Linked List: June 2021

The All-Star Mac Bundle Featuring Parallels Pro 

My thanks to Stack Social for sponsoring DF last week to promote The All-Star Mac Bundle Featuring Parallels Pro — a fantastic deal on some great Mac utilities. The bundle features five award-winning Mac apps for just $25 with coupon code: ALLSTARMAC, including the one used by over 7 million people to run Windows software on their Macs: Parallels. You’ll score a year’s subscription to the latest version, plus lifetime access to FastestVPN, BusyContacts, Moho Debut animation software, and PDFChef.

$25 is a great price just for Parallels Pro alone.

Some Details on How Spatial Audio Will Work With AirPods on Apple TV 

Igor Bonifacic, writing for Engadget:

Apple told Engadget the feature will work with stereo, 5.1, 7.1 and Dolby Atmos content. Whether you’re using a pair of AirPods Pro or AirPods Max, the software that powers the feature will widen the soundstage so that it seems like the entire room you’re in is being filled with sound. When you sit down to watch a movie or TV show, the included head tracking feature will lock in after it detects you’ve been looking in the same direction for a while. Once you get up to walk around, it will reactivate. Connecting your AirPods to an Apple TV is also easy in this context. When you’re near the device with your headphones, it will display a popup that will allow you to quickly connect, and you won’t need to dig into the settings menu.

Magneto: ‘These New “Magnetic” Vaccine Mutants Are Extremely Disappointing’ 

Alexandra Petri, writing for The Washington Post:

I am Magneto, and I would like to register a complaint. Frankly, all of these new mutants are terrible. […]

I met the people who were saying that metal objects now stuck to them because of their vaccines and gave them a whole recruitment speech about how they were the next stage in evolution, but once I said the word “evolution,” they looked at me doubtfully. Then I asked them to show off their abilities, and — I hate to say this but, have you ever been at a friend’s amateur magic show, where the magic show is not going quite as was hoped, and there’s a lot of saying “hold on” and “wait, hang on” and “sorry” as they fail several times running to identify your card, and then a dead bird falls unprompted out of someone’s hat? Frankly, that would have been an improvement.

We have our first nomination for the 2021 Pulitzer for commentary.

Trump Department of Justice Subpoenaed Apple for Records of Democrats and Their Family Members 

The New York Times:

As the Justice Department investigated who was behind leaks of classified information early in the Trump administration, it took a highly unusual step: Prosecutors subpoenaed Apple for data from the accounts of at least two Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee, aides and family members. One was a minor.

All told, the records of at least a dozen people tied to the committee were seized in 2017 and early 2018, including those of Representative Adam B. Schiff of California, then the panel’s top Democrat and now its chairman, according to committee officials and two other people briefed on the inquiry. Representative Eric Swalwell of California said in an interview Thursday night that he had also been notified that his data had been subpoenaed. […]

Moreover, just as it did in investigating news organizations, the Justice Department secured a gag order on Apple that expired this year, according to a person familiar with the inquiry, so lawmakers did not know they were being investigated until Apple informed them last month.

Adam Schiff:

Trump repeatedly demanded the DOJ go after his political enemies.

It’s clear his demands didn’t fall on deaf ears.

This baseless investigation, while now closed, is yet another example of Trump’s corrupt weaponization of justice.

And how much he imperiled our democracy.

OldOS: iOS 4 Rebuilt in SwiftUI 

Holy hell this new project from Zane Kleinberg, a talented 17-year-old developer who just dropped this out of the blue yesterday. It’s available via TestFlight (the first one is full already, though) and as open source code you can build yourself.

It’s exquisitely well done, very fun to play with, and surprisingly usable. And what a remarkable testimony to the expressiveness of Swift UI.

Once you get past the surface aesthetic differences, it’s also interesting as a way to remember how many little things iOS has added over the years. iOS is so much richer now. You couldn’t do anything in list views back then. E.g., if you wanted to delete a note in Notes, you had to open the note and tap the Trash button. In a view hierarchy, you couldn’t go back just by swiping from the left edge of the display — you had to tap the Back button in the navigation bar at the top of the display. Going back to this simulacrum of iOS 4 reminds me of what it felt like going back to, say, System 6 (1988) after taking for granted all the various little things added to the Mac between then and Mac OS 8.6 (1999).

A decade is a long time. Even the 1990s — the most dysfunctional decade of Apple’s corporate existence — was a productive one for the Mac. Now, though, with Apple firing on all cylinders throughout the 2010s, iOS 4 feels joyful but crude, barren of small conveniences.

A Linus Torvalds Rant We Can All Get Behind 

Linus Torvalds, on the Linux Kernel mailing list:

Please keep your insane and technically incorrect anti-vax comments to yourself.

You don’t know what you are talking about, you don’t know what mRNA is, and you’re spreading idiotic lies. Maybe you do so unwittingly, because of bad education. Maybe you do so because you’ve talked to “experts” or watched youtube videos by charlatans that don’t know what they are talking about.

But dammit, regardless of where you have gotten your mis-information from, any Linux kernel discussion list isn’t going to have your idiotic drivel pass uncontested from me.

A shrinking violet, as ever.

Our Long National HBO Max Apple TV Nightmare Is Over 

Screen Times:

At the end of last week we detailed an update to the HBO Max Apple TV app that introduced a whole host of issues, making the app almost unusable. Check out our article for the very long list. The issues were so bad that HBO exec Andy Forssell even addressed them in a reply to John Siracusa on Twitter.

