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A feed by John Gruber
Permalink - Posted on 2020-06-07 01:30, modified at 01:32
Nico Grant, reporting for Bloomberg* on Zoom’s growth and CEO Eric Yuan’s plans for truly private encryption:
Corporate clients will get access to Zoom’s end-to-end encryption service now being developed, but Yuan said free users won’t enjoy that level of privacy, which makes it impossible for third parties to decipher communications.
“Free users for sure we don’t want to give that because we also want to work together with FBI, with local law enforcement in case some people use Zoom for a bad purpose,” Yuan said on the call.
It should go without saying that it’s bullshit that communication platforms should eschew end-to-end encryption to make snooping easier for law enforcement. So Zoom is already on the wrong side here. Also, not really a great week to come out on the side of either local or federal law enforcement. Read the room.
But it is genuinely nourishing to my soul to consider the premise that corporate clients are wholly separate from the “some people” who might “use Zoom for a bad purpose”. I mean that is truly delicious. Thank you, Eric Yuan, for providing a dose of levity in a dark week.
* There’s a lot going on but I haven’t forgotten about the colossal “Big Hack” fuck-up that continues to mar Bloomberg’s institutional journalistic integrity.
Permalink - Posted on 2020-06-06 02:15, modified on 2020-06-07 01:30
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell:
We, the NFL, condemn racism and the systematic oppression of Black People. We, the NFL, admit we were wrong for not listening to NFL players earlier and encourage all to speak out and peacefully protest. We, the NFL, believe Black Lives Matter.
But that is an apology, and it is a nearly complete about-face from an organization that is, to say the least, not known for about-faces. This is notable not for what the apology says about the NFL, but what the NFL’s apology says about how dramatically the lines have shifted in American public sentiment in the past week. It’s not “good for the NFL that they finally apologized”, it’s “good for America that the NFL sensed they were wrong and had to apologize”.
I keep thinking about Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s words earlier this week: “Racism in America is like dust in the air. It seems invisible — even if you’re choking on it — until you let the sun in. Then you see it’s everywhere.”
Permalink - Posted on 2020-06-06 01:53
Ladies and gentlemen, Chris Rock.
Permalink - Posted on 2020-06-05 20:24, modified on 2020-06-06 02:33
The Washington Post:
D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser renamed a street in front of the White House “Black Lives Matter Plaza” on Friday and emblazoned the slogan in massive yellow letters on the road, a pointed salvo in her escalating dispute with President Trump over control of D.C. streets.
Overhead view from a nearby rooftop. The perfect message, rendered beautifully.
There is a profound “the pen is mightier than the sword” aspect to the political deftness of this. The U.S. military is the world’s biggest sword, but the street leading to the White House makes for a grand canvas for a pen.
Permalink - Posted on 2020-06-05 20:06, modified at 20:43
Charles Rabin, reporting for The Miami Herald:
The Fort Lauderdale patrol officer who inflamed a tense demonstration on Sunday, knocking over a seated protester just before a peaceful protest against police abuse turned violent, has been reviewed by internal affairs for using force 79 times in his roughly three-and-half years on the force, according to department records.
Most notably, Steven Pohorence has drawn his firearm more than once a month on average since he was hired in October 2016, according to personnel records released by the law enforcement agency on Wednesday. […]
During some instances in which Pohorence drew his weapon, the records show, he was apprehending someone wanted for serious crimes such as a robbery, vehicle theft or an outstanding warrant. The records show the pattern of brandishing his firearm increasing with him drawing a weapon 42 times in the past 16 months. In January of this year, Pohorence drew on suspects four times in one week. But three of those instances turned out to be minor violations or misunderstandings.
That’s a review every 16 days, ever since he’s been in service. Sounds like a lot.
Shane Calvey, president of Fort Lauderdale’s Fraternal Order of Police said he couldn’t speak about Pohorence’s actions on Sunday while it was under investigation by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. But he also defended the officer’s record, saying there was nothing out of the ordinary regarding the number of times Pohorence had been reviewed for use-of-force or had drawn his weapon.
“There were no policy violations found,” Calvey said.
Nothing out of the ordinary about a cop who drew his gun 42 times in 16 months. Either he’s lying to make an excuse for a cop who clearly never should have been in uniform in the first place, which is awful, or he’s telling the truth — that this is normal — which is far worse.
Permalink - Posted on 2020-06-05 15:31, modified at 16:02
This is a great example of the Great Span, the link across large periods of history by individual humans. But it’s also a reminder that, as William Faulkner wrote: “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” Until this week, US taxpayers were literally and directly paying for the Civil War, a conflict whose origins stretch back to the earliest days of the American colonies and continues today on the streets of our cities and towns.
Permalink - Posted on 2020-06-05 15:09, modified at 15:46
Ryan W. Miller and Jordan Culver, reporting for USA Today:
In its initial statement on the incident, the Buffalo Police Department said a person “was injured when he tripped & fell,” WIVB-TV reported. A later statement posted on the department’s Facebook page said two officers had been suspended without pay and an internal affairs investigation was underway.
“Tripped and fell” is a preposterous lie when you watch the video. And why are the officers not named? I just spent 15 minutes searching news stories and none of them name the officers. If a protestor had pushed a Buffalo cop to the ground, sending them to the hospital in serious condition, I’m pretty sure they’d be named. Not releasing the names of these two cops is protecting them — a prime example of the insular nature of U.S. policing that these protests are about. You can argue that their names should be withheld to protect them and their families from retribution, but then that should apply to all criminal suspects, not just criminal suspects wearing badges.
Permalink - Posted on 2020-06-04 23:05, modified on 2020-06-05 15:02
From a 1990 interview with Playboy:
When the now-Republican presidential frontrunner was asked his impression of the Soviet Union, the then-43-year-old replied:
“I was very unimpressed… Russia is out of control and the leadership knows it. That’s my problem with Gorbachev. Not a firm enough hand.”
He was asked whether he meant a “firm hand as in China?”, to which Trump replied:
“When the students poured into Tiananmen Square, the Chinese government almost blew it. Then they were vicious, they were horrible, but they put it down with strength. That shows you the power of strength. Our country is right now perceived as weak… as being spit on by the rest of the world.”
Asked in 2016 about these comments, he called the Tiananmen Square protest a “riot”:
Trump, however, denied that his statements meant he agreed with the acts. “That doesn’t mean I was endorsing that… I said, that is a strong powerful government that put it down,” he said. “They kept down the riot, it was a horrible thing,” he added.
Trump’s true self has been in front of us all along. The best time to open your eyes to it was four years ago. The next best time is today.
Permalink - Posted on 2020-06-04 22:03, modified at 22:20
Marques Brownlee, moving the needle:
Just know that this whole social media thing can make it feel like a very now thing … a 2020 thing. Maybe that’s because of the short attention span of the internet. But this is an ongoing thing. This has been a thing, and this will continue to be a thing. We have to spread the message, we have to be responsible, and use our voices. And we have to move the needle.
Permalink - Posted on 2020-06-04 19:48, modified on 2020-06-05 01:49
260 grotesque incidents of police violence and counting, from across the nation. And these are just the scenes caught on video, collected and shared by one man. Watch and share.
Permalink - Posted on 2020-06-04 20:05
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Permalink - Posted on 2020-06-04 13:34, modified on 2020-06-05 01:51
Austin Ramzy, Tiffany May, and Javier C. Hernández, reporting for the NYT:
Hong Kong made mocking China’s national anthem a crime on Thursday, passing a contentious law on the anniversary of the Chinese military’s bloody crackdown on the Tiananmen Square pro-democracy movement.
