Twitter Teases Upcoming Features: Paid ‘Super Follows’ and Community Groups 

Jacob Kastrenakes, reporting for The Verge:

The payment feature, called Super Follows, will allow Twitter users to charge followers and give them access to extra content. That could be bonus tweets, access to a community group, subscription to a newsletter, or a badge indicating your support. In a mockup screenshot, Twitter showed an example where a user charges $4.99 per month to receive a series of perks. Twitter sees it as a way to let creators and publishers get paid directly by their fans.

Twitter also announced a new feature called Communities, which appear to be its take on something like Facebook Groups. People can create and join groups around specific interests — like cats or plants, Twitter suggests — allowing them to see more tweets focused on those topics. Groups have been a huge success for Facebook (and a huge moderation problem, too), and they could be a particularly helpful tool on Twitter, since the service’s open-ended nature can make it difficult for new users to get started on the platform.

Both these features sound great. Ben Thompson and I encouraged Twitter to do something like “Super Follows” a few weeks ago on Dithering. Almost certainly, though, all of this will only work in Twitter’s own client, not third-party apps like Tweetbot and Twitterrific.

‘Steve Jobs Stories’ on Clubhouse 

Computer History Museum:

Chris Fralic, Steven Levy, Esther Dyson, Mike Slade, John Sculley, Seth Godin, Andy Cunningham, Dan’l Lewin, Doug Menuez, Regis McKenna, Andy Hertzfeld, and Steven Rosenblatt share their “Steve Jobs Stories” in honor of what would have been the Apple cofounder’s 66th birthday.

I missed the first half of this show on Clubhouse, but caught the second half live. Easily the best event I’ve heard on Clubhouse. Good stories, well told.

El Toro ‘One-to-One IP Targeting’ 

“Ad tech” (read: spyware) company El Toro is just one company in an industry full of competitors, but their description of their capabilities struck me as particularly flagrant in its utter disregard for privacy:

As a marketing organization focused on sales not metrics, El Toro’s ad tech brings the location-specific accuracy of direct mail to digital advertising. Through our patented IP Targeting technology we target digital ads to your customer by matching their IP address with their physical address, bringing a wide variety of banner and display ads to the sites the targeted customer visits on the Internet.

Specifically, El Toro offers: Targeting without having to use cookies, census blocks, or geo-location tools.

They claim the ability not just to match your IP address to a general location, but to your exact home street address, and from there to specific devices within your home. Their pitch to would-be advertisers is that they can target you by IP address the same way marketers send all those print catalogs to your house. From their above-linked IP Targeting website:

The El Toro patented algoirthm [sic] uses 38+ points of data to match an IP to a household with 95% accuracy.

Do I believe they can match IPs to street addresses with 95 percent accuracy? No. I wouldn’t believe a word out of these guys’ mouths, to be honest. But the fact that they can do it with any degree of accuracy is a problem that needs to be solved.

Why doesn’t Apple build a VPN into its OSes? Or as an offering of paid iCloud accounts at least? At this point, if privacy truly is a paramount concern, it might be necessary to do everything over a trusted VPN. IP addresses are inherently not private.

From the DF Archive: Superhuman and Email Privacy 

Yours truly, back in July 2019:

They call them “read receipts”, and functionally they do work like read receipts, insofar as they indicate when you read a message. But real email read receipts are under the recipient’s control, and they’re a simple binary flag, read or unread  —  they don’t tell the sender how many times or when you view a message.

This post was about Superhuman in particular, but it applies to all email services using tracking pixels. Email has an official “read receipt” feature, a feature that is under the recipient’s control, as it should be. These spy pixels are a surreptitious circumvention.

I know that mailing list software generally includes tracking pixels. I don’t think that’s ethical either. On a personal level, though, with Superhuman, tracking when and how many times a recipient views a message is simply absurdly wrong.

It’s also something the vast, overwhelming majority of people don’t even realize is possible. I’ve told the basic Superhuman tracking story to a few people over the last few weeks, and asked whether they realized this was possible; all of them expressed shock and many of them outrage as well. Email should be private, and most people assume, incorrectly, that it is. You have to be a web developer of some sort to understand how this is possible. Email is supposed to be like paper mail  —  you send it, they get it, and you have no idea whether they read it or not. It bounces back to you if they never even receive it, say, because you addressed it incorrectly. The original conception of email is completely private.

But also, the original conception of email is that messages are plain text. No fonts, no styles, just plain text, with optional attachments. But those attachments are embedded in the message, not pulled from a server when the message is viewed.

Once we allowed email clients to act as de facto web browsers, loading remote content from servers when messages are viewed, we opened up not just a can of worms but an entire case of canned worms. Every privacy exploit for a web browser is now a privacy exploit for email. But it’s worse, because people naturally assume that email is completely private.

It’s a little depressing re-reading this piece today. Everything I’m arguing today, I argued then. Email privacy in the face of these trackers remains an industry-wide disgrace.


Apple Mail and Hidden Tracking Images

In my piece yesterday about email tracking images (“spy pixels” or “spy trackers”), I complained about the fact that Apple — a company that rightfully prides itself for its numerous features protecting user privacy — offers no built-in defenses for email tracking.

A slew of readers wrote to argue that Apple Mail does offer such a feature: the option not to load any remote resources at all. It’s a setting for Mail on both Mac and iOS, and I know about it — I’ve had it enabled for years. But this is a throwing-the-baby-out-with-bath-water approach. What Hey offers — by default — is the ability to load regular images automatically, so your messages look “right”, but block all known images from tracking sources (which are generally 1×1 px invisible GIFs).

Typical users are never going to enable Mail’s option not to load remote content. It renders nearly all marketing messages and newsletters as weird-looking at best, unreadable at worst. And when you get a message whose images you do want to see, when you tell Mail to load them, it loads all of them — including trackers. Apple Mail has no knowledge of spy trackers at all, just an all-or-nothing ability to turn off all remote images and load them manually.

Mail’s “Load remote content in messages” option is a great solution to bandwidth problems — remember to turn it on the next time you’re using Wi-Fi on an airplane, for example. It’s a terrible solution to tracking. No one would call it a good solution to tracking if Safari’s only defense were an option not to load any images at all until you manually click a button in each tab to load them all. But that’s exactly what Apple offers with Mail. (Safari doesn’t block tracking images, but Safari does support content blocking extensions that do — one solution for Mail would be to enable the same content blocker extensions in Mail that are enabled in Safari.)

