John Lanchester for the London Review of Books, with an amazing deconstruction of Facebook's malignant business model:
What this means is that even more than it is in the advertising business, Facebook is in the surveillance business. Facebook, in fact, is the biggest surveillance-based enterprise in the history of mankind. It knows far, far more about you than the most intrusive government has ever known about its citizens. It’s amazing that people haven’t really understood this about the company. I’ve spent time thinking about Facebook, and the thing I keep coming back to is that its users don’t realise what it is the company does. What Facebook does is watch you, and then use what it knows about you and your behaviour to sell ads. I’m not sure there has ever been a more complete disconnect between what a company says it does – ‘connect’, ‘build communities’ – and the commercial reality. Note that the company’s knowledge about its users isn’t used merely to target ads but to shape the flow of news to them. Since there is so much content posted on the site, the algorithms used to filter and direct that content are the thing that determines what you see: people think their news feed is largely to do with their friends and interests, and it sort of is, with the crucial proviso that it is their friends and interests as mediated by the commercial interests of Facebook. Your eyes are directed towards the place where they are most valuable for Facebook.
Matthew Panzarino has a great interview with Apple VP Craig Federighi, well worth reading. Bottom line:
The fact of the matter is that there is likely an outsized amount of skepticism about Face ID because other manufacturers like Samsung have shipped versions of facial recognition that are, frankly, crap. If it can be fooled by a simple photo, what the hell are you doing shipping it at all?
Face ID is not a simple image recognition system. It looks at a three-dimensional model of your entire face, recognizing features at a level of detail high enough that Apple is confident that masks will not fool it. It’s a different ballgame entirely.
The rewards for making security (a passcode) incredibly easy for people to implement and use on a daily basis are enormous. The vast majority of people still use common passwords and don’t enable two-factor authentication on any of their devices. The amount of work that Touch ID has done and Face ID will do to improve the security of regular users is huge.
You can safely ignore all of the hot takes coming out on Face ID -- that Apple stores a picture of your face, that it won't work, that you can fool it easily, etc -- it's all garbage. This is a game-changer for individual privacy and security.
Statement from the ad industry, on Safari's new Intelligent Tracking Prevention feature:
The infrastructure of the modern Internet depends on consistent and generally applicable standards for cookies, so digital companies can innovate to build content, services, and advertising that are personalized for users and remember their visits. Apple's Safari move breaks those standards and replaces them with an amorphous set of shifting rules that will hurt the user experience and sabotage the economic model for the Internet. Apple's unilateral and heavy-handed approach is bad for consumer choice and bad for the ad-supported online content and services consumers love. Blocking cookies in this manner will drive a wedge between brands and their customers, and it will make advertising more generic and less timely and useful.
Apple's interests -- that is, the privacy of Apple's users -- are diametrically opposed to the ad industry's interests. Apple's promoting user privacy being "bad for consumer choice" reminds me of the taxi cartel's disingenuous objection to ride-sharing services: "It's bad for passenger safety".
“Apple believes that people have a right to privacy — Safari was the first browser to block third party cookies by default and Intelligent Tracking Prevention is a more advanced method for protecting user privacy.
Ad tracking technology has become so pervasive that it is possible for ad tracking companies to recreate the majority of a person’s web browsing history. This information is collected without permission and is used for ad re-targeting, which is how ads follow people around the Internet. The new Intelligent Tracking Prevention feature detects and eliminates cookies and other data used for this cross-site tracking, which means it helps keep a person’s browsing private. The feature does not block ads or interfere with legitimate tracking on the sites that people actually click on and visit. Cookies for sites that you interact with function as designed, and ads placed by web publishers will appear normally.”
Translation: Go f*** yourselves.
Of the 5 tech giants (Apple, Microsoft, Facebook, Google, and Amazon), Apple (and to some extent Amazon) is the only one not financially conflicted in this fight. Facebook and Google are obviously the biggest enablers of the ad industry. Microsoft sells ads on Bing, LinkedIn, Windows 10, Xbox, and elsewhere.
