Show and Tell – 3rd April, 2018

Best Facebook Privacy Links.jpg

We Know Where You Live

The subheadings for this link gathering exercise might seem like nonsense. They are, it’s true, but not random nonsense. 1 If you recognise their origin, maybe you've also picked up how this particular Python title has taken on more meaning recently.

MoviePass CEO: ‘We Watch How You Drive From Home to the Movies'   Surely we're waking up to all this, right? Beware the ills of convenience

According to Media Play News, CEO Mitch Lowe told those at a business forum that the movie subscription service's app not only tracks your location, but follows you to and from the theater. “We watch how you drive from home to the movies,” he said, adding that “we watch where you go afterwards.” Not surprisingly, the company is hoping to understand customer habits and “build a night at the movies.”

How Widely Do Companies Share User Data? Here’s A Chilling Glimpse | Fastcodesign The tangible cause and effect of the Facebook revelations have the tech media in a spin. Meanwhile, Paypal quietly released details of their data sharing practices in January to comply within European law. That the response was just as quiet shows how routine a practice this is. This one is particularly galling given the paucity of genuine alternatives.

Group Madness

I’m still coming to terms with the level of surprise writ large in this debacle. The contemporary social contract has been a digital exchange for some time. Self surveillance is the norm, not an exception.

Facebook Has Had Countless Privacy Scandals. But This One Is Different The optimist has it this will incite a revolt. As much as I’d like to believe it, I see little around me to support the claim. I haven’t logged into Facebook for months, my reticence long established. However, I would wager that rolling through my ‘news’ feed will be a strangely self contained outrage directed at Facebook, within Facebook itself.

This is a data collection scandal. This is a scandal triggered by a specific incident, but that is broadly about the ways massive companies track us, harvest information from us, and then sell us as coercion targets in sophisticated information campaigns that could be for anything from diapers to mattresses to anti-vax literature.

The story will endure not because of animosity toward political data use but because it perfectly touches upon a deeper anxiety about our online privacy that’s been building for years. Indeed, the Cambridge Analytica scandal could well be the catalyst for a much bigger targeting revolt — a full-scale personal and public reckoning that looks at the way we’ve used the internet for the last decade. It’s a moment that forces us, collectively, to step back and think about what we sacrificed for a more convenient and connected world. And on an internet that feels increasingly toxic it’s hard to look at the tradeoffs we’ve made and feel like we’re getting a fair deal.

Then again, I’m just as likely to find all the awkward emotional oversharing, inner monologues, and general nonsense as usual.

Why Nothing Is Going To Happen To Facebook Or Mark Zuckerberg  On the flip-side. Where some see revolt, others see business as usual.

With Wall Street leading the way, the four entities with the strongest ability to cause long-term damage to Facebook in response to revelations that Cambridge Analytica illicitly used 50 million of its users’ data for political purposes didn’t seem ready to do so: Analysts told investors to buy the dip. Advertisers kept spending. Legislators continued to sit on their hands while a basic ad transparency bill rotted in Congress. And though users posted #DeleteFacebook en masse, Facebook actually rose to 8th place from 12th in the iOS mobile App Store since the day before the Cambridge Analytica news broke. It’s holding steady on Android, too.

No one can pretend Facebook is just harmless fun any more | The Guardian

We have now reached the point where an unaccountable private corporation is holding detailed data on over a quarter of the world’s population. Zuckerberg and his company have been avoiding responsibility for some time. Governments everywhere need to get serious in how they deal with Facebook.

How to Use Facebook While Giving It the Minimum Amount of Personal Data | the Verge  Some advice for minimising the data you share with Facebook. I’m all likelihood it’s too late, but developing good, conscious habits is always a good thing

Towards a world without Facebook | TechCrunch  A modest proposal if ever I saw one. I have sniped and snarked at crypto currencies on these pages, often with vague hat tipping toward the untapped potential of blockchain technology for other purposes. But I’ll admit, I hardly ever come across hard coded examples, let alone share them. Interestingly, the Facebook debacle has given us a barn to aim at, so we should see some interesting attempts at turning the page

We’re approaching — or maybe already at — the point at which these tools could be put together to construct, say, a small-scale decentralized social network. It would still face the critical-mass problem: but that could be addressed by focusing on specific cohorts and communities; art collectives, churches, fandoms, etcetera. It would still face the ordinary-people-don’t-want-tokens problem: but that could be addressed by having a designated token-handling admin for each node, in the same way that online communities used to have designated email admins or local Usenet sysadmins, so ordinary users would just need a URL, a userid/password, and perhaps a decision whether to pay for access or be advertised to.

