Doxie Pro 

My thanks to Doxie for sponsoring last week at DF to promote their new Doxie Pro scanner. When the world went went home for work, Doxie asked themselves how they could adapt document scanning to make any size space work better. They nailed it with Doxie Pro.

Built for evolving spaces that need ongoing decluttering, Doxie Pro is compact, simple to use, and is their most powerful scanner yet (complete with awesome Mac-friendly software). And this week, they’re offering DF readers $50 off with Amazon promo code FIREBALL.

The Talk Show: ‘Spooky Hole’ 

Friend of the show John Moltz returns to talk about Elon Musk steering Twitter into a multi-issue spat with Apple, Mastodon, and some streaming TV recommendations.

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Two Weeks Later and Twitter Is Still Up

In the immediate aftermath of Twitter’s mass layoffs and subsequent resignations, there were widespread reports that the staffing situation and collective brain drain were so dire that the site would collapse. Two weeks later — with World Cup soccer drama fueling record usage — such concerns seem to have been overblown.

Davey Alba, Jack Gillum, and Margi Murphy, reporting for Bloomberg:

Twitter Inc.’s mass exodus of employees leaves the platform vulnerable to a broad range of malfunctions. The social network will succumb to a major glitch at some point, technologists predict. It’s just a matter of when. [...]

Multiple teams that were critical for keeping the service up and running are completely gone, or borrowing engineers from other groups, according to people familiar with the matter. That includes infrastructure teams to keep the main feed operational and maintain tweet databases. #RIPTwitter trended on the site, as users and departed employees predicted an imminent shutdown and said their goodbyes.

Joseph Menn and Cat Zakrzewski at The Washington Post, “Twitter Death Watch Captivates Millions”:

Several critical teams essential to keeping the site functioning were cut to a single engineer or none by the departures Thursday, leaving the company partially on autopilot and likely to crash sooner or later, engineers said.

And from a day prior:

“I know of six critical systems (like ‘serving tweets’ levels of critical) which no longer have any engineers,” a former employee said. “There is no longer even a skeleton crew manning the system. It will continue to coast until it runs into something, and then it will stop.”

Alex Heath and Mia Sato, reporting for The Verge:

Remaining and departing Twitter employees told The Verge that, given the scale of the resignations this week, they expect the platform to start breaking soon. One said that they’ve watched “legendary engineers” and others they look up to leave one by one. [...]

Multiple “critical” teams inside Twitter have now either completely or near-completely resigned, said other employees who requested anonymity to speak without Musk’s permission. That includes Twitter’s traffic and front end teams that route engineering requests to the correct backend services. The team that maintains Twitter’s core system libraries that every engineer at the company uses is also gone. “You cannot run Twitter without this team,” a departing employee said.

Two weeks later and it seems they can run Twitter without that team. Or, perhaps, it’s just been luck and collapse is imminent.

Chris Stokel-Walker for The Guardian, “Twitter Has ‘50% Chance’ of Major Crash During World Cup, Says Insider”:

Twitter stands a 50% chance of a major outage that could take the site offline during the World Cup, according to a recently departed employee with knowledge of how the company responds to large-scale events.

The former employee, who was granted anonymity because of the sensitivity of what was discussed, has knowledge of the workings of Twitter Command Centre, the platform’s team of troubleshooters who monitor the site for issues such as traffic spikes and data centre outages. “Between the lack of preparations and the lack of staffing, I think it’s going to be a rough World Cup for Twitter,” said the former employee.

He suggested that an incident of some kind — such as a service responding slowly or incorrectly — is almost a certainty during the 29-day competition in Qatar, estimating a 90% possibility of something going wrong that users would see. The likelihood of Twitter staying online during the competition, which kicks off on Sunday, is no better than even, according to the former employee.

The World Cup is only half over. Let’s check back in another two weeks.

But while fears of technical collapse seem to have been overblown, Twitter’s advertising collapse is seemingly continuing unabated


On the Prevalence of Hate Speech on Twitter 

Sheera Frenkel and Kate Conger, reporting today for The New York Times under the alarming headline “Hate Speech’s Rise on Twitter Is Unprecedented, Researchers Find”:

Before Elon Musk bought Twitter, slurs against Black Americans showed up on the social media service an average of 1,282 times a day. After the billionaire became Twitter’s owner, they jumped to 3,876 times a day.

Slurs against gay men appeared on Twitter 2,506 times a day on average before Mr. Musk took over. Afterward, their use rose to 3,964 times a day.

And antisemitic posts referring to Jews or Judaism soared more than 61 percent in the two weeks after Mr. Musk acquired the site.

These findings — from the Center for Countering Digital Hate, the Anti-Defamation League and other groups that study online platforms — provide the most comprehensive picture to date of how conversations on Twitter have changed since Mr. Musk completed his $44 billion deal for the company in late October. While the numbers are relatively small, researchers said the increases were atypically high.

Reactions on Twitter to this story all seemingly take it at face value that Twitter now has a problem with hate speech being tweeted. I suspect my take is going to be unpopular with many of you, but I’m not seeing it. Doubling the daily average of racial and gay slurs and antisemitic posts is obviously bad. That should go without saying. But in absolute terms these numbers show just how rare hate-speech tweets are. There are over 800 million new tweets posted every day.

I included in my blockquote above the Times’s line about the numbers being “relatively small”. But the narrative that’s being embraced by those opposed to Musk’s leadership of Twitter is that Twitter is now riddled with such hate speech. The truth is something to the effect of “The recent trendline of hate speech on Twitter is alarming.” The way it’s being talked about, though, is more like “Twitter is suddenly a hellscape of hate speech.” That’s just not true. Right now it’s more like having twice as many people as usual pissing in a large pool each day. It’s not what you want, but it’s still a few drops in the proverbial bucket.

Google Moves Maps to the Root Google.com Domain 

Garrit Franke:

Yesterday I was asked to allow the usage of location services for Google Maps seemingly out of nowhere. Of course I accepted. After all, I just wanted to check a route to a local business and I was in a hurry. Back home I opened Google Maps again, and noticed that maps.google.com now redirects to google.com/maps. This implies that the permissions I give to Google Maps now apply to all of Google’s services hosted under this domain. So far I only identified Google Flights to have made the same switch (google.com/flights), though I’m sure they’re just beginning to transfer their services to the main google.com domain.

Congratulations, you now have permission to geo-track me across all of your services.

Grant location access to Google Maps now, and you grant it to all of Google.

The Onion’s Supreme Court Amicus Brief Defending Parody 

Speaking of entertaining legal documents that address serious issues, I’ve been meaning to link to the amicus brief filed by The Onion on behalf of Anthony Novak, who is suing the police department of Parma, Ohio in a case now before the Supreme Court. Long story short, Novak created a parody Facebook account for the police department; the police arrested him and he spent four days in jail, simply for having mocked them; and when Novak subsquently attempted to sue the police department for civil damages, the Sixth Circuit court of appeals held that the police could not be held responsible under the bullshit doctrine of “qualified immunity”.