How does Hey know which images are trackers and which are “regular” images? They can’t know with absolute certainty. But they’ve worked hard on this feature, and have an entire web page promoting it. From that page:

HEY manages this protection through several layers of defenses. First, we’ve identified all the major spy-pixel patterns, so we can strip those out directly. When we find one of those pesky pixels, we’ll tell you exactly who put it in there, and from what email application it came. Second, we bulk strip everything that even smells like a spy pixel. That includes 1x1 images, trackers hidden in code, and everything else we can do to protect you. Between those two practices, we’re confident we’ll catch 98% of all the tracking that’s happening out there.

But even if a spy pixel sneaks through our defenses (and we vow to keep them updated all the time!), you’ll have an effective last line of defense: HEY routes all images through our own servers first, so your IP address never leaks. This prevents anyone from discovering your physical location just by opening an email. Like VPN, but for email.

Apple should do something similar: identify and block spy trackers in email by default, and route all other images through an anonymizing proxy service.1 And, like Hey, they should flag all emails containing known trackers with a shame badge. It’s a disgraceful practice that has grown to be accepted industry-wide as standard procedure, because the vast majority of users have no idea it’s even going on. Through reverse IP address geolocation, newsletter and marketing email services track not just that you opened their messages, but when you opened them, and where you were (to the extent that your IP address reveals your location).

No thanks. Apple should offer defenses against email tracking just as robust as Safari’s defenses against web tracking.2 


  1. Gmail has been proxying remote images in messages since 2013↩︎

  2. Don’t get me started on how predictable this entire privacy disaster was, once we lost the war over whether email messages should be plain text only or could contain embedded HTML. Effectively all email clients are web browsers now, yet don’t have any of the privacy protection features actual browsers do. ↩︎︎


The Apple Store App Has an Easter Egg 

Search for “10 years” and you get a fun animation. Any others?

Updates:

The Hidden Message in the Parachute of NASA’s Mars Rover 

Joey Roulette, writing for The Verge:

The parachute that helped NASA’s Perseverance rover land on Mars last week unfurled to reveal a seemingly random pattern of colors in video clips of the rover’s landing. But there was more to the story: NASA officials later said it contained a hidden message written in binary computer code.

Internet sleuths cracked the message within hours. The red and white pattern spelled out “Dare Mighty Things” in concentric rings. The saying is the Perseverance team’s motto, and it is also emblazoned on the walls of Mission Control at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), the mission team’s Southern California headquarters.

The parachute’s outer ring appears to translate to coordinates for JPL: 34°11′58″ N 118°10′31″ W.

Tonya Fish posted a handy guide on Twitter (also available as a PDF) explaining how the code works. (Via Kottke.)

Seems sad to me that NASA and JPL are willing to have some fun with clever Easter eggs with a Mars rover, yet Apple, of all companies, no longer does any Easter eggs at all. Computers are supposed to be fun.

BBC News: ‘Spy Pixels in Emails Have Become Endemic’ 

Speaking of Hey, BBC News ran a piece on email spy pixels last week:

The use of “invisible” tracking tech in emails is now “endemic”, according to a messaging service that analysed its traffic at the BBC’s request. Hey’s review indicated that two-thirds of emails sent to its users’ personal accounts contained a “spy pixel”, even after excluding for spam. […]

Defenders of the trackers say they are a commonplace marketing tactic. And several of the companies involved noted their use of such tech was mentioned within their wider privacy policies.

“It’s in our privacy policy” is nonsense when it comes to email spy pixels. It’s nonsense for most privacy policies, period, because most privacy policies are so deliberately long, opaque, and abstruse as to be unintelligible. But with email they’re absurd. The recipient of an email containing a tracking pixel never agreed to any privacy policy from the sender.

And “it’s a commonplace marketing tactic” is not a defense. It’s an excuse, but it’s a shitty one. It just shows how out of control the entire tracking industry is. Their justification for all of it is, effectively, “It’s pervasive so it must be OK.” That’s like saying back in the 1960s that most people smoke so it must be safe. Or that most people don’t wear seat belts so that must be safe.

Emails pixels can be used to log:

  • if and when an email is opened
  • how many times it is opened
  • what device or devices are involved
  • the user’s rough physical location, deduced from their internet protocol (IP) address - in some cases making it possible to see the street the recipient is on

Hey’s default blocking of spy pixels — along with displaying a prominent badge shaming the sender for using them — is one of its best features. Apple should take a long hard look at Mail and the way that it does nothing to protect users’ privacy from these trackers. They’re insidious and offensive.

‘Hey, World!’ 

Jason Fried, on an experimental blogging service Basecamp has built into their email service Hey:

So we set out to do it. To test the theory. And over the last few weeks we built it into HEY, our new email service. We’re calling the feature HEY World. This post you’re reading right now is the world’s first HEY World post. And I published it by simply emailing this text directly to [email protected] from my [email protected] account. That was it.

For now, this remains an experiment. I’ve got my own HEY World blog, and David has his. We’re going to play for a while. And, if there’s demand, we’ll roll this out to anyone with a personal @hey.com account. It feels like Web 1.0 again in all the right ways. And it’s about time.

Speaking of Web 1.0, HEY World pages are lighting fast. No javascript, no tracking, no junk. They’re a shoutout to simpler times. Respect.

You can subscribe to a Hey World blog via email (of course) or RSS. Feels like simple stuff — like RSS — is experiencing a renaissance.

‘Hello, World’ 

MIT’s Computer Science & Artificial Intelligence Lab:

Today’s the day that “hello world” said “hello world!”

The term was coined in a textbook published #otd in 1978: “C Programming Language,” written by Brian Kernighan and Dennis Ritchie.

Tweeted yesterday, so it’s no longer “on this day”, sorry, but interesting history nonetheless.

I still write “Hello, world” as a first exercise in any new language or programming environment. Not a superstition per se, but more like a talisman. Just seems like the right thing to do.

The C Programming Language is a wonderfully-written book. It explains the basics of C better than anything I’ve ever seen. C is a weird, hard language but K&R describe it with joy. It’s a serious book written in a conversational style.

‘I’m Being Censored, and You Can Read, Hear, and See Me Talk About It in the News, on the Radio, and on TV’ 

Eli Grober, writing for McSweeney’s:

Hi there, thanks for reading this. I’m being censored. That’s why I’m writing a piece in a major publication that you are consuming easily and for free. Because I am being absolutely and completely muzzled.

Also, I just went on a massively-watched TV show to let you know that my voice is being down-right suffocated. I basically can’t talk to anyone. Which is why I’m talking to all of you.

