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Pixel Envy

Pixel Envy is a sassy weblog written by Nick Heer about topics concerning technology and policy, Apple, Silicon Valley, and privacy.

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Apple’s New ‘Everything’ Gift Cards

Permalink - Posted on 2020-08-10 20:22, modified at 21:45

This thankfully marks the end of mixing up iTunes gift cards and Apple Store ones. Sure would be nice if one of these “Everything Apple” gift cards could be used to subscribe to an “Everything Apple” bundle of services, though.

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White House Executive Order on WeChat Risks Snarling Global Business

Permalink - Posted on 2020-08-10 20:14, modified at 20:19

Zheping Huang and Vlad Savov, Bloomberg:

The White House’s vaguely worded edict left a lot of open questions about how broadly the ban would be applied and the full ramifications for Tencent Holdings Ltd. But it likely gets WeChat bumped off Apple and Google’s app stores in 45 days, which means at least suspending updates for a service vital to everything from engineers talking with iPhone assemblers to Chinese people video-chatting with family back home.

If the ban extends to a block on its use, that threatens to eventually sever those ties because WeChat is the go-to for a billion people for everything from booking movie and train tickets to shopping, and alternatives like WhatsApp are blocked in China. The potential ructions underscore Tencent’s pivotal role within the global tech and internet economies, as a juggernaut with deep investments or connections with American businesses from Activision Blizzard Inc. and Snap Inc. to the NBA.

“It would practically shut down communication between the U.S. and China,” said Graham Webster, China Digital Economy Fellow at think tank New America. “These orders just wrap the real issues up in political theater.”

WeChat is, as Ben Thompson put it, “the most important layer of the smartphone stack” in China, and it remains so for many of those with family and friends in the country. Ming-Chi Kuo, in a note to investors, estimates that iPhone shipments would drop significantly if Apple could not keep WeChat in the App Store. I’m not weeping at the thought of fewer sales; this as an indication of just how important WeChat is. At the extreme end, these clumsy executive orders could be as powerful a motivator as antitrust action for a change in how apps work on iOS.

In the short term, it means that people and businesses around the world may be cut off from family, friends, customers, and a substantial source of income.

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How Pro-Trump Forces Work the Refs in Silicon Valley

Permalink - Posted on 2020-08-10 20:09

Ben Smith, New York Times:

But the referees who really matter nowadays are no longer the big media companies. The new referees are the Silicon Valley giants that control what we see when we search, browse or post online. But some in the news media learned lessons from back then, ones that Silicon Valley chief executives would be wise to reflect on this election season.

The biggest one is about false balance, and false symmetry. The American right and left have never been mirror images of each other. They’re different sorts of coalitions, with different histories and strategies.

And in the Trump era, a specific kind of misinformation on social media is a central tactic of the right. President Trump says false and misleading things at a remarkable rate — more than 20,000 so far in his presidency, according to a Washington Post tracker — and a whole constellation of blogs and websites, like The Gateway Pundit, support and amplify that strategy.

Facebook, Google and Twitter are making the same mistakes the news media made decades ago, looking for balance rather than confronting the plain reality of the moment.

This entire article is very good and is worth your time, but one section in particular seems to be misinterpreted:

But “the C.E.O. of Google can’t just come out and say, ‘The signals your site is sending and fact-checks on your content have created a problem for our company, and therefore we down-rank it,’” said Joan Donovan, the research director of Harvard’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy. “Admitting that humans are often at the helm of decisions to curate content implies they are a media company and not simply infrastructure.”

Steve Katz, publisher of Mother Jones, believes this is the case because, if Google et al. admit that they adjust ranking signals, they “are *publishers* and not platforms, [and] the entire regulatory rulebook changes”. This argument is nonsense. The sole reason Google cannot directly say that humans are involved is because it would be a public relations nightmare. But it would be the right and honest thing to do.

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‘The United States Has Embroiled Itself in a War It Cannot Win and Has No Business Fighting’

Permalink - Posted on 2020-08-07 23:01

Sarah Jeong, the Verge:

TikTok does gather a lot of personal data, but it’s no more than what Facebook and other social networks also gather. The difference between TikTok and Facebook is that we have a great deal of transparency into the process by which Facebook gives your information to various governments. And specifically, Facebook does not release data to the Chinese government.

When it comes down to it, the thorniest privacy dispute of 2020 isn’t about privacy or technology at all — it’s about China. The question “Is Facebook better, worse, or the same as TikTok?” is more or less the same as “Is the United States better, worse, or the same as China?”

