Delivery Man Gets COVID-19 Vaccine While Dropping Off Hoagies ★
You’ll never guess what city this happened in.
EFF’s ‘Am I FLoCed?’ Page for Chrome Users ★
Helpful page for Chrome users from the EFF:
Google is running a Chrome “origin trial” to test out an
experimental new tracking feature called Federated Learning of
Cohorts (aka “FLoC”). According to
the trial currently affects 0.5% of users in selected regions,
including Australia, Brazil, Canada, India, Indonesia, Japan,
Mexico, New Zealand, the Philippines, and the United States. This
page will try to detect whether you’ve been made a guinea pig in
Google’s ad-tech experiment.
If you don’t have the choice to just stop using Chrome, this is a good way to see if Google is using FLoC against you. Also, DuckDuckGo has a new Chrome extension to block FLoC.
Every Other Browser Maker to Google: Go FLoC Yourself ★
Dieter Bohn, also doing some real work at The Verge today:
Google is going it alone with its proposed advertising technology
to replace third-party cookies. Every major browser that uses the
open source Chromium project has declined to use it, and it’s
unclear what that will mean for the future of advertising on the
One note I’ll drop here is that I am relieved that nobody else
is implementing FLoC right away, because the way FLoC is
constructed puts a very big responsibility on a browser maker.
If implemented badly, FLoC could leak out sensitive
information. It’s a complicated technology that does appear to
keep you semi-anonymous, but there are enough details to hide
dozens of devils.
Brave: “The worst
aspect of FLoC is that it materially harms user privacy, under the
guise of being privacy-friendly.” And here’s
“We will not support the FLoC API and plan to disable it, no
matter how it is implemented. It does not protect privacy and it
certainly is not beneficial to users, to unwittingly give away
their privacy for the financial gain of Google.”
FLoC is a terrible idea. Google’s goal with FLoC, clearly, is to maintain its surveillance advertising hegemony while further obfuscating the privacy ramifications from today’s status quo. The rest of the industry, led by Apple, is moving toward giving users control over surveillance advertising; FLoC is an attempt to circumvent such control.
Six Months Later, There Still Isn’t a MagSafe Car Charger ★
Nilay Patel, doing some actual work at The Verge for once:
Unfortunately it has been six months since the iPhone 12 was
announced, and there is a pitiful shortage of MagSafe car
chargers. In fact, there are no officially-sanctioned MagSafe
car chargers. Instead, there is this Belkin Car Vent Mount PRO
with MagSafe, which, as the name suggests, allows you to mount a
phone to your vents with MagSafe, in, um, a professional way.
However, it does not charge your phone.
Add car chargers to the list with portable battery packs.
Crazed Gun Owner Kills 8 at FedEx Warehouse in Indianapolis ★
The New York Times:
The authorities were searching for a motive on Friday after a
gunman stormed a FedEx facility in Indianapolis late Thursday,
fatally shooting eight people and injuring at least seven others
in a fast-moving, chaotic scene that emerged as the latest mass
shooting to rock the nation in a matter of weeks.
Officials said at a news conference Friday morning that they had
not yet identified the victims, in part because the coroner’s
office had not been able to go onto the scene. By early afternoon,
bodies began to be removed from the facility.
So seven people get blood clots after getting the J&J vaccine and we pull it, but eight people get killed by a crazed gun owner and it’s just another Friday in America. Makes sense.
Mac Chimes of Death ★
We’re all familiar with the Mac’s startup chime. While it has changed over the years, it has greeted users with its friendly tone for decades. What you may not know is that for years, the Mac also came with a death sound, that would play when the machine was unable to properly boot.
And they are glorious.
I knew about these, but I don’t think I ever heard one in the wild. I used the hell out of my own Mac LC from 1991 through 1997 and it never once “died”.
Hands-On With Anker’s Portable Magnetic Inductive Charging Battery Pack ★
I don’t see the appeal of this dingus at all. It’s magnetic, and it works with MagSafe iPhones, but the charger itself doesn’t support MagSafe. It’s just a lousy 5W Qi charger that has a circle of magnets to help it stay in place — charging is going to be very slow compared to actual MagSafe, and even slower compared to using a Lightning cable charger. When I use a portable charger to top off my phone, I want it to work fast. It also seems very inefficient — why would a 5,000 mAh charger only be able to charge an iPhone 12 Mini once? (I also don’t know why MacRumors is promoting this as “MagSafe”. Yes, in the review, they do mention that it’s not MagSafe, but the headline says “MagSafe” and the promotional graphic for the review just say “$40 MagSafe”.)
