by Brandon Butler
President Biden’s Inauguration Poet 1/20/2021

Julia Barajas for The Los Angeles Times:

Like most of us, Amanda Gorman has been cooped up in her West Los Angeles apartment binge-watching “The Great British Baking Show” because of the pandemic. Unlike most of us, she got some very exciting news recently via Zoom: She’d been handpicked to read a poem at President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration.

The incoming first lady, Jill Biden, is a fan of her work and convinced the inaugural committee that Gorman would be a perfect fit. […]

Her precocious path was paved with both opportunities and challenges, an early passion for language and the diverse influences of her native city. Gorman grew up near Westchester but spent the bulk of her time around the New Roads School, a socioeconomically diverse private school in Santa Monica. Her mother, Joan Wicks, teaches middle school in Watts. Shuttling among the neighborhoods gave Gorman a window onto the deep inequities that divide ZIP Codes.

She’s also the first person to announce she’s running for President in 2036.

The ethics of digitally surveilling rioters 1/17/2021

Nick Heer at Pixel Envy quoted the following paragraph from Issie Lapowsky at Protocol:

The Capitol riot was a boundary-busting event in almost every way, and its impact on the digital privacy debate was no different. The insurrectionists’ acts were so galling, so frightening, that suddenly, even those who might oppose digital surveillance and forensics techniques in other contexts, like, say, identifying peaceful protesters at a Black Lives Matter rally, feel justified in deploying those tools against the rioters. The shifting goalposts have sparked a tense debate among researchers of online extremism about the right way to stitch together the digital scraps of someone’s life to publicly accuse them of committing a crime — or whether there is a right way at all.

The protesters at a Black Lives Matter rally were, for the most part, protesting peacefully, as is their right. Yes, there was some Target looting (video link) and Trump occasionally attacked protestors for a photo op, but the protestors were not planning a coup or taking hostages. The white supremacists and Trump supporters attempting to overthrow the government and vandalizing the Capitol were looking for violence as soon as they left their homes and hotel rooms. If you’re out there looking for a fight, attacking reporters, and stockpiling ammo and molotov cocktails, and then bragging about it on social media, my feeling is you’ve already lost your right or expectation of anonymity.

This isn’t a moving goalposts situation; if you drive through an intersection with a green light, the camera doesn’t take a photo of you and your car, but if the light is red and you run it, then smile for the camera. If you are doing illegal things, law enforcement shouldn’t have one hand tied behind their backs while trying to identify you. You do have rights, but you lose those rights in the course of illegally trespassing, for example.

I am failing to see the issue here.

The $3,000-a-month toilet 1/17/2021

The Washington Post:

Instructed not to use any of the half-dozen bathrooms inside [Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner’s] house, the Secret Service detail assigned to President Trump’s daughter and son-in-law spent months searching for a reliable restroom to use on the job, according to neighbors and law enforcement officials. After resorting to a porta-potty, as well as bathrooms at the nearby home of former president Barack Obama and the not-so-nearby residence of Vice President Pence, the agents finally found a toilet to call their own.

As someone with a medical condition that occasionally requires urgent use of a restroom, this entire story and situation is incredibly upsetting to me. It also reminds me there are some jobs — like Secret Service Agent — I’d never be able to do. The bathroom situation is part of it, but also, how do you put yourself in the mindset of “I will protect this spoiled asshole that won’t let me use their bathroom with my life”?

I have nothing but the highest respect for the Secret Service, and they’re always welcome to use my bathroom — no charge.

This weekend in Sin City: racist white guys discussing “woke tech” and “slave power” 1/17/2021

Emily Birnbaum and Issie Lapowsky with a big scoop for Protocol:

Conservative investors, political operatives, right-wing writers and Trump administration officials are quietly meeting in Las Vegas this weekend to discuss topics including China, “woke tech” and “the new slave power,” according to four people who were invited to attend or speak at the event as well as a copy of the agenda obtained by Protocol.

The so-called “Digital Statecraft Summit” was organized by the Claremont Institute, a conservative think tank that says its mission is to “restore the principles of the American Founding to their rightful, preeminent authority in our national life.” A list of speakers for the event includes a combination of past and current government officials as well as a who’s who of far-right provocateurs. One speaker, conservative legal scholar John Eastman, rallied the president’s supporters at a White House event before the Capitol Hill riot earlier this month. Some others have been associated with racist ideologies.

Sounds like a delightful bunch. Anyone seeing the irony in a bunch of racist white guys claiming to uphold Christian values meeting in Sin City for the weekend?

More free Apple TV+ 1/15/2021

Benjamin Mayo for 9to5Mac:

Apple is again extending the free period for the Apple TV+ 1-year free trials given out with hardware. With the latest announcement, anybody with an Apple TV+ subscription that was set to expire from now until June will instead expire in July 2021.

This means customers who took advantage of the ‘year free’ deal back when the service first launched will now be getting an additional 9 months of free access to Apple original shows and movies.

The good news is you get more free Apple TV+; the also good news is For All Mankind Season 2 premieres February 19th!

While WhatsApp delays its new privacy policy, Signal has service outages due to sudden increase in popularity 1/15/2021

Nick Statt for The Verge:

WhatsApp on Friday announced a three-month delay of a new privacy policy originally slated to go into effect on February 8th following widespread confusion over whether the new policy would mandate data sharing with Facebook.

The update does not in fact affect data sharing with Facebook with regard to user chats or other profile information; WhatsApp has repeatedly clarified that its update addresses business chats in the event a user converses with a company’s customer service platform through WhatsApp.

You would expect the largest social media company in the world would be a tad better at communicating with its users. Meanwhile, Signal is growing so quickly they’re having service outages. They say on Twitter they’re adding new servers and capacity every day this week. You’re growing too fast is a great problem to have — and it’s all thanks to Facebook. And Elon. And you know, just having a really good, privacy-focused app that people feel safe using.

Disneyland ends Annual Passholder program 1/14/2021


After a year of speculation, the unthinkable has just been confirmed, Disneyland is ENDING its Annual Passholder Program effective immediately. Passholders will be contacted today and informed that they will be refunded the unused portion of their annual pass contract automatically.

A shock, as the Annual Passholder program has been a staple of the Resort for years, but also kind of expected. Even prior to COVID, the program was becoming unsustainable to both Disney and Passholders.

The Parks were more crowded than ever in recent years, and the “off season” was a thing of the past. At times it felt like Disneyland had sold Annual Passes to every SoCal resident.