And in 2020, this is becoming a genuinely difficult question to answer. China is detaining over a million Uighurs in internment camps, citing national security issues. The United States detains migrants in its own internment camps, even going as far as to place children in cages. China is not a democracy; the American president has proposed to unconstitutionally delay this year’s election. China brutally represses its political dissidents; in America, law enforcement in military camouflage have grabbed protesters off the streets and shoved them into unmarked vans.

This is probably the best piece I’ve read about the executive orders against WeChat and TikTok, and the so-called “Clean Network” policies that Mike Pompeo is promoting. There remain vast differences between U.S. and China policies, but the trick to maintaining the moral high ground is to not simultaneously narrow the gap, as the U.S. is presently doing.

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John Giannandrea and Bob Borchers Explain Apple’s Machine Learning Strategy

Permalink - Posted on 2020-08-07 20:00

Samuel Axon, Ars Technica:

In the wake of the Apple Silicon announcement, I spoke at length with John Giannandrea, Apple’s Senior Vice President for Machine Learning and AI Strategy, as well as with Bob Borchers, VP of Product Marketing. They described Apple’s AI philosophy, explained how machine learning drives certain features, and argued passionately for Apple’s on-device AI/ML strategy.

[…]

Both Giannandrea and Borchers made an impassioned case in our conversation that the features we just went over are possible because of—not in spite of—the fact that all the work is done locally on the device.

[…]

Borchers and Giannandrea both repeatedly made points about the privacy implications of doing this work in a data center, but Giannandrea said that local processing is also about performance.

If you spend your free time reading the white papers Apple prepares about various iOS and MacOS features, you probably know a fair amount of what Giannandrea and Borchers discuss in this interview. If, like me, you do not, you will likely learn from it.

One thing Axon appears not to have asked is how Apple grades the success of a machine learning model. For example, I noticed an apparent degradation in automatic typing corrections on my iPhone that coincided with switching from prioritizing nearest-neighbour keys based on dictionary likelihood to a differential privacy model in iOS 10. I have no idea if there was an actual quality reduction, nor if it was connected with the change in autocorrect engine. Perhaps it is more reliable at changing the spelling of obscure place names and public figures, for example. But it continues to bizarrely capitalize common words, and change things that I have typed several words prior when it thinks the context has changed.

Is this an actual difference? Am I misremembering the way autocorrect used to work for me? How does Apple’s machine learning team know when a change to something as crucial to the device as the keyboard is a success?

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U.S. Government Contractors Embedded Software in Apps to Track Phone Locations

Permalink - Posted on 2020-08-07 19:15, modified at 19:16

Byron Tau, Wall Street Journal:

Anomaly Six LLC, a Virginia-based company founded by two U.S. military veterans with a background in intelligence, said in marketing material it is able to draw location data from more than 500 mobile applications, in part through its own software development kit, or SDK, that is embedded directly in some of the apps. An SDK allows the company to obtain the phone’s location if consumers have allowed the app containing the software to access the phone’s GPS coordinates.

App publishers often allow third-party companies, for a fee, to insert SDKs into their apps. The SDK maker then sells the consumer data harvested from the app, and the app publisher gets a chunk of revenue. But consumers have no way to know whether SDKs are embedded in apps; most privacy policies don’t disclose that information. Anomaly Six says it embeds its own SDK in some apps, and in other cases gets location data from other partners.

Tau reports that Anomaly Six tracks the location of “hundreds of millions of mobile phones” but, citing the opacity of the data brokerage world, was not able to determine which apps include its SDK. Tau also reports that the founders of Anomaly Six used to work for Babel Street, which offers a similar privacy hellscape called “Locate X”:

Babel Street doesn’t publicly advertise Locate X and binds clients and users to secrecy about even its existence, according to contracts and user agreements reviewed by the Journal. Developed with input from U.S. government officials, according to court records, Locate X is widely used by military intelligence units who work on gathering “open source” intelligence, or information taken from publicly available sources. Babel Street also has contracts with the Department of Homeland Security, the Justice Department, and many other civilian agencies, federal contracting data shows. Babel Street didn’t respond to a request for comment.

So the U.S. government is comfy with the risk of starting another Cold War over apparent mass privacy violations by foreign actors on moral absolutist grounds, and is also content with having location back doors into hundreds of millions of phones. Got it.

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The Case Against Automotive Bloat

Permalink - Posted on 2020-08-07 18:42, modified at 18:43

Ryan Cooper, the Week:

This behemoth design trend — particularly the very tall, square front end seen in so many SUVs and trucks today — is both pointless and dangerous. Manufacturers have known for years that this style of vehicle is much more dangerous to pedestrians and cyclists, yet they keep making them bigger, taller, and heavier. Trucks and SUVs now make up fully 70 percent of all new cars sold in the U.S. Their bloated design is killing people, especially pedestrians.

