Linked List: February 2022

The Amazon-ification of Whole Foods 

Cecilia Kang, writing for The New York Times:

More than four years ago, Amazon bought Whole Foods for $13 billion. Now the Amazon-ification of the grocery chain is physically complete, as showcased by the revamped Whole Foods store in Glover Park.

For a long time, Amazon made only small steps toward putting its mark on the more than 500 Whole Foods stores in the United States and Britain. The main evidence of change were the discounts and free home delivery for Amazon Prime members. But this 21,000-square-foot Whole Foods just north of Georgetown has catapulted Amazon’s involvement forward. Along with another prototype Whole Foods store, which will open in Los Angeles this year, Amazon designed my local grocer to be almost completely run by tracking and robotic tools for the first time.

Ukrainian Soldiers Told Russian Officer ‘Go Fuck Yourself’ After Demand for Surrender 

Elias Visontay, reporting Friday for The Guardian:

Ukrainian soldiers who died defending an island in the Black Sea from an air and sea bombardment reportedly told an officer on board a Russian navy warship to “go fuck yourself” when asked to surrender.

There were 13 border guards stationed on Snake Island, a roughly 16-hectare (40-acre) rocky island owned by Ukraine that sits about 186 miles (300km) west of Crimea, when Russian troops bombed the island on Thursday. All 13 soldiers died after refusing to surrender, Ukrainian officials announced.

Jim Acosta, this morning:

CNN: Ukraine’s defenders of “Snake Island” who were initially feared dead after telling the Russians to go “F” themselves are “alive and well” according to the Ukrainian Navy.

Jim Dalrymple Is Retiring 

Jim Dalrymple:

This is the most difficult, but at the same time, the most exciting story I have ever written. After almost 30 years of reporting on Apple, I am retiring.

Nothing but warm congratulations to my friend.

‘Putin’s Bloody Folly in Ukraine’ 

David Remnick, writing for The New Yorker:

Like many aging autocrats, Putin has, over time, remained himself, only more so: more resentful, more isolated, more repressive, more ruthless. He operates in an airless political environment, free of contrary counsel. His stagecraft — seating foreign visitors at the opposite end of a twenty-foot-long table, humiliating security chiefs in front of television cameras — is a blend of “Triumph of the Will” and “The Great Dictator.” But there is nothing comic in the performance of his office. As Putin spills blood across Ukraine and threatens to destabilize Europe, Russians themselves stand to lose immeasurably. The ruble and the Russian stock market have cratered. But Putin does not care. His eyes are fixed on matters far grander than the well-being of his people. He is in full command of the largest army in Europe, and, as he has reminded the world, of an immense arsenal of nuclear weapons. In his mind, this is his moment, his triumphal historical drama, and damn the cost.

See (and hear) also: Shumita Basu, co-host of Apple News Today, talked to Remnick about the Ukraine crisis in a short, sharp, insightful interview. “It’s madness,” said Remnick, of the logic behind Putin’s invasion.


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The Talk Show: ‘That’ll Pivot His Tables’ 

For your weekend listening enjoyment: Rene Ritchie returns to the show to talk about unwanted AirTag tracking, and what we expect from Apple’s rumored March product event.

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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to E.U. Leaders: ‘This Might Be the Last Time You See Me Alive’ 

Barak Ravid, reporting for Axios:

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky told EU leaders “this might be the last time you see me alive” during a video conference on Thursday night, two European sources briefed on the call tell Axios.

The Pentagon has warned that Russia’s primary aim appears to be to encircle Kyiv and “decapitate” its government. […] Shortly before the call, Zelensky gave a televised address saying he was Russia’s “number one” target for capture or assassination, and his family members were the “number two” target. […]

Russian President Vladimir Putin has called on the Ukrainian military to perform a coup against Zelensky and then negotiate with Russia.

Meanwhile, from the annals of great American statesmanship:

He is “pretty smart,” Mr. Trump said on Wednesday at a Florida fund-raiser, assessing the impending invasion like a real estate deal. “He’s taken over a country for $2 worth of sanctions,” he said, “taking over a country — really a vast, vast location, a great piece of land with a lot of people — and just walking right in.”

Historians called the remarks unprecedented. “The idea that a former president would praise the man or leadership who American troops are even now traveling to confront and contain,” said Jeffrey Engel, a presidential historian at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, “is astounding.”

I’ve been glad every day for the last year that Joe Biden is president. Never gladder than during this crisis.

‘Leaked Plan Shows Intel Will Try to Be More Efficient Than M1 Max by Late 2023’ 

William Gallagher, writing for AppleInsider:

A presentation slide claiming to show Intel’s projected future roadmap includes plan for Arrow Lake processor to outperform Apple’s M1 Max by late 2023 or early 2024.

Intel has already claimed to be producing processors that exceed the performance of Apple’s M1 Max. However, the difference is within a margin of error while at the same time, Intel’s processors require dramatically more power. Now the company is reportedly aiming at a new processor that will beat Apple’s 2021 chips by early 2024 at the latest.

Competition is good, and now that Apple has raised the bar for desktop performance-per-watt efficiency, of course every other chip maker is trying to catch up. It would be shocking if Intel didn’t have a plan to catch up.

But, Intel had plans for moving to a 10nm process, and again for 7nm, that didn’t work out. Plans are easy; execution is hard.

iOS 15.4 Adds a New, Less Gendered Voice for Siri 

Ina Fried, reporting for Axios:

With the latest version of iOS, currently in testing, Apple is offering a Siri voice that is less explicitly male- or female-sounding, Axios can confirm.

Why it matters: It’s part of an effort by Apple to offer a more diverse array of options for its virtual assistant. Last year it added two Siri options recorded by Black voice actors. [...] Apple confirmed the new voice was recorded by a member of the LGBTQ+ community, but did not offer further details.

