by Brandon Butler
Petaluma says “nope” to new gas stations 3/1/2021

Jennifer Kingson for Axios:

Petaluma, California, has voted to outlaw new gas stations, the first of what climate activists hope will be numerous cities and counties to do so. […]

Why it matters: Expect more such ordinances, particularly in liberal towns. Grassroots groups are popping up with the mission of spreading this type of ban and forcing pollution cleanups at existing gas stations. […]

In Petaluma — where neighborhood opposition to a new Safeway gas station prompted years of litigation — the council voted unanimously last week to move forward with a permanent ban on new stations; a final vote will happen Monday. […]

I grew up in the North Bay; I’m not at all surprised to see this news coming out of Petaluma. I remember the town as mostly farms and a pretty nice movie theater. These days it’s huge homes and Teslas. And the town already has sixteen gas stations — they really don’t need more.

Verizon’s support tweet suggests turning off 5G 3/1/2021

Kim Lyons for The Verge:

Despite its relentless promotion of 5G phones and the fact that it spent more than $45 billion bidding on a new faster spectrum, Verizon support now is advising people on Twitter to turn off their phones’ 5G access to preserve battery life.

In a Sunday morning tweet, Verizon support helpfully suggested that “one way to help conserve battery life is to turn on LTE” if users found their batteries were “draining faster than normal.” That step would, of course, turn off 5G in a phone that has it available. It’s also worth pointing out that you don’t actually “turn on LTE” when doing this step — LTE is always enabled as a fallback for the 5G network. But Verizon is obviously being cautious so as not to actually tell its customers to “turn off 5G”.

The tweet has since been removed, but this is very likely a case of an underpaid social media employee working an early Sunday morning, trying to be helpful, and probably saw this “tip” on TikTok or Instagram and decided to repost it. While these channels are officially connected to the companies, they are rarely a unified voice. This is almost certainly why Apple doesn’t have these kinds of social media customer interaction channels: Apple’s marketing is tightly controlled. Not so for many other brands.

Despite Verizon’s massive marketing push into 5G, I hope they doesn’t fire whoever posted this — it’s actually a really good troubleshooting step! It can improve battery life and in many areas might actually speed up your cellular internet connection. And while I keep 5G off on my iPhone, you might get better performance with 5G turned on. 5G is such a spotty mess right now, it’s impossible to say what works best in your area.

Crazy Tom Cruise deepfakes hit TikTok and it’s crazier than Tom Cruise 2/26/2021

Marlow Stern for Daily Beast:

Three days ago, a TikTok account going by @deeptomcruise began posting video clips of the Hollywood actor Tom Cruise doing everything from golfing, to tripping and telling a joke in what appears to be a men’s clothing store in Italy, to performing a magic trick with a coin. In each of the three videos, Cruise delivers his signature maniacal laugh—you know, the one he repeatedly unleashed in that batty Scientology recruitment video years back—before launching into some sort of bit, and in all of them, it looks just like Cruise. Only it’s not Cruise.

I saw the golfing tok a few days ago and thought, “He is much too tall to be Tom Cruise.” It looked very real, but I trust so little of what I see on the internet these days that I totally dismissed it. But the account keeps pumping out new deepfakes and they keep getting more disturbing and delightful. The man is a total nut job and we made him, but the deepfakes are something even more worrying. You can now make anyone do anything on video, and this is the internet age — this stuff lasts forever.

LastPass has seven embedded trackers in its app, stealing your personal information 2/26/2021

Tim Anderson for The Register

A security researcher has recommended against using the LastPass password manager Android app after noting seven embedded trackers. The software’s maker says users can opt out if they want.

Most users won’t know they’re being tracked, and won’t understand how to opt-out. Saying users can opt-out is not justification for filling your (already bad) app with multiple trackers that steal your users’ personal data — location, phone identifier, browser history, text history, contacts, who knows what! — to four different companies that profiling users for crappy advertising. LastPass couldn’t respect their customers less, and their actions within their app show it. They don’t deserve your business.

1Password has zero embedded trackers.

Spider-Man: No Way Home 2/24/2021

After trolling fans for a few days with fake movie names, the official title for the third MCU Spidey film has been revealed, and it is Spider-Man: No Way Home. The title was revealed in a clip posted to Tom Holland’s Instagram, which I highly recommend watching. And just below the title reads, “Only in movie theaters this Christmas.”

California gets a big win on net neutrality 2/24/2021

Sean Hollister for The Verge:

Net neutrality died a horrible death in 2017, but things have just turned around: California’s landmark net neutrality law — erected in 2018 but immediately blocked by lawsuits from Trump’s Department of Justice and the telecom industry — can finally be enforced.

That’s the verdict from Judge John Mendez today, who declined to grant the telecom industry the preliminary injunction it had requested. The case might not be over, but the law can go into effect — and the judge doesn’t think the telecom industry is likely to win.

And from Jon Brodkin for Ars Technica:

Mendez reportedly was not swayed by ISPs’ claims that a net neutrality law isn’t necessary because they haven’t been blocking or throttling Internet traffic.

“I have heard that argument and I don’t find it persuasive,” Mendez said, according to The Hollywood Reporter. “It’s going to fall on deaf ears. Everyone has been on their best behavior since 2018, waiting for whatever happened in the DC Circuit [court case over the FCC’s repeal of net neutrality]. I don’t place weight on the argument that everything is fine and we don’t need to worry.”

Mendez, who was nominated by President Bush in 2008, also said, “This decision today is a legal decision and shouldn’t be viewed in the political lens. I’m not expressing anything on the soundness of the policy. That might better be resolved by Congress than by federal courts.”

And Karl Bode for Techdirt:

As we’ve noted a few times, there’s a misinformed refrain in some tech policy circles that goes something like this: “the internet didn’t immediately implode in a rainbow, therefore net neutrality’s repeal must not have mattered.” That’s wrong for several reasons.

One, ISPs are still violating net neutrality, they’re just being more clever about it (see: AT&T only charging you broadband overage fees if you use a competitor’s service). Two, the only reason ISPs behaved half as well as they did is because they were awaiting a federal legal ruling, and worried about running afoul of state net neutrality rules. Three, killing net neutrality didn’t just kill “net neutrality,” it dismantled the FCC’s consumer protection authority over everything from anticompetitive behavior to billing fraud. If you’re applauding the government ignoring the public and neutering itself because some Comcast lobbyists told it to, you might not be half as clever as you think you are.

I’m glad to live in a state that is leading by example when it comes to the internet.

Fry’s is out of business 2/23/2021

KRON 4, ‘Fry’s Electronics permanently closing all stores nationwide‘:

Fry’s Electronics is going out of business.

KRON4 has confirmed that the iconic Bay Area retailer is permanently closing the doors of all stores nationwide.

Apparently today was Fry’s last day. Their social media pages are down, and the website will be gone at midnight tonight.

The last time I went to Fry’s was in early 2020: I had heard rumors they were getting close to going out of business and I wanted to take one last walk among the motherboards. The place was deserted. Almost no employees, almost nothing for sale, and maybe three customers — myself included — on a Sunday afternoon. Entire asiles of shelves were empty. And this was long before the world shut down because of COVID-19. Fry’s has been on life support for years; I’m only surprised that it’s taken this long for them to finally pull the plug.

I was never a huge fan of Fry’s. It was packed full of treasure, sure, but it sucked being treated like a shoplifter every time you left the store. Remember how they’d stop you and check your receipt? Yeah, I usually didn’t stop, just a friendly wave and keep on walking. What could they do? It was always a crappy customer experience, but nothing else had anywhere close to the variety of inventory. You know, except New Egg. And Amazon.