[…]

Furthermore, the specific design trend of the massive hood sticking way out in front of the driver, with a cliff-face front grille obstructing the view several feet out in front of the wheels, is entirely a marketing gimmick. The explicit point is to create an angry, aggressive face that will intimidate others, especially pedestrians. Don’t take it from me, take it from the guy who designed the latest GM Sierra HD: “The front end was always the focal point… we spent a lot of time making sure that when you stand in front of this thing it looks like it’s going to come get you. It’s got that pissed-off feel,” he told Muscle Cars & Trucks. “The face of these trucks is where the action is,” marketing expert Mark Schirmer told the Wall Street Journal’s Dan Neil, “a Ford has to say Ford from head on, a Chevy must shout Chevy. Every pickup has become a rolling brand billboard and the billboards are big.” And as Neil discovered when he was nearly run down in a Costco parking lot, that massive grille creates a massive blind spot.

I don’t know if it’s my imagination, but the intimidation factor of cars seems to have ratcheted up in just the past few years. Take exhaust volume, too: pickup trucks are notoriously loud but, increasingly, the noise that echoes from the intersection where I live are from Audis and Mercedes-Benzes. It used to be relegated to the sportier models — the S- and RS-line Audis, for example — but it seems to have spread throughout the model lineup. I love a good six- or eight-cylinder soundtrack, but not at 7:30 on a Sunday morning and especially not constantly. I live on busy roads, I get it, but it seems to be far more interruptive than it used to be.

Cars aren’t just getting bigger and badder; they’re also getting more expensive. Erik Shilling, Jalopnik:

Now, the fact that the Honda Fit, Chevy Cruze, Chevy Sonic, Toyota Yaris, Ford Fiesta, and Mazda 2 are no longer with us or will soon be no longer with us is in many ways very explainable, in that automakers don’t make very much money on these cars, consumer preference is trending away from small cars, and because gas is cheap there’s currently less of an argument for them for new car buyers. I get it! That’s fine! I’m over it!

What actually worries me, however, is the second and third stats there, the ones that say that deliveries in the $20,000–$30,000 range are falling off a cliff and that the average price of a new car is nearly $39,000 (!). I know this has been happening for years now, but the more and more this drifts upward the more it’s hard to shake the feeling that we collectively are the proverbial frog in a pot of water slowly about to boil to death.

The thing that worries me most about this is that the number of cars sold has been dropping for years, but the average cost of a sale has been increasing. That means that, while sales of entry-level cars have disappeared, those who do purchase a new car are likely spending more than they budgeted for.

By the way, this correlates with a creeping increase in financing terms to nearly six years; in Canada, half of new car loans are for over seven years. Wages haven’t kept pace with the average price of a new car, either and, in many cities in Canada and the United States, public transit is a mess.

Sitting in a new car cloaks the driver in the pretence of dominance while they worry about their next payment, when all they really wanted was a way to commute and run errands in comfort and maybe with a bit of attitude. Whatever happened to a fun car? The U.S. and Canadian markets are so interconnected that it is nearly impossible here to get something small and inexpensive that can bring a smile to your face whenever you drive it. I do not like this SUV and truck trend at all.

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Judge Agrees to End Paramount Consent Decrees

Permalink - Posted on 2020-08-07 17:56, modified at 17:57

U.S. regulators give the impression of cracking down on antitrust practices while allowing communications and entertainment conglomerates to grow even more powerful. There cannot be a serious conversation about policies to improve competition while ignoring the giants of the telecom industry.

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The 2020 iMac and the Osborne Effect

Permalink - Posted on 2020-08-07 04:49, modified at 04:50

I thought Marques Brownlee’s review of the updated iMac was a good demonstration of its new webcam and the nano-texture display. I particularly enjoyed the way he explored the wisdom of buying one, given that Apple’s first Macs based on their own processors will be announced in the coming months.

It’s a tricky question, but I say that any computer is multi-year investment. If you’re in the market for a new Mac, it is not a bad time to buy one. If I needed to replace a computer, I would pick one of these things up without hesitation. Though I am sure that Apple is planning a smooth transition and I anticipate most high-profile developers are eager to ensure the same for their customers, my risk tolerance is such that I would be wary of buying the first generation of Apple Silicon Macs. The devil you know, and all that.

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U.S. ‘Clean Network’ Campaign Attempts to Wall Off Chinese Hardware, Software, and Cloud Services

Permalink - Posted on 2020-08-07 04:30, modified at 05:51

Jane Li, Quartz:

Under the expanded initiative, which focuses on five areas, “untrusted” Chinese telecom carriers, apps, and cloud service providers including Alibaba, Tencent, and Baidu will be prevented from storing or processing US user data, being downloaded from US app stores, or connected to the US telecom system. Moreover, Chinese smartphone makers such as Huawei will be prevented from pre-installing or offering downloads of some US or foreign apps. Undersea cables that connect the US to the global internet will also be scrutinized by the US government.

