Apple vs. Facebook: One of Those Companies Won’t Let You Read This


• Where you get your news may well determine what you’re allowed to see. For example, this story recently broke: “Facebook says 50m user accounts affected by security breach.” But if you get your news from Facebook, you might not ever be allowed to know about that breach.

In the words of Lord Acton, a British historian, Power tends to corrupt; absolute power corrupts absolutely. And the wages of the misuse of power are often harsh, as we’ll see next.

• Apple does things that require deep examination. Otherwise surface effects dominate the often negative observations. For example, Apple’s business model doesn’t depend, like Facebook’s, on selling information about its customers. We know that well. But what are the lasting implications for Apple? For Facebook? The New York Times has looked at the deeper implications of Apple’s business model. “How Apple Thrived in a Season of Tech Scandals.

Because Apple makes money by selling phones rather than advertising, it has been able to hold itself up as a guardian against a variety of digital plagues: a defender of your privacy, an agitator against misinformation and propaganda, and even a plausible warrior against tech addiction, a problem enabled by the very irresistibility of its own devices.

The exploration continues with a discussion of the emerging impact on Apple’s ostensible rivals.

Tim Cook at WWDC 2018
Unlike Stevie Nicks, Tim Cook doesn’t keep his (grand) visions to himself.

Though their businesses keep chugging along, Facebook and Google, the world’s biggest internet ad companies, now face global scrutiny for the spread of disinformation, propaganda and what critics say is their products’ destabilizing effects on politics and society.

And there’s an interesting tie-in with Apple pricing that we don’t often think about.

Apple’s high prices also set up an expectation of safety, giving it a freer hand to police online properties like its app store, podcast directory and news app. A decade ago, when Mr. Jobs imposed rules on the iOS App Store banning scammy and pornographic apps, he was called a prude. Now his rules seem prescient.

Speaking of safety, the Apple Watch, with its health monitoring capabilities—which will only get better—make for comfortable warm fuzzies that Apple is looking out for us, not exploiting us.

This is a good read by the notable writer Farhad Manjoo. Check it out.

More Debris

• Are iPhone XS/Max selfies artificially smoothing the user’s skin? The term “beautygate” is being used. “Some people are saying Apple’s new iPhone selfie camera automatically smooths your skin in photos…” This sounds a lot like a misinterpretation of the techical characteristics of the new camera, but there’s more to learn. So stay tuned for additional, um, clarifications.

• In an era when we see AI being exploited for gain, likely at the expense of humankind, it’s nice to know that a company is investing in AI for good causes. See: “Microsoft to invest $40 million in AI technology for humanitarian issues.

Microsoft will invest $40 million to apply artificial intelligence to humanitarian issues, the company said Monday, the third program in a previously announced series of AI initiatives.

The project, AI for Humanitarian Action, follows a $50 million pledge in AI for Earth and a $25 million investment in AI for Accessibility.

Microsoft continues to impress under CEO Satya Nadella.

• This next item amuses me. “Kids are outsmarting Apple’s ‘Screen Time’ restrictions on iPhones.”
Your first cynical reaction might be, if Apple can’t thwart a 7-year-old, how can it deter hackers? But that’s not a legit point. Any sufficiently advanced technology provides multiple operational paths. A smart kid can find them. The system isn’t compromised; rather, imaginatively exercised. ::cough::
Better move on….

• When I wrote my review of macOS Mojave, I noted that this new release appears to exhibit a good understanding of how productive users utilize their Macs. In a operational sense. Dan Moren has explored that theme in much more detail. “MacOS Mojave and the future of the Mac.

More importantly, … Apple realizes what’s important to Mac users: the programs that they run and care about. If the Mac is the truck to iOS devices’ car in Steve Jobs’s old analogy, well, the people buying a truck want a truck.

A great truck.

iMac Pro with an Apple logo and a lock
iMac Pro is a beautiful, powerful truck. Image credit Apple.

• Ryan Faas, an Apple/enterprise guru, explains a vulnerability in Apple’s “Device Enrollment Program that, in some circumstances, could leave corporate networks and data insecure. But companies can mitigate the danger.” Here’s the story at Computerworld. “The Apple DEP flaw explained – and how to bolster security.” By the way, Ryan was a very recent guest on my Background Mode podcast.

• We finish with some AI humor. If you were a participant in an AI-related “minimal” Turing test and asked to prove you are human with just one word, what would it be?

I’ll give you a moment to ponder your response. I’ll wait….

Okay. Time’s up! The best answer?


[Note: Particle Debris is only one page this week.]

Particle Debris is a generally a mix of John Martellaro’s observations and opinions about a standout event or article of the week (preamble on page one) followed on page two by a discussion of articles that didn’t make the TMO headlines, the technical news debris. The column is published most every Friday except for holiday weeks.

