“I’m sorry, Dave, I can’t do that.” What are the ethics of video doorbells? CC-licensed photo by Dave Taylor on Flickr.
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A selection of 11 links for you. Double helpings for email! I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.
the Facebook age marks a break from traditional human behaviour in key aspect. In the past, we could regularly take a break from acting, and revert to some sense of our private, authentic selves. Now, as we constantly prod at our smartphones and feel the pull of their addictive apps, when does the performing ever stop?
Along with Russian interference in elections, fake news, Facebook’s approach to hate speech and its insatiable appetite for personal data, this is surely one of the most malign ways in which its presence in our lives is playing out.
What its innovations have done to the divide between our social and private lives highlights a mess of stuff to do with the true meanings of intimacy and privacy, and something that goes even closer to the heart of what it is to be human: who we really are beyond the attention and judgments of others, and whether we even know any more.
This demise of the barrier between our public and private selves is particularly relevant to people going through that stage of life when the very idea of “self” is still in flux: the often difficult period from the stirrings of adolescence to the mid-20s (and, if you’re unlucky, even older). At that point, sensitivity to your peer group is at its height and an obsession with what some people call “social comparison” tends to run deep. We all know the basics: you desperately want to meet all the requirements of whichever code of cool is holding sway, and avoid mockery at all costs. Looks are at their peak of importance. So are clothes.
“It gives you the freedom to be violent to other people”: what has the alt account become? • New Statesman
On 28 December 2018, a tweet concerning presenter, food critic, and insanely inappropriate joke-maker Giles Coren went viral. It posited that the Times columnist had been using an alternative, anonymous Twitter account to respond to criticism of him. The subsequent thread noted that this alt-account was named after a character in one of Coren’s books, only ever tweeted about Coren or his wife, was followed by some of Coren’s famous friends such as Richard Bacon, and was linked to an email address that looked suspiciously like Coren’s Times’ account (g********n@t******s.co.uk). The account claimed to be a Polish plumber, and had a bio written in broken English; but the avatar was a picture from the cover of Coren’s book.
After receiving thousands of likes and retweets, Coren came clean to owning the account, and changed its arguably racist bio. At time of writing, he has ceased tweeting from it.
Coren was unusual in getting caught, but having an alternative account is now far from unusual. Once a behaviour reserved for “weirdos” on Reddit and Tumblr, it’s become a staple for internet users on essentially every platform. On Twitter it’s your “anon”; on Instagram it’s your “finsta” (fake-Insta); on multiple platforms it’s you and your friends’ “flop”, or simply your “alt”. Even allusions to an alternative account now serve as a meme. HOTM –“horny on the main” – Is a long-standing Tumblr joke, mocking those who post porn, half-naked selfies, and sexts on their main account, rather than restricting such behaviour to their alt.
Today, the alt account is often seen as an online necessity, something many people deem key to staying sane on the internet. But while the alt-account may now be normal, the reasons for having one are diverse. For some, they are positive and relieving; for others, they’re a tool for dangerous harm. In 2019, what has the alt-account become?
It’s become a tool for dangerous harm, and it often stresses the owner of the alt because they know they have to keep the link secret. Next, please.
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Apple has now shut down Google’s ability to distribute its internal iOS apps, following a similar shutdown that was issued to Facebook earlier this week. A person familiar with the situation tells The Verge that early versions of Google Maps, Hangouts, Gmail, and other pre-release beta apps have stopped working today, alongside employee-only apps like a Gbus app for transportation and Google’s internal cafe app.
“We’re working with Apple to fix a temporary disruption to some of our corporate iOS apps, which we expect will be resolved soon,” says a Google spokesperson in a statement to The Verge. Apple has not yet commented on the situation.
Apple’s move to block Google’s developer certificate comes just a day after Google disabled its Screenwise Meter app following press coverage. Google’s private app was designed to monitor how people use their iPhones, similar to Facebook’s research app. Google’s app also relied on Apple’s enterprise program, which enables the distribution of internal apps within a company.
In an earlier statement over Facebook’s certificate removal, Apple did warn that “any developer using their enterprise certificates to distribute apps to consumers will have their certificates revoked.”
Hell of a scoop. Ben Thompson raised the question in his daily newsletter of why Google’s certificate hadn’t been revoked when Facebook’s had; here’s the answer.
Sure, this might get Facebook and Google working to shift their apps into being Progressive Web Apps. I won’t hold my breath. (Facebook had its certificate restored on Thursday afternoon, Pacific time.)
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[In revoking Facebook’s enterprise developer certificate,] Apple didn’t take a position on Facebook’s creation of a paid “research” program to extract data from users. It enforced the terms of a licensing agreement; appearing to fight for user privacy is just a side effect. Apple is flexing its contract-law muscle, not its privacy muscle, and gaining a publicity win in the process. Crucially, Apple didn’t ban Facebook from the App Store or the iPhone platform: You can still download and use Messenger.