No better proof that mockery works — they wouldn’t ban it if it weren’t effective.
But alas, the larger point is that Hong Kong’s fall into Chinese rule is instructive: freedom is fragile, and can fall at the hands of authoritarians backed by armed forces. “The rule of law” is our guiding mantra here in the U.S., but when one side holds the law and the other side holds tanks, guns, and tear gas, it’s hard to rule by law. This is what it means not to have freedom of speech.
Hong Kong’s legislature, which is dominated by pro-Beijing lawmakers, passed a separate piece of legislation on Thursday that would criminalize disrespect for China’s national anthem and make it punishable by up to three years in prison. On Thursday, several opposition lawmakers disrupted the debate by throwing stink bombs inside the legislative chamber and yelling: “A murderous regime stinks for 10,000 years.”
“What we did today is to remind the world that we should never forgive the Chinese Communist Party for killing its own people 31 years ago,” Mr. Chu, one of the opposition lawmakers who protested the law, told reporters later.
Meanwhile, when Hong Kong most needs allies in the name of freedom and opposition to oppression, this is the infuriating scene in Walnut Creek, CA. Our own protestors are facing down tinpot cops in their big-boy toy tanks across the U.S.
Permalink - Posted on 2020-06-04 13:24, modified at 13:30
Tim Cook, in a message on Apple’s website:
This is a moment when many people may want nothing more than a return to normalcy, or to a status quo that is only comfortable if we avert our gaze from injustice. As difficult as it may be to admit, that desire is itself a sign of privilege. George Floyd’s death is shocking and tragic proof that we must aim far higher than a “normal” future, and build one that lives up to the highest ideals of equality and justice.
In the words of Martin Luther King, “Every society has its protectors of status quo and its fraternities of the indifferent who are notorious for sleeping through revolutions. Today, our very survival depends on our ability to stay awake, to adjust to new ideas, to remain vigilant and to face the challenge of change.”
Permalink - Posted on 2020-06-04 01:51, modified at 03:31
Some good local news, and a legitimate finally. The Philadelphia Inquirer:
On Wednesday morning, Philadelphia woke up to a profound change in the landscape of Center City. Overnight, workers had removed the statue of Frank Rizzo, the former police commissioner, then mayor, whose law-and-order tactics had come for many to symbolize racist and brutal policing in the city.
“The statue represented bigotry, hatred, and oppression for too many people, for too long,” Mayor Jim Kenney said in an early-morning tweet. “It is finally gone.”
That statue was Philly’s shameful equivalent of a Confederate Civil War monument. You look at Rizzo’s record and it’s hard to believe it was true, let alone that we had a statue dedicated to him until last night:
A careful look at his legacy, however, shows that federal officials, civil rights attorneys, community residents and politicians all voiced consistently similar concern in the 1960s and 1970s that Rizzo had allowed the police department to operate with little accountability, leading to an environment where police shot civilians at a rate of one per week between 1970 and 1978.
He was like a proto-Trump, including a tendency to simultaneously brag and whine in the third-person:
“All Frank Rizzo has done all his life is protect people from criminals at great personal risk and discomfort,” Rizzo once said, slipping into the third person.
He rose through the ranks, to deputy commissioner in 1963, and police commissioner in 1967. Rizzo summed up his philosophy in blunt terms. “The way to treat criminals is spacco il capo,” he said as top cop, using the Italian for “break their heads.” He boasted he had “the toughest cops in the world,” and that his Police Department was strong enough to invade Cuba.
During his bid for re-election, Rizzo proclaimed he would “make Attila the Hun look like a faggot.” He was re-elected by a margin of 182,730 votes over independent Charles W. Bowser and Republican Thomas M. Foglietta.
In 1980, after Rizzo was out of office, came this encounter in which he tried to get a TV news crew to fight him, one day after he broke a camera from the same crew, on camera, while Philly cops stood behind him and laughed. Just watch.
The fact that this man was Philadelphia’s police chief and two-term mayor is emblematic of the racism pervading our nation, particularly in policing.
The removal of this statue is proof that protesting works.
Permalink - Posted on 2020-06-03 23:01, modified on 2020-06-04 04:01
Former Defense Secretary James Mattis:
Instructions given by the military departments to our troops before the Normandy invasion reminded soldiers that “The Nazi slogan for destroying us … was ‘Divide and Conquer.’ Our American answer is ‘In Union there is Strength.’” We must summon that unity to surmount this crisis — confident that we are better than our politics.
Donald Trump is the first president in my lifetime who does not try to unite the American people — does not even pretend to try. Instead he tries to divide us. We are witnessing the consequences of three years of this deliberate effort. We are witnessing the consequences of three years without mature leadership. We can unite without him, drawing on the strengths inherent in our civil society. This will not be easy, as the past few days have shown, but we owe it to our fellow citizens; to past generations that bled to defend our promise; and to our children. […]
We know that we are better than the abuse of executive authority that we witnessed in Lafayette Square. We must reject and hold accountable those in office who would make a mockery of our Constitution. At the same time, we must remember Lincoln’s “better angels,” and listen to them, as we work to unite.
Who’s next? Or perhaps the better question: Who will be the last?
Permalink - Posted on 2020-06-03 21:53, modified on 2020-06-04 01:43
Good roundup of links from Jason Kottke, culminating in this eye-opening thread from Minneapolis City Councilman Steve Fletcher, pointing out that police unions aren’t like other labor unions, and operate like protection rackets:
Why hasn’t it been fixed? Because the crisis we’re in this week has been an implied threat hanging over the city during union negotiations, discipline proceedings, and budget hearings for years.
Politicians who cross the MPD find slowdowns in their wards. After the first time I cut money from the proposed police budget, I had an uptick in calls taking forever to get a response, and MPD officers telling business owners to call their councilman about why it took so long.
We pay dearly for public safety: $195 million a year plus extensive, expensive legal settlements. That should buy us more than a protection racket that’ll take it out on our constituents if we try to create accountability.
Federal laws that define and mandate nationwide police accountability could do for police reform what the Voting Rights Act did for election reform. But we’ve fallen so far under right-wing political dominance in the U.S. that even the Voting Rights Act needs to be un-gutted. Our work is cut out for us.
Also worth pointing out: Police unions are a bastion of rightwing political clout in otherwise left-leaning liberal cities. It doesn’t make sense, really. Protection racket extremism might be the only way they can hold onto that clout. Ultimately, breaking their stranglehold on accountability is the entire purpose of these nationwide protests.
Permalink - Posted on 2020-06-03 18:05, modified at 19:03
The Trump kakistocracy — including the president himself — is going all-in on the argument that federal police did not use “tear gas” against peaceful protesters to clear the way for Trump’s bible-holding photo-op Monday. Abigail Hauslohner, reporting for The Washington Post:
The U.S. Park Police had earlier released a statement defending that effort, saying that their use of chemical agents against the crowd came in response to violence from protesters, and that it involved “pepper balls” and “smoke canisters.” The statement went on to assert that “no tear gas was used” in the Lafayette Square incident. […]
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: “Riot control agents (sometimes referred to as “tear gas”) are chemical compounds that temporarily make people unable to function by causing irritation to the eyes, mouth, throat, lungs, and skin.” And, according to the CDC, “several different compounds” fall under this definition, and are employed by security forces, including military and police, in riot control situations.
Among others, they include chloroacetophenone (CN), more commonly referred to as “mace,” or pepper sprays — in other words, the compound that was deployed in Lafayette Square — and chlorobenzylidenemalononitrile (CS), “one of the most commonly used tear gases in the world,” according to an article in the British Medical Journal. These compounds are all typically referred to as “tear gas” because their most prominent effect is to bring on tears.