The Verge has more more details on the closure.

Watch the HD video of Perseverance landing on Mars 2/23/2021

NASA has released the high definition video of Perseverance’s landing on Mars, and when you consider this is a video of a rover landing itself on another planet, it might just be the best video on YouTube. (At the very least, the best video shot on another planet.)

Twitch panics at live Metallica concert, replaces audio stream with royalty free junk 2/23/2021

Jem Aswad at Variety:

The gaming platform Twitch, which has had no shortage of music-copyright problems in recent months, cut off the audio for Metallica’s BlizzCon performance Friday due to legal concerns, replacing it with comically inappropriate instrumental folk music. That the switch came in the middle of “Enter Sandman,” one of the group’s biggest hits, only made the disconnect more enraging and/or hilarious.

If you needed a look at the state of Twitch streaming in 2021, this sums it up nicely. The music was cleared by Blizzard and was only replaced on Twitch. Recall Twitch is owned by Amazon which has a massive streaming music library, so you would think they’d understand how all of this works.

Censorship is a full-time job at ByteDance and TikTok 2/19/2021

Li An, as told to Shen Lu for Protocol, ‘I helped build ByteDance’s censorship machine‘:

During livestreaming shows, every audio clip would be automatically transcribed into text, allowing algorithms to compare the notes with a long and constantly-updated list of sensitive words, dates and names, as well as Natural Language Processing models. Algorithms would then analyze whether the content was risky enough to require individual monitoring.

If a user mentioned a sensitive term, a content moderator would receive the original video clip and the transcript showing where the term appeared. If the moderator deemed the speech sensitive or inappropriate, they would shut down the ongoing livestreaming session and even suspend or delete the account. Around politically sensitive holidays, such as Oct. 1 (China’s National Day), July 1 (the birthday of the Chinese Communist Party) or major political anniversaries like the anniversary of the 1989 protests and crackdown in Tiananmen Square, the Content Quality Center would generate special lists of sensitive terms for content moderators to use. Influencers enjoyed some special treatment — there were content moderators assigned specifically to monitor certain influencers’ channels in case their content or accounts were mistakenly deleted. Some extremely popular influencers, state media and government agencies were on a ByteDance-generated white list, free from any censorship — their compliance was assumed.

TikTok’s For You Page is so good at recommending videos because ByteDance is so good at censoring videos. The underlining technology is the same.

And she sticks the landing 2/18/2021

Mike Wall for Space.com:

The car-sized Perseverance, the most advanced robot ever sent to the Red Planet, aced its “seven minutes of terror” touchdown this afternoon (Feb. 18), alighting gently on an ancient lakebed inside the 28-mile-wide (45 kilometers) Jezero Crater shortly before 4 p.m. EST (2100 GMT).

After a series of instrument and hardware checkouts, Perseverance will start doing what it crossed interplanetary space to do: hunt for signs of ancient Mars life, collect and cache rock samples for future return to Earth and demonstrate some shiny new exploration technologies, among other things.

Another perfect landing, another incredible achievement for JPL and NASA; but the real news will be what Perseverance finds in that ancient lake bed.

More on the Australia link tax 2/18/2021

Mike Masnick at Techdirt with ‘The Bizarre Reaction To Facebook’s Decision To Get Out Of The News Business In Australia

The whole story is absolutely ridiculous. And the most incredible thing is that no matter what Facebook did here it would have gotten yelled at. And the proof is not hard to find. Because just an hour or two before Facebook made this announcement, Google went the other way — coming to an agreement to pay Rupert Murdoch for featuring Murdoch-owned news organizations content on Google. And people freaked out, complaining about Google helping fund Rupert Murdoch’s disinformation empire. Except… that’s the whole point of the law? So it’s a bit bizarre that the same people are mad about both Facebook’s decision to not give free money to Rupert and Google caving to do exactly that. […]

This fight was not “Facebook v. Australia.” Or “Facebook v. journalism” even though some ignorant or dishonest people are making it out to be the case. This was always “Rupert Murdoch v. the open web.” We may not like Facebook in the role of the defender of the open web (and it’s far from the best representative for the open web). But Facebook saying that it won’t pay a link tax is a defense of the open web and against Rupert Murdoch. It’s the right move, and whatever else you may think of Facebook, the company deserves credit for taking the right stand here.

Masnick nails the argument in favor of Facebook here. And it feels weird to say it, but yeah, Facebook is right. Credit to them.

North Dakota tries to ban iPhones 2/17/2021

Kate Cox for Ars Technica:

The North Dakota state Senate is jumping into a simmering feud between Apple and iOS software developers with a bill that would make it illegal for device makers to require to use their app stores and payment systems.

The bill (PDF) has two main prongs. First, it would make it unlawful for companies such as Google and Apple to make their app stores the “exclusive means” of distributing apps on their platforms. Second, it would prohibit those providers from requiring third parties to use their digital transaction or in-app payment systems in their applications.

This bill comes from Republican state Sen. Kyle Davison. First, aren’t Republicans supposed to be about less regulation and protecting large companies from the little guy? This seems out of character for a Republican. Second, if this had passed, it would have essentially banned the iPhone (and Android phones) from being sold to North Dakota residents and businesses. Think about it — would Apple have spent the time and money opening up the iPhone to competing app stores just for the 762,062 people who live in the state? Here’s a sobering fact: Apple sells more iPhones each day than there are North Dakota residents.

The new routine 2/17/2021

Kevin Liptak for CNN:

As Biden settles into a job he has been seeking on-and-off for three decades, the daily routine of being president — with a phalanx of Secret Service agents, regular updates on the nation’s top secrets and an ever-present press corps — has come more naturally for him than for his more recent predecessors.

He has established a regular schedule, including coffee in the mornings with the first lady, meetings and phone calls from the Oval Office starting just after 9 a.m. and a return to his residence by 7 p.m. As he walks home along the Colonnade, he’s often seen carrying a stack of binders or manila folders under one arm. He still brings a brown leather briefcase into the office. […]

He has expressed a preference for a fire built in the Oval Office fireplace, and sometimes adds a log himself to keep it going. His dogs, two German Shepherds called Major and Champ, sometimes join him.

And this is why I’m sleeping better at night.

The LastPass free option is now unusable 2/17/2021

Jon Porter for The Verge:

LastPass is adding new restrictions to its free subscription tier starting March 16th that’ll only allow users to view and manage passwords on one category of devices: mobile or computer. Mobile users will be limited to iOS and Android phones, iPads, Android tablets, and smartwatches. Computer subscribers will be able to use their passwords from Windows, macOS, and Linux desktops and laptops, the LastPass browser extension, and Windows tablets.

Me, a few months ago, while praising password manager 1Password:

LastPass has a nice design and something 1Password doesn’t: a free tier. But 1Password does have a full featured 30-day trial, and regardless of which password manager you go with, you should be paying for it.

Paying for your password manager means you are very unlikely to ever lose access to your passwords. Apps and programs, and especially cloud services, can come and go in a blink, but the ones that persist are the ones that make a profit and continue to pay their server bills. If you find the password manager useful and necessary — and I believe you will — pay for it.

LastPass should have done what 1Password does: give people a free 30-day trial of the full service. Whittling away at the service your customers use is certain to drive them off to a competitor. And believe me, there are better password managers than LastPass. If you sign up for 1Password, tell ’em Pizza Emoji sent you and they’ll be very confused.