Are you ready? This is all the data Facebook and Google have on you | The Guardian — If you still need a readout, this provides a decent run down of that data hoarding at Facebook and Google. But wait, there’s more — much more.

Mark Zuckerberg Thinks We’re Idiots | Monday Note Not a novel point, the irony in this claim has reached catch phrase proportions by now. Then again, if ever there were a time to put a finer point on it.

As Facebook’s leader, Zuckerberg resolves to get things straightened out in the future (“it’s my job, right?”) while he delivers a callcenter-style broken record reassurance: “Your privacy is important to us”. Yes, of course, our privacy is important to you; you made billions by surveilling and mining our private lives. One wonders how aware Zuckerberg is of the double entendre.

What Else Floats on Water

Apple, everyone needs more free iCloud storage | The Verge  Honestly, Apple may as well give us the bird for all you can store in 5Gb. For all the talk of user hostile action on the design front, examples of inaction offer enough insight inot priorities. At least for anyone not prone to religious feelings.

Apple: Former Engineer Will Unlock iPhone X for $15,000 | Fortune   Despite the sense this has always been a lucrative business waiting to happen, surely setting up this enterprise involved navigating a labrynthe of  mind-bending legal chicanery.

Stanford Students Challenge Apple on iPhone Addiction | Inside Higher Ed  Yeah, I can’t see Apple helping people use their devices less. Unless, of course, there is a way to spin it.

iOS 11 Bugs Are so Common They Now Appear in Apple Ads | the Verge  This has since been cleaned up. Amusing, yes. At the same time, it points to a normalisation of novelty over stability. All but unique to software as a product,  we essentially purchase it broken, and pay to have it fixed. Even if we pay for it via the hardware. Rumour has it this year's update to iOS will be a stability release.

Apple CEO Tim Cook says Facebook should have regulated itself, but it’s too late for that now | Recode – Call me a cynic 2, but this is a little convenient for — and from — Apple. If I prefer Apple's approach, I'm not so comfortable with subtle opportunism. Privacy wouldn’t be a selling point if they didn’t have anything to differentiate themselves from.

Cook has made a point of criticizing Facebook for both the Cambridge Analytica affair and its overall approach to consumer privacy in recent days. But it’s not a new stance for him or the company: He made similar comments about Facebook and Google in 2015, and his predecessor Steve Jobs went out of his way to contrast Apple’s privacy stance with rivals like Google in 2010.

I don't doubt the existence of influential voices arguing for it's inherant value, but if it didn't have that other kind of value we wouldn't find so many contradictions Look a little closer and you fill find a fair degree of enabling. Take the Uber debacle, Apple has been found greasing the wheels before. Or more recently, the situation in China with carte Blanche to encryption keys. Intentional or not, this looks a cynical intervention. Apple’s own iCloud even runs on Google infrastructure, so pull that apart.

Bob Burrough | Twitter — Further to the above, this from a former Apple luminary pointing to the absurdly broad language from Apple claiming to keep all data safe from prying eyes. The line is crossed where the claim is made that your web traffic is kept private, to which Burroughs counters:

Since This Is Obviously Not True, the Only Possible Options Here Are: – Apple Believes This Is True, and They're Too Foolish to See How It Isn't. – Apple Doesn't Believe This, and They're Misleading Customers for Marketing Reasons.”

Apple’s approach might be more desireble, but to think of them as some benevolent entity immune from the profit motive is naive at best.

Now, Look Here

A Startup Is Pitching a Mind-Uploading Service That Is “100 Percent Fatal” | MIT Technology Review  A materialist’s guide to the afterlife

This story has a grisly twist, though. For Nectome’s procedure to work, it’s essential that the brain be fresh. The company says its plan is to connect people with terminal illnesses to a heart-lung machine in order to pump its mix of scientific embalming chemicals into the big carotid arteries in their necks while they are still alive (though under general anesthesia).