So the Trump defense is effectively, “Sure, we gassed peaceful demonstrators and news media from around the world with chemical agents that irritated their eyes, throat, lungs, and skin, but it wasn’t the high-test Tear Gas™ brand stuff that will really fuck you up so how dare you call it ‘tear gas’.”
Good luck with that argument.
Permalink - Posted on 2020-06-03 04:25, modified at 04:27
Mike Mullen, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, writing at The Atlantic:
It sickened me yesterday to see security personnel — including members of the National Guard — forcibly and violently clear a path through Lafayette Square to accommodate the president’s visit outside St. John’s Church. I have to date been reticent to speak out on issues surrounding President Trump’s leadership, but we are at an inflection point, and the events of the past few weeks have made it impossible to remain silent.
Whatever Trump’s goal in conducting his visit, he laid bare his disdain for the rights of peaceful protest in this country, gave succor to the leaders of other countries who take comfort in our domestic strife, and risked further politicizing the men and women of our armed forces.
Permalink - Posted on 2020-06-03 00:00, modified at 00:18
Barry Schnitt, who worked at Facebook in policy communications from 2008-2012:
Unfortunately, I do not think it is a coincidence that the choices Facebook makes are the ones that allow the most content — the fuel for the Facebook engine — to remain in the system. I do not think it is a coincidence that Facebook’s choices align with the least resources required, outsourcing important aspects to third parties. I do not think it is a coincidence that Facebook’s choices appease those in power who have made misinformation, blatant racism and inciting violence part of their platform. Facebook says, and may even believe, that it is on the side of free speech. In fact, it has put itself on the side of profit and cowardice.
You don’t have to be, though. Facebook has seemingly limitless resources at its disposal. You’ve got some of the smartest people in the world who work at Facebook. I know, I’ve worked with them. You’ve developed some of the most advanced technology in history and have mountains of capital. As one example, the company has said it may spend as much as ~$34 billion for stock buybacks since just 2017. The main ingredient that you lack is the will.
To me, the question for Facebook is less what they should do at the macro level (the president’s inflammatory, misleading posts) and more about the micro level: the thousands of relatively small, mostly private groups where hatred, violence, and dangerous disinformation foment. But that macro level matters, too. It sends a signal when it appears there is no line that the president can cross that Facebook is not OK with.
Permalink - Posted on 2020-06-02 19:31, modified at 19:34
Conservative stalwart George Will, calling for an electoral rout of Republicans in November:
Those who think our unhinged president’s recent mania about a murder two decades ago that never happened represents his moral nadir have missed the lesson of his life: There is no such thing as rock bottom. So, assume that the worst is yet to come. Which implicates national security: Abroad, anti-Americanism sleeps lightly when it sleeps at all, and it is wide-awake as decent people judge our nation’s health by the character of those to whom power is entrusted.
This was published yesterday. Trump proved Will’s prediction within mere hours.
Permalink - Posted on 2020-06-02 18:59, modified at 19:52
Jonathan Swan, reporting for Axios:
But a senior White House official told Axios that when they saw the tear gas clearing the crowd for Trump to walk to the church with his entourage: “I’ve never been more ashamed. I’m really honestly disgusted. I’m sick to my stomach. And they’re all celebrating it. They’re very very proud of themselves.”
Some people don’t deserve background sourcing. There’s a reason we describe the “why” every time we use it. Standards are important.
This is no little thing. Think about the unwritten “why” for this “senior White House official” being granted anonymity for this quote. Well, they’d be fired immediately if they put their name on it. But why protect your job if you’re “ashamed”, “honestly disgusted”, and “sick to your stomach” over what the administration you work for is doing? Swan and Axios effectively couldn’t put the “why” there because the “why” is indefensible. Either this source did not mean what they said — and Axios printed a pandering lie — or they did mean it and this source is too cowardly to do the right thing and go on the record.
Permalink - Posted on 2020-06-02 18:03, modified at 18:14
MSNBC reporter Kasie Hunt asks Republican senators for comment on Trump’s photo op at St. John’s Church last night — powerful journalism in the form of a simple tweet thread.
Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., on the president’s photo op at St. John’s last night: “Didn’t really see it.”
Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah. “I didn’t watch it closely enough to know.”
Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio: “I’m late for lunch.”
It goes on. And on.
Permalink - Posted on 2020-06-02 17:41, modified at 17:44
Seth Meyers, last night on Late Night:
Stop saying the problem is just a few bad apples. It’s not an apple problem — it’s an orchard problem. If you went apple picking and the guy who ran the orchard said, “There are a few bad apples out there,” and you said, “How bad?” and they said, “Kill you bad,” you’d say, “This is a bad orchard.”
Permalink - Posted on 2020-06-02 17:32, modified at 17:37
James Poniewozik, writing last week for The New York Times:
From Ms. Cooper’s lips, the president’s sentences become plywood bridges he’s trying to nail together, one shaky plank at a time, over a vertiginous Looney Tunes canyon.
Beyond capturing the moment, Ms. Cooper’s Trump says something about what makes a good political impression. Too often, people judge it by the Rich Little standard — how much you manage to look and sound like the subject.
Mimicry is a neat trick, but it’s not satire unless there’s an idea of the person, which can hit closer to the core than a pitch-perfect imitation. What Ms. Cooper and company are developing is comedy not as writing, but as a kind of live-action political cartooning.
Permalink - Posted on 2020-06-02 03:10, modified at 04:39
This raises an interesting theological question: How much tear gas would Jesus use on protesters to clear a path for a photo of him in front of a church, holding a bible in a way that, sure, normal people hold bibles?
This photo from Doug Mills of the NYT captures the moment more honestly.
Permalink - Posted on 2020-06-02 03:09, modified at 03:11
In the month of April, I found a zero-day in Sign in with Apple that affected third-party applications which were using it and didn’t implement their own additional security measures. This bug could have resulted in a full account takeover of user accounts on that third party application irrespective of a victim having a valid Apple ID or not.
For this vulnerability, I was paid $100,000 by Apple under their Apple Security Bounty program. […]
Apple also did an investigation of their logs and determined there was no misuse or account compromise due to this vulnerability.
Nice write-up of the technical details too.
Permalink - Posted on 2020-06-02 01:23, modified at 04:58
I’ve noticed this too, but hadn’t really thought about it until I saw this post from Michael Tsai (based on tweets from Paul Rosania and Andrew Chen): Amazon no longer puts a list of items in order confirmation and shipment notice emails. Almost certainly they’re doing this to thwart email-scraping data harvesters from obtaining information about Amazon sales. All sorts of companies harvest this info, and people volunteer to let them do it (including Edison Mail, the iOS mail client whose recent egregious bug granted full access to email accounts to random other users — at least they’re up front about it in their “how we use data” statement). Edison is far from alone in this — there’s an entire cottage industry of email clients and “tools” whose entire business model is based on scraping their users’ email for e-commerce trends.
So, from the Department of This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things, Amazon has responded by removing product information from its emails. One reason this change was merely a low-grade annoyance for me, personally, is that I allow the Amazon iPhone app to send me notifications, and these notifications include shipping updates and delivery confirmation. If you’re notification-permission-averse — and who isn’t these days? — I recommend making an exception for the Amazon app. I can’t promise Amazon will never use these notifications to send you an ad, but in my experience they only send me notifications regarding things I’ve ordered from them — their notifications serve me, not them. And Amazon’s website and app continue to have a nicely searchable archive of your entire order history — mine goes back to the Clinton administration, which feels like another epoch. But it was nice having your own searchable archive of purchased items right in your email.