Over at Macworld, Michael Simon has an audio clip of the new voice. It’s rather uncanny how gender-neutral it sounds. I listened to it yesterday and it sounded slightly female to my ears; today I listened again and it sounded slightly male. Sort of like one of those optical illusions that changes when you stare at it.

Also interesting that Apple no longer describes any of these voices. You listen to them and make up your own mind what they sound like, and which one you prefer.

Facebook’s Stolen Privacy Ecosystem 

One more thought re: yesterday’s item on the WSJ’s “Inside Facebook’s $10 Billion Breakup With Advertisers” report, which mentioned small businesses whose customer acquisition costs have gone up — and in some cases, skyrocketed — because of Apple’s App Tracking Transparency’s effect on Facebook

I often turn to the analogy of Facebook’s profiting from exploiting users’ privacy — and complaining about Apple now giving users control being bad for business — to that of a pawnshop complaining about the police cracking down on a burglary spree that the pawnshop had profited from. There are small businesses that are built on Facebook, which depend upon Facebook’s surveillance-based ad targeting.

But arguing that it’s wrong, in any way, for Apple (and perhaps, soon Google) to give users the control to close these tracking loopholes because it’s going to hurt these small businesses built atop Facebook’s targeted ad capabilities is like arguing about the plight of small business that depend upon cheap goods purchased from the hypothetical pawnshop that’s been buying those goods from burglars. The whole thing has, up until Apple instituted App Tracking Transparency, been illegitimate, even if the small businesses did nothing wrong themselves.

How an Obscure Far-Right Website With Three Employees Dominates Facebook in 2022 

Judd Legum, writing at Popular Information:

Most people have probably never heard of the website Conservative Brief. It employs just three writers and it does not produce any original reporting. Nearly all of its articles are aggregations of Tweets, YouTube videos, or other media websites, presented with a far-right spin. Recent headlines include “More Damning Evidence Surfaces Against Hillary Clinton in Durham Probe,” and “Trump Gives Love To Mike Lindell, Showers Him With Praise For The Good He Has Done.” Conservative Brief has been cited repeatedly for publishing false claims.

Yet Conservative Brief has emerged in 2022 as a dominant force on Facebook. It has recently become more popular on the platform than the New York Times and the Washington Post.

How did this happen? Popular Information has uncovered evidence strongly suggesting that Conservative Brief is paying a network of large Facebook pages, including several controlled by prominent conservative political personalities, to post its content. This conduct, if it is indeed occurring, is in direct violation of Facebook’s rules.

This sort of thing strikes me as far more pernicious than false conspiracy theories appearing in search results. With search results, you’re looking for something already. With Facebook, this stuff keeps getting served, endlessly, to those with a propensity to engage with it. That people are being paid to promote it, without disclosing that arrangement, is chicanery.

WSJ: ‘Inside Facebook’s $10 Billion Breakup With Advertisers’ 

Suzanne Vranica, Patience Haggin, and Salvador Rodriguez, reporting for The Wall Street Journal (News+ link):

Martha Krueger, who runs a gift-basket business called Giften Market, used to spend her entire advertising budget on Meta Platforms Inc.’s Facebook and Instagram. She picked up a new customer for every $14 she spent. When Apple Inc. introduced a privacy feature for mobile devices last year that restricts user tracking, she said, her costs to acquire such customers rose 10-fold. In October, she shifted her whole ad budget to search ads on Alphabet Inc.’s Google.

I’m not saying this isn’t true for Krueger’s specific case, but a 10-fold increase in customer acquisition cost doesn’t sound right in general. It feels like we’re talking about Facebook’s business model having utterly collapsed. Their “bad” results last quarter showed an 8 percent year over year drop in profit, yes, and investors very much were spooked by that, yes — but they still reported over $10 billion in profit and almost $34 billion in revenue for the quarter.

Putting aside the company’s claim to be shifting its attention to a “metaverse” future, it’s a mistake — or at least very premature — to speak in the past tense about Facebook as we know it.

Nick Heer, writing at Pixel Envy:

But there is one argument I think can be addressed in short order: all Apple did to push Meta’s buttons is that it now requires explicit consent for tracking. If Meta’s business model cannot handle a simple question of permissions, that is a pretty crappy business model. It should have been better prepared for a day when lawmakers started asking questions. But it was not. Meta’s best move has been to use the plight of small businesses, lured by its short-term promises, to excuse its unethical practices. Shame.

Update: A brief follow-up post.

Search Engines and Conspiracy Theories 

Stuart A. Thompson, writing for The New York Times, under the provocative headline “Fed Up With Google, Conspiracy Theorists Turn to DuckDuckGo”:

Other research has also found that Bing’s algorithm surfaces less trustworthy information than Google does when searching for conspiracy theories. One study last year showed that slightly fewer than half of all results on Bing and DuckDuckGo for six popular conspiracy theories mentioned or promoted the ideas. Google fared better, with about a quarter of links mentioning the ideas but nearly none supporting them. Yahoo fared worse than Bing and DuckDuckGo, and the Russian search engine Yandex fared worst among the group.

Newer and more esoteric conspiracy theories are far more likely to return misleading results because of the so-called data void. Conspiracy theorists tend to publish content about new ideas long before mainstream sources, dominating search results as the terms begin spreading online. Other topics never grab the attention of mainstream sources, giving the conspiracy theorists a long-term presence in search results.

What a tricky problem for search engines to solve. This Times story does suggest that Google is ahead of rival search engines at presenting results that don’t support bunk conspiracy theories, but I don’t think it’s clear what the “correct” balance is here. If you really do want to see the crazy “QAnon” theories for yourself, you should be able to find them, no? But at the same time search engines certainly don’t want to legitimize radicalizing nonsense.