The Onion’s brief begins itself as parody:

The Onion is the world’s leading news publication, offering highly acclaimed, universally revered coverage of breaking national, international, and local news events. Rising from its humble beginnings as a print newspaper in 1756, The Onion now enjoys a daily readership of 4.3 trillion and has grown into the single most powerful and influential organization in human history.

In addition to maintaining a towering standard of excellence to which the rest of the industry aspires, The Onion supports more than 350,000 full- and part-time journalism jobs in its numerous news bureaus and manual labor camps stationed around the world, and members of its editorial board have served with distinction in an advisory capacity for such nations as China, Syria, Somalia, and the former Soviet Union. On top of its journalistic pursuits, The Onion also owns and operates the majority of the world’s transoceanic shipping lanes, stands on the nation’s leading edge on matters of deforestation and strip mining, and proudly conducts tests on millions of animals daily.

But while the brief contains many jokes, it is no joke itself and forcefully makes the point that parody is protected speech because it can be so effective:

Time and again, that’s what has occurred with The Onion’s news stories. In 2012, for example, The Onion proclaimed that Kim Jong-un was the sexiest man alive. China’s state-run news agency republished The Onion’s story as true alongside a slideshow of the dictator himself in all his glory. The Fars Iranian News Agency uncritically picked up and ran with The Onion’s headline “Gallup Poll: Rural Whites Prefer Ahmadinejad To Obama.” Domestically, the number of elected leaders who are still incapable of parsing The Onion’s coverage as satire is daunting, but one particular example stands out: Republican Congressman John Fleming, who believed that he needed to warn his constituents of a dangerous escalation of the pro-choice movement after reading The Onion’s headline “Planned Parenthood Opens $8 Billion Abortionplex.”

The point of all this is not that it is funny when deluded figures of authority mistake satire for the actual news — even though that can be extremely funny. Rather, it’s that the parody allows these figures to puncture their own sense of self-importance by falling for what any reasonable person would recognize as an absurd escalation of their own views. In the political context, the effect can be particularly pronounced. See Hustler Mag., Inc. v. Falwell, 485 U.S. 46, 53–55 (1988); see also Falwell v. Flynt, 805 F.2d 484, 487 (4th Cir. 1986) (Wilkinson, J., dissenting from denial of rehearing) (“Nothing is more thoroughly democratic than to have the high-and-mighty lampooned and spoofed.”).

Elon Musk Gets Mail 

Akiva Cohen, an attorney representing 22 laid-off Twitter employees, in a letter to Twitter and Elon Musk (shared, of course, on Twitter):

If basic human decency and honor isn’t enough to make you want to keep your word, maybe this will:

If you don’t unequivocally confirm by Wednesday, December 7 that you intend to provide our clients with the full severance Twitter promised them, we will commence an arbitration campaign on their behalf, with each employee filing a separate individual arbitration, as required by the terms of your arbitration agreement. Under both California law and the JAMS arbitration rules, Twitter will be responsible to pay the arbitration costs for each individual arbitrator and arbitration. Consistent with the terms of Twitter’s arbitration agreement, those arbitrations will be held in jurisdictions across the country — no more than 45 miles from where each employee worked. Not only will you lose on the merits, but even if you somehow won the victory would be pyrrhic: Twitter will pay far more in attorneys’ fees and arbitration costs than it could possibly “save” in severance due our clients.

And to be clear, Elon, you will lose, and you know it.

Owning Twitter seems like a lot of fun.

The Congressional ‘Crypto Is Bullshit’ Caucus 

Joseph Zeballos-Roig, reporting for Semafor:

“It’s all bullshit,” Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont. told Semafor. He was wary of the industry even before the recent collapse of crypto exchange FTX, he said, and recent meetings with advocates have not given him any more confidence in its fundamental value. “I don’t think it passes the smell test. I can’t figure out what supports it.” (FTX founder Sam Bankman-Fried is an investor in Semafor.)

“Finally, there are more people blowing the bullshit whistle,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass. said in a Wednesday interview. “There’s been a lot of lobbying around Congress and an effort to try to scare off lawmakers. To say ‘Oh, crypto is just so complicated. No one can understand it. Let the crypto world remain unregulated.’ That is precisely the argument that was made in the run-up to the 2008 crash.”

Stable Diffusion With Core ML on Apple Silicon 

Apple’s Machine Learning Research team:

Today, we are excited to release optimizations to Core ML for Stable Diffusion in macOS 13.1 and iOS 16.2, along with code to get started with deploying to Apple Silicon devices. [...]

One of the key questions for Stable Diffusion in any app is where the model is running. There are a number of reasons why on-device deployment of Stable Diffusion in an app is preferable to a server-based approach. First, the privacy of the end user is protected because any data the user provided as input to the model stays on the user’s device. Second, after initial download, users don’t require an internet connection to use the model. Finally, locally deploying this model enables developers to reduce or eliminate their server-related costs.

Exciting and fun to see Apple helping to make this run optimally on Apple Silicon.

‘Kanye West Isn’t Buying Parler After All’ 

Darrell Etherington, writing for TechCrunch:

Despite a joint statement between Ye (fka Kanye West) and Parler in October noting that the two had reached an agreement for the rapper to buy the social network, that will not come to pass, Parler owner Parlement Technologies said today.

I’m starting to think maybe we shouldn’t take some of these nutjobs at their word.

‘FTX’s Collapse Was a Crime, Not an Accident’ 

David Z. Morris, writing for CoinDesk, with the best “all you need to know” overview of the FTX scandal I’ve seen:

Perhaps most perniciously, many outlets have described what happened to FTX as a “bank run” or a “run on deposits,” while Bankman-Fried has repeatedly insisted the company was simply overleveraged and disorganized. Both of these attempts to frame the fallout obfuscate the core issue: the misuse of customer funds.

Banks can be hit by “bank runs” because they are explicitly in the business of lending customer funds out to generate returns. They can experience a short-term cash crunch if everyone withdraws at the same time, without there being any long-term problem.

But FTX and other crypto exchanges are not banks. They do not (or should not) do bank-style lending, so even a very acute surge of withdrawals should not create a liquidity strain. FTX had specifically promised customers it would never lend out or otherwise use the crypto they entrusted to the exchange.

In reality, the funds were sent to the intimately linked trading firm Alameda Research, where they were, it seems, simply gambled away. This is, in the simplest terms, theft at a nearly unprecedented scale. While the total losses have yet to be quantified, up to one million customers could be impacted, according to a bankruptcy document.

So in a sense FTX’s implosion had nothing to do with cryptocurrency directly, beyond the fact that no one would have given FTX a nickel if not for the vague belief that “something something crypto” would lead to a windfall. FTX took people’s money, told them they’d hold the money, but instead gambled that money away — on cryptocurrency.