Let’s hope Apple is nearing completion on the portable MagSafe charger that Gurman said they were working on.
Jackie Robinson on Where to Buy Gasoline ★
Today is Jackie Robinson Day in MLB. To celebrate, here’s the great Buck O’Neil sharing a Jackie Robinson story with David Letterman. Quite a few lessons here that are as apt today as they were then.
Ming-Chi Kuo Says No iPhone Mini in 2022 ★
GSMArena on a new report from Ming-Chi Kuo:
Starting with next year’s iPhone 14 lineup — it will consist of
two 6.1-inch iPhones and two 6.7-inch iPhones. That means that
Apple will stop making the 5.4-inch iPhone mini starting from next
year — there will still be an iPhone 13 mini in 2021, but it’s
expected to be made in lower quantities.
Say it ain’t so — I love the Mini.
Update: Here are some not-so-good usage numbers from David Smith. But I’ll offer one reason to hold out hope. I think you need to see and feel the iPhone 12 Mini to truly grok just how much smaller and lighter it is, while still having the same A14 chip and same camera system as the regular iPhone 12. Yet almost no one has been able or willing to go to stores to play with phones since it’s been out because of the pandemic. You tell people it’s 5.4 inches diagonal instead of 6.1 and sure, that sounds smaller. But you pick it up and hold it and use it and it’s like, Holy shit, this is so nice and small.
University of Oxford: Risk of Rare Blood Clotting Higher for COVID-19 Than for Vaccines ★
The University of Oxford:
COVID-19 leads to a several-times higher risk of cerebral venous
thrombosis (CVT) blood clots than current COVID-19 vaccines.
Researchers at the University of Oxford have today reported that
the risk of the rare blood clotting known as cerebral venous
thrombosis (CVT) following COVID-19 infection is around 100 times
greater than normal, several times higher than it is
post-vaccination or following influenza.
The FDA and CDC better put an emergency pause on people getting infected with COVID.
You’ll Never Guess the Source of the Top Facebook Post About the J&J Vaccine (Narrator: You’ll Guess It) ★
Miles Parks, reporting for NPR:
CNN. ABC News. The New York Times. Fox News.
Those are the publishers of four of the five most popular Facebook
posts of articles about the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine
this week. They’re ranked 2 to 5 in total interactions, according
to data from the tracking tool CrowdTangle. The No. 1 posting,
however, isn’t from a news organization. Or a government official.
Or a public health expert.
The most popular link on Facebook about the Johnson & Johnson news
was shared by a conspiracy theorist and self-described “news
analyst & hip-hop artist” named An0maly who thinks the pandemic is
a cover for government control.
It’s a stark example of what experts warn could be a coming deluge
of false or misleading information related to the one-shot
The problem isn’t that the FDA and CDC want to look into this possible blood clotting issue. The problem is the way they announced it. What these ass-covering bureaucrats don’t get is that the messaging — marketing, really — around these vaccines is just as important as the science. And the way they messaged this “pause” — that a one-in-a-million side effect is worth immediately hitting the panic button over — is right out of the Anti-Vax 101 textbook.
Also: fuck Facebook.
Decision to ‘Pause’ Johnson & Johnson Vaccine Causes Public Confidence in Vaccine to Sink ★
Fieldwork for the latest Economist/YouGov
vaccine safety perceptions was in the midst of being conducted
when the Centers for Disease Control made the decision to suspend
the use of the Johnson & Johnson
The CDC has recommended a pause on administering doses of the
vaccine while it completes an investigation of the six cases of
blood clots discovered in women who had been vaccinated with it.
Comparing the results from those who took the survey before the
announcement with those who took the survey afterward shows the
huge impact the CDC’s decision has had on the perceived safety of
the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
Among those who started the survey before the announcement about
the Johnson & Johnson vaccine pause, about half (52%) considered
the shot “very safe” or “somewhat safe” - twice the number who
believed it “very unsafe” or “somewhat unsafe.” After the
announcement was made, these figures had converged — just 37%
called the vaccine safe, and 39% feeling it unsafe.
Good job maligning an excellent vaccine — the only one approved in the U.S. that requires only one dose and does not require extreme refrigeration.
Kosta Eleftheriou’s App Store Scam of the Day: ‘Jungle Runner 2k21’ ★
Kosta Eleftheriou on Twitter:
This @AppStore app pretends to be a silly platformer game for
children 4+, but if I set my VPN to Turkey and relaunch it becomes
an online casino that doesn’t even use Apple’s IAP.
