Facebook Security Chief Said to Leave After Clashes Over Disinformation ★
Nicole Perlroth, Sheera Frenkel, and Scott Shane:
Facebook’s chief information security officer, Alex Stamos, will
leave the company after internal disagreements over how the social
network should deal with its role in spreading disinformation,
according to current and former employees briefed on the matter.
Mr. Stamos had been a strong advocate inside the company for
investigating and disclosing Russian activity on Facebook, often
to the consternation of other top executives, including Sheryl
Sandberg, the social network’s chief operating officer, according
to the current and former employees, who asked not to be
identified discussing internal matters.
That Sandberg and (presumably) Zuckerberg resisted investigating and disclosing everything they could about how the Russians took advantage of them says everything you need to know about them.
See also: Stamos wrote a series of tweets over the weekend regarding the Cambridge Analytica scandal, but deleted them.
Update, Tuesday 20 March: The Times’s report was expanded significantly late yesterday. This part is new, and I think incredibly damning:
Mr. Stamos first put together a group of engineers to scour
Facebook for Russian activity in June 2016, the month the
Democratic National Committee announced it had been attacked by
Russian hackers, the current and former employees said.
By November 2016, the team had uncovered evidence that Russian
operatives had aggressively pushed DNC leaks and propaganda on
Facebook. That same month, Mr. Zuckerberg publicly dismissed the
notion that fake news influenced the 2016 election, calling it a
“pretty crazy idea.”
So where by “pretty crazy idea” Zuckerberg meant “Yeah, we’ve determined that’s exactly what happened.”
Mr. Stamos pushed to disclose as much as possible, while others
including Elliot Schrage, Facebook’s vice president of
communications and policy, recommended not naming Russia without
more ironclad evidence, said the current and former employees.
A detailed memorandum Mr. Stamos wrote in early 2017 describing
Russian interference was scrubbed for mentions of Russia and
winnowed into a blog post last April that outlined, in
hypothetical terms, how Facebook could be manipulated by a foreign
adversary, they said. Russia was only referenced in a vague
So Facebook is forcing out Stamos, the one executive with the moral backbone to do the right thing in response to what they’d allowed to happen.
Donald Trump and the Craven Firing of Andrew McCabe ★
Jeffrey Toobin, writing for The New Yorker:
If you wanted to tell the story of an entire Presidency in a
single tweet, you could try the one that President Trump posted
after Attorney General Jeff Sessions fired Andrew McCabe, the
deputy director of the F.B.I., on Friday night.
Every sentence is a lie. Every sentence violates norms
established by Presidents of both parties. Every sentence
displays the pettiness and the vindictiveness of a man unsuited
to the job he holds.
Facebook Stock Plunges ★
Facebook tumbled 7% on Monday, helping to pull the tech-heavy
Nasdaq 1.8% lower and S&P 500 1.4%. It was the Nasdaq’s worst day
since February 8.
The Dow fell as much as 493 points. The average closed down 336
points, or 1.4%, and is back in negative territory for the
Facebook is under pressure from lawmakers in both the United
States and the UK after more than 50 million users’ data ended up
in the hands of data firm Cambridge Analytica.
In the short run I always caution against reading anything into the market’s sense, but in this case I think investors are right. Facebook is in some serious trouble. This Cambridge Analytica scandal proves that Facebook ought to be heavily regulated, and that’s not good for Facebook’s bottom line.
I take issue, though, with the phrase “ended up in the hands of”. The implication with that phrasing is that Cambridge Analytica hoodwinked Facebook, or breached some sort of defenses. They didn’t. The information Cambridge Analytica obtained was exactly the information Facebook provides to advertisers by design. Cambridge Analytica just used that data in ways Facebook didn’t anticipate. Or perhaps better said, Facebook never anticipated that when people started to realize just what Facebook enables, there’d be outrage.
Apple’s public commitment to placing a high priority on privacy is looking better and better — both ethically and as a business decision.