Facebook, for its part, maintains that the data-collection activity its Research app undertook was above board and not at all duplicitous. Unlike previous controversies about how Facebook shared user data with developers like Cambridge Analytica or foreign governments, little about the research program was hidden…
…Safari, the web browser that comes with every iPhone, is set up by default to route web searches through Google. For this privilege, Google reportedly paid Apple $9bn in 2018, and as much as $12bn this year. All those searches help funnel out enormous volumes of data on Apple’s users, from which Google extracts huge profits. Apple might not be directly responsible for the questionable use of that data by Google, but it facilitates the activity by making Google its default search engine, enriching itself substantially in the process.
The same could be said for the apps Apple distributes. Companies like Google and Facebook get access to iPhone users by offering their apps—Messenger, Gmail, Google Maps, and so on—for download from the Apple App Store. Most cost consumers nothing, because they exist to trade software services, like email or mapping, for data. That business model helped stimulate the data-privacy dystopia we now occupy.
Occasionally I include an article that I disagree with, and I disagree with this one. Bogost is holding Apple to an impossible standard here. It couldn’t know what Facebook was doing with the Enterprise Certificate or the app – to monitor that really *would* be an invasion of privacy, both Facebook’s and the users’. That was a contractual violation, and Facebook was punished for it. Setting Google as the Safari default is a commercial decision, but you don’t have to use it; and Google obeys privacy rules, as far as we can tell. The “privacy dystopia” is our own fault, but you can actually avoid it by not using Facebook or Google (as much as you can).
For Apple to ban Facebook and Google would open up the huge question: what form of “privacy” is sufficient? If people consent to something, what locus does Apple have to deny that? It’s providing a platform. You can give people electricity; some will use it for light, and others will electrocute themselves.
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Sophisticated hackers have long exploited flaws in SS7, a protocol used by telecom companies to coordinate how they route texts and calls around the world. Those who exploit SS7 can potentially track phones across the other side of the planet, and intercept text messages and phone calls without hacking the phone itself.
This activity was typically only within reach of intelligence agencies or surveillance contractors, but now Motherboard has confirmed that this capability is much more widely available in the hands of financially-driven cybercriminal groups, who are using it to empty bank accounts. So-called SS7 attacks against banks are, although still relatively rare, much more prevalent than previously reported. Motherboard has identified a specific bank—the UK’s Metro Bank—that fell victim to such an attack.
The news highlights the gaping holes in the world’s telecommunications infrastructure that the telco industry has known about for years despite ongoing attacks from criminals. The National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC), the defensive arm of the UK’s signals intelligence agency GCHQ, confirmed that SS7 is being used to intercept codes used for banking.
“We are aware of a known telecommunications vulnerability being exploited to target bank accounts by intercepting SMS text messages used as 2-Factor Authentication (2FA),” the NCSC told Motherboard in a statement.
The bank will deny it and blame the customer. You don’t even have to know which bank it is to know that is how this will pan out.
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As the 15th century drew to a close, some 60 million people lived across the Americas, sustaining themselves with the bounty of the vast lands they inhabited.
But with the arrival of the first European settlers, waves of new diseases, along with warfare, slavery and other brutality would kill off around 56 million people, or around 90% of the indigenous population.
Now, scientists from the University College London (United Kingdom) argue in a new study that this “Great Dying” that followed European colonization of the Americas may have actually affected Earth’s climate.
Their version of events, published in Quaternary Science Reviews, goes like this: After so many indigenous people died, no one was left to tend many of their fields, and trees and other vegetation quickly reclaimed huge expanses of land previously used for agriculture. As a result, enough carbon dioxide (CO₂) was removed from the atmosphere to actually cool down the planet, contributing to the coldest part of the mysterious period that historians have called the Little Ice Age.
So that’s twice that Americans will have been major contributors to climate change – once to cool, once to warm. A bit Thanos, though.
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We’re on a slippery slope. You’ve got a legal right to film in public places, including your entryway. There’s little agreement whether private cameras slash crime rates, yet police are setting up voluntary registries for private cameras in dozens of communities. Cities such as Washington have begun paying up to $500 for cameras on private property. Detroit is going further: its mayor wants to mandate security cameras at businesses open late, with a live feed going straight to police.
Meanwhile, Ring’s owner Amazon filed an eerily specific patent to put its controversial Rekognition facial-identification software into doorbells. The purpose: to automatically flag “suspicious” people. (Amazon CEO Jeffrey P. Bezos owns The Washington Post, but I review all tech with the same critical eye.)
We should recognize this pattern: tech that seems like an obvious good can develop darker dimensions as capabilities improve and data shifts into new hands. A terms-of-service update, a face-recognition upgrade or a hack could turn your doorbell into a privacy invasion you didn’t see coming…
In the future, what if your doorbell misidentified someone as a crime suspect? What if it logs a “dreamer” — an undocumented immigrant brought to the United States as a child — visiting, or living in, your house? Your family and friends are the ones whom this tech surveils the most.