One thought on “Apple vs. Facebook: One of Those Companies Won’t Let You Read This

  • John:

    I am intrigued by the inverse relationship between the increasingly wider societal relevance of the articles you cite beyond simply the relevance to the Apple community, and the commentary to your PD articles, specifically their number. So, before commenting on the content, permit an observation and a request on your column itself. I hope, and trust, that you will not be dissuaded by absence of commentary from the continued trend of proffering these impactful articles for thought, even if not open discussion, in preference to articles that garner more ‘discussion’ and ‘debate’. I believe that there are two consequences to such articles that affect commentary.

    The first is that many of these articles necessarily extend beyond the Apple community to tech writ large, and must involve other companies that many readers may or may not care about or give much thought. This relative absence of company mindshare bears no relevance to the impact that these other companies may have on the lives of members of the Apple client community, as evidenced by the continued security and privacy breaches at FB and their entanglement of the privacy of persons indirectly who may not have directly been compromised, as we saw in the Cambridge Analytica scandal in 2016. These are things that, in an increasingly information insular climate, should be openly aired in a public square such as TMO, irrespective of the comfort with which individual readers may greet such articles; after all, an individual reader can always skip an article they don’t care to explore. Still, purists may feel that a site that styles itself ‘The Mac Observer’ should stick to things bearing on the Mac computer, or at least Apple devices, and not deviate therefrom. God bless their little hearts and souls. We are a race of explorers, who in this day explore nothing if not information and knowledge, and we take Alexander Pope’s ‘Essay on Criticism’ and expand it beyond ‘Drink deep or taste not’ to ‘…and drink broadly and often’.

    The second observation is that, in this climate of polarisation, many of these topics inevitably expose these fault lines in world view and tribal identify, and may daunt even the bravest reader from attempting to ford these chasms lest they should plunge into an abyss from which they may not be able to gracefully extract themselves. One sympathises. However, if that is the apprehension, the best antidote is abstention from two things; well trodden partisan tropes, and ad hominem attacks. This is the easy bit; the harder is the avoidance of responding in kind when these divisive tools are deployed. The quest for facts and truth is not a partisan activity, and has, however challenging the exercise, the effect bringing people together at even the most modest point of agreement, so long as the exercise itself is characterised by tolerance and mutual respect; admittedly not an exercise for the weak, the fearful, or the puerile, but for the genuine and mature student of truth.

    The request is therefore obvious. Please continue these articles. They are not simply informative, but important to everyone.

    Regarding your lede, this latest FB data breach/compromise/SNAFU is not surprising, at least not to anyone who has been paying attention. This truly is ‘Situation Normal’ at FB. Nor should it come as a shock that FB would block such information in an age of ‘fact curation’ (aka censorship) and/or the distribution of ‘alternative facts’ in their stead. In this era of the erosion of democracies openly standing for freedom of information (or in some cases, freedom, full stop) historic and serial abusers of such freedom will act with impunity and declare it the norm. Why wouldn’t FB play this to their advantage?

    I concur with Manjoo that Apple’s business model permits them to avoid the pitfalls of both surveillance capitalism, to borrow that phrase, and the selling of access to one’s client base that is now bedevilling FB, Google and increasingly Amazon. Furthermore, there is an element of truth to Zuckerberg’s rejoinder to TC and Apple’s business model of selling premium devices, namely, ‘The reality here is that if you want to build a service that helps connect everyone in the world, then there are a lot of people who can’t afford to pay,’ cited by Manjoo.

    Where I believe Manjoo’s analysis (and Zuckerberg’s) is incomplete is in his conclusion, “Inequality is the story of our age, and it’s no surprise that it could become the dominant story line of tech, too. As the digital world gets scarier, Apple’s technology may come to resemble a high-priced oasis for the world’s rich. Everyone else takes their chances on a free lunch.”

    In fact, this conclusion misses the key point entirely. The issue of data security and personal privacy is not confined to the issue of business model alone, as relevant as that is, but of company core value (or philosophy) and skillset. Whatever a company does with such data, all major tech companies are in process of collecting data in their most sensitive and potentially damaging form. Every company that collects such data becomes a honey pot for bad guys. What are the security measures, including technologies and protocols, that a company uses to safeguard these data, including from internal abuse by themselves? If a company is truly committed to privacy as a human right and core value, and if it truly believes the individual user has ultimate ownership of their own data, then are there ways in which those data can be better protected, even when one’s business model is selling access to users? The answer is ‘yes’, but only with commitment to that principal of the primacy of the individual over the corporation.

    All companies, including Apple, have a stake in this question. And this is a skillset to which AI can and should be applied to serve as a buffer, effectively scrubbing and anonymising individual user data even from the company, against unauthorised access or attack, and permitting the individual to decide what information they will be exposed to and under what circumstances.

    In the near term, this should be a principal objective behind AI development, to which not only all tech giants should be committed, but one in which there should be consensus for industry common standards reflecting a commitment to privacy as a human right, irrespective of any client’s ability to pay.

    Apologies for the length.

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