Linked List: May 2021

U.F.O. Sightings Almost Certainly Aren’t Aliens 

Adam Frank, professor of astrophysics at the University of Rochester, in a column for The New York Times:

There are also common-sense objections. If we are being frequently visited by aliens, why don’t they just land on the White House lawn and announce themselves? There is a recurring narrative, perhaps best exemplified by the TV show The X-Files, that these creatures have some mysterious reason to remain hidden from us. But if the mission of these aliens calls for stealth, they seem surprisingly incompetent. You would think that creatures technologically capable of traversing the mind-boggling distances between the stars would also know how to turn off their high beams at night and to elude our primitive infrared cameras.

Exactly. It makes no sense that an alien civilization with the technology for faster-than-light space travel would lack the ability to remain hidden from us, if they so chose. (Same argument goes 100× for any claims that alien ships ever crashed on Earth.)

Point Card 

My thanks to Point Card for once again sponsoring DF. Everyone enjoys rewards and benefits on credit cards. But there’s one thing none of us like — interest rates that pile up into debt. Unlike credit cards, debit cards are like spending cash, but typically don’t come with good rewards.

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I mean just take a look at their ads over there in the sidebar: even the cards are obsessively designed.

Arizona Lawsuit Documents Detail Google’s Efforts to Collect User Location Data and Obfuscate the Settings to Control It 

Tyler Sonnemaker, reporting for Insider:

Newly unredacted documents in a lawsuit against Google reveal that the company’s own executives and engineers knew just how difficult the company had made it for smartphone users to keep their location data private.

Google continued collecting location data even when users turned off various location-sharing settings, made popular privacy settings harder to find, and even pressured LG and other phone makers into hiding settings precisely because users liked them, according to the documents.

Jack Menzel, a former vice president overseeing Google Maps, admitted during a deposition that the only way Google wouldn’t be able to figure out a user’s home and work locations is if that person intentionally threw Google off the trail by setting their home and work addresses as some other random locations. […]

When Google tested versions of its Android operating system that made privacy settings easier to find, users took advantage of them, which Google viewed as a “problem”, according to the documents. To solve that problem, Google then sought to bury those settings deeper within the settings menu.

Arizona attorney general Mark Brnovich’s complaint (PDF), albeit partially redacted, is a cogent and damning read. It seems undeniable that Google deliberately obfuscated location privacy settings, and knew that they were confusing. From pages 12–13:

Google’s own employees have clearly identified the problem:

  • “Real people just think in terms of ‘location is on’, ‘location is off’ because that’s exactly what you have on the front screen of your phone.” Ex. 206 (GOOG-GLAZ-00055452) at 452.
  • “The current UI feels like it is designed to make things possible, yet difficult enough that people won’t figure it out.” Ex. 207 (GOOG-GLAZ-00077898) at 899.
  • “Some people (including even Googlers) don’t know that there is a global switch and a per-device switch.” Ex. 208 (GOOG-GLAZ-00055552) at 553.
  • “Today, collection of device usage and diagnostic data is smeared across 5 settings resulting in conditions that are difficult for Googlers, let alone users, to understand.” Ex. 210 (GOOG-GLAZ-00057940) at 940.

I enjoy the implicit assumption in their internal communications that Google employees are so smart that if “even” they’re confused, it must be too complicated. From page 15 (citations omitted for readability):

On August 13, 2018, the AP published an exclusive report titled “Google tracks your movements, like it or not” that publicly exposed this deception. The article explained how Google “records your movements even when you explicitly tell it not to.”

Until the AP article was published, Google represented on its public help page regarding Location History that “You can turn off Location History at any time. With Location History off, the places you go are no longer stored.”

But that was not true. Even with Location History off, Google still collected and stored location data via (at least) its Web & App Activity setting. Thus, for example, a user who had Location History off and looked up the weather where he lived or searched the web with Google’s Search app would still unknowingly send Google his location.

The day the AP story was published, Google turned into crisis mode and held a self-styled “Oh Shit” meeting in reaction to the story.

“Oh shit” indeed.

Microsoft: SolarWinds Hackers Target 150 Organizations With Phishing Campaign 

Frank Bajak, reporting for the AP:

The state-backed Russian cyber spies behind the SolarWinds hacking campaign launched a targeted spear-phishing assault on U.S. and foreign government agencies and think tanks this week using an email marketing account of the U.S. Agency for International Development, Microsoft says.

The effort targeted about 3,000 email accounts at more than 150 different organizations, at least a quarter of them involved in international development, humanitarian and human rights work, Microsoft Vice President Tom Burt said in a blog post late Thursday.

When’s the last time a major national-newsworthy large-scale hack like this affected any organization that wasn’t running Windows for their server infrastructure?

Update: Best answer so far: Robert Morris’s worm in 1988.

Doc Searls on Apple and Surveillance Advertising 

Doc Searls:

Here’s what’s misleading about this message: Felix would have had none of those trackers following him if he had gone into Settings → Privacy → Tracking, and pushed the switch to off […].

Key fact: it is defaulted to on. Meaning Apple is not fully serious about privacy. If Apple was fully serious, your iPhone would be set to not allow tracking in the first place. All those trackers would come pre-vaporized.

For all the criticism Apple has faced from the ad tech industry over this feature, it’s fun to see criticism that Apple isn’t going far enough. But I don’t think Searls’s critique here is fair. Permission to allow tracking is not on by default — what is on by default is permission for the app to ask. Searls makes that clear, I know, but it feels like he’s arguing as though apps can track you by default, and they can’t.

Whether setting up a new phone or upgrading an existing iPhone to iOS 14.5 or later, when apps want to track, you will get asked, and the alert is modal, with no “Ask Me Later” option. You must choose “Allow” or “Ask App Not to Track”. There are no other options.

I think that’s very fair, both to apps that want to track, and to users, so they are given explicit control over this permission, even if they have never heard of this new iOS 14 feature before. It’s not hard to find the global preference to forbid apps from even asking for permission — which screen also shows you a list of the apps that have asked for this permission. On my iPhone, with quite a few apps installed, there are only four apps on the list: Instagram, MLB, MM Live (the NCAA’s March Madness app), and Twitter. So it’s not like I’m getting badgered. I like keeping this “Allow Apps to Request to Track” option on so I can see if a new app even wants this permission.

The key is that Apple isn’t disallowing tracking — they’ve given every user the ability to disallow tracking.

And Apple never would have given every iPhone an IDFA — ID For Advertisers — in the first place. And never mind that they created IDFA back in 2013 partly to wean advertisers from tracking and targeting phones’ UDIDs (unique device IDs).

IDFA was well-intentioned, but I think in hindsight Apple realizes it was naive to think the surveillance ad industry could be trusted with anything.

And why “ask” an app not to track? Why not “tell”? Or, better yet, “Prevent Tracking By This App”? Does asking an app not to track mean it won’t?

This is Apple being honest. Apple can block apps from accessing the IDFA identifier, but there’s nothing Apple can do to guarantee that apps won’t come up with their own device fingerprinting schemes to track users behind their backs. Using “Don’t Allow Tracking” or some such label instead of “Ask App Not to Track” would create the false impression that Apple can block any and all forms of tracking. It’s like a restaurant with a no smoking policy. That doesn’t mean you won’t go into the restroom and find a patron sneaking a smoke. I think if Apple catches applications circumventing “Ask App Not to Track” with custom schemes, they’ll take punitive action, just like a restaurant might ask a patron to leave if they catch them smoking in the restroom — but they can’t guarantee it won’t happen. (Joanna Stern asked Craig Federighi about this in their interview a few weeks ago, and Federighi answered honestly.)