In other countries, the same app shows different local casinos — Kazakhstan and Italy, for example. The developer isn’t running the online casinos. He’s just showing the casino websites in a web view, and collecting new user bonuses when people sign up through his embedded affiliate code.
Countdown until this app is removed from the App Store in 3… 2… 1… [Update: One day later and poof, it’s gone.]
(Pedantic note, but no real-money casino could ever use Apple’s in-app purchases. App Store developers get paid by Apple monthly (a whole nother issue — Stripe can pay out weekly or even daily). Real-money online casinos only accept instant irrevocable transfers.)
‘Apple vs. Facebook: Why iOS 14.5 Started a Big Tech Fight’ ★
Fun, fair, and informative video from Joanna Stern at the Wall Street Journal on the showdown between Apple and Facebook (and war of words between Tim Cook and Mark Zuckerberg) over iOS 14.5’s imminent crackdown on surveillance advertising. Or as Nicole Nguyen summarizes the video: “featuring abs and ads”. (I’d buy one of those Tim Cook
dolls action figures. The Zuck figure isn’t as good a likeness, but it’s hard to make a doll from a person who already looks like a mannequin.)
MKBHD on the OnePlus 9 Pro ★
Great review from Marques Brownlee — as ever — of one of the most interesting Android phones on the market.
But what struck me was OnePlus’s custom interface for zooming the camera. You can see it in action starting around the 14:27 mark of the video. Instead of pinching-to-zoom in the viewfinder, like every other touchscreen phone, you can instead tap-and-hold on the zoom factor button and you get a flywheel interface you can rotate to choose a precise level of zoom. OnePlus’s clever UI designers were even thoughtful enough to make sure the flywheel’s diameter is exactly the right size so that the circle intersects precisely at the corners of the UI. Chef’s kiss.
They must be very proud over there at OnePlus for their ingenuity in designing this interface.
Reuters Is Putting Its Website Behind a Paywall and Its Head Up Its Ass ★
Katie Robertson, reporting for The New York Times:
The company, one of the largest news organizations in the world,
announced the new paywall on Thursday, as well as a redesigned
website aimed at a “professional” audience wanting business,
financial and general news.
After registration and a free preview period, a subscription to
Reuters.com will cost $34.99 a month, the same as Bloomberg’s
digital subscription. The Wall Street Journal’s digital
subscription costs $38.99 a month, while The New York Times costs
Reuters is to news as a few slices of Velveeta on Wonder Bread is to sandwiches: the blandest of the bland. This seems nutty to me, bang-for-the-buck-wise.
Republicans, Dark Money, and Corporate America’s Role in Politics ★
Congratulations to everyone who ran Al Franken — clearly the best and most engaging communicator the Democrats have had since Bill Clinton — out of the Senate over a bunch of bullshit that everyone now regrets. But, on the other hand, if he were still in the Senate, we probably wouldn’t get to hear his hilarious Mitch McConnell impression.
Roku’s New Remotes Have an Apple TV+ Button ★
Chris Welch, writing for The Verge:
In a sign of how far Apple is willing to go to continue raising the profile of Apple TV Plus, the company has worked out a deal with Roku that will give the streaming video service its own shortcut button. This is the first time a branded Apple TV Plus button has appeared on any remote control.
You’ll find it on the new Roku Voice Remote Pro, announced today, which features a rechargeable battery, headphone jack for private listening, and two programmable shortcut buttons. The usual branded buttons include Netflix, Disney Plus, Hulu, and now Apple TV Plus.
There’s only room for four of these buttons on this remote. This is not a small deal.
Amazingly, you can even tell which end is which by feel on this remote.
‘Embrace the Grind’ ★
I often have people newer to the tech industry ask me for secrets
to success. There aren’t many, really, but this secret — being
willing to do something so terrifically tedious that it appears to
be magic — works in tech too.
We’re an industry obsessed with automation, with streamlining,
with efficiency. One of the foundational texts of our engineering
culture, Larry Wall’s virtues of the programmer, includes
Laziness: The quality that makes you go to great effort to
reduce overall energy expenditure. It makes you write
labor-saving programs that other people will find useful and
document what you wrote so you don’t have to answer so many
questions about it.
I don’t disagree: being able to offload repetitive tasks to a
program is one of the best things about knowing how to code.
However, sometimes problems can’t be solved by automation. If
you’re willing to embrace the grind you’ll look like a magician.
I greatly enjoyed this piece on its own, but I think it ties in particularly well with the aforelinked item about Ben Thompson’s column on Taylor Swift’s re-recording of an entire hit album just to have a version she owned the rights to. Who would do that? Painstakingly re-create an entire work of art? Someone willing to embrace the grind.
‘Non-Fungible Taylor Swift’ ★
Long story rendered very short, Taylor Swift does not own the rights to her first six albums, and isn’t happy about that. She faithfully re-recorded the entirety of her second album, Fearless, and just released the new version as Fearless: Taylor’s Version. Without breaking any contract or copyright, she effectively rendered the original studio version nearly worthless, because her fans know the deal.
Ben Thompson has a great column on the whole saga, and deftly connects it with Dave Chappelle’s similar direct-to-fans appeal to retake control over the rights to his seminal Chappelle’s Show. Thompson:
This explains what Swift got right in 2014:
A friend of mine, who is an actress, told me that when the
casting for her recent movie came down to two actresses, the
casting director chose the actress with more Twitter followers. I
see this becoming a trend in the music industry. For me, this
dates back to 2005 when I walked into my first record-label
meetings, explaining to them that I had been communicating
directly with my fans on this new site called Myspace. In the
future, artists will get record deals because they have fans — not the other way around.
This is the inverse of Swift leveraging her fans to acquire her
masters: future artists will wield that power from the beginning
(like sovereign writers). It’s not that “art is important and
rare”, and thus valuable, but rather that the artists themselves
are important and rare, and impute value on whatever they wish.
To put it another way, while we used to pay for plastic discs and
thought we were paying for songs (or newspapers/writing or
cable/TV stars), empowering distribution over creators, today we
pay with both money and attention according to the direction of
creators, giving them power over everyone.
Alex Berenson: The Pandemic’s Wrongest Man ★
Derek Thompson, writing for The Atlantic:
To be honest, I initially had serious doubts about publishing this piece. The trap of exposing conspiracy theories is obvious: To demonstrate why a theory is wrong, you have to explain it and, in doing so, incur the risk that some people will be convinced by the very theory you’re trying to debunk. But that horse has left the barn. More than half of Republicans under the age of 50 say they simply won’t get a vaccine. Their hesitancy is being fanned by right-wing hacks, Fox News showboats, and vaccine skeptics like Alex Berenson. The case for the vaccines is built upon a firm foundation of scientific discovery, clinical-trial data, and real-world evidence. The case against the vaccines wobbles because it is built upon a steaming pile of bullshit.
An evisceration for the ages. Keep this bookmarked in case anyone sends you links to Berenson’s anti-J&J vaccine nonsense today.
Programming as Meditation ★
Craig Mod, writing for Wired:
A little over a year ago, as the Covid-19 lockdowns were beginning
to fan out across the globe, most folks grasped for toilet paper
and canned food. The thing I reached for: a search function.
The purpose of the search function was somewhat irrelevant. I
simply needed to code. Code soothes because it can provide control
in moments when the world seems to spiral. Reductively,
programming consists of little puzzles to be solved. Not just
inert jigsaws on living room tables, but puzzles that breathe with
an uncanny life force. Puzzles that make things happen, that get
things done, that automate tedium or allow for the publishing of
words across the world.
I’ve been hacking on personal side projects a lot more over the last year, and the above really explains how it makes me feel. “Puzzles that breathe with an uncanny life force” — that’s it. That’s how programming has felt for me ever since I got my first BASIC program working back when I was a kid. Even when it was just me going up to the Commodore 64 display model at Kmart in the 1980s and typing:
10 PRINT "KMART SUCKS!"
20 GOTO 10
and then scurrying away with uncontrollable giggles — which I did, religiously, every single time we went to Kmart — I got that thrill.
‘Spring Loaded’ Apple Event Next Tuesday, Just as Siri Predicted ★
Always happy to see homage to the one true Apple logo. As for any meaning to the name or design, my take is that it means nothing and thus means something: that the things getting announced are all mostly unrelated to each other.
Some Perspective on Blood Clot Risk ★
Rebecca Wind, on Twitter:
The risk of blood clots from birth control pills is 1 in 1,000 and
is considered a low-risk side effect. The risk from the J&J
vaccine is 1 in 1,000,000. #GetVaccinated
That’s arguably understating the long-term risk for women on birth control pills.
You know what’s even worse for causing dangerous blood clots? Getting infected with COVID-19:
“We began to notice a really unusual manifestation of venous and
arterial thromboembolism in patients with COVID-19,” said Malas.
