Start up: adblocking animus, Amazon’s aims, Ubuntu phone reviewed, the iPod Watch, and more


“They say this replacement can’t be hacked remotely!” Photo by Hugo90 on Flickr.

A selection of 10 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

New iPhone apps will include ad blockers for the mobile web » MIT Technology Review

Tom Simonite:

Some [iOS developers] are now testing ad blocking apps they intend to release when iOS9 becomes available. Their results suggest these apps could be popular. For example, when Dean Murphy, an app developer based in the U.K., hacked together an ad blocker in about an hour earlier this month, he found it slashed the time taken to load the popular Apple blog iMore from 11 seconds to just two seconds.

He is now working to release a fully polished ad blocker called Crystal, and expects there will be many others when iOS9 launches. “Apple has laid a solid foundation for quality ad blocking applications,” he says.

One of Murphy’s competitors will be an app called Purify, created by Chris Aljoudi, who leads development of the desktop ad blocker uBlock, which he says has over one million active users. A video of Purify in action shows how it makes a news site load faster and strips pre-roll video ads from YouTube. Aljoudi says his tests have showed that Purify cuts Web browsing data usage by about a quarter—which could cut some people’s data bills and extend battery life. Both Aljoudi and Murphy intend to make their apps cheap, but not free.

I think they’re going to make good money. Advertisers (and sites) have a problem coming their way. Here’s Purify at work:

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The Verge’s web sucks » blog.lmorchard.com

Les Orchard tried examining The Verge’s desktop site, and found it linked him to 47 third-party trackers:

I feel like someone just set up the entire vendor hall from an awful tech conference in my living room. Seriously, could you folks just not pick one or two or ten? Did you hit every booth and say “Yeah, cool, sign us up!” I feel thoroughly spindled & folded & researched, here.

As a webdev at Mozilla, I’ve been in hour-long meetings where we’ve agonized over whether it’s copacetic to include just one little Google Analytics snippet without notifying users and updating the privacy policy. But, I know we’re crazy in our own very special ways.

In former lives, I’ve worked at ad agencies and digital marketing companies. I’m no stranger to conversations that revolve around partners & bizdev & analytics & media buys. I can only imagine things have intensified & evolved since I’ve been out of those trenches.

Still – and maybe this is the Mozilla brain-damage talking – I can’t imagine a sane conversation that resulted in The Verge extending an invitation to over 20 companies to set up shop on my computer with every page visit.

The reckoning is moving just that bit closer each day. Once a significant number of people start getting faster, better experiences from using adblockers (or tracker-blockers), they won’t care that the ads aren’t targeted. Newspaper and magazine ads didn’t use to follow you around the room, and they were quite a good business.
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I got my music back. At least most of it » Loop Insight

Jim Dalrymple, after the debacle of last week:

So now I have the iTunes Match service that I pay for separately, and Apple Music, both of which use iCloud Music Library. There is really no way to get away from them if you want to use the latest and greatest from Apple.

I’ll admit, I’m still trying to get my head around how this works.

Some of the songs I own were incorrectly tagged as Apple Music, but that’s been fixed too, which means they show up correctly in iTunes. That is great news.

However, I’m still missing a couple of hundred songs. Apple’s theory is that I deleted them—that when I was trying to fix Apple Music, I mistakenly deleted my own files. While I concede that it is within the realm of possibility that I deleted my own files, it doesn’t make sense to me.

Apple is clearly struggling with Apple Music – a colossal effort launched in a huge number of territories – which is why my advice would be not to get worked up about precisely what seems to be working or not at present. And especially not to delete anything that you think you might own.
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Ubuntu Phone review: years in the making, but still not consumer-ready » Engadget

Jamie Rigg:

I get the idea of Scopes [which are like Live Tiles in Windows], kind of. They are supposed to give the user a personal experience, remove their reliance on walled apps and bring content to the forefront. I just don’t think Scopes deliver, or maybe I’m just so used to the app-first experience that I’m having trouble adapting to the Scope way of doing things. And if that’s the case, then most people will be in the same boat. My main problem with Scopes is that I feel I’m being bombarded with content. If I want to check out upcoming concerts on an iOS/Android device, I’d load up the Songkick app. But when that’s not what I’m looking for, I don’t really want to see Songkick listings permanently displayed on my phone, like I’m being advertised to. You could argue the solution is to remove the Songkick feed from the Scopes it populates. But, if I was constantly adding and removing sources from Scopes when they are or aren’t relevant, I don’t see how that’s preferable to having dedicated apps that offer a better experience.

It seems like there’s just no way to create a new user interface at present, certainly on a mobile screen. The gigantic gravitational field of the app-driven iOS/Android system precludes it.

Also, this sounds like crap.
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Toshiba’s woes show how PC sales slump is squeezing big tech firms » The Guardian

I wrote about the Others:

It is whispered among some analysts that only the preinstallation of third-party antivirus programs – which try to get users to sign up to subscriptions – keeps some PC makers afloat at all, owing to the fees they receive from antivirus software firms.

It was the PC business that triggered the current turmoil at the Japanese giant [Toshiba], after an internal auditor asked in late January to look at the accounts for the company’s laptop business. That eventually concluded with an examination by an external panel, whose 294-page report noted “inappropriate accounting” in various business segments, including those “relating to component transactions” in the PC business.

In a statement on 21 July it said that 111bn yen (£580m) of assets in the PC business in the past six financial years were “under consideration” for re-evaluation. That could affect its financial results, which will be finalised by 31 August. But even in its most recent quarterly report, before any restatement, Toshiba said that its PC business recorded restructuring costs of 46bn yen in the previous three quarters, and that otherwise it “would have recorded positive operating income over three consecutive quarters”.