That latter point is the most cogent. Bonus points to Fowler for the phrase “Big Doorbell” in the piece.
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Foxconn will postpone most of the production planned in a 61bn yuan ($9bn) display panel project in the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou for at least six months, according to internal documents obtained by the Nikkei Asian Review. In the US, a $10 billion investment in display production in the state of Wisconsin has been suspended and scaled back as a result of negotiations with new Gov. Tony Evers, a Foxconn document obtained by Nikkei shows.
Foxconn’s decision to delay work on the two factories throws into doubt the promise of fresh investment and employment at a sensitive time for both economies. China’s economic growth has slowed to a 28-year low, while in the US, President Donald Trump continues to seek wins on his vow to bring manufacturing jobs back to America.
“Foxconn decided to slow the investment pace and scale back a bit at the moment because of weakening macroeconomic conditions and the uncertainties brought by the trade war,” a person with knowledge of Foxconn’s decision told Nikkei.
“If Foxconn expands as planned regardless of the rapidly changing market dynamics, it could eventually hurt the company’s business. It’s much safer to wait and carefully reconsider the next step,” the person added.
Foxconn’s moves to hold up planned investments come after the company took cost-cutting steps that included shedding 100,000 workers by the end of 2018.
Sinclair Treadway, who runs the [fake news purveyor] YourNewsWire site from Southern California with his husband Sean Adl-Tabatabai, told Bloomberg in November that the move to rebrand was a direct result of declining revenue due to Facebook’s fact-checking program. Once a fact-checking outlet like Snopes rates a link, image or video as false, its future reach decreases in the News Feed. (Disclosure: Being a signatory of the International Fact-Checking Network’s code of principles is a necessary condition for joining the project.)
YourNewsWire initially resorted to deleting debunked articles. Alternatively, it turned to changing headlines on debunked stories and requesting fact-checkers like (Poynter-owned) PolitiFact revoke their original flag.
Seemingly unsatisfied with these approaches, YourNewsWire decided to pull the plug on its website altogether and move everything to a new URL.
So far, it seems like its strategy is succeeding.
Samsung breaks 19-quarter tablet decline to post 7% growth in recovering global market • Strategy Analytics
Windows [tablet] shipments fell 4% year-on-year to 7.1m units in Q4 2018 from 7.3m in Q4 2017. Microsoft shipments increased 25% from the previous quarter on high seasonality and as a result, it has retaken its leadership position in Windows Detachable 2-in-1s with the release of the lower cost Surface Go and a refreshed Surface Pro all in the last half of 2018. This is the fourth straight quarter of year-on-year shipment and revenue gains for Microsoft.
Eric Smith continued, “Apple iOS shipments grew 10% year-on-year to 14.5m units in Q4 2018, pushing its worldwide market share to 26% of the tablet market. By growing double digits, Apple added 2 percentage points to its market share year-over-year. Apple is attempting to remake the computing market with more mobile iPad Pros for productivity while offering lower priced iPad slates for entertainment. The product mix tilted toward iPad Pro due to the launch of its newest products in that line and boosted ASPs to $463 this quarter from $445 in 2017.
“Meanwhile, Android shipments fell to 32.9m units worldwide in Q4 2018, down 6% from 34.9m a year earlier and up 35% sequentially. Market share fell 3 percentage points year-on-year to 60% as many branded Android vendors find it very difficult to compete on price in the wake of Apple lowering its iPad prices. The slate market is particularly sensitive to price and the Android segment is dominated by Slate models.”
The market shrank overall, by 1%. That’s not “recovering”; that’s “stabilising”. Tablets don’t seem to be going away, but neither are they taking everything over.
The Digital Entertainment Content Ecosystem (DECE), the industry consortium that has been tasked with running Ultraviolet, will shut down the service on July 31.
DECE will start to inform its users of the wind-down this Thursday, and is advising users to not delete their Ultraviolet movie libraries. Users should instead make sure that their libraries are connected to the service of at least one retailer, which they can then use to access their movies and TV shows going forward, according to an FAQ document that is slated to be published on Ultraviolet’s website on Thursday morning.
DECE president Wendy Aylsworth told Variety in an exclusive interview this week that the decision to discontinue Ultraviolet was a response to the evolution of the market for online entertainment. “The marketplace for collecting entertainment content was very small when Ultraviolet started,” she said. “It was siloed into walled gardens at the time.”
Since then, services had become more comprehensive, giving fans of movies and TV shows more options to access and collect their titles. Aylsworth acknowledged that there has also been a move toward subscription services, but said ownership of movie and TV show collections would continue to play a significant role for the industry going forward. “It’s very clear to us that it is on very sound footing,” she said.
Ultraviolet launched in 2011 with support from all of the major Hollywood studios except Disney. The service also had buy-in from Lionsgate and other independent studios, and struck partnerships with online retailers, including Walmart’s Vudu service, FandangoNow, and some of the online services run by studios like Sony Pictures.
Inevitable. Never saw why one would go with that when services like iTunes and Netflix were available.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified