Linked List: August 2021

South Korea Passes Law Requiring App Stores to Allow Third-Party Payment Processing for In-App Purchases 

Jiyoung Sohn, reporting for The Wall Street Journal from Seoul (News+):

Google and Apple Inc. will have to open their app stores to alternative payment systems in South Korea, threatening their lucrative commissions on digital sales.

There’s some counting of unhatched chickens in the above sentence, but that’s certainly the intention of the law.

A bill passed Tuesday by South Korea’s National Assembly is the first in the world to dent the tech giants’ dominance over how apps on their platforms sell their digital goods. It will become law once signed by President Moon Jae-in, whose party strongly endorsed the legislation.

The law amends South Korea’s Telecommunications Business Act to prevent large app-market operators from requiring the use of their in-app purchasing systems. It also bans operators from unreasonably delaying the approval of apps or deleting them from the marketplace — provisions meant to head off retaliation against app makers.

Companies that fail to comply could be fined up to 3% of their South Korea revenue by the Korea Communications Commission, the country’s media regulator.

I have a rough English translation of the law, and my understanding is that the above ban on “delaying” or “deleting” apps is specifically related to retaliation for using their own payment processing. It’s not a ban on removing apps from the stores for just cause. The law even requires app store operators to take precautions against harm to users from content and to protect the rights and interests of users. (I italicized rather than quoted that because, as I said, it’s a loose and very much unofficial English translation.)

The bill — which in Korean has been nicknamed the “Google power-abuse-prevention law” by some lawmakers and media — was welcomed by groups representing South Korea’s internet-technology companies and startups, as well as local content developers and app makers.

Fascinating to me that the bill is nicknamed the “Google power-abuse-prevention law” in Korea, but U.S. news coverage is focused on Apple at least as much, if not more so. StatCounter pegs Korean mobile market share at 71% Android, 28% iOS. Update 1: Makes me wonder how much this bill is anti-Google and how much it’s pro-Samsung. It may not be coincidence that it’s from South Korea, of all countries.

Update 2: A very good question to which I do not know the answer: How long does this South Korean law give Apple and Google to comply? Supposedly it’s expected to be signed into law in two weeks — does it apply immediately?

‘When Charlie Watts Finally Made It to New York City’ 

Michiko Kakutani, writing for The New York Times:

In 1960, while working as an artist and graphic designer, and some years before the Rolling Stones were born, Charlie Watts began work on “Ode to a High-Flying Bird,” a captivating children’s book about his hero, the jazz great Charlie Parker. The book featured charming drawings of a bird named Charlie who realized he didn’t sound like most of the other birds, and who left home to fly to New York City, where he played “from his heart” and made a new nest for himself in “Birdland.”

Charlie Parker made a 14-year-old Charlie Watts dream the impossible dream of visiting New York and playing at a jazz club. And while he thought at the time that “the only way to get to New York was in a band on a cruise ship,” he would actually get there in 1964 with the Rolling Stones. While Keith Richards and Mick Jagger hung out at the Apollo, where James Brown was doing five — five! — shows a day, Mr. Watts spent his free time haunting the jazz clubs he’d dreamed about as a boy: He saw Charles Mingus at Birdland, Gene Krupa at the Metropole, and Sonny Rollins, Earl Hines and Miles Davis.

Lovely memorial, with some great quotes from his bandmates.


My thanks to Stacker for sponsoring last week at DF. Build business apps without code: Stacker lets you create custom software that perfectly fits the way your business works.

Companies like Adobe, TED, Samsung, and Mozilla use Stacker to create customer portals, collaboration tools, and workflow apps. Connect your existing data, from Airtable, Google Sheets, or Salesforce, and get a working app in minutes. No coding required.

Sign up today to see for yourself, and get a 30-day free trial.

Google’s Circle Jerk 

Keep in mind as you watch this that Jony Ive left Apple two years ago, and Apple dropped headphone jacks from new iPhones five years ago starting with the iPhones 7. Google’s own high-end Pixels dropped headphone jacks in 2017. As of next month, 40 percent of all iPhone model years will have been headphone-jack-free. This feels about as relevant as mocking the original iMac for not having a floppy drive.

TSMC to Raise Chip Prices by 10–20 Percent 

Yang Jie, Stephanie Yang, and Yoko Kubota, reporting for The Wall Street Journal (News+):

Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. plans to increase the prices of its most advanced chips by roughly 10%, while less advanced chips used by customers like auto makers will cost about 20% more, these people said. The higher prices will generally take effect late this year or next year, the people said.

Apple Inc. is one of TSMC’s largest customers and its iPhones use advanced microprocessors made in TSMC foundries. It couldn’t be determined how much more Apple would pay.

Not just iPhones: TSMC manufactures all “Apple silicon”. And no one else can make them. Really, this is just Econ 101: demand for TSMC chips is high, supply is constrained, so prices are going up.

Update: Compelling alternative theory.

TikTok, Reddit, and Facebook Are Killing People by Publishing Ivermectin Disinformation 

Kait Sanchez, writing for The Verge:

On TikTok, Rolling Stone found videos, some of which had more than a million views, promoting ivermectin as a COVID-19 treatment under tags like #ivermectin4covid and #ivermectinworks. TikTok has since removed the videos for violating community guidelines and blocked the tags, and a spokesperson says TikTok will continue removing related videos and hashtags. The #ivermectin tag is still up, though many of the most popular videos in the tag are of healthcare professionals debunking misinformation.

