That I’m linking to this, instead of the actual post has everything to do with Facebook’s relentless assault on web standards. The idea that Facebook doesn’t know what it’s doing here is far fetched at best. The bubble effect is not some esoteric theory, it’s common knowledge that Facebook is a confirmation bias machine. This addresses the problem by doubling down on the affect. Nobody should be surprised.
From the horse’s mouth,
We could try to make that decision ourselves, but that's not something we're comfortable with. We considered asking outside experts, which would take the decision out of our hands but would likely not solve the objectivity problem. Or we could ask you – the community – and have your feedback determine the ranking. We decided that having the community determine which sources are broadly trusted would be most objective.
You could read this as a cop out, but that would be too kind. Copping out in this instance is conveniently intentional. Gizmodo asks the obvious misanthropic question this move invites,
If people cannot tell truth from garbage, why are those same people being used to rank publications on a scale of trustworthiness?
Other supposedly sober outlets seem to be missing the point here, from Slate
At first blush, it looks like Facebook is doing exactly what I and other critics have long been calling for it to do: acknowledge that its algorithm plays a crucial role in determining what news people read, and take some responsibility for its profound effects on the media and the spread of information. It’s about time, right?
Except that, based on its announcement, Facebook’s approach to a notoriously difficult problem—figuring out which media to trust—appears to be painfully simplistic and naïve.
I think it’s naive to think they are being naive. This approach gives the appearance of doing something, and achieves exactly what they want. Welcome to hyper-reality.
It only takes a few days for something like this to be old news, but I couldn't let it pass without comment. It remains to be seen howe effective it will be, and I can't help but think it underestimates how deep this problem runs, and exactly what is happening.
The changes won’t prevent people from uploading offensive content to YouTube, which hoovers up hundreds of hours of new video per minute. But they are meant to make it hard for the people who upload that stuff to make money from it. And they are an important symbolic change for YouTube, which was founded on the idea that anyone can use the platform, and has spent years trying to entice video makers to find audiences and create careers on the site.
What Youtube, and tech companies in general can't seem to grasp is the social aspect of technology. One of the more thoughtful pieces I have read on certain fringe workings of YouTube was written by James Bridle at the end of last year. That article address concerns I could identify with personally. The ability to combine automation with disturbing attention grabbing techniques aimed at children has, over time, made the some of the most bizarre and unsettling elements of that platform some of the most lucrative. It might be enabled by technology, but this is a social issue. As Bridle writes,
I’m trying to understand why, as plainly and simply troubling as it is, this is not a simple matter of “won’t somebody think of the children” hand-wringing. Obviously this content is inappropriate, obviously there are bad actors out there, obviously some of these videos should be removed. Obviously too this raises questions of fair use, appropriation, free speech and so on. But reports which simply understand the problem through this lens fail to fully grasp the mechanisms being deployed, and thus are incapable of thinking its implications in totality, and responding accordingly.
The first is the level of horror and violence on display. Some of the times it’s troll-y gross-out stuff; most of the time it seems deeper, and more unconscious than that. The internet has a way of amplifying and enabling many of our latent desires; in fact, it’s what it seems to do best. I spend a lot of time arguing for this tendency, with regards to human sexual freedom, individual identity, and other issues. Here, and overwhelmingly it sometimes feels, that tendency is itself a violent and destructive one.
The second is the levels of exploitation, not of children because they are children but of children because they are powerless. Automated reward systems like YouTube algorithms necessitate exploitation in the same way that capitalism necessitates exploitation, and if you’re someone who bristles at the second half of that equation then maybe this should be what convinces you of its truth. Exploitation is encoded into the systems we are building, making it harder to see, harder to think and explain, harder to counter and defend against. Not in a future of AI overlords and robots in the factories, but right here, now, on your screen, in your living room and in your pocket.
Addressing the monetisation is a start, but as Bridle was apt to point out, these are big problems built right into the infrastructure. And, not just the technical infrastructure. Whether you won’t to believe it or not, technology is developed by people who make decisions, and thereby coded with intentionality. Kids like Logan Paul — and he really is still a kid — have been socialised by this media. There is no exceptionalism here. Bridle goes on,
And right now, right here, YouTube and Google are complicit in that system. The architecture they have built to extract the maximum revenue from online video is being hacked by persons unknown to abuse children, perhaps not even deliberately, but at a massive scale. I believe they have an absolute responsibility to deal with this, just as they have a responsibility to deal with the radicalisation of (mostly) young (mostly) men via extremist videos — of any political persuasion. They have so far showed absolutely no inclination to do this, which is in itself despicable. However, a huge part of my troubled response to this issue is that I have no idea how they can respond without shutting down the service itself, and most systems which resemble it. We have built a world which operates at scale, where human oversight is simply impossible, and no manner of inhuman oversight will counter most of the examples I’ve used in this essay. The asides I’ve kept in parentheses throughout, if expanded upon, would allow one with minimal effort to rewrite everything I’ve said, with very little effort, to be not about child abuse, but about white nationalism, about violent religious ideologies, about fake news, about climate denialism, about 9/11 conspiracies.