To counter the popularity of the passes, Disney was raising prices annually, and the highest priced pass — with no blackouts and free parking — was almost $1500. A steal, if you ask me — $120 per month? Many people’s cable bills cost more than that — and you get better exercise at Disneyland.

I’m certain a Pass-like system will return to Disneyland when the “old normal” returns and we’ve eradicated COVID-19 in a couple of years. The biggest question is how the passes will return.

(My crazy idea: Seasons. So you choose a season when you buy your pass, and for three months out of the year you get unlimited visits for that season. But for the rest of the year you get, I don’t know, 10 flex days for each other season, where you can visit ten times during the season but maybe excluding weekends and holidays. Personally, I’d pick Fall; I liked the cooler weather, and the Castle wasn’t covered in fake snow yet. I suspect everyone has a favorite time of year at the Resort, but even then you still get X days of every other season to visit. I see this as a compromise to make everyone’s Disneyland visit — be it a family’s annual vacation from out of town or the weekly passholder’s daily routine — a little better. It’s not perfect, but let’s be honest: the old Passholder program wasn’t perfect, was overly expensive, and wasn’t sustainable. Look back a decade ago at the Annual Pass prices, and then project out a decade — assuming COVID never occurred — and you can see something was going to break. But like with everything else, COVID is just helping to speed things along.)

Captain America returning to the MCU 1/14/2021


In a move that is sure to rock the Marvel Cinematic Universe, sources tell Deadline that Chris Evans is cleaning the dust off his Captain America attire as he is expected reprise the role in the MCU in some form.

It’s still vague whether the deal is closed, but insiders say it’s headed in that direction for Evans to return as Steve Rogers aka Captain America in at least one Marvel property, with the door open for a second film.

Yes, please.

Websites for vaccine sign-ups suck, and it’s another American embarrassment 1/12/2021

Nicole Wetsman for The Verge:

Through the pandemic, gaps in internet access and digital literacy have made other aspects of health care delivery challenging for people who struggle to use technology. Many doctors moved to telehealth, but people without internet access — who tend to be older, non-white, and low income — are less likely to schedule telehealth appointments and are at risk for cracks in their care. They were left out of other services as well: someone without internet access wouldn’t have been able to order groceries through an online service, for example, Nash says.

I’ve been seeing news about these terrible websites, like this tweet from Bloomberg reporter Polly Mosendz that shows a 51-step questionnaire that requires multiple attachments. She’s just trying to get her 83-year-old grandmother the vaccine. Twitter has been full of these types of ridiculously bad websites and bureaucratic red tape that is killing people. And Biden plans to administer 100 million vaccines in 100 days? It can’t happen.

I think of my parents, who struggle with a Google search, trying to navigate these websites and it infuriates me. They don’t live close by, and it’s not safe for me to drive out to them to help them with this, even if I could.

It shouldn’t be like this. Show your ID, get the shot, move on to the next person. Worry about the money and paperwork later. Start saving lives now.

What is Signal (and why you should use it) 1/11/2021

Rachel Kraus for Mashable has a good overview on Signal, which is seeing a huge increase in users after Facebook announced plans to collect even more user data from WhatsApp:

Signal is a free, privacy-focused messaging and voice talk app you can use on Apple and Android smartphones and via desktop. All you need is a phone number to join. You can text or make voice or video calls with friends, either one-on-one or in groups, and use emoji reactions or stickers just like in other apps. But there’s one big difference: Signal is actually really private.

Use Signal (and delete WhatsApp/Facebook).

IMPEACH2 1/11/2021

Orion Rummler for Axios:

House Democrats on Monday introduced a single article of impeachment against President Trump for inciting a mob of his supporters to violence to prevent certifying the election of President-elect Joe Biden.

Why it matters: With less than two weeks left in his presidency, Trump faces a second impeachment, catalyzed by a monthslong campaign to baselessly discredit the results of the 2020 election — which ultimately led to a lethal attack on the nation’s capital.

Will Republicans vote to impeach? Spoiler: of course not. But it seems like impeaching Trump is in the party’s best interest: You get control of your party back, and you prevent him from being able to run for President in 2024, opening the door to other Republican candidates.

Also, for the nerds: G:\CMTE\JD\17\IMPEACH2\ARTICLES.XML

Everything you need to know about Senator Josh Hawley in one sentence 1/11/2021

Katherine Stewart for The New York Times sums up Senator Hawley in a single sentence, and it’s everything you need to know about this guy:

In other words, Mr. Hawley’s idea of freedom is the freedom to conform to what he and his preferred religious authorities know to be right.

What an asshole.

(It’s Pizza Emoji editorial policy to limit profanity except for extreme situations, and I think this is a pretty clear case where no other word exists in the English language that so aptly describes this absolute shithead.)

Parler gets the boot 1/9/2021

The New York Times:

First, Apple and Google removed the app from their app stores because they said it had not sufficiently policed its users’ posts, allowing too many that encouraged violence and crime. Then, late Saturday, Amazon told Parler it would boot the company from its web-hosting service on Sunday night because of repeated violations of Amazon’s rules.


Twitter permanently bans Trump 1/8/2021


After close review of recent Tweets from the @realDonaldTrump account and the context around them — specifically how they are being received and interpreted on and off Twitter — we have permanently suspended the account due to the risk of further incitement of violence. 

We’ll never again have to hear “The president tweeted today…” by a reporter or talk show host ever again.

WhatsApp will share user personal data with Facebook, which will further share it with marketing companies 1/8/2021

Dan Goodin for Ars Technica:

WhatsApp, the Facebook-owned messenger that claims to have privacy coded into its DNA, is giving its 2 billion plus users an ultimatum: agree to share their personal data with the social network or delete their accounts. […]

In 2016, WhatsApp gave users a one-time ability to opt out of having account data turned over to Facebook. Now, an updated privacy policy is changing that. Come next month, users will no longer have that choice. Some of the data that WhatsApp collects includes:

• User phone numbers
• Other people’s phone numbers stored in address books
• Profile names
• Profile pictures and
• Status message including when a user was last online
• Diagnostic data collected from app logs

Under the new terms, Facebook reserves the right to share collected data with its family of companies.

I think Facebook has proven numerous times that it can’t be trusted with your data. If you’re a WhatsApp user it’s time to delete the account and delete the app. There are better alternatives, like Signal and iMessage.