As Jeanetta Grace Susan has convincingly argued, conservative voices are being silenced.

500,000 Lives Lost 

Staggering, sobering data visualization from Reuters.

Mux Video 

My thanks to Mux for once again sponsoring DF last week. Mux Video is an API to powerful video streaming — think of it as akin to Stripe for video — built by the founders of Zencoder and creators of Video.js, and a team of ex-YouTube and Twitch engineers. Take any video file or live stream and make it play beautifully at scale on any device, powered by magical-feeling features like automatic thumbnails, animated GIFs, and data-driven encoding decisions.

Spend your time building what people want, not drudging through ffmpeg documentation.


How ‘Unlock With Apple Watch’ While Wearing a Face Mask Works in iOS 14.5

I don’t generally write about features in beta versions of iOS. In fact, I don’t generally install beta versions of iOS, at least on my main iPhone. But the new “Unlock With Apple Watch” feature, which kicks in when you’re wearing a face mask, was too tempting to resist.

First things first: to use this feature, you need to install iOS 14.5 on your iPhone and WatchOS 7.4 on your Apple Watch (both of which are, at this writing, on their second developer betas). So far, for me, these OS releases have been utterly reliable. Your mileage may vary, and running a beta OS on your daily-carry devices is always at your own risk. But I think the later we go in OS release cycles, the more stable the betas tend to be. Over the summer, between WWDC and the September (or October) new iPhone event, iOS releases can be buggy as hell. The x.1 releases are usually the stable ones, and the releases after that tend to be very stable in beta — Apple uses these releases to fix bugs and to add new features that are stable. If anything, I think iOS 14.5 is very stable technically, and only volatile politically, with the new opt-in requirement for targeted ad user tracking.

After using this feature for a few weeks now, I can’t see going back. As the designated errand runner in our quarantined family, it’s a game changer. Prior to iOS 14.5, using a Face ID iPhone while wearing a face mask sucked. Every single time you unlocked your phone, you needed to enter the passcode/passphrase. The longer your passcode, the more secure it is (of course), but the more annoying it is to enter incessantly.

“Unlock With Apple Watch” eliminates almost all of that annoyance. It’s that good. It’s optional (as it should be), and off by default (also as it should be, for reasons explained below). It’s easy to turn on in Settings on your iPhone: go to Face ID & Passcode, enter your passcode, and scroll down to the “Unlock With Apple Watch” section, where you’ll find toggles for each Apple Watch (running WatchOS 7.4 or later) paired with your iPhone.

Here is how the feature seems to work.

  1. Does Face ID work normally? I.e. is the face in front of the phone you, the owner, and are you not wearing a mask? If so, unlock normally. Normal non-mask Face ID is unchanged when this feature is enabled.

  2. If Face ID fails, is there a face wearing a mask in front of the phone? If so, is an authorized Apple Watch in a secure state (i.e. the watch itself is unlocked and on your wrist) and very close to the iPhone? If so, unlock, and send a notification to the watch stating that the watch was just used to unlock this iPhone. The notification sent to the watch includes a button to immediately lock the iPhone.

Because it’s a two-step process (step #1 first, then step #2), it does take a bit longer than Face ID without a mask (which is really just step #1). But it works more than fast enough to be a pleasant convenience experience. Regular Face ID is so fast you forget it’s even there; “Unlock With Apple Watch” is slow enough that you notice it’s there, but fast enough that it isn’t a bother.

It’s important to note that in step #2, it works with any face wearing a mask. It’s not trying to do a half-face check that your eyes and forehead look like you, or anything like that. My iPhone will unlock if my wife or son is the face in front of my iPhone — but only if they’re wearing a mask, and only if my Apple Watch is very close to the phone. I’d say less than 1 meter — pretty much about what you would think the maximum distance would be between a watch on one wrist and an iPhone in the other hand.

When this feature kicks in, you always get a wrist notification telling you it happened, with just one button: “Lock iPhone”. If you tap this button, the iPhone is immediately hard-locked and requires your passcode to be re-entered even if you take your mask off. (It’s the same hard-locked mode you can put your iPhone into manually by pressing and holding the power button and one of the volume buttons — a good tip to remember when going through a security checkpoint or any other potential encounter with law enforcement.)

I’m not sure if anyone will be annoyed by this mandatory wrist notification, but they shouldn’t be, and it shouldn’t be optional. You want this notification every time to prevent anyone from surreptitiously unlocking your iPhone near you, just by putting a face mask on.

Also, if your Apple Watch is in Sleep mode (the bed icon in WatchOS’s Control Center), the feature does not work.

It’s occasionally slow. And two or three times, I got a message on my iPhone that my watch was too far away for the feature to work, even though I raised my watch-wearing wrist next to the phone. These hiccups were rare, and to my recollection, I only ran into them with iOS 14.5 beta 1, not beta 2.

Even in the worst case scenario, where the feature doesn’t work, you’re no worse off than you were before the feature existed: you simply have to manually enter your phone’s passcode.

Last but not least, the “Unlock With Apple Watch” feature very specifically seems to be looking for a face wearing a face mask. The feature does not kick in if Face ID fails for any other reason — like, say, if you’re wearing sunglasses with lenses that Face ID can’t see through. (I wish they’d make this work with sunglasses, too.)

Addenda

Throwing Shade: There seems to be some confusion over what I’m asking for w/r/t sunglasses. Face ID has always supported an option to turn off “Require Attention for Face ID”. When off, Face ID will work even if it doesn’t detect your eyes looking at the screen. (It’s an essential accessibility feature for people with certain vision problems.) If you own sunglasses that the iPhone’s TrueDepth camera system can’t “see” through, you can disable “Require Attention for Face ID” to allow Face ID to work while you’re wearing your shades.

This is far from ideal though, because it weakens Face ID all the time, not just when you’re wearing sunglasses. What’s nice about the new “Unlock With Apple Watch” feature is that it only applies when you’re wearing a mask and your Apple Watch. What I’m saying I’d like to see Apple support is an extension of “Unlock With Apple Watch” that would do the same thing for sunglasses that it currently does for face masks. I’ve heard from readers who have trouble with Face ID when wearing their motorcycle helmets, too, and I’m sure there are other examples. Basically, I’d like to see Apple add the option of trusting your Apple Watch to unlock your iPhone in more scenarios where your face can’t be recognized. My request is very different from, and more secure than, the existing “Require Attention” feature.

(Speaking of which, while wearing a mask, “Unlock With Apple Watch” does not check for whether your eyes are looking at the display, regardless of your setting for “Require Attention for Face ID”. Again, this makes sense, because it’s not Face ID — “Unlock With Apple Watch” is an alternative authentication method that kicks in after Face ID has failed.)