1973 Employment Questionnaire Filled Out by Steve Jobs Sold for $174,757 at Auction ★
I think whoever paid $175K for this is nuts, but I do love the Jobsian brevity:
Address: reed college
Gurman: Apple Is Producing MicroLED Displays at Facility in Santa Clara ★
Very interesting scoop from Mark Gurman for Bloomberg:
Right now smartphones and other gadgets essentially use
off-the-shelf display technology. The Apple Watch screen is made
by LG Display. Ditto for Google’s larger Pixel phone. The iPhone
X, Apple’s first OLED phone, uses Samsung technology. Phone
manufacturers tweak screens to their specifications, and Apple has
for years calibrated iPhone screens for color accuracy. But this
marks the first time Apple is designing screens end-to-end itself.
I’m going to disagree vehemently with this paragraph. Apple products do not use “off-the-shelf” display components. The iPhone X OLED display is manufactured by Samsung, yes, but it’s an Apple design, years in the making. Apple’s problem isn’t that they’re stuck using off-the-shelf displays, their problem is that there’s only one company in the world that can produce iPhone X displays at scale, and that company is Samsung, their arch rival.
Imagine if Apple could do to display technology what they’ve done to CPU/system-on-a-chip design?
The secret initiative, code-named T159, is overseen by executive
Lynn Youngs, an Apple veteran who helped develop touch screens for
the original iPhone and iPad and now oversees iPhone and Apple
Watch screen technology.
The 62,000-square-foot manufacturing facility, the first of its
kind for Apple, is located on an otherwise unremarkable street in
Santa Clara, California, a 15-minute drive from the Apple Park
campus in Cupertino and near a few other unmarked Apple offices.
There, about 300 engineers are designing and producing MicroLED
screens for use in future products. The facility also has a
special area for the intricate process of producing LEDs.
Gurman says that if the project is successful, it will first appear in future Apple Watches. That makes sense — the watch got OLED first, too. It’s easier to make smaller displays than larger ones, and the watch could really benefit from being thinner. Not long from now we’ll look back at these early generation Apple Watches and laugh at how chunky they are.
Car ‘Crashes’, Not ‘Accidents’ ★
I’ve been meaning to link to this for a while: there’s a growing campaign to replace the phrase “car accident” with “car crash”:
Planes don’t have accidents. They crash. Cranes don’t have
accidents. They collapse. And as a society, we expect answers and
Traffic crashes are fixable problems, caused by dangerous streets
and unsafe drivers. They are not accidents. Let’s stop using the
word “accident” today.
I’m a firm believer that language matters, and I think it’s true that calling them accidents helps paint car crashes as things that can’t be avoided. Crashes sounds like a problem that needs to be solved.
Uber Halts Testing Self-Driving Cars After Arizona Pedestrian Is Killed ★
The Washington Post:
Uber has halted testing of its autonomous vehicles across North America, the company announced, after a woman was struck and killed by one of its self-driving cars in Tempe, Ariz. early Monday.
The moratorium on testing includes San Francisco, Phoenix, Pittsburgh and Toronto, Uber said.
Tragic, but we need to keep our collective wits about us and not rush to judgement. Even if this crash was the car’s fault, that doesn’t mean we should freak out. Cars are insanely dangerous. About 100 people are killed every day in the U.S. in human-driven car crashes. Autonomous cars are our way out of this mess.
Overcast’s New Smart Resume Feature ★
Marco Arment, on Overcast 4.1:
Smart Resume is actually two features:
It jumps back by up to a few seconds after having been paused to
help remind you of the conversation.
It slightly adjusts resumes and seeks to fall in the silences
between spoken words when reasonably possible.
Both are subtle but noticeable benefits (my favorite kind),
especially when you’re being interrupted a lot, such as while
following turn-by-turn navigation directions.
My favorite type of feature is one that makes you think, “Why did no one think of this years ago?” This is that sort of feature.
Apple Watch Adoption ★
David Smith, after looking at the analytics from his popular app Pedometer++:
So far the data is looking promising that this dream of mine might
actually be possible. The Series 3 is being adopted incredibly
quickly and just last week became the most popular Apple Watch
overall amongst my users with 33% of the overall user-base. The
Series 0 is steadily falling, currently at around 24%.