Thankfully, HBO has now issued a software update that reverts the playback UI to the original tvOS version. I’ve verified this in the 50.30.2 update and can confirm everything is back to normal from skipping ahead to asking Siri ‘What did they say?’ and everything in between.

You make a mistake, you fix it as fast as you can. Kudos, HBO Max tvOS team.

Someone should send this to the new team behind the MLB app.

Blade Runner: The Animated Series 

Fun work by Tom McWeeney.

Some New MacOS 12 Monterey Features Are Unavailable on Intel-Based Macs 

Joe Rossignol, writing for MacRumors:

On the macOS Monterey features page, fine print indicates that the following features require a Mac with the M1 chip, including any MacBook Air, 13-inch MacBook Pro, Mac mini, and iMac model released since November 2020:

  • Portrait Mode blurred backgrounds in FaceTime videos
  • Live Text for copying and pasting, looking up, or translating text within photos
  • An interactive 3D globe of Earth in the Maps app
  • More detailed maps in cities like San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York, and London in the Maps app
  • Text-to-speech in more languages, including Swedish, Danish, Norwegian, and Finnish
  • On-device keyboard dictation that performs all processing completely offline
  • Unlimited keyboard dictation (previously limited to 60 seconds per instance)

Apple has not explained why any of these features are not available on Intel-based Macs. For what it’s worth, Google Earth has long offered an interactive 3D globe of the Earth on Intel-based Macs both on the web and in an app.

I don’t think Apple has to explain. These features all clearly are built on code that uses features exclusive to Apple Silicon. E.g. for Portrait Mode in FaceTime, it uses the M1 imaging pipeline — the same thing that makes all FaceTime footage on the M1 MacBooks look so much better than on any Intel MacBook, even though the camera hardware is the same. The speech/dictation features on this list are surely using the Neural Engine, something Intel Macs don’t even have.

Digging Into Apple’s iCloud Private Relay 

Good overview of one of this week’s biggest announcements from Dave Hamilton for The Mac Observer:

Apple’s iCloud Private Relay works similar to a VPN in that it routes your traffic through other servers, hiding your IP address from the websites you visit, and hiding your traffic from whomever manages your local network. Where it differs is that a VPN is generally just one server between you and the website you’re visiting. With a VPN, your traffic takes the route of You ↔︎ VPN Server ↔︎ Website. Private Relay adds another server to the mix, which ensures that no one in the chain — not even Apple — can see the whole picture: You ↔︎ Apple’s Ingress Server ↔︎ Content Provider’s Egress Server ↔︎ Website.

This is, as Apple calls it in their “Get Ready for iCloud Private Relay” WWDC Session on the topic, “Privacy by Design.”

Apple made specific mention that while the “Ingress Proxy” servers are run by Apple, the “Egress Proxy” (aka the server which communicates with the websites you visit) is not controlled by Apple and is under the control of “a (trusted) content provider”. This means that Apple doesn’t know what site(s) you’re visiting, and the third-party content provider doesn’t know who you are.

I’m using this on both an iPhone and iPad running the new OS betas, and it doesn’t seem to slow anything down. I did run into a problem where initially, both devices were saying I needed to upgrade to a paid iCloud account to enable the feature in Safari (also for Mail’s new tracker privacy protection), even though I’ve got an Apple One family account. I “fixed” that by restarting both devices after poking around the iCloud section in Settings. Not a bad bug for a developer beta 1 — just figured I’d mention it here in case anyone else runs into it.

What’s New in the App Store Review Guidelines 

Not a lot new this year, but this one jumped out to me:

5.1.1(v): Apps supporting account creation must also offer account deletion.

I don’t see how anyone could disagree that this is a good rule. There’s a lot to complain about in the App Store Guidelines but there’s also a lot that’s unambiguously pro-user.

The Verge: ‘Facebook Plans First Smartwatch for Next Summer With Two Cameras’ 

Alex Heath, for The Verge:

Facebook is taking a novel approach to its first smartwatch, which the company hasn’t confirmed publicly but currently plans to debut next summer. The device will feature a display with two cameras that can be detached from the wrist for taking pictures and videos that can be shared across Facebook’s suite of apps, including Instagram, The Verge has learned.

A camera on the front of the watch display exists primarily for video calling, while a 1080p, auto-focus camera on the back can be used for capturing footage when detached from the stainless steel frame on the wrist. Facebook is tapping other companies to create accessories for attaching the camera hub to things like backpacks, according to two people familiar with the project, both of whom requested anonymity to speak without Facebook’s permission.

Sounds right. A tiny concealable camera to take surreptitious photos that upload to Facebook sounds exactly like something Mark Zuckerberg came up with himself.

Yours Truly on CNBC’s TechCheck Today 

I enjoy doing these quick hits on CNBC. I get on, I get a few questions, I answer as best I can, and I’m out. Two tidbits on my spot today:

  • It seems like a widespread misconception that iCloud+ is a new additional paid tier. It’s not: “iCloud+” is now just a name for any paid tier of iCloud, even the $1/month tier. If you pay anything at all for iCloud, you get iCloud+ features like the new Private Relay feature for Safari.

  • Another question was about the relative dearth of AR announcements. I pointed to Maps, which is clearly moving in a very AR direction with turn-by-turn directions. But another big AR announcement from Apple this week is RealityKit 2, with 3D Object Capture using nothing more than your iPhone or iPad camera. (Or a DSLR or drone camera.) This makes creating AR objects based on real-world objects several orders of magnitude easier, faster, and more accessible.