Australia passes law that breaks the internet for Australians 2/17/2021

Nick Statt for The Verge:

Facebook has decided to block both Australian users and media companies from sharing links to news articles and related content on its main social network, following the country’s proposed landmark regulatory measure that would force tech giants to pay Australian news organizations for using their content.

The bill passed the Australian House of Representatives today and is believed to have enough votes to pass the Senate, The New York Times reported. The bill also targets Google, which at one point last month threatened to leave the country entirely. However, Google has since decided to start cutting deals with major Australian media organizations, like Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp., to comply. Facebook, it appears, will not follow suit — for now.

Can you imagine an internet without an <a herf> tag? There’s no internet. Facebook seems to understand this; they’re not even allowing Australian news publishers to post their content to Facebook anymore. And I hate to say it, but I agree with Facebook. Let the struggling news industry see what it’s like to break a fundamental and essential part of the internet.

Of course, on the other side of the coin is Facebook’s algorithmic news feed, and the people of Australia are probably better off not getting their news from Facebook.

But Australian law is setting a dangerous and potentially damaging precedent for how to treat a link, and the consequences of it could be far reaching if other countries see Google bow to the publisher’s demands.

That’s a lot of emojis 2/17/2021

Jeremy Burge at Emojipedia has a first look at the 217 new emojis coming to iOS 14.5 later this Spring:

New emojis have arrived on iOS as part of the latest iOS 14.5 beta. These include a heart on fire, exhaling face, and gender options for the people with beards.

Also included in this update is a vaccine-friendly syringe emoji, and support for couples with a mix of skin tones.

Apple, in what is surely a biased opinion, really makes the best emojis.

Mark Zuckerberg wants to ‘inflict pain’ on Apple 2/15/2021

Deepa Seetharaman, Emily Glazer and Tim Higgins for The Wall Street Journal:

Facebook Inc. Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg has groused for years that Apple Inc. and its leader, Tim Cook, have too much sway over the social-media giant’s business. In 2018, his anger boiled over.

Facebook was embroiled in controversy over its data-collection practices. Mr. Cook piled on in a national television interview, saying his own company would never have found itself in such a jam. Mr. Zuckerberg shot back that Mr. Cook’s comments were “extremely glib” and “not at all aligned with the truth.”

In private, Mr. Zuckerberg was even harsher. “We need to inflict pain,” he told his team, for treating the company so poorly, according to people familiar with the exchange.

Apple is the most valuable company in the world; they make products people loveespecially teens. Facebook is a website with ads lacking in popularity with younger users where you can plan attacks against the US Capitol. So, good luck with that, Mark.

Bloomberg returns with another dubious Supermicro story 2/14/2021

Jordan Robertson and Michael Riley for Bloomberg:

This story is drawn from interviews with more than 50 people from law enforcement, the military, Congress, intelligence agencies and the private sector. Most asked not to be named in order to share sensitive information. Some details were confirmed in corporate documents Bloomberg News reviewed.

Bloomberg Businessweek first reported on China’s meddling with Supermicro products in October 2018, in an article that focused on accounts of added malicious chips found on server motherboards in 2015. That story said Apple Inc. and Amazon.com Inc. had discovered the chips on equipment they’d purchased. Supermicro, Apple and Amazon publicly called for a retraction. U.S. government officials also disputed the article.

Nick Heer at Pixel Envy:

Before I get into my confusion, a necessary caveat: I only have information that has been shared publicly and I am a hobbyist commentator, while Robertson and Riley are journalists who have been collecting details for years. These stories matter a lot, and their allegations are profound, but extraordinary claims demand extraordinary evidence. And based on everything that has been reported so far, I just don’t see it yet. Chalk it up to my own confusion and naïveté, but it seems like I am not alone in finding these reports insufficiently compelling.

Here’s the one-paragraph summary: Supermicro is a big company with lots of clients, any of which would be concerned about a backdoor to a foreign intelligence agency in their hardware. According to these reports, the U.S. intelligence apparatus was mobilized to counter the alleged threat. This has been a high-profile case since the first story was published. And I am supposed to believe that, in two and a half years, the only additional reporting that has been done on this story is from the same journalists at the same publication as the original. Why do I not buy that?

John Gruber at Daring Fireball:

The original story’s key allegations — what made it a blockbuster — were that Chinese government operatives had surreptitiously added “phone home” chips to server components made by a company named Supermicro, and that Apple and Amazon were among the companies who’d been breached by these compromised servers. Apple and Amazon adamantly refuted the entire story, in unambiguous language. Bloomberg’s original report offered no firsthand evidence of these compromised servers. In the years since, no one has ever discovered any evidence of such compromised servers.

Today’s follow-up from Bloomberg offers no evidence either.

Supermicro statment:

Bloomberg’s story is a mishmash of disparate and inaccurate allegations that date back many years. It draws farfetched conclusions that once again don’t withstand scrutiny. In fact, the National Security Agency told Bloomberg again last month that it stands by its 2018 comments and the agency said of Bloomberg’s new claims that it “cannot confirm that this incident—or the subsequent response actions described—ever occurred.” Despite Bloomberg’s allegations about supposed cyber or national security investigations that date back more than 10 years, Supermicro has never been contacted by the U.S. government, or by any of our partners or customers, about these alleged investigations.

Since Bloomberg’s first story on this idea two and a half years ago, there has been silence and no evidence supporting the article. No one has been able to produce a board with a spy chip on it. And Bloomberg still has no evidence to backup their extradorinaiy claims. My suspicions, from reading about this story, is if these supply-chain attacks are occurring, they are rare and highly targeted attacks at high-level government targets. But that’s a big if. Either way, China is not wasting resources on Apple’s iCloud data centers, but Bloomberg’s reporting makes this sound like every AWS server has more spy chips than CPU cores in it, and that just isn’t the case. These are high value government targets, which is the only explanation for why evidence doesn’t exist: government agencies being targeted by this kind of attack know how to keep quiet.

Hacked water plant used shared passwords and Windows 7 2/14/2021

Dan Goodin with Ars Technica has a follow-up on that water plant incident from last week:

According to an advisory from the state of Massachusetts, employees with the Oldsmar facility used a computer running Windows 7 to remotely access plant controls known as a SCADA—short for “supervisory control and data acquisition”—system. What’s more, the computer had no firewall installed and used a password that was shared among employees for remotely logging in to city systems with the TeamViewer application.

That’s not good. City officials think it was a former disgruntled employee.

🍕 WandaVision, or An Ode to Weekly TV Episodes Again 2/11/2021

WandaVision Wanda Eyes

Warning: Spoilers for the first half of WandaVision follow.

I remember the weekend Stranger Things season one was released by Netflix. Having heard nothing about this new show, Netflix’s recommendation algorithm slapped it onto my screen and I (liking the 80’s movie poster artwork) clicked Play. I watched the whole eight episode first season in a weekend.

Over the following weeks and months I saw more and more people began to discover Stranger Things, and the series became a cultural hit. But it was difficult to talk to people about the show, because everyone was somewhere different in the series. Some people were just starting it, some people were in the middle, some people were finishing it. And you had no idea where anyone else was in relationship to your own viewing. You were just as likely to spoil something as be spoiled if you discussed the show with anyone.

It was difficult to talk to people about the show, because everyone was somewhere else in the series. You were just as likely to spoil something as be spoiled if you discussed the show with anyone.

