“No action Apple can take against the tracking industry is too strong”

John Gruber: Online Privacy Should Be Modeled on Real-World Privacy

Imagine if you were out shopping, went into a drug store, examined a few bottles of sunscreen, but left the store without purchasing anything. And then immediately a stranger approached you with an offer for sunscreen. Such an encounter would trigger a fight or flight reaction — the needle on your innate creepometer would shoot right into the red. (Not to mention that if real-world tracking were like online tracking, you’d get the same creepy offer to buy sunscreen even if you just bought some. Tracking-based offers are both creepy, and, at times, annoyingly stupid.)

Or imagine if you found out that public billboards were taking photos of people who glance at them, logging those photos to a database, and using facial recognition to match them with photos taken at point-of-sale terminals in retail stores. That way, if, say, you were photographed looking at an ad for a soft drink, and later — hours, days, weeks — purchased that same soft drink, the billboard advertisement you glanced at hours, days, or weeks before could get “credit” for your purchase.

We wouldn’t tolerate it. But that’s basically how online ad tracking works.

As Gruber notes, the tracking industry is up in arms about Apple’s forthcoming tightening of privacy in i(Pad)OS 14 for the simple reason that it exposes their tracking for what it is: unwanted.

Google News Radio? No, Thanks

This news story by Boone Ashworth in WIRED* makes me very glad that I’m mostly removed from the Google-sphere.

Most of us know how delightful it is to hear a computer-generated song playlist that feels entirely personal. Now, Google wants to create a similar type of bespoke audio experience—not with music, but with news.

The company is adding some new features to its existing news aggregation service called Your News Update, which gathers news clips from different outlets and plays them in one continuous audio feed. Think of it like a Feedly or Flipboard-type service for spoken stories from your preferred news publications.

Continue reading “Google News Radio? No, Thanks”

The Trickle Down Attention Economy

Well-written piece by Greg Morris:

You will never in your life posses something that is as important as your attention. The notice you take of someone or something is so craved after that throughout history those that have sought it have performed some of the worst and best acts humankind has ever seen. Yet we give it away without a moment of thought towards where it is spent.

The Accident Greeks wrote the very tale many of the modern condition are named after, Narcissus could be a tale told today about Instagram influencers or Facebook moms groups. Its tale told us the dangers of too much attention, and hinted at how much it is worth, but in modern times the most valuable thing we have is being manipulated, sought by companies, and trickled down onto us like drug crazed zombies.

Boycott Amazon

As Amazon pulls union-buster job ads, workers describe a ‘Mad Max’ atmosphere – unsafe, bullying, abusive

Tales of life inside Amazon’s distribution centres such as these have been rife for years now, but if anything management are doubling down on the mistreatment of employees.

I’ve been talking about seeking alternatives to Amazon for a while now — time to translate that talk into action.

This Fuckery Needs To Stop. Now.

Kat Fukui:

CW: racist, sexist, transphobic, hateful language and online abuse

"you faggots are just giving her the material for her next talk on sexism/hate threats and all that fuckery."

From July 14 to August 17, 2020 (at time of publish), I experienced targeted harassment on GitHub—the company I’m employed at—via coordination happening on several “technology” 4chan threads about me. I wanted to share this story publicly to reiterate the bullshit marginalized folks in tech have to go through in order to be successful, visible, and just exist.

So as the dude in the screenshot says, I have plenty of material to write a post on all that fuckery.

Lots of screenshots are of the comments on 4chan, but what boggles my mind are the ones on GitHub. As Kat herself notes:

And what still really creeps me out is that these people felt so emboldened to troll an EMPLOYEE using their actual GitHub accounts with legitimate work and contributions. These harassers are everyday software engineers.

Her only ‘crime’ is to be an Asian woman who works at GitHub while also supporting social justice. There is no logic or rationale, just pure blind hatred.

Kat has some words for the people who hire and employ those who attacked her, and will undoubtedly do so again:

To the most privileged tech leaders:

When these events happen to your employees, are you investing actual money to support them? Are you monitoring content, encouraging time off, creating company policies, and covering their therapy? In lucky cases like mine, where the bulk of harassment may happen on the platform the victim works on, are you actively fixing pain points your employee experienced? Make sure you have a policy and detailed playbook, and definitely don’t expect your marginalized employees to fix these problems for you. Don’t wait until an incident arises—it’s always an “edge case” until someone’s personal safety is threatened.

By not having intentional protections for the most vulnerable in place, you’re preventing employees from being productive at work (because they’re dealing with bullshit!). And you’re absolutely driving away diverse talent from joining your company. It’s actually fucking up your business. Access and representation in tech isn’t a pipeline or qualification problem. It’s a white supremacy problem.