Billboard: ‘Eddy Cue Believes the Future of Music Isn’t Lossless — It’s Spatial Audio’ 

Eddy Cue, in an interview with Micah Singleton for Billboard:

One of the first people that told me about Dolby Atmos was Adam Levine. I happen to know him, and we were in the same place, so he was like, “Have you listened to this?” And he sends me this song and he was really excited. He said, “I can’t believe what I can do with this.” It’s going to be really exciting to see how this evolves, and all of what artists are going to be able to do with this, and how exciting it is for fans and listeners to be able to do this.

So we went after the labels and are going to the artists and educating them on it. There’s a lot of work to be done because we have, obviously, tens of millions of songs. This is not a simple “take-the-file that you have in stereo, processes through this software application and out comes Dolby Atmos.” This requires somebody who’s a sound engineer, and the artist to sit back and listen, and really make the right calls and what the right things to do are. It’s a process that takes time, but it’s worth it. […]

To me, when I look at Dolby Atmos, I think it’s going to do for music what HD did for television. Today, where can you watch television that’s not in HD?

One of the advantages music has over television is you can’t take an old TV show and truly up-res it to HD because it was shot on low-quality cameras. But in the case of audio, all these things were recorded on multiple tracks, and so it’s possible to go back to a lot of the songs and be able to do this.

The article is behind Billboard’s “Pro” paywall on their website, but the full interview is available on Apple News — and it seems to work even if you’re not a News+ subscriber.

Apple’s WWDC Newsroom Announcements 

Collected here for posterity:

Might as well toss in a permalink to the keynote, too.

Adobe Announces Native Apple Silicon Versions of Illustrator and InDesign 

Jasmine Whitaker, writing for Adobe:

Today, we’re thrilled to announce that Illustrator and InDesign will run natively on Apple Silicon devices. While users have been able to continue to use the tool on M1 Macs during this period, today’s development means a considerable boost in speed and performance. Overall, Illustrator users will see a 65 percent increase in performance on an M1 Mac, versus Intel builds — InDesign users will see similar gains, with a 59 percent improvement on overall performance on Apple Silicon.

Specific things like opening complex documents and scrolling are even faster than those overall numbers: Adobe claims scrolling in Illustrator is 4× faster. Just from porting to run natively on Apple Silicon.

And we’ve only seen Apple’s consumer Apple Silicon chips for Mac.

Playdate Update 

Like a little mini keynote from Panic about their little mini gaming device. Don’t want to spoil anything but I burst with joy when I saw the first non-game app for Playdate. Perfect.

‘Philly Vax Sweepstakes’ 

Speaking of playing the lottery, Philadelphia is getting in on the lottery-for-getting-vaccinated trend:

Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney announced today the launch of “Philly Vax Sweepstakes,” a series of three citywide drawings designed to give Philadelphians extra motivation to get their vaccination against COVID-19 as the city fully reopens this summer.

A total of 36 vaccinated Philadelphians will win cash prizes up to $50,000, totaling nearly $400,000 in giveaways. In each of the three drawings on June 21, July 6, and July 19, six individuals will win $1,000; four will win $5,000; and two will win $50,000.

I really do love the idea of these lotteries and giveaway promotions. It’s innumeracy that leads some people to grossly miscalculate the risks vs. rewards of getting vaccinated, and it’s innumeracy that leads people to play lotteries. Sweepstakes for getting vaccinated put innumeracy to work.

WWDC 2021: Day One in a Nutshell 

I was hoping Serenity Caldwell would be doing these daily wrap-ups again this year. (Got a bunch of things I was hoping for today — maybe I should play the lottery.)

Quill 

My thanks to Quill for sponsoring last week at DF. Quill is a new messaging app for teams, made by people who love messaging — many of them grew up on IRC. Messaging is their favorite way to collaborate, but not if it’s overwhelming or disorganized. Unlike a lot of messaging platforms, Quill looks great — on both iOS and MacOS.

It’s a more deliberate way to chat. Try it for free.

Becky Hansmeyer: ‘A Few Thoughts on the Eve of WWDC’ 

Becky Hansmeyer:

It’s not about giving in to every little demand being lobbed at them. It’s about collecting information, determining what the right thing to do is, and doing it the Apple Way. When Apple does that and does it right, the results are fantastic.

Let’s hope we see some of that Apple shine through this week.

Theme Parks and Public Parks 

Good column (and video) from Joanna Stern on Apple’s “walled garden”. The people who use the term “walled garden” in this context typically do so as a pejorative. But that’s not right. Literal walled gardens can be very nice — and the walls and gates can be what makes them nice. That’s been a recurring theme in the testimony from Apple executives in the Epic trial. Asked about rules and limits on iOS that Epic presents as nefarious — nothing but tricks to lock users in — Apple witnesses typically responded by presenting them as features. That iOS is wildly popular not despite the “walls”, but because of them.

It’s a trade-off, for example, that anything you can install on iOS can be trivially uninstalled just by deleting the app icon from your home screen. The downside is that iOS doesn’t support any third-party ideas that would require system-level background agents or extensions. I can name dozens of great Mac utilities that I’d enjoy, if not love, on iOS, but which can’t exist on iOS because of the rules. That sucks. But those same rules mean there’s no way to mess up your iPhone or iPad by installing something you don’t like and which is difficult to uninstall. That’s great.

