Recent Articles By Andrew Orr [RSS]

Smart TVs Could Get Smarter About Tracking You

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It’s estimated that smart TVs will make up 70% of televisions shipped this year. This will give companies new data on the shows we watch and how long we watch them, which means better TV ad targeting.

Typically, TV and app makers say they don’t collect your data unless you’ve opted-in to share it, and what data they share isn’t linked to any personally identifiable information, but to an identifier that connects to a wealth of other data about you. In any case, Navin and other TV techies generally like to emphasize all that you get in exchange for turning over your viewing data. Samba’s software, for instance, can recommend shows for you to watch based on what you’ve already seen.

Can This California Privacy Law Bring Back Net Neutrality?

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On Thursday, the state’s State Assembly voted 58-17 on a California privacy law called S.B. 822. It would implement the strongest net neutrality provisions in the U.S.

Here’s where it goes above and beyond the policy developed under the Obama administration: The bill also bans zero rating, which allows service providers to charge customers for data use on some websites but not on others. If you want to dive deeper into the nitty-gritty, take a look at the bill here.

How Google Will Win the War Against Adblockers

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Technology or not, at the end of the day Google is an advertising company. So how is it going to make money when a large percentage of people are blocking ads? Nothing short of offline surveillance.

Alphabet Inc.’s Google and Mastercard Inc. brokered a business partnership during about four years of negotiations, according to four people with knowledge of the deal, three of whom worked on it directly. The alliance gave Google an unprecedented asset for measuring retail spending, part of the search giant’s strategy to fortify its primary business against onslaughts from Amazon.com Inc. and others.

Google made a secret deal with Mastercard to track your purchases in the offline world. And I’m sure it will move to partner with other banking institutions as well. This is how it will win the war against adblockers.

Middle East Espionage Involves Hacking Macs

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A hacking team called WindShift has been responsible for hacking Macs for the past couple of years. They target certain individuals working in government departments in the Middle East.

Karim, a researcher at cybersecurity company DarkMatter, said the attackers had found a way to “bypass all native macOS security measures.” Once they’d penetrated those defenses, the malware would exfiltrate documents of interest and continuously take screenshots of the victims’ desktops. The attacks have been ongoing from 2016, through to today, the researcher added.

Scary stuff, and it sounds like whatever vulnerabilities WindShift is finding affect all Mac models. That being said, these are highly targeted attacks, so the rest of us probably don’t have to worry.

Original iPhone Designer Shares Thoughts on Apple's Flaws

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Imran Chaudri—an original iPhone designer—worked on the first iPhone’s user interface, and was once director of Apple’s human interfaces group. He talked to Fast Company about his time at Apple and some of Apple’s flaws.

There are issues any time you do something unnatural, when you ask humanity to interact with machines. It’s that simple. The side effects of interfacing with machines, whether it’s knobs and dials, or clicks and taps, or swipes and gestures, are always going to be there. You have to be smart enough to be ahead of them and anticipate what they are.

Even when using the first iPhone, Mr. Chaudri knew that a feature like Do No Disturb would be important.

Sorry Apple, the iPhone X Plus Won't Save You

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Ewan Spence writes that the iPhone X Plus won’t save Apple. (From what?)

…the year on year growth of the iPhone family has been disappointing at best.

That line is too funny not to share. While I won’t pick Mr. Spence’s article apart Macalope-style, I will share a few thoughts. He writes that there is no “increased demand” for a bigger iPhone X model, iPhone tech is “heavily inspired by the feature set found in Android,” (Hmmm) and “the passionate supporters of Cupertino are at saturation point for new devices” (These iPhone owners disagree).

The fact of the matter is, and always has been, that the iPhone’s year-over-year growth is only disappointing if you’re a Wall Street short-term investor, of whom Tim Cook repeatedly says Apple doesn’t care about. We’ve reached Peak Smartphone, and sales simply won’t mimic the highs of the first few years of the iPhone.

This iMessage Concept Redesigns Social Interactions

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 is back with an iMessage concept. I’ve shared his previous design concepts before, and his latest one involves redesigning social interactions in Apple’s Messages app. By using Screen Time in iOS 12, Mr. Eugène noticed how much he spent messaging people, and he wanted to improve the experience. A new feature is called Chatroom, and it’s meant to “bridge the gap between digital and real world interactions.” It makes iMessage apps more powerful, and lets people experience digital things like they would in the physical world. For example, when you send a video to a friend using YouTube’s iMessage app, it shows an indicator when the person watches it. Then, you can tap on the video to watch it together inside of the Chatroom, where you can discuss the video.

This iMessage Concept Redesigns Social Interactions

App Alert: Reeder 3 is Free on iOS and macOS

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Reeder 3, a popular news reader that lets you add RSS feeds from multiple accounts, is now free for iOS and macOS. I don’t know if this is temporary or permanent, but it might be a sign that Reeder 4 is coming. In any case, it’s a great deal because the Mac app use to be US$9.99 and the iOS app was US$4.99. You can add accounts from Feedbin, Feedly, Feed Wrangler, Fever, FeedHQ, Inoreader, NewsBlur, Minimal Reader, The Old Reader, BazQux Reader, and Instapaper. You can also add a standalone RSS feed from a website. These are local and don’t sync between iOS and macOS. Sharing services include Safari Reading List, Buffer, Instapaper, Pocket, Evernote, Pinboard, Twitter, Facebook, Messages, Mail, and more. App Store | Mac App Store

App Alert: Reeder 3 is Free on iOS and macOS

New Zealand has the World's First Digital Teacher

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Auckland energy company Vector partnered with AI company Soul Machines to create a digital teacher called Will.

Will’s there to teach children about energy use. Students interact with Will — essentially just a face on a screen — via their desktop, tablet, or mobile device. He teaches them about different forms of renewable energy, such solar and wind. Will can then ask the students questions about what they’ve learned to ensure the lessons stick.

Thankfully it’s not teaching an entire curriculum, because education probably doesn’t need AI teachers. Maybe in developing countries, where lack of education/teachers is a problem. But in first-world countries, we should just pay human teachers better.

This is The Age of Privacy Nihilism

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Ian Bogost writes that these recent scandals involving Google and Facebook mistreating is just the tip of the iceberg. Data collection, along with data brokers, has been happening for decades.

But none of this is new, nor is it unique to big tech. Online services are only accelerating the reach and impact of data-intelligence practices that stretch back decades. They have collected your personal data, with and without your permission, from employers, public records, purchases, banking activity, educational history, and hundreds more sources. They have connected it, recombined it, bought it, and sold it. Processed foods look wholesome compared to your processed data, scattered to the winds of a thousand databases.

I hope that the U.S. adopts its own federal privacy law like GDPR. Talks have been underway, so there’s a glimmer of hope.