State of the Desktop Browser Battle: Microsoft Edge Is Moving Up 

Anthony Spadafora, writing for TechRadar:

According to data from web analytics service StatCounter, Microsoft Edge is now used on 9.54% of desktops worldwide, just behind Safari at 9.84%. As you may have guessed, Google Chrome still holds the top spot at 65.38%, with fellow challenger Mozilla Firefox now trailing in behind with 9.18%.

While Edge may be catching up to Safari worldwide, in North America it’s a different story, as Apple’s browser is used on 16.87% of desktops compared to Edge’s 11.93% market share.

These stats are desktop-only — Safari comes in much higher on mobile, of course. No pun intended, but even limiting the stats to “desktop” is not an apples-to-apples comparison, because Safari is available only on the Mac (but, has the enormous advantage of being the default). StatCounter pegs MacOS’s share of North America desktop usage at 26%, which suggests that roughly one-third of Mac users use Chrome (or Edge or Firefox — but probably Chrome). Chrome dominates the desktop overall, but second place appears to be a very tight three-way race between Safari, Edge, and Firefox.

Also worth noting: mobile browsing is so profoundly popular that only Chrome (63%) and Safari (20%) register above the baseline when you look at all browsing across all platforms.

Update: Alexandre Dieulot reminded me that in 2019 Apple changed Safari’s default user-agent string on iPadOS to look like Safari’s for MacOS. (This happened with the release of iPadOS 13, the first version with the name “iPadOS”.) You can see the apparent uptick in StatCounter’s numbers for “MacOS” starting in September 2019.

Spotify’s ‘Car Thing’ 

Speaking of Spotify, today they released Car Thing — a $90 phone-sized touchscreen tablet that does nothing except act as a Bluetooth remote for the Spotify app on your phone. I like new hardware ideas; it’s no fun to think that the phone is the last device we’re going to need. But I can’t see why anyone would want this. At least when Amazon and Facebook tried making their own branded phones, they were actually phones that did everything we expect a modern phone to do. Who wants a phone-sized remote control for their phone?

And as a dedicated device mounted on your car dashboard, how is it not an invitation to be stolen? It looks like a phone that was left in the car.

Om Malik: ‘Why Spotify Bought Chartable and Podsights’ 

Om Malik:

In many ways, the Chartable and Podsights acquisitions remind me of Facebook’s under-the-radar purchase of Onavo, the VPN/data tracker. It paid $200 million in 2013 for a company that allowed it to gather deep intelligence into what was happening with various apps — who was hot, who was not, and what was going to be hot. Many sources over the years told me that Onavo allowed Facebook to figure out the potential of Snap even before Snap founders knew what they had on their hands. Onavo data was crucial in making deals for Instagram and Whatsapp, amongst other things.

Podsights and Chartable would allow Spotify to know which podcasts are most effective or have tailwinds and could get famous shortly, giving them an excellent opportunity to either lock up that content into exclusive deals or bring them in-house. And remember, they could use the same data to create copy-cat podcasts — much like how Netflix creates copypasta versions of hit shows from other networks that get popular on its platform. Since Spotify controls the “attention spigot,” it can direct it at in-house podcasts and turn them into big hits.

Instabug: Mobile App Performance Monitoring 

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‘That’s When Microsoft Called’ 

Jordon Novet, reporting for CNBC:

Microsoft first reached out to game publisher Activision Blizzard about a possible tie-up the same week a media report landed asserting that Activision CEO Bobby Kotick had known for years about alleged cases of sexual assault at the company, according to a regulatory filing released on Friday.

The filing indicates that the companies began negotiations in November, two months before agreeing to a $68.7 billion deal that would be the largest purchase ever for a U.S. technology company. For Microsoft, the timing was opportunistic. On Nov. 16, the Wall Street Journal reported that women had accused Kotick of mistreatment. While he knew about allegations of misconduct, he didn’t share all the relevant information with the company’s board, the Journal said.

Activision shares sank 11% in the four trading days after the story. That’s when Microsoft called, the new filing with the SEC shows.

Like I wrote last month, “this deal was some Old Testament ass-kicking Microsoft.” I think the ballgame was over the moment Xbox chief Phil Spencer’s memo “leaked” on November 18.

‘Google Slides Is Actually Hilarious’ 

Laura Javier:

Perhaps like you, I naively started out thinking that Google Slides was just a poorly maintained product suffering from some questionable foundational decisions made ages ago that worshipped at the shrine of PowerPoint and which have never since been revisited, but now, after having had to use it so much in the past year, I believe that Google Slides is actually just trolling me.

Google Slides is not actually hilarious, but Javier’s illustrated critique of its UI is. Having never used it myself, I can’t believe any of her examples are true, let alone all of them. Jiminy.

Nilay Patel and Walt Mossberg on Spotify’s Ambitions to Dominate Podcasting 

From a brief thread on Twitter, here’s Nilay Patel (linking the Verge story on Spotify’s two new podcasting ad tech acquisitions):

One the one hand, Spotify trying to monopolize the entire podcast industry through acquisition is one of those things regulators should look at very closely.

On the other hand, Apple and Google have done... nothing? At all? To compete?

To put it another way: podcasts are existential for Spotify and you can tell by how aggressive it is. Podcasts are just another part of the platform bundle for Apple and Google, and you can tell by how lazy they are.

Walt Mossberg:

Or, you could conclude that @Spotify is destroying one of the last vestiges of the open web, amplifying dangerous misinformation, and shredding privacy. All while paying the creators of its main product, music, almost nothing.


