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Linked List: August 2020

The Talk Show: ‘DOS Rot’ 

John Moltz returns to the show. Poodles are great dogs. Windows stinks worse than ever. Everyone should watch Ted Lasso.

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App Review Process Updates Announced at WWDC Are Now Live 

Apple Developer News:

For apps that are already on the App Store, bug fixes will no longer be delayed over guideline violations except for those related to legal issues. You’ll instead be able to address guideline violations in your next submission. And now, in addition to appealing decisions about whether an app violates guidelines, you can suggest changes to the guidelines. We also encourage you to submit your App Store and Apple development platform suggestions so we can continue to improve experiences for the developer community.

Dear Apple,

We would like to have our own iOS App Store.

Sincerely,
Epic Games

‘Facebook, the PR Firm’ 

Can Duruk, writing for Margins:

So, in that way, I read Facebook less as a tech company, but instead a communications one. Not a telecom communications, but more like a PR / marketing consultancy. There’s nothing original about Facebook. It’s a company that hires people to build others’ ideas, and, more often than not, it does that better and faster than them too. And when it can’t do that, it just buys them outright. There is a lot of building, but the ideas are outsourced. But what Facebook is really good at is actually doing all this while fighting what seems to be a never-ending, at least since 2016 or so, PR battle while not giving an inch.

With all the negative press around, you might think they are not doing a good job at avoiding criticism, but consider the alternative that they’ve been able to weather all this because they’ve been able to deflect the criticism and avoid scrutiny and accountability. I know this all sounds pretty unhinged right now, but, stay with me. This is a company who hires conservative politicians to its highest ranks in multiple countries, while maintaining a veneer of political neutrality. The same company pretends its not the arbiter of truth while employing tens of thousands of people to do exactly that. Ask yourselves: What has changed at Facebook?

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Panos Panay Demoing Split Screen Features on Microsoft’s Surface Duo 

Here’s a link to Microsoft’s Surface Duo press event from two weeks ago. I’m linking to just past 8 minutes in, when Panos Panay begins a hands-on demonstration of the split screen features Microsoft has created for Android to embrace this device’s unique form factor.

I think Surface Duo is one of the most interesting devices from a company other than Apple since the iPhone. Is it one of the best devices, or is it even a good device? I don’t know — reviews are still embargoed. But it’s certainly interesting. I find this split-screen design far more compelling and honest than any of the folding screen devices we’ve seen. The side-by-side experience seems far more intuitive than the split-screen stuff on iPadOS that I, among many others, find so frustrating. That’s not entirely fair — the iPad is a single-screen device where split screen is a secondary mode, and Surface Duo is a two-screen device where “full-screen” single-app use spanning both displays is secondary. I’m just saying that doing two things side-by-side is a common use case and Microsoft seems to have come up with a very thoughtful design here, especially when you consider that they’re working within the confines of Google’s OS.

Marques Brownlee has a great first-look video review of the hardware — early-access reviewers apparently have two embargoes, one for the hardware alone and one that hasn’t dropped yet for the actual experience. I can’t recall there ever being a review embargo just for the hardware alone for any device, but this hardware, in and of itself, is really interesting. Brownlee calls the hinge maybe the best he’s ever seen on any device, and the Surface Duo really is remarkably thin — 4.8 mm open, 9.9 mm closed. It weighs 250 grams — by comparison, an iPad Mini weighs 300 grams, and an iPhone 11 Pro Max weighs 226.

The Guardian: ‘Facebook Algorithm Found to “Actively Promote” Holocaust Denial’ 

Mark Townsend, reporting for The Guardian earlier this month:

An investigation by the Institute for Strategic Dialogue (ISD), a UK-based counter-extremist organisation, found that typing “holocaust” in the Facebook search function brought up suggestions for denial pages, which in turn recommended links to publishers which sell revisionist and denial literature, as well as pages dedicated to the notorious British Holocaust denier David Irving. […]

Last Wednesday Facebook announced it was banning conspiracy theories about Jewish people “controlling the world”. However, it has been unwilling to categorise Holocaust denial as a form of hate speech, a stance that ISD describe as a “conceptual blind spot”.

This is a strong report that doesn’t mince words, except for a big euphemism right in the headline. It’s not Facebook’s algorithm that is “actively promoting” Holocaust denial, QAnon, and other dangerous rightwing rallying cries, but Facebook itself. The “algorithm” is Facebook; Facebook is what it promotes and recommends.

Facebook’s Kenosha Guard Militia Event Was Reported 455 Times But Moderators Deemed It Fine 

Ryan Mac, reporting for BuzzFeed News:

In a companywide meeting on Thursday, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said that a militia page advocating for followers to bring weapons to an upcoming protest in Kenosha, Wisconsin, remained on the platform because of “an operational mistake.” The page and an associated event inspired widespread criticism of the company after a 17-year-old suspect allegedly shot and killed two protesters Tuesday night.

The event associated with the Kenosha Guard page, however, was flagged to Facebook at least 455 times after its creation, according to an internal report viewed by BuzzFeed News, and had been cleared by four moderators, all of whom deemed it “non-violating.” The page and event were eventually removed from the platform on Wednesday — several hours after the shooting.

“To put that number into perspective, it made up 66% of all event reports that day,” one Facebook worker wrote in the internal “Violence and Incitement Working Group” to illustrate the number of complaints the company had received about the event.

So it’s not like this event got lost in the firehose of Facebook’s massive scale. It actually dominated Facebook’s reporting mechanism.

As Mac reported separately, employees are protesting and asking Zuckerberg tough but obvious questions:

“At what point do we take responsibility for enabling hate filled bile to spread across our services?” wrote one employee. “[A]nti semitism, conspiracy, and white supremacy reeks across our services.”

The answer, apparently, is at no point. Mac’s piece concludes:

One employee who spoke with BuzzFeed News after the event was not comforted by their CEO’s words. “He seems truly incapable of taking personal responsibility for decisions and actions at Facebook,” they said.

I’m past the point where I could look past a stint at Facebook on a job applicant’s resume. Trying to get a job at a legitimate tech company after staying at Facebook through 2020 will be like trying to get a job at a legitimate news publication after a stint at Fox News.

‘Black Panther’ Star Chadwick Boseman Dies of Cancer at 43 

Reggie Ugwu and Michael Levenson, writing for The New York Times:

A statement posted on Mr. Boseman’s Instagram account said the actor had learned in 2016 that he had Stage 3 colon cancer, and that it had progressed to Stage 4. His publicist confirmed that he died in his home in Los Angeles, with his wife, Taylor Simone Ledward, and family by his side.

“A true fighter, Chadwick persevered through it all, and brought you many of the films you have come to love so much,” the statement said. “From ‘Marshall’ to ‘Da 5 Bloods,’ August Wilson’s ‘Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom’ and several more, all were filmed during and between countless surgeries and chemotherapy.”

Mr. Boseman was a private figure by Hollywood standards and rarely publicized details about his personal life. He found fame relatively late as an actor — he was 35 when he appeared in his first prominent role, as Jackie Robinson in “42” — but made up for lost time with a string of star-making performances in major biopics.

What a shock. What an amazing talent.

Yesterday was, coincidentally, Jackie Robinson Day across MLB — every player on every team wore Robinson’s 42.

Apple Terminates Epic Games’ Developer Account 

The last approved version of Fortnite still runs, but along with other games from Epic, it’s no longer available from the App Store, even if you previously downloaded it. This means you won’t be able to restore Fortnite on a new or factory-reset iPhone.

Statement from Apple:

We are disappointed that we have had to terminate the Epic Games account on the App Store. We have worked with the team at Epic Games for many years on their launches and releases. The court recommended that Epic comply with the App Store guidelines while their case moves forward, guidelines they’ve followed for the past decade until they created this situation. Epic has refused. Instead they repeatedly submit Fortnite updates designed to violate the guidelines of the App Store. This is not fair to all other developers on the App Store and is putting customers in the middle of their fight. We hope that we can work together again in the future, but unfortunately that is not possible today.

Tim Sweeney:

Apple’s statement isn’t forthright. They chose to terminate Epic’s account; they didn’t *have* to.

Apple suggests we spammed the App Store review process. That’s not so. Epic submitted three Fortnite builds: two bug-fix updates, and the Season 4 update with this note.

Neither company “had to” do any of this, so that’s a futile line of argument. Epic didn’t have to sneak their rule-breaking payment processing in via a trojan horse in the last-approved Fortnite version, and didn’t have to refuse to take their rule-breaking payment processing out in the subsequent builds they submitted. Apple didn’t have to respond, but it would have been pretty weird — to say the least — if they just let Epic get away with this. One can certainly argue that Apple’s rules are wrong, but it’s not wrong for Apple to enforce its own rules. Nothing Apple has done in this saga has been surprising, with the possible exception of attempting to revoke the developer license for Epic’s subsidiary that makes Unreal Engine.

The “instead they repeatedly submit Fortnite updates designed to violate the guidelines” line in Apple’s statement is interesting, though. I don’t read it as an accusation of “spamming”, as Sweeney claims. Epic submitted three builds, none of which removed their in-app purchase circumvention, so they knew Apple was never going to approve them. They were just wasting Apple’s time. But I find it interesting that Apple even mentioned it, or phrased it that way. It indicates that Epic has gotten under their skin to some degree. Of course Apple is annoyed by Epic’s antics; but you’d think Apple wouldn’t let that show. Apple shouldn’t think about Epic at all.

CNBC: Trump Admin Put Kibosh on Walmart Taking Majority Stake in TikTok 

Alex Sherman, reporting for CNBC: 

Walmart wanted to be the exclusive e-commerce and payments provider for TikTok and have access to user data to enhance those capabilities, one of the people said. But the people said the U.S. government wanted the lead buyer of TikTok to be a technology company because that would better fit with its national-security rationale for forcing Chinese owner ByteDance to divest TikTok’s U.S. operations.

Walmart confirmed its partnership with Microsoft Thursday, releasing a statement stating its interest in TikTok’s e-commerce and advertising capabilities.

Even if we put aside the issue of whether the U.S. government should be dictating that a foreign company must be sold to an American company — a big issue to put aside that ultimately shouldn’t be put aside, but hear me out here — why do they also get to choose which industry the American company is in? I don’t personally think of Walmart as a tech company but who the hell is Jared Kushner or Larry Kudlow or Steve Mnuchin — or whichever Trump numbnuts it is making these calls — to make that decision?

This is just bizarre banana republic stuff. This is why Wall Street is putting money behind Biden, too — the stock market is riding high, yes, but investors want stability and predictability. The Trump administration’s role in this TikTok sale — not the ban of the service, which is a legitimate national security concern, but this role as broker of the deal — is crazy.

Susan Glasser: ‘The Malign Fantasy of Donald Trump’s Convention’ 

Susan Glasser, writing for The New Yorker:

Trump attacked Biden by name forty-one times in his prepared remarks, some kind of record in a Convention speech. Biden is a “destroyer of American greatness” itself, Trump said, and he supports “the most extreme set of proposals ever put forward by a major-party nominee.” He is a pawn of China and the radical left, “a Trojan horse for socialism,” a representative of a “failed political class,” and a loser on the wrong side of history. He and his party will “demolish the suburbs.” They will “confiscate your guns.” Biden, in short, will end America as you know it.

The problem, of course, is that America as we know it is currently in the midst of a mess not of Biden’s making but of Trump’s. Suffice it to say that, by the time Trump’s speech was over and the red, white, and blue fireworks spelling out “2020” had been set off over the National Mall, late Thursday night, more than three thousand seven hundred Americans had died of the coronavirus since the start of the Convention — more than perished on 9/11 — and a hundred and eighty thousand Americans total had succumbed to the disease, a disease that Trump repeatedly denied was even a threat. His botched handling of the pandemic was the very reason that his Convention was taking place on the White House lawn in the first place.

This photo captures the national moment.

Biden Should Go to Kenosha 

George Packer, writing for The Atlantic:

Nothing will harm a campaign like the wishful thinking, fearful hesitation, or sheer complacency that fails to address what voters can plainly see. Kenosha gives Biden a chance to help himself and the country. Ordinarily it’s the incumbent president’s job to show up at the scene of a national tragedy and give a unifying speech. But Trump is temperamentally incapable of doing so and, in fact, has a political interest in America’s open wounds and burning cities.

Biden, then, should go immediately to Wisconsin, the crucial state that Hillary Clinton infamously ignored. He should meet the Blake family and give them his support and comfort. He should also meet Kenoshans like the small-business owners quoted in the Times piece, who doubt that Democrats care about the wreckage of their dreams. Then, on the burned-out streets, without a script, from the heart, Biden should speak to the city and the country. He should speak for justice and for safety, for reform and against riots, for the crying need to bring the country together. If he says these things half as well as Julia Jackson did, we might not have to live with four more years of Trump.

Packer’s column is good, but his headline — “This Is How Biden Loses” — is fatalistic. Biden should go to Kenosha, and further escalate his shadow pre-presidency. Fill the moral and emotional void left by Trump’s failures. The political jujitsu is obvious: hammer home the point that we are in Trump’s America now. He’s been president four years. Stand before the burned buildings and say this isn’t what it will be like under a Biden presidency, this is what it is like, right here in front of us today, under Trump’s. “This violence is tearing our businesses, our homes, and our hearts apart, and it must stop. Trump is the president, and he obviously can’t stop it. I will. We didn’t have violence in our streets under President Obama and we won’t under President Biden.” The speech writes itself.

The Talk Show: ‘I’m More of a Porkins Guy’ 

Special guest Anil Dash joins the show. Topics include the 25th anniversary of Windows 95, and the parallels between the cyber era of computing and today’s App Store controversies.

