of government involvement over editorial content,’ which is clearly not the case with CBC/Radio-Canada,” [CBC spokesperson Leon] Mar said.

On YouTube, CBC videos carry a notice that “CBC/Radio-Canada is a Canadian public broadcast service” and there is a Wikipedia link to learn more. It seems fair to acknowledge the funding of different media organizations, but these recently created labels seem intended to sow discontent and mistrust rather than to inform. You can tell because the Twitter’s definition of the difference between “government-funded media” and “publicly funded media” is, at best, vague. At worst, it invites confusion between public broadcasters and state-controlled media. Trust in media is already at perilous lows, and it is harmful to imply similarities in editorial policy between media created for a public service, and media outlets which are a mouthpiece for the state.

For a fun exercise, flip the angle: call public media “democratic broadcasters”, private media are “advertiser-funded broadcasters”, and those owned by billionaires are, for example, “Rupert Murdoch’s soapbox”. Or is that too on the nose?

Like NPR and PBS, the CBC has suspended its use of Twitter.

Update: Mere days after enacting this policy, Twitter ended this classification system for all types of media. That is, the CBC no longer carries a “government-funded media” tag, and RT — the Russian broadcaster that is funded by its government and reflects in its editorial policy its overseers political goals — lacks its “state-affiliated media” designation. The “Government Media Labels” reference document published by Twitter now results in a 404 error page; I have updated its link above with one from the Internet Archive.

Windows 11 Is a Vehicle for Upselling and Advertising

Thomas Bandt set up Windows 11 on a computer for his kid to use:

First, there was news about a mass shooting that had occurred only recently. In the middle of the search menu. The menu which was supposed to be one of the first touch points with that computer for the kid. Not okay. But after some time, I figured out how to switch that off.


So, there is basically little you can do with Windows out of the box but buy subscriptions and log into pre-installed social media apps. One thing I knew right on the spot: That’s not an environment I want my kid to make his first steps “on a real computer.” Not in a hundred years. Never.

Via Matt Birchler:

Oh, and to be clear, this isn’t some OEM addition, this is core Windows… you can’t escape this with a Surface device: this is the Windows experience as Microsoft sees it.

I am thankful I use a Windows 11 computer at my day job because it puts things into perspective. Apple’s operating systems are also full of ads for its services but it is somewhat less intrusive than what I experience on my office desktop. Neither is good for users, however. The more computer companies see their operating systems as vehicles for converting users to subscription-paying advertising-clicking customers, the more it feels like we are being taken advantage of.

Indian Government Gives Itself the Power to ‘Fact-Check’ and Delete Social Media Posts

Adnan Bhat, Rest of World:

The Indian government on April 6 announced a state-run fact-checking unit that will have sweeping powers to label any piece of information related to the government as “fake, false or misleading” and have it removed from social media. The country has tweaked its tech rules that now require platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to take down content flagged by the fact-checking body. Internet service providers are also expected to block URLs to such content. Failure to comply could result in the platforms losing safe harbor protection that safeguards them from legal action against any content posted by their users, said India’s minister of information technology, Rajeev Chandrasekhar.

Given Twitter’s new censorship-happy leadership, this effectively amounts to a worldwide policy.

Public Safety Notification Accounts Are Being Limited by Twitter’s New API Policies

Matt Binder, Mashable:

Numerous public service Twitter accounts have lost their ability to automatically post breaking news and events. Twitter has been removing API access, which allows many of these accounts to post in an authorized way by the platform, as it switches to Musk’s new high-priced paid API system.

Many of these affected Twitter accounts have automated updates, but aren’t the type of hands-off bot accounts that some may think of when they hear the term “bot.”

For example, numerous National Weather Service accounts that provide consistent updates, both automated and manually posted by humans, shared that they could no longer provide their up-to-the-minute, potentially life-saving updates.

