Outlier 

My thanks to Outlier for sponsoring this week’s DF RSS feed. Outlier makes radical quality clothing, with obsessively sourced raw materials. Their clothes are designed for performance, durability, and movement. I’m wearing their Ultrafine Merino T-shirt and Megafine Merino socks as I type this, and they are, simply, excellent.

I just got a pair of their shorts, too, and the first thing I checked out were the pockets. The pockets on most shorts I’ve owned are shitty. There’s no other way to say it. The pockets on Outlier shorts are exquisite. This is a company that pays attention to the details — all of the details.

What other company sells a bomber jacket with a description that begins “They say ‘don’t fuck with a classic’”? No one. Check them out. I’m buying a slew of their stuff this week.

HAL, Not Threepio 

Me, a few days ago:

Once you start thinking about the implications of an AI-driven device that can both see and hear you, it becomes obvious just how primitive these devices still are. I want a C–3PO, not a talking camera fixed on my dresser that tells me if my socks and shirt match.

Now that I think about it, what I really want is HAL. Think about it: HAL 9000 is the platonic ideal of these voice-driven assistants. He understands you perfectly, every time; he answers immediately; he can see not just hear; and he’s available throughout your home/spaceship. Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C. Clark were amazingly prescient about where AI and human-computer interfaces were heading. They were just too optimistic about how soon we’d get there.

Man Who Owns Car Company Thinks We Should Build Public Transit System for Cars 

Darrell Etherington, writing for TechCrunch on Elon Musk’s (admittedly cleverly named) Boring Company:

Just what does Elon Musk’s Boring Company want to accomplish? This might be our clearest picture yet — a video shown during Musk’s TEDTalk from Friday morning, which includes a rendering of a future underground transit network where cars travel on crisscrossing layers of tunnels that include sleds shuttling vehicles around on rails at around 130 mph.

This is a stupid idea, and I can’t believe anyone is taking it seriously. Why in the world would any city in the world invest in a public transit system for cars? I’m all for major investments in public transit infrastructure, but public transit is and should be for people, not for fucking cars.

EPA Website Removes Climate Science Site From Public View After Two Decades 

Chris Mooney and Juliet Eilperin, reporting for The Washington Post:

The Environmental Protection Agency announced Friday evening that its website would be “undergoing changes” to better represent the new direction the agency is taking, triggering the removal of several agency websites containing detailed climate data and scientific information. […]

The staffer described the process of reviewing the site as “a work in progress, but we can’t have information which contradicts the actions we have taken in the last two months,” adding that Pruitt’s aides had “found a number of instances of that so far” while surveying the site.

Yet the website overhaul appears to include not only policy-related changes but also scrutiny of a scientific Web page that has existed for nearly two decades, and that explained what climate change is and how it worked.

Translation: “We can’t let scientific facts get in the way of our policies.

The Bush administration wasn’t exactly known as a friend to environmental concerns, but even they didn’t take down these pages of scientific facts and data. The Trump kakistocracy is something else entirely.

Thieves Leak First 10 ‘Orange Is the New Black’ Season 5 Episodes After Netflix Refuses to Pay Ransom 

Todd Spangler, reporting for Variety:

An anonymous hacker has carried through on a threat to release “Orange Is the New Black” season five episodes online — after Netflix allegedly failed to respond to the cybercriminal’s shakedown demands. […]

The first 10 episodes of season 5 were apparently shared shortly before 6 a.m. ET Saturday, with the 10 files comprising a total of 11.46 gigabytes. […]

According to “thedarkoverlord,” the hacker or hackers also have obtained unreleased shows from ABC, Fox, National Geographic and IFC. The content appears to have been stolen in an attack on post-production studio Larson Studios in late 2016, according to piracy-news site TorrentFreak. “Thedarkoverlord” explained in an online post that they obtained only the first 10 of the 13 episodes of “OITNB” season 5 because the cyberattack was carried out before the final three installments were available.

Here’s “Thedarkoverlord“‘s post announcing the release of the episodes.

I got a tour of MLB Advanced Media’s facilities in New York last year. We weren’t allowed anywhere near the area where HBO shows were handled. That area was like the count room in a casino — the securest of secure areas. You know how you don’t crack jokes about bombs while you’re in the security line at an airport? It’s like that with leaked episodes of Game of Thrones at MLB Advanced Media — no joking matter.

I would not want to be Larson Studios.

George Takei: ‘Internment, America’s Great Mistake’ 

George Takei, in an op-ed for The New York Times:

I was 5 years old at the beginning of our internment in Arkansas. I remember every school morning reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, my eyes upon the stars and stripes of the flag, but at the same time I could see from the window the barbed wire and the sentry towers where guards kept guns trained on us.

I was 7 years old when we were transferred to another camp for “disloyals.” My mother and father’s only crime was refusing, out of principle, to sign a loyalty pledge promulgated by the government. The authorities had already taken my parents’ home on Garnet Street in Los Angeles, their once thriving dry cleaning business, and finally their liberty. Now they wanted them to grovel; this was an indignity too far.

When I was a kid, I thought World War II was “a long time ago”. Now that I’m in my 40s, when I think about the fact that the Japanese internment happened just 30 years before I was born, it gives me pause. It wasn’t that long ago.