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Jason Snell on Windows 95 

Jason Snell, representing the Mac users’ side:

The magazine I worked at back then, MacUser, decided to offer up as a rejoinder a cover that said “Windows 95: So What?” It was originally intended to feature the Windows logo instead of “Windows 95” in type inside a big yellow circle, but the corporate lawyers intervened and said we couldn’t use the logo on our cover. (I always figured that the lawyers were just an excuse, and that our owner didn’t want to overly antagonize Microsoft, since Ziff-Davis also published both PC Magazine and PC/Computing magazine.)

I haven’t thought about it in a long time but I remember that issue, and that cover, and always thought it was a cover that looked like it was designed using Windows. Not the Mac’s nor MacUser’s best moment.

Here’s the truth about Windows 95, though: it was devastating to the Mac. Before Windows 95, PCs were spectacularly bad. (Sorry, fans of Windows 3.1, but it was garbage.) Windows 95, on the other hand, lifted an enormous amount of features from the Mac and drastically improved usability. Long filenames, trash can, aliases, a desktop, easy app switching, the promise of plug-and-play peripherals — these are all things the Mac had and that PCs didn’t, and with the release of Windows 95, the gap between the operating systems closed substantially.

It wasn’t so much that Windows 95 got good enough, but that the Mac circa 1995 had been so technically stagnant. To make a very long story very short, John Sculley’s Apple had devoted itself to coming up with something new to replace the Mac, rather than devoting itself to the sort of incremental improvement to the Mac that has defined the platform (and defined Apple itself) post-reunification with Steve Jobs and NeXT.

None of Apple’s “next big thing to replace the Mac” projects ever came close to fruition. So it’s not just that they let Microsoft catch up with Windows 95, but that by the time Windows 95 shipped, Microsoft had momentum and Apple had none. There really were a lot of things about a state of the art Mac in August 1995 that were better than a state of the art PC running Windows 95, but it was inarguable, to anyone who took an honest look at where both platforms were heading, that the Mac was on course to fall hopelessly behind.

Windows 95 even looked better, and inarguably looked more modern (the Mac system UI was still largely black and white and flat — what comes around goes around, huh?) because Microsoft ripped off the look not of the Mac but of NeXTStep.

Anil Dash on Windows 95 

Anil Dash, representing the PC users’ side:

Twenty five years ago today, Microsoft released Windows 95. It was undoubtedly a technical leap forward, but its biggest, most lasting impacts are about how it changed popular culture’s relationship to technology.

For context, when Windows 95 was released in August of 1995, only about 30% of American homes had any computer at all. Less than 10% had any form of internet access — and virtually none had broadband. There were no smartphones, of course.

But more broadly, computers and software were basically not yet something one talked about in polite company. You might have had a friend who “worked in computers” (we didn’t say “work in tech” yet) or call IT for support for your printer at work. But software was not part of culture, and the term “apps” wouldn’t come into wide usage for more than another decade.

Facebook Chose Not to Act on Militia Complaints Before Kenosha Shooting 

Russell Brandom, reporting for The Verge:

One user, who asked not to be identified by name, said she had reported the Kenosha Guards event in advance of the protest. Facebook moderators responded that the event itself was not in violation of platform policy, but specific comments could be reported for inciting violence. She reported a specific comment threatening to put nails in the tires of protestors’ cars, but it too was found to be within the bounds of Facebook policy.

“There were lots of comments like that in the event,” she says. “People talking about being ‘locked and loaded.’ People asking what types of weapons and people responding to ‘bring everything.’”

Ben Smith: ‘How Zeynep Tufekci Keeps Getting the Big Things Right’ 

Speaking of Zeynep Tufekci, New York Times media columnist Ben Smith has a great profile on her this week:

In recent years, many public voices have gotten the big things wrong — election forecasts, the effects of digital media on American politics, the risk of a pandemic. Dr. Tufekci, a 40-something who speaks a mile a minute with a light Turkish accent, has none of the trappings of the celebrity academic or the professional pundit. But long before she became perhaps the only good amateur epidemiologist, she had quietly made a habit of being right on the big things. […]

While many American thinkers were wide-eyed about the revolutionary potential of social media, she developed a more complex view, one she expressed when she found herself sitting to the left of Teddy Goff, the digital director for President Obama’s re-election campaign, at a South by Southwest panel in Austin in 2012.

Mr. Goff was enthusing about the campaign’s ability to send different messages to individual voters based on the digital data it had gathered about them. Dr. Tufekci quickly objected to the practice, saying that microtargeting would more likely be used to sow division.

More than four years later, after Donald J. Trump won the 2016 election, Mr. Goff sent Dr. Tufekci a note saying she had been right.

Zeynep Tufekci: ‘Why Aren’t We Talking More About Ventilation?’ 

Zeynep Tufekci, writing a few weeks ago for The Atlantic:

There are also different kinds of “airborne” transmission — the term can sound scarier than reality and can become the basis for unnecessary scaremongering. For example, some airborne diseases, such as measles, will definitely spread to almost every corner of a house and can be expected to infect about 90 percent of susceptible people in the household. In the virus-panic movie Outbreak, when Dustin Hoffman’s character exclaims, “It’s airborne!” about Motaba, the film’s fictional virus, he means that it will spread to every corner of the hospital through the vents. But not all airborne diseases are super-contagious (more on that in a bit), and, for the most part, the coronavirus does not behave like a super-infectious pathogen.

In multiple studies, researchers have found that COVID-19’s secondary attack rate, the proportion of susceptible people that one sick person will infect in a circumscribed setting, such as a household or dormitory, can be as low as 10 to 20 percent. In fact, many experts I spoke with remarked that COVID-19 was less contagious than many other pathogens, except when it seemed to occasionally go wild in super-spreader events, infecting large numbers of people at once, across distances much greater than the droplet range of three to six feet. Those who argue that COVID-19 can spread through aerosol routes point to the prevalence and conditions of these super-spreader events as one of the most important pieces of evidence for airborne transmission.

Tufekci, you will recall, spearheaded efforts to get public health officials and agencies in the U.S. to recommend face masks back in March.

Also at The Atlantic, and also outstanding:

Epic Will Not Update Fortnite for iOS 

Epic:

Apple is blocking Fortnite updates and new installs on the App Store, and has said they will terminate our ability to develop Fortnite for Apple devices. As a result, Fortnite’s newly released Chapter 2 - Season 4 update (v14.00), will not release on iOS and macOS on August 27.

Presumably because of Apple’s threat to revoke Epic’s Apple developer program membership, they’re not even updating the Mac version of Fortnite, which is a direct download from Epic’s website, and thus has always used Epic’s own payment system.

Apple is asking that Epic revert Fortnite to exclusively use Apple payments. Their proposal is an invitation for Epic to collude with Apple to maintain their monopoly over in-app payments on iOS, suppressing free market competition and inflating prices. As a matter of principle, we won’t participate in this scheme.

Epic is putting the ball in Apple’s court. iOS users definitely aren’t getting the new season of Fortnite unless Epic pulls their custom payments, which they’re saying they won’t do on principle. So what happens to the current version of Fortnite that’s already installed on iOS devices and is about to be out-of-date? Does it keep working, despite being out of date (and despite containing Epic’s rule-violating custom payment processing)? Or does Apple revoking Epic’s developer license invoke the kill switch that disables installed copies of Fortnite? What about the ability to re-download the current version if you (or a family-sharing member) previously downloaded it?

Update: A bunch of folks more familiar than me with how multiplayer matchmaking games work suggest that once the new Fortnite season starts (and players on non-Apple platforms have an update to install), clients on the previous season (including all iOS and Mac clients) will stop being able to play. That makes sense when you think about it technically. The apps will launch, but they’ll just tell players they need to update. And presumably, Epic will serve iOS and Mac clients a custom message explaining their “#FreeFortnite” campaign against Apple.

Jose-Luis Jimenez: ‘COVID-19 Is Transmitted Through Aerosols. We Need to Adapt.’ 

Jose-Luis Jimenez, writing in Time:

When it comes to COVID-19, the evidence overwhelmingly supports aerosol transmission, and there are no strong arguments against it. For example, contact tracing has found that much COVID-19 transmission occurs in close proximity, but that many people who share the same home with an infected person do not get the disease. To understand why, it is useful to use cigarette or vaping smoke (which is also an aerosol) as an analog. Imagine sharing a home with a smoker: if you stood close to the smoker while talking, you would inhale a great deal of smoke. Replace the smoke with virus-containing aerosols, which behave very similarly, and the impact is similar: the closer you are to someone releasing virus-carrying aerosols, the more likely you are to breathe in larger amounts of virus. We know from detailed, rigorous studies that when individuals talk in close proximity, aerosols dominate transmission and droplets are nearly negligible.

If you are standing on the other side of the room, you would inhale significantly less smoke. But in a poorly ventilated room, the smoke will accumulate, and people in the room may end up inhaling a lot of smoke over time. Talking, and especially singing and shouting increase aerosol exhalation by factors of 10 and 50, respectively. Indeed, we are finding that outbreaks often occur when people gather in crowded, insufficiently ventilated indoor spaces, such as singing at karaoke parties, cheering at clubs, having conversations in bars, and exercising in gyms. Superspreading events, where one person infects many, occur almost exclusively in indoor locations and are driving the pandemic. These observations are easily explained by aerosols, and are very difficult or impossible to explain by droplets or fomites.

I find this argument incredibly compelling, and the WHO and CDC’s reluctance to embrace it incredibly frustrating. The theory that COVID-19 spreads primarily through aerosols matches everything we know about it.

The upside is that the smoking comparison helps model risk avoidance. Pretend everyone you see is smoking, and try to avoid breathing their exhaled “smoke”. It also goes to show how indoor restaurants and especially bars are just a no-go until COVID-19 is under control. Spacing tables six feet apart wouldn’t keep you from smelling cigarette smoke from fellow patrons at a restaurant, and it won’t keep you from breathing their aerosols.

Ezra Klein: ‘The RNC Shows the Republican Party Is Now Trump’s Personality Cult’ 

Ezra Klein, writing for Vox:

I have covered American politics for two decades and never have I seen a party more ferociously committed to supporting whatever it is their leader tells them to support.

The problem for Republicans is that the main thing Trump has told them to support is himself. There are no detailed policy proposals, much less a coherent ideology or set of governing principles. And so speech after speech followed the same template: How was America going to stop the coronavirus? By reelecting Donald Trump. How was it going to revive its economy? By reelecting Donald Trump. How was it going to ensure domestic harmony? By reelecting Donald Trump.

The contradiction at the heart of the convention, of course, is that Donald Trump is currently president. I’m dead serious. How would reelecting Trump resolve these crises that Trump has proven unable to resolve — and has, in many cases, worsened — in office? No one even took a shot at that Rubik’s cube. Instead, the speakers awkwardly talked around the fact of Trump’s incumbency. He was presented, strangely, as both incumbent and challenger; the man who had fixed America’s problems, but also the man needed to fix an America beset by more problems than ever.

The Republican Party Is a Cult, RNC Day One: Kimberly Guilfoyle’s Speech 

If you watched day one of the Republican National Convention last night, you surely remember Kimberly Guilfoyle’s speech. If you didn’t watch but read about the convention, you probably heard about it. But you really should watch it. It is… something. It’s worth noting that Guilfoyle’s speech wasn’t live — they recorded this and either this was the good take or it was one and done and they thought this was good to go.

Angry, screaming, jingoistic speeches are not new to Republican conventions. Proto-Trump white nationalist Pat Buchanan delivered a speech in 1992 about which the late Molly Ivins famously quipped, “it probably sounded better in the original German”. But at least Buchanan’s speech was coherent. One needn’t agree with the style or the substance to agree that it at least had substance. Guilfoyle’s speech, removed from her histrionic delivery, was pure authoritarian pablum. Just read the transcript. Mother Jones set Guilfoyle’s speech to North Korean propaganda music and it works perfectly. This isn’t preaching to the choir; it’s screaming at one’s fellow fundamentalists.

You really have to see it.

Rumors Suggest Pixel 5 Is Slower Than the Pixel 4, Continues to Use Same Camera Sensor Since 2016 

Ron Amadeo, writing at Ars Technica:

The other piece of hardware you can put in the “upgrade”-with-scare-quotes category is the Pixel 5’s Snapdragon 765G SoC. The Pixel 4 has a Snapdragon 855 SoC, and since Qualcomm chips perform similarly no matter what phone is built around them, we don’t need device-specific benchmarks to know the Pixel 5 will be slower than the Pixel 4. […] With the Pixel 5, Google is making a transition from a flagship device to a midrange phone, which leads to awkward comparisons like this.

Plastic back too, supposedly. If all of this is true, what phone is someone supposed to buy if they want top-shelf hardware and the pure no-junk Android experience?

Xbox Executive Kevin Gammill’s ‘Declaration of Support’ for Epic Is Specifically About Unreal Engine, not Fortnite 

Regarding the Unreal Engine part of the Epic v. Apple legal battle, Microsoft Xbox executive Kevin Gammill filed a declaration for Epic over the weekend. I’m a little surprised Microsoft waded into this at all, but read Gammill’s declaration — it’s only three pages and very cogent. All his declaration states is that Apple revoking Epic’s license to develop Unreal Engine for Apple platforms would be bad for Epic and bad for all games that use Unreal Engine to target iOS or MacOS. Basically: duh. It doesn’t even contain the terms “Fortnite” or “App Store”.