These accounts are regional so users can follow the alerts most relevant to them. That means the National Weather Service operates hundreds of largely automated accounts. At $1,200 per year for basic API access, it very quickly becomes cheaper to hire people and pay them a healthy salary and benefits to manually tweet from these accounts. By some miracle, Twitter’s new management has found a way to reverse the ever-increasing threat of automation eliminating jobs.

By the way, Twitter finally canned the method I use for automatically posting. I have a fresh free API 2.0 key and am investigating a replacement posting method, but we should assume Twitter has little interest in being a stable long-term product. I recommend following the site directly through its JSON Feed, RSS, or on Mastodon.

Uber’s ‘Preposterous P.R. Stunt’

Alex Kantrowitz:

Like every tech company, Uber is adjusting to the end of zero interest rate policy, and its focus on drivers is partially a result. When interest rates were near zero — and growth mattered more than margin — Uber could fix a subpar driving experience by luring drivers in with bonuses. In 2021, for instance, Uber announced a $250 million ‘stimulus’ to get more drivers on the road. But now, due to market conditions, the company has less cash to throw around. So it has to focus on whether drivers actually enjoy working with it.

[Dara] Khosrowshahi’s appearance in the Wall Street Journal therefore seemed to address two audiences. 1) Wall Street investors who worry Uber can’t attract drivers without cash bonuses. 2) Drivers who might drive more via a better product experience.

For some investors, the article landed with a thud. […]

Apparently, Khosrowshahi was paid about $24 million last year. You know, when he and other executives tried using the product from a driver’s perspective — that is to say, the perspective of the people who make Uber a functional service.

Substack Should Own Its Position on Moderation

Mike Masnick, Techdirt:

Say “we believe that writers on our platform can publish anything they want, no matter how ridiculous, or hateful, or wrong.” Don’t hide from the question. You claim you’re enabling free speech, so own it. Don’t hide behind some lofty goals about “freedom of the press” when you’re really enabling “freedom of the grifters.”

You have every right to allow that on your platform. But the whole point of everyone eventually coming to terms with the content moderation learning curve, and the fact that private businesses are private and not the government, is that what you allow on your platform is what sticks to you. It’s your reputation at play.

And your reputation when you refuse to moderate is not “the grand enabler of free speech.” Because it’s the internet itself that is the grand enabler of free speech. When you’re a private centralized company and you don’t deal with hateful content on your site, you’re the Nazi bar.

“[T]he internet itself […] is the grand enabler of free speech” is the thing to take away from any question about how to moderate the web.

Montana Passes Bill Blocking Users From Downloading TikTok

Uwa Ede-Osifo, NBC News:

Montana lawmakers passed a bill Friday blocking downloads of TikTok, the most significant action yet by a state yet against the app.

The bill, SB 419, makes it illegal for app stores to give users the option to download the app and also illegal for the company to operate within the state.

The bill does not, however, make it illegal for people who already have TikTok to use the app. A previous version of the bill sought to force internet providers to block TikTok, but that language was later removed.

The bill is called, [sic] “Ban tik-tok in Montana”, and you have to give them credit for being on the nose. This has none of the weaselly “RESTRICT Act” phrasing; it is a straightforward ban of TikTok. Why mince words?

Montana’s governor still needs to sign the bill for it to become law, and he is expected to do so. It sure would be embarrassing for Montana’s lawmakers if those affected found some kind of loophole. As I have written before, I have no objection to policies which would enhance users’ privacy — but this law does not do that. It bans the TikTok app from the seventh least populous state in the U.S. without any restrictions on personal data collection.

Apple Sets 2025 Target for Using Entirely Recycled Cobalt in Its Batteries


Apple today announced a major acceleration of its work to expand recycled materials across its products, including a new 2025 target to use 100 percent recycled cobalt in all Apple-designed batteries. Additionally, by 2025, magnets in Apple devices will use entirely recycled rare earth elements, and all Apple-designed printed circuit boards will use 100 percent recycled tin soldering and 100 percent recycled gold plating.