‘Blockchain' Is Meaningless | the Verge  The Appropriation of language is a uniquely troubling proposition in a capitalist society. There’s too much incentive for opportunism. Scratch that, the appropriation of everything.

Bose Sunglasses Hands-on: Audio AR Makes More Sense Than You Think | Engadget  Or does it? Nobody seems to learn this lesson. Allow me to phrase it in the turned about syntax of a little green mad with a laser sword: A model for success nerds and fashion are not. 3

Exclusive: This Is the Most Dexterous Robot Ever Created | MIT Technology Review  If you’re not keeping up with robots, you might have missed this.

AI Has a Hallucination Problem That's Proving Tough to Fix | WIRED — Computer says no.

Spotify Needs Your Help Tagging and Sorting Tunes | Engadget  Economists of a particular persuasion worked this out a very long time ago. It’s called surplus value, and this is a clever, if insidious way to capture it. The more work consumers do, the less resources Spotify need to spend, and voila more profit from that surplus. I’m not saying don’t do it, I’m merely bringing the aporia to your attention. This is the real gift economy

Broaden Your Mind

If we have come to the same intersection again, only to recognise it as such, I would at least like to think we might turn left this time. While the world is run by creeps, there are still good people out there, doing good work.

12 Things Everyone Should Understand About Tech | Humane Tech – You don’t need to agree with all of this to recognise its potential importance. A lot of these points seem obvious to anyone who can think even the smallest bit sociologically, but sadly are lost on most people working in, writing about, or commenting on technology. Usually to quote the first paragraph of an article is a good indication that linker hasn’t read it, in this instance it means this is the point.

…tech goes a lot deeper than the phones in our hands, and we must understand some fundamental shifts in society if we’re going to make good decisions about the way tech companies shape our lives—and especially if we want to influence the people who actually make technology.

It would appear the timing is right for a new approach to technology in general. What we have now is parristic, and disturbing.

And Now, For Something Completely Different

How Two Photographers Unknowingly Shot the Same Millisecond in Time | Petapixel  I have a thing for coincidence. So often the impression of synchronicity is a psychological phenomenon, but this one has irrefutable physical evidence. This is, in a word, neat.

Why the PDF Is Secretly the World's Most Important File Format | Motherboard  Something that most academic users are intimately acquainted with.

Photo by Caroline Methot on Unsplash

  1. Don’t get me started on how people use the word ‘random’
  2. Many people do
  3. Sorry, Apple doesn’t count — they’re a fashion brand making consumer electronics these days, not the other way around.

Show and Tell – Tuesday, 06 Mar 2018

Luke Chesser 50 Unsplash.jpg

At some point I’ll make up a regular schedule for theses links, drop the Monty Python titles, and make something of this. We’re not there yet. Enjoy.

The Odd Job

The LinkedIn Garbage Fire That Funded Podcasting | Macdrifter  I might have momentarily flirted with linked in, if I did I was most likely high at the time. This link, however, is more for the sentiment about podcasting ad reads. Again, I’m on the same page

Ad-Blockers: The Good, the Bad, the Ethics | the Mac Security Blog  By now, it should be clear where I stand on this. I’m also I scratching around trying to work out how to make this site work, so I have more insight into how tricky this is than I ever did before. And yet, I still think most advertising companies are run by assholes who have no qualms using malware to get their jobs done.

It's a tough call; you want your favorite websites to survive, yet they hit you with an advertising sledgehammer. As someone who earns a living from writing content for publications, it hurts me to use an ad blocker, but it's necessary. What really irks me is that websites I subscribe to — newspapers and magazines — often still show me ads. When websites decide to tone down the ads, I'll whitelist them; but, they should be rewarding me for paying for their content.