I don’t disagree but how can you go complain they are acting anticompetitively when the other guys won’t… compete?

I’m not sure what the answer is here. I.e., if you agree that Spotify, if successful, is going to ruin podcasting (and that they’re already well on their way) — what should be done? Apple’s not doing nothing in the podcast space, but it seems to me that their Apple Podcasters Program that launched last year hasn’t really had much of an uptake. I could be wrong about that. But even if Apple’s Podcasters Program is successful, it’s not open. It’s a system where podcasts are hosted by Apple, listener subscriptions are paid through Apple, and those podcasts can only be listened to in the Apple Podcasts app. (The idea isn’t that subscriber-based podcasts need be exclusive to Apple; it’s that regular podcasts can serve an Apple-exclusive ad-free version in addition to their open-to-anyone version that has ads. Or sell a subscriber-only podcast via Apple and through other platforms.)

Paid subscriber-only podcasts are a fine idea, and I can vouch that they can be successful. But they’re a blip compared to the industry overall, which is monetized through ads. Spotify is trying to justify its enormous (but, of late, rapidly declining) market cap. Facebook and Google didn’t get where they are by selling small subscriptions to billions of users, they got where they are by offering billions of users free-to-consume content monetized by ads, and keeping the lion’s share of that ad revenue.

Best I can come up with for “What should be done?” is that podcasters should resist proprietary platforms, Spotify’s especially. That’s easier to agree with in principle before Spotify comes to you waving a very big check to go exclusive on the platform or to acquire your previously independent network of shows. If there’s reason for optimism, it’s that podcasts are so much easier to produce than TV shows, and so much easier to host than video. There’s no need for a YouTube-of-audio. Podcasts aren’t a format that just happens to have thrived on the open independent internet — they’ve thrived because of the open independent internet.

Spotify Is Acquiring Two Major Podcast Surveillance Ad Tech Platforms 

Ashley Carman, reporting for The Verge:

Spotify is making more podcast acquisitions. The company announced today it’s acquiring both Chartable and Podsights — two of the most prominent podcast marketing and ad attribution companies. The deal price hasn’t been disclosed, but this marks the first major acquisition the company has made this year in a long line of audio purchases.

Both Podsights and Chartable allow podcasters and networks to include tags in their shows that are used to track who listened, if they heard an ad, and whether they took action upon hearing it. [...] This deal is particularly critical for the company as it tries to make its ad platform the best and most powerful in audio.

Spotify isn’t just trying to become the biggest name in podcasting (which has heretofore been, but may no longer be, Apple). They’re trying to usurp podcasting as we know it — one of the last and brightest bastions of the open, simple, private, transparent internet — and turn it into a privately-owned, gated, complicated, invasive, utterly closed platform. Spotify is trying to do to podcasting what Facebook did to “having your own website”.

Ron Amadeo: ‘Android’s Toothless “Privacy Sandbox” Fails to Answer iOS Tracking Limits’ 

Ron Amadeo, writing at Ars Technica:

So while Google did not announce anything that will improve privacy today, it did hint at someday making a change. The blog post says, “we plan to support existing ads platform features for at least two years, and we intend to provide substantial notice ahead of any future changes.” Those “future changes” could theoretically improve privacy, but again, there is no commitment to do that. If anything, today’s blog post is a reassuring statement to advertisers that, while Apple blew up the mobile ad industry in 2021, Google is publicly committing to keep the cash flowing until at least 2024. [...]

Since Google is not making any privacy changes mandatory, it is basically asking advertising companies to voluntarily stop collecting data on users. If advertisers wanted to do that, they could make that change today. Advertisers don’t actually need to wait for a technical solution to be finished.

Again, we already know how the surveillance ad industry feels about voluntarily not tracking users.

If this “Android Privacy Sandbox” winds up as toothless as it sounds today, it’s just Google trying to look like they’re pro-privacy, not actually taking action to make Android more private for users.

Update: My takeaway is that Google is presenting this “Android Privacy Sandbox” — including just by giving it a name — as though they have announced a comprehensive plan to give Android users iOS-like (or better!) control over their own privacy from cross-application surveillance ad tech. But in fact all they’ve announced is a plan to create a plan.

Google: ‘Introducing the Privacy Sandbox on Android’ 

Anthony Chavez, VP of product for Android at Google:

Today, we’re announcing a multi-year initiative to build the Privacy Sandbox on Android, with the goal of introducing new, more private advertising solutions. Specifically, these solutions will limit sharing of user data with third parties and operate without cross-app identifiers, including advertising ID. We’re also exploring technologies that reduce the potential for covert data collection, including safer ways for apps to integrate with advertising SDKs. [...]

​​We realize that other platforms have taken a different approach to ads privacy, bluntly restricting existing technologies used by developers and advertisers. We believe that — without first providing a privacy-preserving alternative path — such approaches can be ineffective and lead to worse outcomes for user privacy and developer businesses. [...] While we design, build and test these new solutions, we plan to support existing ads platform features for at least two years, and we intend to provide substantial notice ahead of any future changes.

Two years puts them around three years behind iOS, which implemented App Tracking Transparency (ATT) last year. Or maybe that’s just three years until Android jumps ahead of iOS on privacy guards against surveillance advertising, since ATT is the “blunt”, “ineffective” approach Google is attributing to “other platforms”. (I get it that big companies like Google and Apple will often go out of their way not to name each other in disparaging contexts, and that in general this practice comes across as couth and respectful, but in this case it’s almost comically obvious not just that they’re talking about Apple, but that they can only be talking about Apple. There are no other players in this space.)

There’s also an implication here that Apple didn’t give the companies who’d be affected by ATT sufficient notice before instituting the changes. And we all know who the primary “company” is: Facebook. I’d say Apple bent over backwards to give Facebook time, and how Facebook reacted is instructional.