The cobalt supply chain is notoriously dirty, with its use in the batteries of everything from personal electronics to electric cars being an ongoing source for concern. In 2017, Apple pledged to one day make its devices wholly from recycled materials. While it did not announce a timeline for doing so, this announcement gets it closer and the company’s regular progress reports indicate steps in the right direction.

Code Conference Returns September 26 With New Hosts

Oliver Darcy, in CNN’s Reliable Sources newsletter:

Vox Media is gearing up for its first Code Conference without Kara Swisher at the helm. The invite-only event, which attracts top tech execs and journalists, will be hosted this year by The Verge Editor-In-Chief Nilay Patel, Platformer founder Casey Newton, and CNBC senior reporter Julia Boorstin. Swisher, who co-founded the news-making conference with Walt Mossberg and hosted it for the past two decades, will still participate in the conference, albeit in a less outsized role. The conference, which will take place September 26 to 27, also moves to the Ritz Carlton, Laguna Niguel.

Replacing Swisher is no easy task, but I have a feeling these three hosts will be able to hold industry executives accountable.

Twitter and Hate Speech

This is all going to sound very familiar. It is something society will re-litigate a few times a year until the internet goes away instead of, you know, learning.

On Tuesday evening, the BBC’s James Clayton scored an impromptu interview with Elon Musk, which was streamed live on Twitter Spaces. It ran for about ninety minutes and the most popular clip has been a brief segment in which Clayton pressed Musk on a rise in hate speech:

Clayton: You’ve asked me whether my feed, whether it’s got less or more. I’d say it’s got slightly more.

Musk: That’s why I’m asking for examples. Can you name one example?

Clayton: I honestly don’t — honestly…

Musk: You can’t name a single example?

Musk concludes by calling Clayton a liar. It is an awkward segment to watch because it is clear how unprepared Clayton was for this exchange — but his claim is not wrong.

Mike Wendling, BBC:

Several fringe characters that were banned under the previous management have been reinstated.

They include Andrew Anglin, founder of the neo-Nazi Daily Stormer website, and Liz Crokin, one of the biggest propagators of the QAnon conspiracy theory.


Anti-Semitic tweets doubled from June 2022 to February 2023, according to research from the Institute of Strategic Dialogue (ISD). The same study found that takedowns of such content also increased, but not enough to keep pace with the surge.

Of course, this followup story appears to be a case where the broadcaster would not only like to correct the record, but also stand behind a reporter who struggled with a line of questioning he, in hindsight, should have anticipated. That may undermine readers’ confidence in it. A reader may also doubt the independence of the ISD as it counts as funders government agencies, billionaires’ foundations, and large technology companies. Research like this demands access to Twitter’s API so, if billionaire funders are bothersome, prepare for it to get much worse.

I believe those aspects are worth considering, but are secondary concerns to the findings of the ISD report (PDF). In other words, if there are methodological problems or the study’s conclusions seem contrived, that is a more immediate concern. The ISD concluded by saying two things, and implying one other: Twitter is getting better at removing antisemitic tweets on a proportional basis; Twitter is not keeping up with a doubling of the number of antisemitic tweets being posted; and the total number of antisemitic tweets is still a tiny fraction of the total tweets published daily. That any antisemitic tweets are remaining on the site is obviously not good, but a doubling of a very small number is still a very small number.

The ISD is not the only source for this kind of research. Wendling cites other sources, including the BBC’s own, to make the case that hate speech on Twitter has climbed. Just a few days ago, a preprint study on Musk’s Twitter was released seeking to understand the presence of both hate speech and bots pre- and post-acquisition. Its authors found an increase in both — though, again, still at a relatively low percentage of all tweets.

But even if it is just a handful of posts which are violative of even a baseline understanding of what constitutes hate speech, it is harmful to the person who is targeted and — if you want the detached business case for it — may have a chilling effect on their use of the platform. From Twitter’s own policies:

We recognize that if people experience abuse on Twitter, it can jeopardize their ability to express themselves. Research has shown that some groups of people are disproportionately targeted with abuse online. For those who identify with multiple underrepresented groups, abuse may be more common, more severe in nature, and more harmful.

