March 24, 2023

Snippet: A Digital Red Scare? ☍

Nick Heer:

I had today’s hearing playing in the background and it was a tense and frustrating back-and-forth. As is typical for these kinds of hearings, lawmakers mostly soapboxed relentlessly, asked complicated questions they framed as a simple matter of yes or no, and did not let Chew finish answering. The word “communist” was used with the same frequency and tone as the word “fuck” in “Uncut Gems”. It was very clear, from the outset, that most committee members were not much interested in investigating, but were instead trying to justify a forthcoming likely vote to ban TikTok from the United States. Perhaps appropriately, a representative named McCarthy supports a TikTok ban.

Snippet: How TikTok Failed to Make the Case For Itself ☍

Casey Newton for Platformer:

It is a ritual previously endured by Mark Zuckerberg, Sheryl Sandberg, Sundar Pichai, and Jack Dorsey, among others. And while each of them faced withering questions, in the end withering questions is all that Congress really gave them. Hearings like these are often framed as a precursor to stringent regulation, but in the United States they are a substitute for them. Congress yells at social media companies — posting clips of their sickest burns on the very companies they criticize — and then fails to pass a single piece of legislation.

TikTok’s hearing might have gone this way, too, were it not for one overarching, bipartisan concern: that the company’s owner, ByteDance, might be forced by the Chinese government to surveil Americans or seek to influence them by promoting pro-China or anti-US content.

I watched a bit of the hearings today and it seemed that no matter what TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew would have said, the outcome would have been the same. The frustrating part to me is the lack of any sort of technological understanding or knowledge demonstrated by so many members of Congress—they’re so focused on fear and “what about the kids?” They didn’t even try to hide the fact that their minds were made up before this started either. There’s also the regular dismissal that it’s a nonsensical “dancing app” that sometimes has dangerous challenges—as though those are the only kinds of content on there:

Finally, TikTok never really got older people to use it. In particular, it struggled to get members of Congress to use it. The Post reported that just one member of today’s committee — Rep. Tony Cárdenas (D-CA) — has an active, verified TikTok account. (Two others appear to have deleted theirs.)

It’s easy to ban an app you never use, particularly when you can do it in the name of national security. I suspect that were Facebook or Twitter owned by a Chinese company, Congress would feel much more motivated to find a solution that let them continuing to use their accounts for promotion and fundraising.

This is my biggest gripe of anyone dismissing TikTok without actually using it—there’s a lot of stupid stuff on there (it is on the Internet, after all), but there’s also a lot of great content and if we’re concerned about addictiveness, misinformation, or vacuuming up data about users, let’s also look at Meta, Twitter, and others, too. If not, Congress is just headed further into dangerous, ignorant territory.

March 23, 2023

Snippet: The Return of Hipstamatic ☍

Hipstamatic co-founder Lucas Buick on Product Hunt:

But why bring back Hipstamatic now, after it faded from popularity over a decade ago? The answer lies in the growing dissatisfaction with the current state of social media. The recent controversies surrounding Facebook and Meta, as well as concerns over data privacy and the addictive nature of technology, have sparked a desire for something different.

Hipstamatic represents a return to the roots of mobile photography, a time before algorithms and AI ruled the day. It’s a reminder that technology can be used for fun and creativity, not just profit and engagement. The app’s member-supported community is proof that there are people out there who still value genuine connections and the simple pleasure of taking and sharing photos.

In a world where technology seems to be heading down a dangerous path, Hipstamatic offers a glimmer of hope. It’s a reminder that there is still a place for contrarian views and alternative approaches to tech. By rejecting the prevailing wisdom of the industry and focusing on what really matters, Hipstamatic is a beacon of light in a dark and often cynical world.

I’m playing with it right now, and will most likely end up subscribing—it’s a really pleasant nostalgia hit and seems to solve a lot of my current gripes with the horrible mutant that Instagram has become. If you used the original version, download that back to your device for some special stamps, too!

March 21, 2023

Snippet: Forget A TikTok Ban, We Need To Regulate Data Brokers And Pass A Real Privacy Law ☍

Karl Bode for Techdirt:

And they don’t want to actually fix the mess they created. U.S. corporations don’t want to make slightly less money under a policy framework that empowers consumers, and the U.S. government doesn’t want to have to get a warrant for all of that data it buys from brokers.

So you get what we have here: a big dumb performance in which we pretend that banning a single app actually does anything of use. After all, the Chinese, Russian, and U.S. governments can all just buy data from the poorly regulated data broker market. They don’t need TikTok for surveillance and propaganda; they have plenty of data brokers and U.S. tech giants for that.

At the point, it’s irrelevant if TikTok is siphoning data to the Chinese government—our lawmakers are posturing instead of doing something beneficial for the people because we already know that plenty of other places (grocery stores, streaming devices, internet providers, and social networks) are vacuuming up and selling data about us whether we like it or not.

A bit of a related note, my Instagram was suspended this weekend without me even posting any content (presumably accessing it on my computer with an ad-blocker-equipped browser was enough?) That leaves me a little extra salty towards the Facebook Meta empire.

Snippet: iOS 16.4 Allows Health Authorities to End Their Support for Apple’s COVID-19 Exposure Notifications Feature ☍

Chance Miller for 9to5Mac:

Back in 2020, Apple and Google teamed up to launch the Exposure Notifications API for COVID-19 contact tracing. The feature aimed to alert you to potential COVID-19 exposures, allowing you to get a test and isolate yourself if necessary.

Three years later, Apple is now giving health agencies the ability to sunset their adoption of the Exposure Notifications API.

In iOS 16.4, Apple has added underlying support for health departments to end their support of the Exposure Notifications API. When a health authority decides to end support for the feature, users will see a message on their iPhone informing them of that decision.

I thought this was a great idea in light of trying to gather as much data and precautionary awareness as we could, yet sadly the politicization of the pandemic and state governments being bad at tech in general prevented a lot of areas from even utilizing this feature. Then again, we’ve also seen how pathetic the roll-out of driver’s licenses in Wallet, too.