Permalink - Posted on 2020-06-01 20:14
My thanks to The Magic Puzzle Company for sponsoring DF last week. They’re debuting with a set of three new 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzles with original art and a magical surprise at the end. These are not typical jigsaw puzzles:
Series One is a Kickstarter campaign that, just hours ago, crossed the $3 million mark. I can see why — all three puzzles are gorgeous. They sent me a prototype and it’s exquisite. I mean come on — the company commissioned Susan Kare to make their logo (and, of course, the logo is perfect).
Permalink - Posted on 2020-06-01 19:59
There’s a MacOS 10.15 Catalina update out today too.
Permalink - Posted on 2020-06-01 19:30
Sheera Frenkel, Mike Isaac, and Cecilia Kang, reporting for The New York Times:
Mr. Zuckerberg’s post last week explaining his decision on Mr. Trump’s tweets frustrated many inside the company. More than a dozen Facebook employees tweeted that they disagreed with Mr. Zuckerberg’s decision, including the head of design of Facebook’s portal product, Andrew Crow.
An engineer for the platform, Lauren Tan, posted about the situation on Friday. “Facebook’s inaction in taking down Trump’s post inciting violence makes me ashamed to work here,” Ms. Tan wrote in a tweet. “Silence is complicity.”
Two senior Facebook employees told The New York Times that they had informed their managers that they would resign if Mr. Zuckerberg did not reverse his decision. Another person, who was supposed to start work at the company next month, told Facebook they were no longer willing to accept a position at the company because of Mr. Zuckerberg’s decision.
I don’t know why the Times linked to Tan’s tweet but not Crow’s:
Censoring information that might help people see the complete picture is wrong. But giving a platform to incite violence and spread disinformation is unacceptable, regardless who you are or if it’s newsworthy. I disagree with Mark’s position and will work to make change happen.
I’ve seen some people making hay over this Times story, based on the framing of it as a “virtual walkout”. Forget about the “walkout”. What’s important here are Facebook employees speaking out, unequivocally. Interesting too that they’re using Twitter to express their dissent.
Facebook’s real risk here, as I see it, is getting branded as the social network for racists. Talent retention is the top challenge for every tech company. We’re going through history, right now, and Facebook is on the wrong side of it. No one wants that on their resume.
Permalink - Posted on 2020-06-01 15:30, modified at 15:32
I recognize that these past few months have been hard and dispiriting — that the fear, sorrow, uncertainty, and hardship of a pandemic have been compounded by tragic reminders that prejudice and inequality still shape so much of American life. But watching the heightened activism of young people in recent weeks, of every race and every station, makes me hopeful. If, going forward, we can channel our justifiable anger into peaceful, sustained, and effective action, then this moment can be a real turning point in our nation’s long journey to live up to our highest ideals.
Let’s get to work.
Permalink - Posted on 2020-05-31 22:00, modified at 22:02
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, writing at the LA Times:
Yes, protests often are used as an excuse for some to take advantage, just as when fans celebrating a hometown sports team championship burn cars and destroy storefronts. I don’t want to see stores looted or even buildings burn. But African Americans have been living in a burning building for many years, choking on the smoke as the flames burn closer and closer. Racism in America is like dust in the air. It seems invisible — even if you’re choking on it — until you let the sun in. Then you see it’s everywhere. As long as we keep shining that light, we have a chance of cleaning it wherever it lands. But we have to stay vigilant, because it’s always still in the air.
Permalink - Posted on 2020-05-31 21:26, modified at 22:03
T.C. Sottek, The Verge:
Over the past 72 hours, people across the US have captured what may be the most comprehensive live picture of police brutality ever. Any one of the videos we’ve seen could have sparked a national discussion, with people picking apart their elements, searching for context to argue about, and digging through the pasts of everyone involved. But it’s not just one act of violence. It’s everywhere.
Here is just a short list of scenes from the past few days.
Responding to protests of police brutality with police brutality.
Permalink - Posted on 2020-05-30 19:54
Loren Grush, The Verge:
After nearly two decades of effort, Elon Musk’s aerospace company, SpaceX, successfully launched its first two people into orbit, ushering in a new age of human spaceflight in the United States. The flight marked the first time astronauts have launched into orbit from American soil in nearly a decade, and SpaceX is now the first company to send passengers to orbit on a privately made vehicle.
The two astronauts — veteran NASA fliers Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley — rode into space inside SpaceX’s new automated spacecraft called the Crew Dragon, a capsule designed to take people to and from the International Space Station. Strapped inside the sleek, gumdrop-shaped capsule, the duo lifted off on top of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida at 3:22PM ET on Saturday. The rocket dropped the Crew Dragon off in orbit about 12 minutes later. Now, the pair will spend roughly the next day in orbit before attempting to dock with the International Space Station on Sunday morning.
Successful space launches are always fun, but it feels particularly good to see a triumph for science right now.
Permalink - Posted on 2020-05-30 00:57, modified at 00:59
Today’s episode of Dithering — my and Ben Thompson’s new thrice-weekly 15-minutes-per-episode podcast — is probably my favorite yet. We talk about Trump-vs.-Twitter but it kicks off with the Tarantino-esque demise of Archduke Franz Ferdinand. That’s Dithering.
$5 per month — cheap! — and it’s really easy to sign up for and subscribe to in your favorite podcast player. And if you don’t like it, it’s really easy to cancel. But you’ll like it, trust me — it’s good and it’s fun.
Permalink - Posted on 2020-05-30 00:24, modified at 03:14
Mike Isaac and Cecilia Kang, reporting for The New York Times:
Twitter’s face-off escalated Friday morning, when the company attached an addendum to one of Mr. Trump’s tweets. The company said the tweet had the potential to incite violence amid protests in Minneapolis. Facebook didn’t do anything when the same post was added to its service.
Jack Dorsey, chief executive of Twitter, took to his site not long after to say Twitter would not back down, presenting a stark contrast to Mr. Zuckerberg, who, in an interview a day earlier with Fox News, said Facebook wasn’t going to judge Mr. Trump’s posts.
“We’ve been pretty clear on our policy that we think that it wouldn’t be right for us to do fact checks for politicians,” Mr. Zuckerberg said. “I think in general, private companies probably shouldn’t be — or especially these platform companies — shouldn’t be in the position of doing that.”
Zuckerberg, testifying before Congress back in October, said otherwise when answering a question from Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez:
“If anyone, including a politician, is saying things that can cause, that is calling for violence or could risk imminent physical harm — or voter or census suppression, when we roll out the census suppression policy — we will take that content down.”
When it was in the abstract, he said Facebook would do the right thing. When the rubber hit the road and Trump started posting voter suppression propaganda (re: mail-in balloting) and a clear incitement to violence, Facebook got in line behind Trump.
Even if you think Zuckerberg’s doing the right thing by not touching Trump’s posts — which I see the argument for — you’re admitting that he lied while answering Ocasio-Cortez’s question.
Permalink - Posted on 2020-05-29 23:55, modified on 2020-05-30 02:54
“If it were legal, if it were able to be legally shut down, I would do it.”
That’s the president of the United States yesterday, describing, I think honestly, what he’d like to do to an American company that no one — no one — is alleging to have broken a single law. Their transgression is that they simply displease him. It’s worth watching him say it on video, just to absorb how casual he is about something so profound.