This doesn’t contradict my prediction that you won’t see Microsoft, Sony, or Nintendo file amicus briefs on Epic’s behalf about the App Store’s control over software and mandatory use of Apple’s payment system. If Apple hadn’t threatened to revoke the developer program license for Unreal Engine, Microsoft wouldn’t have piped in here.

Apple and Epic Square Off in Preliminary Hearing on Zoom 

Russell Brandom, reporting for The Verge:

On Monday, Epic Games and Apple faced off in the first hearing of their ongoing legal fight, held in a public Zoom call because of the ongoing quarantine restrictions. The hearing sought to determine whether Epic’s developer privileges should be legally protected — initially by a temporary restraining order, setting the stage for a more powerful preliminary injunction that would remain in force for the duration of the trial.

Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers did not issue an immediate ruling on the issue, but said she would be issuing a written order after the fact “and I will issue it quickly.”

However, Judge Gonzalez Rogers opened the hearing by indicating she was likely to take action to protect the Unreal Engine, but let the Fortnite ban stand. “I am not inclined to grant relief with respect to the games,” the judge said, “but I am inclined to grant relief with respect to the Unreal Engine.”

Effectively, Apple’s threat to revoke all of Epic’s Apple Developer Program memberships — not just the account for the subsidiary behind Fortnite but also that of the subsidiary behind Unreal Engine — has made this into two cases: the main part regarding Fortnite and the iOS App Store, and a second part regarding Unreal Engine and all Apple platforms.

Judge Gonzalez Rogers’s take sounds right for now: in Apple’s favor regarding Fortnite, and in Epic’s favor regarding Unreal Engine.

For good play-by-play livestream coverage of the hearing, I suggest reading Sarah Jeong’s thread on Twitter.

Update: Judge Gonzalez Rogers ruled exactly as she was inclined. Seems fair, and the ruling’s “background” section is an excellent, accurate, and fair assessment of the saga to date.

Can Thieves Crack 6-Digit iPhone Passcodes? 

Henrique Prange, on Twitter:

Stop using 6-digit iPhone passcodes! Do you think I am overly paranoid? Keep reading.

Last week, a friend of mine had his iPhone stolen. What follows is the sequence of events that started as an unfortunate event and ended up with $30,000 in unauthorized wire transfers, $2,500 spent on the AppStore, and accounts of multiple services compromised. […]

So, how could the wrongdoers do all of that in less than 5 hours? After considering many options, the only reasonable explanation is they cracked the 6-digit passcode on the stolen iPhone using some kind of device like the GrayKey.

The passcode gave them access to the keychain. They searched for the iCloud credentials, disabled the Lost Mode, and turned off the Find My.

This is an interesting but alarming story. Did the thieves crack his 6-digit passcode with a GrayKey or GrayKey-like device? Impossible to say. But it’s worth thinking about it. We know GrayKey exists, and if it exists, thieves could have it. It’s also easier for a would-be thief to snoop a target entering a 6-digit passcode than an alphanumeric passphrase.

I mention this in the wake of the aforelinked piece on Face ID vs. face masks because months ago, when I first started grocery shopping while wearing a mask, I switched my iPhone from an alphanumeric passphrase back to a 6-digit passcode for convenience. I did so thinking, basically, that even though a 6-digit passcode is less secure, anything truly dangerous like disabling Find My iPhone requires my iCloud password as well.

It simply never occurred to me that if a thief (or law enforcement, or any adversary) has the device passcode, and your iCloud password is in your keychain, they can get your iCloud password from your keychain. All you need is the device passcode to access all of the passwords in iCloud keychain. Try it — you can.

So I’m back on an alphanumeric passphrase, inconvenience while wearing a mask be damned. Remember too: you don’t need to make an alphanumeric device passphrase long or complicated to make it very secure — a 6-character alphanumeric passphrase would take on average 72 years to crack by brute force because it takes 80-milliseconds for the secure enclave to process each guess.

Face ID vs. Face Masks 

David Porter, reporting for the AP two weeks ago (again, yesterday in coronatime):

In a letter to CEO Tim Cook obtained by The Associated Press, Metropolitan Transportation Authority Chairman Patrick Foye said riders have been seen removing their masks to unlock their phones using face-recognition technology, despite a recent update by Apple that simplifies the unlock process for people wearing masks.

Previously, an iPhone user wearing a mask would have to wait a few seconds as face recognition software tried to identify them before they eventually could enter a passcode. In response to the pandemic, Apple’s iOS 13.5, released in May, automatically presents the passcode field after a user swipes up from the bottom of the lock screen. Also, Apple Pay Express Transit, introduced last year, allows riders on some bus and subway lines to pay with their iPhone or Apple Watch without having to wake the device.

I’m not sure what such a letter accomplishes other than giving Foye the ability to say he did what he could. Face ID isn’t just software, it’s hardware, and I don’t think any of the existing Face ID iPhones can be updated, via software, to somehow work to authenticate faces while wearing a mask.

It’s interesting to ponder what a disaster, publicity wise, the iPhone X would have been if COVID-19 had hit in 2017. It’s one thing for hundreds of millions of Face ID devices to be made inconvenient by face masks, years after introduction. It would have been another thing altogether for Apple to introduce Face ID amidst a worldwide face mask mandate.

It’s certainly possible that future Face ID systems will be able to securely authenticate you while wearing a face mask. If we can recognize people we know while they’re wearing a mask, a computer system can too — but anything that makes it harder for us to recognize a face is going to make it harder for Face ID too, and face masks are obviously disguising. Will this year’s new iPhones be able to do it? I doubt it. All of the hardware for this year’s iPhones was set in stone long before COVID hit.

Microsoft’s Surface Duo, A Split-Screen Folding Android Tablet, Arrives on September 10 for $1,400 

Tom Warren, writing for The Verge two weeks ago (or yesterday, in coronatime):

While Microsoft had revealed the design of the Surface Duo back in October, the company has kept the specs relatively secret. The device includes two separate 5.6-inch OLED displays (1800 x 1350) with a 4:3 aspect ratio that connect together to form a 8.1-inch overall workspace (2700 x 1800) with a 3:2 aspect ratio. Unlike foldables like Samsung’s Galaxy Fold, the Surface Duo is using real Gorilla Glass, and the displays are designed to work in a similar way to multiple monitors on a Windows PC.

One big question over the Surface Duo has been the camera. Microsoft is using an 11-megapixel f/2.0 camera, which will include auto modes for low light, HDR multi-frame captures, and a “super zoom” up to 7x. Both 4K and 1080p video recording will be supported at 30fps and 60fps, with electronic image stabilization. There’s only a single camera on the Surface Duo, which can be used both for video calls and as a main camera.

So I’m deeply intrigued by the Surface Duo but at the same time incredibly dubious that anyone wants this. I don’t get the confusion over whether it’s a phone or not. It can make phone calls and act as a phone, but Microsoft never calls it one. My take is it’s a folding tablet that might as well act like a phone if you have a cellular plan, in case that’s what you really want. But I’d guess most people who do get one of these will still carry a dedicated phone — I’ve been skeptical about giant ass phones for a decade now and I’ve been proven largely wrong (no pun intended) about the size of phones many people want to carry, but this is preposterous as something you might want to pocket.

People are dinging it for the broad bezels at the top and bottom but that’s just superficial. My fundamental skepticism is whether Android is actually a good OS for this, and whether there are actual use cases for this form factor regardless of OS and application support for the split screen. At $1,400 it’s clearly a premium product — is there a premium use case?

Wifi Dabba 

My thanks to Wifi Dabba for sponsoring last week at Daring Fireball. I’ve never had a sponsor quite like Wifi Dabba — they’re looking for investors in the DF audience, not customers.

India is a huge battleground — maybe the battleground — for the soul of the open internet. Remember Facebook Basics from a few years ago, where Facebook tried to effectively own “the internet” in India with an offering that pretty much just offered Facebook’s own services? It didn’t work, but they’re back, having recently purchased a nearly $6 billion stake in India’s largest telco. The root problem is the extreme expense required to deploy broadband. High costs naturally favor nation-states and existing telecom monopolies.

Wifi Dabba is attempting to solve India’s broadband problem from the bottom up. They’ve spent the last three years reinventing the network stack to lower the cost of broadband internet access. They use lasers instead of expensive underground fiber, and commodity components across the stack. This results in a network that is 100 times cheaper to deploy and 10 times cheaper for customers.

Right now they primarily serve their hometown of Bangalore, but are looking to expand nationwide. Their investors include YCombinator, VY Capital, and others — and they are looking for additional investors.

Buy a piece of their network and own the future of internet access in India.

57 Percent of Republicans Think Number of U.S. Deaths From Coronavirus Has Been ‘Acceptable’ 

From a CBS News survey of over 2,000 registered voters:

Number of U.S. deaths from coronavirus has been been acceptable / unacceptable:

Republicans: 57% / 43%
Democrats: 10% / 90%
Independents: 33% / 67%

The U.S. has over 176,000 deaths, and that number is growing by around 1,000 per day. According to the same poll, 73 percent of Republicans think the U.S. response to coronavirus is “going well”. This isn’t cultish — it’s a cult. Either a majority of Republicans are sociopaths or they’re so ignorant they have no idea how much worse the U.S. has handled COVID-19 than other industrialized nations. Washington Post columnist Brian Klaas, on COVID-19 deaths reported yesterday:

Italy: 3
France: 9
Japan: 14
Canada: 7
UK: 18
Germany: 3

United States: 974

Population of countries above: 439 million
Population of United States: 328 million

It’s almost over for other nations. Here in the U.S. COVID-19 is rampaging.

Brayden Harrington: ‘Some People Really Need Some Help With What’s Going On’ 

NBC News:

Brayden Harrington, the teen who shared his story on the final night of the Democratic National Convention about how Joe Biden helped him with his stutter, told NBC News Friday it has boosted his confidence and is pushing him to help other kids like him.

“It will change my future,” Harrington, 13, told Nightly News’ Lester Holt in an appearance that will air Friday night. “And I have this thought going around my head that I kind of want to be a therapist when I grow up to help other children in need and other people in need. And that just really is heartwarming to me because some people really need some help with what’s going on.”

If this kid’s courage, his story, his attitude, and his determination don’t hit you right there, you’re not hooked up right.

Hope.

Apple Files Legal Documents Opposing Epic’s Attempt to Have Fortnite Reinstated in the App Store 

Devin Coldewey, reporting for TechCrunch:

Apple’s filing challenges the TRO request on several grounds. First, it contends that there is no real “emergency” or “irreparable harm” because the entire situation was concocted and voluntarily initiated by Epic:

Having decided that it would rather enjoy the benefits of the App Store without paying for them, Epic has breached its contracts with Apple, using its own customers and Apple’s users as leverage.

But the “emergency” is entirely of Epic’s own making…it knew full well what would happen and, in so doing, has knowingly and purposefully created the harm to game players and developers it now asks the Court to step in and remedy.

Also:

Apple also questions the likelihood of Epic’s main lawsuit (independent of the TRO request) succeeding on its merits — namely that Apple is exercising monopoly power in its rent-collecting on the App Store:

[Epic’s] logic would make monopolies of Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo, just to name a few.

Epic’s antitrust theories, like its orchestrated campaign, are a transparent veneer for its effort to co-opt for itself the benefits of the App Store without paying or complying with important requirements that are critical to protect user safety, security, and privacy.

I see a lot of people arguing that iOS, in some ethical/moral/philosophical sense, is inherently a different sort of closed vendor-controlled computing platform than game consoles, but I don’t see a legal argument for how iOS constitutes a monopoly if Xbox, PlayStation, and Switch aren’t. Again, you’re not going to see Microsoft, Sony, or Nintendo filing amicus briefs on Epic’s behalf, even though Microsoft has a game streaming platform Apple won’t allow on iOS, and Sony and Nintendo could.

Apple’s full filing is available here, and their attachments, including Phil Schiller’s declaration and Tim Sweeney’s laughably absurd “How about we make our own app store?” email, are right below it.

Tim Sweeney’s June 30 Letter to Apple 

Epic CEO Tim Sweeney, in a letter to Apple on June 30:

Please confirm within two weeks if Apple agrees in principle to allow Epic to provide a competing app store and competing payment processing, in which case we will meet with your team to work out the details including Epic’s firm commitment to utilize any such features diligently to protect device security, customer privacy, and a high-quality user experience. If we do not receive your confirmation, we will understand that Apple is not willing to make the changes necessary to allow us to provide Android customers with the option of choosing their app store and payment processing system.

Hard to believe Apple didn’t go for this. Such careful copy-and-pasting makes for such a compelling argument.

The Talk Show: ‘Not the Batman We Want or Need’ 

Rene Ritchie returns to the show. Topics include Phil Schiller advancing to Apple Fellow, Microsoft’s simmering spat with Apple over Xbox Game Pass and the App Store’s ban on game streaming services, and Epic’s sizzling spat with Apple over, well, the entire concept of iOS as we know it.

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70 Top Republican National Security Officials Denounce Trump as Unfit, Announce Support for Biden 

A statement by 70 former Republican national security officials:

We are former national security officials who served during the administrations of Presidents Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, George W. Bush, and/or Donald Trump, or as Republican Members of Congress. We are profoundly concerned about the course of our nation under the leadership of Donald Trump. Through his actions and his rhetoric, Trump has demonstrated that he lacks the character and competence to lead this nation and has engaged in corrupt behavior that renders him unfit to serve as President.

For the following reasons, we have concluded that Donald Trump has failed our country and that Vice President Joe Biden should be elected the next President of the United States.

You love to see it.

