30 June 2020

Ars Technica: “TikTok and 53 other iOS apps still snoop your sensitive clipboard data”

In March, researchers uncovered a troubling privacy grab by more than four dozen iOS apps including TikTok, the Chinese-owned social media and video-sharing phenomenon that has taken the Internet by storm. Despite TikTok vowing to curb the practice, it continues to access some of Apple users’ most sensitive data, which can include passwords, cryptocurrency wallet addresses, account-reset links, and personal messages. Another 53 apps identified in March haven’t stopped either.

The privacy invasion is the result of the apps repeatedly reading any text that happens to reside in clipboards, which computers and other devices use to store data that has been cut or copied from things like password managers and email programs. With no clear reason for doing so, researchers Talal Haj Bakry and Tommy Mysk found, the apps deliberately called an iOS programming interface that retrieves text from users’ clipboards.

TikTok’s continued snooping has gotten extra scrutiny for other reasons. When called out in March, the video-sharing provider told UK publication The Telegraph it would end the practice in the coming weeks. Mysk said that the app never stopped the monitoring. What’s more, a Wednesday Twitter thread revealed that the clipboard reading occurred each time a user entered a punctuation mark or tapped the space bar while composing a comment. That means the clipboard reading can happen every second or so, a much more aggressive pace than documented in the March research, which found monitoring happened when the app was opened or reopened.

Dan Goodin

If you care in the least about you privacy, you should absolutely stay off TikTok! Its skyrocketing popularity despite massive security and privacy issues is a good example how the majority of people care too little about their individual privacy – or simply do not understand the implications of this continuous data collection, in this case likely for the benefit of the Chinese government.

The Verge: “Apple’s new iOS 14 home screen brings Windows Phone Live Tiles back to life”

I’ve always wanted Apple to bring these Live Tiles to the iPhone. Apple’s overhauled iOS 14 home screen finally does that, enabling lively widgets for apps that sit on the home screen. It’s the final addition to the iPhone that I’ve been missing from Windows Phone, 10 years after Microsoft first introduced Live Tiles to the world.

Live Tiles were one of Windows Phone’s most unique features. They enabled apps to show information on the home screen, similar to the widgets found on Android and iOS. You could pin almost anything useful to the home screen, and Live Tiles animated beautifully to flip over and provide tiny nuggets of information that made your phone feel far more personal and alive.

Apple has taken the best of both Android widgets and Windows Phone’s Live Tiles and combined them into iOS 14. It’s not the first time we’ve seen Windows Phone features appear in iOS or Android, and it underlines how important Microsoft’s mobile efforts were even if they were a glorious failure.

Tom Warren

Even though I love Live Tiles, I have never been a fan of widgets on Android. After switching from iOS two years ago I simply put my most used apps on my – single – home screen and relied on search for the rest. But these discussions about upcoming widgets in iOS sparked my interest, so I started experimenting with widgets a bit. I currently own a Samsung Galaxy S8 with Android 9 and Samsung’s One UI, version 1.0.

The Wall Street Journal: “Olympus to Exit Camera Business after 84 Years”

The Tokyo company, which has been under pressure from U.S. shareholder ValueAct Capital to improve shareholder returns, said Wednesday that it planned to sell its camera unit to private-equity firm Japan Industrial Partners Inc. It didn’t disclose financial details. The companies aim to complete their deal by the end of the year.

As recently as 2007, the dawn of the smartphone era, digital cameras were a $3-billion-a-year business for Olympus. Within a few years, however, most of the market evaporated because people were using their phones to take pictures. Camera revenue shrank to just over $400 million in the year ended March 31, and the business has lost money for the past three fiscal years.

The company’s main product line is now medical-imaging devices such as endoscopes.

Kosaku Narioka

Unfortunate news, but not unexpected, especially in the context of the massive economic crisis caused by the pandemic.

29 June 2020

The New York Times: “Apple rejects Facebook’s Gaming App, for at least the Fifth Time”

Since February, Apple has rejected at least five versions of Facebook Gaming, according to three people with knowledge of the companies, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the details are confidential. Each time, the people said, Apple cited its rules that prohibit apps with the “main purpose” of distributing casual games.