‘The Greatest’ — Short Film From Apple Celebrating Accessibility Features 

People without arms using touchscreen phones. A deaf mother whose watch lets her know that her baby is crying. A blind man whose phone tells him not just that a door is in front of him, but what it says on the door. These are the days of miracles and wonders.

Steven Aquino, writing at Forbes:

Of course Apple wants you to use their products, but so too does Amazon and Google and Microsoft and others. There exists a deeper message: the point is not whether Apple is subliminally advertising to people; the salient point is Apple is overtly advertising a disabled person’s basic humanity.

What this short film expresses so clearly is that these accessibility feature don’t merely allow people with serious disabilities to use Apple devices, but to thrive with them.

Ooh.directory 

Phil Gyford has launched a splendid new directory of blogs:

For years I’ve seen people moan that “nobody blogs any more”, all while my feed reader was overflowing with new blogposts I never had time to read. I want to demonstrate that there are lots and lots of people blogging, about all kinds of subjects!

Even though I knew there was a lot of blogging going on, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by quite how much. So many people, so many topics, so much enthusiasm. It’s easy to get lost down rabbitholes, following links and blogrolls from one blog to the next.

I want more people to read blogs and more people to write blogs. I hope you’ll find some interesting blogs to read here and, maybe, some inspiration that will get you blogging.

Mastodon is — deservedly! — getting a lot of attention as people re-evaluate their use of Twitter. But what I’m digging more in our current moment is renewed enthusiasm for blogging, and, on the consumption side, RSS feed reading. Ooh.directory is an old-school idea, but an evergreen one. Looks great, too.

Kottke Is Back From Sabbatical 

His first day back in the saddle and I’m already gleaning great links to steal.

Oceanic+ App for Apple Watch Ultra Launches 

Apple Newsroom has a long feature story on Oceanic+, an app that turns Apple Watch Ultra into a serious dive computer, and which was previewed extensively during the Ultra’s introduction:

“One of our first goals was to keep it intuitive,” says [CEO] Mike Huish. “People who know how to use an Apple Watch already know how to use this dive computer, because it’s telling them things in a simple format they can understand. The navigation menus are simple — scrolling with the Digital Crown and using the Action button, you can navigate and use all the functionality of the dive computer while diving.”

Recreational scuba diving is a niche, but people who are into it are really into it. I think that’s why Apple partnered with Huish Outdoors (makers of Oceanic+) while the Ultra was in development. With diving, it was essential to partner with a company divers already know and trust.

Icon Speedruns: Flag and Pushpin 

New YouTube channel from designer extraordinaire Marc Edwards. I could watch stuff like this all day. I just love watching someone who’s good at what they do, do what they do.

Reed Albergotti: Kinda Smart on Apple and China, Kinda Dumb on Green Bubbles 

Reed Albergotti, formerly of The Washington Post, now writing for Semafor, in a piece with the clickbait headline “Apple’s Chinese Dream Is Over”:

China is also no longer cheap. Wages have skyrocketed, with the average factory worker making $6 per hour on average in 2020, up from less than a dollar in 2006. The average wage of a Chinese factory worker will very soon surpass the U.S. federal minimum wage. For comparison, the average rate for a Mexican factory worker has stayed stagnant at $2 per hour.

If that isn’t the most damning thing I’ve read about the U.S. federal minimum wage, I don’t know what is.

If any company can make the monumental shift away from China, it’s Apple. Its robust supply chain is the reason it was able to keep output going after the 2011 flooding in Thailand disrupted component makers. And it’s why Apple saw only minor product shortages during the height of the pandemic. The chip shortage that crippled Detroit automakers was a blip for Apple’s customers.

But it will cost billions and take years.

The biggest question is whether it will be the same Apple when the process is over. Will the new Apple be stronger and even more resilient? Or will it be unable to recreate the magic of China’s boom years?

It’s a good take on Apple’s increasingly more uncomfortable reliance upon China, but I wouldn’t write about it in the past tense yet.

Bonus content: Albergotti’s bottom-of-the-column take on Elon Musk’s griping about the App Store:

Epic Games can probably commiserate. Musk’s complaint is a pivotal factor in the antitrust lawsuit Epic filed against Apple in 2020. A federal appeals court will soon rule on the case’s outcome.

Albergotti’s description omits the fact that last year’s initial ruling in Epic v. Apple was overwhelmingly in Apple’s favor, including ruling that the App Store does not constitute a monopoly. Anything can happen on appeal, of course, but I’m not aware of anyone serious who expects the appeals court to overturn anything significant in the case.

European regulators also aren’t fans. They’ve forced Apple to get rid of the proprietary Lightning charging port on its phones and threatened to force Apple to open up iMessage (goodbye green bubbles).

Again with the past tense for things that haven’t happened yet, like Apple shipping an iPhone without a proprietary charging/data port.

And the EU’s possible mandate for messaging service interoperability is technical nonsense that reminds of Hugo Rifkind impossible-to-beat description of Brexit: “The thing is, the best way to understand Theresa May’s predicament is to imagine that 52 percent of Britain had voted that the government should build a submarine out of cheese.”

But even if it were possible for Apple, WhatsApp, and whatever other services would fall under the EU’s mandate to comply, what would that have to do with the green bubbles Messages renders for SMS messages? SMS is an example of messaging service interop from Apple. If Apple somehow did connect Messages to WhatsApp, surely WhatsApp messages would be rendered in some color other than blue.

NBC News: ‘The Inside Story of Trump’s Explosive Dinner With Ye and Nick Fuentes’ 

I’m quite sure many of you are sick of Donald Trump and actively avoid reading about him. But you’ll enjoy this exquisite story on how he wound up having dinner last week with an outspoken racist and antisemite. Marc Caputo, reporting for NBC News:

“I wanted to show Trump the kind of talent that he’s missing out on by allowing his terrible handlers to dictate who he can and can’t hang out with,” Yiannopoulos told NBC News. “I also wanted to send a message to Trump that he has systematically repeatedly neglected, ignored, abused the people who love him the most, the people who put him in office, and that kind of behavior comes back to bite you in the end,” he added.

And, Yiannopoulos said, he arranged the dinner “just to make Trump’s life miserable” because news of the dinner would leak and Trump would mishandle it.

Fuentes echoed the sentiment: “I hate to say it, but the chickens are coming home to roost. You know, this is the frustration with his base and with his true loyalists.”

Trump fumed afterward that Ye had betrayed him by ambushing him. “He tried to f[uck] me. He’s crazy. He can’t beat me,” Trump said, according to one confidant, who then relayed the conversation to NBC News on the condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations.

“Trump was totally blindsided,” the source said of Fuentes’ presence. “It was a setup.”

I don’t know about their steaks, but Mar-a-Lago clearly serves nothing but the finest schadenfreude.

WSJ: ‘Elon Musk’s Boring Company Ghosts Cities Across America’ 

Ted Mann and Julie Bykowicz, reporting for The Wall Street Journal (News+ link):

That fall, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan was standing at a fenced-off site affixed with Boring signs near Fort Meade and telling a videographer to “get ready” for a high-speed train from Baltimore to Washington. Mr. Hogan declined to comment.