Idiots without face coverings 1/7/2021

The alt-right Trump mob that invaded the US Capitol yesterday is starting to get arrested, including many of those in the now infamous photos. From CNN:

FBI digital experts spent the night ingesting surveillance video from the Capitol buildings and the area around the complex and are using software to match images and faces with social media posts showing some of the mayhem. In some cases, people involved in storming the Capitol made social media postings ahead of the rally making clear what their plans were, which federal prosecutors can use to help bring charges.

Not only did they post on social media, but because they are the anti-mask wearing idiots, they’re easy to identify. I mean, aren’t these guys normally running around in white hoods? The two times you should have your face covered — committing crimes and during a pandemic — and these idiots leave the masks at home.

Senator Hawley, self-proclaimed constitutional lawyer, does not understand how the First Amendment works 1/7/2021

Senator Josh Hawley, one of the morons who decided to waste time objecting to Biden’s election win and spewing dangerous alt-right conspiracy theories during Congress’s rubber-stamping of election results yesterday, is now upset that publisher Simon & Schuster have canceled the release of his upcoming book. On Twitter, Hawley whines that this is “a direct assault on the First Amendment,” and “only approved speech can now be published.”

Unfortunately for Hawley, that’s not how the First Amendment works. It’s always amazing to me how willfully ignorant people can become of things like the First Amendment when they feel personally slighted by a social media company or book publisher. Simon & Schuster has no obligation to reprint Hawley’s conspiracy theories anymore than The New York Times has any obligation to publish Pizza Emoji posts in their newspaper. The First Amendment doesn’t apply to private citizens or companies: the law is only applies to the US Government preventing speech — and America is one of the few countries in the world with this basic legal protection!

Hawley, in his Twitter post, threatens legal action, but he doesn’t have a leg to stand on, and if he didn’t have his head firmly planted up Donald Trump’s big white ass, he’d know this.

The New York Times:

“We did not come to this decision lightly,” Simon & Schuster said in a statement. “As a publisher it will always be our mission to amplify a variety of voices and viewpoints: At the same time we take seriously our larger public responsibility as citizens, and cannot support Senator Hawley after his role in what became a dangerous threat.”

It is entirely Simon & Schuster’s right to decide who’s words they print, and I applaud them for silencing the words of a dangerously insane conspiracy theorist.

Trump gets Banned 1/6/2021

The Verge is reporting that both Twitter and Facebook have temporarily banned Trump’s personal account from posting for 12 and 24 hours, respectively, after today’s attempted coup and insurrection of the US Capitol building.

Update: Facebook has banned Trump “indefinitely” saying “We believe the risks of allowing President Trump to continue to use our service during this period are simply too great.” Trump also got banned from Shopify, which has been selling his merchandise online.

In a separate post, Casey Newton writes ‘It’s time to deplatform Trump‘:

As you no doubt already know, today, President Trump incited his followers to storm the US Capitol, where they disrupted the constitutionally mandated certification of the Electoral College ballots, affirming Joe Biden’s victory against him. Odds that his ongoing attempted coup will succeed remain low, but not impossible. And a bedrock belief that many of us have carried all our lives — that American democracy will long outlast us — has never been so shaken. […]

It’s time for Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube to remove Trump.

Calls for platforms to remove Trump have been coming for years. The president’s use and abuse of Twitter to threaten nuclear war, attack average citizens, and undermine elections have been a defining feature of the media landscape since his 2016 campaign. Twitter has aided and abetted the president for years, putting him on its suggested user list even as he promoted the birtherism conspiracy and spread other racist lies.

Social networks and today’s coup 1/6/2021

David Pierce for Protocol:

Immediately, the calls came for Twitter to take stronger action. Chris Sacca tweeted: “You’ve got blood on your hands, @jack and Zuck. For four years you’ve rationalized this terror. Inciting violent treason is not a free speech exercise. If you work at those companies, it’s on you too. Shut it down.” Alexis Ohanian echoed the sentiment: “There are a lot of hard questions we’re going to have to answer for our children.” And Alex Stamos, the former Facebook CSO, said that “Twitter and Facebook have to cut him off. There are no legitimate equities left and labeling won’t do it.”

As the afternoon went on, and Trump tweeted half-hearted missives about “staying peaceful” and a video in which he repeated some of his same lies, many called for the social networks to suspend or ban Trump’s account entirely. Danielle Citron, a law professor at the University of Virginia, tweeted: “As someone who has served on your Trust and Safety Board since its inception and counseled you since 2009, time is now to suspend President Trump’s account. He has deliberately incited violence, causing mayhem with his lies and threats.”

This Is a Coup 1/6/2021

David A. Graham for The Atlantic:

Armed assailants are attacking the seat of American government in an attempted coup, urged on by the president of the United States. Saying that feels melodramatic, ridiculous, and overwrought, but there’s no plainer way to describe what is currently unfolding.

Tens of thousands of supporters of outgoing President Donald Trump gathered in Washington, D.C., where he encouraged them to attend a rally as Congress began to ceremonially certify the Electoral College victory of President-elect Joe Biden. After a speech by the president, protesters overran security at the Capitol building, which seemed unprepared for the onslaught. They knocked over barricades, pushed past cordons of officers, and broke windows. Some carried Confederate battle flags as they got much closer to the heart of the U.S. government than any Confederate troops ever did.

In other news, Democrats won both Senate seats in the Georgia runoff election yesterday, giving them control of the Senate with a VP Harris tie-breaker, along with control of the House and Executive branch.

With the blessing of Prop 22, Grocery stores fire employees with benefits and replace them with cheap gig workers 1/5/2021

Mike Dickerson for Knock:

When Dylan’s grocery delivery arrived a few days before New Years, it came with some bad news. The delivery driver who brought his groceries from Vons mentioned that drivers across the state are getting fired by Vons, Pavilions, and other California stores owned by Albertsons Companies at the end of January. Stores will instead turn to a third-party delivery service using independent contractors. […]

Many drivers under the Albertsons Companies umbrella are union employees, while Ralphs delivery is operated by Instacart and Target uses Shipt, a similar app. With this move from Vons and Albertsons, most shoppers in California will no longer have a unionized choice for grocery deliveries.

These layoffs are unsurprising after the passage of Proposition 22, which gutted worker protections while making it easier for companies to shift financial burdens onto newly-designated “independent contractors.”

Prop 22 passed just two months ago. This is just the beginning of the train wreck. A lot more people are going to lose their jobs, their union protections, and their benefits.

Google employees secretly formed a union 1/4/2021

Anna Kramer for Propocol:

After a year of secret organizing, more than 200 Google workers launched their unusual minority union on Monday, citing their collective disillusionment with the company’s claims that it does good for the world and its workers. More than 225 Googlers signed union cards with the CWA, formally creating the Alphabet Workers Union and marking the official birth of one of just a few unions in the tech industry.