Jack and the Mean Talk | Pixel Envy Pixel envy is one of the more thoughtful patches of the tech world. This is some commentary on a Twitter Thread, the

point of which is distilled in the premise that banning Nazis from Twitter shouldn’t be difficult,

I think that a better start would be to ban Nazis. I mean that literally. Flag any account where its name, handle, location, bio, or recent tweets contain allusions to Hitler normally used by white supremacist groups: “1488”, “HH”, “14 words”, and other hate symbols in context. That gives human operators the ability to sift through heaps of these accounts and ban the ones that are clearly and obviously Nazis, of which there are frighteningly many. This isn’t a perfect solution; it’s barely scratching the surface. But it would be a material change in how Twitter operates and a clear line as to what they do not tolerate. “No Nazis” should not be a controversial point of view.

What Else Float’s on Water?

The Feds Can Now (Probably) Unlock Every iPhone Model in Existence | Pixel Envy You can be certain there isn’t a fix for this exploit yet, Apple tends to broadcast the good stuff.

WatchKit Is a Sweet Solution That Will Only Ever Give Us Baby Apps  Marco Arment on why Watch apps suck.

Apple confirms it now uses Google Cloud for iCloud services | The Verge I have pointed out the folly of buying whole heartedly into Apples largely marketing based emphasis on privacy, but I was still surprised by this. If you are concerned about data security in the cloud, you have other options.

If It's Broke, Don't Fix It | Welcome to Macintosh – This was a wonderfully refreshing listen. So many of the ‘tech’ podcasts I have tried listening to are borderline infomercials for Apple. Or if not, their idea of being critical has nothing to do with the world at large, and everything to do with superficial details. The blind defence of Apple from some quarters can be mind blowing. Apple Fans in general could learn a lot from this, being able to confess your concerns about profound global issues, while confessing an uncritical history of fandom is exactly the kind of wake up that is needed for users to demand more of this mega-giant. Image is everything to them, so let them know you can see through it.

Three Apple Workers Hurt Walking Into Glass Walls in First Month at $5bn HQ | Technology | the Guardian Who could see this coming?

Anonymous Bitcoin Donor Rains $56 Million on Stunned Nonprofits – the Chronicle of Philanthropy In the last Show and Tell, I linked to some of the more unpleasant aspects of the crypto currency boom. Here’s something to restore your faith in others.

Photo by Luke Chesser on Unsplash

Apple Blows Security | The Mac Observer

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.

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  1. It can border on disturbing

Apple is sharing your face with apps. That’s a new privacy worry | The Washington Post

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.

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  1. Incidentally, I have no interest in being another ‘called it’ ego tripper. My concern is that people are thoughtful, and careful about what they give access to, and how.
  2. Don’t worry, I know there’s much more to it.

New security update fixes macOS root bug | Ars Technica

New security update fixes macOS root bug | Ars Technica – If you came across this in the past 24 hours, or earlier even, you will be relieved to learn it has been patched. It is hard to recall a more shockingly simple bug which such brutal implications. If you ever wondered about so-called ‘zero-day’ vulnerabilities, here is a case in point.

Get on to that update…

Yesterday we learned that Apple had made a serious security error in macOS—a bug that, under certain conditions, allowed anyone to log in as a system administrator on a Mac running High Sierra by simply typing in “root” as the username and leaving the password field blank. Apple says that vulnerability has now been fixed with a security update that became available for download this morning on the Mac App Store. Further, the update will automatically be applied to Macs running High Sierra 10.13.1 later today.

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Show and Tell – Monday, 20 Nov 2017

We Know Where You Live

How One Woman's Digital Life Was Weaponized Against Her | WIRED — Commenting on the ills of social media is a thing at the moment.

New Research: Understanding the Root Cause of Account Takeover | Google Online Security Blog — Google is one big permeative contradiction. On the one hand, they are at the centre of so many security and privacy issues. On the other, the provide a lot of insight into these issues more generally. If you are a Google app user, keeping up on this stuff is a good idea. The stated motivation for this research:

More than 15% of Internet users have reported experiencing the takeover of an email or social networking account. However, despite its familiarity, there is a dearth of research about the root causes of hijacking.

The actual publication can be found here

The Internet of Shit Is so Manifestly Insecure That People Are Staying Away From It in Droves | Boing Boing — Beware geeks enthusing about never having to reach for the light switch again. Although, Apple fans will just tell you the answer is HomeKit

The Drone Zone in Higher Education | University Business Magazine — Because this is what everyone associates with drones. Safety, and security. Nothing like an autonomous surveillance vehicle flying overhead to make you feel safe. We know who is selling these ideas, but who is buying?