While the announcement does not give a timeline of the initiative or explain whether it is compulsory for American entities to comply, the announcement is an escalation of the country’s efforts to divide the internet between China and the US. Most recently, the US has made a series of threats to ban Chinese apps including TikTok and WeChat, citing their threats to national security. TikTok will either have to be sold to a US company such as Microsoft, or face shutting down by the Sept. 15 deadline given by the White House. A growing number of US allies are also following suit in choosing to exclude Chinese telecoms equipment maker Huawei from their 5G networks.

Wall Street Journal reporter Te-Ping Chen:

Wincing at the choice of language here. did we really need to use ‘clean,’ redolent as it is w/years of slurs against Chinese people as being dirty & diseased?

Rachel Lerman, Washington Post:

President Trump issued two executive orders late Thursday against China-based TikTok and messaging app WeChat, citing national security concerns in a sweeping order that could prevent the companies from doing most business in the United States.

The orders take effect in 45 days and prohibits any U.S. company or person from transacting with ByteDance, TikTok’s Chinese parent company, or WeChat. While the nature of the banned transactions are not specific, it may mean the companies would not be able to appear on Apple’s App Store or Google’s Play Store in the United States. It also could make it illegal for U.S. companies to purchase advertising on TikTok.

But the order should not affect a deal if Microsoft or another U.S. firm manages to buy TikTok before the 45 days are up.

As Lerman reports, this order is probably a way to force a faster sale of TikTok to a U.S.-based firm. Still, that leaves in place the restrictions of the similar WeChat order. This is all very concerning, of course.

Ryan Mac and Craig Silverman, reporting for Buzzfeed News before these executive orders were issued:

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg told his employees Thursday that banning TikTok in the United States would set “a really bad long-term precedent.”

[…]

While Zuckerberg noted that TikTok, banned in India in June, was being hit now, he alluded to the idea that a Facebook product could become a target for another country later. He did, however, sympathize with the Trump administration’s national security concerns.

From the text of the executive order concerning TikTok:

TikTok also reportedly censors content that the Chinese Communist Party deems politically sensitive, such as content concerning protests in Hong Kong and China’s treatment of Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities. This mobile application may also be used for disinformation campaigns that benefit the Chinese Communist Party, such as when TikTok videos spread debunked conspiracy theories about the origins of the 2019 Novel Coronavirus.

This guy is complaining about TikTok spreading pandemic conspiracy theories? This guy? This guy? This fucking guy?

If I’m reading all of this right, the U.S. government has set a forty-five day countdown on a prohibition of financial relationships with TikTok and WeChat, citing concerns about the amount of data both apps collect on their users, and theft of intellectual property. This is likely to cause retaliation, according to the chief executive of a company that just released a clone of TikTok. The U.S. government is slowly building something like an all-American Patriotic Firewall of Freedom, but is dragging its feet on any regulation of personal data collection more generally.

I don’t mean to imply that the Chinese and U.S. governments are exactly equal in their nationalist policies. Clearly, while some officials in the U.S. have newfound enthusiasm for neo-McCarthyist xenophobia, they are presently in the strongman G League compared to the actions of the Chinese government in Xinjiang and its attempts to exert power in Hong Kong. There are very real differences in the alleged mining of data by a totalitarian government, and the collection of data by private companies which sometimes hand it over to a democratic government, and they should not be falsely equivocated.

But these U.S. government actions are deeply concerning for their outward display of power, while likely having little material effect. Shoshana Wodinsky, Gizmodo:

Ironically enough, this means that, in a sense, the Trump administration’s worst nightmares about offshore data sharing are kind of reality — only it has nothing to do with whether the platform is based in the U.S. or anywhere else. The entire clusterfuck of digital dollars that fuels our internet has essentially flattened state lines by promising people that they can tap into any consumer, anywhere they want—for a price.

The layers of intermediary partners mean that even if TikTok (or Google, or any other major tech player) swears up and down that it keeps any user data here in the U.S., that point is mostly moot. As soon as a foreign intermediary gets its hands on the data, any liability — or really, any control — is largely out of a U.S.-based company’s hands. Hell, even if you try to wedge a company like Microsoft in there, the point is still moot, because it has a massive footprint in Shanghai that helps local brands use Bing to target “high-end” consumers in America and abroad.

All of this almost certainly has nothing to do with keeping U.S. users safe from whatever as-yet unproven dangers that are apparently exclusive to Chinese-made apps, and everything to do with exerting power and influence. Here’s hoping for a day sometime soon when neither country is run by people intoxicated by their own machismo.