Apple Halts License Payments to Qualcomm in ‘All-Out War’ 

Ian King, reporting for Bloomberg:

Apple Inc. cut off billions of dollars in payments to Qualcomm Inc., turning a contract dispute into what one analyst called an “all-out war” that forced the chip supplier to slash forecasts given only days ago.

The world’s largest publicly-traded technology company and one of the main suppliers of components to the iPhone, its most important product, have traded accusations of lying, making threats and trying to create an illegal monopoly. The fight involves billions of dollars of technology licensing revenue that, if permanently cut off or reduced, would damage Qualcomm’s main source of profit and help bolster Apple’s margins.

Apple told Qualcomm it will stop paying licensing revenue to contract manufacturers of the iPhone, the mechanism by which it’s paid the chipmaker since the best-selling smartphone debuted in 2007, the San Diego, California-based company said in a statement. Qualcomm removed any assumption it will get those fees from its forecast for the current period. Apple doesn’t have a direct license with Qualcomm, unlike other phone makers.

Reminds me of that episode of Mad Men where Don Draper said to Duck Phillips, “I don’t have a contract.” This is some serious hardball — Qualcomm had to cut its revenue forecast for the next quarter by $500 million.

Transcript of Lisa Jackson’s Episode of The Talk Show 

Full transcript of Lisa Jackson’s interview on The Talk Show last week. In case you missed it, it’s a great episode.

‘I Thought It Would Be Easier’ 

Reuters reporters Stephen J. Adler, Jeff Mason, and Steve Holland:

President Donald Trump on Thursday reflected on his first 100 days in office with a wistful look at his life before the White House.

“I loved my previous life. I had so many things going,” Trump told Reuters in an interview. “This is more work than in my previous life. I thought it would be easier.”

As with his admission two weeks ago that after just 10 minutes with President Xi Jinping of China, he realized he was completely ignorant of the complexity of Chinese-North Korean relations, what’s striking here isn’t that Trump was so ignorant that he thought being president of the United States would be easier than hosting a game show. It’s that he’s so militantly ignorant that he’s not embarrassed to admit this. He’s a laughingstock around the world.

More than five months after his victory and two days shy of the 100-day mark of his presidency, the election is still on Trump’s mind. Midway through a discussion about Chinese President Xi Jinping, the president paused to hand out copies of what he said were the latest figures from the 2016 electoral map.

“Here, you can take that, that’s the final map of the numbers,” the Republican president said from his desk in the Oval Office, handing out maps of the United States with areas he won marked in red. “It’s pretty good, right? The red is obviously us.”

He had copies for each of the three Reuters reporters in the room.

The election is old news to everyone but Trump, because it’s the only thing he can hold onto as any form of success. Again, the fact that he’s still obsessed with it is bad enough, but even worse is that lacks the self-awareness to realize that perseverating on it in an interview with Reuters — with prepared printed material in triplicate — lays his pathological narcissism bare for the world to see.

Man Trump Named to Fix Mortgage Markets Figured in Infamous Financial Crisis Episode 

Matt Taibbi, writing for Rolling Stone:

Of those bad actors, there is a subset of still-worse actors, who not only sold these toxic investments to institutional investors like pension funds and Fannie and Freddie, but helped get a generation of home borrowers — often minorities and the poor — into deadly mortgages that ended up wiping out their equity.

Phillips, who helped Fannie and Freddie into substantial losses and worked with predatory firms like New Century, belongs in this second category. As Beavis and Butthead would put it, Phillips comes from the “ass of the ass.”

Donald Trump, then, has essentially picked one of the last people on earth who should be allowed to help reshape the mortgage markets. This is like putting a guy who sold thousand-dollar magazine subscriptions to your grandmother on the telephone in charge of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, or the A.A.R.P.

[Kakistocracy].

Was Uber CEO Travis Kalanick Really the 2nd Best ‘Wii Tennis’ Player in the World? 

Jess Joho, investigating for Motherboard:

As the story goes, one night in 2010 or so, Kalanick was with friend and Uber investor Chris Sacca. Sacca’s dad requested a game of “Wii Tennis” and Kalanick allegedly blew them all away before revealing he was tied for 2nd best in the world.

The first problem here is that “Wii Tennis” is not a video game that exists. I reached out to several Uber representatives a few times for clarity on this but the company replied that, “we’re not commenting.” When we asked Nintendo of America for help in identifying this game, it said “We have nothing to announce on this topic.”

Based on this story’s many retellings (and the images used whenever it makes media rounds throughout the past couple of years), most people assume that they actually meant Wii Sports, released in 2006, which included a tennis mini-game. It was also an insanely popular game that sold over 82 million copies and was packed in with the Wii in North America, so it makes sense that Sacca’s dad had it. The problem here is that Wii Sports had no online play of any kind and therefore no leaderboard to keep track of the best players in the world.

“Second-best in the world” is such a funny thing to lie about.

But I have to point out: it’s Chris Sacca, not Kalanick, who looks like he’s full of shit in this telling. As far as I can tell, this wasn’t a story Kalanick used to pump himself up but rather a story Sacca used to pump Uber up by painting Kalanick as a superman. Sacca owns 4 percent of Uber.

Sheldon Whitehouse on the Politics of Climate Change 

Terrific 5-minute video from Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island on the politics behind the Republican Party’s stonewalling on climate change. Watch it and pass it along.

(I’m surely the millionth person to make this observation, but how great would it be if he were elected president and we had a Whitehouse White House?)

Are Trump Voters Ruining America for All of Us? 