Bipartisan Republican-Led Senate Intel Report Details Trump Campaign Contacts With Russia in 2016, Adding to Mueller Findings 

CNN:

Among the key findings:

  • That then-campaign chairman Paul Manafort was working with Konstantin Kilimnik, a Russian intelligence officer, and sought to share internal campaign information with Kilimnik. The committee says it obtained “some information suggesting Kilimnik may have been connected” to Russia’s 2016 hacking operation and concludes Manafort’s role on the campaign “represented a grave counterintelligence threat.”

  • That Trump and senior campaign officials sought to obtain advance information on WikiLeaks’ email dumps through Roger Stone, and that Trump spoke to Stone about WikiLeaks, despite telling the special counsel in written answers he had “no recollections” that they had spoken about it.

  • That information offered at the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting “was part of a broader influence operation” from the Russian government, though there’s no evidence Trump campaign members knew of it. Two of the Russians who met with Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner and Manafort had “significant connections” to the Russian government, including Russian intelligence, and Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya’s ties were “far more extensive and concerning than what had been publicly known.”

You really do hate to see it.

Trump Must Turn Over Tax Returns to D.A., Judge Rules 

Benjamin Weiser and William K. Rashbaum, reporting for The New York Times:

A federal judge on Thursday rejected President Trump’s latest effort to block the Manhattan district attorney from obtaining his tax returns, roundly dismissing Mr. Trump’s arguments that the prosecutor’s grand jury subpoena was “wildly overbroad” and issued in bad faith.

The ruling by Judge Victor Marrero of Federal District Court in Manhattan marked another setback for the president in his yearlong fight to block the subpoena.

You hate to see it.

Former Trump Advisor Steve Bannon Arrested on Charges of Defrauding Donors in Fundraising Scheme 

CNBC:

Former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon was arrested Thursday after being charged with defrauding hundreds of thousands of donors through his “We Build the Wall” fundraising campaign.

Bannon and three associates were indicted in a federal investigation in the Southern District of New York. Prosecutors allege the four defrauded donors by raising “more than $25 million to build a wall along the southern border of the United States,” but some of that money was used for personal gain.

The United States Postal Inspection Service assisted in the investigation.

You hate to see it.

The Beats Do Not Go On 

Apple Newsroom:

Beginning today, Beats 1, the flagship global radio station, will be renamed Apple Music 1, and two additional radio stations will launch: Apple Music Hits, celebrating everyone’s favorite songs from the ’80s, ’90s, and 2000s, and Apple Music Country, spotlighting country music.

Unless I’m missing something, “Beats” is now gone from all of Apple Music. What remains of the Beats brand is only the headphone business, which I expect will fade away in the next few years as the AirPods brand expands.

HBO Whatnow 

Penny Arcade on HBO Max vs. HBO Go vs. HBO Now vs. Why the Hell Isn’t It Just Called “HBO” You Dumbasses You Already Own the World’s Greatest Brand Representing Premium Subscription Video Content.

The Case of the Top Secret iPod 

David Shayer, in a rather incredible story for TidBITS:

It was a gray day in late 2005. I was sitting at my desk, writing code for the next year’s iPod. Without knocking, the director of iPod Software — my boss’s boss — abruptly entered and closed the door behind him. He cut to the chase. “I have a special assignment for you. Your boss doesn’t know about it. You’ll help two engineers from the US Department of Energy build a special iPod. Report only to me.”

The next day, the receptionist called to tell me that two men were waiting in the lobby. I went downstairs to meet Paul and Matthew, the engineers who would actually build this custom iPod. I’d love to say they wore dark glasses and trench coats and were glancing in window reflections to make sure they hadn’t been tailed, but they were perfectly normal thirty-something engineers. I signed them in, and we went to a conference room to talk.

They didn’t actually work for the Department of Energy; they worked for a division of Bechtel, a large US defense contractor to the Department of Energy. They wanted to add some custom hardware to an iPod and record data from this custom hardware to the iPod’s disk in a way that couldn’t be easily detected. But it still had to look and work like a normal iPod.

They’d do all the work. My job was to provide any help they needed from Apple.

What a wild story. Tony Fadell, on Twitter:

This project was real w/o a doubt.

There was whole surreal drama and interesting story about how this project was kicked off and then kept secret.

Nicole Nguyen on Reels, Instagram’s Shameless But Perhaps Misbegotten Copy of TikTok 

Nicole Nguyen, in her new column at The Wall Street Journal (where she moved from BuzzFeed News) (News+ link):

Once a simple photo-sharing app, Instagram now offers ephemeral social media, short-form video, long-form video, video chat, private messaging, inspiration bookmarking and shopping. I started spending most of my time on Instagram instead of Facebook because Facebook was too bloated. Now it feels like Instagram is Facebook. […]

Still, it will likely take more than a library of hit songs and video-editing tools for Instagram to re-create TikTok’s success. On TikTok, you don’t need an account to become addicted. It’s pure entertainment, like TV, without the terrible fear-of-missing-out feeling you get by looking at posts from friends and family.

But unlike TV, a finely tuned algorithm figures out what you see next. And that algorithm is freakishly good. You scroll and scroll until you’re physically exhausted and can’t scroll any longer.

Instagram’s recommendations aren’t quite there yet. I watched a haphazard mix of imported TikToks, manic 15-second cooking videos and clips of celebrities … being celebrities. There’s little of the eclectic weird magic found on TikTok’s main feed, its personalized “For You” page.

It feels odd talking about “the good old days” of Instagram, but well, I enjoyed Instagram a lot more when it was focused simply and exquisitely on photo sharing. Obviously I don’t speak for the greater world — Instagram got a lot more popular as I deemed it to be getting worse.

But there has to be a limit to how much Facebook can cram into Instagram before it bursts at the seams, and Reels feels like too much. TikTok just doesn’t feel Instagrammy at all, so I don’t think the problem with Reels is execution, I think it’s just the basic idea of using Instagram to host Facebook’s TikTok clone. It’s a bad fit, and Facebook doesn’t have the taste to know it. Facebook is like a society in a sci-fi novel that polluted and ruined its home world (Facebook), colonized a beautiful new world (Instagram), and just went ahead and immediately polluted and ruined the new world in the exact same way.

(Call it a hunch, or maybe just wishful thinking, but I think someone could have a nice hit with a great clone of the old original photo-sharing Instagram. Not a goliath-titan-of-the-tech-industry hit, just a nice profitable hit. Like making a nice successful restaurant, never intended to be a nationwide chain with 1,000 locations.)

Tim Wu: ‘A TikTok Ban Is Overdue’ 

Tim Wu, writing at The New York Times:

In China, the foreign equivalents of TikTok and WeChat — video and messaging apps such as YouTube and WhatsApp — have been banned for years. The country’s extensive blocking, censorship and surveillance violate just about every principle of internet openness and decency. China keeps a closed and censorial internet economy at home while its products enjoy full access to open markets abroad.

The asymmetry is unfair and ought no longer be tolerated. The privilege of full internet access — the open internet — should be extended only to companies from countries that respect that openness themselves

Agreed. Wu addresses the fact that Trump is almost certainly wrong in his reasons for opposing TikTok, but even then he’s ultimately right in the “even a stopped clock is right twice a day” sense. We — not just the United States but the entire free world — are being played as suckers by China. You’re either part of the open internet or you’re not — and China wants no part of the open internet.

The idea that being exposed to the internet would inevitably help open China was a reasonable and well-intentioned theory, but it was obviously wrong. Allowing China to export its own internet services while it blocks all of the services from the rest of the world is both dangerous and dumb. They’re using the internet to export authoritarianism, not to import democracy and liberalism.

Apple Statement: ‘We Very Much Want to Keep the Company as Part of the Apple Developer Program and Their Apps on the Store’ 

Statement from Apple:

The App Store is designed to be a safe and trusted place for users and a great business opportunity for all developers. Epic has been one of the most successful developers on the App Store, growing into a multibillion dollar business that reaches millions of iOS customers around the world. We very much want to keep the company as part of the Apple Developer Program and their apps on the Store. The problem Epic has created for itself is one that can easily be remedied if they submit an update of their app that reverts it to comply with the guidelines they agreed to and which apply to all developers. We won’t make an exception for Epic because we don’t think it’s right to put their business interests ahead of the guidelines that protect our customers.

It’s a good statement. Epic has been clear that they aren’t seeking a permanent exception to the App Store Guidelines, or a special deal like Amazon’s for Prime Video (which Apple wasn’t going to offer them anyway — games are different). They want to see Apple (and Google) change their platforms. So the “exception” Apple speaks of, I think, would be allowing Fortnite to remain in the App Store with its own payment processing while the lawsuit is litigated — and perhaps allowing Epic to keep its developer program membership?

So who blinks first? I think Epic will blink, submit a Fortnite update that reverts to compliance with the App Store guidelines, and try to save face by saying, “Look at what Apple forced us to do — we had to raise V-Bucks prices”. But they’ll keep their lawsuit going. The lawsuit, I think they’re serious about. The Fortnite update with their own payment processing was a publicity stunt.

The thing is, Epic isn’t just a game publisher. They’re a platform vendor too. One of the core things developers want from a platform vendor is stability, in every sense of the word. If I were a game developer who depends on Unreal Engine, I’d be irate at Epic. They’re creating drama and eroding trust over a fight that Unreal Engine licensees aren’t a part of and didn’t sign up for. Fortnite users — especially kids — might blame Apple for Fortnite disappearing from iOS. But professional game developers will blame Epic if Unreal Engine updates are hindered by this.

Epic and the Terms of Apple’s Developer Program License Agreement 

Epic’s announcement that Apple is threatening to terminate their membership in the Apple Developer Program prompted me to look at the current terms of the developer program license agreement. The terms are pretty clear that Apple can do this:

11.2 Termination

This Agreement and all rights and licenses granted by Apple hereunder and any services provided hereunder will terminate, effective immediately upon notice from Apple: […]

(f) if You engage, or encourage others to engage, in any misleading, fraudulent, improper, unlawful or dishonest act relating to this Agreement, including, but not limited to, misrepresenting the nature of Your submitted Application (e.g., hiding or trying to hide functionality from Apple’s review, falsifying consumer reviews for Your Application, engaging in payment fraud, etc.).

In a court of law, Apple seems well within its rights to terminate Epic’s membership. In the court of public opinion, Apple comes off looking heavy-handed here, especially as it pertains to Unreal Engine. To be clear, Apple is not banning or even mentioning games that use Unreal Engine; what Epic is saying is that all games that use Unreal Engine will be affected as a byproduct of Epic no longer being able to work on Unreal Engine for Apple’s platforms. It’s further escalation on both sides:

  • Epic: Surprise! We snuck our own payment processing into a Fortnite update.
  • Apple: Fortnite is no longer listed in the App Store and we’re not going to approve updates until Fortnite complies with our rules.
  • Epic: We’re suing and releasing a video to all our users that paints Apple as an oppressive monopolist bully.
  • Apple: We’re revoking Epic’s developer program membership. (Would Apple have done this even without Epic having filed a lawsuit? Not clear.)
  • Epic: Without a membership we’ll be forced to cease development of Unreal Engine for iOS and MacOS.

(Honestly, the most shocking thing about the Apple Developer Program License Agreement is that the PDF is entirely typeset in Arial. Clearly it should be San Francisco, but Helvetica would be acceptable. Arial should be a firing offense.)

Apple Warns Epic It Will Terminate Epic’s Developer Account in Two Weeks; Epic Asks Court to Intervene 

Epic Games Newsroom:

Apple removed Fortnite from the App Store and has informed Epic that on Friday, August 28 Apple will terminate all our developer accounts and cut Epic off from iOS and Mac development tools. We are asking the court to stop this retaliation. Details here:

https://cdn2.unrealengine.com/epic-v-apple-8-17-20-768927327.pdf

From Epic’s motion:

First, Apple’s actions harm millions of innocent consumers worldwide — the players who enjoy Fortnite and other Epic games — which will sever their trust with Epic, a loss that is impossible to quantify. Because Apple has now removed Fortnite from the App Store, iOS users cannot receive updates and will soon be stranded in an outdated version of the game, unable to connect with family and friends who will play future versions on other platforms. iOS users will also lose access to new content that Epic regularly releases, such as the eagerly anticipated new season of the game scheduled to launch at the end of this month.

Epic’s motion suggests the only solution here is for Apple to be forced, by the court, to re-list Fortnite in the App Store while allowing Epic to continue using their own in-app purchasing system. The alternative, of course, would be for Epic to submit a Fortnite update that removes their rule-breaking in-app purchasing system. Until this is resolved, there are three possible states:

  • Apple is forced to restore Fortnite in the store and allow Epic to flagrantly disregard the App Store guidelines on in-app purchasing until the legal case is settled.
  • Epic can remove its own payment system and Fortnite goes back in the App Store in compliance with the existing rules.
  • Epic refuses to submit an update in compliance with the current rules, the court refuses to force Apple to restore Fortnite in the interim, and iOS Fortnite users miss out on the new season, and new users can’t get Fortnite for iOS.

(It’s worth noting that anyone who previously downloaded Fortnite for iOS can still get it. Like if you previously downloaded it and subsequently deleted it, or if you get a new iPhone or iPad and need to reinstall all your apps, or even if someone other than you in your family account previously installed it. I don’t know if that will change on August 28, if Apple goes through with revoking Epic’s developer account.)

Left unchecked, Apple’s actions will irreparably damage Epic’s reputation among Fortnite users and be catastrophic for the future of the separate Unreal Engine business. If the Unreal Engine can no longer support Apple platforms, the software developers that use it will be forced to use alternatives. The damage to Epic’s ongoing business and to its reputation and trust with its customers will be unquantifiable and irreparable. Preliminary injunctive relief is necessary to prevent Apple from crushing Epic before this case could ever get to judgment.