Idle at Work

How to Draft a Dissertation in a Year | GradHacker — I don’t necessarily agree with the methods, and others are just plain obvious. What works for some, will not for others. Nonetheless, I have no doubt there are people breezing through here looking for shortcuts. If nothing else p, take from this the idea you need a plan

What Else Floats on Water

Command-E | All This — A knowledge base document has been doing the rounds, highlighting the depth of keyboard shortcuts available on the Mac. Dr Drang offers a way into it with one shortcut in particular. There is something oddly delightful about this site, these unique meditations on detail will not be for everyone, but I couldn’t tell you how much I pick up from them. If you just want the support document for the full list of shortcuts, look here

The Fairly Incomplete & Rather Badly Illustrated

Five Technologies That Will Rock Your World | the New York Times — Voice interaction, it turns out, is a mere stepping stone to a more intimate UI.

Facebook, Google and Others Join the Trust Project, an Effort to Increase Transparency Around Online News | TechCrunch — Yep, you read that right. Transparency is their modus operandi. That’s what they say. Must be true.

The Bright Side of Life

K Machine on the App Store — I can’t help stumbling across interesting music apps. I decided I will add a music app of the week to this collection of links. This is a mixed media app. A sampler, sequencer, and beat maker. If you have problems with inertia, or you were traumatised in the nineties by psychedelic screen savers, this app isn’t for you. If you had the opposite experience, check it out.

And Now, For Something Completely Different

Dupes Gather at Sold-Out Flat Earth International Conference | Boing Boing — What is most remarkable about a flat earth belief system is, these people have somehow convinced themselves (those who are convinced I mean, not the ones who are cashing in on the dupes) that the kind of epic collaboration necessary to maintain such a hoax is possible.

Show and Tell – Wednesday, 15 Nov 2017

We Know Where You Live

Big Brother Isn't Just Watching: Workplace Surveillance Can Track Your Every Move | World News | the Guardian – These techniques are just new versions of old ideas. Scientific management has ruled the workplace for the past hundred years or so. The inclination to treat people like this is tied up with the drive to extract as much value from them as possible. People are not people under these terms. They are units, opportunities, capital.

Right on Cue, DOJ Says Encryption ‘Surely Costs Lives' | the Mac Observer – I published a piece on encryption, and Dropbox alternatives last week. The Mac Observer is making some good points that put me on side.

DOJ: Strong Encryption That We Don't Have Access to Is “unreasonable” | Ars Technica – More on the fallacy of the week. False equivalence is rampant throughout this current run of stories on encryption. What is encouraging, however, is that nobody seems to be buying this nonsense. The so-called case for a back door is incoherent at best.

How Facebook Figures Out Everyone You've Ever Met – The lengths to which Facebook go have become so creepy that people are convinced they are listening to everything we say. Recently the hosts of Reply All spent an entire episode trying to convince people they aren’t literally listening. The point is they don’t need to, with so much self surveillance happening Facebook has all the context it needs to know what you are talking about.

Idle At Work

Fuck Twitter | Macdrifter – I like decisiveness. There a has been a lot written about Twitter lately, this piece is unique. I am unequivocally awful at Twitter, I have never made an effort. In fact, I didn’t have an account of my own until this year. And, I don’t give any compelling reason to follow me. It used to be because I thought there was a clue in the name. Now people are telling me it's worse.

How Social Media Endangers Knowledge | WIRED – This is not a new concern, it is just beg mainstreamed.

Social networks, though, have since colonized the web for television’s values. From Facebook to Instagram, the medium refocuses our attention on videos and images, rewarding emotional appeals—‘like’ buttons—over rational ones. Instead of a quest for knowledge, it engages us in an endless zest for instant approval from an audience, for which we are constantly but unconsciouly performing. (It’s telling that, while Google began life as a PhD thesis, Facebook started as a tool to judge classmates’ appearances.) It reduces our curiosity by showing us exactly what we already want and think, based on our profiles and preferences. Enlightenment’s motto of ‘Dare to know’ has become ‘Dare not to care to know.’