It has been the historical norm for all presidents, Republican and Democrat alike, to speak of the U.S. Constitution with reverence, as a set of righteous ideals that guide our nation, a codification of our collective sense of what is right and just — not as a set of constraints that shackle the president from doing what he’d really like to do.
Permalink - Posted on 2020-05-29 20:51, modified at 22:21
CNN’s Josh Campbell, who also was in the area but not standing with the on-air crew, said he, too, was approached by police, but was allowed to remain.
“I identified myself … they said, ‘OK, you’re permitted to be in the area,’” recounted Campbell, who is white. “I was treated much differently than (Jimenez) was.”
Jimenez is black and Latino. Kirkos is white, and Mendez is Hispanic.
I know there’s a lot going on today. I’m overwhelmed too. But the footage of Jimenez’s arrest is one of the most extraordinary things I’ve ever seen.
The incident, which unfolded over several tense minutes, was brazen and appalling. But at least it served a clarifying purpose. After days of hot air expended insisting on a politician’s “right” to use a private platform without correction, America got to see what an actual offense against the First Amendment looks like.
Permalink - Posted on 2020-05-29 06:30, modified at 06:37
Peter Baker and Daisuke Wakabayashi, reporting for The New York Times:
But the logic of Mr. Trump’s order is intriguing because it attacks the very legal provision that has allowed him such latitude to publish with impunity a whole host of inflammatory, harassing and factually distorted messages that a media provider might feel compelled to take down if it were forced into the role of a publisher that faced the risk of legal liability rather than a distributor that does not.
“Intriguing” is doing a lot of work in that sentence.
Permalink - Posted on 2020-05-29 05:35, modified at 05:48
From a company-wide memo sent by Magic Leap founder Rony Abovitz Thursday:
As we’ve shared over the last several weeks, in order to set Magic Leap on a course for success, we have pivoted to focus on delivering a spatial computing platform for enterprise.
As nearly everyone has finally realized, our actual technology is nothing at all like what we promised, lied about for years, and sold gullible deep-pocketed investors on. Our con is falling apart at the seams, so we’ll milk the last few dollars out of the only investors dumb enough to give us even more money, by repeating the word “enterprise” and doing that thing with our fingers like Obi-Wan Kenobi.
We have closed significant new funding and have very positive momentum towards closing key strategic enterprise partnerships.
You’re not going to believe this but we somehow raised another $350 million. I know, right?
As the board and I planned the changes we made and what Magic Leap needs for this next focused phase, it became clear to us that a change in my role was a natural next step.
Everyone agrees the jig is up.
I discussed this with the board and we have agreed that now is the time to bring in a new CEO who can help us to commercialize our focused plan for spatial computing in enterprise. We have been actively recruiting candidates for this role and I look forward to sharing more soon.
Our Craigslist ad: “Florida company seeks Bernie Madoff type.”
I have been leading Magic Leap since 2011 (starting in my garage). We have created a new field. A new medium. And together we have defined the future of computing.
No one will remember us or anything we’ve done — unless Netflix makes one of those documentaries like the Fyre Festival one. I love that movie. Which makes me think maybe we should change our Craigslist ad to “Billy McFarland type”. Actually, when does he get out of prison?
I am amazed at everything we have built and look forward to everything Magic Leap will create in the decades to come.
I am amazed that we raised $2.4 billion and have managed to stretch this con out for 7 years and counting. We even convinced Google to invest. Google! Those guys are smart!
I will remain our CEO through the transition and am in discussions with the board with regards to how I will continue to provide strategy and vision from a board level. I remain super excited about Magic Leap’s future and believe deeply in our team and all of their incredible talent and capabilities.
I guess I should be ashamed of myself but I’m not.
Permalink - Posted on 2020-05-29 01:10
Matt Levine, in his excellent Money Stuff column for Bloomberg:
If restaurants and drivers complained about DoorDash but DoorDash was raking in juicy profits, you could be like “what do you want, innovate or die, the market has spoken.” But in fact restaurants and drivers complain about DoorDash, and it lost $450 million in 2019 on about $1 billion of revenue. Arguably the market has spoken and said “stop it, come on, this is dumb.”
In the old economy of price signals, you tried to build a product that people would want, and the way you knew it worked is that people would pay you more than it cost. You were adding value to the world, and you could tell because you made money. In the new economy of user growth, you don’t have to worry about making a product that people want because you can just pay them to use it, so you might end up with companies losing money to give people things that they don’t want and driving out the things they do want.
That sounds like a joke but it’s not even an exaggeration.
Bonus burn on counterfeit capitalism poster child MoviePass:
Meanwhile MoviePass itself is up for auction in its Chapter 7 bankruptcy, with bids due next month. Naively I would think that a pandemic would be good for MoviePass: If your business is buying movie tickets for $14 and selling them for $10 a month, months when all the movie theaters are shut down should be relatively profitable.
Permalink - Posted on 2020-05-29 00:43, modified at 03:25
This piece by Ranjan Roy for his Margins newsletter is such a perfect example of counterfeit capitalism. Roy has a friend who owns a few pizzerias. They were getting complaints from customers whose deliveries were cold. What made that really odd is that his pizzerias weren’t offering delivery service. What happened is that DoorDash, with no permission, registered a phone number with Google under his restaurant’s name. The fun part of the story:
DoorDash was causing him real problems. The most common was, DoorDash delivery drivers didn’t have the proper bags for pizza so it inevitably would arrive cold. It led to his employees wasting time responding to complaints and even some bad Yelp reviews.
But he brought up another problem - the prices were off. He was frustrated that customers were seeing incorrectly low prices. A pizza that he charged $24 for was listed as $16 by DoorDash.
My first thought: I wondered if DoorDash is artificially lowering prices for customer acquisition purposes.
My second thought: I knew DoorDash scraped restaurant websites. After we discussed it more, it was clear that the way his menu was set up on his website, DoorDash had mistakenly taken the price for a plain cheese pizza and applied it to a ‘specialty’ pizza with a bunch of toppings.
My third thought: Cue the Wall Street trader in me… ARBITRAGE!
The arbitrage is good fun, but ultimately the whole thing shows how predatory these VC-backed delivery services are:
You have insanely large pools of capital creating an incredibly inefficient money-losing business model. It’s used to subsidize an untenable customer expectation. You leverage a broken workforce to minimize your genuine labor expenses. The companies unload their capital cannons on customer acquisition, while this week’s Uber-Grubhub news reminds us, the only viable endgame is a promise of monopoly concentration and increased prices. But is that even viable?
Permalink - Posted on 2020-05-27 01:17
Series One from The Magic Puzzle Company is a set of three new 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzles with original art and a magical surprise at the end.
We set out to create the most entertaining jigsaw puzzle you’ve ever done by combining the traditional jigsaw puzzle experience with ideas from the worlds of tabletop games and magic.
Permalink - Posted on 2020-05-22 04:01, modified on 2020-05-23 00:54
Nilay Patel asked this of Siri on his Apple Watch. After too long of a wait, he got the correct answer — for London Canada. I tried on my iPhone and got the same result. Stupid and slow is heck of a combination.
You can argue that giving the time in London Ontario isn’t wrong per se, but that’s nonsense. The right answer is the common sense answer. If you had a human assistant and asked them “What’s the time in London?” and they honestly thought the best way to answer that question was to give you the time for the nearest London, which happened to be in Ontario or Kentucky, you’d fire that assistant. You wouldn’t fire them for getting that one answer wrong, you’d fire them because that one wrong answer is emblematic of a serious cognitive deficiency that permeates everything they try to do. You’d never have hired them in the first place, really, because there’s no way a person this lacking in common sense would get through a job interview. You don’t have to be particularly smart or knowledgeable to assume that “London” means “London England”, you just have to not be stupid.
Worse, I tried on my HomePod and Siri gave me the correct answer: the time in London England. I say this is worse because it exemplifies how inconsistent Siri is. Why in the world would you get a completely different answer to a very simple question based solely on which device answers your question? At least when most computer systems are wrong they’re consistently wrong.
I tried the same question on every other system I know where it should work: “What time is it in London?”
So every other service that tries to answer “What time is it in London?” gets it right. Only Siri gets it wrong.
Permalink - Posted on 2020-05-22 00:14, modified at 02:09
Josh Marshall, writing at Talking Points Memo, “Unpacking the Mask Debate”:
Here’s an article that is very current among mask skeptics. It’s a review by two bona-fide experts, Dr. Lisa M. Brosseau and Dr Margaret Sietsema, writing back on April 1st, a veritable lifetime ago in COVID19 terms. It was published by the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at The University of Minnesota.
The gist is that there’s little to no scientific evidence that masks are effective for the population at large and that what protection there might be is minimal at best. Additionally, they argue that mask-wearing may create a false sense of security that leads people to relax more effect mitigation strategies like distancing and hand washing. So the net effect of mask-wearing may actually be more infections rather than fewer.
If you read the report closely however a few points emerge.
First, it’s not evidence that masks are not effective — few studies really show this or demonstrate it in any clear way — but a lack of evidence for their efficacy. Second, they focus heavily on health care workers, both for available studies about what works and doesn’t and for the standards we should apply for efficacy. Finally, they take a very binary approach to efficacy. They work or they don’t.
As a vocal face mask proponent, I’ve heard something like the above counterargument from a small number of mask skeptics. Basically, the pro-mask argument is that there seems to be a lot of upside to widespread mask-wearing, and effectively no downside whatsoever beyond the initial “this feels weird” social awkwardness and mild physical discomfort. (Pro tip: Keep a tin of Altoids next to your masks.)
We’re waiting for peer-reviewed studies. In the meantime, early studies and anecdotal evidence from countries with established mask-wearing social norms suggest quite strongly that mask wearing is effective. And so if there are no downsides, there really is no argument against universal face mask wearing in public, especially indoors.
One segment of anti-mask crusaders are those who insist that the whole pandemic has been so profoundly overblown that it’s effectively a hoax. This is lunacy — there’s no point arguing with them. No surprise, some of them are flat-earthers too. But there are more than lunatics who are opposed to face masks.
The in-touch-with-reality anti-mask skeptics seem to have latched onto the idea that maybe there are downsides, that wearing a mask might somehow make it more likely that you’ll get infected — the “false sense of security” argument proposed in the article Marshall cites. That’s a plausible hypothesis, and the world is full of counterintuitive truths. E.g. the fact that one typically stays drier walking, rather than running, to shelter in a rainstorm — even though running decreases your exposure time to the rain, it so greatly increases the number of droplets that hit you that you wind up wetter. Maybe wearing a face mask in a pandemic is like running in the rain, the thinking goes, counterintuitively making things worse.
The problem for masks skeptics is there’s no data that suggests this might be the case. A plausible hypothesis is only the start of the scientific method. There is longstanding evidence in Asian countries with mask-wearing norms that, at the very least, face-mask-wearing causes no harm. As Marshall notes, if anything, as evidence comes in, masking-wearing appears to be even more effective than even proponents thought.
I’m old enough to recall when wearing seat belts became mandatory. Roughly speaking, these laws spread quickly from state to state, starting with New York in 1984 and becoming the rule rather than the exception within a decade. (“Live free or die” New Hampshire is the only remaining state that doesn’t require adults to wear a seat belt.)
I recall a similar sort of opposition to these laws as we see now with mandatory face masks. Opposition to compulsory seat belt laws always seemed crazy to me, because the evidence was so overwhelming that seat belts save lives and greatly reduce injuries that it was clearly worth making an exception to the principle, widely held in America, that the government generally shouldn’t tell people what to do. But crazy or not, opposition there was. “Fuck you, I don’t want to wear one, it’s a free country.” Word for word, the same sentiment then about seat belts as now about face masks.
One of the arguments against compulsory seat-belt-wearing was that sometimes wearing a seat belt makes things worse. “What if I’m in an accident and my seat belt gets jammed, trapping me in a burning car?” “I read about a guy who wasn’t wearing a seatbelt and he walked away from a terrible accident because he was thrown out of the car before it was totaled.”
I don’t agree with it, but to some degree I get it: What right does a government that sells you lottery tickets have to tell you that your odds are better if you’re wearing a seat belt?
But there’s a fundamental difference between wearing a seat belt in a car and wearing a face mask in a store. A seat belt really only protects the wearer. There are tangential arguments that society as a whole benefits from fewer car crash deaths and injuries, but the primary reason we have laws requiring you to wear a seat belt is to protect you from harm. Face mask requirements aren’t like that. They’re more like laws banning smoking in restaurants and making drunk driving a serious crime — they protect us all from harm.
From earlier in my childhood, I recall ubiquitous signs at the entrances of stores and restaurants: “No shirt, no shoes, no service.” There were variants, but that exact phrasing was common. I always considered those signs so strange, as I couldn’t imagine why anyone would even want to go into a store or restaurant without a shirt or shoes, let alone need a sign telling them that doing so was not permitted, but I figured it must have been a problem with hippies or something. (There were a lot of old people complaining about hippies long after there were any hippies left to complain about.)
Basically, other than poolside or at a beach, anyone who wants to go into a public establishment barefoot or shirtless is an asshole. It seems pretty clear that the people today angrily objecting to mandatory face masks aren’t really concerned with the epidemiological efficacy of masks. They’re concerned with asserting their perceived entitlement to be an asshole. You don’t need to hang a “No assholes allowed” sign to enforce it as a rule.
Permalink - Posted on 2020-05-19 05:53, modified on 2020-05-20 04:14
Katie Benner and Adam Goldman, reporting for The New York Times, “FBI Finds Links Between Pensacola Gunman and Al Qaeda”:
The F.B.I. recently bypassed the security features on at least one of Mr. Alshamrani’s two iPhones to discover his Qaeda links. Christopher A. Wray, the director of the F.B.I., said the bureau had “effectively no help from Apple,” but he would not say how investigators obtained access to the phone.
That would certainly be interesting to know — but I don’t expect the FBI to reveal how they got in. But privacy advocates should not succumb to the argument that because the FBI did get into one of these iPhones, that it all worked out fine in the end. The problem with this argument is that it’s implicitly based on the assumption that it would not be fine if a phone were so secure that the FBI could not get into it. Strong encryption is, on the whole, a good thing, and should remain legal — regardless whether there are known ways to circumvent it.
The investigation has served as the latest skirmish in a fight between the Justice Department and Apple pitting personal privacy against public safety. Apple stopped routinely allowing law enforcement officials into phones in 2014 as it beefed up encryption.
This framing is entirely wrong. This suggests that Apple has the ability to “just unlock” an iPhone encrypted with a passcode or passphrase. They don’t. The difference between 2014 and today isn’t that Apple previously was cooperative with law enforcement requests and now is not — the difference is that modern iPhones can’t be “unlocked” the way older ones could, because the security on modern iPhones is so much better now.
It has argued that data privacy is a human rights issue and that if it were to develop a way to allow the American government into its phones, hackers or foreign governments like China could exploit the same tool.
But law enforcement officials have said that Apple is creating a haven for criminals. The company’s defiance in the Pensacola shooting allowed any possible co-conspirators to fabricate and compare stories, destroy evidence and disappear, Mr. Wray said.