As Netflix continued releasing new seasons of shows like Stranger Things, Daredevil, and Bojack Horseman at midnight, this risk of being spoiled by a stray tweet or overheard breakroom chat become more likely — unless you finished the season first. Many TV bloggers and die-hard fans stayed up into the early morning hours watching every episode of a new season in a massive, eye-straining binge session.

This Netflix binge model was the best way to watch TV for some viewers — the classic cliffhanger lasted not a week, but however long it took Netflix to auto-play the next episode. I remember watching shows on broadcast TV like Gilmore Girls and Lost, and having to wait an entire week to find out what happens next — and sometimes an entire summer to find out Who Shot Mr. Burns! But those breaks between episodes — days or weeks or months — allowed for discussion and speculation with friends and co-workers on what we’d seen and what we were anticipating. I don’t think I realized then just how much Netflix robbed us of those shared social moments.

Of course, as Netflix continued to release entire seasons in a single night, traditional television continued broadcasting on a weekly basis. As a cord-cutter I missed the weekly releases of shows like Game of Thrones until HBO Now began streaming them simultaneously with the cable broadcast. Before streaming became the norm, I had to wait for the season to release on a disc.

But it wasn’t long before the other, non-Netflix streaming services had exclusive series of their own. One of the first streamers to break the Netflix all-at-once release model was Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale. Hulu premiered the first three episodes on the same day, but at the end credits of episode three it felt like hitting a wall. Viewers would now be forced to wait a week to see the next episode. That was a tough sell on Hulu’s part: After years of Netflix giving us the beginning, middle, and end all at once, now we were being told to wait.

After years of Netflix giving us the beginning, middle, and end all at once, now we were being told to wait.

For companies like Hulu and Apple TV+, releasing weekly episodes gives their paying customers a reason to resubscribe for another month. Each year I pay for about two or three months of CBS All Access to watch Star Trek and then cancel the subscription when the season ends, but if they released all episodes on the same day, I’d pay for just a month, watch everything in a week, and cancel the subscription. CBS makes a couple of extra bucks off me each year by using the weekly release schedule, and that’s fine. I actually prefer weekly episodes.

I find it easier to remember the show or previous seasons if I haven’t binged them over a weekend. (I also like not being held a prisoner of my own addiction, but that’s admittedly a me problem.) It helps to have something to look forward to at the end of the week, too — a decade ago, this might have been Friday Night Magic; during a pandemic it’s a pizza and a good TV show (or movie!). And I simply like getting to live in these worlds a little longer than if I’d streamed the whole series in a few days. This post wouldn’t exist if everyone had followed Netflix’s example.

Which brings me to WandaVision: the epitome of the weekly release. We’re only five episodes — just over the halfway point — into WandaVision, but I can’t stop thinking about last week’s episode and craving next week’s episode. It’s been like this for the last four weeks, and the show just keeps getting better. Of course, Disney+ has been releasing weekly episodes of their original series since day one: They started with The Mandalorian and the wonderful theme park documentary series, The Imagineering Story by Leslie Iwerks.

WandaVision has taken us through four decades of television sitcoms, from The Dick Van Dyke Show to Bewitched to Family Ties to Malcolm in the Middle, with commercial breaks and catchy theme song opening credits. Each episode is a new decade (with an episodic interlude from the present day as the all-star B-list humans try to solve the mystery of Westview) that includes laugh tracks and meta-references to the MCU itself. WandaVision shouldn’t work as a weekly episodic television show, except a solid decade of MCU films has earned it the trust and patence of the audience. We know we’re halfway through the season, and we also know the really unbelievable thing still hasn’t happened yet.

Although ninety percent of WandaVision is filmed like a sitcom, the show is carried by movie star talent Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany. Both reprise their roles from the MCU films (with Bettany staring in the MCU since the very beginning as Jarvis in Iron Man), moving seamlessly from cheesy punchline to creepy apprehension to subtly threatening. Wanda is dealing with anger and grief from the events of Infinity War and Endgame and even Age of Ultron, building off half a decade of character building to create a show unlike anything else in the MCU.

“When [Wanda] loses her mind, it’s my favorite thing in the comics,” says Elizabeth Olsen.

WandaVision works because everyone — the cast, the producers, the fans — is heavily invested. I am a huge MCU nerd (see: A Brief History of Spider-Man in Cinema) and I’ve read many of the comics involving Wanda and The Vision. Watching the series, I feel like WandaVision was made for the kind of nerd I am, who enjoys seeing how all the moving parts fit together between the massive Endgame cinematic experiences and the more intimate story of Wanda and The Vision. I know that series director Matt Shakman has a deep appreciation of classic television sitcoms and comic books. And Olsen said during a 2015 interview while promoting Age of Ultron that her favorite Scarlet Witch storyline from the comics was “House of M,” and when asked what she would like to see next for Wanda, she predicts WandaVision: “If she could have two fake babies and everyone tell her that they don’t really exist and then just go nuts — that would be unbelievable but I don’t think they’re going to do that, it might be a little too dark for the Marvel Universe. When she loses her mind, it’s my favorite thing in the comics.” Olsen not only knows her character’s comics history but was also spoiling WandaVision half a decade before it was filmed. And now Olsen is playing out her favorite character moments from the comics.

WandaVision is an unusual type of TV show, and it’s also an extremely good TV show. But the real triumph of WandaVision is we’re still talking about the show weeks after it premiered — and we’re going to continue to talk about it for the next several weeks as Disney+ continues to release new episodes. WandaVision didn’t invent or re-invent the idea of weekly TV episodes, but the show has embraced the concept wholeheartedly and I hope weekly becomes the norm in TV again. We get to share this journey together as Wanda “loses her mind” in just 40-minute increments each Friday, then spend the entire week writing, tweeting, TikToking, and sharing wild theories about the meaning of an X-ray or an X-Man. We get to live in this strange and uncanny world of sitcoms and superheroes for eight weeks — together. When was the last time we got to do anything together, Marvel fans? This is the best way to watch TV, and I hope we never go back to weekend binging.

Clubhouse really wants your address book (but don’t give it to them!) 2/11/2021

Will Oremus for OneZero:

Granting an app access to your contacts is ethically dicey, even if it’s an app you trust. If you’re like most people, the contacts in your phone include not just your real-life friends, but also old acquaintances, business associates, doctors, bosses, and people you once went on a bad date with. For journalists, they might also include confidential sources (although careful journalists will avoid this). When you upload those numbers, not only are you telling the app developer that you’re connected to those people, but you’re also telling it that those people are connected to you — which they might or might not have wanted the app to know. For example, say you have an ex or even a harasser you’ve tried to block from your life, but they still have your number in their phone; if they upload their contacts, Clubhouse will know you’re connected to them and make recommendations on that basis.

Some social networks even use this sort of info to start building secret dossiers on people who don’t use the app, sometimes called “shadow profiles.” (Facebook is a notable example, though almost certainly not the only one.) For instance, if User A uploads the number of a person named C who isn’t on the app, and User B also uploads the same number, now the app knows that C is connected to B and A, even though C has never used the app at all. While Clubhouse did not respond to my request for comment, it seems evident from the app that it is collecting at least some information about non-Clubhouse users, linked to their phone numbers.

There are at least two additional ways in which Clubhouse appears to take users’ contact data further than the norm.