Two other interesting tidbits:
- The 42mm : 38m split I’ve seen is around 60/40.
- The LTE : Non-LTE split for Series 3 has been around 50/50
(slightly higher when first released but 50/50 since Christmas).
The Information on What Went Wrong With Siri ★
Writing for The Information, Aaron Tilley and Kevin McLaughlin published a scathing look into the inner workings (and not-workings) of Siri’s development at Apple. Is it accurate? I don’t know. I have never had any sources directly familiar with Siri. But the actual results — the state of Siri today — sure do match up. The story is behind The Information’s paywall, alas. If you’re not a subscriber and want to read the full article — and I encourage you to, there’s a lot in it — you can do so with this shared link if you’re willing to give The Information your email address.
A few parts that caught my eye:
The Siri team still had Mr. Forstall, but his attention was
divided by other major projects, including the upcoming launch of
Apple Maps. Mr. Forstall installed Richard Williamson, one of his
deputies on the Apple Maps project, to head up the Siri group and
get things back on track.
Several former employees said Mr. Williamson made a number of
decisions that the rest of the team disagreed with, including a
plan to improve Siri’s capabilities only once a year. That was the
approach Apple typically employed with iOS, and Williamson’s
background was in making software run on phones that received
updates from backend servers. Team members said they argued in
vain that that model was wrong for Siri, which they believed
needed to be an online service that continuously improved, not
updated annually. While the server software received many updates
relating to stability and performance, there were no architectural
changes to Siri in the first year, say former employees.
Mr. Williamson, in an emailed response to an interview request,
wrote that it’s “completely untrue” that he decided Siri shouldn’t
be improved continuously. He said decisions concerning “technical
leadership of the software and server infrastructure” were made by
employees below his level, while he was responsible for getting
the team on track.
Williamson can push back all he wants, but from the outside, I sure haven’t noticed steady incremental improvements to Siri — especially in the early years. Here’s where it gets really juicy though:
“After launch, Siri was a disaster,” Mr. Williamson wrote. “It was
slow, when it worked at all. The software was riddled with serious
bugs. Those problems lie entirely with the original Siri team,
certainly not me.”
Dag Kittlaus, the CEO of Siri who negotiated its purchase by Apple with Steve Jobs, responded on Twitter and did not mince words:
This statement, wholly false, was made by the architect and head
of the biggest launch disaster in Apple history, Apple Maps. In
reality Siri worked great at launch but, like any new platform
under unexpectedly massive load, required scaling adjustments and
24 hour workdays.
You just don’t see former Apple executives snipe at each other like this. I’m trying to think of the last time, and I’m coming up blank. And to be clear, it’s Williamson who broke the seal. Kittlaus wouldn’t have said a word if his team and their work hadn’t been besmirched. Steven Levy tweeted:
@Dagk @Jessicalessin That quote is kind of amazing. Even if true
(and I believe Dag) brazenly pushing blame to someone else for a
product you were responsible for is a very bad look.
The gist of The Information’s story is that Siri has existed for seven years without cohesive leadership or product vision, and the underlying technology is a mishmash of various systems that don’t work well together.
Toys R Us to Close All 800 of Its U.S. Stores ★
Abha Bhattarai, reporting for The Washington Post:
Toy store chain Toys R Us is planning to sell or close all 800 of
its U.S. stores, affecting as many as 33,000 jobs as the company
winds down its operations after six decades, according to a source
familiar with the matter.
Matt Haughey, on Twitter:
I distinctly remember the day when I was about 7 years old and I
decided what I most looked forward to upon becoming an adult was
being able to drive to Toys R Us anytime I wanted to so I could
play with toys on the shelves.
Same feeling here.