Apple Pay: I didn’t mention the fact that “Unlock With Apple Watch” does not work with Apple Pay. This makes sense, because however secure “Unlock With Apple Watch” is (and I think it’s quite secure), it’s not as secure as Face ID authenticating your actual face. For payments, you obviously want the highest level of secure authentication.

Also, for Apple Pay, if you’re wearing your Apple Watch (a requirement for “Unlock With Apple Watch”), you can just use your Apple Watch for Apple Pay.

It also doesn’t work with apps that use Face ID for authentication within them. Banking apps, for example, or unlocking locked notes in Apple Notes. But this makes sense too — the feature is specifically called “Unlock With Apple Watch”. It unlocks your phone, that’s it. Anything else that requires Face ID for secure authentication still requires Face ID. 


The Talk Show: ‘Peak Hubris’ 

Christina Warren returns to the show to talk about Apple Car, Apple TV, Clubhouse, and Bloomberg hamfistedly revisiting “The Big Hack”.

Sponsored by:

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Tim Berners-Lee Worries Australian Law Could Make the Web ‘Unworkable’ 

Anthony Cuthbertson, reporting for The Independent:

“Specifically, I am concerned that that code risks breaching a fundamental principle of the web by requiring payment for linking between certain content online,” Berners-Lee told a Senate committee scrutinizing a bill that would create the New Media Bargaining Code.

If the code is deployed globally, it could “make the web unworkable around the world”, he said.

It’s a question dividing proponents and critics of the proposed Australian law: does it effectively make Google and Facebook “pay for clicks” and might it be the beginning of the end of free access?

I don’t know what this Berners-Lee guy knows about the web, but I agree.

Rich Mogull on Apple’s Updated 2021 Platform Security Guide 

Rich Mogull, writing at TidBits, on Apple’s 2021 Platform Security Guide:

As wonderful as the Apple Platform Security guide is as a resource, writing about it is about as easy as writing a hot take on the latest updates to the dictionary. Sure, the guide has numerous updates and lots of new content, but the real story isn’t in the details, but in the larger directions of Apple’s security program, how that impacts Apple’s customers, and what it means to the technology industry at large.

From that broader perspective, the writing is on the wall. The future of cybersecurity is vertical integration. By vertical integration, I mean the combination of hardware, software, and cloud-based services to build a comprehensive ecosystem. Vertical integration for increased security isn’t merely a trend at Apple, it’s one we see in wide swaths of the industry, including such key players as Amazon Web Services. When security really matters, it’s hard to compete if you don’t have complete control of the stack: hardware, software, and services.

Apple Cracks Down on Apps With ‘Irrationally High Prices’ as App Store Scams Are Exposed 

Guilherme Rambo, writing for 9to5Mac:

App Store scams have recently resurfaced as a developer exposed several scam apps in the App Store making millions of dollars per year. Most of these apps exploit fake ratings and reviews to show up in search results and look legit, but trick users into getting subscriptions at irrationally high prices.

It looks like Apple has started to crack down on scam attempts by rejecting apps that look like they have subscriptions or other in-app purchases with prices that don’t seem reasonable to the App Review team.

From the rejection letter sent by the App Store review team:

Customers expect the App Store to be a safe and trusted marketplace for purchasing digital goods. Apps should never betray this trust by attempting to rip-off or cheat users in any way.

Unfortunately, the prices you’ve selected for your app or in-app purchase products in your app do not reflect the value of the features and content offered to the user. Charging irrationally high prices for content or services with limited value is a rip-off to customers and is not appropriate for the App Store.

Specifically, the prices for the following items are irrationally high:

This is exactly the sort of crackdown I’ve been advocating for years. A bunco squad that looks for scams, starting with apps that (a) have high-priced in-app purchases and subscriptions, and (b) are generating a lot of money. Ideally Apple will crack down on all scams, but practically speaking, all that matters is that they identify and eliminate successful scams — and identify the scammers behind them and keep them out of the store.

Developer Kosta Eleftheriou has been righteously leading a sort of indie bunco squad for a few weeks, identifying a slew of scams (usually involving apps with clearly fraudulent ratings, too).

Nomination for Lede of the Year 

Ashley Parker, reporting for The Washington Post:

Usually, it takes at least one full day in Cancun to do something embarrassing you’ll never live down.

But for Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), it took just 10 hours — from when his United plane touched down at Cancun International Airport at 7:52 p.m. Wednesday to when he booked a return flight back to Houston around 6 a.m. Thursday — for the state’s junior senator to apparently realize he had made a horrible mistake.

Give Cruz credit for this: he’s brought the whole nation together in unity.

Pfizer’s Vaccine Works Well With One Dose 

The New York Times:

A study in Israel showed that the vaccine is robustly effective after the first shot, echoing what other research has shown for the AstraZeneca vaccine and raising the possibility that regulators in some countries could authorize delaying a second dose instead of giving both on the strict schedule of three weeks apart as tested in clinical trials. […]

Published in The Lancet on Thursday and drawing from a group of 9,100 Israeli health care workers, the study showed that Pfizer’s vaccine was 85 percent effective 15 to 28 days after receiving the first dose. Pfizer and BioNTech’s late-stage clinical trials, which enrolled 44,000 people, showed that the vaccine was 95 percent effective if two doses were given three weeks apart. […]

Pfizer and BioNTech also announced on Friday that their vaccine can be stored at standard freezer temperatures for up to two weeks, potentially expanding the number of smaller pharmacies and doctors’ offices that could administer the vaccine, which now must be stored at ultracold temperatures.

The U.S. needs to change its policy and get more shots into more arms as quickly as possible. Administer the second booster shots in the summer after a majority of Americans have gotten their first. The current policy is simply wrong, given the data, and is halving the rate at which we can achieve herd immunity.

Tucker Carlson Detects Other Suspicious Behaviors 

If we were to debate which newspaper is better, The New York Times or Washington Post, Alexandra Petri would be one of my top arguments in favor of the Post.

Bruce Blackburn, Designer of Ubiquitous NASA Logo, Dies at 82 

A bit of sad NASA-related news today, too:

Bruce Blackburn, a graphic designer whose modern and minimalist logos became ingrained in the nation’s consciousness, including the four bold red letters for NASA known as the “worm” and the 1976 American Revolution Bicentennial star, died on Feb. 1 in Arvada, Colo., near Denver. He was 82. […]

In a design career of more than 40 years, Mr. Blackburn developed brand imagery for clients like IBM, Mobil and the Museum of Modern Art. But he is best known for the NASA worm, which has become synonymous with space exploration and the concept of the technological future itself.

I’m glad he lived long enough to see NASA re-embrace his wonderful logo. It’s such a perfect mark — one that will always feel like a symbol of the future.

Update: NASA’s 1976 “Graphics Standards Manual” — 60-page document on how to use the logo. This is how you do it.

NASA’s Perseverance Rover Lands on Mars 

Kenneth Chang, reporting for The New York Times:

NASA safely landed a new robotic rover on Mars on Thursday, beginning its most ambitious effort in decades to directly study whether there was ever life on the now barren red planet.

While the agency has completed other missions to Mars, the $2.7 billion robotic explorer, named Perseverance, carries scientific tools that will bring advanced capabilities to the search for life beyond Earth. The rover, about the size of a car, can use its sophisticated cameras, lasers that can analyze the chemical makeup of Martian rocks and ground-penetrating radar to identify the chemical signatures of fossilized microbial life that may have thrived on Mars when it was a planet full of flowing water.

Great landing, and a great day for science.

More here, from NASA’s own website.

‘Smart’ TVs Track Everything You Watch 

Geoffrey Fowler, writing for The Washington Post back in September 2019:

Lately I’ve been on the hunt for what happens to my data behind the cloak of computer code and privacy policies. So I ran an experiment on my own Internet-connected Samsung, as well as new “smart TV” models from four of the best-selling brands: Samsung, TCL Roku TV, Vizio and LG.

I set up each smart TV as most people do: by tapping “OK” with the remote to each on-screen prompt. Then using software from Princeton University called the IoT Inspector, I watched how each model transmitted data. Lots went flying from streaming apps and their advertising partners. But even when I switched to a live broadcast signal, I could see each TV sending out reports as often as once per second.

When tracking is active, some TVs record and send out everything that crosses the pixels on your screen. It doesn’t matter whether the source is cable, an app, your DVD player or streaming box.

Every damn second. Disconnect your TV from the internet and use a set top box or stick with some degree of privacy you can control. Even if you’re not worried about the privacy angle, it’s just a waste of bandwidth. And even if you’re not that concerned with the bandwidth, per se, it’s just obnoxious. It should bother you on an aesthetic sense alone to have a TV set needlessly phoning home constantly to send analytics that don’t help you at all.

Roku Streaming Devices Default to ‘Scary’ Privacy 

Mozilla’s Privacy Not Included project’s take on Roku:

Roku is the nosey, gossipy neighbor of connected devices. They track just about everything! And then they share that data with way too many people. According to Roku’s privacy policy, they share your personal data with advertisers to show you targeted ads and create profiles about you over time and across different services and devices. Roku also gives advertisers detailed data about your interactions with advertisements, your demographic data, and audience segment. Roku shares viewing data with measurement providers who may target you with ads. Roku may share your personal information with third parties for their own marketing purposes. One of the researchers working on this guide said, “It had such a scary privacy policy, I didn’t even connect it to my TV.” Another researcher referred to Roku as a “privacy nightmare.”

You can opt-out, but they won’t ask you. You have to go look for it, which means most Roku users don’t even know they’re being snooped on this way.

Most (all?) major smart TVs are privacy disasters too. Privacy is probably the main Apple TV advantage I didn’t mention the other day when speculating on why Apple TV even still exists. But even on an Apple TV box, you’re at the mercy of each app you use, and the major streaming services all collect information on everything you do. I mean, how else would their recommendation algorithms work? Or even just picking from where you left off in a movie you paused a day or two ago?

But Roku (and similar boxes, and smart TVs) track you at the system level.

I don’t let my LG TV connect to the internet. I mean why would I, if I don’t use its built-in apps for anything?

Apple TV+ Is Now Available on Google TV 

Jonathan Zepp, writing on the Google Blog:

Starting today, the Apple TV app, including Apple TV+, is now globally available on the new Chromecast with Google TV, with more Google TV devices to come. To access the Apple TV app, navigate to the Apps tab or the apps row in the For you tab.

What’s left on the list of devices where Apple TV could be available but isn’t? Nintendo Switch — but they don’t even have Netflix. What else?

‘Facebook Calls Australia’s Bluff’ 

Casey Newton, writing at Platformer:

On Wednesday morning, the splintering arrived: Google cut a deal with News Corp. that will ensure its services continue to be provided in Australia, and Facebook walked away from the bargaining table and began preventing people from sharing news links from Australian publishers around the world.

I think Facebook basically did the right thing, and Google basically did the wrong thing, even though Google had a much tougher call to make. Today, let’s talk about why the tech giants made the decisions that they did, why Australia’s shakedown is rotten, and what’s likely to happen next.

Calling Australia’s bluff is exactly the right framing. What’s surprising is that Australian government officials (and others around the world, like David Cicilline, chairman of the U.S. House Antitrust Subcommittee), didn’t even see it as a bluff that could be called. The mindset behind this law seemed to be that Australia could demand whatever crazy stuff they wanted (like Facebook being required to pay major news organizations just for links to their articles — which the news organizations themselves would be free to post to their own Facebook accounts) and Facebook and Google would just say “OK, sure.”

‘The Bizarre Reaction to Facebook’s Decision to Get Out of the News Business in Australia’ 

Mike Masnick, writing at Techdirt:

First is the link tax. This is fundamentally against the principles of an open internet. The government saying that you can’t link to a news site unless you pay a tax should be seen as inherently problematic for a long list of reasons. At a most basic level, it’s demanding payment for traffic. […] This is like saying that not only should NBC have to run an advertisement for Techdirt, but it should have to pay me for it. If that seems totally nonsensical, that’s because it is. The link tax makes no sense.

And, most importantly, as any economist will tell you, taxing something doesn’t just bring in revenue, it decreases whatever you tax. This is why we have things like cigarette taxes and pollution taxes. It’s a tool to get less of something. So, in this case, Australia is saying it wants to tax links to news on Facebook, and Facebook responds in the exact way any reasonable economist would predict: it says that’s just not worth it and bans links. That’s not incompatible with democracy. It’s not bringing a country to its knees. The country said “this is how much news links cost” and Facebook said “oh, that’s too expensive, so we’ll stop.”

Contrary to the idea that this is an “attack” on journalism or news in Australia, it’s not. The news still exists in Australia. News companies still have websites. People can still visit those websites.

Facebook’s doing the right thing here. Australia’s law is a bad one — it might as well have been written by Rupert Murdoch himself.