I’ll just go out on a limb here and guess that no matter how this gets resolved, we won’t be seeing any more Unreal Engine demos on stage at Apple keynotes.

The morning Epic made these options available, Apple removed Fortnite from the App Store, ensuring that millions of players would imminently lose the ability to use Fortnite to connect with their family and friends. Soon after, Epic filed its suit against Apple challenging its monopoly on app stores and in-app purchases. Less than twelve hours later, Apple notified Epic it was terminating Epic from the Apple Developer Program, blocking all Epic products from distribution through Apple’s App Store. Apple specifically stated it would terminate Epic’s access to development tools, including those necessary for Epic to keep offering the world’s most popular graphics engine, the Unreal Engine. The Unreal Engine is used to develop a wide array of products including games, films, biomedical research and virtual reality. Millions of developers rely on the Unreal Engine to develop software, and hundreds of millions of consumers use that software.

It’s a fascinating armchair quarterback game to speculate on what Epic anticipated from Apple as a reaction and what they didn’t. Pulling Fortnite from the App Store they obviously anticipated — Epic had both the lawsuit and 1984 ad parody ready to go. Revoking Epic’s developer account, I’m not so sure.

Tara AI: Smart Project Management 

My thanks to Tara AI for sponsoring last week at DF. Most project management software (a) takes a lot of time to configure, (b) is not built for cross-functional teams, and (c) takes focus away from releases. The status quo is that engineers spend precious time wading through tickets.

Tara has designed a modern, simple interface that just works for teams that are building and growing rapidly. Tara AI helps engineers and teams deliver on planned releases with simple sprint planning, a unified view of tasks, and a clear overview of daily priorities synced to GitHub.

Everything from signup and workspace creation onward is very smooth, very modern, and very obvious. There’s a real “include everything relevant to modern teams, but lose all the legacy baggage” feel to it. Tara AI is excited to launch their 1.0 release to the DF community, with no user or task limits, free of charge. There’s no catch. Just click that link to sign up and try it yourself.

‘Screw Apple, Screw Google, and Screw Epic Games’ 

Acerbic YouTube take from Jim Sterling:

Screw the lot of them. Yes, Apple and Google need taking down from their high towers. Yes, Epic Games has a point as it sues to keep Fortnite on mobile devices. But absolutely all of them are as bad as each other.

This isn’t my take, per se, but it’s a fair take.

NBC News: ‘QAnon Groups Have Millions of Members on Facebook’ 

Ari Sen and Brandy Zadrozny, reporting for NBC News:

An internal investigation by Facebook has uncovered thousands of groups and pages, with millions of members and followers, that support the QAnon conspiracy theory, according to internal company documents reviewed by NBC News. […]

Facebook and other platforms face a unique challenge in moderating QAnon communities, said Joan Donovan, director of the Kennedy School’s Shorenstein Center on Media Politics and Public Policy at Harvard. The platforms act both as the “base infrastructure” for networking and spreading content and a target of the conspiracy theory itself, which frames Facebook and other platforms as “oppressive regimes that seek to destroy truth,” Donovan said.

There were rightwing kook conspiracy cults before Facebook, but Facebook uniquely enables them to grow. QAnon’s existence isn’t Facebook’s fault; QAnon’s prominence is entirely Facebook’s fault.

And they know it. From the same story, italic emphasis added:

“Enforcing against QAnon on Facebook is not new: we consistently take action against accounts, Groups, and Pages tied to QAnon that break our rules. Just last week, we removed a large Group with QAnon affiliations for violating our content policies, and removed a network of accounts for violating our policies against coordinated inauthentic behavior,” the spokesperson, who asked not to be named for fear of harassment from the QAnon community, wrote in an emailed statement. “We have teams assessing our policies against QAnon and are currently exploring additional actions we can take.”

How fucked up is it that Facebook has any tolerance at all for a large subculture on their platform that their own spokespeople fear?

Just kick them all off, close every one of the groups and close the Facebook accounts of everyone prominent in the community.

‘Trump’s Attacks on the Postal Service Deserve Sustained, Red-Alert Coverage From the Media’ 

Margaret Sullivan, media columnist for The Washington Post:

But what about next week and next month?

Can something as dull-sounding as the workings of the Post Office compete with former Trump attorney’s new tell-all book, whose foreword includes lines like: “From golden showers in a sex club in Vegas, to tax fraud, to deals with corrupt officials from the former Soviet Union, to catch and kill conspiracies to silence Trump’s clandestine lovers, I wasn’t just a witness to the president’s rise — I was an active and eager participant.”

Can it break into the endless political takes on Kamala D. Harris as Joe Biden’s running mate, or the next political horse-race story that’s around the corner?

Fat chance.

But if journalists don’t keep the pressure on Postal Service problems, they will be abdicating their duty. There’s very little that matters more than the Nov. 3 vote. Anything that threatens the integrity of the vote needs to be treated as one of the biggest stories out there — even if it’s not the sexiest.

Just anecdotally, our mail situation here in Philadelphia has been just jaw-droppingly atrocious the last 6 weeks or so. Important bills that just never show up, deliveries showing up weeks late. Never seen anything like it, and I’ve lived here for 30 years now.

Epic’s Campaign for ‘Open Platforms’ Ignores Game Consoles’ Massive Closed Market 

Kyle Orland, writing at Ars Technica:

Most if not all of the complaints Epic makes against Apple and Google seem to apply to Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo in the console space as well. All three console makers also take a 30-percent cut of all microtransaction sales on their platforms, for example. […]

On mobile platforms, Epic is calling the same kind of 30-percent fee “exorbitant” and says it wants to offer a more direct payment solution so it can “pass along the savings to players.” On consoles, though, Epic happily introduced a permanent 20-percent discount on all microtransaction purchases, despite there being no sign that the console makers have changed their fee structure.

Bingo. This is exactly the point I’ve been trying to make since the Xbox Game Pass controversy last week. Microsoft wants Apple to allow on iOS something they themselves will not allow on Xbox.

If you think Epic is right in principle about iOS and Android, then they ought to be making the same argument about Xbox, PlayStation, and Switch. A computer is a computer. “Consoles” are a business model and user experience design choice, and the iPhone and iPad are effectively app consoles, where games are just one type of app. It’s a shame (in more ways than this) that Apple TV isn’t a bigger player, because it’s just another variant of iOS.

But instead of fighting the game consoles, Epic is taking more of a hit: Fortnite players on Xbox, PlayStation, and Switch get the 20 percent reduction in price while Epic still pays the 30 percent cut of each transaction to the platform vendor. It’s a stunt, pure and simple.

Orland:

Or maybe Epic just has a better relationship with console makers than mobile phone makers. […] Sony recently invested $250 million in Epic and prominently featured Epic’s Unreal Engine 5 in a recent major PlayStation 5 promotional demo, too. Even Nintendo, which traditionally uses its own technology for game development, has begun using Unreal Engine for its own titles in recent years. In a way, Epic can’t attack these platform holders without also attacking itself.

I’m sure that has nothing to do with it.

FactCheck: ‘Trump Proves Biden Right on USPS Funding, Mail-in Ballots’ 

Eugene Kiely, writing for FactCheck:

In late June, Joe Biden claimed President Donald Trump “wants to cut off money for the post office so they cannot deliver mail-in ballots.” At the time, we wrote that the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee had no evidence of Trump’s ulterior motive — but now he does.

In an Aug. 13 interview, Trump admitted that he opposes a coronavirus pandemic relief bill crafted by the House Democrats because it includes funding the U.S. Postal Service and state election officials — funding that Trump said is needed to allow the Postal Service to handle an expected surge in mail-in voting.

Noah Rothman: “You can always count on Trump to pull the rug out from under you.”

On Trump’s Admitted Surprise at Biden’s Selection of Harris for VP 

Gabriel Sherman, reporting for Vanity Fair:

Donald Trump didn’t expect Joe Biden to pick Kamala Harris as his running mate. “He thought Biden would choose Karen Bass,” a Republican briefed on Trump’s thinking said. Trump’s view, according to sources close to the White House, was that Biden would prefer a candidate with Bass’s low national profile and one who wouldn’t outshine him.

Trump himself publicly admitted to being surprised Biden chose Harris, on the grounds that she challenged Biden vigorously when she was competing against him for the nomination. Some leaders surround themselves with yes-men who will only tell them what they want to hear. Others surround themselves with independent thinkers who will offer their unvarnished opinion and advice. Trump should be pictured in the dictionary next to the entry for projection, so of course he expected Biden to choose how he himself chose.

Rightfully so, many are pointing to Biden’s choice, and Trump’s professed surprise at that choice, as clear indications of the profound temperamental differences between them.

I would just like to point out what this must be like to observe if you’re Mike Pence, knowing that Trump chose you because he thinks you’re a low-watt bulb with as much flavor as a chewed up piece of gum.

Designing a Logo Without Knowing What It Will Say 

Jonathan Hoefler, on designing the new Biden-Harris logo without knowing that Kamala Harris would be Joe Biden’s pick for running mate:

I can’t remember an election in which so much attention (and speculation) has surrounded the choice of a running mate, nor having such a large field of eminently qualified candidates to choose from. A consequential decision at an unpredictable time, conducted under absolute secrecy, poses an interesting dilemma to the typographer: how do you create a logo without knowing for certain what the words will say? Logos, after all, are meaningfully informed by the shapes of their letters, and a logo designed for an EISENHOWER will hardly work for a TAFT. The solution, naturally, involves the absurd application of brute force: you just design all the logos you can think of, based on whatever public information you can gather. Every credible suggestion spotted in an op-ed was added to the list that we designers maintained, and not once did the campaign even hint at a preference for one name over another.

Epic Files Lawsuit Against Google, Too 

Similar opening statement to their suit against Apple, substituting “Don’t be evil” for “1984”:

In 1998, Google was founded as an exciting young company with a unique motto: “Don’t Be Evil”. Google’s Code of Conduct explained that this admonishment was about “how we serve our users” and “much more than that … it’s also about doing the right thing more generally”. Twenty-two years later, Google has relegated its motto to nearly an afterthought, and is using its size to do evil upon competitors, innovators, customers, and users in a slew of markets it has grown to monopolize. This case is about doing the right thing in one important area, the Android mobile ecosystem, where Google unlawfully maintains monopolies in multiple related markets, denying consumers the freedom to enjoy their mobile devices — freedom that Google always promised Android users would have.

Google Boots Fortnite From Play Store 

Google’s statement:

The open Android ecosystem lets developers distribute apps through multiple app stores. For game developers who choose to use the Play Store, we have consistent policies that are fair to developers and keep the store safe for users. While Fortnite remains available on Android, we can no longer make it available on Play because it violates our policies. However, we welcome the opportunity to continue our discussions with Epic and bring Fortnite back to Google Play.

You can still sideload Fortnite via direct download from Epic, or install it from Samsung’s Galaxy Store (which only works with Samsung devices).

Dieter Bohn:

Given Epic’s outsized response to Apple’s ban — the lawsuit and the 1984 ad — it’s a sure bet that the company will have a response to Google as well. We’ll obviously let you know what that is when it happens.

Yeah, can’t wait for the slick Google ad parody that I’m sure Epic has already made and has been waiting all day to fire off. Holding my breath here.

Periodic Reminder That the Dow Jones Industrial Average Is Moronic 

Lu Wang and Vildana Hajric, reporting for Bloomberg:

Apple Inc.’s planned stock split will diminish its influence on the Dow Jones Industrial Average after the iPhone maker’s 100% surge since March lows nearly dragged the price-weighted measure back to an all-time high.

At its current price of $452 a share, Apple has the biggest weighting in the index at 11%. A 4-to-1 split now would drop its price tag to about $113 and send its ranking in the Dow Average down to 16th. Apple has rallied almost 55% in 2020, adding more than 1,100 points to a stock measure that’s fallen about 2% during that time. The split is scheduled to take effect Aug. 31. […]

The split, however, won’t affect Apple’s No. 1 position in the S&P 500, an index that’s weighted by market capitalization, rather than stock prices.

Bloomberg reports this as though the difference in how the DJIA and S&P 500 are weighted is equivalent. The S&P 500 makes sense: it values companies by what the companies are worth. The Dow makes no goddamn sense at all: it values companies by their share price.

A high-profile stock split like Apple’s should make the entire finance world snap out of its delusion and just abolish the Dow. A 4-for-1 stock split is exactly the same in principle as exchanging a dollar bill for 4 quarters. You still have one dollar. But according to the Dow, you go from 100 (the dollar bill) to 25 (the value of a single one of the post-split quarters).

The Dow Jones Industrial Average is that stupid.

Update: See this classic 2013 episode of NPR’s Planet Money for more:

It’s no secret that we here at Planet Money think the Dow is a terrible economic indicator. We don’t like that it only looks at thirty companies. We don’t like the way it does its math. We think it does a bad job reflecting the overall economy. Honestly, we’re not sure why everyone is still talking about it.

CNBC: ‘Uber CEO Says Its Service Will Probably Shut Down Temporarily in California if It’s Forced to Classify Drivers as Employees’ 

Lauren Feiner, reporting for CNBC:

Uber would likely shut down temporarily for several months if a court does not overturn a recent ruling requiring it to classify its drivers as full-time employees, CEO Dara Khosrowshahi said in an interview with Stephanie Ruhle Wednesday on MSNBC.