We are committed to combating abuse motivated by hatred, prejudice or intolerance, particularly abuse that seeks to silence the voices of those who have been historically marginalized. For this reason, we prohibit behavior that targets individuals or groups with abuse based on their perceived membership in a protected category.

That is one reason why it is so important for platforms to set guidelines for permissible speech, and enforce those rules clearly and vigorously. There will always be grey area, but when a platform advertises the grey area as a space for “difficult” or “controversial” arguments, it will begin to slide. From that preprint study (PDF):

Both analyses we performed show large increases in hate speech following Musk’s purchase, with no sign of hate speech returning to previously typical levels. Prior research highlights the consequences of online hate speech, including increased anxiety in users (Saha, Chandrasekharan, and De Choudhury 2019) and offline victimization of targeted groups (Lewis, Rowe, and Wiper 2019). The effects of Twitter’s moderation policies are thus likely far-reaching and will lead to negative consequences if left unchecked.

The researchers note no causal relationship between any specific Twitter rules and the baseline rise in hate speech on the platform. But Musk’s documented views on encouraging a platform environment with fewer guidelines have effectively done the same work as an official policy change. He is an influential figure who could use his unique platform to encourage greater understanding; instead, he spends his very busy day farting out puerile memes — you are welcome — and mocking anti-racist initiatives.

The efforts of some to minimize the effects of hateful conduct as merely being words or not being the responsibility of platforms is grossly out of step with research. These are not new ideas, and we do not need to pretend that light touch moderation for only the most serious offences is an effective strategy. Twitter may not be overrun with hate speech but, for its most frequent targets, it has increasing presence.

This happens over and over again; you would think we would learn something. As I was writing this piece, a clip from the Verge’s “Decoder” podcast was published to TikTok, in which Nilay Patel asks Substack CEO Chris Best a pretty basic question about whether explicitly racist speech would be permitted in the platform’s new Notes section. That clip is not the result of crafty editing; the full transcript is an exercise by Best in equivocation and dodging. At one point, Best tries to claim “we are making a new thing […] we launched this thing one day ago”, but anyone can look at Notes and realize it is not really a new idea. If anything, its recent launch is even less of an excuse than Best believes — because it is new for Substack, it gives the company an opportunity to set reasonable standards from the first day. That it is not doing so and not learning from the work of other platforms and researchers is ridiculous.

Tim Cook’s Tenure

Chris Espinosa:

As of today, Tim Cook becomes Apple’s longest-serving CEO at 4250 days in the seat.

Espinosa appears to be excluding Steve Jobs’ time serving as the interim CEO from September 1997 through January 2000. I think that is fair but, if you include it, Cook still has until the end of July 2025 before he eclipses Jobs’ record.

Dril Is Just This Guy Named Paul

Nate Rogers interviewed Paul Dochney, better known to everyone as dril, for the Ringer:

Perhaps no artist has done more to push forward the conversation about how social media can exist in the artistic realm than Jacob Bakkila, who ran Horse_ebooks as part of a larger artistic collaboration with Thomas Bender. The Horse_ebooks project was deliberately ended in 2013 — “No one wants to work on a painting forever,” Bakkila said at the time — and Bakkila, who now works in advertising in addition to his ongoing work as a multimedia artist, spoke thoughtfully to me over video call about the promise of art in the digital landscape. But of anyone I talked to, he was the most concerned about the risk of overintellectualizing Dril’s act — of being the type of person who, in his analogy, would study photosynthesis but forget to watch “the leaves change color.”

“He’s a poster,” Bakkila said. “And I think that there’s a great beauty to that because it’s also the native language of the internet. … It’s what the internet is designed to do, is to let you post on it. And it goes deeper — in that sense, it’s more profound than comedy, although obviously he’s very funny. And it’s more profound than art, although obviously he’s artistic. But I think first and foremost, he’s a poster. And he’s the best one we have.”

Agreed, obviously. Do not miss the deranged New Yorker-esque cartoons based on classic dril tweets.