Tom Nichols, in an op-ed for USA Today:

There is a serious danger to American democracy in all this. When voters choose ill-informed grudges and diffuse resentment over the public good, a republic becomes unsustainable. The temperance and prudent reasoning required of representative government gets pushed aside in favor of whatever ignorant idea has seized the public at that moment. The Washington Post recently changed its motto to “democracy dies in darkness,” a phrase that is not only pretentious but inaccurate. More likely, American democracy will die in dumbness.

Those of us who criticized Trump voters for their angry populism were often told during and after the election not to condescend to our fellow citizens, and to respect their choices. This is fair. In a democracy, every vote counts equally and the president won an impressive and legitimate electoral victory.

Even so, the unwillingness of so many of his supporters to hold him to even a minimal standard of accountability means that a certain amount of condescension from the rest of us is unavoidable.

If you say “I voted for Trump because I want to say ‘Fuck you’ to everyone — my life’s in the toilet and I’d like to see the world burn”, OK, I get it. I don’t like you, but you made the right choice in Trump and I can see why you’re happy so far. But if you’re pleased with Trump because you think he’s running an effective administration and is accomplishing the things he promised to accomplish, you’re as disconnected from reality as he is.

(Also, kudos to Nichols for the rare exception to Betteridge’s Law of Headlines.)

Amazon Echo Look — A Camera for Your Dressing Room 

There are a few fleeting shots of men in Amazon’s intro video for the Echo Look, but this is clearly envisioned as a product for women. I’m trying to think of another gadget whose advertising is so heavily skewed toward women, and I’m coming up blank.

Once you start thinking about the implications of an AI-driven device that can both see and hear you, it becomes obvious just how primitive these devices still are. I want a C-3PO, not a talking camera fixed on my dresser that tells me if my socks and shirt match.

Privacy-wise, this bit seems rather alarming:

Motherboard also asked if Echo Look photos, videos, and the data gleaned from them would be sold to third parties; the company did not address that question.

Apple can’t get into this category fast enough.

Update: I want HAL first.

‘Today at Apple’ 

Apple:

Apple today announced plans to launch dozens of new educational sessions next month in all 495 Apple stores ranging in topics from photo and video to music, coding, art and design and more. The hands-on sessions, collectively called “Today at Apple,” will be led by highly-trained team members, and in select cities world-class artists, photographers and musicians, teaching sessions from basics and how-to lessons to professional-level programs.

I think Apple’s retail stores are one of the most overlooked / under-estimated advantages in all of technology. They have spaces around the world where people can have interactions with real people, in real life. Not through a screen. Real life. Who else has that? I think taking that to the next level is what this “Today at Apple” program is all about.

Animated Bézier Curves 

Very cool web page by Jason Davies that interactively shows how Bézier curves work.

(Via Gus Mueller.)

Google Rewrites Its Powerful Search Rankings to Bury Fake News 

Mark Bergen, writing for Bloomberg:

The Alphabet Inc. company is making a rare, sweeping change to the algorithm behind its powerful search engine to demote misleading, false and offensive articles online. Google is also setting new rules encouraging its “raters” — the 10,000-plus staff that assess search results — to flag web pages that host hoaxes, conspiracy theories and what the company calls “low-quality” content.

The moves follow months after criticism of Google and Facebook Inc. for hosting misleading information, particular tied to the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Google executives claimed the type of web pages categorized in this bucket are relatively small, which is a reason why the search giant hadn’t addressed the issue before.

“It was not a large fraction of queries — only about a quarter percent of our traffic — but they were important queries,” said Ben Gomes, vice president of engineering for Google.

Good for them. What Gomes said is exactly right — it may not be many queries, but they are important queries.

In Response to Guardian’s Irresponsible Reporting on WhatsApp 

Speaking of The Guardian, it’s now the last week of April and they still haven’t issued a retraction of their grievously irresponsible story alleging a “backdoor” in WhatsApp from January. Zeynep Tufekci, in an open letter signed by dozens of security/cryptography experts:

Unfortunately, your story was the equivalent of putting “VACCINES KILL PEOPLE” in a blaring headline over a poorly contextualized piece. While it is true that in a few cases, vaccines kill people through rare and unfortunate side effects, they also save millions of lives.

You would have no problem understanding why “Vaccines Kill People” would be a problem headline for a story, especially given the context of anti-vaccination movements. But your series of stories on WhatsApp does the same disservice and perpetrates a similar public health threat against secure communications.

The behavior described in your article is not a backdoor in WhatsApp. This is the overwhelming consensus of the cryptography and security community. It is also the collective opinion of the cryptography professionals whose names appear below. The behavior you highlight is a measured tradeoff that poses a remote threat in return for real benefits that help keep users secure, as we will discuss in a moment. […]

Since the publication of this story, we’ve observed and heard from worried activists, journalists and ordinary people who use WhatsApp, who tell us that people are switching to SMS and Facebook Messenger, among other options–many services that are strictly less secure than WhatsApp.

The Guardian has stretched this out for three months, so it looks like they think they can run out the clock on it. Shameful — this should be an everlasting hit to their credibility.

The Guardian Pulls Out of Facebook’s Instant Articles and Apple News, but Not Google’s AMP 

Jessica Davies, reporting for Digiday:

A Guardian News and Media spokesperson confirmed the removal, and issued the following statement to Digiday: “We have run extensive trials on Facebook Instant Articles and Apple News to assess how they fit with our editorial and commercial objectives. Having evaluated these trials, we have decided to stop publishing in those formats on both platforms. Our primary objective is to bring audiences to the trusted environment of the Guardian to support building deeper relationships with our readers, and growing membership and contributions to fund our world-class journalism.”