Is it any surprise that employees at Google felt the need to unionize?

The newly elected union leaders have written an opinion piece for The New York Times that is concise and clear in their objectives:

Everyone at Alphabet — from bus drivers to programmers, from salespeople to janitors — plays a critical part in developing our technology. But right now, a few wealthy executives define what the company produces and how its workers are treated. This isn’t the company we want to work for. We care deeply about what we build and what it’s used for. We are responsible for the technology we bring into the world. And we recognize that its implications reach far beyond the walls of Alphabet.

Nice to see someone — about 226 people as of today — at Google wants to be accountable and responsible for the work they’re doing.

Also from the NYT, just over a year ago:

Google has hired an anti-union consulting firm to advise management as it deals with widespread worker unrest, including accusations that it has retaliated against organizers of a global walkout and cracked down on dissent inside the company. […]

There does not appear to be any serious effort underway at Google to create a formally certified union, but employers sometimes bring in firms like IRI to pre-empt unionization amid widespread discontent among workers.

And yet they couldn’t stop it.

Amphetamine can remain on the Mac App Store, says Apple 1/3/2021

Apple has allowed developer William Gustafson to keep his app Amphetamine on the Mac App Store, name and icon intact, and definitely did not waste anyone’s time threatening to remove the app last week.

Amphetamine is a great app — and it’s free. Gustafson puts his time and energy into creating what I consider an essential app, and it pains me to see Apple playing the bully against someone just trying to make something great. This reminds me of a quote from Steve Jobs on the importance of creating things to improve the world:

“Taking LSD was a profound experience, one of the most important things in my life. LSD shows you that there’s another side to the coin, and you can’t remember it when it wears off, but you know it. It reinforced my sense of what was important—creating great things instead of making money, putting things back into the stream of history and of human consciousness as much as I could.”

Amphetamine is free on the Mac App Store and, if you’re feeling generous, you can buy Gustafson a coffee to thank him for his hard work.

Movie Theater Company Deathwatch 1/2/2021

Kate Cox for Ars Technica, on the 2021 Deathwatch for all movie theater companies:

US box office receipts came in around $11.4 billion in 2019, but movie theater attendance—the butts-in-seats metric—has been dropping for more than a decade. Theater admissions peaked in 2002 at 1.6 billion before entering a period of precipitous decline, crashing to 1.24 billion in 2017—the lowest since 1992. Attendance crawled back up slightly in 2018, to about 1.3 billion, but dropped again in 2019, back to 1.24 billion.

That was before the pandemic, which closed movie theaters altogether for months on end. Although many locations are now open at roughly half capacity, AMC, the largest US cinema chain, reported 10 percent attendance in its third-quarter results.

This year will be another difficult year for the cinemas. They’re not all going to survive. It reminds me of Apple in the 90’s: they were on everybody’s deathwatch, then Steve Jobs returned as CEO and ten months later the Bondi Blue iMac was shipping to customers. The theaters need a Steve Jobs — someone who can reinvent what going to the cinema is all about. Because let’s be honest here: most of us now have private mini-theaters in our homes (with a pause button) and leaving the couch is entirely optional (except for pee breaks).

Apple says app that keeps your Mac from sleeping promotes drug use 1/1/2021

It’s about time someone at Apple has called out Amphetamine, the Mac app that keeps your Mac awake through an easy to use menu bar icon, for promoting illicit drug use since 2014.

After five years on the Mac App Store and twenty-five approved app updates, Mac developer (and likely Tylenol user) William Gustafson received a notice from Apple that his popular app Amphetamine was in violation of App Store guidelines because the “app name and icon include references to controlled substances, pills”. Apple has demanded that Gustafson change the name and icon of his app or risk being removed from the Mac App Store.

Now, I know developers have a history of being less than happy with Apple’s App Store rules, but it’s this kind of confusing, unclear rule enforcing and really good use of everyone’s time shenanigans that makes the Mac App Store® such a trustworthy and fun place for consumers to download Apps® for the Apple® Macintosh® Operating System®. And definitely won’t draw the attention of the US Justice Department.

Personally, I’ve never had a drug addition, but I hear they’re bad. As a life-long teetotaler, I’ve never known the influence of a sip of alcohol or an inhale of weed (be sure to check smoking terminology before clicking publish). I’ve had friends offer me mostly-legal drugs and alcohol (with one girl telling me she thought it would be “fun” to get me drunk?) but I’ve always turned them down. It’s just not for me.

But then I installed Gustafson’s vein tinglingly-named Amphetamine app and suddenly I couldn’t stop thinking about illicit drugs. Now technically I could not — for the life of me — find any screen in the app telling me to use said illicit drugs, but every time I clicked that little pill icon in my menu bar to prevent my Mac from sleeping I’d get a mad craving for illicit drugs. (I also get a mad craving to find True North every time I click the Safari icon so maybe someone should look into that for me.) Since I don’t have any drugs around, I would usually pop open a Coke and chug that baby till my head spun from the caffeine and sugar. Now my Mac isn’t sleeping, and neither am I!

Now, never mind the fact that Apple itself likes to make drug related jokes during their WWDC keynote presentations. The difference here is quite clear: Apple doesn’t follow their own developer guidelines, so while they can make and promote drug use in their live streamed WWDC keynotes attended by kids from around the world, developers cannot make apps that are named in such a way that they will make you think of drugs — but apps promoting excessive drinking to the point of vomiting is definitely okay.

For a while I thought I had control of the Amphetamine app situation (I was down to just chugging Diet Cokes), but then one day I’m browsing the Mac App Store and I find Apple has a featured story of the illicit drug (app) right on the main Mac App Store page! And that’s when I lost all control.

Pixy Stix. Pepsi. Even Flintstones vitamins. I was out of control. I would eventually find the help I needed when I discovered myself in a strange waiting room talking to a weird guy named Gooshie for about two days — but that’s another story.

I hope this serves as a warning to all the children who don’t know what a computer is: Go back to your iPad gambling apps that sell you digital V-bucks and gems and garbage in exchange for your parents’ hard-earned money and stay away from these drug-themed Mac apps that improve your productivity when using a non-iPad — it will only end in a salacity for Jolly Ranchers.

You can find out more on Gustafson’s Save Amphetamine petition. But my suggestion? Just rename the app to “Fortnite Gmail Instagram Widgetsmith Disney+ Untitled Goose Game” — Apple will approve it without question.