Apple did not defy anyone here. They chose, years ago, to design secure systems that have no backdoors to unlock. Not for tech support (“I forgot my passcode”), not for law enforcement. Wray knows this. Their badmouthing of Apple’s intentions in this case is just another example of their trying to scare people into supporting legislation to make secure encryption illegal. The message from Barr and Wray to Apple is implicitly this: If you won’t add backdoors to your devices we’re going to keep saying you’re aiding terrorists and deviant criminals.
Mr. Barr has maintained one of the department’s “highest priorities” is to find a way to get technology companies to help law enforcement gain lawful access to encrypted technology.
“Privacy and public safety are not mutually exclusive,” he said. “We are confident that technology companies are capable of building secure products that protect user information and, at the same time, allow for law enforcement access when permitted by a judge.”
This is not mathematically possible, and newsrooms should stop publishing these claims from law enforcement officials without comment from encryption experts. Saying you want technology companies to make a backdoor that only “good guys” can use is like saying you want guns that only “good guys” can fire. It’s not possible, and no credible cryptographer would say that it is. You might as well say that you want Apple to come up with a way for 1 + 1 to equal 3.
If law enforcement officials choose to wage a campaign to make strong encryption illegal under the guise that only “good guys” would have the circumvention keys, that’s on them, but news media need to get their shit together on the fact that what law enforcement claims to be asking for is impossible, and what is possible — adding backdoors — would be a security disaster.
Apple issued a statement responding to Barr and Wray (via The Verge):
The terrorist attack on members of the US armed services at the Naval Air Station in Pensacola, Florida was a devastating and heinous act. Apple responded to the FBI’s first requests for information just hours after the attack on December 6, 2019 and continued to support law enforcement during their investigation. We provided every piece of information available to us, including iCloud backups, account information and transactional data for multiple accounts, and we lent continuous and ongoing technical and investigative support to FBI offices in Jacksonville, Pensacola, and New York over the months since. […]
We sell the same iPhone everywhere, we don’t store customers’ passcodes and we don’t have the capacity to unlock passcode-protected devices.
Apple cooperated in every way they technically could. The DOJ is not asking for Apple’s cooperation unlocking existing iPhones — they’re asking Apple to make future iPhones insecure.
Permalink - Posted on 2020-05-15 23:30, modified on 2020-05-17 02:51
A Washington Post story today on Apple and Google’s joint effort on COVID-19 exposure notification project, from reporters Reed Albergotti and Drew Harwell, is the worst story I’ve seen in the Post in memory. It’s so atrociously bad — factually wrong and one-sided in opinion — that it should be retracted.
Start with the headline: “Apple and Google Are Building a Virus-Tracking System. Health Officials Say It Will Be Practically Useless.” It’s not a “virus-tracking system”, and the health officials the Post talked to don’t know what they’re talking about.
But as the tech giants have revealed more details, officials now say the software will be of little use. Due to strict rules imposed by the companies, the system will notify smartphone users if they’ve potentially come into contact with an infected person, but it won’t share any data with health officials or reveal where those meetings took place.
Notifying people when they’ve potentially come into contact with an infected person sounds useful to me. It’s true that by design, Apple and Google’s system does not track location. It’s true that location information would be potentially useful to health officials. But the exposure notifications alone are inherently useful, even without location data attached.
The gist of Apple and Google’s project is that it attempts to balance privacy with the usefulness of tracking potential exposure. It’s right there in the name of the project: “Privacy-Protecting Contact Tracing”. The Post’s sources for this story seemingly want a system with no regard for privacy at all. I wish that were an exaggeration.
But Apple and Google have refused, arguing that letting the apps collect location data or loosening other smartphone rules would undermine people’s privacy. The companies are also concerned that easing the restrictions around apps’ Bluetooth use would drain phone battery life, which could irritate customers. That unbending stance has led some health authorities to abandon hopes of building a fully functioning contact-tracing app.
“Unbending stance” is a rather harsh description of Apple and Google’s desire not to “undermine people’s privacy” or “drain phone battery life”. This isn’t an “unbending stance”. It’s table stakes for designing a system that people will actually install and use. Imagine trying to sell the public on a system that undermines their privacy or unduly drains their phone batteries — let alone a system that does both.
But Helen Nissenbaum, a professor of information science and director of the Digital Life Initiative at Cornell University, called Apple and Google’s use of privacy to defend their refusal to allow public health officials access to smartphone technology a “flamboyant smokescreen.” She said it was ironic that the two companies had for years tolerated the mass collection of people’s data but were now preventing its use for a purpose that is “critical to public health.”
“If it’s between Google and Apple having the data, I would far prefer my physician and the public health authorities to have the data about my health status,” she said. “At least they’re constrained by laws.”
Nissenbaum obviously has no idea whatsoever how this system is designed to work, despite the fact that Apple and Google have published a succinct 7-page FAQ that explains it in simple, easy-to-understand terms. It seems clear that neither the reporters from the Post nor Nissenbaum have read that FAQ, or if they did, that they don’t understand it. (Or willfully ignored it.)
Google and Apple will not “have the data”. It is stored entirely and only on each user’s own device. We, the users, will have the data, and we, the users, can share that data with our doctors.
And how in the world did “At least they’re constrained by laws” make it into this story? Nissenbaum believes Apple and Google are not constrained by laws? That will be news to both companies’ legal compliance departments, who I presume will soon be laid off.
The Apple-Google system uses the short-range Bluetooth antennas in people’s smartphones to log when two people come into contact for a short period of time, but not where that contact took place. An alert is sent if one of the people tests positive for a coronavirus infection, but that information is not shared with public health officials or contact-tracing teams.
That’s close to an accurate description — sort of, if you squint your eyes — but what the Post omits is essential. The information is not shared automatically with health officials, but if you opt into the system and get a notification that you’ve potentially been in contact with someone who has tested positive, you can then share that information with your doctor. Only doctors and registered health officials can confirm that a user in this system has tested positive for COVID-19 — otherwise, it would be open season for pranksters.
The tension over virus-tracking apps reflects a major power imbalance between the tech giants and state and local health officials, who argue that Apple and Google’s technical decisions have undermined their response to a global health emergency. It also highlights the tech giants’ ability to exert unfettered control over how billions of smartphones work.
This is nonsense. Smartphones comply with a veritable mountain of regulations and laws around the world. If you use an iPhone just look in Settings → General → Legal & Regulatory.
“They are exercising sovereign power. It’s just crazy,” said Matt Stoller, the director of research at the American Economic Liberties Project, a Washington think tank devoted to reducing the power of monopolies. Apple and Google have “decided for the whole world,” he added, “that it’s not a decision for the public to make. … You have a private government that is making choices over your society instead of democratic governments being able to make those choices.”
This quote is what’s crazy. Again, this guy Stoller clearly has no idea what he’s talking about. Apple and Google deciding how their operating systems work, in compliance with all existing laws, all around the world, is not “exercising sovereign power”. No one here is alleging that Apple or Google are doing anything even vaguely illegal. They’re not toeing some sort of line, they’re not taking advantage of any sort of loopholes.
And if Apple and Google did what Stoller and Nissenbaum seem to want them to do — track location data of every person you’re in contact with and report that data automatically to government health officials, they almost certainly would be breaking all sorts of laws around the world. The whole point of Europe’s well-intentioned but overzealous GDPR law — 88 dense pages in PDF — is, quoting from its preamble, “Natural persons should have control of their own personal data.” That’s exactly the point of Apple and Google’s system — and seemingly exactly the opposite of what every source in this Post story thinks Apple and Google should do.