But:

Meanwhile the Guardian’s use of Google’s Accelerated Mobile Pages, the rival to Instant Articles, seems to be going strong. In March the Guardian presented at AMP Conf, a two-day conference hosted in New York, where it revealed that 60 percent of the Guardian’s Google-referred mobile traffic was coming via AMP.

Follow that link, though, and it doesn’t sound like The Guardian is getting much out of AMP:

AMP pages are 2 percent more likely to be clicked on and clickthrough rates on AMP pages to non-AMP pages is 8.6 percent higher than they are on regular mobile pages, according to Natalia Baltazar, a developer for the British newspaper, who presented at AMP Conf, a two-day conference hosted by Google taking place in New York City March 7-8.

Wikitribune: An ‘Evidence-Based’ News Site From Jimmy Wales 

New ad-free news site from Jimmy Wales, with professional journalists and Wikipedia-style volunteers working side-by-side. Terrific idea, and there’s a great launch video by Sandwich Video and Kirby Ferguson that explains the concept well.

Here’s Why Juicero’s Press Is So Expensive 

Ben Einstein has a nice tear-down of Juicero’s $399 juicer:

Our usual advice to hardware founders is to focus on getting a product to market to test the core assumptions on actual target customers, and then iterate. Instead, Juicero spent $120M over two years to build a complex supply chain and perfectly engineered product that is too expensive for their target demographic.

Imagine a world where Juicero raised only $10M and built a product subject to significant constraints. Maybe the Press wouldn’t be so perfectly engineered but it might have a fewer features and cost a fraction of the original $699. Or maybe with a more iterative approach, they would have quickly found that customers vary greatly in their juice consumption patterns, and would have chosen a per-pack pricing model rather than one-size-fits-all $35/week subscription. Suddenly Juicero is incredibly compelling as a product offering, at least to this consumer.


Judging Apple Watch’s Success

Mike Murphy, writing for Quartz, “Two Years After Its Launch, the Apple Watch Hasn’t Made a Difference at Apple”:

Apple’s biggest launch since the iPad in 2010, the Apple Watch was expected to be a hit: Given the massive financial success of the iPhone, it stood to reason that a companion device might be something customers craved.

Not so much. Apple has never shared hard numbers on how many wearables it has sold, and doesn’t even break out Watch sales in its quarterly earnings report. Instead, the device is bundled into Apple’s “Other products,” which the company says includes, “Apple TV, Apple Watch, Beats products, iPod and Apple-branded and third-party accessories.”

These articles come out like clockwork every 3 months, as Apple’s earnings report draws near. Apple told us they were not going to report hard numbers on Apple Watch right from the start, six months before it shipped. They want to keep them secret for competitive reasons.

Two years and two iterations after its launch, the Apple Watch has not proven to be as indispensable as the iPhone, or even as lucrative as the Mac, the iPad, or Apple’s services businesses. It’s unclear whether an iPhone-like overhaul, or attempts to market the watch directly to athletes or millennials, will ultimately make a difference.

(“Two years and two iterations after its launch” — I don’t know if that’s a mistake, if Murphy is counting WatchOS releases, or if he’s counting Series 1 as a full hardware iteration. But it’s sloppy writing. Most people would surely agree that there’s been only one iteration since launch, the Series 2 watches released last September.)

The nut of every “Apple Watch is a dud” story is the fact that it’s clearly not an iPhone-size business. But that can’t be the only measure of success. The iPhone is the biggest and most successful consumer product in the history of the world. Nothing compares to the smartphone market, and it’s possible nothing else will in our lifetimes. You and I may never again see a product as profitable as the iPhone — not just from Apple, but from any company in any industry. Or maybe we will. It’s a complete unknown.

But if Apple gets it into its head that they should only work on iPhone-sized opportunities, it would paralyze the company. In baseball terms, it’s fine for Apple to hit a bunch of singles while waiting for their next home run. According to Apple, they had more watch sales by revenue in 2015 than any company other than Rolex, and Apple’s “Other” category, which is where Watch sales are accounted for, had a near record-breaking holiday quarter three months ago, suggesting strongly that Watch sales were up over the year-ago holiday quarter.

These two facts are both true: Apple Watch sales are a rounding error compared to the iPhone, and Apple Watch is a smash hit compared to traditional watches and other wearable devices. 


CleanEmail 

If you’re looking for an alternative to Unroll.me, CleanEmail looks like a good choice:

Here at CleanEmail, we are committed to your security and privacy. In short: we don’t keep, sell, or analyze your data for the purposes beyond our public features. Read below for more details.

They don’t have to sell your personal email data because they charge an honest price for their service.

The Gentlemen’s Journal’s Ranking of Bond Cars 

Not a bad list, but I would move the Toyota 2000GT from You Only Live Twice up to number 3, and I would have put the Aston Martin V8 from The Living Daylights on the list.

One for the Thumbs 

Jason Snell, writing at Six Colors:

Siskel and Ebert had it right. The two critics were forced to provide star ratings for their newspapers, but when they created their own TV movie-reviews show, they famously boiled the whole thing down to thumbs up and thumbs down. And they were critics who reviewed hundreds of films a year! If it was good enough for them, it’s good enough for the rest of us — and for the algorithms fed by our sentiment.