On Reddit this week, moderators of several hundred subreddits called on the platform to take action against COVID-19 misinformation, including banning subreddits that spread medical disinformation.

Disagreeing with the requests for outright bans, Reddit CEO Steve Huffman shared a response in r/announcements, saying “Reddit is a place for open and authentic discussion and debate. This includes conversations that question or disagree with popular consensus.” The post goes on to say that Reddit will take action when people promote fraud or encourage harm, as well as quarantine certain subreddits so that they don’t appear in searches and can’t be accessed without logging in.

This ivermectin lunacy is like hydroxychloroquine 2.0. The people pushing this are doing evil, and I don’t use that word lightly. Steve Huffman has talked himself into a circle if he believes a single word of his own defense for allowing this. Reddit doesn’t allow for “open and authentic discussion and debate” regarding all sorts of toxic, evil topics. You can’t go on Reddit (or TikTok, or Facebook, or Twitter…) and openly call for racial genocide, or beating up LGBT folks, or mutilating the genitals of girls. The N-word is rightfully banned everywhere, and this ivermectin bullshit — along with all the rest of the anti-vax nutjob liturgy — clearly and obviously should be considered in the same “beyond the pale” territory. Anti-vax cultism is literally killing people, including innocent kids with susceptible parents. There is no legitimate debate: everyone who can get vaccinated should get vaccinated, and dummies should not be self-medicating with horse de-wormers.

Put your big boy pants on, Huffman, and be a real leader for once.

iCloud Private Relay Will Launch as a Public Beta 

Jason Snell, writing at Six Colors:

Apple, in its iOS 15 beta 7 release notes:

iCloud Private Relay will be released as a public beta to gather additional feedback and improve website compatibility.

[…] It seems like Apple’s slowing this roll-out down, at least in part, because there are lingering compatibility issues with some websites—most notably sites that are displaying the wrong region-specific content, or getting confused when signing in a user. There are some fairly easy remedies web developers can do to make these issues go away, but getting the web to adjust to any new feature takes time, and Apple appears to have erred on the side of caution.

This is what happens in mid-to-late August each year: some features announced at WWDC get postponed for subsequent dot releases throughout the year (15.1, 15.2, etc.), and occasionally something will ship with the .0 public release, but with the “beta” label. My personal experience with iCloud Private Relay echoes Snell’s description above. It’s good and useful and is worth giving everyone access to, but the current level of web-wide site compatibility feels beta. (Mail Privacy Protection — a new feature in Apple Mail that loads email images privately, is not affected by this announcement. That feature (though not quite perfect yet) is ready to ship.)

Here’s my concern about iCloud Private Relay compatibility, though: if web publishers want to make sure their sites are compatible with iCloud Private Relay, they can make it work. They might just need more time. But everyone knows there are sites that aren’t interested in your privacy. That’s the whole reason Apple even made this feature. For a lot of websites, if the answer to an iCloud Private Relay compatibility issue is “Disable iCloud Private Relay”, that’s fine by them. For a lot of privacy-invasive web publishers, their goal, I suspect, is to break iCloud Private Relay, not fix their shit-ass websites to work with it. Think about how most websites you visit try to detect privacy-protecting content blockers. They’re not on our side. The problem isn’t that such web publishers need to update their technology to work with iCloud Private Relay, it’s that Apple needs to improve iCloud Private Relay to work around their roadblocks.

The relationship between most ad-funded websites and their visitors is adversarial. These jerkoff web publishers claim otherwise, but that’s the truth. And iCloud Private Relay is a feature that is entirely on the user’s side. (Daring Fireball and Six Colors, of course, work just fine with iCloud Private Relay.)

Flight to Seattle Evacuated After Passenger’s Samsung Galaxy A21 Ignites and Burns Beyond Recognition 

Christine Clarridge, reporting for The Seattle Times:

A passenger’s cellphone caught on fire inside the cabin of an Alaska Airlines flight from New Orleans to Seattle that had landed at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport Monday evening. It was a Samsung Galaxy A21, according to Perry Cooper, a spokesman for the Port of Seattle.

“After much digging, I can tell you that the phone was burned beyond recognition,” Cooper said in an email. “However, during an interview with one of our Port of Seattle Police officers, the passenger volunteered the phone was a Samsung Galaxy A21. Again, we could not confirm it by looking at the remains of the device.”

The crew on Flight 751 extinguished the fire with a battery containment bag, but smoke forced the deployment of evacuation slides, a spokesperson for Alaska Airlines told KOMO-TV.

Good thing no one was hurt. Bad day for Samsung PR. Hope we find out more about exactly how this happened.

The Talk Show: ‘Paper Floor Mats’ 

Christina Warren returns to the show to discuss Apple’s controversial child safety initiatives, the tumultuous summer of Safari 15 beta UI designs, and a bit more on MagSafe battery packs.