“In addition to higher instances of blood clots, the mortality for
patients hospitalized for COVID-19 and with thromboembolism was
much higher, compared to patients without clots. It’s unusual
because we have never seen anything like this with other
Overall, 20 percent of the COVID-19 patients were found to have
blood clots in the veins, and among patients in the intensive care
unit, that statistic increased to 31 percent.
Tufekci, Gertz, and Silver on the FDA’s Pause on the J&J Vaccine ★
Zeynep Tufekci, on Twitter:
FDA says the pause is due to “abundance of caution.” I am very
much for abundance of caution against tail risk, and a full
investigation into rare events. I respect these are difficult
decisions. But “caution” isn’t the term for dramatic,
forward-leaning and irreversible acts.
I appreciate the people saying “we should feel more confident
because they’re investigating”, which is true — it works on me! — but the word “should” is doing a lot of work there. Meanwhile,
let’s check in on how this affects dynamics of human cognition,
media and social media.
I am extremely skeptical of the ability of public messaging to
disaggregate “the J&J vaccine is under review as a precaution”
from “the J&J vaccine is not safe and the others may not be
either” in the minds of normal people. An incredibly crucial,
high-stakes test for the press.
Nate Silver, responding to Gertz:
It’s also a high-stakes test for the FDA, and they failed it,
because of course lots of people are going to take away the latter
There’s also data on this based on decreased public confidence in
the AstraZeneca vaccine in Europe following similar pauses there.
So the FDA can’t even use the excuse of flying blind.
If out of the blue one morning Gov. Newsom was like “Shark attacks
are extremely rare, but out of an abundance of caution, we’re
closing every beach in California until we investigate more”,
that’s not likely to get more people to go out to the beach, even
once beaches reopen.
‘Do Less Harm’ ★
The result of this decision is sure to be a lower number of people
vaccinated, over a longer period of time. We know that will cause
more COVID deaths. By contrast, just one death is currently
associated with this vaccine. It’s unpleasant to measure one set
of deaths against another, but that’s precisely what must be done
in a public health crisis. If we were able to vaccinate all of the
US with the J&J vaccine, we would currently expect to see about
330 issues with blood clots. Meanwhile, more than 560,000
Americans have lost their lives to COVID already, with 330 more
being killed by COVID every few hours.
The worst part about this is that the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is almost certainly our best vaccine. The efficacy numbers aren’t what matters — the J&J vaccine is way more than effective enough. What matters is that it’s single-dose. The single-dose J&J vaccine is the clearest path to pushing our overall nationwide (and worldwide) vaccinated numbers into herd immunity territory, wiping COVID-19 from the face of the earth. It would be a catastrophic mistake to panic over one-in-a-million blood clots for any of the approved vaccines, but it’s a worst-case scenario to unjustly malign our only highly-effective single-dose vaccine.
U.S. Calls for Pause on Johnson & Johnson Vaccine After One-in-a-Million Blood Clotting Cases ★
Noah Weiland, Sharon LaFraniere, and Carl Zimmer, reporting for The New York Times:
Federal health agencies on Tuesday called for an immediate pause
in use of Johnson & Johnson’s single-dose coronavirus vaccine
after six recipients in the United States developed a rare
disorder involving blood clots within about two weeks of
All six recipients were women between the ages of 18 and 48. One
woman died and a second woman in Nebraska has been hospitalized in
Nearly seven million people in the United States have received
Johnson & Johnson shots so far, and roughly nine million more
doses have been shipped out to the states, according to data from
the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
After a run of remarkably good news on the COVID vaccination front here in the U.S., this is an utter gut punch, and a horrendously wrong decision. This terrible decision is going to kill tens of thousands of Americans. Six blood clots after 7 million administered Johnson & Johnson vaccines, versus a disease that has a mortality rate of 18,000 per million cases in the U.S., and has killed over 1,700 of every million people.
One death after 7 million J&J vaccinations for these blood clots (which they don’t even know are attributable to the vaccine), versus over 50,000 dead per 7 million cases of COVID in Americans. That’s a ratio of 1 : 50,000. You can fairly argue those mortality numbers are skewed by the fact that COVID has already ripped through our nursing homes, killing a lot of our most vulnerable people, but still, the risk numbers aren’t even in the same ballpark. And mortality numbers don’t include the millions of Americans who suffered or are suffering from severe cases that require hospitalization.
This is criminal innumeracy.
Siri Claims Apple Event Planned for Next Tuesday ★
Sami Fathi, writing for MacRumors:
Upon being asked “When is the next Apple Event,” Siri is currently responding with, “The special event is on Tuesday, April 20, at Apple Park in Cupertino, CA. You can get all the details on Apple.com.”