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Apple Is Prohibiting Cloud-Based Gaming Services From the App Store Because It Cannot Review or Approve Each Game

Permalink - Posted on 2020-08-06 22:34, modified on 2020-08-08 18:03

Ben Gilbert, Business Insider:

This September, Microsoft plans to launch a major coup in the video game business: The world’s first game streaming service with a built-in library, Netflix-style.

For $15 a month, you’ll be able to stream over 100 games to smartphones and tablets — but it won’t be available on Apple’s ubiquitous iPhone and iPad.

[…]

“Our customers enjoy great apps and games from millions of developers, and gaming services can absolutely launch on the App Store as long as they follow the same set of guidelines applicable to all developers, including submitting games individually for review, and appearing in charts and search,” Apple said in a statement to Business Insider. “In addition to the App Store, developers can choose to reach all iPhone and iPad users over the web through Safari and other browsers on the App Store.”

A similar service offered by Google, named Google Stadia, has also run into roadblocks with Apple’s App Store guidelines. It’s available on Android phones and tablets, but not Apple devices.

The App Store guidelines also prohibit “displaying third-party apps, extensions, or plug-ins similar to the App Store” and apps that “create alternate desktop/home screen environments”. Even if Microsoft or Google went through the trouble of submitting each game individually, it is very possible that their library app would not be permitted either — the Stadia launcher may be seen differently from a “player” or “reader” app.

Any way you cut it, this is not a great look just a week after Tim Cook testified before a U.S. government committee on allegations of antitrust behaviour.

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Facebook and Twitter Moderate Trump Campaign Accounts for Posting Covid-19 Misinformation, But YouTube Does Nothing About the Source Interview

Permalink - Posted on 2020-08-06 05:55, modified at 06:34

Heather Kelly, Washington Post:

Facebook and Twitter on Wednesday took extraordinary action against President Trump for spreading coronavirus misinformation after his official and campaign accounts broke their rules, respectively.

Facebook removed from Trump’s official account the post of a video clip from a Fox News interview in which he said children are “almost immune” from covid-19. Twitter required his Team Trump campaign account to delete a tweet with the same video, blocking it from tweeting in the interim.

In the removed video, President Trump can be heard in a phone interview saying schools should open. He goes on to say, “If you look at children, children are almost — and I would almost say definitely — but almost immune from this disease,” and that they have stronger immune systems.

For clarity, the lower risk of serious effects in children does not mean the same thing as “almost immune”, and there are children and adults in schools. The latter is just the president being his usual thoughtless self, but the former absolutely is bad information about disease risk coming from the loudest American voice.

PBS reporter Yamiche Alcindor:

This is the first time a Trump post has been removed for COVID-19 misinformation.

Facebook has also in the past removed posts by the Trump campaign which used symbols also used by Nazis.

Evelyn Douek:

Still on YouTube. And let’s not forget — as we too often do in this context — the original was a Fox News interview.

The YouTube video doesn’t even carry the virus advisory banner that the company has been attaching to other videos on the topic.

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Cutting Out the Adtech Middlemen

Permalink - Posted on 2020-08-05 20:06

Gilad Edelman, Wired:

In May 2018, as the European Union’s landmark privacy law, the General Data Protection Regulation, went into effect, the main Dutch public broadcaster set in motion a grand experiment. The leadership at Nederlandse Publieke Omroep — essentially the BBC of the Netherlands — interpreted the law strictly, deciding that visitors to any of its websites would now be prompted to opt in or out of cookies, the tracking technology that enables personalized ads based on someone’s browsing history. And, unlike with most companies, who assume that anyone who skips past a privacy notice is okay with tracking, any NPO visitor who clicked past the obtrusive consent screen without making a choice would be opted out by default.

[…]

On the whole, the new tracking-free ad server was performing so well that NPO decided to abandon cookies entirely beginning in 2020. As of January, visitors aren’t even asked to opt in or out; the site simply doesn’t track anyone. The results have been striking. In January and February of this year, NPO says that its digital ad revenue was up 62 percent and 79 percent, respectively, compared to last year. Even after the coronavirus pandemic jolted the global economy and caused brands to scale advertising drastically back — and forcing many publications to implement pay cuts and layoffs — its revenues are still double-digit percentage points higher than last year.

The main explanation is simple: because the network is no longer relying on microtargeted programmatic ad tech, it now keeps what advertisers spend rather than giving a huge cut to a bunch of middlemen. A report by the Incorporated Society of British Advertisers found that fully half the money spent by advertisers was getting sucked up by various ad tech companies before it got to the publisher running the ads. Even Google publicly states that when an advertiser and publisher both use Google’s platforms to buy and sell programmatic ads, Google takes more than 30 percent of the money. That’s before factoring in other players in the hyper-complicated digital advertising world, as well as the ever-present problem of fraudulent sites sucking up money in exchange for fake clicks.