Brought to you by these fine sponsors:

  • Squarespace: Make your next move. Use code talkshow for 10% off your first order.
  • Memberful: Monetize your passion with membership.
  • Away: Because this season, everyone wants to get Away.
  • Hover: Find a domain name for your passion. Get 10% off your first purchase.
Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine Gets Full Approval From FDA, Opening Door to More Vaccine Mandates 

Jacqueline Howard, reporting for CNN:

The US Food and Drug Administration on Monday granted full approval to the Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine for people age 16 and older. This is the first coronavirus vaccine approved by the FDA, and is expected to open the door to more vaccine mandates.

Way more mandates. Mandate vaccinated status for everything. School, air travel, train travel, restaurants, stores. Everything. Get vaccinated or stay home.

The vaccine will be marketed as Comirnaty, the FDA said in its announcement on Monday.

I don’t care what they call it, but that’s a bad name. Looks like someone spilled a drink on the keyboard while trying to type “Cormac McCarthy”.

(Moderna has secured “Spikevax” for their vaccine, an excellent name.)

Mux Video 

My thanks to Mux for sponsoring last week at DF. Mux Video is an API to powerful video streaming (think of it like Stripe for video), built by the founders of Zencoder and creators of Video.js, and a team of ex-YouTube and Twitch engineers. Take any video file or live stream and make it play beautifully, at scale, on any device, powered by magical-feeling features like automatic thumbnails, animated GIFs, and data-driven encoding decisions.

Spend your time building what people want, not drudging through ffmpeg documentation.

Our Long National iOS 15 Safari Beta Nightmare Is Over 

Juli Clover, again:

Apple in iOS 15 beta 6 has added a toggle to move the Safari address bar to the top of the interface, which returns Safari to an iOS 14-like design and mitigates all of the Safari changes introduced in earlier betas.

Those who prefer the bottom bar can still opt to have that toggled on with the Tab Bar view, but Apple has also changed the look and the url bar at the bottom has been merged with a dedicated control panel that does away with trying to merge all page management options into a single address bar view.

I was a little worried when beta 5 shipped last week and Safari’s interface was unchanged, but beta 6’s changes are very good.

The initial iOS Safari 15 design failed in two big ways. First and foremost, Apple tried to squeeze two horizontal bars’ worth of controls into a single bar. Safari needs two toolbars. Second, the whole “floating toolbar” thing looked cool but wasn’t usable.

But they didn’t have to give up moving the address bar to the bottom of the screen. By default, that’s where it’s going to be on iOS 15. They also kept the side-to-side swiping for switching between tabs, if you keep the tab bar at the bottom of the screen.

In a very real sense, the system worked. It’s good that Apple tried something ambitious and original with the layout for Safari on iPhone. The reason for the trend toward moving more navigation controls to the bottom of the screen is obvious: our phones are bigger than ever (iPhone 12 Mini aside), and our hands aren’t growing. It’s also good that Apple was receptive to the feedback from those using the developer and public betas. They listened, they fixed the design to address the problems, and here we are, with a layout for Mobile Safari that I think is better than ever. (I hedge with “I think” only because it just shipped — my opinions aren’t fully formed.)

The unusual part is that we got to see Apple’s design process play out in public. The Safari team has been kept busy this summer. (There has to be one hell of backstory here, right?) There was a certain pessimism amongst some who perceived the problems with the original iOS 15 Safari design, simply because Apple seldom makes drastic UI changes between their unveiling at WWDC in June, and when they officially ship in the fall. But seldom isn’t never.

Netflix Is Rolling Out Spatial Audio Support 

Juli Clover, writing for MacRumors:

Netflix is rolling out support for Spatial Audio on the iPhone and the iPad, based on reports shared by MacRumors readers and on Reddit. A Netflix spokesperson also confirmed to MacRumors that the rollout is underway.

When you’re watching a movie on an iPhone or iPad, spatial audio is a game changer for degree of immersiveness. Henceforth when preloading a movie or two for a plane trip, I’ll favor titles with spatial audio support. It really helps make up for the small screen by having big immersive sound.

Not surprised that Netflix is adding support sooner rather than later — one thing Netflix gets right is they want viewers to be happy. Spatial audio makes me happy.

T-Mobile Customer Database Stolen 

Joseph Cox, reporting for Motherboard:

“We have determined that unauthorized access to some T-Mobile data occurred, however we have not yet determined that there is any personal customer data involved,” T-Mobile wrote in its new announcement. “This investigation will take some time but we are working with the highest degree of urgency. Until we have completed this assessment we cannot confirm the reported number of records affected or the validity of statements made by others,” the announcement added.

The seller told Motherboard that 100 million people had their data compromised in the breach. In the forum post, they were offering data on 30 million people for 6 bitcoin, or around $270,000.

See also: Brian Krebs and BleepingComputer.


My thanks to Retool for sponsoring last week at DF. Retool is a new approach to programming for the modern web: they’ve unified the ease of visual programming with the power and flexibility of real code. Drag and drop a form together, and have it POST back to your API in minutes. Deploy instantly with access controls and audit logs. It’s akin to a HyperCard or Visual Basic for the modern web.

Allbirds uses Retool to measure billboard efficacy. Amazon uses Retool to handle GDPR requests. You, too, can use it to build business-critical applications fast.

