AirPods Pro at Amazon: $169 

I don’t post many affiliate links but here’s a great one: Amazon has second-gen AirPods Pro for just $169 for Prime Day, discounted a full third from the usual price of $249. AirPods Pro are not just my favorite earbuds ever, they’re one of my favorite products ever, full stop. Buy through this link and I’ll get rich.


The AT&T Data Breach Shows Why RCS Can’t Be Trusted and the Downside of Apple Adding Support for It in iOS 18

Here’s a hot take: last week’s news of a massive AT&T breach revealing the phone call and text messaging records of all AT&T customers for six months in 2022 exemplifies why RCS is a terrible protocol that ought not exist, and why it’s a mistake that Apple is adding support for it to iOS 18 this year.

The pro-RCS argument is that it improves upon SMS by adding support for much larger image and video attachments, as well as niceties like typing indicators. It really is just like SMS but better, which makes it seem, on the surface, like a no-brainer that all cell phone platforms should support it. In this view, the only justification for Apple’s yearslong refusal to support RCS was to maintain a maximum feature gap between iMessage (which, famously, is exclusive to Apple’s devices) and carrier-based messaging. In day-to-day use people can’t see that iMessage is fully end-to-end encrypted, but everyone can plainly see that images and videos sent over SMS/MMS look like shit. So it looks like nothing but pure spite that Apple refused, for years, to support RCS.

But the argument against RCS is strong and simple: it doesn’t support end-to-end encryption. The only new messaging platforms that should gain any traction are those that not only support E2EE, but that require it. Messaging and audio/video calls should only work through E2EE. That’s true for iMessage and FaceTime.

SMS and traditional telephone voice calls lack any encryption at all, but they’re firmly established. Just like email. But anything new should only be supported if it’s fundamentally based on E2EE. The RCS spec offers no message encryption at all. Google has implemented its own encryption for RCS, but, that’s a proprietary implementation that only works for messages sent between users who are all using Google’s own Messages app. From Google’s “Messages End-to-End Encryption Overview”:

In order to store and exchange user public keys like identity keys and prekeys, we need to have a central key server. Unlike the RCS messaging servers, the key server is currently only hosted by Google.

Perhaps, someday, the RCS spec will support an open standard for E2EE. I’m not holding my breath for that. For one thing, industry consortiums tend not to produce good solutions to hard problems, and an open standard for E2EE messaging is a very hard problem. Maybe impossible. Someone has to handle key exchange and management, but who would that be in an open standard? Then there’s the politics: law enforcement agencies the world over will pressure carriers against that. As I reported back in February, the primary reason Apple changed course on supporting RCS is that it’s mandated in China. The Chinese government surely loves RCS because it isn’t encrypted.

That’s not unique to China or other authoritarian dictatorships. Even in the West, law enforcement and spy agencies love the fact that telephone voice calls and cellular text messages are unencrypted. We don’t know how much they record and keep, but it’s a known fact that the NSA has black boxes installed at the carriers’ call centers, and the safest bet is that they record and store all of it. But even if you trust law enforcement agencies to handle this sensitive data securely, it’s clear, from this latest data breach alone, that the carriers themselves cannot be trusted. They’re inept. They always have been inept. And my money says they always will be.

But even if, somehow, a future version of the RCS spec supports E2EE, what about older devices that only support today’s non-encrypted version of RCS? Even if RCS eventually supports E2EE — which, again, I doubt — such support will surely be optional, not mandatory, because RCS has already shipped and is in widespread use on Android without encryption. That’s why messaging platforms should be built around E2EE from the start. It’s difficult to mandate E2EE on a platform that already supports unencrypted messaging. RCS should have been exclusively E2EE; instead, the standard offers no encryption at all.

Carrier-based messaging was best left as a legacy protocol. SMS wasn’t dying, but it was slowly fading away, and should have been left for things like automated “your table is ready” notifications from restaurants. RCS is just going to give carrier-based messaging new legs that it shouldn’t have gotten.

Another thing that sucks about carrier-based messaging is that it requires a device with an active SIM card from a carrier. Yes, you can send and receive SMS from a Mac or iPad with Text Message Forwarding, but you need the iPhone to do the forwarding. If you power down (or worse, lose) your iPhone, your Mac and iPad will no longer be able to send or receive SMS messages — and I presume that will be true for RCS as well. Whereas with modern messaging platforms like iMessage, Signal, and WhatsApp, devices like PCs and tablets can serve as clients without a phone.1

There is, admittedly, a good argument in favor of RCS. Basically, that phone carrier messaging is now and always will be a universally accessible form of communication. Everyone who is online has a cell phone, and those phones can all send and receive SMS. Because carrier-based messaging isn’t going away, this argument goes, it ought to be made as good as possible, and RCS — despite its deficiencies — is clearly better than SMS. Therefore RCS ought to be supported by all mobile devices, including iOS. Here’s Andy Ihnatko, in a discussion with me on Threads back in November:

Carrier-based messaging on a pre-installed messaging app might seem irrelevant to many of us. But it serves and suffices. And the process of discovery, selection, and installation of a different service — and getting your entire social circle on board with it — is deathly for so many people.

“If I know their phone number, I can send them a message or a photo” is a world-beater of a feature for the average user. This is why such apps should be as muscular as feasibly possible.

Ihnatko is right, but only if you believe that carrier-based messaging should remain the baseline. I do not. And it’s also a U.S.-centric viewpoint. In most countries around the world, platforms like WhatsApp, Line, or Facebook Messenger serve that role, as the baseline “everyone has it” messaging platform — and they’re better for it. I prefer iMessage, personally, for multiple reasons, but iMessage is fundamentally limited from serving that “everyone has it” baseline role by Apple’s decision not to ship an Android client. Eddy Cue doesn’t lose many arguments but he lost that one. All of the effort spent pushing Apple to support RCS would have been better spent pushing Apple to ship iMessage for Android. And without a supported iMessage client for Android, that role ought to go to WhatsApp, not RCS. WhatsApp is free, secure, and works equally well on all phones.

Meta knows this, and clearly smells the opportunity. Does Apple? 


  1. Two notes on this. First: security researcher Tommy Mysk recently publicized some serious issues with how Signal’s Mac client stores data locally, especially the fact that it stores its encryption key in a plain text file readable by any app on your Mac. This is not a defect in the Signal protocol, which is fully end-to-end encrypted, and arguably the gold standard for privacy. The problem with Signal’s desktop apps is that they’re storing information locally, without protection, outside the endpoints of “E2EE”. As Mysk proved, you can just copy Signal’s data folder from one Mac (that is properly signed into Signal) to another Mac (say, an attacker’s machine) and that second machine will be able to send and receive messages without the user being able to detect that an unauthorized machine has access to their account. Signal claims to be addressing this flaw in a future version now in beta testing.

    Second: Meta’s companywide aversion to developing native iPad apps includes WhatsApp. At least with Threads and Instagram, they allow the iPhone apps to run on iPadOS in letterboxed compatibility mode. But as you can see in this screenshot (which also shows how the lack of a proper native iPad client for WhatsApp has created a cottage industry of sketchy third-party apps in the App Store that are presenting themselves as WhatsApp clients), the iPhone WhatsApp client can’t even be installed on an iPad. This is so irritating. Meta does have proper native iPad versions of the blue Facebook app and Messenger, so I suppose there’s hope they’ll ship a proper WhatsApp client for iPad eventually. ↩︎


Pete Wells Is Stepping Down as NYT Food Critic 

Pete Wells:

The first thing you learn as a restaurant critic is that nobody wants to hear you complain. The work of going out to eat every night with hand-chosen groups of friends and family sounds suspiciously like what other people do on vacation. If you happen to work in New York or another major city, your beat is almost unimaginably rich and endlessly novel. [...]

So we tend to save our gripes until two or three of us are gathered around the tar pits. Then we’ll talk about the things nobody will pity us for, like the unflattering mug shots of us that restaurants hang on kitchen walls and the unlikable food in unreviewable restaurants.

One thing we almost never bring up, though, is our health. We avoid mentioning weight the way actors avoid saying “Macbeth.” Partly, we do this out of politeness. Mostly, though, we all know that we’re standing on the rim of an endlessly deep hole and that if we look down we might fall in.

It’s a funny thing about getting older. You put on weight yet you can’t eat nearly as much as you used to. Somehow, though, here in Philly, Craig Laban has been The Inquirer’s restaurant critic since 1998, and he’s still going strong.

Good critics — whether their beat is food, movies, books, whatever — review every genre, with an open mind. Some of Wells’s best writing was about the most approachable restaurants. This recent review of Hamburger America makes me hungry just glancing at it. His scathing review of Guy Fieri’s American Kitchen & Bar is famous, but don’t miss his review of the unsurprisingly-now-closed Señor Frog’s in Times Square:

Señor Frog’s is not a good restaurant by most conventional measures, including the fairly basic one of serving food. One night I got just two of the half-dozen appetizers I had asked for. Another time, the starters showed up on schedule, but after nearly two hours the main courses still had not appeared.