‘I Miss My Bar’ 

What a beautiful, fun little website. Love the typography, love the colors, love that the whole thing is such a fun dumb concept. Make something cool and share it with the world.

Bookfeed.io 

Lukas Mathis:

Bookfeed.io is a simple tool that allows you to specify a list of authors, and generates an RSS feed with each author’s most recently released book. I made this because I don’t want a recommendation algorithm to tell me what to read, I just want to know when my favorite authors release new books.

What a great idea. Make something cool and share it with the world.

Jeff Carlson on Why Webcams Suck 

Jeff Carlson, in a comprehensive — thousands of words, dozens of example images and videos — piece for the Reincubate blog:

After consulting numerous webcam buying guides and reviews, purchasing a handful of the most popular models, and testing them in varying lighting situations, I can’t escape the grim truth: there are no good webcams. Even webcams recommended by reputable outlets produce poor quality imagery—a significant failing, given it’s the one job they’re supposed to provide.

Uneven color. Blown highlights. Smudgy detail, especially in low light. Any affordable webcam (even at the high end of affordability, $100+), uses inadequate and typically years-old hardware backed by mediocre software that literally makes you look bad. You might not notice this if you’re using video software that makes your own image small, but it will be obvious to other people on the call.

Reincubate makes Camo, a good app that lets you use an iPhone as a live webcam with your Mac, so you might think, well, of course an article on the Reincubate blog is going to conclude that an iPhone provides better image quality than a webcam. But you know and I know it’s true: iPhone camera image quality is way higher than that of even “good” webcams. Carlson has taken the time here to explain why and prove it.


Volkswagen CEO Herbert Diess on Apple’s Purported Interest in Making Cars

Reuters: “Volkswagen CEO Diess ‘Not Afraid’ of an Apple Electric Car”:

Germany’s Volkswagen is not concerned by any Apple plans for a passenger vehicle that could include the iPhone maker’s battery technology, its chief executive Herbert Diess said. […]

“The car industry is not a typical tech-sector that you could take over at a single stroke,” Diess was quoted as saying an interview with Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung. “Apple will not manage that overnight,” he added.

While Apple’s plans are not public, Diess said its intentions as such were “logical” because the company had expertise in batteries, software and design, and that it had deep pockets to build on these competencies.

“Still, we are not afraid,” he said.

I’d like to think that no one has made more hay over Ed Colligan’s infamous “PC guys are not going to just figure this out. They’re not going to just walk in” quote — just a few weeks before the unveiling of the iPhone — than yours truly. So I feel like I’m in a position to declare that these remarks by Herbert Diess are not an Ed Colligan moment. Ed Colligan, as the CEO of Palm, should have known that in 2006, the future of phones was gadget-like computers, not the computer-like gadgets the industry (including Palm) had been making until then. The iPod proved that Apple was the best designer and maker of gadget-like computers in the world. (They’ve only increased their lead in the intervening years.) Colligan should have been fearful of an Apple phone — any Apple phone, even an iPod phone, let alone the pocket-sized Unix computer with a gorgeous touchscreen interface they actually managed to make.

Apple hasn’t shown anything that suggests they’ll be good at designing and producing cars. The dashboard interface? Sure. But the car part of the car? Nothing Apple has ever done is like that. I’m not betting against them, but I don’t think Diess’s remarks are the least bit clueless.

I mean, what do you want him to say? That Volkswagen executives are soiling their lederhosen at the thought that Apple might enter the car market? That they’ll just pack up their bags and call it quits if Apple does?

I would have suggested adding something along the lines of “I welcome Apple as a competitor, and I’m sure they’ll bring some interesting new ideas to the market.” Like coaches of sports teams, who inevitably talk their next opponent up, not down. “They’re a tough team with some really talented players”, says every coach playing the hapless New York Jets the next week.

The part of Diess’s remarks that jumps out at me isn’t the “We are not afraid” bit, but the “take over at a single stroke” bit. No market gets taken over overnight. The iPod spent its first two years as a Mac-only peripheral with a FireWire port. The iPhone took three years just to overtake the iPod in sales. In 2011, four years after launching, Business Insider’s Henry Blodget declared the iPhone “dead in the water”. Even as late as 2013, the consensus on Wall Street was that Samsung was going to eat Apple’s lunch in the phone market. (That was the year of Phil Schiller’s “Can’t innovate any more, my ass” remark at WWDC.)

Then there’s Apple Watch. Circa 2017, there were plenty of articles like this one by Mike Murphy at Quartz: “Two Years After Its Launch, the Apple Watch Hasn’t Made a Difference at Apple”.

Even if Apple indeed enters the car market, and its cars prove to be so stunningly innovative and popular as to do to the car market what they did to the phone market — a hypothetical best-case scenario — it will take many years. Probably more years than the phone, because people hold onto their cars longer than they do their cell phones. That’s the best case scenario. There are a lot of less-than-best-but-still-good scenarios for a hypothetical Apple car where it takes even longer to declare it a success. Or where Apple winds up with a hugely successful business, but never redefines the industry.

There is no such thing as a “typical tech-sector that you could take over at a single stroke”. That Diess seems to think that’s how any of the markets where Apple currently competes work — that’s the thing that would worry me if I were at Volkswagen.

Postscript: This tweet from Robert Cassidy sums it up perfectly:

Apple doesn’t do overnight. They walk into your market, and a few years in you realize they’ve quietly redefined your market and now you’re years behind.

Apple enters the market and all that the established entrants see is how Apple’s new product doesn’t measure up to the market’s current definition.  


Microsoft Claims Russian SolarWinds Hackers Have Defeated Brooks’s Law 

60 Minutes did a segment on the SolarWinds hack, and spoke with Microsoft president Brad Smith:

“SolarWinds Orion” is one of the most ubiquitous software products you probably never heard of, but to thousands of I.T. departments worldwide, it’s indispensable. It’s made up of millions of lines of computer code. 4,032 of them were clandestinely re-written and distributed to customers in a routine update, opening up a secret backdoor to the 18,000 infected networks. Microsoft has assigned 500 engineers to dig in to the attack. One compared it to a Rembrandt painting, the closer they looked, the more details emerged.

Brad Smith: “When we analyzed everything that we saw at Microsoft, we asked ourselves how many engineers have probably worked on these attacks. And the answer we came to was, well, certainly more than 1,000.”