If Apple could give you a button that guaranteed an app couldn’t track you, they would, and they’d label it appropriately. But they can’t so they don’t, and they won’t exaggerate what they can do.

See also: Nick Heer at Pixel Envy, whose take on Searls’s post is similar to mine.

Also see also: Steve Jobs on Apple’s privacy stance back in 2010: “Ask them. Ask them every time. Make them tell you to stop asking them if they get tired of your asking them. Let them know precisely what you’re going to do with their data. That’s what we think.”

How to Use the New Apple TV Remote’s Jog-Shuttle Gesture 

Good video demo from Dave Mark. The non-obvious trick is that you need to first pause the video you’re watching, then hold your thumb on the ring for a moment before you start spinning. You know you’re in jog mode when you see the jog cursor above the timeline of the video on screen. (In a nice touch, the rotating dot on the on-screen jog dial keeps pace with your thumb’s location on the physical ring.)

Also, I made a mistake in my review of the new remote: you can’t really use it to scroll through vertical lists on tvOS (like in the Settings app). Running your thumb around the ring in a vertical list does move the selection, but it moves the selection up and down as your thumb goes up and down. We regret the error. (This would be a nice feature for Apple to add to tvOS, in my opinion — it should work for scrolling lists.)

Matt Stoller: ‘Amazon Prime Is an Economy-Distorting Lie’ 

Matt Stoller, writing for Big, making the case that last week’s antitrust suit against Amazon filed by D.C. attorney general Karl Racine largely hinges around Prime:

To understand why, we have to start with the idea of free shipping. Free shipping is the God of online retail, so powerful that France actually banned the practice to protect its retail outlets. Free shipping is also the backbone of Prime. Amazon founder Jeff Bezos knew that the number one pain point for online buyers is shipping - one third of shoppers abandon their carts when they see shipping charges. Bezos helped invent Prime for this reason, saying the point of Prime was to use free shipping “to draw a moat around our best customers.” The goal was to get people used to buying from Amazon, knowing they wouldn’t have to worry about shipping charges. Once Amazon had control of a large chunk of online retail customers, it could then begin dictating terms of sellers who needed to reach them.

This became clear as you read Racine’s complaint. One of the most important sentences in the AG’s argument is a quote from Bezos in 2015 where he alludes to this point. In discussing the firm’s logistics service that is the bedrock of its free shipping promise, Fulfillment by Amazon (FBA), he said, “FBA is so important because it is glue that inextricably links Marketplace and Prime. Thanks to FBA, Marketplace and Prime are no longer two things. Their economics … are now happily and deeply intertwined.” Amazon wants people to see Prime, FBA, and Marketplace as one integrated mega-product, what Bezos likes to call “a flywheel”, to disguise the actual monopolization at work. (Indeed, any time you hear the word “flywheel” relating to Amazon, replace it with “monopoly” and the sentence will make sense.)

Stoller’s argument boils down to the age-old adage that there’s no such thing as a free lunch, and that Prime’s “free” shipping is subsidized by “most favored nation” agreements with sellers in Amazon Marketplace that artificially raise the price of the products. (A Marketplace seller is not allowed to sell its own products on its own website (or competing stores) at lower prices than it offers on Amazon.)

Inside Details of the 2011 RSA Hack 

Riveting report by Andy Greenberg for Wired:

In the decade that followed, many key RSA executives involved in the company’s breach have held their silence, bound by 10-year nondisclosure agreements. Now those agreements have expired, allowing them to tell me their stories in new detail. Their accounts capture the experience of being targeted by sophisticated state hackers who patiently and persistently take on their most high-value networked targets on a global scale, where an adversary sometimes understands the interdependencies of its victims’ systems better than victims do themselves, and is willing to exploit those hidden relationships.

The perpetrators: Chinese hackers. The attack vector that got them in the door: well, given that it was 2011, you will not be surprised.

(The opening anecdote has a somewhat Mission Impossible-y feel to it that doesn’t ring true to my ears — that the hackers moved the archive with the pilfered encryption seeds mere seconds before an RSA analyst attempted to remotely delete them. For one thing, it implies there was any hint that the archive RSA found was the only copy of the data. So take that anecdote with a Tom Cruise-size grain of salt. It’s a good inside look nonetheless.)

The Talk Show: ‘I Don’t Know How to Read’ 

For your holiday weekend listening enjoyment, a new episode of America’s favorite 3-star podcast. Special guest: the one and only Joanna Stern.

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An Inside Look at How Surveillance Advertising Makes Creepy Connections 

Robert G. Reeve, on Twitter:

I’m back from a week at my mom’s house and now I’m getting ads for her toothpaste brand, the brand I’ve been putting in my mouth for a week. We never talked about this brand or googled it or anything like that.

As a privacy tech worker, let me explain why this is happening.

Fascinating thread. This whole industry is just sick — staffed by the marketing equivalents of peeping Toms. It’s perverted, the whole industry.

Some takeaways: Be conservative about which apps you grant location privileges. (Double-checking is easy: Settings → Privacy → Location Services. Always interesting to see which apps have actually used their location privileges recently, too.) Pay for purchases privately when you can, using Apple Pay or cash. Check your credit card accounts and opt out of everything marketing related.

Google and Samsung Claim to Be Merging Wear OS and Tizen Into a Unified OS for Watches 

Chris Welch, reporting for The Verge last week during I/O:

Yesterday brought the momentous news that Google and Samsung will merge together their Wear OS and Tizen-based smartwatch platforms into a single operating system. The new software is currently being referred to as Wear, but that name could change as we get closer to the first devices that will ship with it.

The unified platform is intended to give Android smartwatches a huge boost and much simpler strategy. It will also allow developers to create apps and widgets for a single OS instead of splitting their efforts between Wear OS and Tizen.

Good luck, I say, and I mean it. Apple Watch needs competition, because right now there’s very little.

Think about how much more cohesive Apple’s Watch platform has been from the get-go compared to Google’s and Samsung’s. Yes, the initial Apple Watch release was a little uncertain about what to focus on. Apple spent a lot of effort promoting Apple Watch as a platform for personal communication — sharing heartbeats with loved ones, scribbling notes to each other, stuff like that. They were also bizarrely focused on third-party apps for the Watch despite the fact that their initial WatchOS SDK was total garbage — slow, buggy, and borderline useless. They also debuted with a foolish line of $5–20K solid 18-karat gold Edition models.

Those were false starts, but Apple never needed to reverse course with Apple Watch. They just needed to identify and focus on what Apple Watch was best for: notifications and fitness/health tracking. (And Edition models made from more practical materials, like ceramic and titanium.) Forget about the bad ideas, double down on the good ones. But those good ideas, the things people love about Apple Watch today, were all right there from the start. Today’s Apple Watch — both hardware and software — is clearly a refined version of what debuted six years ago.

Meanwhile, Google and Samsung are merging two totally different OSes. None of Apple’s smartwatch competitors have made anything even vaguely approaching iconic hardware designs. And Samsung, we’re supposed to believe, is OK with competing manufacturers benefitting from this new Wear OS/Tizen merged platform based at least in part on Samsung’s work.

What a mess.

Texas Lawmakers Pass Bill Requiring National Anthem to Be Played by Pro Sports Teams 

Land of the free.