Check out their demo video to see how easy it is to build something serious and useful, quickly and intuitively. Start building for free today.

Chicago Public School Teachers and Staff Must Be Vaccinated by October 15 or Stay Home 

Maia Spoto, Chalkbeat Chicago:

School-based teachers and staff, central office, regular vendors and network employees who aren’t fully vaccinated or can’t provide documentation of an exemption by the deadline will be ineligible to work for the district until they submit proof of inoculation or exemption.

Until the Oct. 15 cutoff, staff who aren’t vaccinated will be required to take a COVID-19 test at least once a week, the district said. As of August, 68 percent of district employees have been fully vaccinated, according to self-reported district data. Among teachers, that rate is higher, with 82 percent reporting that they are fully vaccinated.

More like this, please.

Om Malik Interviews Glass Co-Founder Tom Watson 

More on the thinking behind Glass:

Om: Tom, tell us a bit about yourself and what prompted you to start Glass.

Tom Watson: I’ve been designing digital products for over 20 years now. I was an early Product Designer at Facebook (2009-2013) and Pinterest (2013-2018). I saw the tradeoffs firsthand around having to design for engagement versus people using the product. That experience made me want to build something different. […]

We intentionally didn’t raise venture capital. We didn’t want to make the compromises that I saw earlier in my career. With no outside capital and subscriptions, we’re able to forgo advertising, engagement algorithms, pivots to video, and several other things we feel would compromise the product and community we’re trying to build.

Om: Who are you focused on as a primary customer — a professional photographer? A pro-am photographer? Or amateurs?

TW: It’s for photographers — amateur or professional. That can be anything from someone just starting with their iPhone or someone with tens of thousands of dollars worth of equipment. We believe great photography can come from anywhere and anyone. We hope to build a community for all levels of photographers to learn, grow, and generally nerd out about photography.


Glass is a new photo sharing app/community:

We want you to adore Glass, not become addicted to it. We’ve created a distraction-free app focused on one thing — your photos. […] All the social network features you’d expect with none of the dark patterns driving engagement. Build relationships with and learn from other photographers while enjoying a chronological feed and no public counts. […]

Glass is subscription-based, which means we won’t sell your data or pollute your feed with ads. We don’t answer to outside investors or advertisers, just members of our community.

$4.99 monthly or $49.99 yearly $29.99 yearly (at launch) keeps Glass rolling.

Is it just like OG Instagram? No. Glass is doing its own thing in a bunch of subtle ways. But it’s certainly a lot more like Instagram circa 2010 than Instagram is today. In spirit, it feels a lot like the early days of Flickr. I’ve been beta testing Glass for a few months and it’s an absolutely lovely, exquisitely-designed app. It’s downright serene scrolling through my Glass timeline, something that I haven’t been able to say about Instagram in many years.

Currently iOS only — in fact, I believe the only way to sign in is through Sign In With Apple. There’s a wait list to get in now that they’re out of beta; if Glass intrigues you, I encourage you to sign up now.

Joanna Stern Interviews Craig Federighi Regarding Apple’s Controversial New Child Safety Features 

Clarifying interview, with at least one bit of news: Federighi says the heretofore unspecified “threshold” for CSAM fingerprint matches that must be reached before an iCloud account is flagged (or even can be flagged, thanks to how the shared-key cryptography is implemented) is “on the order of 30 known child pornographic images”. Right around the 3:00 mark:

“And if, and only if you meet a threshold of something on the order of 30 known child pornographic images matching, only then does Apple know anything about your account and know anything about those images.”

There’s also a WSJ news story (News+ link), co-bylined by Stern and Tim Higgins, in which Federighi emphasizes that the database of CSAM fingerprints is auditable:

Beyond creating a system that isn’t scanning through all of a user’s photos in the cloud, Mr. Federighi pointed to another benefit of placing the matching process on the phone directly. “Because it’s on the [phone], security researchers are constantly able to introspect what’s happening in Apple’s [phone] software,” he said. “So if any changes were made that were to expand the scope of this in some way — in a way that we had committed to not doing — there’s verifiability, they can spot that that’s happening.”

Critics have said the database of images could be corrupted, such as political material being inserted. Apple has pushed back against that idea. During the interview, Mr. Federighi said the database of images is constructed through the intersection of images from multiple child-safety organizations — not just the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. He added that at least two “are in distinct jurisdictions.” Such groups and an independent auditor will be able to verify that the database consists only of images provided by those entities, he said.


August 2021 cover art for Dithering, depicting Yankees legend Babe Ruth fishing.

Good episode of Dithering this morning, with Ben Thompson and yours truly arguing about the privacy of Apple’s upcoming CSAM detection for iCloud Photos and the new “Open App Markets Act” App Store legislation in the U.S. Senate.

Best $5/month you’ll ever spend, trust me.

San Francisco Announces Strict Indoor Vaccine Mandate 

The New York Times:

San Francisco leaders on Thursday unveiled some of the nation’s toughest restrictions on unvaccinated people, barring them from indoor dining, bars, nightclubs, gyms, large concerts, theaters and other events held inside. The new rules, which take effect on Aug. 20, would apply even to people who can show they have tested negative for the coronavirus.