Also: 🚬💊🍺 emojis?

Good riddance 12/31/2020

It’s finally over.

Adobe is officially ending all Flash support today, and highly recommends uninstalling Flash from your computer (if you somehow still have it installed).

Mitch McConnell is an expert at killing 12/30/2020

Makena Kelly for The Verge:

On Tuesday night, McConnell introduced a new bill tying increased stimulus payments to a full repeal of Section 230, according to bill text obtained by The Verge. The bill comes amid new momentum for direct $2000 stimulus payments, and increasing pressure on party leaders to appease President Trump’s escalating demands.

Democratic party leaders criticized the inclusion of Section 230 repeal as an effort to scuttle stimulus talks. “Senator McConnell knows how to make $2,000 survival checks reality and he knows how to kill them,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said in a statement Tuesday. “Will Senate Republicans go along with Sen. McConnell’s cynical gambit or will they push him to give a vote on the standalone [bill]?” […]

By Tuesday morning, many Republicans who previously opposed the increased stimulus checks flipped to support of them alongside Democrats. In particular, both Georgia Senate runoff incumbents, Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler (R-GA), announced Tuesday that they would vote to approve the additional payments after days of sidestepping the question, creating a difficult position for McConnell.

A lot of people could use that $2,000 right now. Mitch McConnell knows this. And yet he clearly doesn’t care. He also knows how to kill legislation: it’s basically all he’s ever done in his time as the Senate Majority Leader.

I understand why McConnell does what he does. His leadership position in the Senate makes him one of the most powerful people in the world. He’s the gatekeeper for the President of the United States. If McConnell doesn’t like a bill, he simply refuses to bring it to a vote. He has veto power on anything Congress does. It’s more difficult for him to get legislation passed, but looking at the state of the country now, I there’s more power in stopping bills than in passing bills. With Biden taking office in a matter of days, that stopping power is going to go a long way for McConnell — unless the GOP loses the Senate in the Georgia runoffs.

And this is why the two Republican Senate runoff yahoos in Georgia are now suddenly in support of the $2,000 stimulus checks: it’s so important for the long term control of the Senate that they win this run-off election that they had to come out in support of the money — even though they clearly don’t want to give the people of Georgia any help during the pandemic. I really hope Georgians see through their bullshit and recognize that the GOP doesn’t have any interest in helping them — this is all a ploy to keep control of the Senate and stifle Biden’s presidency.

Of course, none of this has anything to do with Section 230, and trying to bundle the needs of Americans getting food on the table with Trump’s tiny fight with Twitter is petty and sad — a fitting end for Trump’s presidency.

Walt Disney: “The motion picture industry stands once more on the verge of a new era” 12/26/2020

Tim Gray (and Walt Disney) for Variety:

For cinema owners, 2020 was clearly a watershed year, with many wondering about the long-term future of moviegoing. So a Nov. 2, 1953, guest column by Walt Disney, “The Crucial Year for Pictures,” is a reminder that theaters have survived other crises, and presumably will again. […]

He referred to it as a time of “growing pains which must come periodically to every vital institution which deals with masses of people.” But in the entire column, he never mentioned the source of anxiety: television. In 1950, only 20% of American homes had a TV set. Only two years later, in July 1952, Variety reported that one out of three U.S. homes owned a TV set. By the end of the decade, TV sets were in 90% of U.S. homes.

The issue today with television streaming threatening theaters is the size and ability of the home theater. Disney was writing about a time where TVs were 9 inches big with black and white screens — today we’ve got 70-inch and larger TVs with incredible OLED HDR picture capabilities and Dolby Atmos surround sound being pumped into our living rooms. Why go to the theater when you can install a theater in your living room?

Disney was a futurist; I’m sure if he’d sat down and thought it out he could envision a future where the home had a massive personal theater experience. But I also suspect he would have seen the need to innovate in the public theater space to keep audiences buying those $20 tickets.

I’m no Walt Disney, and I can’t imagine how the public theater experience improves on the home cinema experience — especially as the major theater chains are on the verge of collapse. The theaters need a Walt Disney or Steve Jobs type person focused on the theater space right now, working to create the next amazing leap in cinema that you can’t reproduce at home. But I don’t know who that person is today, or even if they exist right now.

GoDaddy email promising a holiday bonus is actually a cruel phishing test 12/26/2020

Lorraine Longhi for The Copper Courier:

Sent by, tucked underneath a glittering banner of a snowflake and stamped with the words “GoDaddy Holiday Party,” the Dec. 14 email to hundreds of GoDaddy employees promised some welcome financial relief during an otherwise stressful year.

“Though we cannot celebrate together during our annual Holiday Party, we want to show our appreciation and share a $650 one-time Holiday bonus!” the email read. “To ensure that you receive your one-time bonus in time for the Holidays, please select your location and fill in the details by Friday, December 18th.”

The email from GoDaddy was a phishing test, and the company reports 500 employees failed the “test”. Looking at the email, I would have failed it, too. At least from the screenshots that were provided to the Copper Courier, the email appears to have originated from’s mail servers, and it mentions an internal company holiday party — this makes it look legit. The “free money, claim it now” parenthetical feels a little fishy but I’d overlook that as some accountant trying to be funny.

Employees who failed the “test” will be required to complete social engineering training. I suspect the training will include obvious examples of phishing emails, like bad misspellings and warnings that the sender is from en external domain — none of the warnings this GoDaddy email contained.

I think the worst part is using the promise of a holiday bonus to test your employees, especially during an extremely difficult year. Why is it wrong to expect a holiday bonus from your employer? Only the absolute shittest employers (ahem, mine, and apparently GoDaddy) wouldn’t give out a holiday bonus to their staff.

Who at GoDaddy thought it would be a good idea to send this email? Maybe the asshole CEO that hunts elephants for entertainment?

I’ll just throw this out here: Hover is a good domain registrar — I’ve used them for years — and they’re hiring. Cloudflare is also a registrar. And they’re hiring, too.

Unemployment aid lapses as Trump plays golf 12/26/2020

Alan Rappeport for The New York Times:

Expanded unemployment benefits were set to lapse for millions of struggling Americans on Saturday, a day after President Trump expressed more criticism of a $900 billion pandemic relief bill that was awaiting his signature and would extend them.

On Saturday morning, Mr. Trump expressed further misgivings about the legislation that awaited his signature, but he still offered no hints on his plans.