“What happened to our food?” we finally asked.

“That’s what I’m wondering!” our server said brightly. “Like, where is it?”

Getting just half of what you order at Señor Frog’s can be a blessing if it’s the right half.

An Afternoon in New Jersey With Richard Simmons 

One of the all-time great talk show guests.

Goodbye HomePod Mini in Space Gray; Hello HomePod Mini in Midnight 

Apple Newsroom:

Today, Apple introduced HomePod mini in midnight, made with 100 percent recycled mesh fabric. At just 3.3 inches tall, HomePod mini offers big sound in an impressively compact design. With a seamless, acoustically transparent mesh exterior and a backlit touch surface that illuminates from edge to edge, HomePod mini is a stunning smart speaker that complements any space. HomePod mini in midnight is available starting Wednesday, July 17, and joins other bold colors, including yellow, orange, blue, and white.

This confused me for a moment, because they make it sound like they’re simply adding this new color to the lineup. But midnight is actually replacing the subtly different space gray. The bigger question: is this a sign that a second-gen HomePod Mini is not coming soon? The current models debuted in November 2020, and are powered by the S5 chip from Apple Watch Series 5.

Update: Thinking about this some more, it’s kind of odd that it took Apple this long to swap space gray for midnight with the HomePod Mini. For consumer-y products they shifted from space gray to dark-with-a-slight-hint-of-blue “midnight” starting, I think, with the Series 7 Apple Watch models in 2021. (The Series 6 lineup introduced a dark blue, but it was called “blue”, and there was still a color called space gray.) The entry model MacBook Pros still offer space gray for their dark option, but the higher-end models are either silver or space black. Dark iPad Pros are space black. Dark iPhones are “black”, not gray — both Pro and non-pro. And the second-gen full-size HomePods, introduced in January 2023, have only ever been offered in white and midnight. Makes me wonder if Apple produced a bunch of space gray HomePod Minis all at once, when the product debuted, and has been waiting for them to sell out before switching to midnight.

Space gray remains a color in Apple’s palette, though. The darkest MacBook Airs have been offered in midnight ever since the new form factor debuted with the M2 models in 2022, but they do still offer models in space gray (along with silver and starlight). iPad Air and the due-for-an-update iPad Mini are still offered in space gray too. The pattern I detect is that if it’s black-ish and consumer, Apple uses midnight; if it’s black-ish and pro, it’s space black or just black. The exception is the regular iPhone 15, which is offered in just plain “black”, but the superseding pattern there is that Apple has always offered (at least one!) “black” iPhone with each generation.

Apple Changes Policy, Allowing PC Emulator UTM SE in App Store for iOS and VisionOS 

Tim Hardwick, reporting for MacRumors:

Apple this weekend approved free PC emulator “UTM SE” for the App Store on iPhone, iPad, and Vision Pro. The app allows users to emulate old versions of Windows OS, macOS, Linux, and more to fire up classic software and games on Apple devices. [...]

After Apple’s rejection, UTM’s developer said they would not keep going back and forth because the app would become “a subpar experience.” However, after help from the AltStore team and another developer to work on some changes, UTM SE was finally approved by Apple on Saturday.

As with other emulators, UTM SE requires that users supply the operating systems they want to emulate, but the UTM site includes guides for Windows XP through Windows 11 emulation, as well as downloads of pre-built virtual Linux machines.

Not sure what changed since last month, when Apple not only rejected UTM SE from the App Store but also from notarization for distribution on third-party marketplaces in the EU (and, perhaps soon, Japan).

In other emulation-on-iOS news, Delta 1.6 now fully supports iPadOS.

Dabba 

My thanks to Dabba for sponsoring last week at DF. (You may recall them sponsoring previously.) Dabba is a low-cost broadband internet service provider in India owned and powered by engineers and startup founders from around the world. Relative to its population, India lags behind most other countries in broadband penetration:

  • The US has 112M connections for 350M people
  • China has 612M connections for 1.4B people
  • India has only 30M connections for 1.4B people

Anyone, anywhere in the world can help the Dabba network by buying a hotspot. It’s the bootstrapping and installation costs for new hotspots that are holding India back. Through Dabba, you help subsidize those costs. As a hotspot owner you can monitor the performance of your hotspot on their publicly available explorer. It puts you in on the ground floor of a telecom with broad aspirations in an absolutely enormous market.


It’s the Guns, It’s the Guns, It’s the Guns

Josh Marshall, writing at Talking Points Memo:

Political violence and especially electoral violence strike at the heart of the open, free and democratic choice-making upon which our civic democratic system and the legitimacy of its choices are based. We must condemn it in every instance as well as expressing our personal sympathy for its victims. We do so not to box check some vague concept of civility or comity but because it strikes at the taproot of civil peace. It is equally not a license to squelch political speech or in this case threaten or intimidate those calling attention to the real and profound dangers of Donald Trump returning to the White House. We are already seeing this attempt in the making.

Political violence is abhorrent, and as Marshall aptly notes, strikes at the heart of the very concept of democracy. Words cannot express strongly enough the feelings that an event like yesterday’s evokes, no matter which side of the political spectrum we’re on. We call many things “unacceptable” but an assassination attempt is more than that. It’s sick, and, correctly, makes us feel sick. It’s like how our bodies revolt when we consume poison. An assassination attempt is poison to the body politic.

But only one of the candidates in this election has ever incited political violence. That candidate is Donald Trump, particularly and especially on January 6, 2021. Only one candidate has ever mocked and cracked jokes about a near-miss assassination attempt against one of his political adversaries. That candidate is Donald Trump, who (along with his son) has repeatedly mocked Nancy Pelosi’s husband Paul after an unhinged lunatic, asking “Where is Nancy?”, broke into their home and bashed Paul Pelosi’s head with a hammer, fracturing his skull to an extent that required surgery.

Donald Trump wasn’t an inch away from assassination because of Democratic rhetoric against his threat to democracy. He is a threat to democracy. He threatened democracy on national television. He has repeated, literally hundreds of times over the last three and a half years, that the fairest election this nation has ever held was “rigged” because he lost. Ask him today and he’ll say the same. Give Trump credit: he fully admits that the only election results he will accept are results that declare him the winner. But that, quite literally, is a threat to our democracy. He tried to remain in office after losing, by almost the exact same Electoral College margin he declared “a massive landslide victory” when he won in 2016, by overthrowing the duly elected government of the United States. Ask him today if he should still be in the White House.

Do not accept, not even at this fraught moment, the claims of anyone blaming yesterday on Democrats describing Trump as a threat to democracy. Saying so is not even on the spectrum of hyperbole. We saw what we saw after the 2020 election, and especially on January 6.

Do not fret, either, that yesterday’s event somehow cedes the election to Trump, on the grounds that he survived and projected strength. The side that wants a strongman was already voting for him. They’re the same people who claimed, wrongly, that being convicted of 34 felonies somehow helped him electorally. This is, no question, an indelible image and a photo for the ages. But Teddy Roosevelt was shot campaigning in 1912 — and unlike Trump took the stage to deliver his speech after taking the bullet — and lost the election by 347 Electoral College votes (an actual landslide) to Woodrow Wilson. Running for president for the third time in 1972, virulently racist Alabama governor George Wallace was shot, leaving him paralyzed. Wallace lost the primary. Gerald Ford survived not just one but two shooting attempts within 17 days in 1975. Ford wore a bulletproof trench coat in public for the remainder of his term. He lost the 1976 election to Jimmy Carter. (It was quite close.)

The truth is that our nation, great though it is in so many ways, has a horrific history of political violence and a seemingly innate obsession with firearms. Four presidents have been assassinated in office — Lincoln in 1865, Garfield in 1881, McKinley in 1901, and Kennedy in 1963 — all by gunshots. Three more — Roosevelt, Reagan (who nearly died), and now Trump — have been wounded by gunshots. And there have been numerous other failed attempts, including a nut who fired shots into the White House during Barack Obama’s first term in 2011.

Also, yesterday’s events will be old news by election day. There are 113 days until November 5. It’s been 129 days since Joe Biden’s strong State of the Union speech. Does that State of the Union feel recent to you today? That’s how old yesterday’s shooting will feel when we vote.

So here is what the Democrats should do. Tomorrow morning Chuck Schumer should put on the floor of the Senate a law mandating strict background checks for all gun purchases. Perhaps tie it to a reinstitution of the 1994 assault weapons ban that Republicans allowed to expire in 2004. Give it a name like the “Anti Political and School Violence Act”. Make Republicans shoot it down. Make them say, as Trump himself did after a school shooting massacre in Iowa this year, that we “have to get over it, we have to move forward.” It’s not just an outrage when your right-wing authoritarian hero gets his ear nicked by an assassin’s bullet. It’s an outrage when anyone is shot by a nut with a gun.

Make them say it. See how that flies. 