Before the yelling of ’keep you politics out of technology’ starts, I’ll nix it up front by pointing out that notion is, in itself, political. I recommend reading Bridle’s essay, whether or not you have children of your own. You can find it here
iPad Diaries: Transmit Replacements and FTP Clients | MacStories — I tend not to post many links to Macstories. Not least, because most people reading this have probably already seen anything I might link to. But, I do often find these iPad Diaries posts quite useful.
There is a lot of conjecture around Panic’s move to step away from developing Transmit for iOS. It seems obvious by now that Apple has left a lot to be desired in their support of pro developers. Something is clearly askew when the App Store is a bandit enterprise, making more cash than a small Island nation. And yet, nobody is really surprised by this decision.
To state the bleeding obvious, developing for iOS is clearly a different game. Without crossing further into the politics, it’s a shame where developers were clearly ahead of the curve with pro features while the platform was still at odds with their apps. The irony being that only now are we starting to see genuine commitment to professional use on iOS from Apple, and once again we have developers moving in the opposite direction.
If you need the kind of file transfer features in Transmit. Viticci has some good alternative suggestions here. As ever, there are compromises, but then the same was true of the app in question.
None of the apps I covered above are “perfect”: each prioritizes different aspects of FTP connections and file transfers, whether it's design, support for dozens of services, or superior integration with iOS 11. Ideally, Transmit for iOS could have been all of this: a file transfer app based on Coda's beautiful design, with support for a plethora of services and iOS 11's latest APIs.
For now, I'm keeping Coda, iFiles, and FileBrowser on my iPad Pro because they all serve different purposes. If you absolutely need to pick just one, however, I suggest you ask yourself what aspect is most important for your iPad workflow – there is a lot of overlap between these three apps, but also clear differences in terms of design and functionality. If you know what you're looking for, choosing a Transmit replacement shouldn't be impossible these days.
Anyone wondering when more content might be added to this site, fear not. Like any sane person with a family, I took a little time away from the desk over the past few weeks. Having returned to task this week I have been feverishly working in the background, putting more permanent fixes in place for some of the things I mentioned last month. Dealing with amateur mistakes I made when both setting up this site initially, and migrating it to WordPress. 1 Even if there is still work to be done, by now the site should be much faster for most users, and in subtle ways it should look nicer. If you are having any trouble viewing the site, please drop me a line here
Now that I am able to get back to the writing, I have a lot to share. In the meantime, here is some of the Show and Tell backlog I have been sitting on.
We Know Where You Live
Amazon wants a key to your house. I did it. I regretted it. | The Washington Post — Never has that subtitle been more apt. Another in case you missed it link, but not for the reason you might think. Sometimes I despair. You’d think this was a critical look at the idea of totalising one’s life with a tech shopping company. Alas, it appears more of a thinly disguised lament that using one place to shop doesn’t allow you to get the best prices. If this is your only concern here, I fear you are lost.
Cryptojacking WordPress | WIRED — Ordinarily I’m opposed to neologisms, but sometimes somebody nails it. To be fair, I’m much more opposed to Cryprojackers.
Meltdown and Spectre: What Apple Users Need to Know — By now this is everywhere, and the patches are arriving. This whole issue is remarkable for how long these vulnerabilities have existed. Whenever you hear that crazy relative of yours telling people not to upgrade their OS, remind them of these vulnerabilities.
What Spectre and Meltdown Mean For WebKit | WebKit — More technical insight into how this all works.
Worst Passwords of 2017: From ‘123456' to ‘starwars' | the Independent — This also did the rounds, but it bears sharing again. I realise how unlikely it is that anyone reading this would engage in such practices, but we all know somebody who needs a little help with this stuff.
Haven: Keep Watch — This is interesting. I’d like to think we could see it on Apple devices, but that seems incredibly unlikely. In fact, it’s the first development in some time that has me casting an envious eye at the ugly green robot.
Elon Musk Shows Off the Tesla Roadster He's Prepping for Space — I’m a space fan, but sorry this is fucking stupid. If you look closely you will notice a disturbing ideology that says we need to send junk to Mars, because we have too much junk down here. If we want to become a multi-planetary civilisation, it can’t be so we don’t have to sort our shit out on this planet.
To be clear, I want to see people on Mars, I was once a single digit child who wanted a laser sword. But I don’t want us to go there just so we have two planets to fuck up.
Oh, and by the way, Musk wants to Nuke the joint too, I guess he really is serious about getting it ready for humans. The funniest response to this I have seen was this: “Shouldn't we try to blow up the moon first?”