“This is an important step towards our recovery,” Mayor London Breed said during a briefing announcing the new requirements. “We all have to do our part. We need to get vaccinated.”

More like this, please.

Philadelphia re-instituted an indoor mask mandate starting today; I hope we follow New York and San Fran with a full-on “vaccinated or stay the fuck home” mandate.

Supreme Court Allows Indiana University to Mandate Vaccination 

Adam Liptak, reporting for The New York Times:

Eight students had sued the university, saying the requirement violated their constitutional rights to “bodily integrity, autonomy and medical choice.” But they conceded that exemptions to the requirement — for religious, ethical and medical reasons — “virtually guaranteed” that anyone who sought an exemption would be granted one.

Justice Amy Coney Barrett, who oversees the federal appeals court in question, turned down the student’s request for emergency relief without comment. She acted on her own, without referring the application to the full court, which was an indication that the application was not on solid legal footing.

More like this, please.

U.S. COVID-19 Vaccination Levels by County Over Time 

Charles Gaba:

One thing I’ve been noting is that the R-squared (coefficient of determination) for the graphs at both the state & county levels seems to have been inching up higher over the past month or two … that is, the outlier counties seem to be gradually moving closer to the graph’s trend line.

Furthermore, the slope of the trend line seemed to be moving upwards as well over time. Both of these mean that not only is there a clear correlation between a county’s 2020 partisan lean and how quickly their residents are getting vaccinated, that correlation is only increasing over time.

I decided to check to see whether this was an anomaly (just a temporary thing) or not by going back to the county-level vaccination data all the way back to February 1st, 2021. At that point supplies of both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines were ramping up, but getting vaccinated was still limited mostly to senior citizens 65 and older in the United States.

The whole series of charts is telling, but the last one — the animated one that shows how the partisan divide is increasing over time — is startling. The vaccinated aren’t going to forget this.

The U.S.’s Deep Partisan Divide on COVID Vaccinations 

The Hill, reporting on a new Fox News poll:

32 percent of Trump voters say they have no plans to receive one of the three coronavirus vaccines available in the U.S., compared to only 3 percent of Biden voters, the poll found.

86 percent of Biden voters say they’ve already been vaccinated, while 54 percent of Trump voters said the same.

The Republican Party is a death cult. There’s no other way to put it.

And the one person who could most affect this — a man who himself was vaccinated as soon as possible — refuses to say a word.

Matthew Panzarino Interviews Erik Neuenschwander, Apple’s Chief Privacy Engineer 

Terrific interview — great questions, asked in the right order:

Panzarino: One of the bigger queries about this system is that Apple has said that it will just refuse action if it is asked by a government or other agency to compromise by adding things that are not CSAM to the database to check for them on-device. There are some examples where Apple has had to comply with local law at the highest levels if it wants to operate there, China being an example. So how do we trust that Apple is going to hew to this rejection of interference if pressured or asked by a government to compromise the system?

Neuenschwander: Well first, that is launching only for U.S., iCloud accounts, and so the hypotheticals seem to bring up generic countries or other countries that aren’t the U.S. when they speak in that way, and therefore it seems to be the case that people agree U.S. law doesn’t offer these kinds of capabilities to our government.

But even in the case where we’re talking about some attempt to change the system, it has a number of protections built in that make it not very useful for trying to identify individuals holding specifically objectionable images. The hash list is built into the operating system, we have one global operating system and don’t have the ability to target updates to individual users and so hash lists will be shared by all users when the system is enabled. And secondly, the system requires the threshold of images to be exceeded so trying to seek out even a single image from a person’s device or set of people’s devices won’t work because the system simply does not provide any knowledge to Apple for single photos stored in our service. And then, thirdly, the system has built into it a stage of manual review where, if an account is flagged with a collection of illegal CSAM material, an Apple team will review that to make sure that it is a correct match of illegal CSAM material prior to making any referral to any external entity. And so the hypothetical requires jumping over a lot of hoops, including having Apple change its internal process to refer material that is not illegal, like known CSAM and that we don’t believe that there’s a basis on which people will be able to make that request in the U.S. And the last point that I would just add is that it does still preserve user choice, if a user does not like this kind of functionality, they can choose not to use iCloud Photos and if iCloud Photos is not enabled no part of the system is functional.

Neuenschwander also confirms that if you’re not using iCloud Photos, none of the system operates:

If users are not using iCloud Photos, NeuralHash will not run and will not generate any vouchers. CSAM detection is a neural hash being compared against a database of the known CSAM hashes that are part of the operating system image. None of that piece, nor any of the additional parts including the creation of the safety vouchers or the uploading of vouchers to iCloud Photos, is functioning if you’re not using iCloud Photos.

Tracking a Stolen E-Scooter With AirTags 

Dan Guido, in an interesting Twitter thread:

My scooter was stolen last week. Unknown to the thief, I hid two AirTags inside it. I was able to use the Apple Find My network and UWB direction finding to recover the scooter today. Here’s how it all went down.

Tokyo 2020 Olympics Medal Count 

It pleases me greatly that the U.S. finished with the most gold medals and the most total medals. That’s how it ought to be.

Update: Here’s an interactive tool from the NYT that lets you adjust how much weight should be given to each type of medal, gold/silver/bronze. (No matter how you weight them, the U.S. comes out on top.)