Better than “walled garden”, I like the comparison to theme parks. People love theme parks. Not everyone, of course, but a lot of people. They’re fun, safe, and deliver a designed experience. They’re also expensive, and the food, to put it kindly, generally sucks. Public parks are great too — in very different ways. We should have great public parks, and we should have great open computing platforms. But not every park should necessarily be public, and not every closed computing platform would be better off open.

HBO Max tvOS Update Breaks a Slew of Features 

Screen Times:

The bottom line is, the viewing experience in the HBO Max app is now horrifically bad and almost unusable unless you’re planning just to play and pause. If you need to do anything else, don’t get your hopes up.

The fact that they completely broke fast-forwarding and rewinding is mind boggling. Those aren’t exactly obscure power user features. Just use the standard video player. I don’t know how this update shipped. (The worst part is, my wife and I are hooked on Mare of Easttown, and have been binging it all week. Really sucks not being able to do anything except play and pause.)

Internal Letter Circulates at Apple – and Leaks to The Verge – Pushing Back Against Returning to the Office 

1,400 words to say they’d prefer a policy that allows teams within Apple to determine their own remote work policies. Good communication is to the point, and this is not to the point at all. No wonder the letter-writer(s) feel “unheard”. It’s hard to get through the whole letter, and if you do make it through, it reeks of self indulgence. Some serious ✊🍆 vibes. The “formal requests” at the end about employees with disabilities and the “environmental impact of returning to onsite [sic] in-person work” are such transparent pandering. (I have never once heard of Apple not doing whatever it takes not only to accommodate employees with any disability, but to make them feel welcome.)

And who are these people who took jobs at Apple not knowing the company’s on-site culture? Do they think Apple built a new $4 billion campus on a lark? Three days a week on site and two days remote is a huge change for Apple.

Given that these letters keep leaking to Zoe Schiffer at The Verge, I can’t help but think that the problem for Apple is that they’ve grown so large that they’ve wound up hiring a lot of people who aren’t a good fit for Apple, and that it was a mistake for Apple to ever hook up a company-wide Slack. Companies are not democracies, but the employees writing these letters sure seem to think Apple is one. It’s not, and if it were, the company would sink in a snap. Apple’s new “three days on site” policy wasn’t a request for comments — it was a decision — and Tim Cook’s company-wide letter already leaves room for individual teams to adjust it to their own needs.

Former Blogger Donald Trump’s Facebook Ban Extended at Least Two Years 

Nick Clegg, VP of global affairs at Facebook:

We are today announcing new enforcement protocols to be applied in exceptional cases such as this, and we are confirming the time-bound penalty consistent with those protocols which we are applying to Mr. Trump’s accounts. Given the gravity of the circumstances that led to Mr. Trump’s suspension, we believe his actions constituted a severe violation of our rules which merit the highest penalty available under the new enforcement protocols. We are suspending his accounts for two years, effective from the date of the initial suspension on January 7 this year.

As part of this decision, Facebook is rescinding the special privileges heretofore extended to world leaders and political figures that largely exempted them from Facebook’s content policies on the grounds of “newsworthiness”.

Dithering 

New month, new cover art.

June 2021 cover art for Dithering, featuring a young man in cap and gown celebrating graduation.

Dithering, of course, is the now year-old podcast from Ben Thompson (CEO) and yours truly (President). Two episodes per week, 15 minutes per episode. Not a minute less, not a minute more.

Sign up for now to hear post-WWDC-keynote thoughts on Tuesday morning. Subscriptions are just $5/month (good deal) or $50/year (great deal). And your subscription will work in every popular podcast app — now including Spotify, if that’s your bag, baby.

KeyboardCleanTool 

Free Mac utility from Andreas Hegenberg, developer of BetterTouchTool and BetterSnapTool:

KeyboardCleanTool is a super simple little tool which blocks all Keyboard and TouchBar input.

In 2011 Apple rejected the app for the Mac App Store because apparently it’s “not useful”, however I often use it to clean my MacBook keyboard without producing annoying input.

I have also heard of people who use it to let their toddlers pretend they work on a computer.

The app has been around for 10 years, but I don’t recall hearing of it before. It’s more useful than ever today, because modern MacBooks will power on with the press of any key on the keyboard. It used to be that you could wipe your keyboard clean while powered down, but Apple changed that a few years ago, apparently because a fair number of users were confused how to turn their MacBooks on, now that the power/Touch ID button has no power icon. (Joanna Stern and I talked about this on the most recent episode of The Talk Show.)

KeyboardCleanTool is a great solution.

Update: See also: Shaun Inman’s Little Fingers, a similarly-purposed utility that also blocks input from the mouse/trackpad.

Bing Censors Image Search for ‘Tank Man’, Even in U.S. 

Joseph Cox, writing for Vice:

Bing, the search engine owned by Microsoft, is not displaying image results for a search for “Tank man,” even when searching from the United States. The apparent censorship comes on the anniversary of China’s violent crackdown on protests in Tiananmen Square in 1989. […]

Bing displays ordinary, non-image search results for “tank man” when searching from a U.S. IP address; the issue only impacts the Images and Videos tabs. Google, for its part, displays both when connecting from the same IP address.

Motherboard verified that the issue also impacts image searches on Yahoo and DuckDuckGo, which both use Bing. Neither company immediately responded to a request for comment.