Companies that build ad targeting are surely more enthused about tracking individual users because they can get a cut of the revenue stream, not because it is actually better for anyone. It doesn’t matter to them that they are buying that cut from struggling publishers and entirely corrupting user privacy in the process. In much of the world, it is an unregulated industry that offers huge growth potential at virtually no risk of a bad reputation — there are thousands of marketing technology companies that nobody outside of the industry can name.

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White House Retracts Renomination of FCC Commissioner Mike O’Rielly

Permalink - Posted on 2020-08-05 05:19, modified at 05:20

Jon Brodkin, reporting in June for Ars Technica:

Michael O’Rielly, part of the FCC’s 3-2 Republican majority, says he has doubts about whether the FCC has authority to implement Trump’s order regarding Twitter and other online platforms. With Republican Commissioner Brendan Carr having enthusiastically endorsed Trump’s executive order and Democrats opposed to it, the views of O’Rielly and Chairman Ajit Pai will play a big role in determining the outcome.

O’Rielly discussed the topic on C-SPAN last week, saying he won’t take a position until he has researched the topic more thoroughly. “I haven’t taken a position because I have to do my homework,” O’Rielly said, adding that he has “deep reservations” that the FCC has authority to act as Trump directed.

Paul Mclane, reporting last week for Radio World:

And he opined on the First Amendment, criticizing “certain opportunists” who claim to advocate for the amendment “but who are only willing to defend it when convenient and constantly shift its meaning to fit their current political objectives.”

He said, “We should all reject demands, in the name of the First Amendment, for private actors to curate or publish speech in a certain way. I shudder to think of a day in which the Fairness Doctrine could be reincarnated by some other name, especially at the ironic behest of so-called speech ‘defenders.’”

And he said the amendment’s protections apply to corporate entities, “especially when they engage in editorial decision making. It is time to stop allowing purveyors of First Amendment gibberish to claim they support more speech, when their actions make clear that they would actually curtail it through government action.”

Tom McKay, Gizmodo:

The White House has yanked its nomination to give GOP Federal Communications Commissioner Mike O’Rielly another term at the agency, offering no explanation as to why.

[…]

Another simpler, more migraine-triggering reason, though, might be that the White House thinks O’Rielly is standing in the way of its effort to have the FCC investigate and punish tech companies for alleged discrimination against conservatives. In late May, Trump issued an executive order that would direct the FCC to look into claims tech companies are secretly plotting to deplatform and censor right-wingers — a conspiracy theory that has become one of his administration’s major talking points — and threaten those companies with the loss of key Section 230 liability protections.

This line of speculation is not outlandish; former FCC special counsel Gigi Sohn heard the same. It is also reflective of meddling in an independent body that would once be seen as scandalous and worthy of an investigation — recall, for instance, the time FCC Commissioner Tom Wheeler was hauled in front of a House panel because President Obama said net neutrality was important.

Quick side note: even though this administration and its acolytes are obsessed with the delusion that conservatives are somehow treated unfairly by social media companies, they do not seem eager to prove it. Republican representatives derailed last week’s antitrust hearing and the President issued an order in May to investigate “selective censorship”, but the White House has not yet passed along the complaints it received about social media bias to the FTC, as it said it would. It has been months; how long can it possibly take to email a CSV file?

The White House is apparently so upset with O’Rielly for correctly stating that companies are allowed to moderate their platforms as they choose that it won’t give him another term, but it will not follow through with the underlying documentation to support its Executive Order.

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Fellow Apple Fellows

Permalink - Posted on 2020-08-04 23:08

Here’s a great story from Andy Hertzfeld:

Bill [Atkinson] explained how upset he was that he didn’t get any recognition for his work on Lisa, his voice hesitant at first, but picking up conviction as he started to get emotional. He told Steve that he was thinking about leaving Apple, because he was treated so unfairly.

[…]

The following week, Steve arranged for Bill to meet with Apple’s HR team, to discuss what was bothering him. Bill reiterated that his main complaint was getting recognition for his work. After more discussions with Steve, they came up with something that was mutually acceptable to everyone.

The solution was to appoint Bill as an Apple Fellow, in recognition for his work on the Lisa. Apple Fellow was the most prestigious technical position at Apple, awarded to only two employees so far: Steve Wozniak and Rod Holt. Now there would be two more, Bill Atkinson and Rich Page, who also made seminal contributions to Lisa. A fringe benefit of being appointed an Apple Fellow was a fresh pile of stock options, which could be quite valuable if Apple’s stock price continued to rise.

Phil Schiller is now one of very few people to have earned this internal Apple distinction — and he has absolutely earned it. Earlier today, I wrote that it is a “euphemistic way for a graceful eventual transition out of Apple” — euphemism was not exactly the right word to use. Honorary is closer.

So much for that claim a few years ago, from a former Advanced Technology Group senior manager, that “Phil is not a technology guy”.

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Greg Joswiak Is Apple’s New SVP of Worldwide Marketing, While Phil Schiller Becomes an Apple Fellow

Permalink - Posted on 2020-08-04 18:27, modified at 22:48

Steve Kovach, CNBC:

Apple announced on Tuesday that longtime marketing boss Phil Schiller will step down from his role and be replaced by one of his deputies, Greg Joswiak, who now has Schiller’s former title of vice president of worldwide marketing.

Schiller will continue to work at Apple as an “Apple Fellow,” the company said, and will continue his role as the boss of Apple’s App Store and company events. Schiller will also continue to report to Apple CEO Tim Cook. Schiller has worked at Apple since 1987.

This is a huge change. Joz and Schiller have each been at Apple for decades; Schiller has been at the executive level since 2002. This is a big promotion for Joz.

It is also a curious change for Schiller. Making him a Fellow seems like a euphemistic way for a graceful eventual transition out of Apple, but I used the word “curious” because Joz’s responsibilities won’t include the App Store or events. This has surely been a difficult year on both fronts — between antitrust concerns and high-profile developer problems on the App Store, and figuring out alternative arrangements for WWDC and product launches. It’s probably not the best time to hand those responsibilities off to someone else. For what it’s worth, Schiller says that he will “keep working [at Apple] as long as they will have me”.

Apple’s executive level has shifted steadily since just before Tim Cook took the reins as CEO. Aside from Cook, Jeff Williams is the only consistent headshot on the page. Eddy Cue was not a member of Apple’s leadership team until 2012, the same year Bob Mansfield announced his retirement only to un-retire as a non-executive.

Please enjoy this classic video of Schiller dropping in at Macworld 1999.

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iMac Range Updated With SSDs and T2 Chips, and Faster Processors and Better Displays in the 27-Inch Models

Permalink - Posted on 2020-08-04 17:14

Apple Newsroom:

Apple today announced a major update to its 27-inch iMac. By far the most powerful and capable iMac ever, it features faster Intel processors up to 10 cores, double the memory capacity, next-generation AMD graphics, superfast SSDs across the line with four times the storage capacity, a new nano-texture glass option for an even more stunning Retina 5K display, a 1080p FaceTime HD camera, higher fidelity speakers, and studio-quality mics. For the consumer using their iMac all day, every day, to the aspiring creative looking for inspiration, to the serious pro pushing the limits of their creativity, the new 27-inch iMac delivers the ultimate desktop experience that is now better in every way.

[…]

Apple today also announced that its 21.5-inch iMac will come standard with SSDs across the line for the first time. Customers can also choose to configure their 21.5-inch iMac with a Fusion Drive.

Maybe the best news here is that it is no longer possible to get a spinning hard disk in any Mac. Recent versions of MacOS, whether because of system changes or APFS, simply do not work acceptably when running on hard disks. Fusion drives are not much better, but I understand why it is an option.

The display updates sound terrific. I would love True Tone and a matte display in my iMac. The “nano-texture” display is a $500 (U.S.) extra — half the cost of the equivalent option on the Pro Display XDR.

The iMac Pro was also slightly updated:

iMac Pro now comes standard with a 10-core Intel Xeon processor. Designed for pro users who require workstation-class performance, iMac Pro features Xeon processors up to 18 cores, graphics performance up to 22 teraflops, up to 256GB quad-channel ECC memory, and a brilliant 27-inch Retina 5K display.

You cannot spec an iMac Pro with a matte display, nor does it have the better speakers and microphones of the 27-inch iMac. Who would buy one today? The only customer I can think of is someone whose workflow prioritizes as many processor cores as possible and, understandably, cannot afford a Mac Pro.

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U.S. President and Wispy-Haired Bag of Angry Wasps Donald Trump Demands ‘Key Money’ Cut of Microsoft’s Proposed TikTok Acquisition

Permalink - Posted on 2020-08-03 21:59, modified on 2020-08-04 01:41

MG Siegler:

Just when you thought the TikTok situation couldn’t get anymore strange and dramatic, Microsoft publishes a corporate blog post today that is nothing short of remarkable. To be clear, the content of the post is rather bland, but the fact that it exists is fascinating. As is its framing.