A Major Vulnerability Has Frozen Hundreds of Millions of Dollars of Ethereum | TechCrunch – It’s all fun and games, until its not. Virtual currency is like all monetary systems, vulnerable in different ways. By design, it also makes some people rich at the expense of others

What Also Floats on Water

The Ins and Outs of Apple's New File System, APFS | the Mac Security Blog – A little more detail on the new file system APFS. With everything now upgraded around here, I am yet to meet with any trouble. Neither have I noticed any amazing difference.

Using iPhone X TrueDepth Camera to Find Your Ideal Specs | Mac Rumors – This illustrates, excuse the pun, the divergence of use cases for this tech. One fork includes usefulness, the other concern. Where they will ultimately come together is through manipulation. Our economic and political system, not to mention our social milieu mean that it is inevitable that this technology will be used to track people for one reason or another. On the other hand, your new glasses will look better on your face.

Hackers Claim to Break Face ID a Week After iPhone X Release | WIRED – Two kinds of hype around this device.

Now Look Here

Future Perfect: What Will Universities Look Like in 2030? | Times Higher Education – This fits the trend. Everything is about robots, right?

Who Controls AI in Higher Ed, and Why It Matters (Part 1) | EdSurge News – The same forces that control everything else, what a surprise.

And Now, For Something Completely Different

Apple's ten years of iPhone mocked by Samsung – In case you missed it. An antidote is in order when you can’t seem to get away from the noise. The iPhone fetish is in overdrive at the moment. Some of the stuff I have read has been ridiculous. I’m not going to call them out here, but I read one article that suggested the iPhone 7 was ‘garbage’ now that the iPhone X is out. If that is not losing perspective, I don’t know what is.

macOS High Sierra: Safari’s iOS Style Permissions

New Reasons To Use Safari

There was a time that Safari was a clunky, annoying browser that you could install on Windows.  To be fair, pretty much all browsers met that criteria at one time. Things change. In this week’s show and tell I included a link from The Verge, who are shipping Safari as the best reason to upgrade your Mac to High Sierra. So far it’s hard to argue with that. With features added to both iOS 11 and macOS, there is a lot to like about the development of Safari. Of particular interest is the new ability to control some of the internet's more annoying tendencies with Safari's iOS style permissions

This is one of the areas that I have tried to balance security concerns with usability. I haven't always felt comfortable with the results. For a time I used a tricked out install of Firefox, in accordance with one of my favourite privacy resources. The industry around tracking and data collection is so cunning that extensions can become a data point for tracking in themselves. This is one of many reasons the evolution of Safari has become so interesting, moving protection to within the webkit framework brings that balance a little closer.

Safari's iOS Style Permissions on macOS

It is the new granular approach to permissions that I am most impressed with. Particularly on macOS. Safari itself now contains the kind of detailed permissions that we are used to applying on a per app basis for iOS. Something I find incredibly annoying — and invasive — is having websites try to send me push notifications. Who in their right mind would want their browser to badger them all day long? It's more than just an annoyance, though. While some of the older security issues of Push have been incrementally addressed, by design they provide another means for tracking. Look closely and you will notice there is an irony in the way Apple is implicated in the origins of this. Thankfully, they are getting better at addressing these — perhaps unintended — consequences. Notifications are among the many things addressed in the new ability to control permissions for Safari. The upside of Push, it is a permission based protocol. So ultimately, it is one of the web’s annoyances that we can actually opt out of, and now without much trouble. It is not the only one.

 

Safari's iOS style permissions
If you allow sites to request permission to send notifications, you will have the option to allow or deny on a site by site basis. Permission can be revoked via the Safari preferences

 

The influence of the mobile platform on macOS is becoming more and more obvious. The rollout of Continuity has no doubt made this inevitable, but we have seen more and more features make the crossover. From small, but important additions like Night Shift, to the way iOS devices have been the testing ground for significant new technologies. From a user standpoint, I feel the most significant, visible influence right now is the approach to permissions. The improved preference allow a user to block an entire category. Or you can manage them on a case by cade basis. Like iOS, you can manage access to the microphone and camera, access to location, and notifications. Then there are usability features, like the ability to turn on Reader mode by default for particular sites.  And, you can now put an end to those pesky auto-pay videos — you know who you are… Macworld.