Hop Sing Laundromat May Require Proof of COVID Vaccination 

Speaking of mononymous folks, my friend Lê, owner of Philly’s famed Hop Sing Laundromat cocktail bar, is leaning toward requiring proof of vaccination when they reopen this summer. Victor Fiorillo, reporting for Philadelphia Magazine:

According to Lê, he polled his staff and regulars to ask them if they thought he should require proof of vaccination, the same way he requires government-issued identification and dress-code compliance, and the answer was a unanimous yes.

While proof of vaccination and, hell, the COVID vaccine itself have somehow turned into political theater, Lê insists this isn’t about politics for him.

“We can’t emphasize enough that it is not a political statement of any kind,” he told us. “However, our staff is mentally prepared to be cursed at … on a good day and [endure] racist or homophobic comments on an OK day from those individuals with a sense of entitlement. But if you look on the bright side of things, if these people would say stupid stuff like that at the gate, then there’s no reason they should be drinking in the first place, so the staff look at it as a silver lining.”

I, of course, voted yes.

Markdown Improvements to Apple’s Developer Forums 

The mononymous Quinn outlines his favorite new improvements to Apple’s Developer Forums, most of which are Markdown-related. I will admit that I find this satisfying. Here’s one:

The Markdown parser now supports out-of-line links. For example, you can ‘spell’ the previous link as:

link to the [Wikipedia > Service set (802.11 network)][refSs81n] page

[refSs81n]: <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Service_set_(802.11_network)>

Personally I prefer this style because I find that the long links get in my way while crafting my text.

I know inline links — [like this](http://example.com/) — are overwhelmingly more popular with Markdown users, but I personally much prefer the reference style for exactly the reason Quinn does. The inline style is easier, and I’d never argue against laziness as a virtue, but the reference style is just so much more readable.

Vizio Makes Nearly as Much Money From Ads and Data as It Does From Selling TVs 

R. Lawler, writing a few weeks ago for Engadget:

Issuing its first public earnings report earlier today, [Vizio] revealed that in the first three months of 2021, profits from its Platform+ business — the part that sells viewer data and advertising space via the SmartCast platform — were $38.4 million. […] Its device business (the part that sells TVs, sound bars and the like) had a gross profit of $48.2 million in the same period, up from $32.5 million last year. While the hardware business has significantly more revenue, profits from data and advertising spiked 152 percent from last year, and are quickly catching up.

Walt Hickey, Numlock News:

Vizio is a television company with a data collection operation on the side, but is slowly becoming a data collection company with a television operation.

Is there a single privacy-respecting streaming platform other than Apple TV?

Is there a brand of TV that you can safely allow to connect to the internet?

Facebook-Sponsored Research Paper Lambasts Apple’s iOS 14.5 Privacy 

William Gallagher, writing for AppleInsider:

“Harming Competition and Consumers Under the Guise of Protecting Privacy,” is a new academic research paper funded by Facebook. Citing the social media company on 11 of its 22 pages, it takes the position that Apple’s privacy features are “devastating” and that, “app developers, advertisers and the ads ecosystem lose.”

The paper, subtitled “An Analysis of Apple’s iOS 14 Policy Updates,” is written by D. Daniel Sokol of the University of Florida Levin College of Law, and Feng Zhu, from the Harvard Business School.

“While thinly veiled as a privacy-protecting measure, Apple’s iOS 14 policy changes harm the entire ad-supported ecosystem — from developers to advertisers to end consumers,” they write in the full paper. “By sharply limiting the ability of third-party apps to create value through personalized advertising, Apple’s policy changes undermine competition.”

Let’s get them some lollipops, make the boo-boo feel better.

(Alternative quip: “By sharply reducing burglaries, police are limiting the ability of pawn shops to create value from stolen goods.”)

The Media’s Lab Leak Fiasco 

Great column today from Matt Yglesias:

Because there is obviously a big media fuckup angle to this story, the two biggest deal accounts for a lot of media-skeptics are Donald McNeil making the case for a lab leak and Nicholas Wade making the case for a lab leak because those are both veteran science reporters who got “cancelled.” But I do think it’s important to try to understand exactly who got what wrong here. My best assessment is to agree with Josh Rogin that this is a case of a smallish group of reporters and fact-checkers proclaiming a scientific consensus where none ever really existed.

Josh Rogin (28 March 2021):

To anyone saying there is a “scientific consensus” about the origin of the coronavirus — Robert Redfield is a scientist. There is no consensus. Stop writing that falsehood into your stories, please.

There’s a question as to why that fake consensus emerged. But I think the more troubling question is: How did people let the original story of what Tom Cotton even said go so badly awry? Essentially Cotton said something that was then transformed into a fake claim of a Chinese bio-attack, then the fake claim was debunked, and then the debunking was applied to the real claim with little attention paid to ongoing disagreement among researchers.

At a meta level, it is fascinating to watch the top news publications unwind themselves from last year’s mistake of lumping “accidental leak from well-intentioned Wuhan research lab” with the actual baseless conspiracies about bioweapons or the SARS-CoV-2 virus being “engineered” from scratch to destabilize the world economy or whatever.

Here’s an unwinding from the Washington Post two days ago; here’s the New York Times’s unwinding and CNN’s today. The Post’s headline is instructively defensive: “Timeline: How the Wuhan Lab-Leak Theory Suddenly Became Credible” — the theory has been credible and compelling all along. What’s “sudden” is that journalists are now realizing — as Yglesias says — that they fucked up last year establishing a baseline conventional wisdom that it was pure crackpottery.

Yglesias’s piece is a terrific summary of the whole debacle.

TikTok Star Lucy Edwards’s Favorite Accessibility Apps 

Great story from the App Store about Lucy Edwards, a blind TikTok star:

“When you lose your eyesight, it’s not only the grief and loss and trauma of that event. You are reminded every time you wake up that you can’t see,” says Edwards, who lost sight in her right eye by age 11 due to a rare genetic condition. When she was 17, a retinal detachment in her left eye caused her to become completely blind.

I’ve got a soft spot for accessibility in general, but you say “retinal detachment” and you’ve got my attention. This is a great list of apps — both the apps she uses to shoot her videos, and the apps she uses for daily life.

Dolphin on an M1 Mac 

Dolphin is an emulator for GameCube and Wii. Their team ported Dolphin to the M1 and compared it to a high-end PC gaming rig:

The efficiency is almost literally off the chart. Compared to an absolute monstrosity of a desktop PC, it uses less than 1/10th of the energy while providing ~65% of the performance. And the poor Intel MacBook Pro just can’t compare.

And, as the Dolphin team points out, Apple still hasn’t shown its silicon cards for high-end Macs. The M1 is the consumer Mac chip.

Unexpectedly 

Stéphane Sudre:

Unexpectedly is a Mac application that lets you browse and visualize the reports from crashes that happened on your Mac or, more probably, another one.

Unexpectedly knows how to parse macOS crash reports. Unexpectedly processes the crash reports to display them as text with colored syntax and hyperlinks or as outlines. A broad range of options are available to let you customize how and what to display.

Looks like a great idea, well done. But what a fantastic name “Unexpectedly” is. A perfect “One More Thing” at the bottom of the product page, too.

The Talk Show: ‘Obviously Tier One’ 

Marco Arment returns to the show to talk about the new Apple TV remote control. (Also, the new M1 iMacs and iPad Pros.)

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Finding Microsoft’s Next Default Font 

The Microsoft Design Team:

Calibri has been the default font for all things Microsoft since 2007, when it stepped in to replace Times New Roman across Microsoft Office. It has served us all well, but we believe it’s time to evolve. To help us set a new direction, we’ve commissioned five original, custom fonts to eventually replace Calibri as the default. We’re excited to share these brand-new fonts with you today and would love your input. Head over to social and tell us your favorite.