👍

Apple Cuts Affiliate Commissions on Apps and In-App Purchases 

John Voorhees, reporting for MacStories:

Today, Apple announced that it is reducing the commissions it pays on apps and In-App Purchases from 7% to 2.5% effective May 1st. The iTunes Affiliate Program pays a commission from Apple’s portion of the sale of apps and other media when a purchase is made with a link that contains the affiliate credentials of a member of the program. Anyone can join, but the Affiliate Program is used heavily by websites that cover media sold by Apple and app developers. […]

With ad revenue in decline, affiliate commissions are one way that many websites that write about apps generate revenue, MacStories included. Many developers also use affiliate links in their apps and on their websites to supplement their app income. This change will put additional financial pressure on both groups, which is why it’s especially unfortunate that the changes are being made on just one week’s notice.

Everything about this strikes me as strange, including the mere one week notice and the severity of the cut. It’s not a small reduction — it’s effectively been cut by two thirds. Note too that Apple is only reducing the affiliate commission for apps and in-app purchases — movies, music, and books are all still at 7 percent.

I ask: Why? I can almost always see logic behind Apple’s decisions, even when I don’t agree with them. But not this one.

Update: I should add that I don’t have any skin in this decision, personally. I don’t use affiliate codes when linking to apps here at DF, and I’m no longer in Amazon’s affiliate program either. I think we did use affiliate codes at Q Branch to get a commission on links to Vesper, but that’s over now.

‘Heartbreaking’ 

Unroll.me CEO and founder Jojo Hedaya, in a blog post responding to the outcry after Mike Isaac of The New York Times revealed that the company does things like sell “anonymized” Lyft receipts to Lyft arch-rival Uber:

Our users are the heart of our company and service. So it was heartbreaking to see that some of our users were upset to learn about how we monetize our free service.

And while we try our best to be open about our business model, recent customer feedback tells me we weren’t explicit enough.

Give me a fucking break. They’re not “heartbroken” because their users are upset. They’re in damage-control mode because they were operating under the radar and now they’ve been revealed, very publicly, as the shitbags that they are. If you’ve signed up for Unroll.me, delete your account. They make money by selling your purchase receipts to the highest bidder. That’s their business.

Unsubstantiated, but from a post on Hacker News:

I worked for a company that nearly acquired unroll.me. At the time, which was over three years ago, they had kept a copy of every single email of yours that you sent or received while a part of their service. Those emails were kept in a series of poorly secured S3 buckets. A large part of Slice buying unroll.me was for access to those email archives. Specifically, they wanted to look for keyword trends and for receipts from online purchases.


On Uber’s ‘Identifying and Tagging’ of iPhones

Mike Isaac’s profile of Uber CEO Travis Kalanick for The New York Times contains an accusation that, on its face, sounds outrageous:

For months, Mr. Kalanick had pulled a fast one on Apple by directing his employees to help camouflage the ride-hailing app from Apple’s engineers. The reason? So Apple would not find out that Uber had been secretly identifying and tagging iPhones even after its app had been deleted and the devices erased — a fraud detection maneuver that violated Apple’s privacy guidelines.

But Apple was on to the deception, and when Mr. Kalanick arrived at the midafternoon meeting sporting his favorite pair of bright red sneakers and hot-pink socks, Mr. Cook was prepared. “So, I’ve heard you’ve been breaking some of our rules,” Mr. Cook said in his calm, Southern tone. Stop the trickery, Mr. Cook then demanded, or Uber’s app would be kicked out of Apple’s App Store.

For Mr. Kalanick, the moment was fraught with tension. If Uber’s app was yanked from the App Store, it would lose access to millions of iPhone customers — essentially destroying the ride-hailing company’s business. So Mr. Kalanick acceded.

“Secretly identifying and tagging iPhones even after its app had been deleted and the devices erased” is a rather startling accusation, because it sounds like it should be technically impossible. It’s also very much unclear what information Uber was able to glean from these “identified and tagged” iPhones other than some sort of unique device identifier. Unfortunately, the Times story is very short on details here. But note that the Times is not saying Uber was “tracking” these phones. A lot of people are jumping to the conclusion that Uber was somehow tracking the location of users even after they deleted the Uber app, but the word “track” only appears in the article in the context of Kalanick having “excelled at running track and playing football” in high school.

[Update: This explains a lot, regarding the hubbub today over this story. When first published, the Times story did use the word “tracking”, but a subsequent revision changed that word to “identifying and tagging”.]

Reading between the lines, it is possible — and my gut says quite probable — that Uber wasn’t doing anything on these iPhones other than when its app was installed and running on them. From the end of the article:

The idea of fooling Apple, the main distributor of Uber’s app, began in 2014.

At the time, Uber was dealing with widespread account fraud in places like China, where tricksters bought stolen iPhones that were erased of their memory and resold. Some Uber drivers there would then create dozens of fake email addresses to sign up for new Uber rider accounts attached to each phone, and request rides from those phones, which they would then accept. Since Uber was handing out incentives to drivers to take more rides, the drivers could earn more money this way.

To halt the activity, Uber engineers assigned a persistent identity to iPhones with a small piece of code, a practice called “fingerprinting.” Uber could then identify an iPhone and prevent itself from being fooled even after the device was erased of its contents.