Here's former Microsoft exec Steven Sinovsky on Microsoft's response when they tried to improve privacy measures in Internet Explorer:
Sam Biddle and Spencer Woodman, for The Intercept:
ICE’s hope is that this privately developed software will help go far beyond matters of legality to matters of the heart. The system must “determine and evaluate an applicant’s probability of becoming a positively contributing member of society, as well as their ability to contribute to national interests” and predict “whether an applicant intends to commit criminal or terrorist acts after entering the United States.” Using software to this end is certainly in line with Trump’s campaign rhetoric — during a rally in Phoenix, he described how “extreme vetting” would make sure the U.S. only accepts “the right people,” using “ideological certification to make sure that those we are admitting to our country share our values and love our people.”
According to a Consumer Reports survey of over 90,000 tablet and laptop owners, an estimated 25 percent of those with Microsoft Surface devices will experience “problems by the end of the second year of ownership.” This failure rate is the worst in the industry by far among mainstream PC makers, the publication says, and as a result, it is pulling its “recommended” designation for all Surface products.
“If you are very concerned about how long your products are going to last, it might be better for you to go with a brand that has a higher predicted reliability,” Consumer Reports electronics editor Jerry Beilinson told Reuters. “Laptops and tablets … made by Microsoft were significantly less reliable than most other brands.”
I've had a lot of clients ask about getting a Surface instead of a traditional Dell/Lenovo/HP business laptop. Hardware is hard to do well, and Microsoft just got in the game. Building a supply chain to consistently produce reliable hardware at scale takes numerous iterations and years of trial and error.
If you're an early-adopter and want bleeding-edge, it'll come at a cost. If you need reliability, stick with the guys who've been doing this forever.
- NYT: Turning negative thinkers into positive thinkers
- Reuters: Russia used Facebook to try to spy on Macron's campaign
- The Atlantic: The algorithm that makes preschoolers obsessed with YouTube
- Vanity Fair: Why the scariest nuclear threat may be coming from inside the White House
- Wired: Inside Cuba's DIY internet revolution
- WSJ: How Jony Ive masterminded Apple's new headquarters
- Vice Sports: The five-buck bump of cocaine that destroyed an Olympic dream
- National Geographic: Here's what it's like to live in the woods, off the grid
- NYT: Economy needs workers, but drug tests take a toll
- WaPo: One surprising way money can buy happiness
- WSJ: It's a vasectomy party! Snips, chips, and dips with your closest friends.
- NYT: In urban China, cash is rapidly becoming obsolete
Michael Lewis, writing for Vanity Fair on the Department of Energy and the massive risks it confronts and manages every day, has this jaw-dropping anecdote about a hydrogen bomb that fell off a B-52 bomber over North Carolina:
Right away we have a problem. At the very top of his list is an accident with nuclear weapons, and it is difficult to discuss that topic with someone who doesn’t have security clearance. But the Trump people didn’t have it, either, I point out, so he’ll just need to work around it. “I have to be careful here,” he says. He wants to make a big point: the D.O.E. has the job of ensuring that nuclear weapons are not lost or stolen, or at the slightest risk of exploding when they should not. “It’s a thing Rick Perry should worry about every day,” he says.
“Are you telling me that there have been scares?”
He thinks a moment. “They’ve never had a weapon that has been lost,” he says carefully. “Weapons have fallen off planes.” He pauses again. “I would encourage you to spend an hour reading about Broken Arrows.”
“Broken Arrow” is a military term of art for a nuclear accident that doesn’t lead to a nuclear war. MacWilliams has had to learn all about these. Now he tells me about an incident that occurred back in 1961, and was largely declassified in 2013, just as he began his stint at D.O.E. A pair of four-mega-ton hydrogen bombs, each more than 250 times more powerful than the bomb that destroyed Hiroshima, broke off a damaged B-52 over North Carolina. One of the bombs disintegrated upon impact, but the other floated down beneath its parachute and armed itself. It was later found in a field outside Goldsboro, North Carolina, with three of its four safety mechanisms tripped or rendered ineffective by the plane’s breakup. Had the fourth switch flipped, a vast section of eastern North Carolina would have been destroyed, and nuclear fallout might have descended on Washington, D.C., and New York City.