“If the court doesn’t reconsider, then in California, it’s hard to believe we’ll be able to switch our model to full-time employment quickly,” Khosrowshahi said.

Justin Wolfers:

Basically, an admission that Uber’s key innovation was to skirt labor law.

Noah Smith:

Whatever you think of the employee/contractor issue, it seems clear that if Uber can’t survive except by classifying drivers as contractors, it was never as valuable of a business as people thought.

These two things can both be true:

  1. Uber saw how terrible traditional U.S. taxi services were, and created a much better alternative that people love to use, entirely based on the key insight that ubiquitous smartphones could and should change the game. Hailing, mapping, location tracking, payment, driver/passenger rating — all of it enabled via phones.

  2. The idea that this business model was worth tens or even hundreds of billions of dollars was based almost entirely on exploiting a gray area in labor law, and thus the company’s workers.

  3. The founder was an enormous jackass.

OK, that’s three, but they’re still all true.

‘2020: An Isolation Odyssey’ 

At first glance I thought this was just an exquisitely well-done gag, a recreation of some still frames. But it’s more than that. This short film by Lydia Cambron actually works. It’s magnificent.

If you want my advice, watch the movie before you even look at her website for it. And do not skip the credits, they’re truly essential.

Rene Ritchie on Apple’s Decision Not to Allow Xbox Game Streaming on iOS 

There are like a dozen different points Ritchie makes in this video where I was like, “Yes, that’s exactly what I’ve been trying to say.” The whole “What is a computer?” bit around the 5-minute mark is particularly well-done.

Tripp Mickle Profiles Tim Cook, Without Any Access, for the WSJ 

Tripp Mickle wrote a long feature for The Wall Street Journal, “How Tim Cook Made Apple His Own” (News+ link):

After Steve Jobs’s death, Silicon Valley anticipated Apple Inc.’s business would falter. Wall Street fretted about the road ahead. And loyal customers agonized about the future of a beloved product innovator.

Today, Apple shares are at record highs. The company’s market valuation is $1.9 trillion — bigger than the GDP of Canada, Russia or Spain. And Apple, now the world’s largest company, continues to dominate the smartphone market.

That’s a good and mostly fair lede. But I don’t think it’s fair at all to say that “loyal customers agonized about the future”. Where’s the evidence of that? I’d say the group that’s missing after Silicon Valley (which believes strongly, justifiably in most cases, in the importance of founders) and Wall Street is business reporters. It wasn’t so much investors as the business media who predicted “can’t innovate without Steve Jobs” doom for Apple.

The feature is largely fair though, and it does read like Mickle tried very hard to get people who know Cook to talk about him. But, well, very few of them did, and those who did don’t seem to know him all that well:

Mr. Cook is described by colleagues and acquaintances as a humble workaholic with a singular commitment to Apple. Longtime colleagues seldom socialized with him, and assistants said he kept his calendar clear of personal events.

Around Thanksgiving two years ago, guests saw him dining by himself at the secluded Amangiri Hotel near Zion National Park. When a guest later bumped into him, he said he came to the hotel to recharge after a hectic fall punctuated by the rollout of Apple’s latest iPhone. “They have the best masseuses in the world here,” he said, the guest recalls.

Here Mickle’s source is a random guest who recognized Cook at a hotel.

It’s sort of inside baseball, but this paragraph is my favorite from the whole piece:

Apple declined to make Mr. Cook or any of its executives available. Instead, the company helped arrange calls with four people it said could speak to areas of importance to Mr. Cook such as environmentalism, education and health. None of the four said they knew him well. One had never met him, another met him only in passing, a third spent half an hour with him and a fourth spent a few hours with him.

I mean just savor the passive-aggressive fuck you/fuck you too back-and-forth of Apple making available four useless sources to Mickle, and Mickle pointing out in the article just how useless the four sources Apple made available were.

But this one weird paragraph actually says a lot about the difference between Steve Jobs’s Apple and Cook’s. Jobs wouldn’t have participated in a profile like this, either, but I think Apple’s response would have been nothing more than the two-letter word “no”. With Cook, Apple still didn’t make him available, still didn’t make anyone who works at Apple available, and still didn’t make anyone who actually knows Cook available. But they offered Mickle and the Journal something rather than just telling him to go pound sand.

Though current and former employees say Mr. Cook has created a more relaxed workplace than Mr. Jobs, he has been similarly demanding and detail oriented. He once got irritated that the company mistakenly shipped 25 computers to South Korea instead of Japan, said a former colleague, adding that it seemed like a minor misstep for a company shipping nearly 200 million iPhones annually. “We’re losing our commitment to excellence,” Mr. Cook said, this person recalls.

25 computers mistakenly shipped to Korea would not make my list of signs that Apple is losing its commitment to excellence, but this anecdote actually buoys me.

Apple Signs Martin Scorsese to First-Look Film and TV Deal 

Justin Kroll and Mike Fleming Jr., reporting for Deadline:

Two and one-half months after it stepped up to become the producers of Killers of the Flower Moon, Apple has inked a first-look deal with its director, Martin Scorsese. The master filmmaker will base his Sikelia Productions banner at Apple in a multi-year deal for film and television projects Scorsese will produce and direct for Apple TV +.

The relationship kicks off with Killers of the Flower Moon, the Eric Roth-scripted adaptation of the David Grann non-fiction book which will star Leonardo DiCaprio and Robert De Niro will star in. Apple won an auction with the $180 million+ film originally optioned by Paramount came back on the market. Deadline revealed on May 27 that Apple won a deal that has Paramount releasing the film theatrically.

The way to apply Apple’s “the best, not the most” mantra to Hollywood would be signing more deals like this. Apple TV+ will never have the most exclusive movies and TV shows, but it can have a large share of the best ones.

Mozilla Lays Off 250 Employees, About One-Third of Its Workforce 

Catalin Cimpanu, reporting for ZDNet Zero Day:

Furthermore, Mozilla’s contract with Google to include Google as the default search provider inside Firefox is set to expire later this year, and the contract has not been renewed. The Google deal has historically accounted for around 90% of all of Mozilla’s revenue, and without it experts see a dim future for Mozilla past 2021.

I think that’s basically the whole story right there. Firefox was very popular, and Google paid Mozilla a small fortune to make Google search the default in Firefox because it was so popular. But then came Chrome. Why should Google fund Mozilla when Chrome is about 10 times more popular than Firefox, other than out of the goodness of its corporate heart?

It is a very good thing for the world and the web that a truly independent browser exists from a privacy-minded company, but there’s not much of a business model for it unless it’s popular enough to get the dominant search engine to pay for placement.

“We must learn and expand different ways to support ourselves and build a business that isn’t what we see today.”

This most likely includes a bigger focus on Mozilla’s VPN offering, which Mozilla formally launched last month. Virtual Private Network (VPN) apps are one of today’s biggest money-makers in tech, and Mozilla, despite arriving late to the party, is set to become one of the biggest players on the market, primarily due to its reputation as a privacy-first organization and civil and privacy rights advocate.

I have no idea if a VPN offering can even come close to making up for the money Mozilla was earning from Google for default search placement, but it’s a great idea. If you’re going to use a VPN, you want to use one from a company you can trust, and Mozilla has a fortune of well-earned trust in the bank.

Yours Truly on Antony Johnston’s ‘Writing and Breathing’ Podcast 

Antony Johnston — best known as the creator of the excellent and right-up-my-alley Atomic Blonde — hosts a podcast devoted to writing, and he was kind enough to invite me on. I could talk about writing — what I do, how I do it — forever, even though, as I hope I made clear to Johnston, I don’t really fully understand how exactly I do what I do. The only thing I really understand about writing is that I need to do it.

I really enjoyed having the opportunity to talk about this. If that sounds interesting to you, I bet you’ll dig listening.

Sycophancy Sweepstakes Winner: South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem 

Jonathan Martin and Maggie Haberman, reporting for The New York Times:

Since the first days after she was elected governor of South Dakota in 2018, Kristi Noem had been working to ensure that President Trump would come to Mount Rushmore for a fireworks-filled July 4 extravaganza.

After all, the president had told her in the Oval Office that he aspired to have his image etched on the monument. And last year, a White House aide reached out to the governor’s office with a question, according to a Republican official familiar with the conversation: What’s the process to add additional presidents to Mount Rushmore? […]

In private, the efforts to charm Mr. Trump were more pointed, according to a person familiar with the episode: Ms. Noem greeted him with a four-foot replica of Mount Rushmore that included a fifth presidential likeness: his.

In a couple of months, this particular anecdote is going to evoke tears. What kind of tears, we shall see.

SoundSource 5 

So let’s just get this out of the way: Rogue Amoeba was last week’s sponsor here at DF but the sponsorship was for Loopback, for which I just posted my end-of-the-week thank-you. But this week they also released a major update to another of their excellent Mac audio utilities, SoundSource, and it’s well worth your attention.

SoundSource is on my short list of Mac utilities that I don’t know what I’d do without. It’s the system-wide audio menu item that ought to be built into MacOS. It gives you instant volume control to every output and input device connected to your Mac, and per-application controls for controlling audio input and output. When I wrote about SoundSource 4 last year, I noted the interface:

SoundSource is also a great example of a distinctive, branded UI that still looks and feels in every way like a standard Mac app.

SoundSource 5 is a solid upgrade on functional grounds alone — just the audio features that are its reason for being. But the UI changes and tweaks in version 5 are delightful, and too long to list here. (E.g. the pin icon animation, and the gear menu animation.) The UI is so good that I encourage anyone who appreciates great UI design to download the demo and explore, examine, and think about the interface details of this app even if you have no interest in its features.

It’s both great UI design in the abstract, and a hall-of-fame caliber example of a Mac-assed Mac app in particular.

Loopback 

My thanks to Rogue Amoeba for sponsoring DF last week to promote Loopback, their amazing Mac audio utility that makes it easy to move audio between applications. Stuck on Zoom calls? Pipe in music and sound effects, or enhance your microphone. Podcasters, merge your mic with other audio sources, then pass it all on to remote guests. Loopback makes seemingly impossible audio routing a breeze.

With virtual audio devices that are usable anywhere on MacOS, Loopback can route audio between software applications and hardware devices alike. The intuitive wire-based interface gives you the power of a high-end studio mixing board, all with no cables required. For studio techs, live streamers, and so many others, Loopback is essential.

Download the free trial, then use coupon code LOOPFIRE to save $20 when you purchase by August 15. $20 discount, just for DF readers.

Gurman Story on Apple’s App Store Ban on Game Streaming Services From Back in March 

Mark Gurman tweeted a reminder of this story he reported back in March:

Cloud gaming services, where users stream games live over the internet, are growing in popularity, especially as faster fifth-generation, or 5G, wireless networks proliferate. The new offerings from Microsoft, Nvidia and Google are cloud streaming-based, while Apple Arcade is not. Those other services are found on the Android operating system, which powers 2.5 billion devices worldwide. Among the popular games found there, and missing from iOS, are Red Dead Redemption 2, Gears of War 5 and Destiny 2.

Asked about the challenge of reaching iPhone and iPad users with the chipmaker’s GeForce Now service, an Nvidia spokesperson said: “Ask Apple.”

Bloomberg got the same boilerplate statement from Apple then that Business Insider got last week about Xbox Game Pass.

Apple Is Fighting Trademark for Prepear’s Pear-Shaped Logo 

Apple, in its legal filing:

Consumers encountering Applicant’s Mark are likely to associate the mark with Apple. Applicant’s Mark consists of a minimalistic fruit design with a right-angled leaf, which readily calls to mind Apple’s famous Apple Logo and creates a similar commercial impression, as shown in the following side-by-side comparison.

Here’s the comparison. I could actually see this being a reasonable objection if Prepear were selling computers or phones or watches. But they’re a recipe app. Their logo clearly looks like a pear, not an apple, and their pear does not even look like an Apple-logo-like pear.

Back in the old days Apple didn’t even pursue legal action against the Banana Junior series of personal computers, and their logo was a six-color banana.

‘Judges Holding Hearings Over Zoom Need to Get a Clue’ 

Brian Krebs:

Predictably, the Zoom hearing for the 17-year-old alleged Twitter hacker in Fla. was bombed multiple times, with the final bombing of a pornhub clip ending the zoom portion of the proceedings.

Your honor, I’d like to submit a Motion to Deez.

The Etymology of ‘Cherry-Pick’ 

I wound up looking into the etymology of “cherry-pick” while writing this post earlier today, and I’m simply astounded by this note from Merriam-Webster:

The first known use of cherry-pick was in 1965.

I’m shocked that cherry-pick is so recent. I figured it was not just old but maybe really old, centuries old. Is this right?

Update 1: The Online Etymology Dictionary pegs cherry-pick’s origin as 1959 — a little earlier, but not much.

Update 2: Anu Garg, founder and writer of the excellent Wordsmith and its A.Word.A.Day newsletter, pegged cherry-pick’s earliest documented use as 1966.

Update 3: The other OED has an instance of “cherry-picker” as a railroad industry term for a switchman from 1940, which usage explains why the idiom is about cherries — the switch lights were red.

Pour One Out for Toshiba 

Simon Sharwood, writing for The Register:

Toshiba has finally and formally exited the laptop business.

Toshiba has made laptops since 1985 and claims to have been the first to make a mass-market computer in the now-familiar clamshell form factor. By the 1990s the company was producing solid workhorses in the Satellite range and started to make meaningful stretches of mobile work possible with the small, thin and light Portégé range.

Those products saw Toshiba lead the world for laptop market share through the late 1990s and retain that position for much of the 2000s. Even as the PC market consolidated in that decade, Toshiba was often ranked among the top five of all PC vendors despite only ever dabbling in desktops.