Works for me on my HomePods, but not when I ask my iPhone or iPad. Others are getting the April 20 answer on their Macs and iPhones — why it varies so much by device, who knows? Tuesday 20 April is exactly the date I was thinking about when I wrote about Apple not wanting to send a top executive to Washington to testify before the Senate antitrust committee next week.
ThinkPad X1 Nano: Lenovo’s 2-Pound Laptop ★
Monica Chin, writing for The Verge:
If you’ve used a ThinkPad before, you probably know 90 percent of
what to expect from the ThinkPad X1 Nano. All of the staples are
here. It’s got the black carbon fiber chassis, the discrete
buttons on top of the touchpad, the mechanical privacy shutter,
the ThinkPad logo on the palm rest, and (of course) the red
pointer nub in the middle of the keyboard.
But one thing is unique about the X1 Nano: it’s the lightest
ThinkPad Lenovo has ever made. Starting at just 1.99 pounds, the
Nano isn’t technically the lightest laptop on the market. But it’s
still one of the best combinations of portability, build quality,
and performance that you can buy.
Now here’s a PC laptop that truly catches my eye. If I had to use a PC laptop, I’d use a ThinkPad. But that 2 pound weight* — that’s something Apple currently does not compete with. An M1 MacBook Air weighs 2.8 pounds (and an M1 MacBook Pro weighs just 0.2 pounds more — the Air is only ever-so-slightly lighter than the 13-inch Pro).
How about this? My 11-inch iPad Pro attached to Apple’s Magic Keyboard: 2.36 pounds. Lenovo’s X1 Nano even has that beat on weight, and the ThinkPad has a 13-inch display and full-size keyboard.
Apple did sell a 2-pound laptop once: the 12-inch no-adjective MacBook that was available from 2015–2019. That 12-inch MacBook was beloved by some people I know, specifically because it was so damn light. But even folks who loved it admit it was severely compromised performance-wise.
Surely, Apple is going to come out with an Apple Silicon MacBook that runs really fast, lasts long on battery, and weighs 2 pounds (or less). It’ll make today’s M1 MacBook Air feel like a brick. It just can’t stand for long that Apple is so far behind the PC state-of-the-art in lightweight laptops.
* Worth noting that Lenovo sells the X1 Nano with two different screens, one a touchscreen, and one not. The touchscreen model weighs 2.14 pounds.
The Framework Laptop ★
Upgradeable, modular 13-inch Windows laptop set to ship this summer. I’m sure it will succeed similarly to Google’s Project Ara, the modular device that reinvented the smartphone in 2014.
‘Surviving the Crackdown in Xinjiang’ ★
Extraordinary piece for The New Yorker by Raffi Khatchadourian, profiling Anar Sabit, a young ethnic Kazakh woman who was living in Vancouver but returned to her family in Xinjiang, China in 2017 when her father died:
That summer, Sabit and her mother returned to Kuytun, to settle
her father’s affairs. Friends had warned her not to go: rumors had
been circulating of an escalating crackdown on the indigenous
peoples of Xinjiang — of Kazakh traders being disappeared at the
border. But Sabit had made an uneventful trip there less than a
month earlier, and she wanted to be by her mother’s side. For two
weeks, they met with family and visited ancestors’ graves. The
trip, she later recalled, “was full of tears and sadness.”
On July 15th, Sabit and her mother drove to Ürümqi Diwopu
International Airport, for a flight back to Kazakhstan. They
arrived in the middle of the night, and the building was nearly
empty. At customs, an officer inspected her mother’s passport
and cleared her to go. But when Sabit handed over her documents
he stopped, looked at her, and then took her passport into a
“Don’t worry,” Sabit assured her mother, explaining that the delay
was most likely another bureaucratic annoyance. Minutes later, the
officer returned with an Uyghur official, who told Sabit to sit on
a bench. “You cannot leave,” he said. “You can discuss between
yourselves whether your mother will go or stay.”
In an emotional torrent, Sabit’s mother pleaded for an
explanation. The officer replied, “We need to ask her a few
She wasn’t released until early 2019. Brutal, heartbreaking, angering story, and the scope is unimaginable:
Reporters with Radio Free Asia called up local Chinese officials,
who, accustomed to speaking with Party propagandists, were
strikingly candid. When one camp director was asked the name of
his facility, he confessed that he didn’t know, because it had
been changed so often, but gamely ran outside to read the latest
version off a sign. A police officer admitted that his department
was instructed to detain forty per cent of the people in its
jurisdiction. In January, 2018, an official in Kashgar told the
news service that a hundred and twenty thousand Uyghurs had been
detained in his prefecture alone.