George Orwell, 1984:

In the walls of the cubicle there were three orifices. To the right of the speakwrite, a small pneumatic tube for written messages, to the left, a larger one for newspapers; and in the side wall, within easy reach of Winston’s arm, a large oblong slit protected by a wire grating. This last was for the disposal of waste paper. Similar slits existed in thousands or tens of thousands throughout the building, not only in every room but at short intervals in every corridor. For some reason they were nicknamed memory holes. When one knew that any document was due for destruction, or even when one saw a scrap of waste paper lying about, it was an automatic action to lift the flap of the nearest memory hole and drop it in, whereupon it would be whirled away on a current of warm air to the enormous furnaces which were hidden somewhere in the recesses of the building.

PDF Diff 

Another Mac utility worth your attention: Alexander Jaehrling’s PDF Diff is a $20 app for comparing the text differences between two PDFs. Last July I asked:

What’s the best tool for diffing PDF files? Is it Acrobat? Tell me it’s not Acrobat. But if it’s Acrobat OK I’ll break a years-long streak and install Acrobat.

PDF Diff wasn’t out at the time, but I wish it had been. It’s the best tool I’ve found for this.

Craig Hockenberry’s Anti-Wish List for WWDC 

Craig Hockenberry:

Everyone has their wishlist for things they want to see on Monday’s WWDC keynote. Here is my anti-wish list — things I do not want to see. […]

  • More multitasking gestures in iPad OS. Make multitasking spatial, or make it stop. I hate user interfaces that are driven by guessing.

  • More features in macOS that I’ll never use. It’s great as-is, just fix bugs and everyone will be happy.

Dan Moren’s iPadOS 15 Wish List 

Dan Moren, writing at Macworld:

Multitasking on the iPad is, to put it generously, a mess. Split View and Slide Over, first introduced in 2015’s iOS 9 and refined a couple of times over the years, have always had the feeling of a band-aid slapped over a mortal wound. Their limitations (like the dance of getting an app that’s not in your dock into Split View) and awkward gestures (how many times have you activated Slide Over when you meant to simply swipe) feel cumbersome, especially compared to the multitasking we’ve always had on the Mac.

So I’m hoping that 2021 is the year that Apple finally cracks multitasking on the iPad. I’m not sure exactly what that looks like; there are those who argue for the wholesale transplant of macOS’s windowing system, but that seems as though it might be another imprecise fit borne out of convenience rather than actual appropriateness. Fundamentally, though, the iPad has always been built around the idea of one app on the screen at any time, and it’s clear that simply won’t do in a world where people expect to be able to run multiple apps at once.

It’s amazing how often I make a slide-over Safari “window” on iPad without wanting to. And then I’m stuck with a new Safari instance with no actual tabs. You can get into Slide Over inadvertently, and if you do, it’s hard to undo it. It’s like instantly creating detritus you need to clean up. iPadOS is the only GUI system I’m aware of that has “windows” that don’t have close buttons.

My wife uses her iPad Pro more than any other device. She loves it. But Slide Over was driving her nuts until I showed her how to turn it off. “Why is that on by default?” she asked.

Coleman Sweeney, the World’s Biggest Asshole 

Fantastic ad from 2016 I somehow hadn’t seen until this week. Hilarious, and the humor plays directly into the ad’s effectiveness. Trust me, just watch.

(Via Jason Fried.)

WSJ: ‘Stack Overflow Sold to Tech Giant Prosus for $1.8 Billion’ 

Ben Dummett, reporting for the WSJ:

Prosus said it struck a $1.8 billion deal to acquire Stack Overflow, an online community for software developers, in a bet on growing demand for online tech learning. […]

Prosus, one of Europe’s most valuable tech companies, is best known as the largest shareholder in Chinese internet and videogaming giant Tencent Holdings Ltd. Listed in Amsterdam, Prosus signaled its appetite for deal making when it sold a small portion of its equity stake in Tencent in April for $14.6 billion. The Stack Overflow deal ranks among Prosus’s biggest acquisitions.

Acquisition prices have skyrocketed since 2012, but still, that’s almost two Instagrams.

TikTok Privacy Policy Changed to Grant Itself Permission to Collect Biometric Data on U.S. Users 

Sarah Perez, reporting for TechCrunch:

A change to TikTok’s U.S. privacy policy on Wednesday introduced a new section that says the social video app “may collect biometric identifiers and biometric information” from its users’ content. This includes things like “faceprints and voiceprints,” the policy explained. Reached for comment, TikTok could not confirm what product developments necessitated the addition of biometric data to its list of disclosures about the information it automatically collects from users, but said it would ask for consent in the case such data collection practices began.

Wonderful. Why don’t we just give you copies of the keys to our homes and our ATM PIN codes, too?

Many Vaccinated Transplant Recipients Remain at Risk for COVID 

Candida Moss, in a column (RIP “op-ed”) for The New York Times:

What is receiving considerably less attention, however, is that not everyone who is vaccinated will develop antibodies, and many of those who don’t are at high risk for the most severe consequences of Covid-19. As a kidney transplant recipient, I am one of those people.

Until recently, immunocompromised people were excluded from studies of the mRNA vaccines for Covid-19, but data from clinical trials is beginning to emerge. A study of fully vaccinated kidney transplant patients published in April by researchers at New York- Presbyterian Hospital and Columbia University Medical Center revealed that 75 percent of kidney transplant patients studied did not develop measurable immunity after both doses of the vaccine. A second study published by Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine researchers in May found that only 54 percent of fully vaccinated organ transplant recipients studied had antibodies. The numbers are different, but both studies showed that immunocompromised people had significantly reduced responses to the mRNA vaccines.