One can only assume that “thousand engineers” who Microsoft claims worked on the hack for Russia did more than rewrite those 4,032 lines of code. Presumably, those 4,000+ lines of code enabled the backdoor, and much of the Russians’ engineering efforts went into code that was executed after breaking in to these exploited SolarWinds installations.

But, still, 1,000 engineers? That seems contrary to Fred Brooks’s famed maxim that “adding manpower to a late software project makes it later”. Same goes with Microsoft putting 500 engineers on the job of investigating the hack. No matter how bad the crime, putting 500 detectives on the case isn’t going to work.

I don’t know jack shit about the details of this SolarWinds case, but I know I’m a lot more worried about a small team of truly talented hackers — a team so small they could fit in a car — than a 1,000-person initiative. Brooks’s Law aside, how is a 1,000-person team expected to keep something like this hack secret?

White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain on Twitter 

Speaking of the Biden administration, I’ve been greatly enjoying the Twitter feed of chief of staff Ron Klain. He’s put his personal account (@RonaldKlain) mostly on ice, and primarily tweets from the official @WHCOS account. He’s very good at Twitter — I began following him early in the campaign.

Klain’s use of Twitter is a fascinating contrast with Trump’s. For many of you, I’m sure, there are nothing but bad connotations when it comes to the use of Twitter from the White House. But Klain’s use of Twitter strikes me as nearing the canonical ideal of how Jack Dorsey might have imagined Twitter being used by, say, the White House. It harks back to the early days of Twitter, when the prompt was “What are you doing?” Except Klain is tweeting not about what he, personally, is doing, but rather what the administration is doing. What they see as their accomplishments, drip by drip, and what issues they deem their highest priorities. (COVID vaccinations, decreasing the spread of COVID, and economic stimulus, I think it’s fair to say in that order — but all three of them are inexorably related.)

Following Klain is of course in no way a substitute for reading news coverage of the administration. Of course Klain is biased — he’s the White House chief of staff. But just as it’s important to follow news coverage and analysis from outside observers, it’s useful to see what the Biden administration itself — unfiltered — deems important. Klain’s Twitter feed is an hour-by-hour log of what they see as their accomplishments and what they see as important.

Biden’s Daily Routine 

Kevin Liptak, writing for CNN:

As Biden settles into a job he has been seeking on-and-off for three decades, the daily routine of being president — with a phalanx of Secret Service agents, regular updates on the nation’s top secrets and an ever-present press corps — has come more naturally for him than for his more recent predecessors.

He has established a regular schedule, including coffee in the mornings with the first lady, meetings and phone calls from the Oval Office starting just after 9 a.m. and a return to his residence by 7 p.m. As he walks home along the Colonnade, he’s often seen carrying a stack of binders or manila folders under one arm. He still brings a brown leather briefcase into the office.

I love stories like this, about the mundane details of how people work, like that Biden digs a real fire in the Oval Office fireplace.

(Via Taegan Goddard.)

A Fool and His Money… 

Shawn Boburg and Jon Swaine, reporting for The Washington Post:

Like many Trump supporters, conservative donor Fred Eshelman awoke the day after the presidential election with the suspicion that something wasn’t right. His candidate’s apparent lead in key battleground states had evaporated overnight. The next day, the North Carolina financier and his advisers reached out to a small conservative nonprofit group in Texas that was seeking to expose voter fraud. After a 20-minute talk with the group’s president, their first-ever conversation, Eshelman was sold.

“I’m in for 2,” he told the president of True the Vote, according to court documents and interviews with Eshelman and others.

“$200,000?” one of his advisers on the call asked.

“$2 million,” Eshelman responded.

Over the next 12 days, Eshelman came to regret his donation and to doubt conspiracy theories of rampant illegal voting, according to court records and interviews.

Now, he wants his money back.

‘Postcard From Peru: Why the Morality Plays Inside the Times Won’t Stop’ 

Good piece from Times media columnist Ben Smith on l’affaire McNeil:

The questions about The Times’s identity and political leanings are real; the differences inside the newsroom won’t be easily resolved. But the paper needs to figure out how to resolve these issues more clearly: Is The Times the leading newspaper for like-minded, left-leaning Americans? Or is it trying to hold what seems to be a disappearing center in a deeply divided country? Is it Elizabeth Warren or Joe Biden? One thing that’s clear is that these questions probably aren’t best arbitrated through firings or resignations freighted with symbolic meaning, or hashed out inside the human resources department.

One thing is clear: Don McNeil was an absolutely bizarre choice to lead a two-week expedition to Peru with a group of wealthy private school teenagers.

Update: Alex Leo, on Twitter, summing up what a bad idea this was:

“I’ve got a great idea: we charge teenagers $6,000 for two weeks and we send Archie Bunker to watch over them.”

Clubhouse and the Primacy of iPhone 

From a post on Clubhouse’s blog a few weeks ago, laying out their plans for 2021:

From the earliest days, we’ve wanted to build Clubhouse for everyone. With this in mind, we are thrilled to begin work on our Android app soon, and to add more accessibility and localization features so that people all over the world can experience Clubhouse in a way that feels native to them.

Clubhouse, though it remains invitation-only, is growing fast, and has a lot of buzz. And it remains iPhone-only. They’ve only just begun working on an Android app. Nothing in this regard has changed in the 10 years since Instagram launched as an iPhone-only app in October 2010. Expanding to Android is inevitable, but it can wait. Conversely, if Clubhouse were Android-only, it’s likely almost no one would have heard of it today. I don’t really even see anyone talking about this with Clubhouse. It just goes unnoticed, like the oxygen we breathe, that iPhone is dominant, culturally.

See also: Ben Thompson: “Clubhouse’s Inevitability”.

Flatfile Portal 

My thanks to Flatfile for sponsoring last week at DF. Importing data from spreadsheets is a pain (to say the least). Everything from encoding formats to document structure. Countless engineers are tasked with building data parsers from scratch: importing, mapping, validating, even presentation and UI. Rolling your own data importer takes developer time away from working on core product features. Flatfile has a solution.

Flatfile Portal is the elegant import button for your web app. It drops into your product with pre-built SDKs, and guides users through an intuitive import experience in minutes. You can get Flatfile’s drop-in data importer running in your product in hours, not weeks. Give your users the import experience you always dreamed of, but never had time to build.

Get started with Flatfile Portal today, for free.

Bret Stephens’s Spiked Column Regarding Reporter Donald McNeil’s Ouster From The Times 

The New York Post:

Last weekend, New York Times columnist Bret Stephens wrote a piece criticizing the rationale behind the forced ouster of Times reporter Donald G. McNeil Jr., but it was never published. Stephens told colleagues the column was killed by publisher A.G. Sulzberger. Since then, the piece has circulated among Times staffers and others — and it was from one of them, not Stephens himself, that The Post obtained it. We publish his spiked column here in full.