The bill wasn’t perfect, but it had “overwhelming bipartisan support” from Congress, so why the hold up? It’s one thing to have a president that takes violent actions against his country’s own citizens for a photo op; it’s another to have a president who’s so unpredictable and mentally unstable that nobody knows what tomorrow will look like.

Just 25 days…

Miyamoto would design away selfishness 12/22/2020

Simon Parkin interviews Shigeru Miyamoto in The New Yorker, and asks the creator of Mario what he would change about our world:

I wish I could make it so that people were more thoughtful and kind toward each other. It’s something that I think about a lot as I move through life. In Japan, for example, we have priority seating on train carriages, for people who are elderly or people with a disability. If the train is relatively empty, sometimes you’ll see young people sit in these seats. If I were to say something, they’d probably tell me: “But the train is empty, what’s the issue?” But if I were a person with a disability and I saw people sitting there, I might not want to ask them to move. I wouldn’t want to be annoying.

I wish we were all a little more compassionate in these small ways. If there was a way to design the world that discouraged selfishness, that would be a change I would make.

If you collect too much stuff in Cyberpunk 2077 your save file might become corrupted 12/21/2020

Vikki Blake for Eurogamer:

In the latest of a long litany of issues, reports are now coming in that Cyberpunk 2077 save files are becoming permanently corrupted for players if they exceed 8MB in size.

CD Projekt Red’s support document states:

Please use an older save file to continue playing and try to keep a lower amount of items and crafting materials. […] The save file size limit might be increased in one of the future patches, but the corrupted files will remain that way.

Save files are sacred; they are essential to video games and represent the player’s life — the hours, the progress, the victories — inside that virtual world. A save file should never become corrupt because of the player’s legitimate actions inside the game. How CD Projekt Red could allow save files to become corrupt like this, and then so glibly suggest the player should play the game differently, says a lot about the future of this game and this company.

Cyberpunk 2077 should not have been released, and CD Projekt Red knows this. The only thing CD Projekt Red can do at this point to regain some sense of goodwill and trust with gamers is recall their dysfunctional and broken game and provide refunds.

Facebook’s megascale makes it a Doomsday Machine 12/19/2020

Adrienne LaFrance for The Atlantic, on a piece arguing that Facebook’s massive size — nearly 3 billion active users — allows it to “control the fate of the world’s population,” and that no machine should ever be allowed to be this powerful:

The social web is doing exactly what it was built for. Facebook does not exist to seek truth and report it, or to improve civic health, or to hold the powerful to account, or to represent the interests of its users, though these phenomena may be occasional by-products of its existence. The company’s early mission was to “give people the power to share and make the world more open and connected.” Instead, it took the concept of “community” and sapped it of all moral meaning. The rise of QAnon, for example, is one of the social web’s logical conclusions. That’s because Facebook—along with Google and YouTube—is perfect for amplifying and spreading disinformation at lightning speed to global audiences. Facebook is an agent of government propaganda, targeted harassment, terrorist recruitment, emotional manipulation, and genocide—a world-historic weapon that lives not underground, but in a Disneyland-inspired campus in Menlo Park, California.

The giants of the social web—Facebook and its subsidiary Instagram; Google and its subsidiary YouTube; and, to a lesser extent, Twitter—have achieved success by being dogmatically value-neutral in their pursuit of what I’ll call megascale. Somewhere along the way, Facebook decided that it needed not just a very large user base, but a tremendous one, unprecedented in size. That decision set Facebook on a path to escape velocity, to a tipping point where it can harm society just by existing.

The easiest solution to the Doomsday Machine problem, as it related to Facebook, is to delete your Facebook account — trust me, you won’t be missing anything.

Daring Fireball on Facebook’s misleading usage of the word “free” 12/19/2020

John Gruber at Daring Fireball:

It’s an unfortunate quirk of the English language that free as freedom and free as in beer are very different meanings of free. But when you see an ad headlined “Apple vs. The Free Internet”, most people would assume they’re about to hear an argument about free as in freedom.

Not Facebook. They’re arguing about free as in beer.

I love reading Daring Fireball for pieces like this, where Gruber takes offense at the misuse of language and punctuation. This is peak Fireball.

EFF on Facebook’s laughable campaign against Apple 12/19/2020

Andrés Arrieta for the Electronic Frontier Foundation:

Facebook has recently launched a campaign touting itself as the protector of small businesses. This is a laughable attempt from Facebook to distract you from its poor track record of anticompetitive behavior and privacy issues as it tries to derail pro-privacy changes from Apple that are bad for Facebook’s business.

Facebook’s campaign is targeting a new AppTrackingTransparency feature on iPhones that will require apps to request permission from users before tracking them across other apps and websites or sharing their information with and from third parties. Requiring trackers to request your consent before stalking you across the Internet should be an obvious baseline, and we applaud Apple for this change. But Facebook, having built a massive empire around the concept of tracking everything you do by letting applications sell and share your data across a shady set of third-party companies, would like users and policymakers to believe otherwise.

Make no mistake: this latest campaign from Facebook is one more direct attack against our privacy and, despite its slick packaging, it’s also an attack against other businesses, both large and small.

Gotta love the ample use of hyperlinks by the EFF.

US Govt blacklists drone maker DJI 12/18/2020

Chaim Gartenberg and Russell Brandom at The Verge:

DJI — one of the largest and most popular drone companies in the world — has been added to the US Department of Commerce’s Entity List, designating the Chinese company as a national security concern and banning US-based companies from exporting technology to the company. […]

The specific filing adding DJI to the entity list accuses the company of “enabled wide-scale human rights abuses within China through abusive genetic collection and analysis or high-technology surveillance.” This is likely a reference to DJI’s involvement in providing drones to the Chinese government to surveill detention camps in the Xinjiang provice, as detailed in a Bloomberg Businessweek report.

DJI makes the best drones on the market, but the cost might be a little high now for conscientious American consumers.

Tim Cook responds to Facebook’s attack ad 12/17/2020

Tim Cook tweeted a short response to Facebook’s attack ad today:

We believe users should have the choice over the data that is being collected about them and how it’s used. Facebook can continue to track users across apps and websites as before, App Tracking Transparency in iOS 14 will just require that they ask for your permission first.

ATT Alert Text

How do you argue with that?

Tom Cruise throws a fit on MI:7 set in leaked audio 12/17/2020

On the set of Mission Impossible 7, actor and producer Tom Cruise flew into a rage and verbally attacked crew members who were violating a safety protocol by standing too close together while watching a monitor. The Sun has audio of the tirade.