Yours Truly on CNBC Talking About Apple’s Child Safety Initiatives and Privacy 

Hard to cover a lot of ground in just a few minutes — I find Dithering’s 15 minutes to be short — but this turned out well, I think.

What’s the Point of Apple TV Hardware? 

Speaking of Mark Gurman, his Power On newsletter continues to be an excellent read. His main topic this week argues that Apple TV (hardware) is “mostly pointless”:

Most importantly, buying an Apple TV no longer gives users a content advantage. We are in the age of streaming services like Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and Hulu, and business models have shifted so that every service is available on every device — phones, tablets, TV sets, streaming sticks and game consoles.

Apple, known for its closed ecosystem, is even embracing the shift by offering many services on smart TVs and boxes made by competitors. […] That made the Apple TV a mostly pointless accessory, and consumers seem to agree: 2020 data from Strategy Analytics found that the Apple TV holds 2% of the streaming device market.

The product isn’t without its benefits, though, for the Apple ecosystem’s most loyal users. Integration with HomeKit, Fitness+, AirPods and the iOS remote app is useful. The new remote control and faster chip in this year’s version are definite improvements, and the box is getting SharePlay and Spatial Audio support later this year. Still, I don’t see these enhancements moving the needle for most people.

I’d argue that Apple TV is a quintessential Apple product: its primary point is to deliver a superior user experience for those who care and are willing to pay a premium for it. If you look only at “content” there’s little reason to buy an iPhone or Mac or iPad, either. The Mac in particular seems an apt comparison. The reason to buy a Mac instead of a PC isn’t that the Mac can do things PCs can’t, but that what you do on a Mac is delivered through a superior experience. That’s Apple TV, too — especially now that Apple is shipping a good remote control. For a lot of us, it clearly delivers a superior and more private user experience that is worth paying a premium for.

2 percent market share is really low, no question about it, but if you look at those market share numbers from Strategy Analytics, no TV platform has a dominant position. It’s a remarkably diverse market, with no platform over 12 percent share. And Apple’s market share isn’t just any random 2 percent of the market, it’s 2 percent at the very high end of the market. It’s a premium product for Apple’s core customer base.

Update: An alternative response to Gurman’s “What’s the point of Apple TV?” question is just one word: privacy. Here’s a note I just got from an Apple TV devotee friend:

Remarkable that Gurman never even mentions the privacy benefits of Apple TV hardware. There are no circumstances in which I’d feel OK connecting a TV to the internet, or buying a streaming box from a company monetizing it with user tracking, so his “content is available everywhere, shrug emoji” outlook looks myopic. What’s the second-best option supposed to be?

That’s a great point and a good question. If Apple were to get out of the streaming hardware game, what’s the next best choice?

Gurman on New iPhone Camera Features: Portrait Mode for Video, Machine-Learning-Based Filters 

Mark Gurman, with a few scoops on the upcoming new iPhones:

Apple first added Portrait mode to the iPhone 7 Plus in 2016, and it quickly become a fan favorite. The feature can put a person in sharp focus while blurring the background in what is known as a bokeh effect. For the new iPhones, Apple plans to add this same technique to video with a feature internally dubbed Cinematic Video. Like with still photos, the iPhone’s depth sensor will create the effect and allow users to change the amount of blur after recording. […]

Another feature will let users better control the look of colors and highlights in their pictures. Users will be able to choose from several styles to apply to their photos, including one for showing colors at either a warmer or cooler temperature while keeping whites neutral. Another option will add a more dramatic look with deeper shadows and more contrast, and the company is planning a more balanced style for showing shadows and true-to-life colors with a brighter appearance. The feature will differ from standard filters, available in the iPhone’s Camera app since 2013, by precisely applying changes to objects and people across the photos using artificial intelligence, rather than applying a single filter across the entire picture.

Computational photography is easily one of the most exciting, fast-moving areas in computing today. You can literally see it getting better year-over-year. I’ve noticed in recent weeks that Portrait Mode on the iPhone 12 has gotten better than ever at separating subjects from the background.

Sidenote, but the sort of thing I spend way too much time thinking about around this time every year: Are they going to be the iPhones 13 or iPhones 12S? I’m thinking that since — by all reports — the new iPhones are the same sizes and shapes as last year’s lineup, it might be an “S” year. Also, now that I’m thinking about it, is this numbering ever going to stop? Will we be speculating about the iPhone 23 in 10 years? I’m not even saying it should stop, but it is an unusual naming scheme. The reason, I think, Apple sticks with it is that iPhone models are sold for years to come. Apple’s mid-range iPhones are years-old models that were once top-of-the-line. They need names that make that clear.

Alex Stamos on Apple’s New Child Safety Measures 

Alex Stamos — former head of security at Facebook, currently at Stanford Internet Observatory, in a thread on Twitter:

In my opinion, there are no easy answers here. I find myself constantly torn between wanting everybody to have access to cryptographic privacy and the reality of the scale and depth of harm that has been enabled by modern comms technologies.

Nuanced opinions are OK on this.

Good thread with much to consider.

Apple Publishes FAQ for Their New Child Safety Features (PDF) 


Could governments force Apple to add non-CSAM images to the hash list?