Fast Company on Flexibits and Fantastical 3.6 

Speaking of Fantastical 3.6, Jared Newman wrote a nice piece for Fast Company on what’s new, and more broadly, what makes Flexibits special:

Ask Michael Simmons what distinguishes Fantastical from myriad other calendar apps and scheduling services, and he’ll give you a nonspecific answer: It’s just better.

Sure, he may point to a few particular features, like how it offers a native Mac app that feels at home on Apple’s operating system, or how its new scheduling tool doesn’t require bouncing over to a separate service such as Calendly. But the larger point is that Fantastical excels at the little details that aren’t so easy to quantify.

“A lot of people, they just wouldn’t get it,” Simmons says of those who question what makes Fantastical stand out. “It’s really that simple: We make a great user experience.”

It’s really that simple. Fantastical is that rare indie app that feels best-of-breed on all three platforms: Mac, iPhone, and iPad.

Fantastical Adds Web-Based Scheduling Features 

Speaking of Jason Snell, today he wrote about one of the best new app updates of the year so far, Fantastical 3.6 (which really could have been versioned 4.0):

Finding a common time when a group of people can meet has been a recurring theme of my life for a couple of decades now. Back in the old days, it was often finding common times for project meetings at work. For more than a decade, it has also included scheduling podcast episodes with a disparate group of panelists. And as an independent type person, I often need to schedule Zoom meetings with a random collection of people in different time zones with different schedules.

My calendar app has never really done this job well, so I’ve used a bunch of web-based tools to facilitate this work, most notably Doodle and (more recently) StrawPoll. As of last week, though, my calendar app does do this — because last week Flexibits announced Fantastical 3.6, an update to its subscription-based calendar app that adds a new web-based scheduler.

The new features work great. They do what Fantastical has always done — make even complex calendaring tasks easy and understandable. But they’re also an interesting marriage of excellent native apps and web-based services. Snell:

Fantastical (and its cousin contacts app, Cardhop) are bundled together in a subscription service called Flexibits Premium, and these additions show that Flexibits is getting comfortable implementing new features that span apps and the cloud to get the functionality that they want. And all these new features are covered by the regular Flexibits Premium subscription — as they should be, since getting the benefit of new features was a key part of the deal when Flexibits converted Fantastical to a subscription model.

The people you invite to collaborate on finding a good time for an event don’t need to be Flexibits Premium subscribers — in fact, they don’t even need to be Fantastical users. But for the organizer, this really does exemplify the benefits of a subscription model.

’Tis but Thy Name That Is My Enemy 

Mike Isaac and Sheera Frenkel, reporting for The New York Times:

Google’s employees are called Googlers. Amazon’s workers are known as Amazonians. Yahoo’s employees were Yahoos.

So it was a conundrum for employees at Facebook, long known as Facebookers, when the company renamed itself Meta late last year.

The terminology is now no longer in question. At a meeting on Tuesday, Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s founder and Meta’s chief executive, announced a new name for his company’s employees: Metamates.

They could, you know, just be known as “Meta employees”, like most companies seem to do it. But Zuckerberg missed a real opportunity by not going with “Meta-chlorians”.

The Talk Show: ‘See Me After Class’ 

Jason Snell returns to the show to dissect the Six Colors 2021 Apple Report Card. Also: the care and feeding of mechanical keyboards.

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Microsoft’s ‘Principled Approach to App Stores’ That Doesn’t Apply to Xbox 

Microsoft president Brad Smith, in a post laying out the company’s 11 principles for app stores:

Second, some may ask why today’s principles do not apply immediately and wholesale to the current Xbox console store. It’s important to recognize that emerging legislation is being written to address app stores on those platforms that matter most to creators and consumers: PCs, mobile phones and other general purpose computing devices. For millions of creators across a multitude of businesses, these platforms operate as gateways every day to hundreds of millions of people. These platforms have become essential to our daily work and personal lives; creators cannot succeed without access to them. Emerging legislation is not being written for specialized computing devices, like gaming consoles, for good reasons. Gaming consoles, specifically, are sold to gamers at a loss to establish a robust and viable ecosystem for game developers. The costs are recovered later through revenue earned in the dedicated console store.

Nonetheless, we recognize that we will need to adapt our business model even for the store on the Xbox console. Beginning today, we will move forward to apply Principles 1 through 7 to the store on the Xbox console. We’re committed to closing the gap on the remaining principles over time. In doing so, we will incorporate the spirit of new laws even beyond their scope, while moving forward in a way that protects the needs of game developers, gamers, and competitive and healthy game-console ecosystems.

This exception for gaming consoles echoes the arguments from Epic CEO Tim Sweeney, but as I wrote back in August 2020, I don’t think they hold water. Microsoft and Sony may lose money on Xbox and PlayStation console sales, but Nintendo doesn’t. Apple makes an enormous profit selling iPhone hardware, but Google doesn’t profit similarly from Android handset sales, and many of the companies that do make Android handsets earn very little money on hardware sales.

Companies are going to advocate for their own interests, of course, but it’s a little rich to see Microsoft push for openness on all platforms but gaming consoles — the one market where they themselves own and control a closed platform.

‘Wazawaka Goes Waka Waka’ 

Brian Krebs:

In January, KrebsOnSecurity examined clues left behind by “Wazawaka,” the hacker handle chosen by a major ransomware criminal in the Russian-speaking cybercrime scene. Wazawaka has since “lost his mind” according to his erstwhile colleagues, creating a Twitter account to drop exploit code for a widely-used virtual private networking (VPN) appliance, and publishing bizarre selfie videos taunting security researchers and journalists.