There was one problem: Fingerprinting iPhones broke Apple’s rules. Mr. Cook believed that wiping an iPhone should ensure that no trace of the owner’s identity remained on the device.

What Isaac is reporting here doesn’t require any code running on an iPhone other than when the Uber app is itself installed and launched. I’m speculating here, but it could be something like this:

  1. The Uber app, while installed, fingerprints the device somehow, and reports the fingerprint home to Uber’s servers, where it is tied to the user’s Uber account. (All iPhones have a Unique Device Identifier — “UDID” — but Apple banned third-party apps from accessing it in 2012. Uber either found a way to access UDIDs surreptitiously, or created some other way of uniquely identifying devices even after they’ve been wiped. It would be good to know exactly what they did, but for the sake of my argument here it doesn’t matter.)

  2. The Uber app is deleted from the device and/or device is wiped. At this point, Uber knows the fingerprint for the device, but can’t use it to track the device in any way, and they don’t care, because until someone reinstalls the Uber app on the phone it isn’t being used to book fraudulent rides.

  3. The Uber app is reinstalled on the iPhone. When it launches, it does the fingerprint check and phones home again. Uber now knows this is the same iPhone they’ve seen before, because the fingerprint matches. This is the violation of Apple’s privacy policy.

But until step 3, when the Uber app is reinstalled, I don’t think Uber was “tracking” the phone in any way. And they didn’t care — the Times says the whole project was designed to counter fraud in China, which required the Uber app to be reinstalled on stolen iPhones.

Repeating from the opening of the article, Isaac wrote:

So Apple would not find out that Uber had been secretly identifying and tagging iPhones even after its app had been deleted and the devices erased — a fraud detection maneuver that violated Apple’s privacy guidelines.

That sounds like Uber was doing the identifying and “tagging” (whatever that is) after the app had been deleted and/or the device wiped, but I think what it might — might — actually mean is merely that the identification persisted after the app had been deleted and/or the device wiped. That’s not supposed to be technically possible — iOS APIs for things like the UDID and even the MAC address stopped reporting unique identifiers years ago, because they were being abused by privacy invasive ad trackers, analytics packages, and entitled shitbags like Uber. That’s wrong, and Apple was right to put an end to it, but it’s far less sensational than the prospect of Uber having been able to identify and “tag” an iPhone after the Uber app had been deleted. The latter scenario only seems technically possible if other third-party apps were executing surreptitious code that did this stuff through Uber’s SDK, or if the Uber app left behind malware outside the app’s sandbox. I don’t think that’s the case, if only because I don’t think Apple would have hesitated to remove Uber from the App Store if it was infecting iPhones with hidden phone-home malware.

The article does raise some questions:

  • What APIs and device info was Uber using to identify iPhones? Are these API loopholes now closed in iOS? If we don’t learn exactly what Uber was using to identify devices, we cannot know that the technique no longer works. iOS users should be able to feel confident that when they delete an app, all connections between their device and the developer of the app are disconnected, and that when they wipe a device, everything personally identifying has been removed from it.

  • What exactly did Apple know about Uber’s actions in this regard when Tim Cook called Kalanick in for the meeting? Was Apple aware that Uber was specifically keeping a database of unique iPhone identifiers? If so, how?

  • What prompted Apple to investigate Uber in this regard? And why did Uber suspect Apple was going to investigate, prompting them to geofence their fingerprinting so it wouldn’t trigger in Cupertino? (My theory: the Uber app was calling private APIs, and they used the geofence to avoid calling those private APIs while the app was in App Store review, assuming, perhaps incorrectly, that all App Store reviewers work in Cupertino. App Store review can identify apps that call private APIs.)

  • Update: Why didn’t Apple require Uber to disclose what they’d done as a condition for remaining in the store? Shouldn’t iPhone users who had Uber installed know about this?

[Update 2: Will Strafach examined a 2014 build of the Uber iOS app and found them using private APIs to use IOKit to pull the device serial number from the device registry. There might be more, but this alone is a blatant violation of App Store policy. Strafach confirms that the technique Uber was using no longer works in iOS 10.]


The article also contains this non-Apple-related tidbit:

Uber devoted teams to so-called competitive intelligence, purchasing data from an analytics service called Slice Intelligence. Using an email digest service it owns named Unroll.me, Slice collected its customers’ emailed Lyft receipts from their inboxes and sold the anonymized data to Uber. Uber used the data as a proxy for the health of Lyft’s business. (Lyft, too, operates a competitive intelligence team.)

Slice confirmed that it sells anonymized data (meaning that customers’ names are not attached) based on ride receipts from Uber and Lyft, but declined to disclose who buys the information.

This is, needless to say, super shitty. We expect it from Uber. But Slice should be ashamed of themselves. Their Unroll.me service is billed as a tool to “Clean up your inbox” by identifying subscription emails and allowing you to unsubscribe from them in bulk. It’s “free” in the sense that you don’t pay them money, but they’re selling your personal information to companies like Uber. Supposedly that information is anonymized, but wiped iPhones are supposed to be anonymized too, and Uber found at least one route around that.  


Fastly 

My thanks to Fastly for once again sponsoring the DF RSS feed. Fastly’s content delivery network was built by developers for developers — they speed up sites and applications no matter where your customers are or which devices they use. Fastly integrates seamlessly with your existing stack and workflows, delivering content quickly and securely to your end users while giving you the real-time metrics you need to make better decisions. Fastly customers include open source projects like Python and Ruby, as well as major developer and consumer companies like GitHub, New Relic, and Airbnb.