If you go back far enough, Toshiba’s early-era laptops were truly groundbreaking.

Facebook Fired an Employee Who Collected Evidence of Right-Wing Pages Getting Preferential Treatment 

Craig Silverman and Ryan Mac, reporting for BuzzFeed News:

Individuals that spoke out about the apparent special treatment of right-wing pages have also faced consequences. In one case, a senior Facebook engineer collected multiple instances of conservative figures receiving unique help from Facebook employees, including those on the policy team, to remove fact-checks on their content. His July post was removed because it violated the company’s “respectful communication policy.” After the engineer’s post was removed, the related internal “tasks” he’d cited as examples of the alleged special treatment were made private and inaccessible to employees, according to a Workplace post from another employee. […]

The engineer joined the company in 2016 and most recently worked on Instagram. He left the company on Wednesday. One employee on an internal thread seen by BuzzFeed News said that they received permission from the engineer to say that the dismissal “was not voluntary.” […]

News of his firing caused some Facebook employees to say that they now fear speaking critically about the company in internal discussions. One person said they were deleting old posts and comments, while another said this was “hardly the first time the respectful workplace guidelines have been used to snipe a prominent critic of company policies/ethics.”

“[He] was a conscience of this company, and a tireless voice for us doing the right thing,” said another employee.

Having a conscience does seem like a mismatch for working at Facebook.

This is really an astonishing story, and it’s effectively buried a few hundred words into what’s really a separate but also alarming story about Facebook employees asking Zuckerberg what Facebook is going to do if Trump uses the platform to dispute the election results.

Purported Bug in Instagram’s Hashtags Has Been Favoring Donald Trump 

Ryan Mac, reporting for BuzzFeed News:

Earlier this week, a search on Instagram for #JoeBiden would have surfaced nearly 390,000 posts tagged with the former vice president’s name along with related hashtags selected by the platform’s algorithm. Users searching Instagram for #JoeBiden might also see results for #joebiden2020, as well as pro-Trump hashtags like #trump2020landslide and #democratsdestroyamerica.

A similar search for #DonaldTrump on the platform, however, provided a totally different experience. Besides showing 7 million posts tagged with the president’s name, Instagram did not present any related hashtags that would have pushed users toward different content or promoted alternative viewpoints.

Maybe it was an honest bug, maybe not. But Facebook’s institutional credibility is so low it’s hard to take them at their word. And then there’s this response from Instagram’s official comms team, on Twitter:

This isn’t about politics. Tens of thousands of hashtags were affected, and your story cherry-picked a handful of those thousands to fit a sensational narrative. The bug was also not partisan, as you note #democrats was impacted.

Via Parker Molloy, who notes that this combative tone — expressly impugning Mac’s integrity — is not how Facebook/Instagram has ever responded to accusations of bias against Republicans.

Whatever you think about the purported bug — and as skeptical as I am about Facebook, I actually think there’s a good chance it really was just a bug — this response from their comms teams is the real eye-opener.

Update: Also note that Instagram accuses Mac of “cherry-picking” for singling out the Biden/Trump differences. They know those are the only two candidates. How can it be “cherry picking” to compare how Instagram is treating the only two major presidential candidates? What the hell kind of bushel only has two cherries to choose from? And you can’t argue that it was about cherry-picking hashtags, not candidates, when the core hashtags in question were “#JoeBiden” and “#DonaldTrump”.

Google Has Already Discontinued the Pixel 4 

Sam Byford, The Verge:

“Google Store has sold through its inventory and completed sales of Pixel 4 [and] 4 XL,” a Google spokesperson confirms to The Verge. “For people who are still interested in buying Pixel 4 [and] 4 XL, the product is available from some partners while supplies last. Just like all Pixel devices, Pixel 4 will continue to get software and security updates for at least three years from when the device first became available on the Google Store in the US.”

It’s unusual for Google to discontinue a Pixel phone so quickly. The Pixels 2 and 3 were on sale for around 18 months each, with Google stopping sales roughly six months after the introduction of their successors. The move means Google technically no longer has a flagship phone for sale.

But I’m crazy for thinking Google has lost interest in Android.

BuzzFeed News Talks to Students and Staff at a Georgia High School Reopening Amidst Coronavirus Outbreak 

Molly Hensley-Clancy and Caroline O’Donovan, reporting for BuzzFeed News:

Behind a viral photo of a crowded hallway at a high school in Georgia, a potentially dire situation is brewing. Students, teachers, and parents fear the Paulding County school’s rushed reopening plans may be spiraling out of control just two days after students — who said they were told they could face expulsion for remaining home — returned to class despite reports of positive coronavirus cases among students and staff. […]

Despite recommendations from CDC health officials, the district has called mask-wearing a “personal choice” and said that social distancing “will not be possible to enforce” in “most cases.” While the school provided teachers with face shields and masks and encouraged staff and students to wear them, they are not required and not all teachers have chosen to use them. One North Paulding teacher resigned last month over concerns about virus safety.

School or death cult, you make the call.

On Wednesday, the school addressed the controversy that had swirled around the viral photograph via an intercom announcement from North Paulding High School principal Gabe Carmona. In it, according to two people familiar with the situation, he stated that any student found criticizing the school on social media could face disciplinary consequences.

Well, that will certainly keep everyone healthy, and will teach the kids an important lesson on their First Amendment rights at the same time.

Facebook Removes a Coronavirus Disinformation Post From Trump for the First Time; Twitter Temporarily Bans ‘Team Trump’ Account for Same 

Heather Kelly, reporting for The Washington Post:

Team Trump’s tweet of a video clip from a Fox News interview — in which President Trump said that children are “almost immune” from COVID-19 — violates the site’s rules against misinformation, the company said. Twitter hid the post and said the account will not be able to tweet again until he deletes it, although it can appeal the decision.

Twitter spokeswoman Liz Kelley said the tweet “is in violation of the Twitter Rules on COVID-19 misinformation. The account owner will be required to remove the Tweet before they can Tweet again.”

Facebook on Wednesday said it removed President Trump’s post of a video clip from a Fox News interview in which he said that children are “almost immune” from COVID-19, marking the company’s increasingly tough stance on political speech amid heightened pressure.

Worth emphasizing that this was the “Team Trump” campaign account, not Trump’s personal account, but still. It is bad enough that we’re caught in a nationwide quagmire over whether Facebook and Twitter should allow the president of the United States to shitpost lies, period. But lies that are resulting in schools opening to comply with Trump’s fantasy that schools should open in areas where COVID-19 transmission is out of control are so far over the line, you can’t even see the line from there.

Does Google Remember Wear OS? 

Jules Wang, writing for Android Police, “Wear OS Will Lose Google Play Music Months Before a YouTube Music App Exists”:

Google Play Music is being phased out in favor of YouTube Music starting next month. That change already exacerbates the need for the latter to achieve a desirable feature parity with its predecessor, but it also now presents a challenging chasm for Wear OS users who will lose access to Play Music without a robust YouTube Music experience.

A new Wear OS help page tells users that they won’t be able to download or even use Google Play Music “in the next couple of weeks.” And until a proper YouTube Music experience appears “in the coming months,” that means they’ll have to resort to other apps in order to download and play local files.

Remember my theory that Google has grown bored with Android and doesn’t really care about it? That’s me talking about phones, which, in general, Google does care about insofar as they know that billions of people spend hours per day every day using them. With wearables Google never even cared in the first place, except for making goofy demo concepts like Google Glass. The customers who bought Wear OS devices care about them; the company that designed them clearly does not. If they cared, how could it be that you can’t listen to Google’s music platform on Google’s wearable platform?

Is Apple Watch a new and exciting product in 2020? No. It’s now mature and established. But Apple is as invested in it as ever, working as hard as ever on the software and — I’ll bet we’ll see in a month or two — the hardware.

I thought things were bad in the PC era when the choice was between just two major platforms, only one of which (the Mac) was designed with any taste. But at least Windows was (and remains) made by a company that, however lacking in taste, cares deeply about the platform and is invested in its success. Android is like Windows except Google isn’t even all that invested in it, and when it comes to Android running on anything other than a phone, they clearly don’t even care.

This sucks as someone who cares about the Apple ecosystem, because there’s no competitive pressure on Apple at all for anything other than phones. When is the last time anyone credibly pointed to a Wear OS watch and said “Boy, there’s a product that actually gives Apple Watch a run for its money”?

Beirut Explosion: ‘I Was Bloodied and Dazed. Beirut Strangers Treated Me Like a Friend.’ 

New York Times correspondent Vivian Yee, from Beirut:

I was just about to look at a video a friend had sent me on Tuesday afternoon — “the port seems to be burning,” she said — when my whole building shook. Uneasily, naïvely, I ran to the window, then back to my desk to check for news.

Then came a much bigger boom, and the sound itself seemed to splinter. There was shattered glass flying everywhere. Not thinking but moving, I ducked under my desk.

When the world stopped cracking open, I couldn’t see at first because of the blood running down my face.

A remarkable tale of kindness and humanity amidst chaos, confusion, and suffering — all the more incredible that Yee wrote it within hours.

More photos from the Times here, and Apple News has a good roundup of reports, photos, and firsthand videos from the explosion.

Daring Fireball Weekly Sponsorships 

August is sold out on the DF weekly sponsorship schedule, but September is mostly open. (October too, if you’re planning ahead.)

One sponsor per week, with a sponsor-written entry in the RSS feed to start the week, a thank-you post right on the homepage from me at the end, and the one and only graphic ad on every page of the site all week long. No tracking or other privacy-invasive bullshit. Just plain honest ads. My best argument that they work: the number of repeat companies in the sponsor archive list.

So if you’ve got a product or service you’d like to promote to DF’s discerning audience, I’d love to have you as a sponsor.

OWC Memory Upgrades for 27-Inch iMacs 

I noted this morning regarding the updated 27-inch iMac that the high end RAM configurations are pricey — $1,000 for 64 GB and $2,600 for 128 GB. You can get the same DDR4 memory upgrades from OWC for $300 and $600, respectively, and the new 27-inch iMac still has user-accessible RAM, so it doesn’t take particularly expert skill to install.

Craig Mod’s ‘Kissa by Kissa’ 

Craig Mod:

Kissa by Kissa: How to Walk Japan (Book One) is a book about walking 1,000+km of the countryside of Japan along the ancient Nakasendō highway, the culture of toast (toast!), and mid-twentieth century Japanese cafés called kissaten.

Looks gorgeous — wonderful typography and photography, expertly printed and bound. A genuine artifact.

Also, that bastard Mod went so far as to build and release as open source what he’s calling Craigstarter, a Kickstarter-like crowdfunding tool for Shopify. Just bought my copy and the whole process was smooth.

The Demo to End All Demos 

“One small step for a man, and one giant leap for wireless networking.”

Fantastic backstory on this stunt on ATP last March (28:00).

Phil Schiller Takes Title of ‘Apple Fellow’ 

Apple Newsroom:

Apple today announced that Phil Schiller will become an Apple Fellow, continuing a storied career that began at Apple in 1987. In this role, which reports to Apple CEO Tim Cook, Schiller will continue to lead the App Store and Apple Events. Greg (Joz) Joswiak, a longtime leader within the Product Marketing organization, will join the executive team as senior vice president of Worldwide Marketing. […]

“It has been a dream come true for me to work at Apple, on so many products I love, with all of these great friends — Steve, Tim, and so many more,” said Schiller. “I first started at Apple when I was 27, this year I turned 60 and it is time for some planned changes in my life. I’ll keep working here as long as they will have me, I bleed six colors, but I also want to make some time in the years ahead for my family, friends, and a few personal projects I care deeply about.”

Schiller hasn’t just been at Apple a long time — he’s held the position atop product marketing for, well, as long as I can remember. Product development, advertising, packaging, messaging, comms, keynotes — you name it, if it was public-facing, Schiller has been in the middle of it.

Best way I can put it is that Schiller is the most Apple-y of all Apple executives.

Jason Snell’s ‘20 Macs for 2020’ Project 

Speaking of Jason Snell:

With this year marking the turn of decades (in some particularly disastrous ways, as it turns out), I decided to construct a list of the 20 most notable Macs in history. Over the next 20 weeks, I’ll post essays, podcasts, and videos about each of them, counting down to number one.

Now, note my choice of words there: notable. I’m not saying these are my favorite Macs — a bunch of them I only knew in passing and never used myself. I’m not saying these are the best Macs ever — a difficult thing to measure, since (with a few obvious exceptions) the best Macs made are the most recent ones, otherwise we’d all still be using G3 iMacs.

My ranking system is, to be blunt, arbitrary. I tried to make a list of notable Macs that I felt reflected Mac history over the last 36 years. I wanted to choose Macs that were popular, revolutionary, weird, or had an interesting story to tell. If I have learned anything from Joe Posnanski’s brilliant Baseball 100 project, one of the most popular things about this series will be arguments about my terrible rankings and my unforgivable omissions.

I was not just happy but downright delighted to speak with Jason about a few of these Macs. And, yes, I’m outraged over at least one omission.

Is Today the Last Hurrah for Intel-Based iMacs? 

Jason Snell on today’s 27-inch iMac update:

As for the future, is this the last Intel Mac we’ll see? There’s no way to tell, though reading between the lines, it wouldn’t be surprising if there were some more Intel-based Mac releases as Apple progresses through its two-year-long processor transition. But I’d wager good money that the next time we see an iMac update, there won’t be an Intel processor at its heart. And perhaps it will look appreciably different, too.