Maybe This Makes Sense in the Original French ★
Gregory Viscusi, Marie Mawad, and Helene Fouquet, reporting for Bloomberg:
Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said Wednesday France will take
legal action against Google and Apple and fines could be in the
“million of euros”. Fines are likely to be about 2 million euros
($2.5 million) per company, accused of taking advantage of local
developers. This comes after a two-year investigation by the
ministry’s fraud repression unit, according to an official in Le
“I learned that when developers develop their applications, and
sell to Google and Apple, their prices are imposed, Google and
Apple take all their data, Google and Apple can unilaterally
rewrite their contracts,” Le Maire said in an interview with RTL
radio. “All that is unacceptable and it’s not the economy that
we want. They can’t treat our startups and developers the way
What in the hell is he talking about? I guess the “imposed” prices could be something about the 30/70 percent split in the app stores, but it makes zero sense to argue that “Google and Apple take all their data”. Maybe this was mistranslated from French? But that seems highly unlikely given that at least one of the bylined reporters is fluent in the language.
And what’s the point of a $2 million fine? Last quarter Apple made $200 million in profit per day. It would take Apple about 15 minutes to generate $2 million in profit. This is some serious Dr. Evil math.
Theranos Chief Executive Elizabeth Holmes Charged With Massive Fraud ★
Carolyn Y. Johnson, reporting for The Washington Post:
Elizabeth Holmes, founder and chief executive of the blood-testing
company Theranos, has been charged by the Securities and Exchange
Commission with an “elaborate, years-long fraud” in which she and
former company president Ramesh “Sunny” Balwani allegedly
“deceived investors into believing that its key product — a
portable blood analyzer — could conduct comprehensive blood tests
from finger drops of blood,” the SEC said.
Holmes agreed to a $500,000 penalty and a 10-year ban on serving
as an officer or director of a public company to settle the
charges, but she did not admit or deny the allegations.
The whole thing was just a fraud:
The company fell from grace in a snarl of regulatory problems and
the revelation that its proprietary technology was not even being
used in its blood tests, first reported by the Wall Street
The SEC alleges that Holmes, Balwani and Theranos raised more than
$700 million from investors by misrepresenting the capabilities of
the proprietary blood-testing technology that was at the core of
its business — as well as by making misleading or exaggerated
statements about the company’s financial status and relationships
with commercial partners and the Department of Defense.
On that latter point, the saga involves the Trump kakistocracy because of course it does:
The SEC also alleges that Holmes claimed to investors that
Theranos technology was being used by the Defense Department on
the battlefield in Afghanistan and on medevac helicopters. Those
statements “were important to potential investors because these
relationships lent legitimacy to Theranos’ business and its
proprietary analyzer,” the SEC alleges.
That technology was never deployed on the battlefield by the
Defense Department, even though Marine Gen. Jim Mattis, who then
led the U.S. Central Command, personally pushed for it. Regulatory
officials in the military had flagged problems with Theranos’s
approach. Mattis later joined Theranos’s board; he resigned to
become defense secretary.
More on Mattis’s ties to Theranos here.
Kottke.org Turns 20 ★
I’ve been reading back through the early archives (which I
wouldn’t recommend), and it feels like excavating down through
layers of sediment, tracing the growth & evolution of the web, a
media format, and most of all, a person. On March 14, 1998, I was
24 years old and dumb as a brick. Oh sure, I’d had lots of book
learning and was quick with ideas, but I knew shockingly little
about actual real life. I was a cynical and cocky know-it-all.
Some of my older posts are genuinely cringeworthy to read now:
poorly written, cluelessly privileged, and even mean spirited. I’m
ashamed to have written some of them.
But had I not written all those posts, good and bad, I wouldn’t be
who I am today, which, hopefully, is a somewhat wiser person
vectoring towards a better version of himself.
20 years, period, would be a hell of a thing. But 20 years and running strong is even better. Congratulations, my friend, and thank you.
Wednesday, 14 March 2018
Speaking of Samsung following Apple’s lead, now seems like a good time revisit the removal of headphone jacks. Back in 2016, SamMobile ran a piece headlined “Galaxy S8 Is Not Going to Feature a Headphone Jack”. That report was wrong — and not only did the Galaxy S8 retain a standard headphone jack, the new Galaxy S9 does too. (Badly misaligned with the other outputs on the bottom of the phone, natch.)