Apple will refuse any such demands. Apple’s CSAM detection capability is built solely to detect known CSAM images stored in iCloud Photos that have been identified by experts at NCMEC and other child safety groups. We have faced demands to build and deploy government-mandated changes that degrade the privacy of users before, and have steadfastly refused those demands. We will continue to refuse them in the future. Let us be clear, this technology is limited to detecting CSAM stored in iCloud and we will not accede to any government’s request to expand it. Furthermore, Apple conducts human review before making a report to NCMEC. In a case where the system flags photos that do not match known CSAM images, the account would not be disabled and no report would be filed to NCMEC.

Can non-CSAM images be “injected” into the system to flag ac- counts for things other than CSAM?

Our process is designed to prevent that from happening. The set of image hashes used for matching are from known, existing images of CSAM that have been acquired and validated by child safety organizations. Apple does not add to the set of known CSAM image hashes. The same set of hashes is stored in the operating system of every iPhone and iPad user, so targeted attacks against only specific individuals are not possible under our design. Finally, there is no automated reporting to law enforcement, and Apple conducts human review before making a report to NCMEC. In the unlikely event of the system flagging images that do not match known CSAM images, the account would not be disabled and no report would be filed to NCMEC.

This FAQ is good, and addresses most of the misconceptions I’ve seen. The human review step for flagged accounts is key to the trustworthiness of the system.

I do wonder though, how prepared Apple is for manually reviewing a potentially staggering number of accounts being correctly flagged. Because Apple doesn’t examine the contents of iCloud Photo Library (or local on-device libraries), I don’t think anyone knows how prevalent CSAM is on iCloud Photos. We know Facebook reported 20 million instances of CSAM to NCMEC last year, and Google reported 546,000. For Facebook, that’s about 55,000 per day; for Google, 1,500 per day. I think it’s a genuine “we’ll soon find out” mystery how many iCloud Photo users are going to be accurately flagged for exceeding the threshold for CSAM matches when this goes live. If the number is large, it seems like one innocent needle in a veritable haystack of actual CSAM collections might be harder for Apple’s human reviewers to notice.

Tara AI 

My thanks to Tara for sponsoring last week at DF. Tara helps developers make great software as quickly as possible. Here are three blockers they hear often from developers:

  • Getting everyone aligned — Get ideas across clearly with a clear problem statement and requirements. Use a tool like Tara to get sign-off before you start.

  • Visibility into actual progress — Code changes are the best indicators of progress. Use tools that enable transparency. With Tara, everyone can see commits, blocks, and merges for a sense of true progress.

  • Manual status updates — Manual updates are the achilles heel of every project. Use tools that automate tedious, low-value actions — like Tara’s auto-status that marks tasks as done when a PR merges.

One workspace for your team’s docs, sprints, and tasks synced to code. Plus an API for custom workflows. Get started on Tara for free.

BBEdit 14 

To me, version 14 feels like the biggest major release of BBEdit in many years. For programmers, there’s a major new feature: Language Server Protocol (LSP) support, that, basically, adds a slew of IDE-style functionality for code completion, refactoring, and linting. There are also new language modules for R, Go, Lisp, and Rust.

For everyone, there’s a new “notes” feature. From the release notes:

You know that thing where you have a whole bunch of untitled documents open, because it’s so easy to make one and type some notes, and then just leave it open? And you rely on BBEdit’s amazing crash recovery and document restoration to not lose your carefully kept notes? You can keep doing that if you want, but we have a new feature to make the whole thing faster and easier: Notes.

Notes are mostly like ordinary text documents, except that you don’t have to remember to save them or even make up a name if you don’t want to. BBEdit keeps notes all together in a “notebook”. Notes exist on disk as text files; there’s no secret file format involved. […]

There are many ways to make a note, so you can use whatever fits your workflow and style.

Notes default to Markdown, but you can change that to whatever you want (of course).

See also:

  • Jason Snell, who wrote a nifty AppleScript that lets him drag an image into a Markdown file in BBEdit 14, and have it (a) upload that file to his server in the background, and (b) insert the Markdown syntax to reference that just-uploaded file.

  • Watts Martin, who has a good overview of where BBEdit 14 stands compared to several popular competing programming text editors.

CNN Fires Three Employees for Going Into Office Without Vaccinations 

Ted Johnson, reporting for Deadline:

CNN head Jeff Zucker said that the network has fired three employees for going into the office without being vaccinated against Covid-19, and that parent WarnerMedia may ultimately require proof of the shots. […]

“In the past week, we have been made aware of three employees who were coming to the office unvaccinated,” Zucker wrote in an email to staff. “All three have been terminated. Let me be clear — we have a zero-tolerance policy on this. You need to be vaccinated to come to the office. And you need to be vaccinated to work in the field, with other employees, regardless of whether you enter an office or not. Period. We expect that in the weeks ahead, showing proof of vaccination may become a formal part of the WarnerMedia Passcard process. Regardless, our expectations remain in place.”

More like this, please.