Bret Stephens:

Every serious moral philosophy, every decent legal system and every ethical organization cares deeply about intention.

It is the difference between murder and manslaughter. It is an aggravating or extenuating factor in judicial settings. It is a cardinal consideration in pardons (or at least it was until Donald Trump got in on the act). It’s an elementary aspect of parenting, friendship, courtship and marriage.

A hallmark of injustice is indifference to intention. Most of what is cruel, intolerant, stupid and misjudged in life stems from that indifference. Read accounts about life in repressive societies — I’d recommend Vaclav Havel’s “Power of the Powerless” and Nien Cheng’s “Life and Death in Shanghai” — and what strikes you first is how deeply the regimes care about outward conformity, and how little for personal intention.

It’s worth noting that it is rather extraordinary for the Times to spike a column from one of their op-ed page columnists — Times columnists have broad discretion to write what they want.

Stephens’s column is bracing, to be sure, but any discussion of the N-word is inherently bracing. Whatever your thoughts on the McNeil controversy, I don’t see how Stephens’s column about it should not have been published. The column wasn’t bad (I think it’s very good in fact) — but it makes the Times look bad.

Why Does the Apple TV Still Exist? 

Jason Snell, writing at Six Colors:

The other possibility that I’ve come up with is to merge the Apple TV with some other technologies in order to make something more than just a simple TV streamer. Gaming can be a part of that, yes, but there needs to be more. Broader HomeKit support, perhaps with support for other wireless home standards, would help, as would a much more sophisticated set of home automations.

And if Apple really wants to continue to play in the home-theater space, I’ve been saying for years that there’s room for an Apple SoundBar, that could integrate the big sound of HomePod with the Apple TV software to create a solid music and video experience.

Snell is playing off a recent episode of Dithering, where Ben Thompson and I pondered the question of why Apple TV (hardware) exists in a world where the Apple TV app is built into TVs and present on other cheaper boxes, and where those new TVs also support AirPlay 2. My thought was gaming — double-down on it. Put a controller in the box. If you want to separate Apple TV from Roku and Amazon Fire and Chromecast, remember that there is no Roku/Fire/Chromecast Arcade. Only Apple Arcade.

Really, Apple Arcade is the only recent evidence that Apple remains strongly committed to the Apple TV platform. Every single Apple Arcade game is available on Apple TV — which is difficult for games designed for touchscreen phones. And I will bet that it’s been difficult for some games performance-wise to achieve 30+ FPS on Apple TV 4K. I think Apple’s requirement that Arcade games not just play but play well on Apple TV is a sign that they’re committed.

Apple’s not going to win the war for AAA shooters against PlayStation or Xbox, but they could out-casual-game those two. Make Apple Arcade more of a competitor to Nintendo Switch, with an Apple TV plugged into your TV and mobile play on your iPhone or iPad.

Making Apple TV a first-class HomeKit hub is a great idea too, and I’d buy an Apple sound bar in a heartbeat. I’ve been using two HomePods for audio output from my Apple TV, and it works so great — but HomePods clearly aren’t optimized for this. A sound bar (SoundPod? HomeBar?) could be great.

Trump Acquitted; 57-43 Vote in Senate Falls Short of Two-Thirds Needed for Conviction 

The Washington Post, today:

Former president Donald Trump was acquitted Saturday of inciting the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, becoming the first president in U.S. history to face a second impeachment trial — and surviving it in part because of his continuing hold on the Republican Party despite his electoral defeat in November.

That grip appeared to loosen slightly during the vote Saturday afternoon, when seven Republicans crossed party lines to vote for conviction — a sign of the rift the Capitol siege has caused within GOP ranks and the desire by some in the party to move on from Trump. Still, the 57-to-43 vote, in which all Democrats and two independents voted against the president, fell far short of the two-thirds required to convict.

Yesterday:

The Senate ended Friday’s impeachment trial proceedings with a unanimous vote to award the Congressional Gold Medal, one of the nation’s highest civilian honors, to U.S. Capitol Police Officer Eugene Goodman, who directed the violent mob away from the Senate chamber on Jan. 6.

“Here in this trial, we saw a new video, powerful video showing calmness under pressure, his courage in the line of duty, his foresight in the midst of chaos, and his willingness to make himself a target of the mob’s rage so that others might reach safety,” Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said before recognizing Goodman, who was sitting in the back of the chamber.

Goodman received a standing ovation from the senators, whom he saved from danger on Jan. 6. Goodman joined in the applause when Schumer mentioned the heroism of other law enforcement officers that day.

It is curious that physical courage should be so common in the world, and moral courage so rare.
Mark Twain

The Pink Hat Lady’s Path to Insurrection (Spoiler: Through Facebook) 

“Pink hat lady” was one of the most-noted rioters in the January 6 Capitol insurrection mob. The New Yorker’s Ronan Farrow identified her, and got her to speak for an extensive interview:

Before the pandemic, Rachel Powell, a forty-year-old mother of eight from western Pennsylvania, sold cheese and yogurt at local farmers’ markets and used Facebook mostly to discuss yoga, organic food, and her children’s baseball games. But, last year, Powell began to post more frequently, embracing more extreme political views. Her interests grew to include conspiracy theories about covid-19 and the results of the Presidential election, filtered through such figures as Donald Trump, Rudy Giuliani, and the Infowars founder Alex Jones. On May 3, 2020, Powell wrote on Facebook, “One good thing about this whole CV crisis is that I suddenly feel very patriotic.” Expressing outrage at the restrictions that accompanied the pandemic, she wrote, “It isn’t to late to wake up, say no, and restore freedoms.” Several days later, she posted a distraught seven-minute video, shot outside a local gym that had been closed. “Police need to see there’s people that are citizens that are not afraid of you guys showing up in your masks. We’re going to be here banded together, and we’re not afraid of you,” she said. “Maybe they should be a little bit afraid.”

On January 6th, during the storming of the United States Capitol, Powell made good on that threat. Videos show her, wearing a pink hat and sunglasses, using a battering ram to smash a window and a bullhorn to issue orders. “People should probably coördinate together if you’re going to take this building,” she called out, leaning through a shattered window and addressing a group of rioters already inside. “We got another window to break to make in-and-out easy.”

It’s a fascinating interview. But what jumps out, electrically, is the role Facebook clearly played in Powell’s radicalization.