Clubhouse can learn a lot about you based on who you know, and sharing your address book under the guise of connecting you with your friends is an easy way for Clubhouse to get that information. But reading through Oremus’s article, I was surprised to see the number of people with restaurants, barbers, and dead people in their contact lists. Oremus even admitted to having a restaurant in his contacts that closed two years ago. I am really bad at adding contacts to my phone, and usually just look up numbers for businesses in Maps. But I digress.

As for Clubhouse asking for my address book, the answer is a simple decline. I treat the information in my address book as confidential. I don’t believe it’s appropriate for me to give out other people’s contact information. I wouldn’t give the contents of my address book to a guy on the street, so why would I give it to Clubhouse (or Facebook, for that matter)? I would expect the same from my contacts, but again, reading this article about Clubhouse and looking at these tweets, I feel like I may be in the minority here.

Joel and Ellie have been cast 2/10/2021

Joel and Ellie from HBO’s The Last of Us have been cast!

Deadline is reporting that The Mandalorian himself, Pedro Pascal, will take the lead as Joel, and his Game of Thrones co-star Bella Ramsey will join him on his trek across the country as Ellie in HBO’s adaptation of Naughty Dog’s Playstation masterpiece The Last of Us. No premiere date has been set.

Google’s iOS apps are reporting they’re out of date because Google refuses to update the apps due to Apple’s privacy labels 2/10/2021

Spencer Dailey on Google’s apps self-reporting they are out of date:

Amid Apple pushing mandatory privacy labels, Google is stalling on releasing updates for its iOS apps. Yet Google itself is now telling users that their own apps are out of date.[…]

About an hour ago, I opened my Gmail app to find that some of my accounts had been logged out. When I tried logging back in, Google informed me that “This app is out of date.” Indeed! […]

After saying “This app is out of date”, its warning goes on to say “You should update this app.” We can’t. “The version you’re using doesn’t include the latest security features to keep you protected. Only continue if you understand the risks.” […]

John Gruber at Daring Fireball:

The question is why Google doesn’t just do what Facebook did, and cop to all of it, even if it’s a bad look to have a privacy nutrition label as long as an unspooled roll of toilet paper. Facebook’s nutrition labels being very long, but published on time, seemingly confirmed what we all suspected: that Facebook collects a breathtaking amount of data about the users of its apps. The way Google is handling this makes it look like (a) they have something to hide, (b) they were caught unprepared despite the fact Apple announced this policy back in June, or (c) both.

You know when you’re at the store and there’s some poor kid having a total meltdown? And he’s crying and crying, and it keeps on going, and he starts to choke on his own crying, and after a while you’re pretty sure that kid has entirely forgotten what he was crying about, but he’s still crying just to cry?

I’m sure this thing with Google is nothing like that. Anyways, the initial issue with the apps reporting they’re out of date has since been fixed by a sneaky server side update from Google, but the apps themselves have still not been updated on the App Store. The whole ordeal is still a little funny, but it’s starting to get a little pathetic, and in another month it’s just going to be cringeworthy.

Border agents can search, copy American citizens’ data on phones and laptops when returning to US 2/10/2021

Adi Robertson for The Verge:

A US appeals court has ruled that Customs and Border Protection agents can conduct in-depth searches of phones and laptops, overturning an earlier legal victory for civil liberties groups. First Circuit Judge Sandra Lynch declared that both basic and “advanced” searches, which include reviewing and copying data without a warrant, fall within “permissible constitutional grounds” at the American border. […]

Civil liberties advocates argue that modern phones and computers contain an unprecedented wealth of information, especially if agents can remotely retrieve emails or other material through the device. And Lynch suggested that Congress or the White House could establish clearer rules, which “may choose to grant greater protection than required by the Constitution.” However, today’s ruling reverses a decision that was previously considered a landmark victory.

Bullshit. What a disastrous ruling by the judge. According to the US Government, if an American citizen decides to vacation outside the US, their entire digital life is subject to warrantless search. Bookmarks, texts, health data, contact lists, private photos, the Discord servers you’re part of, your YouTube viewing history, a lifetime of email. Can you imagine if the government had argued in the 80’s that citizens returning from overseas had to allow their homes to be searched, documents copied, and personal belongings photographed? It would probably be less invasive now days for most people to actually have their homes searched. I would love to see some of these younger, tech-savvy people in Congress start reviewing these border laws and update them for the digital age.

‘I’m not a cat,’ says cat lawyer with Zoom technical issues 2/9/2021

Daniel Victor for The New York Times

Courts usually don’t let cats argue cases. But here was Rod Ponton, a county attorney in Presidio County, Texas, unable to figure out how to turn off the cat filter on his Zoom call during a hearing on Tuesday in Texas’ 394th Judicial District Court.

The result was a video immediately hailed across the internet as an instant classic, in the rarefied company of videos like Knife Kid and BBC Dad. It offered an injection of harmless levity when many people are experiencing a rough time — and Mr. Ponton took it in good spirits.

“If I can make the country chuckle for a moment in these difficult times they’re going through, I’m happy to let them do that at my expense,” he said in a phone interview on Tuesday afternoon.

If you haven’t seen the video yet, you should watch it. A co-worker texted me a link to it earlier today and I responded with, “I don’t believe that’s real,” and you know what? I’m really glad I was wrong this time.

Super Nintendo World makes fan art canon 2/9/2021

Kyle Orland for Ars Technica points out that a bit of artwork from a Super Mario fan-made game has appeared in Super Nintendo World in Japan:

Twitter user meatball123 was among the first to notice the uncanny similarity after seeing a cactus decoration in the background of a video for the park’s Yoshi’s Adventure ride. The specific three-pronged design of the cactus in that video doesn’t look like anything seen in an official Mario game, but it does match almost precisely the background cacti found in World 2 of Newer Super Mario Bros. Wii, a fan-made mod released in 2013. […]

Super Nintendo World’s apparent use of an original fangame asset takes on some added irony given Nintendo’s strict stance on fangames in general. In recent years, the company has issued numerous DMCA takedown notices for fangames—and even some of the tools used to build them. The cactus discovery also comes a month after a fan found his personal 3D rendering of Mario being used on the Super Nintendo World website.

That’s gotta be an embarrassment to Nintendo, and I’m betting that cactus is gone in a week. Nintendo has restricted players from live streaming their gameplays and is a master at the DMCA takedown for fan-made games. Nintendo famously took down the Mario Battle Royal game, then a year later released their own version of it on the Switch. I’m not a fan of how Nintendo treats it’s fans — I find it difficult to say positive things about a company that abuses their fanbase — but now they’re just stealing work of their fans? That’s just dishonorable.

Google has banned the account of Terraria lead developer, Stradia port is canceled 2/9/2021

Ron Amadeo for Ars Technica

Google is in hot water after banning the Google account of Andrew Spinks, the lead developer of the hit indie game Terraria. The YouTube account of Spinks’ game dev company, Re-Logic, was hit with some kind of terms-of-service violation, resulting in Google banning Spinks’ entire Google account, greatly disrupting his company’s ability to do business. After three fruitless weeks of trying to get the situation fixed, Spinks announced that his company will no longer do business with Google and that the upcoming Stadia version of Terraria is canceled. “I will not be involved with a corporation that values their customers and partners so little,” Spinks said. “Doing business with you is a liability.”

Amadeo points out in the article that a Google account ban is like an online death sentence:

A YouTube copyright claim, Google Pay transaction dispute, or TOS violation can lead to your entire online life being taken down. If you’re all in on the Google ecosystem, a Google account ban means you lose access to your entire email account; all the pictures you’ve ever taken; your cell phone service; your ability to communicate with friends and family; all your 2FA accounts; anything that uses Google OAuth; your app development business; your YouTube business and all your followers; your purchased apps, games, movies, music, and books; and all your contacts, documents, bookmarks, and notes.