The Case for Requiring Vaccinations for Domestic Flights 

Juliette Kayyem, assistant secretary for homeland security under President Obama, writing for The Atlantic:

The White House has rejected a nationwide vaccine mandate—a sweeping suggestion that the Biden administration could not easily enact if it wanted to—but a no-fly list for unvaccinated adults is an obvious step that the federal government should take. It will help limit the risk of transmission at destinations where unvaccinated people travel—and, by setting norms that restrict certain privileges to vaccinated people, will also help raise the stagnant vaccination rates that are keeping both the economy and society from fully recovering.

Flying is not a right, and the case for restricting it to vaccinated people is straightforward: The federal government is the sole entity that can regulate the terms and conditions of airline safety. And although air-filtration systems and mask requirements make transmission of the coronavirus unlikely during any given passenger flight, infected people can spread it when they leave the airport and take off their mask.

Jim Cramer Explains the ‘Metaverse’ and What It Means for Facebook 

Sure, OK, that makes a lot of sense.

Google Teases Upcoming Pixel 6 and 6 Pro Phones 

Dieter Bohn, writing for The Verge:

Tensor is an SoC, not a single processor. And so while it’s fair to call it Google-designed, it’s also still unclear which components are Google-made and which are licensed from others. Two things are definitely coming from Google: a mobile TPU for AI operations and a new Titan M2 chip for security. The rest, including the CPU, GPU, and 5G modem, are all still a mystery.

Less mysterious: the phones themselves. I spent about an hour at Google’s Mountain View campus last week looking at the phone hardware and talking with Google’s hardware chief Rick Osterloh about Tensor. After all that, my main takeaway about the new Pixel 6 phones is simple.

Google is actually, finally trying to make a competitive flagship phone.

“This is the year Google gets serious about Pixel (née Nexus) phones” is right up there with “the next version of Bluetooth is going to be reliable” and “this is the year of desktop Linux” on the list of perennial letdowns. But like Charlie Brown trying to kick Lucy’s football, hope springs eternal, and I’m hopeful Google actually pulls it off this time. The iPhone needs better rivals.

Emojipedia Acquired by Zedge 


Follow the Islamic State on Gettr 

Mark Scott and Tina Nguyen, reporting for Politico:

Just weeks after its launch, the pro-Trump social network GETTR is inundated with terrorist propaganda spread by supporters of Islamic State, according to a POLITICO review of online activity on the fledgling platform.

The social network — started a month ago by members of former President Donald Trump’s inner circle — features reams of jihadi-related material, including graphic videos of beheadings, viral memes that promote violence against the West and even memes of a militant executing Trump in an orange jumpsuit similar to those used in Guantanamo Bay.

‘The Costs of Selling COVID Fear’ 

James Surowiecki:

When the CDC changed its guidance on masking earlier this week — recommending, among other things, that even vaccinated people start wearing masks in indoor public spaces in areas of substantial to high Covid transmission — it cited “unpublished data” as a reason for its decision. The next day, the internal CDC document that seems to have prompted the shift was published — by the Washington Post. And when major news media got a look at, the message they sent vaccinated people was pretty simple: “Panic!”

This reaction was not justified by the actual data in the CDC document.

Headlines matter, and the headlines for these stories have been grossly misleading.

Brief Reviews of (Nearly) Every Mac Keyboard 

Griffin Jones:

The AppleDesign Keyboard is a cheap cost-cutting imitation of the Extended Keyboard. It doesn’t even have an embedded Apple logo, just its silhouette punched into the mold of plastic. The symbolism that Apple was only a shadow of its former self in the mid-90s could not be any clearer.

I rate it 2⁄5 stars.

Spot-on reviews.


My thanks to GitFinder for sponsoring last week at DF. GitFinder integrates Git directly in the Finder on MacOS. Features include:

  • See Git status of files directly in Finder with descriptive icon badges.
  • Perform Git operations directly in Finder using customizable contextual and toolbar item menus.
  • Enjoy the full Git experience — merge, rebase, stash, resolve, reset, revert, cherrypick, export, patch, compare, pull requests, and more — accessible directly in Finder.
  • Do everything using your mouse, clicking on buttons and using contextual menus.
  • Or, do everything using your keyboard, with fully-customizable key shortcuts.

All this and much more in a fast, lightweight, securely-sandboxed and beautiful Git client. GitFinder is exactly the sort of thoughtfully-designed developer tool that makes the Mac the Mac.

Shawn King: ‘Be Wary of the “iPhone Photography Awards”’ 

Shawn King, writing for The Loop regarding last year’s iPhone Photography Awards:

But I remember having my spidey senses tingle last year with these awards so I did some digging into it. The first thing I noticed was you have to “pay to play” — that is, it costs $5.50 to submit a single image with “discounts” given for multiple image submissions. Paying to submit images to a contest is not necessarily a bad thing but it always raises concerns for me.

Next up was the judges — or lack thereof. In an interview with Input, the founder of the IPPAWARDS Kenan Aktulun (whose Twitter account is protected) wouldn’t say who the judges were:

I asked Aktulun to share some details behind the curtains about the judging process. Though he wouldn’t say specifically who the panel of judges was for the 2020 winners, he said they were made up of a diverse cast of visual storytellers including photographers and designers.

That’s always a red flag for me. Every reputable photo competition, from Apple on down, lists the names of the people doing the judging.

The prizes are sort of shitty too.