Lastly, I want to circle back to this point about users with legitimate coding work harassing me. It’s easy to dismiss these trolls as incel 4channers that we shun and don’t associate with. Lol no. These are your people. They work at your companies and write your code. They are harassing or doxxing your other employees. This toxic behavior is still very much a part of your tech culture, and you keep rewarding it.

Fix. This. Shit.

Is it possible to engage with social media without losing your soul? To sidestep its outrage mechanics and degrading scoreboards? With their idiot logic of hearts and retweets, these channels are fundamentally designed to advertise oneself—so perhaps using them sensibly requires stripping away the self. To quit any attempt at appearing bright and clever and informed, and instead find new ways of listening and looking that encourages imagination rather than opinion. To erase the “I” and stand outside of time, writing like a ghost.

James A. Reeves, Channel

Caveat Upgrader

Jacques Mattheij on the downsides of online automated app upgrades:

I don’t actually remember what the last time was when I bought a shrink-wrapped piece of software, it probably was Microsoft Office around 1997. Since then, almost all software distribution has gone online. And that’s great right? No more hauling physical media around for bits that you might as well teleport around the world instantaneously.

The benefits are obvious: fast turnaround time between spotting a problem and getting it to the customer, very low cost of distribution and last but definitely not least: automatic updates are now a thing, your software knows when it is outdated and will be more than happy to install a new version of itself while you aren’t looking.

And that’s exactly the downside: your software will be more than happy to install a broken, changed, reduced, functionally no longer equivalent, spyware, malware, data loss inducing or outright dangerous piece of software right over the top of the one that you were using happily until today. More often than not automatic updates are not done with the interest of the user in mind. They are abused to the point where many users – me included – would rather forego all updates (let alone automatic ones) simply because we apparently cannot trust the party on the other side of this transaction to have our, the users, interests at heart.

It’s not just operating system updates that can have unintended, and possibly costly, consequences. Major applications such as those in Microsoft Office and Adobe Creative Cloud can bite users in the behind in various ways.

Some of those are due to bugs that evaded both developers and QA teams. Others, though, are simply a lack of forethought about warning the user up-front about potential problems.

Yes, users should backup their data regularly, but that is because hardware will eventually fail. It shouldn’t be because a software update might make said data unreadable.

Unfortunately, I don’t see the situation changing any time soon, for the simple reason that End-User Licence Agreements act as a shield against having to admit you screwed up and face any consequence.

“Everybody’s not looking to feed the soil, some are just looking to take the fruit.”

The Verge*: Joe Budden is taking his podcast off Spotify because the company ‘is pillaging’ his audience

He takes the announcement as an opportunity to scorch Spotify and detail his history with the company, which, in the years since he signed his deal, has become a sizable competitor in the podcast field. He claims his show exceeded Spotify’s audience reach expectations by 900 percent to the point that his listeners crashed the platform.

Still, he says he never received a bonus, and the company wouldn’t allow him and his team to take vacation days on Christmas and New Year’s Eve, because that would have required them to miss two episodes. While the company wouldn’t pay them actual bonuses, it offered to give them Rolexes instead, only to say the watches they picked out were too expensive. Then, he suggested Spotify give money away to their fans for Christmas instead. The company declined.

“That was the first time it dawned on me that Spotify is pillaging,” he says. “You pillage the audience from the podcast, and you’ve continued to pillage each step of the way without any regard for [the fans.]”

[…]

He claims to be the guinea pig for Spotify’s podcast ambitions because he was already established and brought audience to Spotify. He proved the model of exclusives could work for the company, he says.

“Spotify never cared about this podcast individually,” he says. “Spotify only cared about our contribution to the platform.” The company wanted him to read ads, and he refused, making it one of the only shows to not be monetized on the platform.

He says he and Spotify differ on where “podcasting is taking us for the next five years.”

“I am not going to succumb to any bad deal that is not working favorably toward the people who have created that path.”

Broadly, he questions the entire podcasting system and what a podcast stream is worth, especially given that musicians and record labels have already established those terms with streaming platforms. That number, for podcasters, still isn’t standardized.

As the article goes on to detail, a lot of other podcasters who were wooed by Spotify are now questioning who these exclusivity deals really benefit. No surprise, the answer seems to be Spotify, and only Spotify. I’m not opposed to advertising in podcasts, but prefer when it’s the podcaster handling those. Spotify wants to take both the decisions about what advertising the run and the profits from said advertising, and pay the podcaster — I suspect — as little as they can get away with.


(*I hesitate to link to articles on The Verge because that site is stuffed full of advertising and tracking. If you don’t have an ad-blocker installed, consider yourself warned if you click through to the original piece.)