They even have a special deal for Daring Fireball readers: test up to $50 of traffic free of charge.

The Talk Show: Apple VP Lisa Jackson 

Special guest Lisa Jackson — Apple’s vice president of Environment, Policy, and Social Initiatives — joins the show for an Earth Day discussion of the state of Apple’s environmental efforts: climate change, renewable energy, responsible packaging, and Apple’s new goal to create a “closed-loop supply chain”, wherein the company’s products would be manufactured entirely from recycled materials.

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How Apple Won Silicon: Why Galaxy S8 Can’t Go Core-to-Core With iPhone 7 

Rene Ritchie, writing for iMore:

Conversely, Apple’s silicon team also doesn’t have to carry the baggage of competing vendors and devices. For example, Apple A10 doesn’t have to support Microsoft’s Direct X. It only and exactly has to support Apple’s specific technologies and implementations.

In other words, what iOS wants fast, the A-team can deliver fast.

I’ve said it before and will say it again: I’d prefer the iPhone over Android even if it were Android that had the massive lead in CPU performance. But Apple is literally over a year ahead of the competition — even the iPhone 6S and SE outperform the S8 in single-threaded performance.

New Apple Watch NikeLab 

New limited edition Nike Apple Watch — space gray watch with a bone-colored watch strap with near-black accents. Looks cool in a Stormtrooper-y way. (I’m thinking the pin for the watch strap should be space gray too, though, right?)

Update: Yours truly two years ago:

New Stormtroopers look like their armor was designed by Nike.

(This is a compliment, it’s a cool look.)

Apple’s New Earth Day Videos 

Lance Ulanoff, writing at Mashable:

A typical Apple promotional video has a type: Clean, dispassionate, slightly British (thanks Jony Ive) and self-congratulatory. It’s not quirky, whimsical, or funny.

But each of the four short animated stories detailing Apple’s efforts to become a 100 percent renewable company and released just a few days before Earth Day, are unlike anything Apple has produced before.

What’s more interesting is that the audio is 100 percent true and, taken by itself, not particularly funny. But when combined with the hand-drawn animation from illustrator James Blagden the stories become whimsical and even a little odd.

Apple is hosting versions of all four videos on their home page:

Speed Test Between iPhone 7 Plus and Top Android Phones 

I don’t know how much these sort of tests matter in terms of real-world experience, but it really is striking how much faster the iPhone is going through the loop the second time. Part of this is iOS being better at memory management than Android, but a big factor is that the A10 is a much faster chip than anything available for Android.

A Software Developer’s Mac Pro 

Justin Williams:

I can’t speak to what the other five types of users need, but I have a pretty good idea of what I’d want as an iOS developer who uses a Mac every day. Not that anyone in Cupertino is asking me, but if they did I’d say this is my dream Mac.

This sounds about right to me.

The New Mac Pro Needs to Be Versatile 

Marco Arment, examining the wildly-varying needs of Mac Pro customers:

Or, to distill the requirements down to a single word:

Versatility.

Just as macOS’ versatility allows iOS to remain lightweight, the ability of the rest of the Mac lineup to be more aggressive, minimalist, and forward-looking depends on the Mac Pro to cover everyone whose needs don’t fit into them. The Mac Pro must be the catch-all at the high end: anytime someone says the iMac or MacBook Pro isn’t something enough for them, the solution should be the Mac Pro.

That link is to my Macworld column from 7 years ago, which reads like it was written today:

Here’s the short version of the “Mac is doomed” scenario: iOS is the future, Mac OS X is the past, and Apple is strongly inclined to abandon the past in the name of the future.

You can’t really argue with that, can you? But the premise that the end is near for the Mac presupposes quite a bit about the near-term future of iOS.

[…]

At typical companies, “legacy” technology is something you figure out how to carry forward. At Apple, legacy technology is something you figure out how to get rid of. The question isn’t whether iOS has a brighter future than the Mac. There is no doubt: it does. The question is whether the Mac has become “legacy.” Is the Mac slowing iOS down or in any way holding it back

Conservatives Hated an Uppity Negro Golfing President 

Shaun King, in his column for The New York Daily News:

Imagine Michelle Obama demanded to live in a gold-plated penthouse in the middle of Manhattan, costs be damned, while President Obama lived in the White House alone. The outrage would be riot-level fierce. Now, conservatives no longer care.

$400 VC-Backed Juice Machine Is Completely Unnecessary 

Ellen Huet and Olivia Zaleski, reporting for Bloomberg:

Doug Evans, the company’s founder, would compare himself with Steve Jobs in his pursuit of juicing perfection. He declared that his juice press wields four tons of force — “enough to lift two Teslas,” he said. Google’s venture capital arm and other backers poured about $120 million into the startup. Juicero sells the machine for $400, plus the cost of individual juice packs delivered weekly. Tech blogs have dubbed it a “Keurig for juice.”

But after the product hit the market, some investors were surprised to discover a much cheaper alternative: You can squeeze the Juicero bags with your bare hands. Two backers said the final device was bulkier than what was originally pitched and that they were puzzled to find that customers could achieve similar results without it. Bloomberg performed its own press test, pitting a Juicero machine against a reporter’s grip. The experiment found that squeezing the bag yields nearly the same amount of juice just as quickly — and in some cases, faster — than using the device.