46bn yen is $370m. Is Toshiba really saying it made an average operating profit of $123m per quarter in the PC business? That’s as much as Asus, which is one of the biggest makers. Seems unlikely.
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Twitter is deleting stolen jokes on copyright grounds » The Verge

Dante D’Orazio:

some people just copy good tweets from other people and act like they came up with the 140-character witticism on their own. This has been going on since the beginning of Twitter.

It now appears Twitter is using its legal authority to crack down on these tweet-stealers. A number of tweets have been deleted on copyright grounds for apparently stealing a bad joke.

As first spotted by @PlagiarismBad, at least five separate tweets have been deleted by Twitter for copying this joke:

saw someone spill their high end juice cleanse all over the sidewalk and now I know god is on my side
— uh (@runolgarun) July 9, 2015
Olga Lexell, who, according to her Twitter bio, is a freelance writer in LA, appears to be the first person to publish the joke on Twitter. In a tweet posted this afternoon, she confirmed that she did file a request to have the tweets removed.

I simply explained to Twitter that as a freelance writer I make my living writing jokes (and I use some of my tweets to test out jokes in my other writing). I then explained that as such, the jokes are my intellectual property, and that the users in question did not have my permission to repost them without giving me credit.

She added that most of the accounts that were reusing her tweets without accreditation were “spam accounts that repost tons of other people’s jokes every day.” This also isn’t the first time Twitter has complied with a request like this: Lexell tells The Verge that she’s filed similar requests for other jokes. Twitter staffers typically remove the offending tweets “within a few days” without asking Lexell any follow-up questions.

Couldn’t she, you know, just not tweet them but try them on other people? Or try them from a protected account? This is quite weird.
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Pakistan to shut down BlackBerry services by December for “security reasons” » Reuters

Syed Raza Hassan:

Pakistan, a nuclear-armed nation of 180 million people, is plagued by militancy, criminal gangs and drug traffickers.

“PTA has issued directions to local mobile phone operators to close BlackBerry Enterprise Services from Nov. 30 on security reasons,” an official with the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority said in a text message.

He asked not to be named due to the sensitivity of discussing communications and intelligence.

BlackBerry was not immediately available to comment.

A report released this week by British-based watchdog Privacy International said Pakistan’s powerful military intelligence agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), was seeking to dramatically expand its ability to intercept communications.

BlackBerry encrypts data such as emails and its BlackBerry Messenger messages sent between a user’s phone and public networks, ensuring greater privacy for users but making life harder for police and intelligence agencies.

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Fiat Chrysler recalls 1.4 million vehicles to defend against hacks » Bloomberg Business

Mark Clothier:

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV is recalling about 1.4 million cars and trucks equipped with radios that are vulnerable to hacking.

The company was already distributing software to insulate connected vehicles from illegal remote manipulation after Wired magazine published a story about software programmers who were able to take over a Jeep Cherokee being driven on a Missouri highway. Fiat Chrysler reiterated that it’s not aware of any real-world unauthorized remote hack into any of its vehicles.

It stressed that no defect was found and that it’s conducting the campaign out of “an abundance of caution.”

Fiat Chrysler said it has blocked unauthorized remote access to certain vehicles systems via an over-the-air update on Thursday.

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Amazon and the “profitless business model” fallacy » Remains of the Day

Eugene Wei (who used to work at Amazon):

There are very few people in technology and business who are what I’d call apex predators. Jeff [Bezos] is one of them, the most patient and intelligent one I’ve met in my life. An apex predator doesn’t wake up one day and decide it is done hunting. Right now I envision only one throttle to Jeff’s ambitions and it is human mortality, but I would not be surprised if one day he announced he’d started another side project with Peter Thiel to work on a method of achieving immortality.

One popular thesis among Amazon profitability skeptics is that Amazon can’t “flip a switch” and become profitable. The most common guess as to how Amazon flips the switch is that it will wait until it is the last retailer standing and then raise prices across the board, so Amazon skeptics argue against that narrative possibility.

But “flipping a switch” is the wrong analogy because Amazon’s core business model does generate a profit with most every transaction at its current price level.

In that light, it’s wrong to look at the AWS “profits” as a proportion of revenue and say “wow”. The profit number is meaningless. Amazon can make any part of the business look as profitable or unprofitable as it likes.
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The future of Apple Watch will be more like the iPod’s than the iPhone’s » Beyond Devices

Aaron Miller (in a guest post on Jan Dawson’s site):

First, and most importantly, the Apple Watch is an ecosystem product. Right now, the Watch only works as an extension of the iPhone. Its upper boundary is the total number of iPhones in the world.

This makes the Watch much more like the iPod than the iPhone. From the time the iPod first launched, it was a product tied to a computer, first to Macs then eventually to Windows computers as well. (Remember the Digital Hub strategy?) Just as the iPod existed to enhance the Personal Computer + iTunes ecosystem, the Watch exists to enhance the iPhone ecosystem. The iPhone, even if tied to iTunes early on, was never merely an ecosystem enhancement—nor designed to be one, like the iPod or Apple Watch have been.

Naturally, we expect the Watch’s reliance on iPhones to change over time. LTE and GPS seem like inevitable Apple Watch additions, for example, as does a Watch-native App Store. With true third-party apps coming soon, reliance on the iPhone will diminish even more. But there’s one limitation that may always tie Apple Watches to iPhones: the screen…

…the Apple Watch category is not just smartwatches. The correct category is wearables, and wearables right now, at the birth of the Apple Watch, are very similar to the early MP3-player market. Some are huge and multi-functional. Some are svelte and limited. Some are banking on unique features trying to find a niche.

Wonder what other wearables Apple might have in mind. What’s the iPod shuffle version of a Watch?
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