Facebook Gaming may also have been hurt by appearing to compete with Apple’s own sales of games, two of the people said. Games are by far the most lucrative category of mobile apps worldwide. Apple’s App Store, the only officially approved place for iPhone and iPad users to find new games and other programs, generated about $15 billion in revenue last year.

Seth Schiesel

Alternative headline: “Apple rejects Another Rival Gaming Service to Prevent it from Competing on iOS”. As reported in March, new game streaming subscriptions from Microsoft, Google and Nvidia have also been severely limited by Apple’s rules, while its own Apple Arcade is allegedly compliant. Yet another example of companies defining the rules of access to their platforms so that competitors can never challenge their dominance.

Windows Central: “Microsoft’s Head of Industrial Design for Surface now also heading design team for Windows”

Groene is the lead designer of Microsoft's Surface line and has been involved with several design choices that have been well received. His expanded role including the design of Windows could help end some of the frustrations people have expressed regarding the inconsistent design of Windows 10.

While it’s unclear what role Groene has played in the design of Windows at this point, there does seem to be a shift regarding UI design and Windows at Microsoft. Panay being placed in charge of Windows, along with Groene’s new role, could iron out inconsistencies in the operating system and improve the user interface. Panay teased a new Windows 10 UI earlier this year and Microsoft confirmed last month that some elements of Windows 10X will come to Windows 10. We’ll have to wait and see to find out what Microsoft has in plan for the future of Windows.

Sean Endicott

I do not usually comment on issues of design, but in Windows 10 the situation is becoming ridiculous. There are no less than four different styles for Start Menu tiles alone:

  • flat icon with the system-wide accent color as background (all Win32 apps, as well as most Store apps)
  • flat icon with a custom background color (in most cases a shade of blue, like Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, old Microsoft Edge)
  • Fluent Design icon with solid blue background (most modern Windows apps, with some glaring exceptions, like Store, Calculator)
  • Fluent Design icon with solid dark grey background (Office apps, To Do, Sticky Notes and most recently Skype)

23 June 2020

The Guardian: “Climate crisis: alarm at record-breaking heatwave in Siberia”

Russian towns in the Arctic circle have recorded extraordinary temperatures, with Nizhnyaya Pesha hitting 30°C on 9 June and Khatanga, which usually has daytime temperatures of around 0°C at this time of year, hitting 25°C on 22 May. The previous record was 12°C.

In May, surface temperatures in parts of Siberia were up to 10°C above average, according to the EU’s Copernicus Climate Change Service (C3S). Martin Stendel, of the Danish Meteorological Institute, said the abnormal May temperatures seen in north-west Siberia would be likely to happen just once in 100,000 years without human-caused global heating.

Freja Vamborg, a senior scientist at C3S, said: It is undoubtedly an alarming sign, but not only May was unusually warm in Siberia. The whole of winter and spring had repeated periods of higher-than-average surface air temperatures.

Damian Carrington

2020 began with record-breaking temperatures in Australia, followed by wildfires, which killed hundreds of millions animals, triggered rare weather phenomena such as fire clouds and ‘ember attacks’, and spewed so much ash and dust in the atmosphere that it colored glaciers in neighboring New Zeeland brown. Australia’s bushfires are also believed to have released as much as two-thirds of the nation’s annual carbon dioxide emissions in just past three months, thus greatly contributing to more global warming.

22 June 2020

Techdirt: “How Most of the Anti-Internet Crew Misread the News that the NY Times is Getting Rid of 3rd Party Advertisers”

Yet, again, the NY Times is now doing the same thing that Facebook and Google have done. It’s collecting data on its users, and then using that data to sell access to advertisers. Why is that evil “selling data” when it comes to those other companies by “good” when it’s the NY Times? Look at the segmenting the NY Times already says it’s doing: how exactly is it getting “marital status”? Or income levels? Is that the sort of info you give up to get a NY Times subscription (and if so, who is actually giving that info away?) or is the NY Times collecting that information through other means?