I have “world’s smallest violin, playing just for you” levels of sympathy for anyone who has chosen not to get vaccinated and then gets sick. This guy, for example — a 33-year-old Colorado sheriff who filled his Facebook page with anti-vax nonsense about the vaccines causing third arms to grow out of foreheads, and his natural immune system being all he needed to protect himself. He caught COVID and died three weeks later.

But the unvaccinated are putting others at great risk — those who can’t get vaccinated (including children), or, as in Moss’s case, those for whom the vaccines don’t produce antibodies. Our overall nationwide rates are plummeting — thanks entirely to the vaccines — but the infection, hospitalization, and death rates among the unvaccinated are, in some states, still raging. Again, I have no sympathy for those at risk by choice — but profound sympathy for those still at risk with no choice.

It is shameful to choose not to get vaccinated.

Estimates for How Long Each State Will Take to Reach 70 Percent Vaccination Among Adults 

The New York Times:

The United States is roughly on track to meet President Biden’s goal of getting at least one Covid-19 shot into the arms of 70 percent of adults by July 4 — if the current vaccination pace holds. But demand for vaccines has decreased in much of the country in recent weeks, and the promising national numbers (about 63 percent of adults have received at least one shot) do not reflect the uneven rates among states.

Even if the country as a whole reaches the national target, at least 30 states probably will not. And a handful are unlikely to reach the 70 percent mark before the end of the year, a New York Times analysis shows, potentially prolonging the pandemic.

On the bright side, even our worst-performing states on COVID vaccination rates — Alabama, Mississippi, Wyoming, and Louisiana (one of these states is geographically unlike the others) — are all nearing 50 percent for adults. Even in the states seemingly most riddled with anti-vax nutters and “let’s wait and see” hesitants, over half of adults will soon be vaccinated. That’s pretty good. Most countries around the world would love to have Mississippi’s 44 percent rate.

In a members-only post today on his excellent Political Wire, Taegan Goddard wrote the following, regarding a “Happiness Index” poll showing Americans’ happiness reaching pre-pandemic levels:

Nearly everyone I meet — some of whom I haven’t seen in more than a year — seems happier. This is almost entirely due to the vaccines — and their highly efficient rollout across the country over the last six months. Their development may be the greatest scientific advance of our lifetimes.

I don’t think there’s any question about that. If it weren’t for these vaccines, we’d all still be cooped up. More people would be and would get sick. More people would have died and would die.

Instead, life is rapidly going back to normal. Fewer people are getting sick and far fewer are dying. All thanks to these amazingly effective and safe vaccines that were developed, tested, and mass-produced in about a year.

Apple Platform Security: Magic Keyboard With Touch ID 

Apple’s Platform Security has a good page on the details of how Touch ID works with the new Magic Keyboard and Apple Silicon Macs:

The Magic Keyboard with Touch ID performs the role of the biometric sensor; it doesn’t store biometric templates, perform biometric matching, or enforce security policies (for example, having to enter the password after 48 hours without an unlock). The Touch ID sensor in the Magic Keyboard with Touch ID must be securely paired to the Secure Enclave on the Mac before it can be used, and then the Secure Enclave performs the enrollment and matching operations and enforces security policies in the same way it would for a built-in Touch ID sensor. Apple performs the pairing process in the factory for a Magic Keyboard with Touch ID that is shipped with a Mac. Pairing can also be performed by the user if needed. A Magic Keyboard with Touch ID can be securely paired with only one Mac at a time, but a Mac can maintain secure pairings with up to five different Magic Keyboard with Touch ID keyboards.

So I was wrong in my article on “secure intent” this week — the Magic Keyboard With Touch ID does not contain its own local Secure Enclave. It pairs with the Secure Enclave in the Mac with which it’s paired. But this contradicts the Platform Security page about “secure intent”, which states: “the connection is a physical link — from a physical button to the Secure Enclave”. The Magic Keyboard With Touch ID has a wireless, not physical, link to the paired Mac’s Secure Enclave. This Platform Security guide page has details about how Apple makes that work securely.

The Magic Keyboard with Touch ID and built-in Touch ID sensors are compatible. If a finger that was enrolled on a built-in Mac Touch ID sensor is presented on a Magic Keyboard with Touch ID, the Secure Enclave in the Mac successfully processes the match — and vice versa.

I did not know this — nifty.

United Commits to 15 Supersonic Planes From Boom 

David Koenig, reporting for the AP:

United Airlines aims to bring back supersonic travel before the decade is over with a plane that is currently just an artist’s drawing — even the prototype hasn’t flown yet.

The airline said Thursday that it plans to buy 15 jets from Boom Supersonic with an option for 35 more once the start-up company designs a plane that flies faster than the speed of sound while meeting safety and environmental standards.

United hopes to carry passengers on the plane in 2029. The airline said the plane will reduce flights between London and the New York area to just 3.5 hours and make Tokyo only 6 hours from San Francisco.

The last commercial supersonic flight was in 2003, when the Concordes were grounded.

Trump Pulls Plug on Blog After Just 29 Days 

Drew Harwell and Josh Dawsey, reporting for The Washington Post:

Upset by reports from The Washington Post and other outlets highlighting its measly readership and concerns that it could detract from a social media platform he wants to launch later this year, Trump ordered his team Tuesday to put the blog out of its misery, advisers said.

On its last day, the site received just 1,500 shares or comments on Facebook and Twitter — a staggering drop for someone whose every tweet once garnered hundreds of thousands of reactions.