Asking users for input on which font should be their next default is perhaps the most Microsoftian thing in recent memory.

Donald McNeil on the COVID Epidemic: ‘The End Is Near’ 

Donald McNeil — the science reporter who was unceremoniously run out of The New York Times a few months ago — now writing on his oddly-named Medium blog:

Herd immunity is not a moment in time. President Biden is never going to say: “Today, at 9:04 A.M., on the deck of the U.S.S. Moderna, the virus known as SARS-CoV-2 signed our general terms of surrender.”

Instead, this virus is slowly becoming endemic: something we live with.

We will probably have bad seasons and good seasons, as we do with flu. We may have annual shots with a blend of the South African, Brazilian, Indian or whatever variants are circling the globe that year. Luckily, because coronaviruses mutate more slowly than influenza viruses, they will probably be better matches than flu shots are.

I was out to eat last night, indoors, for the fourth time since hitting maxination (two week post-second shot). It’s still exciting.

See also: McNeil last week on the lab-leak theory of COVID’s origin.

Washington State Has Sued a Patent Troll for Violating Consumer Protection Laws 

Joe Mullin, writing for the EFF:

Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson has filed a lawsuit claiming that Landmark Technology has violated the state’s Patent Troll Protection Act, which bans “bad faith” assertions of patent infringement. Following a widespread campaign of patent demand letters, more than 30 states passed some kind of law placing limits on bad-faith patent assertions. […]

The Washington case reveals just how widespread Landmark’s threats are. From January 2019 to July 2020, Landmark sent identical demand letters to 1,176 small businesses all across the country. Those letters threaten to sue unless Landmark gets paid a $65,000 licensing fee. Landmark essentially insists that if you use a website for e-commerce, you infringe this patent.

Sounds like no one is going to be rooting for Landmark in this case other than their fellow patent trolls.

Sketch: In 2021 and Beyond 

Sketch:

Real-time collaboration works with documents you share in your Workspace, but with the control and privacy features you’d expect from us; a drafts folder to keep work private until you’re ready to share, and a simple promise that we will not store, share or sell data about how you work. For example, neither us nor your manager can pull up a report that shows how long you’ve been working. Some products consider tracking like this a feature. We consider its absence a feature.

This is clearly a shot against Figma, a purely web-based rival app to Sketch, and an interesting angle to take. Figma allows for some truly invasive tracking of what your team members are doing — without them knowing that you (as a manager) are effectively standing over their shoulders watching them work (or not work). But I suspect such tracking — when used to micromanage — is really only a thing at big companies, and the people who agree with Sketch that the absence of tracking capabilities is a feature are not the people who choose the company’s design tools.

Figma has really taken off, with a lot of market and mind share, because their collaboration features truly are useful and cool. (It’s just a good design app in general, even if you’re not collaborating with anyone.) I know several designers who, in general, would prefer to use a native Mac app like Sketch but who really do love Figma because it’s a great tool. It’s great to see Sketch launch their own collaboration features. Sketch-vs.-Figma (vs. Adobe XD) is a rivalry that is good for everyone. Reminds me a bit of Illustrator-vs.-Freehand and QuarkXPress-vs.-Pagemaker from the early days of desktop publishing.

Vegetarian Unconcerned by Lax Meat Inspection 

Salvador Rodriguez, reporting for CNBC:

Snap CEO Evan Spiegel on Friday said the social media company is happy to pay Apple’s 30% commission rate on in-app transactions.

“We really feel like Snapchat wouldn’t exist without the iPhone and without the amazing platform that Apple has created,” Spiegel said on TechCheck. “In that sense, I’m not sure we have a choice about paying the 30% fee, and of course, we’re happy to do it in exchange for all of the amazing technology that they provide to us in terms of the software but also in terms of their hardware advancements.”

At first blush you might think this is lickspittle-ism. But I think Spiegel is right that Snap might not exist without the iPhone — or, if it did, that it would exist in a very different form. The iPhone and App Store have been very good for Snap. It’s a concept that is truly native to the smartphone.

But here’s the thing thing: Snap isn’t in the business of charging its users money. From Investopedia, citing Snap’s 10-K for 2020:

Substantially all of Snap’s revenue is generated from advertising, which accounted for 99% of the company’s total $2.5 billion in revenue in 2020, up from 98% in 2019.

99 percent of Snap’s revenue is from advertising, not a nickel of which Apple gets a commission from. I’m not faulting Snap in the least for building an ad-based business — Daring Fireball gets at least 95 percent of its revenue from advertising. But the CEO of a company whose business doesn’t rely on in-app purchases or subscriptions doesn’t really seem like a good person to ask about Apple’s commission structure.

Find me the CEOs of companies that generate a significant percentage of their revenue through App Store transactions who espouse the same sentiment as Spiegel. I’m not saying they don’t exist — I’m sure some do — but let’s hear from those with skin in the game.

SongPop Party on Apple Arcade 

My thanks to SongPop Party for sponsoring last week at DF. SongPop Party is a new game for iPhone, iPad, Mac, and Apple TV — exclusively on Apple Arcade.

With tens of thousands of hit songs, there’s music for everyone in the family to enjoy. Unlock playlists spanning all decades and genres in a fast-paced competition. Play solo, host a local party with up to 8 friends, or compete online in arena mode. SongPop Party is already included if you’ve got an Apple Arcade or Apple One subscription — all you need to do is download it. We played it over the weekend and it’s a lot of fun — a terrific party game.

‘Tracked’ – New Privacy Ad From Apple 

I love this new ad from Apple. But given that I wrote this a few months ago, that’s probably not surprising. Funny, eye-opening, and true — that’s a good foundation for any ad.

Apple Previews New Accessibility Features, Including an Astonishing AssistiveTouch Feature for Apple Watch 

Apple Newsroom:

Later this year, with software updates across all of Apple’s operating systems, people with limb differences will be able to navigate Apple Watch using AssistiveTouch; iPad will support third-party eye-tracking hardware for easier control; and for blind and low vision communities, Apple’s industry-leading VoiceOver screen reader will get even smarter using on-device intelligence to explore objects within images. In support of neurodiversity, Apple is introducing new background sounds to help minimize distractions, and for those who are deaf or hard of hearing, Made for iPhone (MFi) will soon support new bi-directional hearing aids.

My spidey-sense has been suggesting that next month’s WWDC is going to be a big one, jam-packed with announcements. Here’s our first evidence: a slew of very good accessibility features that apparently didn’t make the cut for the keynote. All of this stuff would have been great in a keynote.

To support users with limited mobility, Apple is introducing a revolutionary new accessibility feature for Apple Watch. AssistiveTouch for watchOS allows users with upper body limb differences to enjoy the benefits of Apple Watch without ever having to touch the display or controls. Using built-in motion sensors like the gyroscope and accelerometer, along with the optical heart rate sensor and on-device machine learning, Apple Watch can detect subtle differences in muscle movement and tendon activity, which lets users navigate a cursor on the display through a series of hand gestures, like a pinch or a clench. AssistiveTouch on Apple Watch enables customers who have limb differences to more easily answer incoming calls, control an onscreen motion pointer, and access Notification Center, Control Center, and more.

Stop what you’re doing, follow the link to Newsroom, and watch the video demonstrating this feature. This is really hard to believe. It makes Apple Watch very accessible to, say, someone who only has one arm, or who for whatever reason can’t use their non-watch hand to touch the watch with accuracy. Wow.