Now, there are some reasonable arguments to be made that in making this move the NY Times will be sending less data back to 3rd party advertisers, but even that is only narrowly true. First of all, the data that flows back to ad networks via publishing partners is already a lot less significant than you might think. It’s just not that much – and unless the NY Times is also going to pull other things like the URL tracking it includes in its “share on Facebook” links, it’s still going to be sending data back to companies like Facebook.

Mike Masnick

An interesting initiative from The New York Times, but I am unsure how this makes business sense. If I understand correctly, they plan to build proprietary first-party data platform from scratch. On one hand it should make them independent from ad tech giants Google and Facebook, but at the same time their – much smaller – competitors (expect The New York Times to be silently pushed out of Google’s top 10 search results and from the Facebook news feed).

20 June 2020

The Washington Post: “Trump authorizes sanctions targeting International Criminal Court”

In an unprecedented display of administration firepower, the secretaries of state and defense, along with the attorney general and the national security adviser, jointly announced sanctions against officials of what they called a “corrupt” and “politically motivated” court manipulated by Russia and other U.S. adversaries.

The announcement escalates a long-standing dispute with the Netherlands-based court, established 18 years ago under the Treaty of Rome. The United States has never ratified the treaty or recognized the court’s jurisdiction.

The ICC is designed as a court of last resort, used only after countries are unable or unwilling to take action against their own citizens accused of war crimes. The United States has prosecuted troops for criminal conduct committed during the war in Afghanistan. Human rights groups have complained the numbers are relatively small and have not included high-level officers and U.S. officials who may have issued orders.

Trump has intervened in several cases involving war-crimes accusations despite opposition from military justice experts and some senior Pentagon officials.

Karen DeYoung & Carol Morello

Defying and denouncing international institutions in unfortunately not a new tactic for President Trump – one could say it is the norm rather than the exception. But it is concerning for the future stability of international relations to have both major powers, US and China, constantly refusing oversight and accountability for their actions, labeling investigations by international bodies as an intrusion into internal affairs. Without the tacit support of the military and economic power of the United States, I fear the rule of law is on shaky ground and we may see more frequent abuses and conflicts.

19 June 2020

Twitter Blog: “Your Tweet, your voice”

There’s a lot that can be left unsaid or uninterpreted using text, so we hope voice Tweeting will create a more human experience for listeners and storytellers alike. Whether it’s #storytime about your encounter with wild geese in your neighborhood, a journalist sharing breaking news, or a first-hand account from a protest, we hope voice Tweeting gives you the ability to share your perspectives quickly and easily with your voice. We can’t wait to see how people will use this to make their voices heard and add to the public conversation.

Maya Patterson & Rémy Bourgoin

Speaking of Twitter, they have been launching features more frequently lately, and this one could be a hit (or a gimmick that nobody uses past the initial excitement). I for one have no desire to put my literal voice on the Internet – not because I wouldn’t have something to say, but I hate how my voice sounds on recording – but I can see people making good use of this, for example journalists for fast reporting, in situations when it’s more convenient to speak than to write.

No Mercy / No Malice: “Four Weddings & A Funeral”

Twitter acquires media properties in move to subscription model

The opportunity to go blue, and capture a smaller but more valuable audience, is Twitter’s. Recent discovery of their testicles (labeling @therealdonaldtrump’s tweets as lies) renders them the MSNBC of social. Their opportunity is to acquire distressed media properties, go vertical, and move to a subscription model. Subscription fees should be based on the number of followers. If @kyliejenner can garner $430,000 per promoted tweet, she’ll pay $10,000 a month to maintain her revenue stream, and @karaswisher (1.3 million followers) would pay $250 a month. Verified accounts with <2000 followers would remain free to maintain critical mass.

Also, Twitter has the added benefit of being shitty at advertising. Specifically, a move to a subscription model would mean forfeiture of dramatically less revenue than Facebook, which monetizes users at twice the rate of Twitter. They could also hold on to much of their ad revenue during the transition phase, or even settle on a hybrid model that cleans up 90% of the carcinogens.