An aide to Mr. Hogan toured a parking-lot test site at the company’s then-headquarters near Los Angeles International Airport, getting a look at a tunnel-boring machine the company purchased secondhand. Boring named it Godot, the title character in Samuel Beckett’s play about a man who never shows up.

The Republican Hogan administration sped up the bureaucratic process for Boring, granting a conditional permit in October 2017 and an environmental permit a few months later. All Boring had to do was bring its machine and start digging, former Maryland officials said. But months, and then years, passed. Maryland was waiting for Godot.

Boring deleted the Maryland project from its website last year.

As Scott Lemieux quipped, The Boring Company appears to be “basically vaporware that exists solely to undermine actually potentially viable mass transit proposals”. The pitch to local municipalities — helmed by politicians with no engineering expertise — is just the monorail gag from The Simpsons but underground.

‘How the Wordle Editor Is Ruining Wordle’ 

Lizzie O’Leary, writing for Slate:

Look: I’m sure that Tracy Bennett, the Wordle editor, is a lovely person and a skilled crossword editor. But when I do a Wordle and discover I’ve walked into someone else’s pun, I feel foolish. The butt of a middlebrow dad joke. I want to tell Joe Kahn that the Times’ ever-expanding dominion should leave some room for serendipity and strangeness in the world.

No more puns, I beg of you, Wordle queen. I now understand that you started your reign on November 7 with BEGIN. Please: It’s time to CEASE.

I saw the Times’s announcement that they’d hired a Wordle editor, but I didn’t realize she was playing puns until the Thankgiving solution was FEAST. I had that one down to *EAST and guessed BEAST first, thinking it wouldn’t be FEAST on Thanksgiving. And when I realized it was, I was furious. Yes, that’s right, I got furious at a free word game.

Count me in with O’Leary — however central puns are to good crossword puzzles, they have no place in Wordle.

The Financial Times: ‘Twitter’s $5bn-a-Year Business Hit as Elon Musk Clashes With Advertisers’ 

Hannah Murphy, Alex Barker, and Arjun Neil Alim, reporting for The Financial Times:

Multiple top advertising agencies and media buyers told the Financial Times that nearly all of the big brands they represent have paused spending on the social media platform, citing alarm at Musk’s ad hoc approach to policing content and decision to axe many of its ad sales team.

Musk, meanwhile, has sought to personally call chief executives of some brands that have curbed advertising in order to berate them, according to one senior industry figure, leading others to instead reduce their spend to the bare minimum required so as to avoid further confrontation with the billionaire entrepreneur.

Planters’ Mr. Peanut mascot isn’t this nutty. The only way to keep advertisers on board is to make Twitter a place where they’d want their ads to appear. Berating CEOs is only going to make Twitter seem less attractive.

After several waves of job cuts and departures, Twitter’s ads business team has shrunk so much that many agencies no longer have any point of contact at the company and have received little to no communication in recent weeks, according to four industry insiders.

Some brands have been unable to get feedback on how previous campaigns have performed because of the staffing shortages, one media buyer said. Others are complaining Twitter’s ads systems have also become buggy, making it difficult or even impossible to run campaigns.

I’ve mentioned before that big brand advertisers are very conservative. They value stability and predictability, and loathe controversy and chaos. That alone would be enough to explain why Twitter’s ad sales have quickly plummeted under Musk’s leadership. But another huge aspect to brand advertising are personal relationships. Musk, to date, has screwed all of this up. He’s made Twitter itself unpredictable and controversial, and he fired the ad sales people who had personal relationships with Twitter’s most important advertisers.

Tim Cook Hosts Elon Musk at Apple Park 

A little birdie told me Cook was walking around campus with Musk a few minutes ago, but unsurprisingly, Musk himself broke the news. As the saying goes, keep your friends close and your enemies closer.

Update: “Diplomacy” is clearly Tim Cook’s middle name.

‘Ivory’ — In-Development Mastodon Clients for iOS and Mac From Tapbots 

Tapbots, on Mastodon:

Hello people of the Fediverse! Some of you may have heard that a new Mastodon client, Ivory, is in development for iOS (and Mac!). This is true! Tapbots is going all in on Mastodon and we hope this place continues to grow and thrive. Tweetbot will continue to be developed alongside Ivory as a lot of code is shared. A new Mac version of Tweetbot and Ivory are also currently in development and we are working hard on getting those towards a public beta state.

Huzzah. There are some decent iOS Mastodon clients already, but none for the Mac.

The Apple TV’s Upgrade Experience Needs an Upgrade 

Jason Snell, writing a few weeks ago at Six Colors:

One Home Screen is a nice feature, but it’s not an iCloud backup of your Apple TV, nor is it the Apple TV equivalent of Migration Assistant. It is exactly what its name suggests — a home-screen-syncing feature and nothing more.

So after setting up my new Apple TV, I then had to log into every single streaming app. And I’ve got a lot of streaming apps — you know, for my work. [...]

The end result was that I spent almost half an hour setting up this new Apple TV to work with the stuff my old Apple TV worked with. There’s got to be a better way! Yes, I know authentication is difficult, and even iOS migrations tend to lose certain connections with outside services. But right now, I’m not seeing any attempt by Apple to make migration easier.

Snell and I talked about this on Upgrade this week. It’s undeniably a pain in the ass, and the people it affects the most are those of us who use Apple TV the most. Either you bite the bullet and re-sign in to all your streaming apps at once, or you do it one at a time, as needed, and waste a few minutes of would-be leisure time each time you first launch one of these apps. What makes it frustrating is knowing how good Apple’s migration process is for setting up a new iOS device or Mac.

‘Everyone’ AirDrop Is Now Limited to Just 10 Minutes for iPhone Users in China 

Filipe Espósito, reporting for 9to5Mac two weeks ago:

As noted by 9to5Mac readers, today’s update adds a time limit when the user chooses to enable AirDrop for everyone, not just contacts. With this change, people in China can no longer keep AirDrop turned on for everyone, including unknown users, for an unlimited time.

The change in how AirDrop works has been included in both iOS 16.1.1 and iOS 16.2 beta 2, both released today for users and developers. Also noted by our readers, this restriction is based on hardware rather than software. This means that only iPhone models purchased in Mainland China are affected by the update.

This is not the first time Apple has implemented an iOS restriction based on hardware model. For instance, the Taiwanese flag emoji is not available on iPhones sold in China. Apple also uses the same method to limit the volume level of its devices in European Union countries, as required by law.

However, when it comes to AirDrop, it’s unclear why Apple decided to limit the “Everyone” option to 10 minutes. Some people speculate that the Chinese regulator required Apple to update iOS as an attempt to prevent anonymous people from spreading harmful content and anti-government material.