Here's what I've been reading the past few weeks:
- BoingBoing: How hackers can steal your 2FA email account by getting you to sign up for another website
- WaPo: The unexpected political power of dentists
- NYT: Yelp's six year grudge against Google
- Wired: Rural America's future is riding on a cell signal
- BuzzFeed: This is why The Minions are so popular
- Motherboard: The life, death, and legacy of iPhone jailbreaking
- WaPo: The ultimate symbol of the pre-recession boom is back
- NYT: A cyberattack 'the world isn't ready for'
- Reason: Police roadblocks are rights-free zones In Madison County, Mississippi
- Mashable: This robot lawyer will help you tackle more than 1,000 legal issues for free
- NBC News: US Border Patrol says it's barred from searching cloud data on phones
- WaPo: Face scans for US citizens flying abroad stir privacy issues
- Business Insider: Canada's far North is terrified of losing Amazon Prime — and residents say it would be like 'pandemonium'
- Bloomberg: Kaspersky Lab has been working with Russian intelligence
- The Verge: Two-factor authentication is a mess
- BBC: Inside the secret and lucrative world of 'the super tutor'
- The Atlantic: How to deal with North Korea
The second major ransomware outbreak using the NSA's stolen hacking tools took place this week. It drew immediate comparisons to the recent WannaCry attack, but there are important differences to make note of. Here's a roundup of the best news and analysis I've seen so far:
- MalwareTech: Petya Ransomware Attack - What's Known
- Microsoft: New ransomware, old techniques: Petya adds worm capabilities
- Ars Technica: A new ransomware outbreak similar to WCry is shutting down computers worldwide
- Microsoft: Windows 10 platform resilience against the Petya ransomware attack
- ZDNet: Six quick facts to know about the Petya global ransomware attack
- WSJ: DLA Piper, one of the largest law firms in the world, is still down.
- Splash247: Maersk, the largest shipping company in the world, has been reduced to using personal Gmail accounts, Excel sheets, and hand-written notes to service ports.
In 1995, Charlie Munger gave a speech about how the human mind tricks itself into making poor decisions. This is an abridged and animated version of that speech.
Ben Thompson explains Amazon/Whole Foods:
This is the key to understanding the purchase of Whole Foods: to the outside it may seem that Amazon is buying a retailer. The truth, though, is that Amazon is buying a customer — the first-and-best customer that will instantly bring its grocery efforts to scale.
Today, all of the logistics that go into a Whole Foods store are for the purpose of stocking physical shelves: the entire operation is integrated. What I expect Amazon to do over the next few years is transform the Whole Foods supply chain into a service architecture based on primitives: meat, fruit, vegetables, baked goods, non-perishables (Whole Foods’ outsized reliance on store brands is something that I’m sure was very attractive to Amazon). What will make this massive investment worth it, though, is that there will be a guaranteed customer: Whole Foods Markets.
In the long run, physical grocery stores will be only one of the Amazon Grocery Services’ customers: obviously a home delivery service will be another, and it will be far more efficient than a company like Instacart trying to layer on top of Whole Foods’ current integrated model.
I suspect Amazon’s ambitions stretch further, though: Amazon Grocery Services will be well-placed to start supplying restaurants too, gaining Amazon access to another big cut of economic activity. It is the AWS model, which is to say it is the Amazon model, but like AWS, the key to profitability is having a first-and-best customer able to utilize the massive investment necessary to build the service out in the first place.
Security & Privacy:
- Motherboard: Russians are using Google's own infrastructure to hack Gmail users.
- NYT: No, your phone didn't ring. So why a voicemail from a telemarketer?
- Bloomberg: Russian hacking of the US electoral system far wider than previously known.
- Wired: The malware that took down Ukraine's power grid.
Apps & Gadgets:
- Jason Snell: Apple Pencil from a non-artist's perspective.
- The Verge: Microsoft Surface Pro review.
- Wired: The pharmacy of the future is ready for your bathroom counter.
- The Verge: The secret origin story of the iPhone.
- Steven Sinofsky: Former Microsoft exec on his experience at Apple's WWDC conference.
Business & Culture:
- NYT: Wells Fargo is making improper changes to mortgages.
- Bloomberg: The housing market is ripe for tech disruption.
- Bloomberg: The man who stands in line for a living.
- Politico: The lost genius of the Post Office.
- Quartz: The company behind WordPress is closing its gorgeous San Francisco office because its employees never show up.
Selena Larson for CNN:
More malware is written for Androids than iPhones. On top of that, almost half of the top 50 Android devices didn't have the most recent security updates by the end of 2016, according to Google. Even if your phone is only a year or two out of date, it's vulnerable to some very simple hacks, says Nathan Freitas, a fellow at Harvard's Berkman Center for Internet and Society. "It doesn't take much for your adversary to get into your [Android] device, and that's a big problem."