The scariest part is, like with a death sentence, innocent people can be wrongly condemned, which appears to be the case with Andrew Spinks and his game, Terraria.

Of course, it’s very unlikely to ever happen, but it’s probably not a bad idea to have your passwords and 2FA through independent services. Just in case.

Hacker tried to poison a Florida water supply with sodium hydroxide 2/8/2021

Jason Koebler for Vice:

On Monday officials from Pinellas County in Florida announced that an unidentified hacker remotely gained access to a panel that controls the City of Oldsmar’s water treatment system, and changed a setting that would have drastically increased the amount of sodium hydroxide in the water supply.

During a press conference, Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said that a legitimate operator saw the change and quickly reversed it, but signaled that the hacking attempt was a serious threat to the city’s water supply. Sodium hydroxide is also known as lye and can be deadly if ingested in large amounts.

Sounds like LogMeIn, RDP, or another service was installed/enabled on the system, as the plant operator saw what the hacker was accessing and what changes they were making as they did it. I’m not sure systems like this should be connected to the internet, but if they must be connected these kinds of remote services shouldn’t be installed and left running. What if that plant operator had been in the restroom or on a break or glanced at another screen when these changes were being made by the intruder?

Also, shouldn’t the ability to poison the water supply require some sort of admin password?

Israel sets the bar high for COVID vaccinations 2/7/2021

Jen Kirby for Vox:

Israel has outpaced the world in vaccinating its population against Covid-19. Now the results are starting to come in. And, so far, the news is good for both Israel and the world.

Data suggests that the pandemic is starting to slow in Israel. Infections and the number of seriously ill people are declining, particularly among those over 60, one of the groups targeted in the early rollout of the vaccination campaign.

The vaccine, out in the wild, is also mirroring the results of clinical trials, which found the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine (the dose most Israelis have received so far) was about 95 percent effective in reducing infections.

But:

But scientists caution that there’s still a long way to go. Experts noted that serious cases are declining, but overall infections are not diminishing as swiftly. And many of these studies rely on preliminary data, and these findings may change over time, especially with these new coronavirus variants emerging.

Israel also entered a strict lockdown in early January, just as the vaccination campaign was ramping up, which may have also helped nudge cases downward.

This big test is waiting to see if other countries, as the vaccinations start to roll out in greater quantities, have the same declining rates as Israel is seeing. But — at least here in America — we’re again allowing indoor dining and lifting stay-at-home orders. However good the vaccinations are, our results are going to look a lot difference than a country living in a strict lockdown.

Back to the red planet 2/6/2021

Joey Roulette at The Verge has a good overview of the upcoming Mars missions from NASA, the UAE, and China:

The rare convoy of Mars-bound spacecraft launched off Earth in a slim, roughly two-month window last summer when Earth and Mars lined up just right in their orbits around the Sun. This planetary alignment only happens once every two years, and three countries took advantage of it in 2020, just as outer space reemerged as a playground for scientific discovery and displays of national power.

There’s a drone on NASA’s Perseverance rover that will attempt the first flight on another planet:

The most ambitious piece of hardware aboard Perseverance is a box-shaped helicopter called Ingenuity, whose test flight “could result in the Martian equivalent of a Wright Brothers moment,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA’s associate administrator for the science mission directorate. Deploying from the rover’s belly, Ingenuity will attempt to fly in Mars’ ultra-thin atmosphere. If it is successful, it may mark the first demonstration of vertical rotorcraft on another world.

This is going to be a fun month for Mars.

Cell phone data needs regulation 2/6/2021

A source has provided New York Times reporters Charlie Warzel and Stuart A. Thompson with “anonymous” smartphone data of thousands of people in the Washington DC area on January 6th:

The data we were given showed what some in the tech industry might call a God-view vantage of that dark day. It included about 100,000 location pings for thousands of smartphones, revealing around 130 devices inside the Capitol exactly when Trump supporters were storming the building. Times Opinion is only publishing the names of people who gave their permission to be quoted in this article.

About 40 percent of the phones tracked near the rally stage on the National Mall during the speeches were also found in and around the Capitol during the siege — a clear link between those who’d listened to the president and his allies and then marched on the building.

While there were no names or phone numbers in the data, we were once again able to connect dozens of devices to their owners, tying anonymous locations back to names, home addresses, social networks and phone numbers of people in attendance. In one instance, three members of a single family were tracked in the data.

Another important area where we need real regulation from the government to protect people.

The Internet of Things needs regulation 2/6/2021

Bruce Schneier in The Washington Post:

Any computer brings with it the risk of hacking. This is true of our computers and phones, and it’s also true about all of the Internet-of-Things devices that are increasingly part of our lives. These large and small appliances, cars, medical devices, toys and — yes — exercise machines are all computers at their core, and they’re all just as vulnerable. Presidents face special risks when it comes to the IoT, but Biden has the National Security Agency to help him handle them.

Not everyone is so lucky, and the rest of us need something more structural. […]

Internet security is national security — not because the president is personally vulnerable but because we are all part of a single network. Depending on who we are and what we do, we will make different trade-offs between security and fun. But we all deserve better options.

Regulations that force manufacturers to provide better security for all of us are the only way to do that. We need minimum security standards for computers of all kinds. We need transparency laws that give all of us, from the president on down, sufficient information to make our own security trade-offs. And we need liability laws that hold companies liable when they misrepresent the security of their products and services.

When you bring an IoT-device into your home and add it to your network, you are effectively giving it — and whoever has access to that device — control of your computers, phones, cameras, and mics. I can only really hope that the company that made my lightbulb gave a shit about security, but lawmakers have done nothing to regulate this.

Canada orders Clearview AI to delete its citizen’s images 2/5/2021

Kashmir Hill for The New York Times:

The facial recognition app Clearview AI is not welcome in Canada and the company that developed it should delete Canadians’ faces from its database, the country’s privacy commissioner said on Wednesday.

“What Clearview does is mass surveillance, and it is illegal,” Commissioner Daniel Therrien said at a news conference. He forcefully denounced the company as putting all of society “continually in a police lineup.” Though the Canadian government does not have legal authority to enforce photo removal, the position — the strongest one an individual country has taken against the company — was clear: “This is completely unacceptable.”

Clearview scraped more than three billion photos from social media networks and other public websites in order to build a facial recognition app that is now used by over 2,400 U.S. law enforcement agencies, according to the company. When an officer runs a search, the app provides links to sites on the web where the person’s face has appeared. The scope of the company’s reach and law enforcement application was first reported by The New York Times in January 2020.

This is absolutely the correct response to Clearview AI. It would be nice to see more governments denounce companies like Clearview AI. This kind of facial recognition is only going to become more difficult to remove as it becomes more ubiquitous, especially as law enforcement begins to use it more often. And facial recognition is still really bad at identifying Black people.

The terrorists who stormed the Capitol also didn’t vote in the 2020 election 2/3/2021

CNN:

They were there to “Stop the Steal” and to keep the President they revered in office, yet records show that some of the rioters who stormed the US Capitol did not vote in the very election they were protesting.

Many involved in the insurrection professed to be motivated by patriotism, falsely declaring that Trump was the rightful winner of the election. Yet at least eight of the people who are now facing criminal charges for their involvement in the events at the Capitol did not vote in the November 2020 presidential election, according to an analysis of voting records from the states where protestors were arrested and those states where public records show they have lived. They came from states around the country and ranged in age from 21 to 65.