Mark Gurman, reporting for Bloomberg:

Apple didn’t comment on why the change was introduced in China, but said that it plans to roll out the new AirDrop setting globally in the coming year. The idea is to mitigate unwanted file sharing, the company said.

You don’t have to be Kreskin to surmise that Apple made this change at the behest of the CCP. There’s no explanation for it being China-only for now. Apple never explained why they dropped the Taiwanese flag from the emoji keyboard in China, either. (Also, the shameful aspect of the Taiwanese flag emoji issue is that Apple removed it from the keyboard for iOS users in ostensibly-free Hong Kong, too.)

People are rightfully angered by this change — AirDrop is clearly very useful for exchanging information during protests in China — but as with Apple complying with China’s laws requiring iCloud data centers in mainland China, Apple’s only choices are compliance or pulling out of the Chinese market. Defiance is not an option. Well, not a long-term one.

‘Maximum Viable Product’ 

Clive Thompson, in a piece from April:

What if more developers developed a sense for the “maximum” number of things a product should do — and stopped there?

What if more software firms decided, “Hey! We’ve reached the absolute perfect set of features. We’re done. This product is awesome. No need to keep on shoving in stuff nobody wants.”

Sure, this would have risks. Standing still risks becoming obsolete, as other competitors swoop in.

But it can also just mean you have confidence in your amazing design.

Indeed, some of my favorite pieces of software feel very much like the “maximum viable product”. They seem like highly mature apps that realize they don’t need to significantly evolve new gills or appendages. For twelve years, for example, I’ve used Scrivener for writing my articles and books. “Word processing” is a super-competitive area, but Scrivener hasn’t had any feature creep I can detect. It stuck to its guns. I’d say the same thing about Logic Pro: I’ve used it for twelve years now for music production, and while it’s added new instruments and effects, it has done so gently — it hasn’t larded its UI with endless features. And it’s facing tons of competition, too, from Pro Tools and Ableton Live and others.

I think this is common for a lot of apps that have proven to have staying power. It’s why they have staying power. One way to think of it is that software should be designed a little more like hardware. A 2022 MacBook doesn’t have any more buttons or ports than one from 20 years ago. (In fact, MacBooks have fewer ports.) It’s mostly software where there’s a temptation to keep expanding in scope endlessly.

How Amazon Shopping Ads Are Disguised as Real Results 

Geoffrey Fowler, writing for The Washington Post:

Amazon is the first app many of us think about to buy things online. But is it actually a good place to go shopping? When you search for a product on Amazon, you may not realize that most of what you see at first is advertising. Amazon is betraying your trust in its results to make an extra buck.

Let me show you.

I long ago noticed the proliferation of paid placement in Amazon search results, but seeing it illustrated this way was an eye opener.

“Slippery slope” arguments are overused, but just like how paranoids can have real enemies, sometimes the slippery slope argument is true. I really hope that Apple has maxed out its paid placements in the App Store, because I think they already have too many. But I worry that every few months they’ll just keep adding more and it’ll soon be more ads than legit search results and editorial content.

Apple’s Ad Spend on Twitter: $48M in Q1 

Cat Zakrzewski, Faiz Siddiqui, and Jeremy B. Merrill, reporting for The Washington Post:

In the first quarter, Apple was the top advertiser on Twitter, spending $48 million on ads on the social network, according to a document reviewed by The Washington Post that was compiled from internal Twitter data. Apple’s spending accounted for more than 4 percent of Twitter’s revenue that quarter.

Peanuts for Apple, and even as their heretofore biggest advertiser, only 4 percent for Twitter. But more important than its raw percentage of revenue for Twitter is the fact that Apple is a company that other companies follow. How many marketing departments are having meetings today along the lines of “If Apple pulled its ad spending on Twitter, why shouldn’t we?”

Yours Truly, Guesting on Upgrade 

Jason Snell:

John Gruber joins Jason on Upgrade for the first time. Topics include eWorld, Apple’s iPhone production problems in China, FIFA and Qatar and the World Cup, the reasons behind Apple’s sports ambitions, BBEdit, regular expressions, Perl and Python, MarsEdit, nanotexture displays, webcams, and the state of the art in ADB-to-USB adapters. Happy Cyber Monday to all those who celebrate!

Happy Cyber Monday, indeed. (Snell and I managed to squeeze this into a brisk 144 minutes.)

iPhone 14 Pro Assembly Hit by COVID Protests in China 

Vlad Savov, reporting for Bloomberg:*

Turmoil at Apple Inc.’s key manufacturing hub of Zhengzhou is likely to result in a production shortfall of close to 6 million iPhone Pro units this year, according to a person familiar with assembly operations.

The situation remains fluid at the plant and the estimate of lost production could change, said the person, who asked not to be named because the information is private. Much will depend on how quickly Foxconn Technology Group, the Taiwanese company that operates the facility, can get people back to assembly lines after violent protests against Covid restrictions. If lockdowns continue in the weeks ahead, production could be set further back.

I didn’t comprehensively check all colors, sizes, and storage capacities, but a quick check of a few iPhone 14 Pro configurations today all show December 28 as the promised delivery date. Apple, famously, under-promises and over-delivers on these delivery dates, but it’s still November and iPhone 14 Pro is in “Don’t count on this for Christmas” territory.

With a lot of products — like, say, laptops during the COVID lockdown — a delay like this just means the purchase will be deferred until the next quarter. Maybe you can’t get it now, but you’ll still buy it when it does become available. I’m not sure that’s true for iPhones that, if available, would be purchased as holiday gifts.

See also: Good Twitter thread from Bryce Weiner documenting the protests/riots by workers at Foxconn’s Apple factories.

* You know.

Protests Erupt Across China 

Vivian Wang, reporting for The New York Times from Beijing:

“We don’t want lockdowns, we want freedom!” the protesters shouted as they wound westward through one of the city’s neatly manicured embassy districts, where a Four Seasons hotel stands alongside humble shops selling traditional breakfast crepes. “Freedom of the press! Freedom of publishing!”

It was an extraordinary scene, rarely seen anywhere in China, let alone the capital, under Xi Jinping, the country’s authoritarian leader. But the elation of the moment was laced with anxiety about what, exactly, was happening. When some people began shouting explicitly political slogans, others urged them to remain more narrowly focused on opposing Covid controls. Even what to call the event depended on who and when you asked — was it a protest? Or just a vigil? [...]

When a police officer told people to stop chanting for an end to lockdowns, the crowd quickly pivoted. “Continue lockdowns!” they chanted, in an echo of the sarcasm that had spread online in recent days, as people shared overblown praise for the government to protest censorship. “I want to do Covid tests!”

Sarcasm, the gift that keeps on giving. See also: Chinese protestors are holding blank white signs:

“People have a common message,” said Xiao Qiang, a researcher on internet freedom at the University of California, Berkeley. “They know what they want to express, and authorities know too, so people don’t need to say anything. If you hold a blank sheet, then everyone knows what you mean.”

Some protesters told The New York Times that the white papers took inspiration from a Soviet-era joke, in which a dissident accosted by the police for distributing leaflets in a public square reveals the fliers to be blank. When asked, the dissident replies that there is no need for words because “everyone knows.”

Yahoo Takes Minority Stake in Ad Network Taboola (And, by the Way, Yahoo Is Still Around) 

Lauren Hirsch and Benjamin Mullin, reporting for The New York Times:

Yahoo is deepening its push into digital advertising, even as its competitors warn that the market is faltering.

The internet pioneer, which was taken private in a $5 billion deal last year, is taking a roughly 25 percent stake in Taboola, the company known for serving up attention-grabbing links on websites, the chief executives of the companies said in an interview. The deal is part of a 30-year exclusive advertising partnership that allows Yahoo to use Taboola’s technology to manage its sizable business in native advertising — ads that have the characteristics of traditional news and entertainment content.

Sad but unsurprising that Yahoo — at one time the premier quality-content-on-the-internet property — is now looking to the lowest common denominator clickbait property Taboola for inspiration and revenue.

Should Be Easy, Indeed 

Speaking of asininity (albeit, thankfully, not toxic in this case), over the weekend Elon Musk, responding to some idiot’s idea that “The man builds rockets to Mars, a silly little smartphone should be easy, right?”, offhandedly tweeted:

I certainly hope it does not come to that, but, yes, if there is no other choice, I will make an alternative phone.

This tweet offered a textbook test case for headline writers. The truth is simply that Musk claimed he’d “make an alternative phone” if necessary. Headline writers who failed the test went with statements of fact that Twitter would make an alternative phone, which, of course, is not going to happen. The hard part wouldn’t be the phone hardware; surely Twitter or Tesla or some new Musk-owned entity could easily slap their own brand on a white label Android handset. The hard part is that what he’s really talking about is making his own phone with his own app store. (Android phones that don’t play by Google’s rules also don’t get access to Google Play Services, which is effectively a closed-source segment of the Android operating system. Outside of China, I’m aware of zero successful Android phones that don’t use the Google Play app store by default.)

Perhaps he can just resurrect the Twitter Peek, though? Should be easy.

Today, in Twitter-Apple Drama 

Elon Musk:

Apple has mostly stopped advertising on Twitter. Do they hate free speech in America?

What’s going on here @tim_cook?

I heard from a source who spent time working in Twitter’s ad products organization that Apple, until recently, was not just a big advertiser on Twitter, but the largest. The @apple account never posts regular tweets but frequently posts promoted tweets, and Apple heretofore had been a big spender on things like hashflags and custom like buttons, to promote major product introduction events.

Just last month there was an interesting micro-conflict because Apple paid to promote the #TakeNote hashtag for their “Take Note” announcement for new iPads, but the regular (unpaid) hashtag #TakeNote is a slogan long used by the NBA’s Utah Jazz.

Kara Swisher:

Frontloading a fight with @tim_cook with specious nonsense isn’t going to work. Why? For one, he’s not a manic toddler hopped up on Twinkies and weaponry cosplay. Plus, no advertiser like to spend their marketing money in Thunderdome of toxic asininity.

“Toxic asininity” is a keen description.

Anyway, Musk’s tweets today are mostly about Apple, including this gem:

Did you know Apple puts a secret 30% tax on everything you buy through their App Store?

Yes, I think I recall hearing something about this once.

Tuple 

My thanks to Tuple for sponsoring last week at DF. Tuple is a lightning-fast pair programming tool built for remote developers. High-resolution screen sharing, low-latency remote control, and less CPU usage than you’d think possible. Because great programmers deserve better resolution and performance than Zoom or Meet.

Celebrity Endorsers Tom Brady, Giselle Bündchen, Larry David, and Steph Curry Sued in FTX Class Action Suit 

Dominic Patten, reporting for Deadline:

“I’m never wrong about this stuff, never,” said a dismissive and scoffing Larry David earlier this year in that now infamous Super Bowl ad for investing in cryptocurrency exchange FTX. While the Seinfeld co-creator rejected the wheel, coffee, the U.S. Constitution, electricity, putting a man on the moon and more innovations in the much praised commercial, looks like David might have been right about the now collapsed FTX, for all the good it’s going to do him.

Along with the likes of Tom Brady, Gisele Bundchen, Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors, Shaquille O’Neal, and Naomi Osaka, David is now a defendant in a class action suit against the now hollowed out FTX and its ex-CEO Sam Bankman-Fried.

I don’t know whether they deserve to be sued, but they ought to be ashamed of themselves for promoting a Ponzi scheme.

‘Goncharov’ 

When Tumblr culture gets something right, they get it really right. This whole story is delightful.

The Talk Show: ‘Deliberately Churned’ 

For your holiday listening enjoyment: Christina Warren returns to the show to talk about the drama at Disney, tumult at Twitter, and how the hell to score Taylor Swift tickets.

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‘Overleveraging Attention’ 

Jim Ray, on his Flicker Fusion blog:

John Gruber asks:

I’m curious what else you think has surprised Musk about Twitter thus far. Not what you think Musk is wrong about, per se, but what he is already surprised about.

I think Musk is genuniely surprised he hasn’t been able (so far) to bluster his way through this.

I mean this sincerely. In an economy driven by attention, Musk uses bluster like a CDO, it’s how he became the world’s richest man and how he managed to just about single-handedly turn a public company private and rule by fiat.

I think it’s surprising because Musk’s bluster not only generates the attention he needs but acts as an ace up his sleeve, a way to guarantee a win. Musk leveraged, and then weaponized, the absolute worst tendencies of the social-era internet — fandom, brigading, the financialization of everything, the final merge of politics and identity. And Twitter was his weapon of choice.

I think Ray is exactly right here. I also think Musk believes his bluster will soon win out. (And as Ray alludes to near the end, if you want a one-word answer to the question “How the fuck did Donald Trump get elected?” it’d be hard to do much better than “Bluster.”)

Meanwhile, in ‘Free Speech’ Twitter Utopia 

Dan Moren, on our mutual friend Lex Friedman having his Twitter account suspended:

My pal @lexfri quit Twitter a few days ago. His account has now been suspended — I can only imagine that’s a result of his parting tweet, which contained some choice words about Elon Musk and Donald Trump.

So I guess we see exactly how much Elon cares about free speech.

Friedman’s tweet that prompted the suspension, in its entirety:

My final tweet is: Fuck @elonmusk and fuck @realDonaldTrump.

That’s it. That’s the tweet. No additional drama or backstory. And as I type this, Friedman’s account remains suspended.

Meanwhile, Musk is running another yes/no Twitter poll:

Should Twitter offer a general amnesty to suspended accounts, provided that they have not broken the law or engaged in egregious spam?

You couldn’t make up this clown show if you tried.

Update: Friedman posits a credible theory how this happened.