Scott Galloway

I have been following Prof. Scott Galloway for a long time and recently he has been talking a lot about this idea of Twitter moving to a subscription model. I immediately dismissed it when I first heard it on the podcast but seeing the proposal in writing makes somewhat more sense. Then again, he has been overly critical of basically everything Twitter and/or Jack Dorsey does for as long as I can remember. I know that he invested in Twitter and expects a big return on his investment, but I get the sense that his judgements are biased because of this.

18 June 2020

Protocol: “A new email startup says Apple’s shaking it down for a cut of its subscriptions”

But even as he ranted furiously about Apple’s actions, Heinemeier Hansson said he was worried about the repercussions. If we can’t have Hey on iOS, he said, we’re nowhere. We have to be on the biggest platform in this segment, and Apple knows that. When he tweeted about the app’s initial rejection last week, he got a number of responses from developers who would privately rail against Apple's policies but publicly make excuses for the company. You listen to some of these app developers, and they sound like hostages, Heinemeier Hansson said. They sound like they’re reading a prepared statement, because otherwise Apple could hurt their business. Which is true!

Apple’s somewhat confusing app-review policies are an open secret in the developer industry: No matter how many times you’ve submitted an app, you still hold your breath every time, because who knows what could have changed? Heinemeier Hansson said it’s possible that someone at Apple might change their mind and unilaterally decide to approve Hey. But that won’t solve his problem. The guy who loves picking fights on behalf of the greater internet good has found a new one. Even if it goes away for us, this is still a systemic story of abuse, he said. I think this is where we need this kind of systemic reform that hopefully the EU is pushing.

David Pierce

Antitrust action against Big Tech was a hot topic of debate in 2019, starting from Elizabeth Warren’s proposal to break up these big companies – including Apple. One year later, most of the world has other, more pressing things to worry about, while Big Tech is consolidating their power over competitors. Apple itself easily fits what Warren describes as ‘Using Proprietary Marketplaces to Limit Competition’ with its iOS App Store, the cause of controversy for the above article.

16 June 2020

The New York Times Opinion: “What the Pandemic Reveals about the Male Ego”

Are female leaders better at fighting a pandemic?

I compiled death rates from the coronavirus for 21 countries around the world, 13 led by men and eight by women. The male-led countries suffered an average of 214 coronavirus-related deaths per million inhabitants. Those led by women lost only one-fifth as many, 36 per million.

Nicholas Kristof

This is an example of article where you can safely stop after reading the first paragraphs. I am regularly annoyed by the fetishization of Jacinda Ardern, but this opinion takes it one step too far. It demonstrates both bad journalism and bad science by starting from the author’s preferred premise and then cherry-picking arguments to support it and ignoring facts that do not. There is no mention of South Korea (led by a man), Japan (likewise) or Thailand (incredible, another man!). Does the author ever bother to do a full analysis of all 200+ countries and their leaders? Does he at least state which criteria he used to choose those particular 21 countries? Of course not! And people in media wonder why the general public is losing trust in journalism… I support having more women leadership, but let’s support women because it is the correct thing to do for a fairer society, not based on faulty circular logic.

15 June 2020

The New York Times Opinion: “Yes, We Mean Literally Abolish the Police”

I’ve been advocating the abolition of the police for years. Regardless of your view on police power — whether you want to get rid of the police or simply to make them less violent — here’s an immediate demand we can all make: Cut the number of police in half and cut their budget in half. Fewer police officers equals fewer opportunities for them to brutalize and kill people. The idea is gaining traction in Minneapolis, Dallas, Los Angeles and other cities.

People like me who want to abolish prisons and police, however, have a vision of a different society, built on cooperation instead of individualism, on mutual aid instead of self-preservation. What would the country look like if it had billions of extra dollars to spend on housing, food and education for all? This change in society wouldn’t happen immediately, but the protests show that many people are ready to embrace a different vision of safety and justice.

Mariame Kaba

As an outsider, I’m certain I know too little about this issue and the massive protests happening all over the United States, but advocating to abolish the police is an extreme position that I don’t think will serve anyone and will lead to more anarchy. Hope that social cooperation can fully replace a public police force is a naive solution to put forth when Americans cannot respect basic social distancing measures to combat an epidemic, or wear masks without devolving into never-ending quarrel.