Eventually, I’m going to stop asking, “Are people really this stupid?” But not today.

COVID outbreak after birthday party for cat 2/3/2021

Samantha Lock for Newsweek:

A birthday party thrown for a cat has sparked a COVID outbreak after the guests all contracted the deadly virus.

At least 15 people became infected after the celebration in the small coastal town of Santo Domingo, Chile. […]

The health official confirmed that the cat’s owner was found to be Patient Zero.

Eventually, I’m going to stop asking, “Are people really this stupid?” But not today.

Amazon’s new HQ looks like the poop emoji 2/3/2021

Jacob Kastrenakes for The Verge:

Amazon has unveiled the design for the next portion of its Arlington, Virginia headquarters, and one building stands out far from the rest: a swirling glass tower covered in trees that rises to a point above the rest of the city’s skyline. Amazon calls the building “the Helix” because its corkscrew shape is supposed to take inspiration from “the natural beauty of a double helix.”

It also — it must be said — bears a distinct resemblance to the swirling poop emoji, though with some healthier colors mixed in.

Look at that rendering. And you’re telling me that no one at Amazon saw this and thought, “Poop emoji.” Seriously?

Fun fact: “Poop Emoji” was never considered as the name of this website.

Jeff Bezos exiting Amazon CEO role 2/2/2021

Jeff Bezos, in a letter to Amazon employees:

I’m excited to announce that this Q3 I’ll transition to Executive Chair of the Amazon Board and Andy Jassy will become CEO. In the Exec Chair role, I intend to focus my energies and attention on new products and early initiatives.

This isn’t surprising. This keeps him out of the line of Congressional testimony, which I can’t believe he enjoys (and isn’t very good at), and gives him more time to do everything else he wants to do. Jassy is currently the chief executive of Amazon’s cloud computing division, and it makes sense to promote Jassy — Amazon is arguably a cloud computing company first, and a logistics/shipping company second (and an online shopping company third).

But this also gives Bezos more time to invest in his many other interests:

Being the CEO of Amazon is a deep responsibility, and it’s consuming. When you have a responsibility like that, it’s hard to put attention on anything else. As Exec Chair I will stay engaged in important Amazon initiatives but also have the time and energy I need to focus on the Day 1 Fund, the Bezos Earth Fund, Blue Origin, The Washington Post, and my other passions.

Black Panther series in development for Disney+ 2/1/2021

Joe Otterson for Variet:

A series set in Wakanda is in development at Disney Plus.

The series is part of a new multi-year overall television deal Ryan Coogler and his Proximity Media have signed with The Walt Disney Company and will include other television projects in the future. Coogler previously directed and co-wrote the hit Marvel film “Black Panther,” which takes place in the fictional African nation of Wakanda. Coogler is currently at work on the film’s sequel.

Okay, technically, this is a series set in Wakanda, but it will be heavily connected to the Black Panther character.

In addition to a Wakanda series, Disney+ also has WandaVision (now streaming), with Falcon and Winter Soldier and Loki coming soon, and in various stages of production are Hawkeye, Moon Knight, She-Hulk, Ms. Marvel, Ironheart, and a Nick Fury series staring Samuel L. Jackson.

No word yet on any potential return of Daredevil and co. from Netflix.

BlastDoor protects your iPhone and Mac from malicious texts 1/29/2021

Catalin Cimpanu for ZDNet’s Zero Day:

With the release of iOS 14 last fall, Apple has added a new security system to iPhones and iPads to protect users against attacks carried out via the iMessage instant messaging client.

Named BlastDoor, this new iOS security feature was discovered by Samuel Groß, a security researcher with Project Zero, a Google security team tasked with finding vulnerabilities in commonly-used software.

Groß said the new BlastDoor service is a basic sandbox, a type of security service that executes code separately from the rest of the operating system.

John Gruber at Daring Fireball has a few more details:

This is a big deal, and from what I understand, a major multi-year undertaking by the iMessage team. Cimpanu’s report makes it sounds like it’s an iOS 14 feature, but it’s on MacOS 11, too — it’s an iMessage feature. The basic idea is that parsing untrusted input is always a potential source for bugs. Rather than whack-a-moling these bugs one-by-one as they’re discovered, BlastDoor puts the entire process of parsing input (the text of messages, any file attachments, or even just generating URL previews) into a very sturdy vault. Anything inside the vault has almost no file system access and no network access. Open the attachments inside the vault, and only then pass them on for display.

Robinhood needed money 1/29/2021

Kate Kelly, Erin Griffith, Andrew Ross Sorkin and Nathaniel Popper for The New York Times:

On Thursday, Robinhood was forced to stop customers from buying a number of stocks like GameStop that were heavily traded this week. To continue operating, it drew on a line of credit from six banks amounting to between $500 million and $600 million to meet higher margin, or lending, requirements from its central clearing facility for stock trades, known as the Depository Trust & Clearing Corporation.

Robinhood still needed more cash quickly to ensure that it didn’t have to place further limits on customer trading, said two people briefed on the situation who insisted on remaining anonymous because the negotiations were confidential.

Robinhood CEO Vlad Tenev told CNBC yesterday that “there was no liquidity problem” when asked why trading on these stocks was halted. It sounds like there absolutely was a liquidity problem, in that Robinhood lacked liquidity.

Whatever the issue was, by not addressing it honestly and factually at the start, Robinhood allowed rumors and misinformation to swell out of control on Twitter and reddit that has caused massive damage to their reputation.

Apple’s A Day in the Life of Your Data 1/28/2021

Apple today released a document titled, A Day in the Life of Your Data (PDF), which tells the story of a father and daughter’s day at the park and the massive amount of personal data apps and websites siphon from our everyday devices:

Over the past decade, a large and opaque industry has been amassing increasing amounts of personal data.

A complex ecosystem of websites, apps, social media companies, data brokers, and ad tech firms track users online and offline, harvesting their personal data. This data is pieced together, shared, aggregated, and monetized, fueling a $227 billion-a-yearindustry. This occurs everyday, as people go about their daily lives, often without their knowledge or permission. Let’s take a look at what this industry is able to learn about a father and daughter during a pleasant day spent at the park.

As part of the “story,” the daughter, Emma, plays a game on the tablet:

Later at the playground, John and Emma take a selfie. They play with a photo filter app, settling on adding bunny ears to the photo. The filtering app, however, is able to access all the photos on the device and the attached metadata, rather than only the playground selfie.32,33 John posts the picture on a social media
app. The app links John’s current online activity to a trove of data collected by other apps, such as his demographic information and purchasing habits, using an email address, a phone number or an advertising identifier.

Although the tablet in the graphic clearly resembles an iPad, I think in the first example this is a generic, likely Android, tablet. Later, the document explains how John and Emma’s data and privacy would be protected had they used an Apple device:

On an iPhone, John would have had the choice to give the filter app access to only the selfie, instead of the entire photo library.

To someone skeptical of Apple, it could read like hyperbole, but this is closer to fact than fiction. The amount of data that is pulled out of our devices for the sole purpose of showing us advertising is astonishing. Apple, of course, cites their sources, and near the end they present a brief FAQ with a couple of sweet morsels:

Will I still be able to use the app’s full capabilities if I select “Ask App not to Track”?

Yes. App developers cannot require you to permit tracking in order to use the app’s full capabilities.