The growing camp infrastructure attracted notice, too. Shawn
Zhang, a student in Canada, began using satellite data to map the
facilities. By the summer, it appeared that roughly ten per cent
of Xinjiang’s Uyghur population was under confinement. Adrian
Zenz, an independent academic who has unearthed troves of
government documents on Chen’s crackdown, estimated that there
were as many as a million people in the camps — a statistic
echoed by the United Nations and others. Not since the Holocaust
had a country’s minority population been so systematically
As the crackdown evolved, hastily assembled facilities, like
Sabit’s in Kuytun, gave way to titanic new compounds in remote
locations. When forced to acknowledge them publicly, the
government described them as benign or indispensable — noting,
“Xinjiang has been salvaged from the verge of massive turmoil.”
These are long block quotes, but they offer only a taste of the whole story. You’ve surely heard Joseph Stalin’s line that “One death is a tragedy, a million deaths are a statistic.” This is the first-hand story of one internment in China’s Xinjiang ethnic cleansing camps, and it is tragic.
Friday, 9 April 2021
Sharon Terlep, Tim Higgins, and Patience Haggin, reporting for The Wall Street Journal, “P&G Worked With China Trade Group on Tech to Sidestep Apple Privacy Rules” (News+ link):
Procter & Gamble Co. helped develop a technique being tested in
China to gather iPhone data for targeted ads, a step intended to
give companies a way around Apple Inc.’s new privacy tools,
according to people familiar with the matter. […]
The company has joined forces with dozens of Chinese trade groups
and tech firms working with the state-backed China Advertising
Association to develop the new technique, which would use
technology called device fingerprinting, the people said. Dubbed
CAID, the advertising method is being tested through apps and
gathers iPhone user data. Through the use of an algorithm, it can
track users for purposes of targeting ads in a way that Apple is
seeking to prevent. […]
Through apps, CAID collects user device data, such as the device
start-up time, model, time zone, country, language and IP address.
Based on China’s personal information security standards, most of
those data aren’t counted as “personal information.” But a
so-called device ID can be generated by algorithm based on these
data. That device ID can achieve a similar tracking effect as the
identifier that Apple is allowing users to block.
Not a good look for a major American company like Procter & Gamble to be in cahoots with a Chinese trade group to circumvent Apple’s new privacy rules.
The whack-a-mole1 aspect of Apple’s new privacy rules is that while Apple can restrict access to the API that provides access to the IDFA identifier, clever developers can find (perhaps infinite) other ways to combine things they do have access to into a unique, or even just “close enough to unique to be useful for tracking”, identifier. IP addresses, to name just one example, are a big factor that Apple can’t block would-be-trackers from using. That’s what CAID is, but CAID isn’t some rogue effort on the part of surveillance advertisers alone — it has the backing of the Chinese government.
Doing this is clearly against Apple’s rules. The questions are: Can Apple detect these techniques? And what is Apple going to do if they do identify apps in China using CAID in flagrant violation of the App Store rules, if those apps have the backing (implicit or explicit) of the Chinese government?
Consider just Tencent. What is Apple going to do if WeChat is flagged for circumventing the App Store privacy rules, and Tencent says “No thank you” to Apple’s rules, that they’re going to do it anyway because they have the backing of the PRC? Reading between the lines, I think Apple is diplomatically telling the companies involved with CAID that they will pull the apps from the App Store over this. Here’s Apple’s statement to The Journal:
Device fingerprinting runs afoul of Apple’s rules, and the tech
company has said it would ban any app that violates its policies.
“The App Store terms and guidelines apply equally to all
developers around the world, including Apple,” an Apple spokesman
said. “We believe strongly that users should be asked for their
permission before being tracked. Apps that are found to disregard
the user’s choice will be rejected.”
I don’t read diplomat-ese fluently, but that statement seems adamant: “all developers around the world, even Apple”. I wonder, though, if Tencent believes they can track users with impunity because Apple wouldn’t dare pull WeChat (etc.) from the Chinese App Store.
Basically, IDFA was Apple’s attempt to work with companies to provide a way to offer a sanctioned identifier for advertising tracking that respected user privacy and user control over tracking. It didn’t work — these companies have no respect for user privacy or user control, even with IDFA. So Apple is taking it to the next level. That’ll only work if Apple backs up its rules with enforcement — even in China. ★
Thursday, 8 April 2021
In my post yesterday linking to Apple’s announcement of three new products that work with their Find My network accessory program, I pointed out that Belkin’s Soundform Freedom True Wireless Earbuds aren’t shipping until June. I should have dug deeper into the other two products:
Chipolo’s One Spot tracker isn’t shipping until June either, and might be in limited supply after it does ship. (“Join the waitlist for the very limited first batch and get exclusive access to pre-orders before it sells out.”) Chipolo’s existing One trackers that are already on sale won’t work as Find My accessories.