Safari's iOS style permissions
This particular feature has been a hit, and with good reason. Autoplay is one of the most obnoxious features that internet advertisers have invented.

 

 

You can access all of these permissions in Safari’s preferences. Or, if you want to change settings on the fly, you can right-click — or ctrl + click — on a website’s name in the omnibar, and select Settings for this Website…

Improvements to Safari macOS
Settings for individual sites can be adjusted, or controlled from the address bar

Gaining Control

The reality of the modern internet is it is a cesspit of shady behaviour by supposedly legitimate actors. Without even getting into the relevant arguments, the performance of websites is a case in itself for having control over the excess. I won’t lean into the rest of the story here, I can make my case another time. Suffice to say, there are good reasons to have some control over this. I will say that Apple’s interventions are doubly interesting, considering the industry built up around its fandom. Apple related sites are some of the worstoffenders too. My sense is there is much more nuance to this than you can glean from the exploding heads who are worried about their wallets. The argument that Apple is doing more to save advertising than harm it in these moves, should carry water with anyone thinking clearly.

But Webkit more generally has ushered in significant, positive changes. Especially when it comes to performance. Webkit also provides significant advantages for the implementation of content Blockers. One of many reasons Safari is starting to back up some of it’s claims.

Reasons to use Safari Browser on iOS

iOS users have had good reason to keep an alternative browser around. I still keep iCab Mobile on hand, for all the little things it can do. It has always been like a browsing pocketknife. It really is the only genuinely extensible, standalone browser on iOS. 1 The built-in download manager retains its utility, even as we move into the brave new world of the iOS Files App. For as long as I have been an iOS user, anytime I hit a road block while browsing, I knocked it over with iCab. However, Safari is extensible insofar as iOS itself is extensible. As the operating system has improved, so too have the default apps. Like other native apps, it is the system wide hooks that make it so useful. 2 From handoff, to iCloud synced history, bookmarks and reading list. All of these features are available system wide. Where third-party developers have cottoned on to the beauty of app extensions, iOS has improved out of sight. With Apple taking possession of Workflow, this is only going to get better.

From the more incremental improvements in iOS 10, it is hard to argue that Safari is Apple’s most mature, even its best iOS app. In iOS 11, Safari comes loaded with all kinds of new tricks. Like macOS, there is further control granted to user permissions. Although, it is more clear the influence iOS has had on the Mac. There is also the addition of WebRTC and media capture, and even access to experimental features. Nobody could argue that iOS — the iPhone in particular —hasn’t significantly influenced web technology. One of its most significant achievements is surely that hand it played in burying Flash. I would argue that this trend is going to continue through the extension of new features in Safari.

Look Again

If, for whatever reason, you have held on to the impression that Safari is a clunky waste of time, trust me it is worth another look. You don’t have to go far to find lingering impressions of the browser are outdated. 3 I know, I was a subscriber to that view. Even for established users, there are new reasons to to use Safari. The changes in macOS High Sierra and iOS 11 are impressive. Apple has found a way to make privacy its point of difference. While I would urge people to see that for what it is, I'm not churlish enough to overlook the way it benefits users. These a big improvements.

  1. Despite what other browsers may claim
  2. The Notes App is a particularly good example of this.
  3. The icon in that link was replaced more than 3 years ago. The browser is unrecognisable from that time.

App Store Still Available in special Version of iTunes

In case you haven’t seen this yet. There is still a version of iTunes that includes the App Store. Apple recently removed the App Store from iTunes on the desktop. Given it had been such an integral part of the way so many people manage their devices, it is understandable that it was received as a wind up in some quarters. If a backdoor is going to turn up anywhere, it is bound to be on Reddit. And so it goes.

There is a process involved. But if you need access to your library of apps on the desktop for any reason. Or you are bloody minded enough to want to take this all work again while you can. This is what you need.

Perhaps the biggest problem with how this change was handled is that it came out of the blue. Users updated iTunes as they normally would. Upon opening it the message was delivered. No more iOS App Store on the Mac — or Windows for that matter. This workaround is not ideal, but it does exist.