Cruise has no excuse for publicly attacking his crew members on set. This is work place harassment, by any definition, and in many cases it’s either illegal or employees can sue if this becomes recurring behavior by the abuser.

If Cruise wants to set the “gold standard” for film production, he should start with his attitude. Yes, there’s a pandemic and this is a stressful time, but if Cruise feels he needs to take corrective action he does so like a human being — calmly, and with respect for his crew. If they violate the safety protocols again he quietly asks them to leave the set. The situation is resolved without leaked audio to the tabloids.

But it’s never okay to shout and curse and make a public spectacle. If Cruise worked a real job in a real office building, he’d be fired. Imagine your boss yelling at you like this with your co-workers looking over their cubicle walls at the scene. People don’t act this way at work. But we let Tom Cruise get away with being an asshole because he’s Tom Cruise.

I feel bad for the people working on that set. You don’t do your best work when you’re working in fear of your boss. As a producer on the film Cruise likely has the ability to fire any below-the-line crew he chooses. But he’s right about one thing: there aren’t a lot of movies getting made right now. If these people want a paycheck, they don’t have a lot of options at the moment. That’s a shitty situation to be in, and Mission Impossible 7 is going to suffer because of it.

Cruise is making a movie; he’s not disarming a nuclear weapon. The fate of the planet isn’t at stake. He’s playing make-believe — but he’s acting like a child. It reflects badly on all of Hollywood.

Sony offers refunds on Cyberpunk 2077, pulls the game from the store 12/17/2020

Jay Peters for The Verge:

Sony is pulling Cyberpunk 2077 from the PlayStation Store and offering full refunds for anyone who bought the game from the digital storefront, the company said on Thursday. If you want to start the refund process now, Sony says to visit this site and sign into your PlayStation account to submit a request. […]

Players have found that Cyberpunk 2077, which has only been out for a little more than one week, has been riddled with bugs. And while game looks and performs well in backwards compatibility mode on the PS5, it is prone to routine crashes and a number of distracting visual glitches. On PS4, however, the game fares a lot worse — Eurogamer reported poor performance, low framerate, and texture pop-in.

Good on Sony for pulling the game and opening up refunds for players, although this should be the standard refund policy, not the exception. I pre-ordered No Man’s Sky on PS4 and was hugely disappointed by it. I hear it’s improved a lot over the years, but the initial release was a dud. I asked Sony for a refund and they said no. Nintendo will also fight with you if you ask for a refund, but if you spend twenty minutes on the phone yelling at the guy in charge of giving refunds, you might eventually get it. So, guess who I don’t buy digital games from anymore? Improve your refund policy, Japan. And until they do, buy digital games from Steam, Xbox, Epic, and Apple.

Ben Sandofsky explains Apple ProRAW 12/16/2020

Ben Sandofsky on the Halide blog has an in-depth piece on Apple’s new ProRAW image format:

Apple builds products for the broadest possible audience, and RAW is a tool for photo-nerds. These powerful files take skill to edit and come with significant tradeoffs. Why would Apple cram a complicated feature into an app meant for everyone?

As we dug deeper into ProRAW, we realized it wasn’t just about making RAW more powerful. It’s about making RAW approachable. ProRAW could very well change how everyone shoots and edits photos, beginners and experts alike.

To understand what makes it so special, the first half of this post explains how a digital camera develops a photo. Then we go on to explain the strengths and weaknesses of traditional RAWs. Finally, we dive into what’s unique about ProRAW, how it changes the game, and its few remaining drawbacks.

Really enjoyed this. Unless you are actually Ben Sandofsky or one of Apple’s ProRAW camera people, you’re probably going to learn something here.

HBO Max is coming to Roku, just in time for Christmas aka Wonder Woman 12/16/2020

Greg Kumparak at TechCrunch:

It took an unusually long time, but HBO Max is set to launch on Roku devices tomorrow.

Roku users make up a massive chunk of the cord-cutting market, so the absence of an HBO Max app for Roku nearly seven months after the service launched was pretty glaring. We’d been wondering where the Max app was for months, its launch seemingly tied up over the matter of where and how customers could subscribe.

With “Wonder Woman 1984” set to debut on Max in just a few weeks, one can assume there was tremendous pressure all around to get the deal done. As part of the deal, Roku users will be able to sign up for HBO Max using Roku’s built-in payment system, Roku Pay.

Guessing Warner gave in to Roku’s payment demands, but this little argument went on for way too long: I already bought, wrapped, and mailed a Fire Stick to my parents. Roku missed the boat on new activations this year.

Facebook criticizes Apple for asking users if they want to be tracked by ads 12/16/2020

Tom Warren at The Verge:

Facebook is publicly criticizing Apple’s upcoming iOS privacy changes in full-page newspaper ads today. “We’re standing up to Apple for small businesses everywhere,” reads the headline on an ad inside the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Wall Street Journal today. Bloomberg News reports that the ads are related to Apple’s iOS 14 privacy changes that will make it more difficult for companies like Facebook to target users with ads.

Hilarious. All Apple is doing is giving user’s a choice. Facebook is saying this is somehow damaging. The ad industry just made $80,000,000,000; they’ll be okay.

See also: FTC sues Facebook, calling it a monopoly, and Facebook’s ad business of scammers, hackers, and disinformation peddlers, and Facebook’s App Store Privacy Nutrition Label is twelve pages long.

FTC wants answers on big tech data collection 12/16/2020

Lauren Feiner for CNBC:

The Federal Trade Commission is requiring nine tech companies to share information about how they collect and use data from their users, the agency announced Monday.

Amazon, TikTok owner ByteDance, Discord, Facebook and its subsidiary WhatsApp, Reddit, Snap, Twitter and Google-owned YouTube were each sent orders to hand over information about their data practices. The companies have 45 days to respond from the date they received the orders.

Along with details about how the services collect and use data, the agency is seeking information about how how they determine which ads to show their users, whether algorithms or data analytics are used on personal information, how they “measure promote, and research” engagement from users and how their data practices impact children and teens.

Absent from this list: Apple.

Related: Facebook’s App Store Privacy Nutrition Label is twelve pages long.

Daring Fireball looks a little closer at this NYT/Gawker/Tim Cook story 12/16/2020

John Gruber at Daring Fireball takes an in-depth look at that New York Times piece by Ben Smith, ‘Apple TV Was Making a Show About Gawker. Then Tim Cook Found Out.‘:

Anyway, Smith’s focus on the Gawker/Scraper story buried the lede on two much more interesting nuggets regarding the rules of Apple TV+ content:

So far, Apple TV+ is the only streaming studio to bluntly explain its corporate red lines to creators — though Disney, with its giant theme park business in China, shares Apple’s allergy to antagonizing China’s leader, Xi Jinping.