AT&T Only Learned of Massive 2022 Data Breach This April; Delayed Revealing It at the Request of U.S. Law Enforcement 

Brian Krebs:

In a written statement shared with KrebsOnSecurity, the FBI confirmed that it asked AT&T to delay notifying affected customers.

“Shortly after identifying a potential breach to customer data and before making its materiality decision, AT&T contacted the FBI to report the incident,” the FBI statement reads. “In assessing the nature of the breach, all parties discussed a potential delay to public reporting under Item 1.05(c) of the SEC Rule, due to potential risks to national security and/or public safety. AT&T, FBI, and DOJ worked collaboratively through the first and second delay process, all while sharing key threat intelligence to bolster FBI investigative equities and to assist AT&T’s incident response work.”

Techcrunch quoted an AT&T spokesperson saying the customer data was stolen as a result of a still-unfolding data breach involving more than 160 customers of the cloud data provider Snowflake.

Mark Burnett is an application security architect, consultant and author. Burnett said the only real use for the data stolen in the most recent AT&T breach is to know who is contacting whom and how many times.

“The most concerning thing to me about this AT&T breach of ALL customer call and text records is that this isn’t one of their main databases; it is metadata on who is contacting who,” Burnett wrote on Mastodon. “Which makes me wonder what would call logs without timestamps or names have been used for.”

It remains unclear why so many major corporations persist in the belief that it is somehow acceptable to store so much sensitive customer data with so few security protections. For example, Advance Auto Parts said the data exposed included full names, Social Security numbers, drivers licenses and government issued ID numbers on 2.3 million people who were former employees or job applicants.

Google Chrome, Along With Other Popular Chromium Browsers, Grants System Monitoring Privileges to *.google.com Domains 

Luca Casonato:

So, Google Chrome gives all *.google.com sites full access to system / tab CPU usage, GPU usage, and memory usage. It also gives access to detailed processor information, and provides a logging backchannel.

This API is not exposed to other sites - only to *.google.com.

This is interesting because it is a clear violation of the idea that browser vendors should not give preference to their websites over anyone else’s.

The DMA codifies this idea into law: browser vendors, as gatekeepers of the internet, must give the same capabilities to everyone. Depending on how you interpret the DMA, this additional exposure of information only to Google properties may be considered a violation of the DMA. Take for example Zoom - they are now at a disadvantage because they can not provide the same CPU debugging feature as Google Meet.

I frequently bemoan the DMA’s ambiguity but here I’d say it’s crystal clear. Chrome is a designated gatekeeping platform, and granting system-monitoring privileges only to Google’s own websites is clearly in violation. Here’s a Hacker News comment from a purported Google employee who calls the feature “mundane” while admitting that Google Meet uses it as a tool to debug bad connections, even though no other web-based meeting app has access to it. I can think of no better example proving that Google views the open web as a platform that it owns.

But put the DMA aside. This is just creepy. It’s clearly a privacy violation. I don’t want Google to know what kind of CPU I have, how many cores, and how busy they are. And the makers of other Chromium-based browsers are so lazy that their browsers — Microsoft Edge and Brave at least — include this same “feature”. I don’t mean that Edge grants system-monitoring privileges to Microsoft’s websites. Edge grants these privileges to Google’s websites, and Google’s alone.

But speaking of the DMA, Chromium is, far and away, the most popular browser engine that the DMA compels Apple to allow on iOS. There are legitimate reasons to wish that Apple allowed third-party browser engines on iOS. But there are also legitimate reasons why Apple doesn’t allow them. Chrome really is bad. Better to let the market decide than let clueless regulators decide.

(Via Simon Willison.)

Massive Data Breach at AT&T Exposed Six Months of Call and SMS Records of Nearly All Customers 

Matt Egan and Sean Lyngaas, reporting for CNN:

The call and text message records from mid-to-late 2022 of tens of millions of AT&T cellphone customers and many non-AT&T customers were exposed in a massive data breach, the telecom company revealed Friday. AT&T said the compromised data includes the telephone numbers of “nearly all” of its cellular customers and the customers of wireless providers that use its network between May 1, 2022 and October 31, 2022.

The stolen logs also contain a record of every number AT&T customers called or texted — including customers of other wireless networks — the number of times they interacted, and the call duration.

Importantly, AT&T said the stolen data did not include the contents of calls and text messages nor the time of those communications.

Of course the breach didn’t contain the content of (most) phone calls and (most) text messages, because carriers don’t record phone calls and, thankfully, don’t log the contents of text messages. This isn’t an important distinction at all. This is a devastating breach.

(I added those “mosts” because the carriers facilitate the recording/logging of some calls and text messages at the behest of law enforcement agencies. Which is exactly why we should all be moving as much of our communications as possible to E2EE platforms.)

Hermès’s H08 Watch, the Other Source for Samsung’s Ultra Rip-Off 

I’ve seen a few people arguing that Samsung’s Galaxy Watch Ultra, though clearly inspired by Apple Watch Ultra, isn’t a rip-off, per se, because it’s not an exact clone. Ben Thompson even tried to argue such with me on Dithering this week.

Here, for example, is a literal clone of Apple Watch Ultra that I bought on Temu last year for $16. (I’m linking to the user manual because the watch itself is no longer available, but here’s a thumbnail photo from Temu.) But of course Samsung wasn’t going to go that far and literally clone Apple Watch Ultra. That’s absurd. What they did was rip off as much as they thought they could get away with.

What I neglected to point out, but have since updated the post to mention, is that whatever elements of the Galaxy Watch Ultra weren’t copied from Apple Watch Ultra were clearly ripped off from Hermès’s H08 watch:

Photo of Hermès H08 Watch

That’s a handsome watch in and of itself, but it should be noted that Hermès is a longstanding partner of a smartwatch maker named — checks notes... — Apple.

European Commission Charges X With Breach of DSA 

I guess the European Commission hasn’t taken off for their months-long summer vacation quite yet:

[T]he Commission has issued preliminary findings of non-compliance on three grievances:

  • First, X designs and operates its interface for the “verified accounts” with the “Blue checkmark” in a way that does not correspond to industry practice and deceives users. Since anyone can subscribe to obtain such a “verified” status, it negatively affects users’ ability to make free and informed decisions about the authenticity of the accounts and the content they interact with. There is evidence of motivated malicious actors abusing the “verified account” to deceive users.

  • Second, X does not comply with the required transparency on advertising, as it does not provide a searchable and reliable advertisement repository, but instead put in place design features and access barriers that make the repository unfit for its transparency purpose towards users. In particular, the design does not allow for the required supervision and research into emerging risks brought about by the distribution of advertising online.

  • Third, X fails to provide access to its public data to researchers in line with the conditions set out in the DSA. In particular, X prohibits eligible researchers from independently accessing its public data, such as by scraping, as stated in its terms of service. In addition, X’s process to grant eligible researchers access to its application programming interface (API) appears to dissuade researchers from carrying out their research projects or leave them with no other choice than to pay disproportionally high fees.

I don’t really have an opinion on the second and third points, but the first one seems daft to me. Here’s how commissioner Thierry Breton is quoted in the EC’s press release:

“Back in the day, BlueChecks used to mean trustworthy sources of information. Now with X, our preliminary view is that they deceive users and infringe the DSA. We also consider that X’s ads repository and conditions for data access by researchers are not in line with the DSA transparency requirements. X has now the right of defence — but if our view is confirmed we will impose fines and require significant changes.”

Blue checkmarks were indeed used, “back in the day”, to indicate “verified” accounts. But upon purchasing Twitter, Elon Musk eliminated that program. They don’t advertise it as “Verified” any more; they just call it “Twitter Premium” and make it very clear that blue checkmarks indicate premium account status. That’s illegal under the DSA?

Anyway, here’s Elon Musk, replying to Breton’s announcement of this investigation:

How we know you’re real? 🧐

And:

We look forward to a very public battle in court, so that the people of Europe can know the truth.

And, more intriguingly, replying to Margrethe Vestager:

The European Commission offered X an illegal secret deal: if we quietly censored speech without telling anyone, they would not fine us.

The other platforms accepted that deal.

X did not.

The weapon the EC wields is their ability to fine companies 10–20 percent of global revenue. Musk is in a unique position to tell them to fuck off. Twitter’s revenue peaked at $5 billion in 2021 — when the company was still publicly-held — and has surely declined since then. A $500 million fine is figuratively nothing to Musk. He’d gladly pay that just for the attention a public fight over this will bring to him personally and X as a platform.

Amid Antitrust Scrutiny, Microsoft Drops OpenAI Board Observer Seat, and Apple, Reversing Course, Will Not Take One 

Camilla Hodgson and George Hammond, reporting for The Financial Times:

Microsoft has given up its seat as an observer on the board of OpenAI while Apple will not take up a similar position, amid growing scrutiny by global regulators of Big Tech’s investments in AI start-ups.

Microsoft, which has invested $13bn in the maker of the generative AI chatbot ChatGPT, said in a letter to OpenAI that its withdrawal from its board role would be “effective immediately”.