Just read the thing. It’s almost like a letter of fealty. It reads like something a Chinese company might write under the Chinese government. To that end, it reads as if it was written at the behest of the government. Maybe that’s too strong. Maybe? How about: “Hey Satya, great conversation today. It sure would be nice if you could outline what we discussed publicly.” That kind of thing.

Microsoft fully appreciates the importance of addressing the President’s concerns. It is committed to acquiring TikTok subject to a complete security review and providing proper economic benefits to the United States, including the United States Treasury.

This is an actual paragraph in the post. The second paragraph, no less. What on Earth?! Is Treasury getting a finder’s fee here?

Apparently so. Fadel Allassan, Axios:

President Trump said Monday that TikTok will be shut down in the U.S. if it hasn’t been bought by Microsoft or another company by Sept. 15, and argued — without elaborating — that the U.S. Treasury should get “a very substantial portion” of the sale fee.

In the Fox News clip embedded by Allassan, Trump justifies this demand by saying that the United States government is “making it possible for this deal to happen”. That’s true, but only in the sense that TikTok scrambled to find a buyer because Trump threatened its existence in the lucrative U.S. market.

He related this to “key money” — the practice of demanding money from a tenant above their rent. In the New York market, which Trump would be most familiar with, it is legal for commercial tenants but illegal and extremely shady for residential properties.

If you would rather not listen to Trump explain this let’s-call-it-reasoning, Alex Wilhelm of TechCrunch has transcribed it.

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Say Hello to the ‘Hustle Economy’

Permalink - Posted on 2020-08-03 00:36, modified at 00:37

Caitlin Deweym, OneZero:

The Covid-19 pandemic crushed vast swaths of the economy, slashing consumer demand, closing businesses, and vaporizing millions of jobs. But it’s been good to the nascent sliver of the digital economy that helps people channel their existing skills into sellable services and products.

Such products range from ebooks and meal plan templates to online classes, podcasts, membership clubs, newsletters, and porn. They proliferate on platforms including Patreon, Twitch, Substack, Etsy, Teachable, Knowable, Podia, Thinkific, Supercast, Lulu, Smashwords, Outschool, OnlyFans, and Gumroad.

These platforms generally take a cut of each sale made, ranging from 5% to 50%, or charge a recurring fee to sellers for accessing their market. Tech investors have dubbed this the “passion economy,” a place where anyone can profit doing what she loves. But because that term risks both exaggerating the payoffs of this work and obscuring its ties to the gig economy, the last great labor “disruption,” we might better call it the “hustle economy:” an online labor market in which platform-dependent workers create and monetize their own digital products. Like Uber drivers or Instacart shoppers, workers in the hustle economy need a platform to succeed. But their work is individualized, self-directed, and on their own schedule — one “creator” can’t substitute for another.

I dislike the phrase “hustle economy”; hustle has taken on the unfortunate characteristics of overwork and glorified exhaustion. But, no matter what you call it, this article presents a good case for the precipitous delight that comes with having a more direct relationship between businesses and patrons.

It’s kind of personal to me, too. One of the things I have struggled with is figuring out a way to unobtrusively defer the costs of running this website, at the very least, and perhaps granting it a greater role in my life than just something I write when I am not at my day job. Many years ago, I added Carbon’s advertising to the sidebar, which does help pay the bills. Other revenue sources — referral links and the like — neither fit with the kinds of things that I write about nor pay well enough to justify the infrequency of their use. I also don’t know that sponsored posts make a lot of sense for what I do here.

A little while ago, I experimented with starting a Patreon page, where readers can give me money every month in exchange for nothing. I am truly terrible at business matters. Accordingly, I have never promoted it here aside from a link I added to the sidebar.

Here’s the pitch: I am comfortable writing this website for free. I have done so for nearly ten years now, and have no intention of paywalling it or restricting posts. I would write here forever for no readers, as it’s one way for me to organize my thoughts on a handful of industries that I have dipped my toes in. However, I am lucky enough to have caught the attention of someone like yourself with this website. If you feel like pitching a little money my way every month, please do so at Patreon. If you do want to, or are unable to, please do not feel bad or guilty. I thank everyone equally for reading, whether it is just this post or you have been a subscriber for years.

However, despite what I can only describe as overwhelming and catastrophic demand, I am not setting up an OnlyFans.

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Stephen Fry’s Seven Deadly Sins

Permalink - Posted on 2020-08-03 00:18

This second season of Stephen Fry’s podcast was released in January — the first was Great Leap Years — but I am only now catching up. It’s nine episodes, of about forty minutes each, containing the vibrant and engaging storytelling Fry is known for. I don’t really do recommendations here, but this is absolutely worth listening to.

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