Juicero declined to comment.

This is hilarious. Terrific video demonstration too.

But after the product’s introduction last year, at least two Juicero investors were taken aback after finding the packs could be squeezed by hand. They also said the machine was much bigger than what Evans had proposed.

This says as much about the investors as it does about the company.

Fox News Fires Bill O’Reilly 

Gabriel Sherman, reporting for New York magazine this morning:

The Murdochs have decided Bill O’Reilly’s 21-year run at Fox News will come to an end. According to sources briefed on the discussions, network executives are preparing to announce O’Reilly’s departure before he returns from an Italian vacation on April 24. Now the big questions are how the exit will look and who will replace him.

Wednesday morning, according to sources, executives are holding emergency meetings to discuss how they can sever the relationship with the country’s highest-rated cable-news host without causing collateral damage to the network. The board of Fox News’ parent company, 21st Century Fox, is scheduled to meet on Thursday to discuss the matter.

Official statement from Fox News:

After a thorough and careful review of the allegations, the Company and Bill O’Reilly have agreed that Bill O’Reilly will not be returning to the Fox News Channel.

What an ignominious end. His last episode was just 41 minutes long, because so many sponsors had pulled out, and he doesn’t even get to say goodbye to his audience.

The Talk Show: ‘Forget About Frodo and Sam’ 

That’s right, another new episode of The Talk Show. Special guest MG Siegler returns to the show. Topics includes Virgin America’s sad fate as a subsidiary of Alaska Airlines, the Touch Bar on the new MacBook Pros, “doing work” on an iPad Pro, Walt Mossberg, the absurd bloat of iOS apps, Clips, Netflix and Amazon’s spending on video, and more.

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Video of Facebook Spaces in Action 

I’m calling this an “emperor has no clothes” moment. This is a horror show. Disembodied torsos? Virtual selfie sticks? This looks like the way people would socialize in a post-apocalyptic scenario where everyone is quarantined in a bunker to shelter themselves from the zombie virus. It’s clunky and painfully awkward.

Who the hell wants to strap on a headset to have a video call with the disembodied Wii-like avatars of their friends when they can just hold up their phones and have a regular video call where they can see their actual friends? This is stupid.

Internet Archive Now Has a Browser-Based Emulator of Classic Mac Hardware 

Jason Scott:

After offering in-browser emulation of console games, arcade machines, and a range of other home computers, the Internet Archive can now emulate the early models of the Apple Macintosh, the black-and-white, mouse driven computer that radically shifted the future of home computing in 1984.

This is amazing. HyperCard! ResEdit! Quit commands in their rightful place in the File menu!

One thing that struck me clicking around for a few minutes: the original Mac team got it wrong with their decision to only keep a menu open while holding down the mouse button. Years later, Apple switched to allowing both click-and-hold and just plain click-and-release to navigate menus. I’ve long since lost my muscle memory for the old way. The menus keep disappearing on me in this emulator.

Another thing that struck me: the classic Mac OS was beautiful. So well designed.

Update: Here’s Mac Missiles, a pretty good Missile Command clone written in 1985 by some kid named Avie Tevanian. He also wrote MacLanding, a Defender clone, but I can’t get that one to work.


The Swiss Watch Industry Should Double Down on Mechanical Watches

Jean-Louis Gassée penned a good column a few weeks ago on the Swatch Group making their own watch OS:

Nick Hayek’s father triumphed against Japanese quartz watch makers by playing on his own turf. Trying to defeat the established smartwatch players by playing their game won’t work. Is there something in Swatch Group’s culture that predisposes it to be competitive with Google and Apple software engineers?

Just as Nokia should have embraced Android in 2010, riding on its proven combination of Design, Supply Chain, and Carrier Distribution prowess to keep a leading role in the smartphone revolution, Swatch could use its native — but circumscribed — cultural and technical skills to create beautiful, fun smartwatches … that run on Google’s software. But just like Nokia’s culture and success prevented it from seizing the Android moment, similar factors will keep Swatch from being a powerful player in the smartwatch world.

I agree. If the Swatch Group wants to make smartwatches, they should almost certainly go with Android Wear, and they’re almost certainly doomed with their pre-announced homegrown OS. And it’s crazy that even if they succeed at creating their own OS, that they think it won’t need frequent updates and bug fixes. That’s not how computer platforms work, and make no mistake, smartwatches are computer platforms.

But I think the Swiss watch industry would do well to stick to their mechanical guns. They should leave it to computerized gadgeteers to make smartwatches, and focus on making mechanical watches that stand the test of time (no pun intended). I love computers (duh), but I find mechanical watches to be a source of joy, a bulwark against the ever-encroaching computerization of everything.

The bread and butter for high-end watch companies are aficionados who own multiple watches. Almost no one uses multiple smartwatches. People might have old ones in a drawer, but just as with with phones, it’s only convenient to have one smartwatch in active use at a time. Apple knows this: that’s why they made it so easy to swap straps — multiple looks for variety, but just one watch. For watch fans who actually do want multiple watches and a smartwatch, every watch other than their one smartwatch is likely to be a mechanical.

I don’t think the Swiss watch industry has a chance of out-computer-engineering Apple. Instead they should focus on what they’ve always done: designing and making great mechanical watches — creating a breath of analog fresh air in an ever-more-digitized world.