You hate to see it.

Another Take on Amazon’s Sidewalk Mesh Network 

Josephine Wolff, writing for Slate:

By all means, opt out of Amazon Sidewalk if anything about this program makes you uncomfortable or if (despite already owning a Ring or Echo) you don’t trust the company enough to share a little of your home network with your neighbors safely. You’re under no obligation to participate in this mesh networking experiment, and it probably would have made more sense for Amazon to at least launch the program with an opt-in model that gave people more time to learn about how it works and whether they want to be involved.

But if you’re just learning about mesh networks for the first time and aren’t sure what to think, or whether this is something to be very worried about, I really don’t think it is. If you’ve already reconciled yourself to the privacy implications of owning an Echo or a Ring, the additional privacy and security drawbacks of participating in Sidewalk seem very limited and the benefits are potentially considerable, for you and for everyone around you.

I like this take. The thing to consider is whether you trust Echo and Ring devices with your privacy. If you do, you might as well participate in Sidewalk. It’s not that different, conceptually, from Apple’s Find My network.

Using Fake Reviews to Find Dangerous Browser Extensions 

Brian Krebs:

Fake, positive reviews have infiltrated nearly every corner of life online these days, confusing consumers while offering an unwelcome advantage to fraudsters and sub-par products everywhere. Happily, identifying and tracking these fake reviewer accounts is often the easiest way to spot scams. Here’s the story of how bogus reviews on a counterfeit Microsoft Authenticator browser extension exposed dozens of other extensions that siphoned personal and financial data.

After hearing from a reader about a phony Microsoft Authenticator extension that appeared on the Google Chrome Store, KrebsOnSecurity began looking at the profile of the account that created it. There were a total of five reviews on the extension before it was removed: Three Google users gave it one star, warning people to stay far away from it; but two of the reviewers awarded it between three and four stars.

Fraudulent reviews are a scourge. Apple’s App Store is riddled with them — I’m not sure I’ve seen a single story about a scammy app in the App Store that didn’t have a bunch of 5-star reviews. Amazon product pages are riddled with fake reviews too. There’s a huge cottage industry in paying for fake reviews in any online forum where reviews can come from anyone.

I don’t know what the answer is. Users think they like reading reviews from other users, but they have no idea how utterly untrustworthy unverified reviews are. There’d be outrage if Apple or Amazon simply pulled the plug on user-submitted reviews, or wiped the slate clean by nuking existing reviews and starting over with some sort of “verified reviewer” system. But the status quo is a cesspool of scammy reviews that many users believe they can trust. It’s a mess.

Stack Overflow Acquired by Prosus 

Stack Overflow co-founder Joel Spolsky:

Today we’re pleased to announce that Stack Overflow is joining Prosus. Prosus is an investment and holding company, which means that the most important part of this announcement is that Stack Overflow will continue to operate independently, with the exact same team in place that has been operating it, according to the exact same plan and the exact same business practices. Don’t expect to see major changes or awkward “synergies”. The business of Stack Overflow will continue to focus on Reach and Relevance, and Stack Overflow for Teams. The entire company is staying in place: we just have different owners now.

This is, in some ways, the best possible outcome. Stack Overflow stays independent. The company has plenty of cash on hand to expand and deliver more features and fix the old broken ones.

Stack Overflow is far from perfect — what isn’t? — but the world would be a far worse place without it, so here’s to hoping that Prosus is a good steward.

Fresh Off the Rip-Off Express: Huawei’s New MatePad Pro 

One feature they do differently from iPads which I like: the front-facing camera is on the long side, not the short side, so it works better when the tablet is attached to a keyboard.

Otherwise, no shame whatsoever. It’s hard to see how they could make these look more like iPad’s hardware and software.

Shortcuts for Mac? 

Jason Snell, in his wishlist for Mac news at next week’s WWDC:

One feature that the Mac desperately needs from iPadOS is, believe it or not, Shortcuts. I’ve written elsewhere about this, but essentially it’s easier for me to create automations for many tasks on iOS than it is on macOS — and it shouldn’t be that way. Shortcuts fulfills the promise of Automator in ways that Automator never did, and while it’s got a lot of room to grow, it’s clearly the future of automation on Apple’s platforms. Add in actions that can run AppleScript, Automator workflows, and shell scripts, and we’ll really have something.

I’ve gotten more into Shortcuts in the last few months, and I really hope this happens. I just wonder how Shortcuts on Mac could offer actions for things that aren’t possible on iOS, like Snell’s suggestion for being able to run AppleScript and shell scripts. I suppose they’d just generate an error on iOS, and you could use them in a cross-platform shortcut by conditionally testing whether the shortcut is running on MacOS — pretty much how it works now when you have a shortcut containing actions that require a third-party app to be installed.

The 2021 Apple Design Award Finalists 

Nice selection of apps and games from Apple. Some of the apps on the list that I’m familiar with: 1Password, Carrot Weather, Craft, Nova, Brief, (Not Boring) Weather, and Universe. Not one but two clever weather apps. Nova is the only app on the list that isn’t in the App Store.

My favorite inclusion, though, is Poolside FM, under the category “Delight and Fun”. There’s a lot of “delight and fun” on this list of finalists — again, Carrot Weather and (Not Boring) Weather — but Poolside FM’s entire point is delight and fun. As I wrote back in September, “To team Poolside: 🍸.”

Update 10 June: The winners.