Twitter vs. The App Stores 

Yoel Roth, former head of trust and safety at Twitter, in an op-ed for The New York Times:

There is one more source of power on the web — one that most people don’t think much about but may be the most significant check on unrestrained speech on the mainstream internet: the app stores operated by Google and Apple. [...]

In my time at Twitter, representatives of the app stores regularly raised concerns about content available on our platform. On one occasion, a member of an app review team contacted Twitter, saying with consternation that he had searched for “#boobs” in the Twitter app and was presented with … exactly what you’d expect. Another time, on the eve of a major feature release, a reviewer sent screenshots of several days-old tweets containing an English-language racial slur, asking Twitter representatives whether they should be permitted to appear on the service.

Reviewers hint that app approval could be delayed or perhaps even withheld entirely if issues are not resolved to their satisfaction — although the standards for resolution are often implied. Even as they appear to be driven largely by manual checks and anecdotes, these review procedures have the power to derail company plans and trigger all-hands-on-deck crises for weeks or months at a time.

Twitter wannabe Parler was banned from the App Store for three months in 2021 for its free-for-all lack of moderation. And it appears as though Apple executives aren’t exactly fans of Musk-era Twitter.

That said, I think content moderation isn’t where Musk is going to steer Twitter into direct conflict with Apple and Google over their app stores. The in-app purchasing revenue splits are. Here’s Musk last week, responding to a Slashdot post about Epic alleging a $360 million payola scheme from Google to keep Activision from creating its own Android game store:

App store fees are obviously too high due to the iOS/Android duopoly.

It is a hidden 30% tax on the Internet.

It’s not a big business at the moment, but Twitter’s year-old Super Follow subscription feature uses in-app payments, and “selling subscriptions” is apparently a big part of Musk’s plans. I’d be surprised if Musk isn’t soon as outspoken (and perhaps as litigious) about Apple and Google’s app store payment rules as Tim Sweeney and Epic Games.


Twitter Tumult

If you had told me three weeks ago that Twitter, as a company, would today be embroiled in turmoil — perhaps outright existential crisis — over a company-wide email from Elon Musk centered around the phrase “extremely hardcore”, this is not the scenario I’d have imagined.

It’s as though Musk has taken Facebook’s “Move fast and break things” motto and reduced it to “Break everything fast.” Last night, reports of mass resignations inside Twitter seemed so dire that Twitter itself seemed to be documenting its own demise, like HAL 9000 singing “Daisy”, ever more degenerately slurred, near the end of 2001: A Space Odyssey. I lost count of how many of the people I follow were seemingly posting what they expected, last night, to be their last-ever tweets.

The New York Times:

Hours before a Thursday deadline that Elon Musk gave Twitter employees to decide whether to stay or leave their jobs, the social media company appeared to be in disarray.

Mr. Musk and his advisers held meetings with some Twitter workers whom they deemed “critical” to stop them from leaving, four people with knowledge of the conversations said. He sent confusing messages about the company’s remote work policy, appearing to soften his stance on not allowing people to work from home before warning their managers, according to those people and internal emails viewed by The New York Times.

All the while, two people said, resignations started to roll in. By the deadline, 5 p.m. Eastern time, hundreds of Twitter employees appeared to have decided to depart with three months of severance pay, the people said. Twitter later announced via email that it would close “our office buildings” and disable employee badge access until Monday.

Zoë Schiffer, today:

Email from Elon to the engineering team: “Anyone who can actually write software, please report to the 10th floor at 2pm today. Before doing so, please email me a bullet point summary of what your code commits have achieved in the past 6 months.”

Elon Musk is also asking for up 10 screenshots of the “most salient lines of code” from Twitter engineers.

This latest edict is bananas in several ways, not the least of which is that the company claimed just 12 hours earlier that its offices would be closed today. As I quipped (on Twitter, which, as I publish this, is still seemingly fully operational), either (a) the offices aren’t closed until next week; or (b) getting to the 10th floor is an interview puzzle to keep your job?

But at a deeper level, the idea that counting lines of code or looking at “up to 10 screenshots” of code can give any effective measure of a programmer is absurdly wrong. Some of the most elite programmers I’ve ever known have an uncanny knack for reducing lines of code. Programmers working on security issues necessarily code with painstaking care. And, of course, there are dozens of essential roles at Twitter — some highly technical — that don’t involve “code commits” at all.

Alex Heath and Mia Sato, reporting for The Verge:

Twitter had roughly 2,900 remaining employees before the deadline Thursday, thanks to Musk unceremoniously laying off about half of the 7,500-person workforce when he took over and the resignations that followed. Remaining and departing Twitter employees told The Verge that, given the scale of the resignations this week, they expect the platform to start breaking soon. One said that they’ve watched “legendary engineers” and others they look up to leave one by one.

“It feels like all the people who made this place incredible are leaving,” the Twitter staffer said. “It will be extremely hard for Twitter to recover from here, no matter how hardcore the people who remain try to be.”

Multiple “critical” teams inside Twitter have now either completely or near-completely resigned, said other employees who requested anonymity to speak without Musk’s permission. That includes Twitter’s traffic and front end teams that route engineering requests to the correct backend services. The team that maintains Twitter’s core system libraries that every engineer at the company uses is also gone. “You cannot run Twitter without this team,” a departing employee said.

It’s a fact that there have been mass resignations — on top of last week’s mass layoff — in the face of Musk’s fealty demand. Whether these resignations spell doom for the company remains to be seen.

My apparently wrongheaded optimism for Twitter under Musk’s leadership was rooted in the idea that while he might — and almost surely would — make mistakes with product decisions (including content moderation), product decisions can be reversed.

Losing essential talent and destroying employee morale, not so much.

This thoughtful, measured thread from departing Twitter engineer Peter Clowes sums it up:

I didn’t leave because I hate @elonmusk. I definitely didn’t agree with many of his decisions or how they were carried out but I also understood and respected others.

I don’t know him and if someone tells me to hate a stranger I say “no thanks”.

I didn’t leave because of the 50% company wide layoff that missed me. We all knew a layoff was coming. Prior management would likely have cut too shallow at first and then had to do multiple rounds. I think that would have sucked regardless.

I left because I no longer knew what I was staying for. Previously I was staying for the people, the vision, and of course the money (lets all be honest). All of those were radically changed or uncertain. [...]

If I stayed I would have been on-call constantly with little support for an indeterminate amount of time on several additional complex systems I had no experience in. Maybe for the right vision I could have dug deep and done mind numbing work for awhile. But that’s the thing…

There was no vision shared with us. No 5 year plan like at Tesla. Nothing more than what anyone can see on Twitter. It allegedly is coming for those who stayed but the ask was blind faith and required signing away the severance offer before seeing it. Pure loyalty test.

I’ve been struggling to express it succinctly but my shock has been, basically: Layoffs are inherently deeply traumatic, both personally and institutionally, and for a company still trying to do great things and compete in a tight marketplace — and Twitter’s marketplace is the most competitive in the world: attention — the highest post-layoff priority for any company’s leader should be to restore, maintain, and if possible, boost morale.