First Digital Pill Approved to Worries About Biomedical ‘Big Brother' | New York Times — It says a lot about this historical moment that such a monumental breakthrough should be legitimately accompanied with this kind of suspicion.
The Attention Economy is the Addiction Economy | Medium — That more people involved in tech are starting to wake up to this isn encouraging. If it’s a bit much to suggest articles like this never go far enough, we have to start the conversation one ay or another.
Clean Energy Is a Bright Spot Amid a Dark Tech Cloud | WIRED – An actual example of Blockchain being applied to something other than destructive speculation.
Now Look Here
Panic Blog | the Future of Transmit iOS — This has been about the wires the past week or so. In case you missed it, Panic will stop updating Transmit for iOS. The app will keep working for sometime, but it won’t be getting any further love unless something changes. This is a shame, but it’s sad to say that by the sounds of things, it won’t affect many people. One imagines — at least one hopes — that the iOS Files app will gradually develop to takeover the crucial functionality that pro users might miss. On top of which apps like Workflow and Pythonista can step in.
Remote Control a Mac From an iPhone via Workflow | Six Colors — This is probably the year we will learn the fate of Workflow. Here’s hoping this kind of inventiveness adds to the case for its continued development and success, in whatever form that may be.
Marxico | Markdown Editor for Evernote — Having written up a guide for how to leave the green elephant behind, I thought I might engage some irony. This is pretty neat actually, if you’re an Evernote user who wants to use Markdown this is an option. As a bonus, sometime ago I write up intersections for turning web apps into native apps. 2
And Now For Something Completely Different
The Last Jedi Trailer Song in GarageBand iOS | YouTube — I’ve been threatening to write about iOS music apps for some time. The things you can now do on the iPad, even with GarageBand, are incredible.
How BeatMaker Caught the iOS Music Trend Before It Even Started | CDM Create Digital Music — BeatMaker 3 is one of my favourite iOS apps full stop, let a one music apps. Whether you’re into music making on iOS or interested in development, this is an interesting insight into the history of development on the platform
New App Descript Lets You Edit Audio Like a Word Document – Gearnews.com – If anyone can explain to me how this works?
The Smallest PaaS Implementation You've Ever Seen | Dokku — This is awesome
Star Wars Episode IV.1.d: The Pentesters Strike Back | CyberPoint International on Vimeo — Something that brings together two very specific geek spheres. You know who you are.
This from The Verge. Not for nothing, I urge the use of a password manager, but I have never been an advocate of the built version from your browser. Even if this method is new, unfortunately browsers are generally under siege,
The researchers examined two different scripts — AdThink and OnAudience — both of are designed to get identifiable information out of browser-based password managers. The scripts work by injecting invisible login forms in the background of the webpage and scooping up whatever the browsers autofill into the available slots. That information can then be used as a persistent ID to track users from page to page, a potentially valuable tool in targeting advertising.
I get this is old news, this is more appreciation for the Mac Observer's rounded coverage. Not much I can add. The security lapses over the past few weeks have been appalling. The Mac Observer is unusual, with so much commentary on Apple offered by fans with an almost religious devotion to the company 1, these guys are a welcome breath of fresh air at times.
This post covers the past few weeks of security blunders at Apple. Mistakes that are all the more serious for how readily we are fleeced by absurd margins to use Apple hardware. I love the tech. The business, not so much. This categorisation seems pretty accurate,
In what could only be described as the worst security blunder in the history of commercial computing, Apple released macOS High Sierra on September 25, 2017. Unknown to users, included in that operating system was that no password was required to gain super user root access. This might be likened to leaving your front door open with a sign that says “Please, please rob me.”
One can only hope they sort out their QA problems.
- It can border on disturbing ↩
Fewer links this week, as I get on with other things.
How to Irritate People
Laptop bans in class seem to be topic of the week:
Why I'm Not a Fan of Laptop Bans | Confessions of a Community College Dean — Naturally, I’m not a fan either. Neither can I concede the point about not shining a light on accessibility users. I can’t see a way in which a ban that included an exception for only a few users with different abilities wouldn’t be a floodlight that says ‘this person is not the same’. Here’s an idea, make your class interesting enough for students to pay attention and you won’t have as many on Facebook. Sure, that’s not easy, but banning technology won’t make your material worth absorbing.