Apple had also been expected to take an observer role on OpenAI’s board as part of a deal to integrate ChatGPT into the iPhone maker’s devices, but would not do so, according to a person with direct knowledge of the matter. Apple declined to comment.

OpenAI would instead host regular meetings with partners such as Microsoft and Apple and investors Thrive Capital and Khosla Ventures.

Apple’s board observer seat, set to be taken by Phil Schiller, was never officially announced. But after Mark Gurman broke the story at Bloomberg, it was confirmed by the Financial Times. So it really does seem like a fast reversal. Or as Emily Litella would say, “Never mind”. But I suspect these “regular meetings” will serve the same purpose, and I bet Schiller will be in those meetings representing Apple.

See also Reporting for Axios, Ina Fried has excerpts from Microsoft’s letter to OpenAI.

M1 MacBook Air Drops from $700 to $650 at Walmart 

Joe Rossignol, MacRumors:

Walmart+ members have early access to the deal as of 12 p.m. Eastern Time today, and it will be available to all Walmart customers starting at 6 p.m. Eastern Time today.

Walmart first began selling the MacBook Air with the M1 chip for $699 in March, marking the first time the retailer ever sold Macs directly. Now, it is available for an even lower $649 heading into the back-to-school shopping season. It is unclear how long the deal will last.

The M1 MacBook Air will turn 4 years old in November, but it remains an excellent laptop, including support for the upcoming Apple Intelligence features in MacOS 15 Sequoia. As I wrote in March, when this partnership started:

And while, yes, these machines are now over three years old, for $700 this is a great deal. That’s 30 percent less than the cheapest MacBook in an Apple Store. I’d bet serious money that a base M1 MacBook Air outperforms any other $700 laptop on the market. Show me another $700 laptop with a retina display. I’ll wait.

Fascinating example of pricing-as-branding that Apple won’t sell this machine in its own stores, but will through Walmart — which doesn’t sell any other Macs.

Pennsylvania Is, Finally, Getting Beautiful License Plates 

I’ve been a big fan of Pennsylvania governor Josh Shapiro since his term as our attorney general. He was absolutely fantastic in the aftermath of the 2020 election, when Trump attempted to steal Pennsylvania.

But as of this week he might be my favorite politician in the entire country. He accomplished what I had long ago given up hope of ever seeing: replacing PA’s fugly-as-sin license plates with a new design that’s among the best I’ve ever seen. Good typography, great colors, and a new slogan and icon that exemplify Pennsylvania’s role as the birthplace of the longest-standing democracy the world has ever seen: the Liberty Bell.

Bravo.

(Next job: Apply this same design language to our god-awful driver’s licenses.)

Update: Design credit for both the new plates and welcome signage goes to Robyn Kanner.

Samsung Rips Off Apple Watch Ultra, Right Down to the Name 

Quinn Nelson on X:

  • Watch Ultra is the most shameless copy of an Apple product in ages — and it’s hideous
  • Wait, it gets more shameless — Buds3 and Buds3 Pro are clones of AirPods

It’s sad to see Samsung — who once was a leader in design and innovation — start knocking off popular products like some third-rate OEM. Do better.

I agree that the new Buds are AirPod rip-offs, and the new Galaxy Watch Ultra is such a blatant rip-off — the name, the orange accents, the comically slavish copy of Apple’s Ocean Band — that it defies parody. It’s an outright disgrace. Theft, pure and simple. Whatever elements of this watch weren’t ripped off from Apple Watch Ultra were ripped off from Hermès’s H08 watch — and Hermès, of course, has a longstanding partnership with Apple. (Victoria Song at The Verge calls it “not exactly hiding where it got its inspiration from” and “That’s not necessarily a bad thing!”; I doubt she’d consider it “inspiration” and “not necessarily a bad thing” if someone were to rip off her articles to the degree Samsung rips off Apple’s designs. There is no reason to defend this. Call it what it is: theft.)

I disagree that Samsung was ever “a leader in design”. I don’t recall a time when their strategy was anything other than just outright stealing the designs of whoever the current market leader is and undercutting them on price just enough to take the Pepsi position (happy to be in second place, happy to have no shame). Before they started ripping off the iPhone, they ripped off BlackBerry, and called their rip-off lineup of phones “BlackJack”. Really. These new blatant, shameful rip-offs aren’t an aberration; they define the company that Samsung is.

Flight Tracking in Messages (and Anywhere Data Detectors Work) 

Nelson Aguilar and Blake Stimac, writing for CNet:

That’s right. There’s a hidden flight tracker built right into iMessage that you probably would have never noticed unless you threw in the right combination of details within a message. [...]

Although the airline name/flight number format highlighted above is the best way to go, there are other texting options that will lead you to the same result. So let’s say we stick with American Airlines 9707, other options that may bring up the flight tracker include:

  • AmericanAirlines9707 (no spaces)
  • AmericanAirlines 9707 (only one space)
  • AA9707 (airline name is abbreviated and no space)
  • AA 9707 (abbreviated and space)

This is a cool feature — that dates back to iOS 9 in 2015 — but don’t cancel your Flighty subscription. It’s maddeningly inconsistent. Even some of CNet’s own suggestions don’t work — neither AmericanAirlines1776 nor AmericanAirlines 1776 works, but American Airlines 9707 does.

The abbreviated names work for the major U.S. airlines — AA123 (American), DL123 (Delta), and UA123 (United) are all recognized. But neither B6123 nor JBU123 (JetBlue) works, nor F9123 or FFT123 (Frontier). JetBlue 123, JetBlue Airways 123, and JetBlue Airlines 123 work (and even Jet Blue 123 works, with the erroneous space), but you need to include “Airlines” for most carriers. None of these work: American 123, Delta 123, United 123, Frontier 123. All of those do work if you include “Airlines” in the name.

(Update: Turns out it’s not about major vs. regional airlines, because JetBlue is classified as a major by the DOT. Instead it seems that only flight codes from airlines whose IATA abbreviation consists of two alphabetic letters work. JetBlue’s B6 and Frontier’s F9 don’t work because they contain numbers. But even with British Airways, whose code is BA, BA123 isn’t recognized. But if you put words like “airline” or “flight” after the flight code — BA123 airline, BA1588 flight — it does, because the data detector picks up the additional context.)

CNet attributes this feature to iMessage, going so far as to claim that it doesn’t work for messages sent using SMS, but that’s wrong. It works just fine for SMS messages. In fact, it’s not even a feature specific to the Messages app. It’s a feature from Apple’s DataDetection framework — the same system-wide feature that recognizes calendar events, postal addresses, URLs, shipment tracking numbers, and more. So you can use this same flight-code trick with, say, Apple Mail. Or if you’re just sending it to yourself, put it in Apple Notes. It even works with text recognized in screenshots.

Update 2: You can also type flight codes into Spotlight search on the iOS Home screen to search for and track flight status.

Windows Notepad Finally Gets Spellcheck and Autocorrect 

Dave Grochocki, writing for Microsoft’s Windows Insider Blog:

With this update, Notepad will now highlight misspelled words and provide suggestions so that you can easily identify and correct mistakes. We are also introducing autocorrect which seamlessly fixes common typing mistakes as you type.

Getting started with spellcheck in Notepad is easy as misspelled words are automatically underlined in red. To fix a spelling mistake, click, tap, or use the keyboard shortcut Shift + F10 on the misspelled word to see suggested spellings. Selecting a suggestion immediately updates the word. You can also choose to ignore words in a single document or add them to the dictionary, so they are not flagged as a mistake again. Spellcheck in Notepad supports multiple languages.

Better late than never, but it’s kind of wild that Notepad is 41 years old and only getting these features now. I haven’t used a single Mac app that doesn’t offer the system’s built-in spellchecking for over 20 years.

New Cars in the EU Now Equipped With Nagging Speed Limiters 

Kieran Kelly, reporting for LBC:

New cars that are sold in Europe from this week will host automatically-installed speed limiters, following the introduction of a new EU law.

Even though the rule to install the technology does not apply in the UK, many of the cars will have been made in Europe and so will feature the Intelligent Speed Assistance (ISA) anyway.

The technology allows the car to automatically restrict its speed based on GPS location, speed-sign recognition and cameras within the vehicle. This is not done simply by applying the brakes, which could be dangerous, but by gradually reducing the engine’s power. However, drivers will first get a warning that they are driving too fast and be told to slow down before the measure takes affect.

When a friend sent me this link, I thought at first that LBC was some sort of Onion/Babylon Bee-style parody site. But no, this is real. Any politician in the U.S. seeking to end their career should propose similar legislation here.

In the EU, drivers will be able to turn off the system every time they start their car. It cannot be permanently shut off.

I take back my complaint that the EU no longer innovates in technology. They brought the EU cookie-consent web experience to cars. Nonstop pointless nagging and annoyance.