But I was wrong too. I read the SamMobile report and predicted it was correct, simply on the grounds that Samsung inevitably follows Apple’s lead on initially contentious design decisions. Remember removable batteries? Samsung was still touting them as an advantage as recently as 2015.
I remain convinced that traditional headphone jacks are going the way of the floppy drive, and that sooner or later, they’ll be gone from all new phones. But maybe that’ll be a bit later rather than sooner.
I think there are two factors in Apple’s advantage here: Apple’s W1 chip and Lightning.
The real future of consumer headphones is wireless. There are plenty of standard Bluetooth headphones on the market, and they are getting better every year. I recently bought a pair of Bose QuietComfort 35 headphones for use on airplanes, and I like them a lot — they sound good, the noise cancellation is excellent, battery life is good, and latency is negligible. The pairing process is OK, but still lags far behind the ease of pairing AirPods with an iOS device. But good Bluetooth headphones are expensive — my QuietComfort 35s cost $350. (Beats makes noise-cancelling headphones with the W1 chip at pretty much the same prices as Bose, but head-to-head reviews suggest the QuietComforts are more comfortable and Bose’s noise cancellation remains noticeably superior. For use on an airplane, comfort and noise cancellation are paramount.)
Bottom line, there’s nothing quite like AirPods for Android devices, and that matters. It’s no coincidence that Apple didn’t remove the headphone jack from the iPhone until they had the AirPods to announce together.
But I think the bigger factor is that Lightning makes for a better wired headphone jack than USB-C. The future is wireless, but the present remains tethered. Ever since the iPhone 7, Apple has shipped a pair of Lightning EarPods in the box, along with a 3.5mm to Lightning adapter. Apple’s Lightning EarPods cost $29, just like Apple’s EarPods with a standard headphone plug. They’re cheap enough for Apple to include in the box with every iPhone, and no more expensive than previously for customers to replace.
USB-C headphones, on the other hand, seem to be a mess. Helen Havlak wrote a piece for The Verge a few months ago titled “Buying USB-C Earbuds for My Pixel 2 Was Incredibly Annoying and Expensive”:
Two weeks after starting my cheap Pixel 2 earbud search, I finally
have a working pair — but they cost almost twice the amount I
wanted to spend, and don’t feel very premium. If I lose or break
them, it’ll cost me almost $50 and another 10-day wait. The next
time I upgrade my phone, they may not be compatible. Even the
Apple Store sells $29 Lightning EarPods. Google needs to do a lot
better by its Pixel owners than a single $149 USB-C option. Even
better, just give us back the damn headphone jack.
The headphone situation with Google’s Pixel 2 is more confusing than I expected. Nicholas Deleon, writing for Consumer Reports, explains:
In an online post, Google noted that only headphones compatible
with USB Type-C Digital Audio will work with the Pixel 2. […]
Analog Type-C headphones won’t produce any sound, Google says.
Instead they will prompt a smartphone notification informing you
that you need different headphones. […]
How do I know whether my headphones are compatible?
For now, Google recommends that you purchase headphones certified
as “Made for Google.” This program, similar to Apple’s “Made for
iPhone” program, confirms that the hardware is fully compatible
with the Pixel 2. As of now, only three manufacturers offer
headphones that have earned that distinction: AiAiAi, Master &
Dynamic, and Libratone.
Not exactly the three biggest brand names in the audio world.
So the gist of it is that it’s not enough to have USB-C headphones. Pixel owners need the right kind of USB-C headphones — only those that support digital audio, and they seem to be far from common today. And the ones that do exist seem to be quite expensive. The cheapest Pixel-compatible USB-C headphones in Google’s store are the Libratone Q Adapt earphones, and they cost $149. That’s a lot more than $29, and a lot of money for headphones from a brand I’ve never heard of. They’re also the only earbud-style USB-C headphones Google offers. The even more goofily-named Aiaiai TMA-2 MFG4 on-ear headphones cost $180.
So with the Pixel, the recommended options start at $149, and the unrecommended options — as explored by Havlak in her aforelinked Verge piece — cost about $50 and are of questionable quality. No wonder Google didn’t include earbuds in the box with the Pixel 2. (Essential doesn’t either, and they charge $99 for their earbuds.)