Amazon Partners With Tile to Take on AirTags 

Jon Fortt and Fahiemah Al-Ali, reporting for CNBC:

Amazon announced Friday that it is partnering with Tile, a company that makes trackers for lost items, and Level, which makes smart locks, to use those devices to enhance its tracking network based on Wi-Fi and Bluetooth technology. […]

Tile has also been vocal against Apple’s entry into the lost-item tracking space, recently telling Congress that it and other app developers are “afraid” of Apple’s policies for third-party apps and hardware accessories.

Amazon’s partnership will allow it beef up its tracking network, called Sidewalk, by letting Tile and Level devices tap into the Bluetooth networks created by millions of its Echo products. Tile will start working with Amazon’s network beginning June 14.

Something tells me Tile is not going to be joining Apple’s third-party program for “Find My” anytime soon.

People in Japan Can Now Earn 10,000-Yen Bounties for Scamming Scammers 

Casey Baseel, writing for SoraNews24:

On May 1, the Minami Precinct of the Aichi Prefectural Police, which serves and protects the city of Nagoya’s Minami Ward, launched a new aspect of Operation Pretend to Be Fooled. This new crime-fighting program asks people who’ve been contacted by someone claiming to be a loved one in need of cash to notify the police, then work with them to draw the scammer out. For each case in which their cooperation leads to the identification of scammers, the original target of the scam will be paid 10,000 yen (US$97).

Brilliant.

Literati 

My thanks to Literati for sponsoring last week at DF. Literati is dedicated to the idea that great books should not be hard to find. They’ve created a book club so good, you might actually join. Those are their words, not mine, but I love that attitude. Literati doesn’t merely offer book recommendations — they host communities of book lovers where discussion is thoughtful and nuanced.

Try Literati today and get your next read chosen by visionaries — then talk about it with them, in a book club unlike any other.

Typography on Pencils 

This is my kind of content. Just lovely.

Apple on App Store Fraud 

Interesting piece at Apple’s Newsroom, headlined: “App Store Stopped More Than $1.5 Billion in Potentially Fraudulent Transactions in 2020”:

It takes significant resources behind the scenes to ensure these bad actors can’t exploit users’ most sensitive information, from location to payment details. While it’s impossible to catch every act of fraud or ill intent before it happens, thanks to Apple’s industry-leading antifraud efforts, security experts agree the App Store is the safest place to find and download apps.

In 2020 alone, Apple’s combination of sophisticated technology and human expertise protected customers from more than $1.5 billion in potentially fraudulent transactions, preventing the attempted theft of their money, information, and time — and kept nearly a million risky and vulnerable new apps out of their hands.

Among the numbers dropped in this post, all from calendar year 2020:

  • 244 million customer accounts deactivated.
  • 424 million attempted account creations rejected.
  • 470,000 developer accounts terminated.

There’s nothing curious about the timing of this post — it’s in response to some embarrassing stories about fraud apps in the App Store, revealed through discovery in the Epic v. Apple trial, and through the news in recent weeks. The fact that Apple would post this now is pretty telling — to me at least — about how they see the trial going. I think Apple clearly sees itself on solid ground legally, and their biggest concern is this relatively minor public relations issue around scam apps continuing to slip through the App Store reviewing process.

It couldn’t be more transparent. Nobody is being fooled that, if Epic-v.-Apple weren’t happening right now, that Apple would have posted this Newsroom story today, just out of the blue. We know why they posted this today, and they know that we know — no one is fooling anyone. But these are interesting numbers!

What Apple is trying to say is that this is a five nines sort of problem — that they could (and do) stop 99.999 percent of scams but the App Store is such a juicy target for crooks that hundreds of scams still slip though.

Why not 99.99999 percent efficiency though? Apple is the richest company in the world. If they want to run the App Store with whatever-they-say-goes authority, why should we, as customers, demand anything less than perfection on the fraud and scam front? True perfection they’re never going to achieve, but it sure seems like Apple could be doing better than they are. And they know it.

‘Apple Robbed the Mob’s Bank’ 

Eric Benjamin Seufert, writing at Mobile Dev Memo:

Last week, Apple introduced a new ad unit to the App Store: a paid placement on its Search page. Rumors of this new unit had circulated previously, although the notion that Apple would increase the density of ad placements in the App Store was wholly predictable, as I assert in this piece and this piece. Apple is expanding its mobile advertising platform in parallel with the rollout of the App Tracking Transparency (ATT) privacy policy, which presents meaningful commercial challenges to other mobile ad platforms and will likely diminish their operational efficiency.

I guess this money is too good to pass up. But Apple pushing further into mobile advertising now — right after launching this App Tracking Transparency feature — just looks cheesy. It’s ham-fisted. Why not let the paint dry on ATT before adding new ad units to the App Store?

Magic Lasso 

My thanks to Magic Lasso for sponsoring last week at DF. Magic Lasso Adblock is an efficient, high performance ad blocker for your iPhone, iPad, and Mac. Magic Lasso Adblock provides up to a 2.0× speed increase on common websites, improves your privacy and security by removing ad trackers, and works with Safari across all Apple devices. It works and feels as if Apple themselves had designed an ad blocker.

And unlike some other ad blockers, Magic Lasso Adblock respects your privacy, doesn’t accept payment from advertisers, and is 100% supported by its community of over 200,000 users. And it respects privacy-respecting ads like those on DF itself. (DF ads set no cookies, don’t execute any JavaScript, and are served from DF’s own server.)

Download for free today via the Magic Lasso website, the iOS App Store, and Mac App Store.

Flurry Analytics: 96 Percent of iOS 14.5 Users in U.S. Have Opted Out of App Tracking 

I don’t know, seems low to me.

Google Circumvents Roku Ban by Adding YouTube TV to the Main YouTube App 

Google’s official YouTube blog:

Today, we’re introducing a new feature that gives you access to YouTube TV from within the YouTube app, making it easier to enjoy all the content you love. Existing members can easily access YouTube TV by clicking on “Go to YouTube TV” in the main YouTube app. This update will be available to all YouTube TV members on Roku over the next few days, and we will expand to as many devices as we can over time.

Translation: Fuck you, Roku. We dare you to ban the YouTube app.

Separately, we are also in ongoing, long-term conversations with Roku to certify that new devices meet our technical requirements. This certification process exists to ensure a consistent and high-quality YouTube experience across different devices, including Google’s own — so you know how to navigate the app and what to expect. We’ll continue our conversations with Roku on certification, in good faith, with the goal of advocating for our mutual customers.

Translation: You’ll add hardware support for the AV1 codec whether you want to or not, because we say so.

Roku’s response, via The Verge:

Google’s actions are the clear conduct of an unchecked monopolist bent on crushing fair competition and harming consumer choice. The bundling announcement by YouTube highlights the kind of predatory business practices used by Google that Congress, Attorney Generals and regulatory bodies around the world are investigating. Roku has not asked for one additional dollar in financial value from YouTubeTV. We have simply asked Google to stop their anticompetitive behavior of manipulating user search results to their unique financial benefit and to stop demanding access to sensitive data that no other partner on our platform receives today. In response, Google has continued its practice of blatantly leveraging its YouTube monopoly to force an independent company into an agreement that is both bad for consumers and bad for fair competition.

Translation: Fuck us? No, fuck you, Google.

(Anyway, I was on Roku’s side in this dispute until they pluralized “attorney general” that way. Come on, Roku.)

Apple Hires Stella Low, Formerly of Cisco, as New Communications Boss 

John Paczkowski, reporting for BuzzFeed News:

Apple has hired a new vice president of worldwide corporate communications. Stella Low, former communications chief at networking giant Cisco, will take on the role, which has been unfilled since late 2019.

A tech industry veteran, Low has done stints at Unisys and Dell, where she served as senior vice president of communications. She’ll report directly to Apple CEO Tim Cook. […]

Low will succeed Steve Dowling, who served as Apple’s head of corporate public relations for 10 years before departing in September 2019. And her tenure will give a welcome break to Apple Fellow Phil Schiller, who has been overseeing the company’s public relations operation since Dowling left.

I’m sort of surprised they went outside, because it’s Apple. But also sort of not surprised because there didn’t seem to be any internal candidates contending for this gig. If they were going to fill this spot from within it wouldn’t have taken so long.

Jim Dalrymple:

The big question for someone at this level at Apple is not qualifications, but whether or not they fit the Apple culture. That will be her biggest hurdle — it starts and stops there.

Culture is always the issue at Apple for outsiders. Remember John Browett, who lasted only six months as chief of Apple Retail? His explanation: “I just didn’t fit within the way they ran the business. For me, it was one of those shopping things where you’re ejected for fit rather than competency.” Angela Ahrendts lasted five years in that role, but I never got the feeling that she ever quite jibed with Apple’s culture. Deirdre O’Brien — who’s been at Apple for decades and replaced Ahrendts as head of retail — feels like a natural.

Steve Dowling came to Apple after running CNBC’s Silicon Valley news bureau, but he was at Apple for 11 years (including 10 running corporate comms) before his five-year stint as PR chief. Dowling got Apple.

‘Tesla Privately Admits Elon Musk Has Been Exaggerating About “Full Self-Driving”’ 

Exaggerating or straight-up lying, you make the call.

Script Debugger 8 

New version of Late Night Software’s amazing Script Debugger:

You want your computer systems to be simple, reliable and automatic. Script Debugger is the integrated development environment that makes that happen by making your AppleScript coding easier, faster, and more transparent. And now Script Debugger runs natively on M1 Macs, with full support for universal applets, Dark Mode, and themes.

For anyone who uses AppleScript seriously, Script Debugger is a veritable bargain at $99 (with generous upgrade pricing for registered users of versions 7 and 6). And even if you’re just an AppleScript tinkerer, Script Debugger 8 now has a free-to-use Lite mode that is so much better than Apple’s own Script Editor.

A good rule of thumb: it’s fair to gripe about the various idiosyncrasies and anachronisms in AppleScript, but try using Script Debugger before you complain.

Facebook Remains a Right-Wing Amplification Tool 

Worth remembering, amidst all the Republican claims that Facebook’s continuing exile of Donald Trump from its platforms is proof that the company is biased against Republicans, that its algorithms are clearly biased in favor of them because Facebook optimizes for engagement above all else, and angry right-wing partisan misinformation is addictive content for wingnuts.

New York Times columnist Kevin Roose tracks the top-performing link posts on Facebook every day, and every day, they are dominated by one thing. Not sports. Not celebrity gossip. Not straight news. What dominates is right-wing punditry. Today’s list:

  1. Franklin Graham
  2. Ben Shapiro
  3. Ben Shapiro
  4. Dan Bongino
  5. Ben Shapiro
  6. Ben Shapiro
  7. Dan Bongino
  8. The Pioneer Woman - Ree Drummond
  9. Thin Blue Line
  10. Ben Shapiro

Yesterday’s:

  1. Franklin Graham
  2. Ben Shapiro
  3. Ben Shapiro
  4. Dan Bongino
  5. Dan Bongino
  6. NPR
  7. Ben Shapiro
  8. Ben Shapiro
  9. Ben Shapiro
  10. Ted Cruz

Facebook’s continuing ban of Trump isn’t because they’re biased against Trump supporters — it’s despite the fact that they cater their algorithms to attract Trump supporters.

Kara Swisher on Trump’s Continuing Exile From Facebook 

Kara Swisher, writing at The New York Times:

In general, I have considered the case of Mr. Trump to be much less complex than people seem to think. And it has been made to appear highly complicated by big tech companies like Facebook because they want to exhaust us all in a noisy and intractable debate.

Mr. Trump should be seen as an outlier — a lone, longtime rule breaker who was coddled and protected on social media platforms until he wandered into seditious territory. He’s an unrepentant gamer of Facebook’s badly enforced rules who will never change. He got away with it for years and spread myriad self-serving lies far and wide. […]

In moving the key decision over Mr. Trump out of its own hands (where it belonged), the company has passed along the hottest of potatoes and said good riddance to responsibility. Facebook is pretending that its hands are tied, even though Facebook executives were the ones who tied them.

I, for one, would never have bet that Jack Dorsey would be the one who finally dealt with Trump’s abuse decisively, and that Mark Zuckerberg would be the one who looks utterly feckless. I think Zuckerberg was hoping that Trump would just fade from relevancy once he was out of office. That clearly hasn’t happened, and it’s not going to happen over the next six months, either. Zuckerberg needs to make a decision now.

Yours Truly on Peter Kafka’s ‘Recode Media’ Podcast, Talking Epic vs. Apple 

Peter Kafka was kind enough to invite me on his podcast this week to talk — a little! — about the Epic-Apple lawsuit that started in court this week. I think I articulated pretty well my takes on what Apple should be allowed to do with the App Store and iOS, and what Apple should do with the App Store and iOS. I’m linking here to Kafka’s story for Recode about our discussion, but here are direct listening links for the episode. I say listen before you read, if you have time:

The Art in the Oval Office Through the Decades 

Great visualizations from The New York Times. I like Biden’s choices.

More on Night Shift and Sleep Benefits 

Michael Tsai, regarding that BYU study suggesting that Night Shift doesn’t really offer any sleep benefits:

Sleep benefits or not, I do find it more comfortable. Perhaps BYU’s results differ from previous studies because Night Shift shifts the colors much less than f.lux or blue light glasses.

I’ve long heard from friends and readers who enjoy Night Shift (and F.lux) simply because they feel it reduces eye strain. Comfort is comfort — if you think Night Shift feels easier on your eyes, go ahead and use it. (That’s why so many people use the feature that swaps from light mode to dark mode by time-of-day.) What I object to is the “may help you get a better night’s sleep” claim. Apple should keep the feature but change the language describing it to remove any suggestion that it’s a sleep aid, unless subsequent studies suggest otherwise. Describe it as something that “may reduce eye strain” or something.

For every person who genuinely enjoys Night Shift, I wonder how many people are using it despite thinking that it’s ugly because they believe this description from Apple that it might improve their sleep?

Berkshire Hathaway’s Stock Price vs. 32-Bit Integers 

Alexander Osipovich, reporting for The Wall Street Journal (News+ link):

Berkshire Hathaway Inc. is trading at more than $421,000 per Class A share, and the market is optimistic. That’s a problem. […] On Tuesday, Nasdaq Inc. temporarily suspended broadcasting prices for Class A shares of Berkshire over several popular data feeds. Such feeds provide real-time price updates for a number of online brokerages and finance websites.

Nasdaq’s computers can only count so high because of the compact digital format they use for communicating prices. The biggest number they can handle is $429,496.7295. Nasdaq is rushing to finish an upgrade later this month that would fix the problem.

That number will look familiar to the programmers among you: it’s the limit of an unsigned 32-bit integer. Using 32-bit integers for share prices, with four digits reserved for decimals, isn’t that crazy, though, given that no other stock in the U.S. has a share price that’s even close to the limit:

The U.S. stock with the second-highest share price, home builder NVR Inc., is trading just above $5,100 a share. Using compact formats that take up less memory can make software more efficient, a high priority in the world of electronic stock trading.

At the root of the problem is Mr. Buffett’s decadeslong refusal to execute a stock split of Berkshire’s Class A shares. The 90-year-old billionaire has signed birthday cards to friends with the message, “May you live until Berkshire splits,” according to Fortune magazine.

Update: Worth noting that they’re not using integers to store fractional values — what they’re doing is using 10,000ths of a dollar as their integral unit. The decimal gets shifted left by four digits simply to display prices as dollar values, but the math is all done in 10,000ths of a dollar units.

Not sure what their fix is going to be, but going to 64-bit integers would let them handle per-share prices up to $1,844,674,407,370,955.1615 — over $1.8 quadrillion — which should buy them some time, even if Berkshire continues to grow yet refuses to split.

Nuzzel Is Shutting Down After Acquisition by Twitter 

Tony Haile, writing yesterday at the Nuzzel blog:

Simply cloning a service conceived in 2012 doesn’t make a ton of sense. Instead we’re going to spend a little time working out how the best of Nuzzel should be expressed in 2021. There may be elements of Nuzzel that also belong in the Twitter app or that can take advantage of new internal APIs.

In the meantime, Nuzzel’s app, site and email service will go dark. To those of you who love Nuzzel and are disappointed that we can’t maintain Nuzzel as-is in the interim, I’m as disappointed as you. We explored any number of Hail Marys to make that happen and just couldn’t get there. Looking to the future, Nuzzel’s functionality has always felt like it should be a part of Twitter and I’m excited to help make it so. If you want to help, let us know.

Nuzzel is probably the best Twitter service that most of you have never heard of. The basic idea behind Nuzzel is (was?) that you signed in with your Twitter account, and rather than show you tweets from the people you follow, like a Twitter client would, it showed you links that were posted by the people you follow, sorted by how many people had shared the same article. It’s a remarkably effective way to find good articles. If I had to guess, I’d say I’ve posted thousands of linked list items here on Daring Fireball that I discovered via Nuzzel over the years. There’s nothing else quite like it, so here’s hoping Twitter can surface something very similar post-acquisition. (I’m not holding my breath.)

Glenn Fleishman:

Nuzzel has been since it launched nearly the only app I’ve ever let put notifications on my lock screen, and something I consult 20 to 50 times a day. I don’t blame Twitter, though: the model didn’t pan out (though I would have paid $25–$50 a year as a service!).

Andy Baio:

Add me to the list of people bummed that Nuzzel is shutting down on Thursday after Twitter acquired Scroll, its parent company. It was really good at surfacing popular links and articles from your network.

Mike Masnick:

I, of course, found out about this story via Nuzzel, an app I use multiple times a day. This is going to upset my entire news finding process.

Twitter Will Start Prompting Users to Reconsider Tweets Flagged as Angry or Offensive 

Anita Butler and Alberto Parrella, writing on Twitter’s product blog:

People come to Twitter to talk about what’s happening, and sometimes conversations about things we care about can get intense and people say things in the moment they might regret later. That’s why in 2020, we tested prompts that encouraged people to pause and reconsider a potentially harmful or offensive reply before they hit send.

Based on feedback and learnings from those tests, we’ve made improvements to the systems that decide when and how these reminders are sent. Starting today, we’re rolling these improved prompts out across iOS and Android, starting with accounts that have enabled English-language settings.

Somewhere in this, there’s a parody of Mean Streets called Mean Tweets waiting to happen.

Rolling Stone: The 100 Best TV Sitcoms of All Time 

No one is going to agree completely with any such list, but man, this one comes really close to being hard to argue with. I think they got the top 3 exactly right, and the top 10 is pretty close. (I’ll quibble most with The Larry Sanders Show at #10 — I’d have rated it in the top 5, no question — but my profoundly deep affection for that show probably biases me.)

‘These Little Packets of Condiments Become Like Caviar’ 

Fantastic piece from The Ringer: an oral history of “Pine Barrens”, arguably the best episode of The Sopranos.

Trump Suspension From Facebook Upheld by Oversight Board 

Mike Isaac, reporting for The New York Times:

Facebook’s Oversight Board, which acts as a quasi-court to deliberate the company’s content decisions, said the social network was right to bar Mr. Trump after he used the site to foment an insurrection in Washington in January. The panel said the ongoing risk of violence “justified” the suspension. But the board also said that Facebook’s penalty of an indefinite suspension was “not appropriate,” and that the company should apply a “defined penalty.” The board gave Facebook six months to make its final decision on Mr. Trump’s account status. […]

But while Mr. Trump’s Facebook account remains suspended for now, it does not mean that he will not be able to return to the social network at all once the company reviews its action. On Tuesday, Mr. Trump had unveiled a new site, “From the desk of Donald J. Trump,” to communicate with his supporters. It looked much like a Twitter feed, complete with posts written by Mr. Trump that could be shared on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

The word is blog. He doesn’t have a “new communications platform” — he has a blog. Which is good! He should have had a blog like this all along. This is exactly why being kicked off Twitter and suspended from Facebook doesn’t silence or censor Trump, in the same way that being banned from a restaurant doesn’t starve someone.

BYU Study Suggests Night Shift Doesn’t Help People Sleep 

Cami Buckley, writing for BYU News:

Until recently, claims of better sleep due to Night Shift have been theoretical. However, a new study from BYU published in Sleep Health challenges the premise made by phone manufacturers and found that the Night Shift functionality does not actually improve sleep.

To test the theory, BYU psychology professor Chad Jensen and researchers from the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center compared the sleep outcomes of individuals in three categories: those who used their phone at night with the Night Shift function turned on, those who used their phone at night without Night Shift and those who did not use a smartphone before bed at all.

“In the whole sample, there were no differences across the three groups,” Jensen said. “Night Shift is not superior to using your phone without Night Shift or even using no phone at all.”

My theory all along has been that Night Shift just makes your screen look hideously mis-colored.

Facebook and Instagram Apps Ask iOS 14 Users to Permit Surveillance Tracking to ‘Help Keep Facebook Free of Charge’ 

That’d be just adorable if Facebook and Instagram started charging users because of mean old Apple. I’m sure that’s really on the table and this isn’t utterly shameless.

Never Perfect, Indeed 

Alfred Ng and Corin Faife, reporting for The Markup:

Facebook says it will remove ads from several companies that violated its anti-discrimination policy after The Markup discovered companies targeting financial services to specific age groups on the platform. Facebook policy prohibits advertisers from discriminating by age when running ads for things like credit cards and loans.

The Markup’s report was published on April 29. Facebook didn’t respond to multiple requests for comment but reached out to The Markup a day after publication to say that it has since taken action.

“We’re reviewing and removing ads from these businesses that ran in violation of this policy,” Tom Channick, a Facebook communications manager, said in an email sent on Friday afternoon to another Markup reporter, who hadn’t worked on the article. “Our enforcement is never perfect since machines and human reviewers make mistakes, but we’re always working to improve.”

Exactly the sort of thing Mark Hurst was referring to regarding Facebook’s quick takedown of ads from Signal that simply revealed how much they know about you. Discriminatory financial services ads? Give Facebook a week to look into it. Ads that reveal just how creepy surveillance tracking is? They closed Signal’s advertising account.

Signal Ran Instagram Ads That Reveal What They Know About You and Facebook Quickly Banned Them 

Jun Harada, writing on the Signal blog:

We created a multi-variant targeted ad designed to show you the personal data that Facebook collects about you and sells access to. The ad would simply display some of the information collected about the viewer which the advertising platform uses. Facebook was not into that idea.

Facebook is more than willing to sell visibility into people’s lives, unless it’s to tell people about how their data is being used. Being transparent about how ads use people’s data is apparently enough to get banned; in Facebook’s world, the only acceptable usage is to hide what you’re doing from your audience.

So, here are some examples of the targeted ads that you’ll never see on Instagram. Yours would have been so you.

Good point from Mark Hurst:

Facebook breaks the law and says “our enforcement is never perfect.” Sure, because it’s impossible to control their vast platforms.

But @Signal posted FB ads showing surveillance in action, and Facebook disabled them immediately.

Update: It occurred to me after sleeping on this that I’d like to know more about how Signal pulled this off. I’m not saying I need to see source code, but at least some sort of explanation of how the stunt worked. The implication is that while Signal’s ads were running, people were seeing ads individually tailored to their interests. I’d love to know more about how that worked. Were they dynamically generated? I don’t see how that would be fast enough. Were the ads all generated in advance? If so, how many did they make? Did they make, say, 100 oddly-specific ads and then use Instagram’s targeting features to serve each of those ads to the best fit for those oddly specific demographics? Signal has earned our collective trust, but there’s a whiff of “too good to be true” about this stunt — it’s heavy on the schadenfreude but light on details.

Verizon Sells AOL and Yahoo to Private Equity Group for $5 Billion 

Edmund Lee and Lauren Hirsch, reporting for The New York Times:

Yahoo and AOL, kings of the early internet, saw their fortunes decline as Silicon Valley raced ahead to create new digital platforms. Google replaced Yahoo. AOL was supplanted by cable giants. Now they will become the property of private equity. Verizon, their current owner, agreed to sell them to Apollo Global Management in a deal worth $5 billion, the companies announced Monday.

In 2002, Yahoo had the chance to buy Google for $1 billion; they hesitated and walked away when the price went to $3 billion. (Same story says they nearly bought Facebook for $1 billion in 2006 and could’ve had it for $1.1 billion.)

In January 2000, AOL acquired Time-Warner for $182 billion to form a mega media company then valued at $350 billion.

Fortunes change.

Scorecard 

New iOS app from the keen minds at Lickability: a deceptively simple utility for keeping score of tabletop games. Lots to love: AirPlay support (so you can show the score on a TV), $5 pay-once-and-you’re-done pricing, a “no data collected” privacy nutrition label, and the app weighs only 5.5 MB.

What Are No-Vaxxers Thinking? 

Derek Thompson, writing for The Atlantic:

What are they thinking, these vaccine-hesitant, vaccine-resistant, and COVID-apathetic? I wanted to know. So I posted an invitation on Twitter for anybody who wasn’t planning to get vaccinated to email me and explain why. In the past few days, I spoke or corresponded with more than a dozen such people. I told them that I was staunchly pro-vaccine, but this wouldn’t be a takedown piece. I wanted to produce an ethnography of a position I didn’t really understand. […]

This is the no-vaxxer deep story in a nutshell: I trust my own cells more than I trust pharmaceutical goop; I trust my own mind more than I trust liberal elites.

This reminds me a lot of Isaac Asimov’s “cult of ignorance”:

There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there has always been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that “my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge”.

The problem is deeply exacerbated by right-wing news media, particularly Fox News, and particularly Tucker Carlson’s top-rated nightly show. Has Anthony Fauci been wrong about some things during the COVID crisis? Yes. Has he been far more right than wrong? Definitely yes. But the Fox News take on Fauci (and the CDC writ large, but it’s very much personal about Fauci) is that he’s an egghead careerist bureaucrat who has been wrong more than right about COVID. That’s just not the case.

MacOS Big Sur 11.3.1 Released, Fixes WebKit Vulnerabilities 

Apple’s release notes for the MacOS 11.3.1 update:

Impact: Processing maliciously crafted web content may lead to arbitrary code execution. Apple is aware of a report that this issue may have been actively exploited.

Update: There are now updates for iOS (14.5.1 and 12.5.3) and WatchOS (7.4.1) that fix the same WebKit vulnerabilities.

Point Card 

My thanks to Point Card for sponsoring this week at DF. Everyone loves rewards and benefits on credit cards. But there’s one thing none of us like — interest rates that pile up into debt. Now you can have the best of both worlds with all the points and none of the risk. Point Card gives you unlimited cash back on every purchase and special access to bonus point offers on some of the best brands out there. The whole experience is elevated with Point App which offers concierge-level service in a clean, obsessively-designed, and easy-to-use interface. Everyday spending has never been better.

I mean just take a look at their ad over there in the sidebar: even the cards are obsessively designed.

Update: Point Card has a special offer running through May 9: 10× points on all purchases at Apple.

The Internal Combustion Engine 

Well-written and staggeringly well-illustrated and animated guide explaining how internal combustion engines work, by Bartosz Ciechanowski. Would love to know how he made these animated models.

Update: Ciechanowski: “I did the 3D models in [@Shapr3D] with small post processing in Blender, animations are just done by hand.”

Protocol Previews Next Week’s Epic Games v. Apple Court Case 

Protocol:

Epic v. Apple starts Monday and is estimated to last about three weeks. In total, each side will have 45 hours to present its case. Gonzalez Rogers has been overseeing the case since the beginning and will preside over the trial as well.

The trial will be held largely in person, but with only six people per side allowed in the courtroom at a time. (A few witnesses will testify over Zoom.) Masks have been a contentious issue, with the court ruling that attorneys will be required to wear masks, but witnesses will be given transparent masks for when they’re testifying.

Each witness will wait in a sort of green room before they’re called to the stand. Beyond that, each company also gets a “designated representative” who can be in the courtroom the entire time. That’ll be Tim Sweeney for Epic and Phil Schiller for Apple.

Just in case there was any doubt whether Schiller, in his new role as Apple Fellow, was truly still in charge of the App Store — he is.

Apple Outlines iMac Retail Availability 

As noted by Stephen Hackett, only the green, blue, pink, and silver iMacs will be stocked in Apple retail stores. Yellow, orange, and purple are online-order only. But I wonder if they’ll have display models of the yellow/orange/purples ones, so folks can see them in person before ordering?

Techdirt: ‘Disney Got Itself an “If You Own a Themepark…” Carveout From Florida’s Blatantly Unconstitutional Social Media Moderation Bill’ 

Mike Masnick, writing for Techdirt:

But, it gets worse. Seeing as this is Florida, which (obviously) is a place where Disney has some clout — and Disney has famously powerful lobbyists all over the damn place — it appears that Disney made sure the Florida legislature gave them a carveout. Florida Senator Ray Rodriques introduced an amendment to the bill, which got included in the final vote. The original bill said that this would apply to any website with 100 million monthly individual users globally. The Rodriques amendment includes this exemption:

The term does not include any information service, system, Internet search engine, or access software provider operated by a company that owns and operates a theme park or entertainment complex as defined in 509.013, F.S.

In other words, Disney (which owns a ton of companies with large internet presences) will be entirely exempt. Ditto for Comcast (Universal studios) and a few others.

Reminds me of another story I recently read. Florida, along with other Republican-led states, recently passed a law that prohibits companies from banning guns in their parking lots. The Florida version of the law has a unique provision: an exception for companies that store “explosives”, including fireworks.