Week Links – October 9th 2017

Interesting

New Open Publishing Platform “Janeway” | Profhacker – Nerds meet academic publishing . I wholeheartedly support any and all open access endeavours. The academic publishing world is not only dominated by large corporate entities that prefer closed access to maximise gains from academic labour. If you know nothing of how the industry works, you won’t have to go far to find out how fraught the whole process is. Projects like this are vital for giving the push into open access the user experience required to make it successful. Then there is the name, what’s not to like.

iOS 11: The Pixel Envy Review | Pixel Envy – The reviews are still rolling in. If you were waiting for something more concise than the epics I linked to last week, this is a much more succinct account.

‘Spy Schools: How the CIA, FBI and Foreign Intelligence Secretly Exploit America’s Universities’ – That such a relationship exists between higher education and governmental surveillance agencies shouldn’t come as a surprise. The details, however, will surely be interesting.

I never signed up for this! Privacy implications of email tracking – I intend for security and privacy concerns to be writ large in the DNA of this site. This is a blog post detailing a research paper on the growing prevalence of email tracking. Where you may think a feature like read receipts is relatively harmless, but they belong on this particular slippery slope. I would encourage all users to disable remote content in their email clients.

Why Apple could be slapped with a massive $15 billion Irish tax bill | Ars Technica – Apologists spend a lot of time rationalising this away. Apple trades on so-called ethical principles, but as important as environmental concerns are, Apple’s collective conscience is sure found wanting where labour and taxation are concerned. Countries like Ireland already go out of there way to prostrate themselves with minimal company tax rates. Apple has Ireland so far over the barrel with this they are fighting against collecting the payment. As for Apple, settling this account will probably ruin them

Silicon Valley’s $300M donation to STEM education is not what it seems – Salon.com – Another case of collective image management meets a convenient marriage of determinism and opportunism. It’s good to see that analysis of the tech industry isn’t all glorified cheer leading and consumer salivating.

“Eton for all”: will robot teachers mean everyone gets an elite education? – Because actual intelligence seems to be giving up?

‘Our minds can be hijacked': the tech insiders who fear a smartphone dystopia | Technology | The Guardian – Appropriately, this piece on hyperactive attention and addictive technology is a long read.

Uber app can silently record iPhone screens, researcher finds | ZDNet – There is cause for real concern here. I’m genuinely surprised at how deafening the silence is from all the enthusiast blogs. What bothers me is that Apple trades on its privacy stance — and I’m buying on that basis no less. As Michael Tsai put it, this is shocking hypocrisy.

Self-driving cars are coming faster than you think. What will that mean for public radio? | Nieman Journalism Lab – Beyond the technical details, most of the conversation on this topic has either focused on disruption to the automatic industry, safety and legal matters, or design and planning. I haven’t seen much on the question of what will happen to the space inside the car. Cue attempts to monetise and capitalise on that space, it certain won’t be long before it is cast as an opportunity for productivity.

Useful

Chalk One Up for Augmented Reality | ProfHacker – The author calls the demo of this app grating, I would agree. But seriously, is the pun in the title not enough? Nonetheless, I can see how useful this could be for education purposes.

iMazing introduces free conversion of Apple’s new .HEIC image format – My sense is, this will most likely be very useful while we deal with bedding in a new image format. While I’m at it, iMazing has another free product that is incredibly useful, theiMazing Mini iOS backup client.

Markdown Service Tools 2.16 | Brett Terpstra –  This is just one of many clever utilities and automatons that Brett has made and distributed freely. Along with his SearchLink tools, this saves me a serious amount of time when writing for the web.

Win a copy of 60 Mac Tips: Volume 2 – Having said how useful those Terpstra Tools are, it would be remiss of me not to mention the new volume of 60 Mac Tips that Brett has release with David ‘MacSparky' Sparks. There is still time to join the draw for a free copy.

Fun

Samplebot iPhone Demo – YouTube – This is an example of two things. First, the incredible ingenuity of the iPhone for making music — among other things. And two, how quality video production doesn’t always equal success on YouTube. Trust me, this is a way better produced video than so much of what is being offered in the iOS music production world. Meanwhile, Jimmy Fallon had a lot to do with making A Tasty Pixel’s first app Loopy HD famous, and he is already putting Samplebot through its paces with some amusing remixes