14 June 2020

The New Yorker: “The Neuroscience of Pain”

Without a reliable measure of pain, physicians are unable to standardize treatment, or accurately assess how successful a treatment has been. And, without a means by which to compare and quantify the dimensions of the phenomenon, pain itself has remained mysterious. The problem is circular: when I asked Tracey why pain has remained so resistant to objective description, she explained that its biology is poorly understood. Other basic sensory perceptions—touch, taste, sight, smell, hearing—have been traced to particular areas of the brain. We don’t have that for pain, she said. We still don’t know exactly how the brain constructs this experience that you absolutely, unarguably know hurts.

In 1991, a team at Massachusetts General Hospital, in Boston, showed its first, grainy video of a human visual cortex “lighting up” as the cortex turned impulses from the optic nerve into images. Captivated, Tracey applied for a postdoctoral fellowship at M.G.H., and began working there in 1994, using the MRI whenever she could. When Allen, at that time her boyfriend, visited from England one Valentine’s Day, she cancelled a trip they’d planned to New York to take advantage of an unexpected open slot on the scanner. Allen spent the evening lying inside the machine, bundled up to keep warm, while she gazed into his brain. He told me that he had intended to propose to Tracey that day, but saved the ring for another time.

Nicola Twilley

This last paragraph sounds like a scene straight out of The Big Bang Theory! On a more serious note, it is a fascinating article discovered as I was browsing The New Yorker after saving the other article I talked about previously today. They also fit together thematically, since both explore aspects of our minds and brains that have so far remained poorly understood.

The New Yorker: “Anatomy of Melancholy”

The day after my birthday, I moved to my father’s. I was hardly able to get up for the next week. The days were like this: I would wake up panicked. Xanax would relieve the panic if I took enough, but then I would collapse into thick, confusing, dream-heavy sleep. I wanted only to take enough to sleep forever. Whenever I woke up, I took more pills. Killing myself, like taking a shower, was too elaborate an agenda to entertain. All I wanted was for it to stop, but I could not say what “it” was. Words, with which I have always been intimate, seemed suddenly like complex metaphors, the use of which entailed much more energy than I had.

In the end, I cancelled only one reading. Between November 1st and December 15th, I visited eleven cities. Doing those readings was the most difficult endeavor of my life. My publisher’s publicist, who had organized my reading tour, came with me for more than half of it, cheering me through; my father came with me the rest of the time, and when we were apart he called me every few hours. I was never alone for long. The knowledge that I was loved was not in itself a cure, but without it I would not have been able to complete the tour. I would have found a place to lie down in the woods and I would have stayed there until I froze and died. Recovery depends enormously on support. The depressives I’ve met who have done the best were cushioned with love. Nothing taught me more about the love of my father and my friends than my own depression.

Andrew Solomon

After the death of my mother two years ago, I used to think of myself as ‘depressed’ when sadness and longing would overcome me. But reading this article, recommended to my by a close friend, I realized I was nowhere near the state of mind other less fortunate people are experiencing every day.

06 June 2020

Techdirt: “The Case for Contact Tracing Apps built on Apple and Google’s Exposure Notification System”

To get a sense for how the Apple-Google exposure notification system works, it is useful to consider a hypothetical system involving raffle tickets instead of Bluetooth beacons. Imagine you were given a roll of two-part raffle tickets to carry around with you wherever you go. Each ticket has two copies of a randomly-generated 128-digit number (with no relationship to your identity, your location, or any other ticket; there is no central record of ticket numbers). As you go about your normal life, if you happen to come within six feet of another person, you exchange a raffle ticket, keeping both the ticket they gave you and the copy of the one you gave them. You do this regularly and keep all the tickets you’ve exchanged for the most recent two weeks.