Gurman: Apple Intelligence Powered Siri Won’t Arrive Until iOS 18.4 

Mark Gurman, in his Power On column for Bloomberg:

For the first time, the digital assistant will have precise control over actions inside of Apple’s apps. That means you can ask Siri to, say, edit a photo and then ship it off to a friend. It also will have the ability to understand what you’re looking at on your display, helping Siri determine what you want to do based on the context. But neither of those upgrades will be ready when Apple Intelligence launches this fall, as I’ve previously reported.

Instead, I’m told, Siri features are likely to go into beta testing for developers in January and then debut publicly around the springtime — part of an iOS 18.4 upgrade that’s already in the works. Other Siri features, such as a new design and ChatGPT integration, will be coming later this year.

Recent dates for iOS x.4 updates:

  • iOS 17.4: 7 March 2024
  • iOS 16.4: 27 March 2023
  • iOS 15.4: 14 March 2022
  • iOS 14.4: 26 January 2021
  • iOS 13.4: 24 March 2020

If the usual pattern holds, it’s a safe guess that iOS 18.4 will arrive in mid-to-late March. (iOS 14.4 came in January, but 2020 was, needless to say, an unusual year.) This jibes with my take post-WWDC, when I wrote:

If generative AI weren’t seen as essential — both in terms of consumer marketing and investor confidence — I think much, if not most, of what Apple unveiled in “Apple Intelligence” wouldn’t even have been announced until next year’s WWDC, not last week’s WWDC. Again, none of the features in “Apple Intelligence” are even available in beta yet, and I think all or most of them will be available only under a “beta” label until next year.

BriefLook 

My thanks to BriefLook for sponsoring last week at DF. BriefLook is a clever iPhone app that does one thing and does it well: it summarizes your postal (paper) mail. Just point your iPhone camera at a letter, and boom, a few moments later you get an AI-generated summary. Who it’s from, what it’s about, and what you’re expected to do about it. That’s useful for summarizing long letters in your own native language, but BriefLook can read and translate between dozens of languages. Truly an amazing use case for AI. Not too long ago a “universal mail translator / summarizer” was the stuff of science fiction. Now you can carry one in your pocket.

Download BriefLook and try it free of charge. Super useful, yet so utterly simple.

Shockingly, Apple and Epic Games Still Aren’t Getting Along 

Epic Games, on X two days ago:

Apple has rejected our Epic Games Store notarization submission twice now, claiming the design and position of Epic’s “Install” button is too similar to Apple’s “Get” button and that our “In-app purchases” label is too similar to the App Store’s “In-App Purchases” label.

We are using the same “Install” and “In-app purchases” naming conventions that are used across popular app stores on multiple platforms, and are following standard conventions for buttons in iOS apps. We’re just trying to build a store that mobile users can easily understand, and the disclosure of in-app purchases is a regulatory best practice followed by all stores nowadays.

Apple’s rejection is arbitrary, obstructive, and in violation of the DMA, and we’ve shared our concerns with the European Commission. Barring further roadblocks from Apple, we remain ready to launch in the Epic Games Store and Fortnite on iOS in the EU in the next couple of months.

Later that same day:

Update: Apple has informed us that our previously rejected Epic Games Store notarization submission has now been accepted.

Tim Sweeney:

Epic had supported notarization during Epic v Apple on the basis that Mac’s mandatory malware scanning could add value to iOS. Now it’s disheartening to see Apple twist its once-honest notarization process into another vector to manipulate and thwart competition.

Asked if he would provide screenshots of the rejected screens, Sweeney responded:

We shared screenshots with EC regulators. We want to compete with other stores by having a big exciting product rollout, which means not trickling out media publicly before launch with the Apple fan press doing a teardown using Phil Schiller crafted talking points.

Epic is certainly under no obligation to reveal screenshots of its in-progress iOS games marketplace, but without screenshots, there’s also no reason for anyone to take their own description of the notarization dispute with Apple at face value. Epic Games is an unreliable narrator. Last year the FTC fined Epic $245 million “to settle charges that the company used dark patterns to trick players into making unwanted purchases and let children rack up unauthorized charges without any parental involvement.”

Was Apple’s rejection of Epic’s notarization submission as petty and silly as Epic makes it sound? Maybe! Or perhaps Epic’s Game Store is designed to trick users into thinking it’s Apple’s own official App Store, and there’s nothing silly about the rejection at all. But in that case, it still might be illegal under the DMA for Apple to reject the submission for notarization — the DMA may well require Apple to notarize a third-party marketplace app that is a pixel-for-pixel rip-off of the App Store app, so long as it’s not outright malware.

The point is, we don’t know. And one party, Apple, is barely commenting on the fracas, and the other, Epic, was just fined a quarter of a billion dollars for tricking users, including children, into making unwanted purchases.

Phil Schiller to Represent Apple as Board ‘Observer’ at OpenAI 

Mark Gurman, reporting for Bloomberg last week:

Apple Inc. will get an observer role on OpenAI’s board as part of a landmark agreement announced last month, further tightening ties between the once-unlikely partners. Phil Schiller, the head of Apple’s App Store and its former marketing chief, was chosen for the position, according to people familiar with the situation. As a board observer, he won’t be serving as a full-fledged director, said the people, who asked not to be identified because the matter isn’t public. [...]

The board observer role will put Apple on par with Microsoft Corp., OpenAI’s biggest backer and its main AI technology provider. The job allows someone to attend board meetings without being able to vote or exercise other director powers. Observers, however, do gain insights into how decisions are made at the company.

Trust, but verify” the adage goes. This board observer role gives Apple a position to verify that OpenAI remains the trustworthy partner Apple thinks they are. I can think of no one better than Schiller for this position. Perhaps you’re no fan of Schiller’s stewardship of the App Store, but he’s long been a staunch proponent of user privacy at Apple. He’s significantly responsible for Apple’s shift toward making “privacy” a major selling point of their products and services.

Figma Disables ‘Make Design’ AI-Powered Rip-Off Tool 

Sarah Perez, TechCrunch:

Figma CEO Dylan Field says the company will temporarily disable its “Make Design” AI feature that was said to be ripping off the designs of Apple’s own Weather app. The problem was first spotted by Andy Allen, the founder of NotBoring Software, which makes a suite of apps that includes a popular, skinnable Weather app and other utilities. He found by testing Figma’s tool that it would repeatedly reproduce Apple’s Weather app when used as a design aid.

Field is right to pull the feature but this explanation is sophistry. The feature is clearly fundamentally flawed. It’s not in need of a tweak. It’s in need of being completely scrapped.

Generative AI is really good and truly useful when you say “Here’s a thing, help me tweak it or change it”. But when you say “Make a new thing for me” you’re effectively just getting a rip-off a lot — or perhaps most — of the time.

Figma AI Is a Rip-Off Engine 

Andy Allen:

Figma AI looks rather heavily trained on existing apps.

This is a “weather app” using the new Make Designs feature and the results are basically Apple’s Weather app (left). Tried three times, same results.

This is even more disgraceful than a human rip-off. Figma knows what they trained this thing on, and they know what it outputs. In the case of this utter, shameless, abject rip-off of Apple Weather, they’re even copying Weather’s semi-inscrutable (semi-scrutable?) daily temperature range bars.

“AI” didn’t do this. Figma did this. And they’re handing this feature to designers who trust Figma and are the ones who are going to be on the hook when they present a design that, unbeknownst to them, is a blatant rip-off of some existing app.

Maybe now that the Adobe deal fell through, Figma is looking to sell itself to Samsung?

The Talk Show: ‘Curiously Short Episodes’ 

John Moltz returns to the show for a holiday-week look at the best of recent prestige streaming content, particularly Apple TV+. And, yes, a bit on the latest Apple/EU/DMA drama.

Sponsored by:

  • Squarespace: Make your next move. Use code talkshow for 10% off your first order.
WorkOS 

My thanks to WorkOS for sponsoring last week at Daring Fireball. WorkOS is a modern identity platform for B2B SaaS. Start selling to enterprise customers with just a few lines of code. Ship complex features like SSO and SCIM (pronounced skim) provisioning in minutes instead of months.

Today, some of the fastest growing startups are already powered by WorkOS, including Perplexity, Vercel, and Webflow.

For SaaS apps that care deeply about design and user experience, WorkOS is the perfect fit. From high-quality documentation to self-serve onboarding for your customers, it removes all the unnecessary complexity for your engineering team.

European Commission Launches Investigation Against Microsoft for Integrating Teams With Office 

The European Commission:

In particular, the Commission is concerned that Microsoft may have granted Teams a distribution advantage by not giving customers the choice whether or not to acquire access to Teams when they subscribe to their SaaS productivity applications. This advantage may have been further exacerbated by interoperability limitations between Teams’ competitors and Microsoft’s offerings. The conduct may have prevented Teams’ rivals from competing, and in turn innovating, to the detriment of customers in the European Economic Area.

If confirmed, these practices would infringe Article 102 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (‘TFEU’), which prohibits the abuse of a dominant market position.

After the Commission opened proceedings in July 2023, Microsoft introduced changes in the way it distributes Teams. In particular, Microsoft started offering some suites without Teams. The Commission preliminarily finds that these changes are insufficient to address its concerns and that more changes to Microsoft’s conduct are necessary to restore competition.