VanMoof’s $2,000 S3 and X3 bikes are available to order today, but new S3 orders will be delivered “within 9 to 11 weeks”, and X3 deliveries are “within 18 to 20 weeks”. [Update: Turns out VanMoof’s new Find My-enabled bikes will start shipping in a week, on April 15, but the current delivery dates for new online orders are months out because they’re already backordered. There should be some availability in VanMoof retail stores next week as well. So there is a simple reason to announce them this week.]
So it just makes yesterday’s announcement all the more curious: neither Belkin’s earbuds nor Chipolo’s tracker will be available until June, so why announce any of it now? Putting Find My integration in VanMoof’s bikes is cool, but they’re not exactly mainstream products. It only makes sense to me if Apple is on the cusp of announcing AirTags very soon, and wanted to get their “Find My supports third-party products too” story out the door beforehand, even if the products aren’t shipping for months. Apple also has significant updates to iOS, MacOS, WatchOS, and tvOS that all feel ready to ship, and iOS 14.5 is the version that introduces the much-publicized “opt-in to allow apps to track you” changes — a feature I suspect Apple wants to explain on their own terms during an event. Then, at the end of the show, Tim Cook can conclude by telling everyone these OS updates are all available now.
But yet here we are on Thursday, a week into April, and still no word from Apple about an online event next week. Their COVID-era online events, after WWDC last year:
Apple has always liked holding product events on Tuesdays, and, for last year’s online-only events, they sent the event announcements out 7–8 days in advance. Who knows, maybe they’ll send out an announcement for a special event to be broadcast next week as soon as I hit “Publish” on this post. But it’s starting to feel like something has gone awry. ★
Friday, 2 April 2021
In 2019, Russia passed a law mandating that phones and other “smart” devices come preloaded with a host of applications approved by the Russian government. In Russia, the law was known as the “Law Against Apple”. Apple, of course, resisted — they’ve never shipped iOS anywhere in the world with third-party applications pre-installed.1
The law went into effect yesterday. Apple’s apparently-compliant solution is not to pre-install any of the apps, but to offer them for download in the final step of the setup process for a new device. Via MacRumors, Twitter user Khaos Tian posted a screen capture of the new setup process.
First, at the very end of setup, Russian users now see a screen with the title “App Store”, with this description:
In compliance with Russian legal requirements, continue to view
available apps to download.
There is only one option: “Continue”.
The next screen looks like a promotional page from the App Store app, with the heading “From the App Store: Russian Apps”, and a list of the dozen-or-so mandated apps, with “Get” buttons next to each of them. Nothing is installed automatically — you need to “Get” each one. There is no “Install All” option. At the bottom of the list is the following text:
In compliance with Russian legal requirements, here are some apps
from Russian developers that you may download.
Notably, this second screen has an “X” button in the top right corner that stays in place even as you scroll down the list. Tap that button and you proceed with completing the setup process, with no requirement that you installed any of the suggested apps. Effectively, if you don’t want any of these apps, the new setup process simply requires two additional taps: “Continue” on the first screen and “X” on the second.
From Apple’s perspective, as well as that of Russian iPhone users, this seems like a good solution. Nothing is actually preinstalled. It’s still unclear what Apple would have done if the Russian government had mandated that these apps actually be preinstalled on every new iPhone.
In App Store, Transparency Is for Me, Not Thee
Arek Holko, on Twitter:
Apple leverages transparency when it suits them but doesn’t let
the developers do the same.
He links to The Verge’s story today on Apple’s solution to this Russian law, and an August story from The Verge about Apple rejecting an app update from Facebook because it put the following description below an in-app purchase button: “Apple takes 30% of this purchase.” Touché.
It’s impossible to square Apple’s (reasonable) desire to explain that the prompt to suggest installation of these Russian apps is mandated by Russian law with Apple’s refusal to allow developers to explain the App Store rules they are required to comply with. As I’ve written before, it is prima facie wrong that one of the App Store rules is that apps are not allowed to explain the App Store rules to users.
It’s quite a thing that Russia’s “law against Apple” allows for more transparency to users than Apple’s own App Store rules. ★