A wild story, to be sure, but extra credit to Krebs for the headline.


My thanks to Rows for sponsoring last week at DF. Let’s face it, spreadsheets suck. The world runs on them, but the last time they got a major update was in 2006. That’s a year before the first iPhone was released.

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‘Apple in 2021: The Six Colors Report Card’ 

Jason Snell’s annual Apple Report Card is one of my favorite traditions of our current Apple pundit landscape. This year’s did not disappoint. I think collectively it is an almost astoundingly accurate snapshot of where Apple is doing well and where it’s not. If I had a podcast, I’d have Snell on my next episode to talk about it.

See also: “Fun With Charts” — a breakdown of this year’s voting presented via data visualization from smarty guy Kieran Healy.

Apple: ‘An Update on AirTag and Unwanted Tracking’ 

Apple Newsroom has a wide-ranging update on AirTags and malicious tracking:

Every AirTag has a unique serial number, and paired AirTags are associated with an Apple ID. Apple can provide the paired account details in response to a subpoena or valid request from law enforcement. We have successfully partnered with them on cases where information we provided has been used to trace an AirTag back to the perpetrator, who was then apprehended and charged. [...]

New privacy warnings during AirTag setup: In an upcoming software update, every user setting up their AirTag for the first time will see a message that clearly states that AirTag is meant to track their own belongings, that using AirTag to track people without consent is a crime in many regions around the world, that AirTag is designed to be detected by victims, and that law enforcement can request identifying information about the owner of the AirTag.

Rene Ritchie has a good video about these upcoming changes. One point he makes that Apple doesn’t address is the desire some people have to use AirTags to track stolen items. The same features that help prevent AirTags from being used to stalk people without their knowing could also alert a thief that whatever it is they’ve stolen has an AirTag attached. There’s no way for AirTags to serve both purposes, so Apple is increasing the protections against unwanted tracking, and emphasizing that AirTags are solely intended for finding your own lost items.

Addressing alert issues for AirPods: We’ve heard from users who have reported receiving an “Unknown Accessory Detected” alert. We’ve confirmed this alert will not display if an AirTag is detected near you — only AirPods (3rd generation), AirPods Pro, AirPods Max, or a third-party Find My network accessory. In the same software update, we will be updating the alert users receive to indicate that AirPods have been traveling with them instead of an “Unknown Accessory.”

Mystery solved, I hope. I know these “Unknown Accessory Detected” alerts have been bedeviling some people.

Apple Announces ‘Tap to Pay’ on iPhone, With No Extra Hardware for Reading Cards 

Apple Newsroom yesterday:

Apple today announced plans to introduce Tap to Pay on iPhone. The new capability will empower millions of merchants across the US, from small businesses to large retailers, to use their iPhone to seamlessly and securely accept Apple Pay, contactless credit and debit cards, and other digital wallets through a simple tap to their iPhone — no additional hardware or payment terminal needed. Tap to Pay on iPhone will be available for payment platforms and app developers to integrate into their iOS apps and offer as a payment option to their business customers. Stripe will be the first payment platform to offer Tap to Pay on iPhone to their business customers, including the Shopify Point of Sale app this spring. Additional payment platforms and apps will follow later this year.

It requires a third-party app to use, and those apps aren’t shipping yet, but the framework is in today’s new iOS 15.4 beta 2 release.

Andrew Liszewski, writing for Gizmodo, takes this as a sign that “Apple Wants to Kill Square”. I don’t think that’s the case at all. Square’s business is processing payments and providing services to businesses, not selling $49 credit card readers. Just in the last few weeks, we’ve had service done on our heater and dishwasher. Both times I was able to pay the repair guys using my credit card via a Bluetooth card reader paired with their phones. (Both had iPhones, for what it’s worth.) This new feature just means they won’t need the card reader hardware in the future.

Payment Processing Is Cheaper in Europe 

Interesting follow-up to Monday’s piece on the Dutch regulations for dating apps: the EU has lower credit card processing fees than the U.S. Stripe, for example, charges 1.4% plus €0.25 per transaction. That’s still about 4% for a €10 transaction, though.

SoftBank’s Sale of Arm to Nvidia Collapses; Arm to IPO 

Jane Lanhee Lee and Josh Horwitz, reporting for Reuters from San Francisco and Shanghai:

SoftBank Group Corp has shelved its blockbuster sale of Arm Ltd to U.S. chipmaker Nvidia Corp valued at up to $80 billion citing regulatory hurdles and will instead seek to list the company.

Britain’s Arm, which named a new CEO on Tuesday, said it would go public before March 2023 and SoftBank CEO Masayoshi Son indicated that would be in the United States, most likely the Nasdaq.

Credit where credit is due: Bloomberg called this two weeks ago.

The Story of ‘Joe Danger’ Relaunching on iOS 

Sean Murray is the founder of Hello Games, a studio best known for crazily-ambitious No Man’s Sky. But before No Man’s Sky, they made an infinite runner for iOS called Joe Danger. Murray writes:

A secret shame of ours is that the success of No Man’s Sky left our first game Joe Danger unloved. Sadly since iOS culled older games it no longer worked on latest Apple devices 😭

This mail broke our hearts and made us want to set things right 💔

Trust me, you want to read this thread. 

My thanks to Meh for sponsoring this week at DF. Meh is the daily deal site that pays me to run wonderful ads like this week’s and this one from October. Really. If they’re cool enough to run ads like these, imagine how cool their daily deals are. New stuff every day.

Bloomberg News Accidentally Publishes Its Pre-Written ‘Russia Invades Ukraine’ Story 

Rob Beschizza, writing for Boing Boing:

Today Bloomberg News published a headline titled “Russia Invades Ukraine.” The big problem with the story? Russia has not invaded Ukraine:

We prepare headlines for many scenarios and the headline “Russia Invades Ukraine” was inadvertently published around 4 p.m. ET today on our website. We deeply regret the error. The headline has been removed and we are investigating the cause.