Also, regarding Stoller’s advocacy for democracy, good luck finding public support for a system that turns phones into surveillance devices that report anything at all automatically to the government, let alone something as sensitive as who we’ve been in contact with and where we’ve been. I’ll grant that one can make a case that a system where government health officials have access to such data from our phones, automatically, could be useful in tracking COVID-19 infections. But try getting popular support for it. And no one I’ve seen has made the case that such a system is necessary for using phones in the aid of contact tracing.
There is not much overlap between (a) people who have thought long and hard about the very complicated ways smartphones can be used to abuse personal privacy with tracking and data collection; and (b) public health officials admirably trying to track COVID-19. None of the few people in the intersection of those two groups were quoted in this story.
The companies have argued that limiting the data the apps use could bolster their adoption rate, because people may not trust or use an app that logs their location for later use by public health authorities.
You think so?
But some parts of the U.S., including Apple and Google’s home state, say the restrictions have rendered the apps effectively useless.
None of these apps are out yet, because the APIs in iOS and Android aren’t out yet.
Contact tracers today use phone calls and interviews to track people’s movements, and rely almost entirely on people’s memory. Minute-by-minute location logs recorded by people’s phones, some officials have argued, could ease that burden by providing a more precise and automated way to track new outbreaks.
In what other context would the above paragraph pass the sniff test? “Some officials” — unnamed, unsourced — are arguing that the government should enjoy “minute-by-minute location logs recorded by people’s phones” and this is given zero pushback in a news story. No pushback at all on this argument, describing a scenario that is the very definition of a potential privacy fiasco.
“The limitations of those kind of apps are extensive,” said Mike Reid, an assistant professor of medicine at University of California, San Francisco, who’s leading the effort to train contact tracers in the state. “I don’t think they have an important role to play for most of the population.”
The contact tracers, he said, will be using software made by Salesforce and Accenture to help reach patients by phone and are trained on how to protect sensitive patient information.
“We go to pains to minimize the amount of data we take from people and we ask consent from people we’re talking to on the phone. We go to considerable lengths to ensure there are strong technical controls to ensure the anonymization of our platforms,” he said. “Can you say the same thing about these big tech companies? I’m not sure.”
Yeah, so it would be better if Apple and Google minimized the data and stored it only on the devices themselves, rather than collecting it on their servers. And they should explain in detail how their system protects privacy and ensures anonymity from start to finish.
Also — also! — we now have someone who will be training contact tracers in California, who voluntarily went on the record that Salesforce and Accenture are more worthy of trust for contract-tracing privacy protection (with detailed location data!) than the Apple/Google proposal. Goddamn.
With the Apple and Google approach, “we’ve overcompensated for privacy and still created other risks and not solved the problem,” said Ashkan Soltani, the former chief technologist of the Federal Trade Commission. “I’d personally be more comfortable if it were a health agency that I trusted and there were legal protections in place over the use of the data and I knew it was operated by a dedicated security team.”
It is legit amazing to see Ashkan Soltani, of all people, say “we’ve overcompensated for privacy.”
Tom Frieden, the former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now working with the health organization Vital Strategies, said the proximity-tracing system as proposed by Apple and Google has “been largely a distraction.”
“There are very serious questions about its feasibility and its ability to be done with adequate respect for privacy, and it has muddied the water for what actually needs to happen,” Frieden said in an interview Wednesday. “This was an approach that was done with not much understanding and a lot of overpromising.”
Here is Apple and Google’s joint announcement. What exactly did either company overpromise? Did a bunch of idiots who weren’t involved, didn’t read the specs, and don’t even understand the proposal jump to overpromise-y conclusions? Sure. But how is that Apple or Google’s fault?
The proximity-tracing systems are “a bright shiny object,” he said, “but right now they’re doing nothing to stop the pandemic.”
Maybe because they’re not fucking out yet? Hallelujah, holy shit — where’s the Tylenol?
Permalink - Posted on 2020-05-15 03:59, modified at 06:21
Dithering, my and Ben Thompson’s new thrice-weekly podcast, has now been out for a week. So far, so good. We had a pretty smooth launch and a terrific response. Let me just start by thanking all of you who’ve subscribed already.
Ben and I are in relatively uncharted territory here with Dithering’s subscription-based model. That’s worked for Ben with Stratechery, which is primarily a newsletter, but Stratechery has recently expanded into a podcast too, and Dithering is built on that Stratechery back end. It’s a really sweet sign-up experience. Ben wrote about our thinking in a piece this week: “Dithering and Open Versus Free”. It’s a very Stratechery-y post — strategy plus technology.
We’re listening to all of your comments and questions. Here’s where we are, one week in:
At launch, Stratechery members who added a Dithering subscription still had just one unified podcast feed, containing episodes of Stratechery’s Daily Update and Dithering. Technically, this is very clever, and it should, in theory, work great. But in practice, podcast apps just don’t expect one feed to contain episodes from multiple shows. This was the most common complaint, and so we tackled it as our highest priority. As of earlier this week, Stratechery and Dithering are now discrete podcast feeds, even for those of you subscribed to both. If you subscribed last week to the unified feed, you can get links to the separate feeds at the Stratechery podcasts page.
The next most common request is for a free sample episode. Reasonable! People want to know what they’re getting before they pay. But our thinking is this. First, Ben has been on The Talk Show numerous times — listening to us on my show gives you a taste of what Dithering is like. (And as for what Dithering is about, you can see a list of topics by looking at the episode list on the home page.) Second, Dithering is only $5/month to try, and if you don’t like it, it’s a cinch to cancel, hassle-free. We’ve had just over 5,000 sign-ups so far and not one single request for a refund. Zero! And for that $5/month price you get access to the whole back catalog of episodes going back to mid-March. We’ve heard from a bunch of people who’ve already listened to them all.
Also on the “listen to us for free” front, I was Ben’s guest last week on the Stratechery podcast. Normally, that’s for Stratechery subscribers only, but Ben made my interview a free episode. To listen, all you need to do is sign up for a free Stratechery account. Just go to that page and click “Create an account”. It’s completely free, and gets you a custom feed for the free episodes of the Stratechery podcast, including his interview with me (which is mostly about my own history publishing Daring Fireball). What’s really cool is that if you sign up, listen, and decide to subscribe to Dithering, you can do it right in your podcast app, from the link at the top of the episode’s show notes. It’s really very clever — and completely built on the open web.
People who like my podcast seem to enjoy Dithering. But a lot of people who don’t like The Talk Show like Dithering too — if what they dislike about The Talk Show is that episodes are so long. The 15-minute hard-and-fast episode length for Dithering gives it a very different feel, and it seems popular both with people who like long podcasts and people who only prefer short ones.
We’ve been asked a few times where the name “Dithering” came from. There’s a funny story about that. When we started recording “beta” episodes in mid-March, we had no name. We figured it’d take weeks, months even, to settle on a name, and were ready to call the show “Needs a Name” as a placeholder. I worried terribly about it, because everything about the brand would start with the name. But it turns out we came upon the name while we were recording the very first episode. Ben said the word “dithering” on air, near the end of the first episode, and for me it was like Vader seeing that fuzzy image of the rebel base on Hoth: “That’s it.” Or maybe it was me who said the word and Ben who instantly recognized as a great name for the show. I forget. You should subscribe and listen to that first episode to figure out how it happened.
Again, my thanks to everyone who’s already subscribed. And don’t forget the Dithering account on Twitter — a great way to send us feedback on episodes and listen to preview snippets of each new episode.