When Google releases an update to Android, it takes a while to get to consumers, unless you have a Google-branded phone like the Pixel. Carriers and device makers customize Android with different apps and services, and there are at least 11 different versions of Android. Each customized version has to be updated separately by the carrier or device maker before rolling out to consumers.
The whole article is worth reading, but this perfectly explains why I always recommend iPhone over Android for our clients. Android as a platform is still a complete cluster and can't be trusted for basic security.
John Paczkowski interviewed Apple's Phil Schiller and Craig Federighi on the new iPads:
Similarly, since the iPad is a touch device first, touch interactions — be they via finger or Apple’s Pencil stylus — should be instantaneous, alive. And on the new iPad Pros they get pretty damn close, thanks to one of those world-of-pure-imagination innovations Apple is willing to spend years concocting. This one’s called ProMotion, and it doubles the number of times per second an image can be refreshed on the the iPad Pro’s display. Like most all mobile devices, the first-generation iPad Pro had a refresh rate of 60Hz. The new iPad Pro can ramp up to a refresh rate of 120Hz that’s more typical of 4K TVs.
Courtesy of Apple What that means in practice is that anything that moves on the device’s screen — whether it be video or a line drawing or a photo zoom — appears smoother and more detailed. Some touch interactions are dramatically more responsive; you get the sense that Apple is speeding iPad toward finger-into-puddle-of-water levels of responsiveness.
Apple's annual WWDC conference kicked off this week, and Monday's keynote brought a slew of new products and changes. Here's everything they announced, and what it all means.
- Apple: iOS 11 preview.
- VentureBeat: Apple's new iPad Pro line: 10.5", better displays, faster CPUs.
- The Verge: iPad gets overhauled multitasking and other major software updates in iOS 11.
- 9to5 Mac: Apple Pencil: Improved 20ms latency, mark up support in iOS 11, new case w/ storage slot
- Slash Gear: Apple Maps update stops notifications while driving.
- 9to5 Mac: AppleCare+ for Mac now includes accidental damage coverage.
- TechCrunch: Apple introduces a completely redesigned App Store.
- TechCrunch: Siri gets language translation and a more human voice.
- The Verge: Amazon Prime Video is coming to Apple TV.
- Wired: Apple's HomePod puts Siri in a speaker.
- VentureBeat: Apple unveils $5,000 iMac Pro, most powerful Mac ever, plus Kaby Lake iMacs.
- MacRumors: Apple updates entire MacBook and MacBook Pro lineup.
- 9to5 Mac: Apple unveils macOS ‘High Sierra’ w/ Safari improvements, APFS, more.
- 9to5 Mac: Apple announces watchOS 4 Apple Watch update.
- The Verge: The iPad takes a big step toward being the computer for everyone.
- Ben Thompson: Apple's strengths and weaknesses.
- Jason Snell: Ears On with the HomePod.
- VentureBeat: Apple Pay is suddenly a threat to PayPal and Square.
No ropes, no gear. I can barely get through this video.
- WaPo: Google now knows when you go to the store and buy stuff.
- 9to5 Mac: T-Mobile’s DIGITS program with phone number flexibility leaving beta, coming to all customers.
- Quartz: Warby Parker’s new app checks your vision and writes prescriptions without a trip to the doctor.
- The Verge: Ikea's cheap smart lighting will be Apple HomeKit, Google Home, and Amazon Alexa compatible.
- Visual Capitalist: The U.S. spends more public money on healthcare than Sweden or Canada.
- Bloomberg: Brazil's car wash scandal reveals a country soaked in corruption.
- Reveal: An ancient Nordic religion is inspiring white supremacist terror.
- Wired: Russians engineer a brilliant slot machine cheat—and casinos have no fix.
- Forbes: Meet the secretive billionaire who makes the cheese for Pizza Hut, Domino's, and Papa John's.
- Outside: The curious case of the disappearing nuts.
- Above Avalon: The evolution of the iPhone.
- CyberScoop: The leaked NSA hacking tool that will wreak havoc for years to come.
- Hodinkee: Marc Newson's new $12,000 hourglass is...actually pretty cool.