I can see the argument from regulatory proponents, that unbundling Teams from Office in some packages, after the fact, is too little too late. That the damage from abusing their dominant position was already done. But still, what more does the EC want?

The sending of a Statement of Objections does not prejudge the outcome of an investigation.

Translation: They’re guilty and we’re just going through the motions of giving them a chance to state their case.

If the Commission concludes, after the company has exercised its rights of defence, that there is sufficient evidence of an infringement, it can adopt a decision prohibiting the conduct and imposing a fine of up to 10% of the company’s annual worldwide turnover. The Commission may also impose on the company any remedies which are proportionate to bring the infringement effectively to an end.

My read on this is that the EC’s stance is that its designated gatekeeping companies — all of which happen, by sheer coincidence I’m repeatedly told, to be from the US or Asia — should be forbidden from evolving their platforms to stay on top. That churn should be mandated by law.

I mean of course Microsoft had an advantage by being able to bundle Teams with Office. But Office needs something like Teams to remain relevant today. If Office had never evolved after achieving a dominant position in the market, it would still be sold in boxes full of floppy disks. Moving from licensed installations to SaaS was inevitable if Office was to remain relevant, and adding a collaborative communication layer like Teams was essential in today’s world.

The EC, to my eyes, is saying that it’s illegal for a successful platform to adapt and evolve. Or at the very least they’re saying they might deem it illegal. And once again it’s the EC itself that is proclaiming its threat to fine Microsoft up to 10 percent of its annual global revenue, and I’ll wager, once again, that the EU itself comprises less than 10 percent of Microsoft’s revenue. They’re threatening fines incommensurate with their market size.

I think the EC expects these companies to capitulate. To bend their entire global strategy to the whims of EC bureaucrats, and just accept being handcuffed. But what’s clearly happening is that the these gatekeepers are reading the writing on the wall, and are going to postpone all new features and products in the EU until after they have assurances that they’re compliant under EU law. The EC thinks they’re going to handcuff these companies, but instead all they’re doing is setting the entire EU market months, or even years, behind the rest of the world for new products and services. In some cases those products and services will just never come to the EU at all.

Surely the lesson Microsoft is taking from this is not that they were wrong to bundle Teams with Office, but that they were wrong to offer their integrated service in the EU.

Sponsorship Openings at Daring Fireball and the Talk Show, Summer 2024 Edition 

Yours truly back in March:

After being sold out for months, the upcoming sponsorship schedule at DF is unusually open at the moment — including this upcoming week.

Weekly sponsorships have been the top source of revenue for Daring Fireball ever since I started selling them back in 2007. They’ve succeeded, I think, because they make everyone happy. They generate good money. There’s only one sponsor per week and the sponsors are always relevant to at least some sizable portion of the DF audience, so you, the reader, are never annoyed and hopefully often intrigued by them. And, from the sponsors’ perspective, they work. My favorite thing about them is how many sponsors return for subsequent weeks after seeing the results.

If you’ve got a product or service you think would be of interest to DF’s audience of people obsessed with high quality and good design, get in touch.

This is now true, once again for next week. And just like in March, sponsorship spots for The Talk Show are open for the summer months as well.

The Talk Show: ‘150 Million Calculator Apps’ 

Quinn Nelson, esteemed host of Snazzy Labs, returns to the show to recap the highlights of WWDC: Apple Intelligence, platform updates, and the latest salvos from the EC regarding Apple’s compliance with the DMA.

Sponsored by:

  • Trade Coffee: Enjoy 30% off your first month of coffee.
  • Squarespace: Make your next move. Use code talkshow for 10% off your first order.
Wavelength Is Shutting Down at the End of July 

Wavelength:

We’re sad to announce that we’re shutting down Wavelength. We’re so grateful to our users and community — you’ve been amazing.

On July 31st we’ll turn off our servers, which means that you’ll no longer be able to sign in, create a group, or send messages. You will continue to have access to your message history as long as you keep the app installed on your device, but we recommend saving or copying anything important out of the app as soon as you can.

Your Wavelength account data will be deleted from our servers at the time of the shutdown. Rest assured that we will not retain, sell, or transfer any user information, and that your messages remain end-to-end encrypted and secure.

You may recall I’ve been an advisor to the team at Wavelength for a little over a year, so I knew this announcement was coming. It’s a bummer, personally, at two levels. First, just knowing the team, particularly cofounders Richard Henry and Marc Bodnick, both of whom I now consider friends. They tried to crack the “privacy-minded social network” nut before with Telepath, and with Wavelength got even closer to pulling it off. So much work went into it, and so much of it was so good.

Second, though, is a more selfish reason: I’m an active participant in a bunch of active, vibrant groups on Wavelength. I’m going to miss them. The groups I’m most active in on Wavelength have a higher signal-to-noise ratio than any social networking platform I’ve seen in ages. I’d have to go back to the heyday of Usenet and email group mailing lists, literally decades ago, or the very early years of Twitter, to find anything with such a high level of discourse.

But the simple truth is that while Wavelength has been far from a failure, it’s also far from a breakout hit. It’d be an easy decision to shut it down if it were a flop. It was a hard decision to shut it down because it wasn’t. But a social platform really needs to be a breakout hit to succeed, and Wavelength just wasn’t on a path to become one.

So: time to move on. Until the plug gets pulled at the end of next month though, I’ll still be there.

Microsoft Edge Has an ‘Enhanced Security’ Mode That Disables the JIT 

Sergiu Gatlan, writing for Bleeping Computer in 2021 (thanks to Kevin van Haaren):

Microsoft has announced that the Edge Vulnerability Research team is experimenting with a new feature dubbed “Super Duper Secure Mode” and designed to bring security improvements without significant performance losses. When enabled, the new Microsoft Edge Super Duper Secure Mode will remove Just-In-Time Compilation (JIT) from the V8 processing pipeline, reducing the attack surface threat actors can use to hack into Edge users’ systems.

Based on CVE (Common Vulnerabilities and Exposures) data collected since 2019, around 45% of vulnerabilities found in the V8 JavaScript and WebAssembly engine were related to the JIT engine, more than half of all “in the wild” Chrome exploits abusing JIT bugs.

“Super Duper Secure Mode” was a funner name, but they settled on “Enhanced Security Mode”.

This is why Apple considers BrowserEngineKit — which is complex and requires a special entitlement with stringent requirements to use — necessary for complying with the DMA’s mandate to allow third-party browser engines. JITs are inherently vulnerable. It’s not about known bugs — it’s the unknown bugs.

The anti-WebKit peanut gallery responded to my piece on JITs yesterday with a collective response along the lines of “Who’s to say WebKit’s JIT is any more secure than Chrome’s or Gecko’s?” That’s not really the point, but that answer is, Apple is to say. iOS is their platform and they’ve decided that it’s better for the platform to reduce the attack surface to a single browser engine, WebKit, the one they themselves control. And Apple isn’t saying WebKit as a whole, or its JavaScript JIT compiler in particular, is more secure than Chrome or Gecko. They’re saying, implicitly, that it’s safer to have just one that they themselves are fully responsible for. And that the safest way to comply with the DMA’s mandate to allow third-party rendering engines is via a stringent framework like BrowserEngineKit.

You might think it would be just fine for iOS to work just like MacOS, where you can install whatever software you want. But Apple, expressly, does not. iOS is designed to be significantly more secure than MacOS.

Reuters: Amazon Is Considering $5 Monthly Charge for Improved Alexa 

Greg Bensinger, reporting for Reuters:

Amazon is planning a major revamp of its decade-old money-losing Alexa service to include a conversational generative AI with two tiers of service and has considered a monthly fee of around $5 to access the superior version, according to people with direct knowledge of the company’s plans.

Known internally as “Banyan,” a reference to the sprawling ficus trees, the project would represent the first major overhaul of the voice assistant since it was introduced in 2014 along with the Echo line of speakers. Amazon has dubbed the new voice assistant “Remarkable Alexa,” the people said.

A bit of a role reversal here. Apple, which is not known for giving away much for free, isn’t charging users for Apple Intelligence, including ChatGPT integration. Amazon, which is known for ruthlessly pursuing low prices, is, according to this report, looking to charge for an LLM-powered version of Alexa. Maybe that new version of Alexa really is that good? But I sort of think that if they gate this new Alexa behind a paywall, it will just be added to the existing package for Prime.

Speaking of Alexa, though, I’m reminded that Apple’s WWDC announcements didn’t include anything about bringing the new Apple-Intelligence-powered Siri to devices like HomePods or Apple Watches. Let’s say you have an iPhone 15 Pro or buy a new iPhone 16 this fall. What happens when you talk to Siri through your Apple Watch? Do you get the new Apple Intelligence Siri, because your watch is paired to your iPhone, which meets the device requirements for Apple Intelligence? Or do you get old dumb Siri on your Watch and only get new Siri when talking directly to your iPhone?