Amazon Devices Will Soon Default to Sharing Your Wi-Fi With Other Nearby Amazon Devices 

Dan Goodin, reporting for Ars Technica:

On June 8, the merchant, Web host, and entertainment behemoth will automatically enroll the devices in Amazon Sidewalk. The new wireless mesh service will share a small slice of your Internet bandwidth with nearby neighbors who don’t have connectivity and help you to their bandwidth when you don’t have a connection.

By default, Amazon devices including Alexa, Echo, Ring, security cams, outdoor lights, motion sensors, and Tile trackers will enroll in the system. And since only a tiny fraction of people take the time to change default settings, that means millions of people will be co-opted into the program whether they know anything about it or not. The Amazon webpage linked above says Sidewalk “is currently only available in the US.” […]

Amazon has published a white paper detailing the technical underpinnings and service terms that it says will protect the privacy and security of this bold undertaking. To be fair, the paper is fairly comprehensive, and so far no one has pointed out specific flaws that undermine the encryption or other safeguards being put in place. But there are enough theoretical risks to give users pause.

The instructions for opting out are easy, but this seems like something that ought to be opt-in, not opt-out. (My only Amazon device that’s plugged in is a first-generation Echo, which is too old for Sidewalk, so I don’t even see the preference setting in the Alexa app. Apparently the setting only appears if you have at least one eligible device — you can’t opt-out in advance.)

Canada Has Covidiots, Too 

Bryce Hoye, reporting for CBC News:

Staff at Boundary Trails Health Centre are routinely hearing from sick and unvaccinated patients who believe the pandemic is a hoax — some remaining defiant even on the brink of death.

“We hear this almost every day, and I know that’s startling,” said Dr. Ganesan Abbu. “It’s difficult … to know that almost 100 per cent of our admissions have not been vaccinated.” […]

“I’ve had two patients who have died and even right until the time that they died, they didn’t believe that they had it,” Abbu said. “It’s not as though we are trying to get the patient to acknowledge that they have COVID before they die. These patients are so much in denial, they are volunteering this information.”

A lot of these folks probably don’t believe in Darwinism, either, which I suppose is ironic.

Alibaba’s Popular Mobile Web Browser, UC Browser, Has ‘Incognito’ Mode That Isn’t Private at All 

Thomas Brewster, writing for Forbes:

But the privacy pledges made by UCWeb are misleading, according to security researcher Gabi Cirlig. His findings, verified for Forbes by two other independent researchers, reveal that on both Android and iOS versions of UC Browser, every website a user visits, regardless of whether they’re in incognito mode or not, is sent to servers owned by UCWeb. Cirlig said IP addresses - which could be used to get a user’s rough location down to the town or neighborhood of the user - were also being sent to Alibaba-controlled servers. Those servers were registered in China and carried the .cn Chinese domain name extension, but were hosted in the U.S. An ID number is also assigned to each user, meaning their activity across different websites could effectively be monitored by the Chinese company, though it’s not currently clear just what Alibaba and its subsidiary are doing with the data. “This could easily fingerprint users and tie them back to their real personas,” Cirlig wrote in a blog post handed to Forbes ahead of publication on Tuesday.

Not what you want.

WWDC Highlights Through the Decades 

Parker Ortolani, writing for 9to5Mac:

Every WWDC has its moments, but there are some moments in particular that are impossible to forget. From earthshaking announcements to retrospectively goofy quotes, there are so many memories that bring a smile to our faces. As we approach WWDC 2021, let’s take a look back at some of those moments.

Even though WWDC technically started in 1990, let’s start where things got interesting, which is in 1997. Apple was on the brink and Steve Jobs had just returned to the company following the NeXT acquisition.

Another reason to start in 1997: there’s not much video surviving from earlier WWDCs. What a remarkable compilation Ortolani has put together here.

Claim Chowder: Google Duplex 

Three years ago Google announced a service called Duplex at their I/O conference. They also played purported demos of Duplex in action. I was highly skeptical, and cast doubt that the demos Google offered were legitimate. A lot of people gave me a lot of shit about my skepticism.

In a follow-up post, after Google provided a handful of journalists with a very limited hands-on demo, I wrote:

Right now it feels like a feature in search of a product, but they pitched it as an imminent product at I/O because it made for a stunning demo. (It remains the only thing announced at I/O that anyone is talking about.) If what Google really wanted was just for Google Assistant to be able to make restaurant reservations, they’d be better off building an OpenTable competitor and giving it away to all these small businesses that don’t yet offer online reservations. I’m not holding my breath for Duplex ever to allow anyone to make a reservation at any establishment.

Three years later and I’m still not holding my breath.

Update: Apparently Duplex has launched, but it’s unclear how often the AI system — not human operators — make the phone calls. Would love to hear some recordings of this in action.

Apple in the Enterprise: A 2021 Report Card 

Jason Snell, writing at Six Colors:

This year, we’re trying something new. Device-management startup Kandji approached Six Colors to commission a new Report Card, but with a focus on how Apple’s doing in large organizations, including businesses, education, and government. We worked with Kandji and the hosts of the Mac Admins Podcast, Tom Bridge and Charles Edge, to formulate a set of survey questions that would address the big-picture issues regarding Apple in the enterprise. Then we approached people we knew in the community of Apple-device administrators and asked them to participate in the survey.

High marks for hardware quality and security/privacy, low marks for software reliability and deployment.

**See also: Snell is the guest on this week’s episode of the Mac Admins Podcast.