Eddy Cue, Apple’s senior vice president for internet software and services, who has been at the company since 1989, has told partners that “the two things we will never do are hard-core nudity and China,” one creative figure who has worked with Apple told me. (BuzzFeed News first reported last year that Mr. Cue had instructed creators to “avoid portraying China in a poor light.”)

This isn’t gossipy — or the least bit surprising — but unlike the Gawker show getting nixed, this “don’t offend China” rule ought to be genuinely scandalous. Ben Thompson beat me to the punch on yesterday’s edition of Dithering, observing that a rule like this about Russia during the Cold War would have blocked the entire James Bond franchise from existing, not to mention just about any lesser spy movies from the era. Or what of Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove? Like the Soviet Union in the decades after WWII, China is not some obscure small player on the world stage, and they systematically do things that deserve to be portrayed “in a poor light”. To take China off the table is to take much of what’s going on geopolitically in the world today off the table.

I get it, of course. I don’t agree with it, artistically or ethically, but I get it: money talks, and China is where Apple assembles most of its products and a big market where it sells them, too. But just because it’s so transparently obvious why Apple would forbid any negative portrayals of China doesn’t make it any less outrageous.

China gets a free pass at Apple because they make our stuff; China gets a free pass in Hollywood because they buy our movies.

That MCU Feeling 12/15/2020

Julia Alexander at The Verge, on the lack of Marvel movies in 2020:

In a year where I feel more disconnected from people than ever, where I’m searching for community from the confines of a tiny studio apartment, not having that quintessential part of normalcy — sitting in a theater and watching the couple of Marvel movies that come out every year — feels enormous.

The absence of Marvel movies is the absence of a very specific kind of excitement. Living within the confines of our new normal for the last 10 months means trying to find little things to look forward to every week. A new show on a streaming service helps or a Zoom catch-up with family who can’t visit. But it doesn’t replace the physicality of community or the excitement of leaving home to experience something people may have been waiting on for several months. In 2020, a year filled with death and travesty at the worst of times and mindless boredom at the best of times, the absence of unbridled anticipation was tough to swallow.

I’m always saying how bad the theater experience is, but I’ll admit that you can’t beat an opening night at a Marvel flick. There’s some real magic in those theaters, with those audiences. Black Widow opening night is going to be one hell of a night.

Dealing with macOS notifications 12/15/2020

If you’re using macOS Big Sur, you know the notification system is terrible, particularly clicking that tiny X in the corner to dismiss the persistent alerts. Swiping away the notifications with your finger would be a much better way of dealing with them, but until Apple deems us worthy of touchscreen Macs, Tyler Hall has a clever solution for getting rid of them.

The other option is to switch the notification style from alerts to banner. You can do this in the Notifications System Preferences. Only a few very special apps are allowed persistent alerts on my Mac; most of them are either banners or turned off entirely. But the one app who’s notifications you can’t control? Mac App Store. C’mon, Apple.

Your COVID vaccine is out for delivery 12/13/2020

The New York Times, “F.D.A. Clears Pfizer Vaccine, and Millions of Doses Will Be Shipped Right Away

The Food and Drug Administration authorized Pfizer’s Covid-19 vaccine for emergency use on Friday, clearing the way for millions of highly vulnerable people to begin receiving the vaccine within days.

The authorization is a historic turning point in a pandemic that has taken more than 290,000 lives in the United States.

This vaccine is so important only because the US has shit the bed in terms of dealing with this pandemic. I went to the grocery store at 8:30 AM this morning and saw multiple people not wearing a mask correctly by not covering their nose. And now we have record amounts of people in the ICU because they didn’t stay home for Thanksgiving. We’re killing each other here and it’s completely unnecessary. Trump failed us first, but then we repeatedly failed each other.

I wouldn’t click a Facebook ad, would you? 12/13/2020

Craig Silverman and Ryan Mac with Buzzfeed on a big report on Facebook’s ad business:

A BuzzFeed News investigation has found that in relentlessly scaling its ad juggernaut — which is projected by analysts to bring in $80 billion this year — Facebook created a financial symbiosis with scammers, hackers, and disinformation peddlers who use its platforms to rip off and manipulate people around the world. The result is a global economy of dishonesty in which Facebook has at times prioritized revenue over the enforcement of policies seemingly put in place to protect the people who use its platform.

Company insiders said the ad platform’s issues are exacerbated by Facebook’s continued reliance on a small army of low-paid, unempowered contractors to manage a daily onslaught of ad moderation and policy enforcement decisions that often have far-reaching consequences for its users. Internal documents and messages, as well as interviews with eight current and former employees and contractors, show that Facebook’s ad workers have at times been told to ignore suspicious behavior unless it “would result in financial losses for Facebook,” and that the company is pushing to grow revenue in regions that flood its pages with scams.

Watch: Craig Federighi’s Privacy Keynote 12/13/2020

John Gruber at Daring Fireball links to Craig Federighi’s keynote at the 10th Annual European Data Protection & Privacy Conference. Federighi’s an excellent public speaker and he makes a good case for App Tracking Transparency and gets a good jab in at some of the companies against ATT, saying, “When invasive tracking is your business model, you tend not to welcome transparency and customer choice.”

Apple and Google ban SDK selling location data to military 12/11/2020

Mitchell Clark for The Verge:

X-Mode works by giving developers code to put into their apps, known as an SDK, which tracks users’ location and then sends that data to X-Mode, which sells it. In return, X-Mode pays the developer a certain amount based on how many users the app has. According to the company, its technology is in over 400 apps, including many apps designed for Muslim users, such as one that reminds users when to pray, and a Muslim-focused dating app.

Apple is giving developers two weeks to remove the SDK, and Google is giving devs one week, with the ability to apply for an extension to 30 days. But the model of tracking users’ locations and selling the data is nothing new: what may have gotten X-Mode banned was that, according to a report by Motherboard, it was also selling it to the US military. When you consider the fact that many of the largest apps using the X-Mode were designed for Muslim populations, it’s understandable why this would be concerning.

Without a better policy from Apple and Google on how apps are allowed to collect, use, and sell user data like location and browsing history, this is going to quickly become an unwinnable game of whack-a-mole. A privacy nutrition label isn’t going to solve this.