Gurman Just Pantsed the WSJ on Their Report About Apple and Meta Working on an AI Deal 

Salvador Rodriguez, Aaron Tilley, Miles Kruppa, reporting for The Wall Street Journal Sunday morning (News+):

In its hustle to catch up on AI, Apple has been talking with a longtime rival: Meta. Facebook’s parent has held discussions with Apple about integrating Meta Platforms’ generative AI model into Apple Intelligence, the recently announced AI system for iPhones and other devices, according to people familiar with the matter.

This didn’t make much sense, given Tim Cook’s strident condemnation of Meta and Mark Zuckerberg. E.g. this interview with Kara Swisher, which, though it was six years ago, doesn’t leave much room for a strange bedfellows partnership today: “Asked by Swisher what he would do if he were in Zuckerberg’s position, Cook said pointedly: ‘I wouldn’t be in this situation.’” Cook and Apple’s entire problem with Meta is their approach to privacy and monetizing through targeted advertising based on user profiles. Apple is trying to convince customers that Apple’s approach to AI is completely private and trustworthy; a partnership with Meta would run counter to that. And, quite frankly, Meta’s AI technology is not enviable.

Now here’s Mark Gurman, reporting for Bloomberg yesterday evening (News+):

Apple Inc. rejected overtures by Meta Platforms Inc. to integrate the social networking company’s AI chatbot into the iPhone months ago, according to people with knowledge of the matter.

The two companies aren’t in discussions about using Meta’s Llama chatbot in an AI partnership and only held brief talks in March, said the people, who asked not to be identified because the situation is private. The dialogue about a partnership didn’t reach any formal stage, and Apple has no active plans to integrate Llama. [...]

Apple decided not to move forward with formal Meta discussions in part because it doesn’t see that company’s privacy practices as stringent enough, according to the people. Apple has spent years criticizing Meta’s technology, and integrating Llama into the iPhone would have been a stark about-face.

Spokespeople for Apple and Meta declined to comment. The Wall Street Journal reported on Sunday that the two companies were in talks about an AI partnership.

Delicious, right down to the fact that Bloomberg’s link on “reported on Sunday” points not to the Journal but to Bloomberg’s own regurgitation of the WSJ’s report.

European Commission Dings Apple Over Anti-Steering Provisions in App Store, and Opens New Investigations Into Core Technology Fee, Sideloading Protections, and the Eligibility Requirements to Offer an Alternative Marketplace 

The European Commission:

Today, the European Commission has informed Apple of its preliminary view that its App Store rules are in breach of the Digital Markets Act (DMA), as they prevent app developers from freely steering consumers to alternative channels for offers and content.

I think what they’re saying here is that Apple’s current compliance offering, where developers can remain exclusively in the App Store in the EU under the existing terms, or choose the new terms that allow for linking out to the web, aren’t going to pass muster. The EC wants all apps to be able to freely — as in free of charge freely — link out to the web for purchases, regardless of whether they’re from the App Store, an alternative marketplace, or directly sideloaded.

The Commission will investigate whether these new contractual requirements for third-party app developers and app stores breach Article 6(4) of the DMA and notably the necessity and proportionality requirements provided therein. This includes:

1. Apple’s Core Technology Fee, under which developers of third-party app stores and third-party apps must pay a €0.50 fee per installed app. The Commission will investigate whether Apple has demonstrated that the fee structure that it has imposed, as part of the new business terms, and in particular the Core Technology Fee, effectively complies with the DMA.

No word on how it doesn’t comply, just that they don’t like it.

2. Apple’s multi-step user journey to download and install alternative app stores or apps on iPhones. The Commission will investigate whether the steps that a user has to undertake to successfully complete the download and installation of alternative app stores or apps, as well as the various information screens displayed by Apple to the user, comply with the DMA.

This sounds like they’re going to insist that Apple make installing sideloaded apps and alternative stores a no-hassle experience. What critics see is Apple putting up obstacles to installing marketplaces or sideloaded apps just to be a dick about it and discouraging their use to keep users in the App Store. What I see are reasonable warnings for potentially dangerous software. We’ll see how that goes.

Perhaps where the EC will wind up is making app store choice like web browser choice. Force Apple to present each user with a screen listing all available app marketplaces in their country in random order, of which Apple’s own App Store is but one, just like Safari in the default browser choice screen.

3. The eligibility requirements for developers related to the ability to offer alternative app stores or directly distribute apps from the web on iPhones. The Commission will investigate whether these requirements, such as the ‘membership of good standing’ in the Apple Developer Program, that app developers have to meet in order to be able to benefit from alternative distribution provided for in the DMA comply with the DMA.

I’m not sure what this is about, given that Apple relented on allowing even Epic Games to open a store. Maybe the financial requirements? Update: OK, this is probably about the other half of the eligibility requirements to offer a marketplace, too. One way to qualify as a marketplace is to provide Apple with a €1,000,000 letter of credit. The other is to “be a member of good standing in the Apple Developer Program for two continuous years or more, and have an app that had more than one million first annual installs on iOS and/or iPadOS in the EU in the prior calendar year.” For sideloading, Apple requires that developers “Be a member in good standing of the Apple Developer Program for two continuous years or more, and have an app that had more than one million first annual installs on iOS and/or iPadOS in the EU in the prior calendar year.” Apple’s requirements are an attempt to prevent fly-by-night scammers from opening marketplaces or offering nefarious apps for sideloading. But the EC sees that as a catch-22, where the only way to become a marketplace or offer sideloading is to already be a longstanding developer in Apple’s own App Store. So the EC is, I guess, saying don’t worry about fly-by-night scammers, Apple needs to allow any new developer to offer their apps outside the App Store or to provide their own marketplace.

In parallel, the Commission will continue undertaking preliminary investigative steps outside of the scope of the present investigation, in particular with respect to the checks and reviews put in place by Apple to validate apps and alternative app stores to be sideloaded.

This pretty clearly is about Apple using notarization as a review for anything other than egregious bugs or security vulnerabilities. I complain as much as anyone about the aspects of the DMA that are vague (or downright inscrutable), but this aspect seems clear-cut. It’s a bit baffling why Apple seemingly sees notarization as an opportunity for content/purpose review, like with last week’s brouhaha over the UTM SE PC emulator. Refusing to notarize an emulator that uses a JIT is something Apple ought to be able to defend under the DMA’s exceptions pertaining to device security; refusing to notarize an emulator that doesn’t use a JIT seems clearly forbidden by the DMA.


Apple Disables WebKit’s JIT in Lockdown Mode, Offering a Hint Why BrowserEngineKit Is Complex and Restricted

Last week I mentioned Apple’s prohibition on JITs — just-in-time compilers — in the context of their rejection of UTM SE, an open source PC emulator. Apple’s prohibition on JITs, on security grounds, is a side issue regarding UTM SE, because UTM SE is the version of UTM that doesn’t use a JIT. But because it doesn’t use a JIT, it’s so slow that the UTM team doesn’t consider it worth fighting with Apple regarding its rejection.

On that no-JITs prohibition, though, it’s worth noting that Apple even disables its own trusted JIT in WebKit when you enable Lockdown Mode, which Apple now describes as “an optional, extreme protection that’s designed for the very few individuals who, because of who they are or what they do, might be personally targeted by some of the most sophisticated digital threats. Most people are never targeted by attacks of this nature.” Apple previously described Lockdown Mode as protection for those targeted by “private companies developing state-sponsored mercenary spyware”, but has recently dropped the “state-sponsored” language.

Here’s how Apple describes Lockdown Mode’s effect on web browsing:

Web browsing — Certain complex web technologies are blocked, which might cause some websites to load more slowly or not operate correctly. In addition, web fonts might not be displayed, and images might be replaced with a missing image icon.

JavaScriptCore’s JIT interpreter is one of those “complex web technologies”. Alexis Lours did some benchmarking two years ago, when iOS 16 was in beta, to gauge the effect of disabling the JIT on JavaScript performance (and he also determined a long list of other WebKit features that get disabled in Lockdown Mode, a list I wish Apple would publish and keep up to date). Lours ran several benchmarks, but I suspect Speedometer is most relevant to real-world usage. Lours’s benchmarking indicated roughly a two-third reduction in JavaScript performance with Lockdown Mode enabled in Speedometer.

This brings me to BrowserEngineKit, a new framework Apple created specifically for compliance with the EU’s DMA, which requires gatekeeping platforms to allow for third-party browser engines. Apple has permitted third-party browsers on iOS for over a decade, but requires all browsers to use the system’s WebKit rendering engine. One take on Apple’s longstanding prohibition against third-party rendering engines is that they’re protecting their own interests with Safari. More or less that they’re just being dicks about it. But there really is a security angle to it. JavaScript engines run much faster with JIT compilation, but JITs inherently pose security challenges. There’s a whole section in the BrowserEngineKit docs specifically about JIT compilation.