Samsung is more of a “do what the customer is asking for” company; Apple is a “figure out what they’re going to want” company. Samsung’s customers aren’t asking for the headphone jack to be dropped, so the path of least resistance is to just keep the jack. But looking at what’s available on the market, a big problem facing Samsung (and the rest of the Android world) is that the USB-C headphone market is a mess — and expensive to boot. “No-name brand headphones at high prices” is a hard sell.
As much as AirPods are better (and cheaper) than standard Bluetooth earbuds, there is seemingly nothing close to Lightning EarPods on the market for USB-C. AirPods get all the attention, but Lightning EarPods are even further ahead of their USB-C competition. The proprietary nature of Lightning allowed Apple to make sure it was ready to serve as the wired audio connector for iPhones when Apple wanted it to be. Keep that in mind the next time you wonder why Apple doesn’t drop Lightning for USB-C. ★
Friday, 2 March 2018
Back in 2013, Tim Wu wrote a piece for The New Yorker titled “Does a Company Like Apple Need a Genius Like Steve Jobs?” In it, he tried to make the case that in technology, the “open beats closed” adage was true, and that Apple’s success with a “closed” strategy was due solely to the genius of Steve Jobs, and that in 2013 they’d already entered a state of decline.
I wrote a rebuttal titled “Open and Shut”, and it’s one of my favorite pieces in the DF archive. It encapsulates many of the themes I’ve written about regarding Apple from the beginning. Five years seems like a good time to revisit it, and I have to say my argument holds up pretty well.
To pick just one example, Wu’s theory involved a cockamamie ranking system he invented in which he assigned companies an “openness” score, and he alleged that these scores roughly tracked the market caps of Amazon, Google, Microsoft, and post-Jobs Apple. I called nonsense on the whole premise that market cap correlates to openness (I called nonsense on just about every point Wu made, really), and pointed out that while Apple indeed suffered a stock price dip in 2013 (that was around the time when there was a popular theory that Samsung was eating Apple’s lunch in the phone market), Apple’s stock price at the beginning of March 2013 was still higher than it was when Steve Jobs died.
Today, five years to the day after I wrote that, Apple’s stock price is up 185 percent — it’s trading at nearly 3× the price from March 2013.
Anyway, I think it’s well worth a re-read. It even has an inline image, which is somewhat rare. ★
Thursday, 1 March 2018
A few nights ago I stumbled upon an excellent thread on Twitter by Max Krieger on the design of Sony’s ambitious but ill-fated Metreon complex in San Francisco. If you’ve ever been to Moscone for a conference, you know the Metreon — it’s the big weird mall across the street from Moscone West.
I found several things interesting about this:
Twitter threads can be annoying at times, compared to reading a regular old article. But when done well, they’re engaging. Krieger is a natural at the format — breaking all his thoughts into tweet-sized chunks and including plenty of photos illustrating his points. And Twitter clients are good at displaying multiple images in a carousel.
Krieger used the thread to promote his Kickstarter campaign for a puzzle game he’s making. As Ben Thompson noted, this is a great marketing idea. It looks like a cool game, and it’s 85 percent funded with less than a week to go. I backed it simply to thank Krieger for these terrific design threads.
Cabel Sasser mentioned that Krieger had previously done a similar thread on Walt Disney World’s Tomorrowland. I love Tomorrowland, so I wanted to read that one too.
I searched for “max krieger tomorrowland thread” in my favorite search engine, hoping to find his tweet starting that thread. Instead, the top result gave me something even better: a collection of five design threads from Krieger — the new Metreon one, Disney Quest, EPCOT, Tomorrowland, and The Cheesecake Factory (which Krieger describes as “a fully immersive ‘postmodern design hellscape’ themed dining experience”) — on a website I somehow hadn’t heard of before called Thread Reader. Thread Reader does just what you think it does: it collects Twitter threads on a single web page. It’s exactly what I wanted.
Twitter and the good old fashioned World Wide Web can still be great. ★