September 1, 2020

Snippet: iOS 14 Settings Will Tank Ad Targeting Business, Facebook Warns ☍

Kate Cox for Ars Technica:

Facebook is warning developers that privacy changes in an upcoming iOS update will severely curtail its ability to track users’ activity across the entire Internet and app ecosystem and prevent the social media platform from serving targeted ads to users inside other, non-Facebook apps on iPhones. […]

The changes requiring users to opt in make the IDFA [ID for Advertisers] essentially useless, Facebook warned developers today. Facebook apps on iOS 14—which includes Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram, Messenger, and a host of others—will no longer collect users’ IDFA.

Good.

August 21, 2020

Snippet: Apple Might Want 30% of Everything ☍

Sean Hollister for The Verge:

WordPress, the iOS app, lets you build and manage a website right from your iPhone or iPad.

Separately, WordPress.com also happens to sell domain names.

Now, WordPress founding developer Matt Mullenweg is accusing Apple of cutting off the ability to update that app — until or unless he adds in-app purchases so the most valuable company in the world can extract its 30 percent cut of the money. […]

Here’s the thing: the WordPress app on iOS doesn’t sell anything. I just checked, and so did Stratechery’s Ben Thompson. The app simply lets you make a website for free. There isn’t even an option to buy a unique dot-com or even dot-blog domain name from the iPhone and iPad app — it simply assigns you a free WordPress domain name and 3GB of space.

What the f—uh, let’s go with…hell, Apple? While I’ve been firmly in the camp that the App Store policies could use some updating for the times, I do think enforcing rules consistently and not tearing down the walled garden is important. I’m also not really a fan of the Android-style idea of multiple app stores, but that’s for another post.

I hope this is a miscommunication, because it’s a really really stupid move on Apple’s part when everyone is already looking at their policies and behaviors under a microscope. What’s next, a 30% cut if you buy goods in the Target app? A 30% cut if you pay your Comcast or AT&T bill in those apps? A 30% cut if you order a coffee from the Starbucks app?

Update: Apple issued a carefully-worded statement to back out of the matter without WordPress changing anything:

We believe the issue with the WordPress app has been resolved. Since the developer removed the display of their service payment options from the app, it is now a free stand-alone app and does not have to offer in-app purchases. We have informed the developer and apologize for any confusion that we have caused.

Snippet: The Case of the Top Secret iPod ☍

David Shayer on TidBITS shares a great story:

It was a gray day in late 2005. I was sitting at my desk, writing code for the next year’s iPod. Without knocking, the director of iPod Software—my boss’s boss—abruptly entered and closed the door behind him. He cut to the chase. “I have a special assignment for you. Your boss doesn’t know about it. You’ll help two engineers from the US Department of Energy build a special iPod. Report only to me.” […]

They didn’t actually work for the Department of Energy; they worked for a division of Bechtel, a large US defense contractor to the Department of Energy. They wanted to add some custom hardware to an iPod and record data from this custom hardware to the iPod’s disk in a way that couldn’t be easily detected. But it still had to look and work like a normal iPod.

August 19, 2020

Snippet: Cities Sue Netflix, Hulu, Disney+, Claim They Owe Cable “Franchise Fees” ☍

Jon Brodkin:

Four cities in Indiana are suing Netflix and other video companies, claiming that online video providers and satellite-TV operators should have to pay the same franchise fees that cable companies pay for using local rights of way.

The lawsuit was filed against Netflix, Disney, Hulu, DirecTV, and Dish Network on August 4 in Indiana Commercial Court in Marion County. The cities of Indianapolis, Evansville, Valparaiso, and Fishers want the companies to pay the cable-franchise fees established in Indiana’s Video Service Franchises (VSF) Act, which requires payments of 5 percent of gross revenue in each city.

The lawsuit is based on an unusual legal argument and doesn’t seem likely to succeed. Essentially, the cities are claiming that Netflix and similar providers use the public rights of way simply by offering video streaming services over the Internet:

Defendants transmit video programming to Indiana subscribers using Internet protocol and other technologies. When doing so, Defendants transmit their programming through facilities located at least in part in public rights of way within the geographic boundaries of Indiana Units, including public rights of way located within Plaintiffs’ geographic boundaries. Therefore, Defendants are required by the VSF Act to pay the Plaintiffs—and all other Indiana Units in which Defendants transmit video programming through facilities located at least in part in a public right-of-way—franchise fees.

This is happening in other places, too, so it’s not just an Indiana-being-dumb thing. However, I think this is yet another example of public policymakers not understanding technology. Would this mean that eventually, any internet video would be subject to these fees? What if I’m streaming video at home, but connected to a cellular tower outside of the city limits? That could potentially not be using anything in the “public right of way” that this is centered around. Furthermore, perhaps it was influenced by some of the cable providers:

Valparaiso city attorney Patrick Lyp told the Times [of Northwest Indiana], “Our case helps ensure a competitive marketplace where everyone subject to the fee pays it. The current situation is unfair to cable providers who have been following Indiana law.”

Ah yes, poor Comcast, Spectrum, and (if U-verse counts), AT&T.

August 11, 2020

Snippet: Amazon Reveals ‘Confidential’ Podcast Plan in Mass Email; Shows Must Agree Not to Disparage Amazon ☍

Todd Bishop for GeekWire:

Amazon Music and the tech giant’s Audible subsidiary plan to offer podcasts from third-party content providers directly on their platforms, significantly expanding their audio offerings and going head-to-head with Apple, Google, Spotify and others major podcast distribution platforms.

But first, they’ve got a PR mess to deal with.

The company disclosed the plans on Monday in a mass email to podcast content producers, including journalists and media organizations that cover Amazon, declaring that the information about its podcast plans were “confidential” without following the standard practice of first securing their agreement to treat the message as confidential. […]

Then came the real mess. Podcasters who clicked through to submit their shows discovered this clause in the content license agreement that’s a requirement to participate in the program: “Your Content may not (a) include advertising or messages that disparage or are directed against Amazon or any Service; …”

I’m not surprised. Amazon has every right to do this, but it’s not a good look. I think back to when I did a podcast (the content was much like this site), Amazon would come up in the news from time to time—does that mean we couldn’t discuss unfavorable topics about Amazon?