If you get infected with the virus, you notify the public health authority and share only the copies of the tickets you’ve given out—the public health officials never see the raffle tickets you’ve received. Each night, on every TV and radio station, a public health official reads the numbers of the raffle tickets it has collected from infected patients (it is a very long broadcast). Everyone listening to the broadcast checks the tickets they’ve received in the last two weeks to see if they’ve “won”. Upon confirming a match, an individual has the choice of doing nothing or seeking out a diagnostic test. If they test positive, then the copies of the tickets they’ve given out are announced in the broadcast the next night. The more people who collect and hand out raffle tickets everywhere they go, and the more people who voluntarily announce themselves after hearing a match in the broadcast, the better the system works for tracking, tracing, and isolating the virus.

Alec Stapp & Eli Dourado

Nice analogy for explaining how the exposure notification system jointly developed by Apple and Google is supposed to work. It also highlights its most glaring flaw, something I had overlooked in my previous article on the subject: for an automated system, it relies too much on manual input from end users, first to seek out a doctor for testing, then to release positive results into the decentralized network. What happens if people fail to check in for testing, or delay the test because it is too expensive or the procedure too complicated? What happens if they forget to share the result in the app, or they fall ill before they get the chance? If nobody else can access the data stored on the phone and the users neglects to share it, then the information is lost and the system utterly ineffective.

02 June 2020

ZDNet Zero Day: “Former Facebook CSO Alex Stamos to join Zoom as outside security consultant”

In a blog post published on Medium today, Stamos said he decided to join the company after a phone call last week with Zoom founder and CEO Eric Yuan.

Yuan approached Stamos for the move after the former Facebook CSO defended Zoom on Twitter after the video conferencing software was being widely criticized in the media for a series of – what Stamos described as – “shallow bugs”.

Catalin Cimpanu

I didn't give this piece of news much thought at the time, other than cynically thinking that Zoom is doing good PR to counteract the rising number of security and privacy incidents on their videoconferencing software. Since then I listened to a podcast where Stamos was invited to talk, and found out that, prior to working at Facebook, he had been Chief Security Officer at Yahoo! around the time of their massive hack in 2014! Twice in a row he clashed with his superiors from a similar position, but ultimately failed to influence internal policies and left the company without positive results. Even if you cannot attribute Yahoo!’s and Facebook’s failures to him in particular, I would not consider him effective at his job… Which brings me back to my original point that contracting Stamos is more a way for Zoom to improve their public image than actually delivering more secure products.

01 June 2020

Eudaimonia and Co: “It’s Not that I’m Negative, America Really is Screwed”

That’s been happening for something like 50 years by now: a cycle of equitable redistribution that became sustained investment and reinvestment. What happens if you invest in a thing like a park, hospital, library for fifty years? It gets better and better. It’s returns grow and grow. There’s more of everything to go around for everyone. The battle for self-preservation doesn’t lock people into poverty, as it has in America. That is what it means to be a truly rich society.

America’s been doing exactly the opposite, for the same fifty years, and longer. See any reinvestment in… anything? Everything’s decrepit, from airports to schools to libraries, precisely because there hasn’t been any. There hasn’t been any — or enough, anyways — because Americans didn’t want to pay those higher taxes Europeans and Canadians did. They believed the strange, foolish, and evidence-free ideologies of trickle-down economics and neoliberalism and all the rest of it — we’ll all be richest if we invest in… precisely nothing together. Nobody should care about anyone else. Nobody should ever support anyone else in the pursuit of anything. Life was to be purely individualistic, adversarial, and acquisitive.

That led Americans straight into a poverty trap. They were paying lower taxes, sure. But their public goods were decaying. Their common wealth was eroding. Their systems and institutions were corroding. What happens to metal that isn’t polished, a street that’s never cleaned, a house that’s never repaired? Well, in the end, you have to pay a bigger bill. But you might not be able to afford it by then. Bang! Then you’re done. You live in that crumbling house until it finally turns to dust, if you can’t pay the roofer, plumber, electrician. That’s where America is now.

Umair Haque

A particularly bleak article about the social and economic situation in The United States, and its long and deep roots. While I have no direct experience there, I wouldn’t have expected such a profound crisis. It is certainly not the only article deploring the failures of the American political and economical system, I’ll share another quote below. Between the incompetent presidency of Donald Trump, the dangers of the pandemic and its economic aftermath, and the recent police violence, the near future does look increasingly bleak for Americans.