Can Apple guarantee that an app isn’t tracking me if I select “Ask App not to Track”?

If you select “Ask App not to Track,” the developer will not be able to access the system advertising identifier (IDFA), which is often used to track. The app developer is also required
to respect your choice beyond the advertising identifier. This is required by the policies the de- veloper agrees to when submitting their app for distribution on the App Store — if we learn that a developer is tracking users who ask not to be tracked, we will require that they update their practices to respect your choice, or their app may be rejected from the App Store.

Google and Facebook are acting like Apple is bringing about the end of the internet with these changes, but I see this as Apple protecting the internet more than anything else. If user’s can’t trust the apps and games they’re using, they’re not going to use them. Or, conversely, users will become apathetic to the protections of their data and privacy to the point that, like Tom Cook said today at the CPDP Conference, “we lose the freedom to be human.”

Dear Mark, Love Apple 1/28/2021

Apple CEO Tim Cook gave a speech (Sound warning: YouTube link) at the Computers, Privacy & Data Protection 2021 conference on how Apple views data privacy and the steps they take to protect it:

Technology does not need vast troves of personal data, stitched together across dozens of websites and apps, in order to succeed. Advertising existed and thrived for decades without it. And we’re here today because the path of least resistance is rarely the path of wisdom.

If a business is built on misleading users, on data exploitation, on choices that are no choices at all, then it does not deserve our praise. It deserves reform.

We should not look away from the bigger picture.

At a moment of rampant disinformation and conspiracy theories juiced by algorithms, we can no longer turn a blind eye to a theory of technology that says all engagement is good engagement — the longer the better — and all with the goal of collecting as much data as possible.

Too many are still asking the question, “how much can we get away with?,” when they need to be asking, “what are the consequences?”

Cook might as well have addressed this speech, “Dear Mark,” because if he’s talking to anyone else, I can’t imagine who it is.

This transcript is provided by Jason Snell at Six Colors. The audio in the video is really bad, but I think it’s worth listening to Cook’s words while reading along with Snell’s transcript. [Update: Apple has posted the original, clean video on their (ironically) YouTube page. I’ve updated the link at the top of this post.] Cook is an incredibly measured speaker, but there are some points where you can hear the frustration and the concern in his voice.

First rulings from the Oversight Board 1/28/2021

Facebook’s Oversight Board has released their first five rulings — overturning four of Facebook’s decisions — and Timothy B. Lee at Ars Technica has a great summary of the cases, the rulings, and what the future impact of these rulings can mean for Facebook.

Google ends IDFA tracking for iPhone apps 1/28/2021

Google’s Christophe Combette yesterday:

Apple’s upcoming App Tracking Transparency (ATT) policy will require developers to ask for permission when they use certain information from other companies’ apps and websites for advertising purposes, even if they already have user consent. Today we’re sharing how Google is helping our community prepare, as we know that developers and advertisers in the iOS ecosystem are still figuring out how to adapt.

MacRumor’s Juli Clover noticed last week that Google has yet to update any of their iOS apps since Apple began requiring developers to self report their privacy labels. If Google is working to completely revamp how they spy on users for advertising purposes, this might be why.

AOC to Ted Cruz: “You almost had me murdered” 1/28/2021

Today’s Robinhood fiasco prompted the following tweet from Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY):

This is unacceptable.

We now need to know more about @RobinhoodApp’s decision to block retail investors from purchasing stock while hedge funds are freely able to trade the stock as they see fit.

As a member of the Financial Services Cmte, I’d support a hearing if necessary.

Senator Ted Cruz from Texas, who has been promoting dangerous conspiracy theories regarding the election and voted to overturn the election results on January 6th, responded to AOC’s tweet with “Fully agree.”

AOC responded to Cruz with:

I am happy to work with Republicans on this issue where there’s common ground, but you almost had me murdered 3 weeks ago so you can sit this one out.

Happy to work w/ almost any other GOP that aren’t trying to get me killed.

In the meantime if you want to help, you can resign.

She continued:

While you conveniently talk about “moving on,” a second Capitol police officer lost their life yesterday in the still-raging aftermath of the attacks you had a role in.

This isn’t a joke. We need accountability, and that includes a new Senator from Texas.

She provided a link to this article from Politico on the death of a second police officer.

She tweeted again:

You haven’t even apologized for the serious physical + mental harm you contributed to from Capitol Police & custodial workers to your own fellow members of Congress.

In the meantime, you can get off my timeline & stop clout-chasing. Thanks.

Happy to work with other GOP on this.

Ted Cruz hasn’t responded to her tweets.

Robinhood blocks GameStop stock buying 1/28/2021

Jordan Pearson for Vice:

Robinhood, the fee-free investment app that has helped Redditors and other retail investors pump dark horse stocks like GameStop, AMC, BlackBerry, and Nokia, has stopped allowing users to buy those stocks and other YOLO picks.

Then Robinhood was hit with a class-action lawsuit for blocking the trading of the stocks, and then Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) posted on Twitter that Robinhood’s actions are “unacceptable” and should be investigated.

Webull and Public, two other popular stock trading apps, also stopped the trading of these stocks for a few hours but have since resumed, placing the blame on their clearing house Apex and the rising costs of trading these highly volatile stocks.

And it’s not even noon yet!

RDJ launches VC funds to save the planet 1/27/2021

Todd Spangler for Variety:

Robert Downey Jr. has embarked on the next phase of his efforts to help save the planet.

The producer, actor and investor announced the launch of FootPrint Coalition Ventures, a series of VC funds open to the public with the mission of investing in companies developing solutions to address environmental problems. Downey Jr. made the announcement at the World Economic Forum’s digital Davos Agenda event Wednesday. […]

“I want to suit up and show up for this opportunity… I believe in creative problem-solving,” Downey Jr. told Variety in an interview, calling the environmental threats facing the planet “a global existential crisis.” Such daunting problems, he said, will require a broad set of new companies working on solutions rather than “a smattering of elite mega-corporations.”

After you get rich from GSE, consider saving the planet with RDJ.

Send This to Anyone Who Wants to Know WTF Is Up With GameStop Stock 1/27/2021

Jason Koebler for Vice:

What is going on is that GameStop, a company that sells physical copies of video games next to Auntie Anne’s pretzel shops in dying malls, is the most highly traded asset in the United States, a “meme stock,” and currently the primary front in a micro class war. GameStop’s stock price jumped from $4 last summer to $20 at the end of 2020, to $40 two weeks ago. It was worth $100-ish at times on Monday and Tuesday, and as I write this it is worth close to $300. Essentially, many normal-ish people have made a huge bet against gigantic financial institutions and are currently winning. In practice this means we are seeing one of the largest wealth transfers from the financial ruling class to the middle and middle-upper classes in recent memory, so it is, understandably, the only thing anyone is talking about.

Apple posts another record quarter 1/27/2021

Jason Snell at Six Colors:

On Wednesday, Apple announced its financial results for its first fiscal quarter of 2021, covering the holiday quarter of calendar-year 2020. This is traditionally Apple’s largest quarter every year, and despite a global pandemic, this one was no different: The company reported an all-time-record quarter, with $111.4 billion in revenue and $28.8 billion in profit.

Year over year, iPhone revenue was up 17% and set a new record, iPad revenue was up 41% to its best showing in six years, Mac revenue was up 21%, Services revenue was up 24% to a new record, and Wearables revenue was up 30 to a new record%.

Looks like a lot of money for a doomed company.