Seems like a good bet to me that today’s update is the last round of Intel-based iMacs. What else might get an Intel speed bump before Apple Silicon-based Macs start debuting at the end of the year? Maybe the Mac Mini? Speed bumps for the Mac Pro and iMac Pro?

NYT: ‘When COVID Subsided, Israel Reopened Its Schools. It Didn’t Go Well.’ 

Isabel Kershner and Pam Belluck, reporting for The New York Times:

Confident it had beaten the coronavirus and desperate to reboot a devastated economy, the Israeli government invited the entire student body back in late May.

Within days, infections were reported at a Jerusalem high school, which quickly mushroomed into the largest outbreak in a single school in Israel, possibly the world. The virus rippled out to the students’ homes and then to other schools and neighborhoods, ultimately infecting hundreds of students, teachers and relatives. Other outbreaks forced hundreds of schools to close. Across the country, tens of thousands of students and teachers were quarantined.

Israel’s advice for other countries?

“They definitely should not do what we have done,” said Eli Waxman, a professor at the Weizmann Institute of Science and chairman of the team advising Israel’s National Security Council on the pandemic. “It was a major failure.”

That’s Israel’s experience reopening schools after getting infections under control. Here in the U.S. COVID new infections remain out of control already, with nearly all schools closed for summer.

Apple Updates 27-Inch iMac 

Apple Newsroom:

Apple today announced a major update to its 27-inch iMac. By far the most powerful and capable iMac ever, it features faster Intel processors up to 10 cores, double the memory capacity, next-generation AMD graphics, superfast SSDs across the line with four times the storage capacity, a new nano-texture glass option for an even more stunning Retina 5K display, a 1080p FaceTime HD camera, higher fidelity speakers, and studio-quality mics.

A summary of what’s new:

  • New Intel CPUs and AMD graphic cards
  • SSDs across the line, including options for 4 TB and 8 TB
  • TrueTone
  • Nano-texture display finish, like the Pro Display XDR ($500)
  • RAM options up to 128 GB (base configuration is still 8 GB; the high-end 64 and 128 GB options cost $1,000 and $2,600 more, respectively)
  • 1080p FaceTime camera with better low-light performance, and a “studio quality” microphone array like the current MacBook Pros

The 21-inch iMac has not been updated, although the base model configurations now have SSDs instead of Fusion Drives. There remains a 1 TB Fusion Drive build-to-order configuration for the 21-inch iMac, which I believe is now the last spinning hard disk Apple sells.

The iMac Pro has not been updated either, although the $5,000 base model is now the 10-core Xeon W configuration, and the old 8-core base model is gone.

I Call Bullshit on Apple Being Interested in Acquiring TikTok 

Dan Primack, on Twitter:

As we report in Axios Pro Rata today, Apple has expressed serious interest in buying TikTok.

That’s not what Primack reported! Primack reported that sources outside Apple claim Apple expressed interest in TikTok, not that Apple actually has expressed interest. The claim that Apple actually has expressed interest exists only in this tweet. The difference is significant if the sources in question were full of shit, which I think they were.

From Axios’s Pro Rata newsletter, which has already been walked back with a pretty clear statement from Apple:

That’s because Microsoft isn’t the only party kicking TikTok’s tires, as Trump also said yesterday.

Multiple sources tell me that Apple has expressed interest, albeit no sources inside of Apple, and that at least one other strategic has expressed interest. Yes, it would be an unusual deal for Apple, given that TikTok is a cross-platform app, and a bigger political headache than Tim Cook may want (both here and in China). But if anyone has the cash on hand…

[Update: An Apple spokesperson tells Axios that there are no discussions about buying TikTok and the company isn’t interested].

Here’s an Axios article published an hour ago with the same content as the newsletter, but with Apple’s blanket denial simply standing next to Primack’s unnamed sources (multiple!) claiming that they are. Either Primack’s sources lied to him and he ran it, or Apple is lying. There’s no middle ground.

“Albeit” is doing a lot of work in the phrase “albeit no sources inside of Apple”. Who would know outside of Apple? TikTok, presumably, and … the Trump administration? Primack couldn’t possibly have taken the word of anyone in the Trump administration at face value, right? So my best guess is that TikTok sources are making this up to drive the asking price higher.

It is extremely conspicuous that Apple flatly denied any interest. They will no-comment almost anything.

Nathan J. Robinson: ‘The Truth Is Paywalled but the Lies Are Free’ 

Current Affairs editor Nathan J. Robinson:

Paywalls are justified, even though they are annoying. It costs money to produce good writing, to run a website, to license photographs. A lot of money, if you want quality. Asking people for a fee to access content is therefore very reasonable. You don’t expect to get a print subscription to the newspaper gratis, why would a website be different? I try not to grumble about having to pay for online content, because I run a magazine and I know how difficult it is to pay writers what they deserve.

But let us also notice something: the New York Times, the New Yorker, the Washington Post, the New Republic, New York, Harper’s, the New York Review of Books, the Financial Times, and the London Times all have paywalls. Breitbart, Fox News, the Daily Wire, the Federalist, the Washington Examiner, InfoWars: free! You want “Portland Protesters Burn Bibles, American Flags In The Streets,” “The Moral Case Against Mask Mandates And Other COVID Restrictions,” or an article suggesting the National Institutes of Health has admitted 5G phones cause coronavirus — they’re yours. You want the detailed Times reports on neo-Nazis infiltrating German institutions, the reasons contact tracing is failing in U.S. states, or the Trump administration’s undercutting of the USPS’s effectiveness — well, if you’ve clicked around the website a bit you’ll run straight into the paywall. This doesn’t mean the paywall shouldn’t be there. But it does mean that it costs time and money to access a lot of true and important information, while a lot of bullshit is completely free.

Via Kottke.

Major American Companies With a Consumer Internet Presence in China 

Liza Lin, Jing Yang, and Eva Xiao, reporting for The Wall Street Journal:

President Trump’s remark over the weekend that he was weighing an outright ban of TikTok in the U.S. sparked nationalist sentiments in China, where the Global Times, a Communist Party tabloid, derided the situation as “the hunting and looting of TikTok by the U.S. government in conjunction with U.S. high-tech companies.”

On Chinese social media, users likewise expressed outrage. Many on the Twitter -like Weibo platform accused the Trump administration of pandering to voters by stemming the rise of TikTok — and by extension, China.

On Douyin, Bytedance’s domestic analogue to TikTok, where videos commenting on a possible U.S. ban circulated widely, one popular comment suggested Huawei be allowed to buy Apple Inc.’s China operations.

“Be allowed to buy” is some euphemism for a forced sale. But if China decides to retaliate — and why wouldn’t they? — what company might they target other than Apple? Facebook and Google are already banned in China. Amazon has AWS, which has a fair-sized presence there, but AWS is sort of the anti-TikTok in terms of being consumer-facing. Microsoft would be the obvious tit-for-tat target. But does Microsoft have a neatly bundled consumer presence in China?

If I were the dictator of China, and I was angry about the Trump administration forcing a proud Chinese company like ByteDance to divest itself of TikTok, and I was looking for a way to show that China cannot be pushed around by the U.S., I’d look at iCloud and the App Store, and humiliating the biggest company in the world.

But AAPL shares are trading at an all-time high so I’m sure all is good and Apple has nothing to worry about with a rapidly escalating trade war with China and a cornered-rat deranged narcissist steering the U.S.

‘Why Microsoft?’ 

Om Malik:

  • Why not someone like Disney which has dreams of being part of the digital revolution? Disney has the audience. It has sprawling global operations. It has the ability to walk the middle of the road where it can appease the autocratic governments and make the democratic countries satisfied. It also has a brand that has many sub-brands that cross many demographic categories. Disney wanted to buy Twitter. TikTok makes more of a strategic fit.

  • Why not Comcast?

  • Why not Apple? It has money. It has the desire to blunt Facebook and Google, even if it hasn’t said or done so explicitly! Or is it because they are a bunch of hard asses when it comes to privacy and may not play ball with the US government when it needs to access data of some TikTok-er?

Hence my question, why Microsoft?

I’d be shocked if Apple got involved. Just isn’t their bag. But why is there no bidding war for TikTok? In addition to the baldfaced crookedness of Trump demanding and Microsoft offering a “key money” kickback to the U.S. Treasury, the other crooked angle in this claptrap saga is the fact that an acquisition of TikTok, partial or otherwise, is presented as an offer to Microsoft, not a company up for bid.

I ask these questions but can’t help myself and not think about the event of last week?

Why was Microsoft not part of the showdown between BigTech and Washington DC? What makes them better than the other four? Why do they get to be excused from on-air humiliation while others get spanked for their monopolies?

Microsoft’s absence from last week’s hearing was conspicuously odd then; now it’s glaring. Especially when “buying upstart competitors” was one of the main thrusts of the whole thing.

TikTok and Microsoft’s Shameless Ass-Kissing 

MG Siegler, on Microsoft’s — strange, to say the least — blog post announcing its interest in TikTok:

Just read the thing. It’s almost like a letter of fealty. It reads like something a Chinese company might write under the Chinese government. To that end, it reads as if it was written at the behest of the government. Maybe that’s too strong. Maybe? How about: “Hey Satya, great conversation today. It sure would be nice if you could outline what we discussed publicly.” That kind of thing.

Microsoft fully appreciates the importance of addressing the President’s concerns. It is committed to acquiring TikTok subject to a complete security review and providing proper economic benefits to the United States, including the United States Treasury.

This is an actual paragraph in the post. The second paragraph, no less. What on Earth?! Is Treasury getting a finder’s fee here?

I thought Tim Cook’s participation in Ivanka Trump’s “just find something new” Zoom panel was a bad look. This is something else.

Trump: Microsoft Should Pay ‘Key Money’ to Treasury for TikTok Deal 

CNBC:

A transaction of the type the president envisions could also prove more expensive than the one Microsoft described on Sunday. Trump said Monday that part of the amount paid to buy TikTok would have to come to the U.S. Treasury Department because it would be making the deal possible.

“It’s a little bit like the landlord/tenant; without a lease the tenant has nothing, so they pay what’s called ‘key money,’ or they pay something,” Trump said. “But the United States should be reimbursed or should be paid a substantial amount of money, because without the United States they don’t have anything, at least having to do with the 30%.”

You’ve never heard of “key money”? Me neither, before today. But Trump would know it because it’s a term from crooked New York real estate deals. Here’s a 2015 story on “key money” by Virginia K. Smith for the New York real estate site Brick Underground:

“Key money is when you pay a landlord money (usually under the table) to secure an apartment,” says renters rights attorney Sam Himmelstein, who notes that sometimes, it was supers, building managers, or even the tenants themselves who demanded the cash. The practice, unsurprisingly, is illegal — only licensed real estate brokers are allowed to collect commission for an apartment — and has largely fallen by the wayside in recent years. “I haven’t seen it in years,” says Himmelstein, “and most people don’t report it unless they get into a scrape with their landlords.”

But why even agree to this kind of bribe in the first place? Essentially, key money served as a payoff for a lease that held particular value, like that of a rent-stabilized apartment.

That’s how crooked this piece of shit Trump is — he just uses lingo that’s synonymous with illegal kickbacks with no shame.

Apple Surpasses Saudi Aramco to Become World’s Most Valuable Company 

CNBC:

Apple rode the company’s strong earnings report to become the world’s most valuable publicly traded company, surpassing the state oil giant Saudi Aramco at Friday’s market close.

Apple shares closed up 10.47% Friday, giving it a market valuation of $1.84 trillion. Saudi Aramco, which had been the most valuable publicly listed company since its market debut last year, now trails at $1.76 trillion as of its last close.

If you’re a newish user — say from the last decade — this surely feels different than if you’re a long-time Mac user. Bill Gates “rescuing” Apple with a $150 million investment from Microsoft (the symbolism of which, along with the commitment to continue developing Office for Mac, was far more important than the money itself), Wired magazine (when Wired magazine was truly great) running the “Pray” cover (when Apple was truly at risk), Sun Microsystems negotiating to acquire Apple for just under $4 billion in early 1996 (truly the nearest Apple ever came to death).

If you’re a fan of Apple’s stock, this is welcome news. If you’re a fan of Apple’s products, this is profoundly worrisome. How does a company this large, this successful, not succumb to hubris? How does Apple keep the edge of an upstart? I’m not saying it’s impossible. I’m just pointing out the obvious: the difficult part of Tim Cook’s era as CEO is really only beginning.

NYT: ‘Trump Says Microsoft Can Bid for TikTok’ 

Ana Swanson and Mike Isaac, reporting for The New York Times:

Speaking at the White House on Monday, Mr. Trump said that TikTok would shut down on Sept. 15 unless Microsoft or another company purchased it. He added that the U.S. Treasury Department would need to receive a lot of money in return for the deal, without explaining how that would work.

How about explaining what it even means?

Dieter Bohn Reviews the Pixel 4A 

Seems like solid value for the price — $350 — but who’s going to buy it? I’m not saying people shouldn’t buy it, I’m saying they won’t because the people who should consider it are unlikely to know it exists. At this price, with this quality, the Pixel 4A seemingly deserves a major marketing campaign that I don’t think it’s going to get.

Morning Brew 

My thanks to Morning Brew for sponsoring last week at DF. There’s a reason over 1 million people start their day with Morning Brew — the daily email that delivers the latest news from Wall Street to Silicon Valley. Business news doesn’t have to be dry and dense… make your mornings more enjoyable, for free.

I’ve been a subscriber for over a year and truly enjoy it. It’s good — well-written summaries of well-chosen stories, presented with good design. Check it out.