Lecture, Attention, Recall … It's Complicated | Just Visiting – I’ve been thinking a lot about attention lately, and very little about teaching. Then again, I have plenty of thoughts on teaching to turn to. One recurring thought is triggered when I hear this nonsense about banning devices I lectures. I know I’m repeating myself. But, when I come across such a proposal, it recalls the overwhelming sense one gets that universities, and their most institutionalised educators are so often of the mind that there is something wrong with the student. The student must be fixed. Indeed they must be saved from attention grabbing technology. I call bullshit, which is why I was so pleased to read this paragraph:
If we’re going to lecture, aren’t we better striving for triggering a mind-blowing experience and not worry so much about recall. Let the mind-blowing experience that sends the student into a vortex of thought and reflection so deep they can’t pay attention to whatever else is happening be our goal.
Nobody Expects the Spanish Inquisition
“I Am Root”: A Retrospective on a Severe Mac Vulnerability | the Mac Security Blog – Some more detailed information on that root bug, and the machinations that caused it. With apologies, this website has some appalling design issues, especially if you’re on an iPad . I advise using reader mode.
Uber Data Hack | Schneier on Security – Bruce Scneiers roundup on Uber’s hack
Idle at Work
Editorial Workflow | post to micro.blog – This is for a small subset of an already small audience. If you use micro.blog, and editorial, somebody made a useful workflow for you
And now, for Something Completely Different
Dressing Up as Batman May Help Boost Your Productivity | Gizmodo Australia – And you wonder why Im so sarcastic about the cult of productivity
By now you have probably heard this happened. This is a shocking leak, and exactly the kind of thing that proves the point I was making about facial recognition data. There were objections to the headline of the Washington post article about ‘Apple sharing face data with apps’. Objections along the lines that it’s actually you who shares the data. As ever, the truth is in the middle. Decisions are made at the source to make such things possible, but yes, you can opt to not use third-party apps that need private data to operate. There are indeed warnings on the box, as there was in this case.
It made me think of Smile software’s borderline flippant help article about the scary keyboard warning for allowing full access to keyboards. Ultimately, that article explains the need for the warning, although I’m not sure they do themselves any favours with the headline. This keyboard app is case study that makes the point with an exclamation mark. It is a fuck-up of the highest order,
the app’s database server was left online without any form of authentication. This meant anyone could access the company’s treasure-trove of personal information, which totals more than 577 gigabytes of data, without needing a password.
Yes, you read that right. It gets worse,
Some information is worryingly personal. It contains the precise location of the user, their phone number and cell provider, and according to Whittaker, the user’s IP address and ISP, if they use the keyboard while connected to Wi-Fi.
For reasons unclear, it also uploaded a list of each app installed on the phone, allowing the makers to, in theory, determine what banking and dating apps were being used.
Ai.type effectively enumerated the device it was being used on. It also uploaded hundreds of millions of phone numbers and e-mail addresses, suggesting that the keyboard was accessing the users’ contact information.
Apparently this affected mostly free users, which should 1 serve as a good illustration of the adage that if you’re not paying for a product, you are the product.
Here is some more detail. Please — for the love of god — read those permission messages and think about the access an app has to what, and why. Stay safe.
- But won’t ↩
This article from The Washington Post is doing the rounds. It’s impossible to stay away from the implications of this. If you have even the slightest inclination to think critically, the sharing of facial recognition data should raise questions for you. Something that bothers me about a lot of so-called critics in the Apple space, they don’t so much give Apple the benefit of the doubt, as simply overlook critical details in favour of the hype machine. I’m enthusiastic about technology, but I’m much more enthusiastic about thinking for oneself.
I made a throwaway remark about the Warby Parker app, hidden in the show and tell links a couple of weeks back . 1 It has been on my mind since, not least because there seems to be a lack of nuance in a lot of the coverage on this stuff. You either get the cheerleading for what the technology can do, or the fear and doubt clickbait. Neither is helpful. While it’s early days, it’s not hard to see there are some sticky contradictions at play.
Apple has no need of the data for monetisation itself. They make the big numbers from their hardware, but the software is what gives the hardware itself value. 2 Privacy is part of that value. In other words, privacy is important to Apple because they can trade on it. It was a smart decision to make privacy and security a point of difference, regardless of how effective it might ultimately be. Where the lines start to blur is where apps and services operate on a contradictory model. Where data is the thing that Make no mistake, that data is extremely valuable.
Indeed, Apple—which makes most of its money from selling us hardware, not selling our data—may be our best defense against a coming explosion in facial recognition. But I also think Apple rushed into sharing face maps with app makers that may not share its commitment, and it isn’t being paranoid enough about the minefield it just entered.
Navigating these contradictions is vitally important, making mistakes with it now will have serious consequences,
Apple’s face tech sets some good precedents—and some bad ones. It won praise for storing the face data it uses to unlock the iPhone X securely on the phone, instead of sending it to its servers over the Internet.
Less noticed was how the iPhone lets other apps now tap into two eerie views from the so-called TrueDepth camera. There’s a wireframe representation of your face and a live read-out of 52 unique micro-movements in your eyelids, mouth and other features. Apps can store that data on their own computers.