‘The First Thing You Need to Know About Boris Johnson Is He’s a Liar’ 

Can’t say it better than Jeet Heer, who quipped: “This might be the best thing the New York Times opinion page has ever run.”

Peloton Stock Surges on Reports Amazon and Nike Are Among Potential Buyers 

Lauren Thomas, reporting for CNBC:

Shares of Peloton surged more than 30% in extended trading Friday after The Wall Street Journal reported e-commerce giant Amazon has approached the company about a potential deal. Other potential suitors are circling, the Journal said, but no deal is imminent and there may not be one at all.

The Financial Times separately reported that sneaker maker Nike is evaluating a bid. The talks are preliminary, it said, and Nike has not spoken with Peloton.

Apple gets mentioned frequently when potential Peloton suitors are pondered, but I don’t think that’s likely. On the hardware side, bikes and treadmills are specific; Apple Watch is upstream of specific exercise machines. (I wouldn’t be surprised if a majority of Peloton owners have an Apple Watch.) On the service side, Apple already has Fitness+. If they were going to buy Peloton to turn Peloton’s online training classes into an Apple service, I think they would have done it two years ago. Apple bought Beats to jump-start Apple Music; Fitness+ is already off the ground, and Apple has deliberately made choices that are different from Peloton’s (e.g. Peloton conducts live classes; Fitness+ is entirely pre-recorded.)

Amazon and Nike, I could both see.

Steve Jobs Introduces the App Store 

It’s been a long and eventful 14 years.

Facebook and Google’s Dependence Upon Advertising 

Parmy Olson, in an opinion piece for Bloomberg:

But this week marked a troubling difference. Facebook’s announcement that user numbers had dropped for the first time laid bare a long-neglected vulnerability: Digital advertising accounts for 98% of Meta’s revenue, and it also accounts for 81% of Alphabet’s. Of the world’s five biggest tech companies, including Amazon Inc., Apple Inc. and Microsoft Corp., Facebook and Google are the least diversified.

Though conventional wisdom says that conglomerates shouldn’t put all their eggs in one basket, it is hard to knock a business model that has been so successful. After all, people were calling Google a one-trick pony back in the early 2000s because of its bet on ads, and that bet has paid off handsomely two decades later. “Through most of the first decade the concept that Google would make $10 billion was inconceivable to people inside the company,” says Sridhar Ramaswamy, who ran Google’s ad business for about five years until he left in 2018.

It’s a little surprising to me that Google’s ad revenue is down to 81 percent of the company’s total — 10 years ago it was up around 97 percent, like Facebook’s today.

Snap, Facing Same ‘Headwinds’ as Facebook, Reports First-Ever Quarterly Profit 

Lauren Feiner, CNBC:

Snap reported its first quarterly net profit on Thursday, and beat analyst estimates for the fourth quarter on earnings, revenue and user growth. [...]

Snap has to contend with similar headwinds as Meta, which warned that it anticipates a $10 billion revenue hit in 2022 resulting from Apple’s privacy changes on iOS that make it harder to target consumers with advertiser content.

Snap also distributes its app on Apple iPhones and serves advertising content to monetize its business. But Snap’s direct response advertising businesses experienced a recovery from the iOS changes “quicker than we anticipated,” according to prepared remarks for CFO Derek Anderson for the company’s analyst call.

During the Q&A period, Andersen said that Snap has been mindful to make privacy inherent to its products and as a result, the changes caused by the iOS changes are “likely to be experienced differently for our business than perhaps for others.”


Facebook Accuses Apple of ‘Browser Carve-Out’ on Tracking Prompts, Hoping No One Will Remember That Safari Is Heavily Biased Toward Privacy 

Michael Simon, writing for Macworld:

Facebook complained that Apple’s app tracking transparency favors companies like Google because ATT “carves out browsers from the tracking prompts Apple requires for apps.” Wehner even went so far as to accuse Apple of ignoring the “policy discrepancy” because “Apple continues to take billions of dollars a year from Google Search ads.”

Glenn Fleishman:

Also amusing of Facebook to whine about a browser “carve out,” when Apple has put more anti-tracking elements into Safari than any other browser and effectively banned third-party cookies.

Exactly: websites you visit on iOS don’t trigger tracking prompts because the anti-tracking features are built in. Apple flat-out removed support for third-party cookies two years ago. When a website tries to set or read a third-party cookie, WebKit doesn’t prompt the user to ask their permission — it just doesn’t work.

Apple has also declined to add new APIs to WebKit that could be misused for fingerprinting, like Bluetooth access and battery stats.

Zuckerberg and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day 

Kevin T. Dugan, writing for New York’s Intelligencer:

At times, an earnings report causes a stock’s price to fall precipitously only for it to moderate in the hour or so after, when the company’s executives calm down Wall Street by saying that all is not so bad. This time, it didn’t work that way. In fact, Facebook’s price continued to slide even lower. Zuckerberg, in his trademark nasal drawl, seemed to acknowledge that the tide was turning against the business he has been running for 18 years as of this week. “The balance of content that people see in feeds is shifted a little bit more towards stuff that isn’t coming from their friends, which they may discuss with their friends, but it’s kind of shifting towards more public content,” he said. The upshot here is that the voyeuristic behaviors that made social media as we know it so profitable — what are my friends talking about? Who did my high school ex marry? — were actually starting to fade.

Here’s a spitball theory: All social networks are fleeting. They’re like hit TV shows — they come and go. Facebook itself (i.e. the blue app) and Instagram aren’t going to disappear, but their times as the new hotness are gone and will never return. (TikTok, which is currently the new hotness, will sooner or later suffer the same fate.)

Zuckerberg Holds Company-Wide Meeting 

Naomi Nix, reporting for Bloomberg:*

At a company-wide virtual meeting Thursday, Zuckerberg explained that the historic stock drop was a result of Meta’s weak forecast for revenue in the current quarter, according to a person who attended and was not authorized to speak about it. Zuckerberg echoed his remarks of a day earlier to investors, telling employees that the social networking giant faced an “unprecedented level of competition,” with the rise of TikTok, the short-video platform Facebook doesn’t own.

Zuckerberg appeared red-eyed and wore glasses, the person said. He said he might tear up because he’d scratched his eye — not because of the topics up for discussion.

He should have appeared as a metaverse avatar. There’s no crying in the metaverse.

* You know.

Facebook Stock Tanks, Company Says Apple iOS Privacy Change Will Cost Them $10 Billion This Year 

Kif Leswing, reporting for CNBC:

Facebook parent Meta said on Wednesday that the privacy change Apple made to its iOS operating system last year will decrease the social media company’s sales this year by about $10 billion. “We believe the impact of iOS overall is a headwind on our business in 2022,” Meta CFO Dave Wehner said on a call with analysts after the company’s fourth-quarter earnings report. “It’s on the order of $10 billion, so it’s a pretty significant headwind for our business.”

Facebook’s admission is the most concrete data point so far on the impact to the advertising industry of Apple’s App Tracking Transparency feature, which reduces targeting capabilities by limiting advertisers from accessing an iPhone user identifier.

Meta shares sank 23% in extended trading on Wednesday after the company warned about numerous challenges and came up short on user numbers. Facebook said first quarter revenue will be $27 billion to $29 billion, while analysts were expecting that number to exceed $30 billion.

Wehner said the $10 billion revenue hit this year is merely a best guess.

Facebook’s stock stayed down all day, wiping $200 billion in value from the company’s market cap — the biggest one-day drop in market value ever. Couldn’t happen to a nicer company.

Worth noting that on Facebook’s analyst call, when pressed on this $10 billion figure, Wehner offered nothing to back it up. Really strong vibes of “The problem isn’t us, or our products — it’s mean old anti-competitive Apple.” It doesn’t seem like anyone bought that line.

‘It’s Almost as if One Company Shouldn’t Simultaneously Be the Market Leader in Three Separate Industries: Search, Advertising, and Web Browsing’ 

Jeremy Keith, writing last April about FLoC:

Seeing which way the wind is blowing, Google’s Chrome browser will also disable third-party cookies at some time in the future (they’re waiting to shut that barn door until the fire is good’n’raging). But Google isn’t just in the browser business. Google is also in the ad tech business. So they still want advertisers to be able to target end users.

Yes, this is quite the cognitive dissonance: one part of the business is building a user agent while a different part of the company is working on ways of tracking end users. It’s almost as if one company shouldn’t simultaneously be the market leader in three separate industries: search, advertising, and web browsing. (Seriously though, I honestly think Google’s search engine would get better if it were split off from the parent company, and I think that Google’s web browser would also get better if it were a separate enterprise.)

Anyway, one possible way of tracking users without technically tracking individual users is to assign them to buckets, or cohorts of interest based on their browsing habits. Does that make you feel safer? Me neither.

This was written about FLoC, but applies perfectly to Topics as well.

Robin Berjon on ‘Topics’, Google’s Proposed Replacement for FLoC 

Robin Berjon, who works on data governance and privacy for The New York Times, posted an insightful thread on Twitter last week looking at Google’s proposed “Topics” standard:

On any given page load, any origin (top or embedded) can become eligible to learn the topics matching the top level origin for that user. If you visit and I embed, both of these could know you like cats. [...]

The mechanism that controls who benefits from observing people is origin-based. So if and both embed, the latter free-rides on the topic value carefully curated by the former. [...]

It’s a rich-get-richer proposal: the more sites a third party is on, the more likely it is to get topics to target (meaning it gets more publishers, meaning more topics…). The explainer acknowledges that but doesn’t list it as an issue.

That last point is one of my key takeaways. Topics does look better than FLoC, but that’s not saying much. And it’s hard to look at Topics as anything other than a proposal by Google for Google. It benefits Google’s ad business because Google’s ads are used on so many sites, and it’s only possible that it’ll become widely deployed because Google controls Chrome, by far the most popular web browser in use today.

I wondered last week if Topics needs to be built into web browsers. The answer is yes, it does. Google can single-handedly make Topics available to just under two-thirds of the market (Chrome’s share). But I can’t see why any other browser would consider supporting Topics. Google wants to keep tracking users across the entire web in a world where users realize they don’t want to be tracked. Why help Google?

Google sees Chrome as a way to embed the entire web into an iframe on

(Also, iframes were a terrible mistake and never should have existed in the first place.)

Letterman, Finally, Has a YouTube Channel 

The feature video — “Dave’s Elevator Races” — exemplifies what made Late Night beloved. So dumb it’s great.


February 2022 cover art for Dithering, depicting two people skating together across a frozen pond.

Speaking of podcasts, you should subscribe to Dithering. New month, new album art. Yours truly and Ben Thompson, twice a week, 15 minutes on the button each episode. Best $5/month you’ll ever spend, trust me.

The Talk Show: ‘He Looked Like a Fred’ 

Special guest: John Moltz. Special topics: Apple’s record-breaking but somehow yawn-inducing quarterly results, new features in the upcoming releases of MacOS 12.3 and iOS 15.4, the Neil Young–Joe Rogan Spotify saga, and more.

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