Yet all of Musk’s actions to date can only be seen as destroying morale. I do not think he’s secretly trying to destroy his own $44 billion acquisition, but if he were, as though in a real-life Brewster’s Millions scenario, this path seems like the surest way. He’s shooting holes into his own sinking ship. 


App Store Ads Gone Wild

Apple, last Tuesday:

Apple Search Ads makes it easy to promote your app on the App Store. And now with new Today tab and product page ad placements, you can drive discovery of your app in more moments across the App Store — when customers first arrive, search for something specific, and browse apps to download.

Upon launching, feedback from the developers of various popular apps and Apple observers shared a common theme. Simon B. Støvring:

With Apple’s recent changes to ads on the App Store, your product pages may now show ads for gambling apps. One of my product pages just did that 😞

Marco Arment:

Now my app’s product page shows gambling ads, which I’m really not OK with.

Apple shouldn’t be OK with it, either.

The App Store has corrupted such a great company so deeply. They make so much from gambling and manipulative IAPs that they don’t even see the problem anymore.

Cabel Sasser:

It is really sad to me that Apple needs to start taking Casino Game Ad Money in order to make their line go up for the shareholders. When Steve introduced iAds and the whole pitch was, “These ads aren’t garbage, you’ll like these ads.” This department shouldn’t exist at all, imho.

Sebastiaan de With:

I know it’s not as easily quantifiable, but Apple is utterly annihilating brand value, trust and goodwill with these ads. How is the revenue possibly worth it?

As a developer, this sucks. As a user, it sucks. As someone who cares about Apple products it’s just profoundly sad.

Federico Viticci:

Can you imagine having $48.2 billion cash on hand and YET still thinking “ah yes, those House of Fun Casino ads will grow our bottom line, let’s do it”.

Dan Frommer, quoting Steve Jobs:

@cabel And then, a year later, while introducing iCloud/MobileMe Mail:

“No ads. We build products that we want for ourselves, too, and we just don’t want ads.”

The gambling/casino-related ads were so dominating the auctions for these new ad slots that they were even being presented at the bottom of the product pages for apps intended to help people with gambling addiction. Other scumminess included ads for “psychic” apps on the product page for Disney+ and ads for hookup dating apps on the pages for marriage counseling apps. You really couldn’t make this stuff up.

Within one day of the new ad slots going live, Apple issued a terse statement:

We have paused ads related to gambling and a few other categories on App Store product pages.

It’s now nearly a week later, and the gambling/hookup/psychic-type ads still don’t seem to be showing up (well, mostly), but it’s also just as hard to see why Apple is selling these spots in the first place. Well, duh, for the money, yes — that’s obviously the only plausible answer. But how much money can these ads be generating? How much can Apple hope they eventually generate? It can’t possibly be enough money to justify the damage it’s doing to Apple’s brand. These App Store ads are like the “Intel Inside” stickers on PC laptops — they’re worth money, but the money’s not worth it. Who’s laughing about those stickers now?

No ads in the App Store, period” would have been a powerful, appealing message. One that Apple could have used to justify its control over all software on the platform and its much-debated mandatory cut of all app and game transactions. “We sell ads in the App Store, but they’re OK because they don’t track you” seems to be the message Apple is going for, but that’s neither powerful nor appealing. It boils down to “Hey, it could be worse.”

Last month The Information published a piece by Wayne Ma on Phil Schiller’s leadership of the App Store. It contained this bit regarding the Today tab, which is effectively the front page of the store (italic emphasis added):

In 2015, App Store employees pitched a redesign of the store to Cue that required hiring and paying for a large editorial staff to write stories about apps and their developers. The redesign was meant to encourage users to visit the App Store every day to discover new apps, rather than having the store act like a vending machine that existed merely to peddle software. Cue wasn’t receptive to the pitch as he didn’t believe it was worth the money, given that the App Store was already performing well, according to a person with direct knowledge of the discussions.

Schiller, however, approved the redesign in his first days on the job, this person said. He believed the App Store had lost a lot of the spontaneity and fun associated with discovering new apps. He thought an editorial team could help bring those qualities back, according to a second person with direct knowledge of the project.

In 2017, Apple launched the redesign, which included new tabs on the App Store called Today, Games and Apps, highlighting various apps and developers. While the general perception among users Apple surveyed after the redesign was that developers had to pay to be featured on the App Store, that wasn’t the case, according to people familiar with the matter. Schiller gave the editorial team the power to select which games and apps to promote or feature on these tabs, without pressuring them to base those decisions on business and partnership goals, those people said.

I was reminded of that last week, when I saw this exchange on Reddit in a thread about these new App Store ad units:

sisco98: “Today tab, which until now has only displayed content handpicked from the App Store’s editorial staff, without any paid placement.” Up to now, I was pretty sure these picks were paid by developers.

spack12: Yeah I always figured those were ads too.

rotates-potatoes: Probably why they created the ad unit. If everyone’s going to assume it’s paid ads, might as well collect revenue from it. Many years ago I had an app featured in the app store. Was awesome, like 10× sales overnight. Was a complete surprise to me when it happened.

Apple is actually scrupulous about labeling paid placements as “ads”, and using different background colors for them. One can certainly argue that ads should be even more clearly demarcated, but if you look for it, it’s always clear. But people don’t look. If the message were clear — that there are no ads or paid placements in the App Store, period — people might learn. But if the message is that there are ads, but not many, but now there are more than there used to be, and but if you look closely you’ll see that the ads have a blue background and a small “ad” label — almost everyone is going to assume that anything that might be an ad is an ad and the whole App Store is pay-for-play all the way down.


Back in 2014, the front page of the Privacy section on Apple’s website was an open letter, signed simply by “Tim”. Here’s an archived version from The Internet Archive; here’s one from Archive.today. Cook’s letter read in part:

A few years ago, users of Internet services began to realize that when an online service is free, you’re not the customer. You’re the product. But at Apple, we believe a great customer experience shouldn’t come at the expense of your privacy.

Our business model is very straightforward: We sell great products. We don’t build a profile based on your email content or web browsing habits to sell to advertisers. We don’t “monetize” the information you store on your iPhone or in iCloud. And we don’t read your email or your messages to get information to market to you. Our software and services are designed to make our devices better. Plain and simple.

Apple’s commitment to privacy is no less today than it was then. One can well argue that it’s even stronger. But there are aspects of Apple’s position on advertising eight years ago, unrelated to privacy, that don’t square with Apple’s position today. Cook has repeated variations of that “you’re not the customer, you’re the product” mantra umpteen times since 2014. But how are these ads in the App Store not making users the product, and advertisers the customers?

It remains true that Apple is not monetizing the information we store on our devices or in iCloud, but they’re clearly monetizing our attention and their exclusive hold on that attention for all apps and games for iOS. Apple’s business model is no longer the straightforward selling of great products, and these new ads in the App Store are not designed to make anything better other than Apple’s Services bottom line.