As I see it Apple had three choices, broadly speaking, for complying with the third-party browser engine mandate in the DMA:

  1. Disallow third-party browser engines from using JITs. This would clearly be deemed malicious by anyone who actually wants to see Chromium or Gecko-based browsers on iOS. JavaScript execution would be somewhere between 65 to 90 percent slower compared to WebKit.

  2. Allow third-party browser engines in the EU to just use JIT compilation freely without restrictions. This would open iOS devices running such browsers to security vulnerabilities. The message to users would be, effectively, “If you use one of these browsers you’re on your own.”

  3. Create something like BrowserEngineKit, which adds complexity in the name of allowing for JIT compilation (and other potentially insecure technologies) in a safer way, and limit the use of BrowserEngineKit only to trusted web browser developers.

Apple went with choice 3, and I doubt they gave serious consideration to anything else. Disallowing third-party rendering engines from using JITs wasn’t going to fly, and allowing them to run willy-nilly would be insecure. The use of BrowserEngineKit also requires a special entitlement:

Apple will provide authorized developers access to technologies within the system that enable critical functionality and help developers offer high-performance modern browser engines. These technologies include just-in-time compilation, multiprocess support, and more.

However, as browser engines are constantly exposed to untrusted and potentially malicious content and have visibility of sensitive user data, they are one of the most common attack vectors for bad actors. To help keep users safe online, Apple will only authorize developers to implement alternative browser engines after meeting specific criteria and who commit to a number of ongoing privacy and security requirements, including timely security updates to address emerging threats and vulnerabilities.

BrowserEngineKit isn’t easy, but I genuinely don’t think any good solution would be. Browsers don’t need a special entitlement or complex framework to run on MacOS, true, but iOS is not MacOS. To put it in Steven Sinofsky’s terms, gatekeeping is a fundamental aspect of Apple’s brand promise with iOS. 


Kolide by 1Password 

My thanks to Kolide by 1Password for sponsoring last week at DF. The September 2023 MGM hack is one of the most notorious ransomware attacks in recent years. Journalists and cybersecurity experts rushed to report on the broken slot machines, angry hotel guests, and the fateful phishing call to MGM’s help desk that started it all.

But while it’s true that MGM’s help desk needed better ways of verifying employee identity, there’s another factor that should have stopped the hackers in their tracks. That’s where you should focus your attention. In fact, if you just focus your vision, you’ll find you’re already staring at the security story the pros have been missing.

It’s the device you’re reading this on.

To read more about what they learned after researching the MGM hack — like how hacker groups get their names, the worrying gaps in MGM’s security, and why device trust is the real core of the story — check out the Kolide by 1Password blog.

Reggie Jackson on Willie Mays’s Legacy, and the Abject Racism Faced by Black Baseball Players in the 1960s 

The whole 8-minute clip is excellent and worth your time, but do not miss the second half, starting with a sharp question from Alex Rodriguez at the 4:30 mark. Reggie describes, in heartfelt detail, the abject racism he faced as a minor league player as recently as the 1960s. Restaurants he couldn’t eat at. Hotels he couldn’t stay at. Threats to burn to the ground the apartment building where he was sleeping. The pain, over five decades later, remains searing.

Kudos to Fox Sports for airing this. We can’t celebrate progress without honestly facing society’s dark past. (Kudos too, for putting a box of Reggie Bars at the desk. Respect.)

EU Users Won’t Get Apple Intelligence, iPhone Mirroring, or the New SharePlay Screen Sharing Features This Year, Thanks to the DMA 

The Financial Times:

Apple blamed complexities in making the system compatible with EU rules that have forced it to make key parts of its iOS software and App Store services interoperable with third parties.

“Due to the regulatory uncertainties brought about by the Digital Markets Act,” Apple said on Friday, “we do not believe that we will be able to roll out three of these features — iPhone Mirroring, SharePlay Screen Sharing enhancements, and Apple Intelligence — to our EU users this year.”

Kudos to Apple for breaking this news to the Financial Times, of all outlets. Poetry in media relations. Here’s the full on-the-record statement, provided to me by an Apple spokesperson:

Two weeks ago, Apple unveiled hundreds of new features that we are excited to bring to our users around the world. We are highly motivated to make these technologies accessible to all users. However, due to the regulatory uncertainties brought about by the Digital Markets Act (DMA), we do not believe that we will be able to roll out three of these features — iPhone Mirroring, SharePlay Screen Sharing enhancements, and Apple Intelligence — to our EU users this year.

Specifically, we are concerned that the interoperability requirements of the DMA could force us to compromise the integrity of our products in ways that risk user privacy and data security. We are committed to collaborating with the European Commission in an attempt to find a solution that would enable us to deliver these features to our EU customers without compromising their safety.

None of these features are available yet in the developer beta OS releases, but it is my understanding that the first two — iPhone Mirroring and the new SharePlay Screen Sharing enhancements (where you’ll be able to see and doodle on the screens of others, like, say, if you’re providing remote help or how-to instructions to a friend or family member) — will be in the next developer betas, coming early next week. Apple Intelligence won’t even enter beta until later this summer. But in the meantime, even in beta, none of these features will be available within the EU.

The Mac is not considered a “gatekeeping” platform in the EU, but the iPhone and iPad are, and the iPhone Mirroring and screen sharing features obviously involve those platforms. I think Apple could try to thread a needle here and release Apple Intelligence only on the Mac in the EU, but given how inscrutable the European Commission’s interpretation of the DMA is — where gatekeepers are expected to somehow suss out the “spirit of the law” regardless of what the letter of the law says — I don’t see how Apple can be blamed for pausing the rollout in the EU, no matter the platform.

The EU’s self-induced slide into a technological backwater continues.

Matt Levine on OpenAI’s True Purpose 

Matt Levine, in his Money Stuff column:

OpenAI was founded to build artificial general intelligence safely, free of outside commercial pressures. And now every once in a while it shoots out a new AI firm whose mission is to build artificial general intelligence safely, free of the commercial pressures at OpenAI.

Anthropic Introduces Claude 3.5 Sonnet 

Anthropic:

Claude 3.5 Sonnet sets new industry benchmarks for graduate-level reasoning (GPQA), undergraduate-level knowledge (MMLU), and coding proficiency (HumanEval). It shows marked improvement in grasping nuance, humor, and complex instructions, and is exceptional at writing high-quality content with a natural, relatable tone.

Claude 3.5 Sonnet operates at twice the speed of Claude 3 Opus. This performance boost, combined with cost-effective pricing, makes Claude 3.5 Sonnet ideal for complex tasks such as context-sensitive customer support and orchestrating multi-step workflows.

In an internal agentic coding evaluation, Claude 3.5 Sonnet solved 64% of problems, outperforming Claude 3 Opus which solved 38%. Our evaluation tests the model’s ability to fix a bug or add functionality to an open source codebase, given a natural language description of the desired improvement. When instructed and provided with the relevant tools, Claude 3.5 Sonnet can independently write, edit, and execute code with sophisticated reasoning and troubleshooting capabilities. It handles code translations with ease, making it particularly effective for updating legacy applications and migrating codebases.

I’ll take them with a grain of self-promoting salt, but the evaluation tests presented by Anthropic position Claude 3.5 Sonnet as equal to or better than ChatGPT-4o. Again: I don’t think there’s a moat in this game.

Also, from the bottom of the post, this interesting nugget:

One of the core constitutional principles that guides our AI model development is privacy. We do not train our generative models on user-submitted data unless a user gives us explicit permission to do so. To date we have not used any customer or user-submitted data to train our generative models.

Even Apple can’t say that. Follow-Up:Training Large Language Models on the Public Web”.

Warp’s Agent Mode: Natural Language for Terminal Commands 

Michelle Lim, writing for the Warp blog (Warp, I’ll note, has previously sponsored DF):

Agent Mode raises the level of abstraction in the terminal. Using natural language, you can ask the terminal to accomplish any high level task without worrying about the specific commands you need.

Agent Mode knows when it needs more information to help you complete a task. It will ask permission to run commands on your machine and use the outputs to guide you, step-by-step. It’s also self-correcting when it runs into errors.

Because Agent Mode executes tasks through the CLI, it integrates with practically any service with zero configuration. If the service has a CLI, an API, or publicly available docs, you can use Agent Mode for the task. Agent Mode has inherent knowledge of most public CLIs, and you can easily teach it how to use internal CLIs by asking it to read their help content.

Man (no pun intended?), is this cool. I just tried “How do I generate a random number between 0000 and 9999?” and got:

You can generate a random number between 0000 and 9999 using the following shell command in the Fish shell:

  printf "%04d\n" (random 0 9999)

And when I followed up with “How can I use jot to generate a random number between 0000 and 9999?” I got:

You can use the jot command to generate a random number between 0000 and 9999 using the following command:

  jot -w "%04d" -r 1 0 9999

Both of which answers are correct. For jot — a tool I first learned about, of course, from the inimitable Dr. Drang — I think a simpler, and thus better, answer is:

jot -r 1 0000 9999

but Warp’s Agent Mode suggestion is certainly good enough.