• 2019

  • Facebook is Rebranding Their Apps, Add Its Name to Instagram

  • From The Information:

    In a big shift, Facebook plans to signal its control of Instagram and WhatsApp by adding its name to both apps, according to three people familiar with the matter. The social network will rebrand the apps to “Instagram from Facebook” and “WhatsApp from Facebook,” the people said.

    Employees for the apps were recently notified about the changes, which come as antitrust regulators are examining Facebook’s acquisitions of both apps. The app rebranding is a major departure for Facebook, which until recently had allowed the apps to operate and be branded independently. 

    Well, I guess it’s official. Instagram has jumped the shark. The writing has been on the wall for quite some time, so I can’t say I’m surprised. But this, is the icing on the cake for me. Back when Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger left Facebook, I had grave concerns for the future of Instagram. But it’s now crystal clear — Facebook doesn’t (nor has it ever) give a shit about what their users want. Nor does Facebook care about how a healthy network of users should look like. It’s been obvious for a long time that Instagram is detrimental to your mental health, and they’ve done nothing but exacerbate the problem.

    So, I guess I’m leaving Instagram soon. Good thing Tim Smith is building Bokeh soon. Can’t wait to migrate.

  • Can We Learn About Privacy From Porn Stars?

  • My stage name is less about withholding parts of myself or maintaining privacy than it is a symbol of the idea that I am more than just my job or any other isolated slice of my identity.


    Maybe it would be easier to navigate the dissolving boundaries between public and private spaces if we all had a variety of names with which to signal the aspects of ourselves currently on display. And maybe we should remember that our first glimpse of a person is just one small piece of who they really are.

    I came across this op-ed a while back, and it’s been in the front of my mind for a while now. I really love Stoya’s viewpoints on privacy. She’s thinking really far ahead, and might be onto something valuable here. Holding onto a single name is pretty archaic (not to mention difficult to do effortlessly across the ever-more crowded digital landscape) nowadays isn’t it? Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have contextual aliases available to users everywhere?

    A public alias. A private alias. A work alias. An expressive alias. A commenting alias. Each username, an extension of our whole-self. Each one signaling a segment of digital and personal self. I think this would be a remarkable addition to a product like Twitter.

  • Genius.com Accuses Google of Lifting Its Content

  • From the WSJ:

    “Over the last two years, we’ve shown Google irrefutable evidence again and again that they are displaying lyrics copied from Genius,” said Ben Gross, Genius’s chief strategy officer, in an email message. The company said it used a watermarking system in its lyrics that embedded patterns in the formatting of apostrophes. Genius said it found more than 100 examples of songs on Google that came from its site.

    Starting around 2016, Genius made a subtle change to some of the songs on its website, alternating the lyrics’ apostrophes between straight and curly single-quote marks in exactly the same sequence for every song.
    When the two types of apostrophes were converted to the dots and dashes used in Morse code, they spelled out the words “Red Handed.”

    This is a pretty egregious report if you ask me. Also, it’s a really badass way of catching Google redhanded. Love that.

    Google just loves to get down-and-dirty, and equally so, loves to play coy in these kinds of scenarios. Google was lifting content verbatim (through a third-party or not). Gave the stolen content search prominence. To top it off, — genius.com lyrics, links to the artist, and god-forbid, links to the actual song were seemingly buried.

    Everyone knows people don’t like to scroll in search results. It’s tiresome and takes time. Precious time. Getting relevant search results to users as fast as possible is the name of the game for Google — but at what cost? Why is Google regurgitating crawled content as their own?

    It also means Google is directing a smaller share of those queries to other sites. In March, 62% of mobile searches on Google didn’t result in a user clicking through to another website, according to the web-analytics firm Jumpshot Inc.

    Apparently, it’s in their absolute best interest to not send you to a search result anymore. My thought process is, if you search for X at google.com for 20 seconds, then later begin a search for Y, you no longer have to “go back” to begin the search process over again. You can just re-open your last window and start searching again. Which, I get it — but I’m searching for something. Please give it to me. I don’t want Google’s remixed results (or any AMP content for that matter), I want a damn link.

    The longer Google can keep you on-site, the higher probability you may be served an ad, or click through a privacy-violating vortex. Genius might not have a solid case against Google, especially considering the lyrics in dispute are owned by artists and/or record labels. But that’s not the point here — the point is we now have a record of Google actively lying about sourcing crawled content, claiming it as their own, and actively promoting in search results over websites.

    If this pattern holds, the web will become a grim, cold place. A place of unconnected nodes, where good ideas, and links go to die because Google doesn’t give a shit what we want. Don’t get me wrong. Google makes some insanely great products. Search and display ads are their bread-and-butter, so why on Earth is Ben Gomes mucking up search like this? Something tells me, this isn’t coincidence. Ever since Giannandrea departed, stories like this have become more and more frequent. Something is going on at The Googleplex.

  • 2018

  • Apple Launches Portal for U.S. Users to Download Their Data

  • That’s right. Later today, you should be able to download all your personal data through Apple’s shiny new Privacy Portal. What was originally a GDPR compliance move only available in the EU, is being rolled out globally later today.

    Interestingly, the new privacy page suggests that users turn on two-factor authentication (if they haven’t already). Smart move if you ask me. If you don’t see the “Obtain your data” option, it could take a while to roll out to every region. Be patient.

  • A young man texting on his mobile device

    Google’s New Chat Service is a Mess

  • We’re all familiar with SMS messaging. Texting (as it’s colloquially called), has been around for over 25 years now. But there’s an inherent problem with SMS. It’s not encrypted. Through no fault of the designers of SMS either.

    The specification is clearly meant to be simple. SMS files are literally just text files. The encrypted transmission of these texts are optional for the carrier. Unsurprisingly, I can’t find a single carrier that sends SMS messages over an encrypted protocol by default.

    Let's talk (more) about SMS

    A young man texting on his mobile device

    This means that if you send SMS messages, you’re sending them through the GSM network, via your service carrier. You can tell if you’re sending SMS as it is typically denoted on iOS devices by the infamous green text bubbles, and on Android devices they’re sent as SMS by default. They’re subject to interception, spoofing, man-in-the-middle attacks and surveillance. Not a win for privacy rights.

    From Wikipedia:

    SMS, as used on modern devices, originated from radio telegraphy in radio memo pagers that used standardized phone protocols. These were defined in 1985 as part of the Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM) series of standards. The protocols allowed users to send and receive messages of up to 160 alpha-numeric characters to and from GSM mobiles. Although most SMS messages are mobile-to-mobile text messages, support for the service has expanded to include other mobile technologies, such as ANSI CDMA networks and Digital AMPS.

    Let's talk about iMessage

    iMessage is (and I’m not being hyperbolic here), is a completely different animal. SMS and iMessage are cut from the same cloth in the fact that they are messaging services. But the similarities end there.

    From Wikipedia:

    The iMessage protocol is based on the Apple Push Notification Service (APNs)—a proprietary, binary protocol. It sets up a Keep-Alive connection with the Apple servers. Every connection has its own unique code, which acts as an identifier for the route that should be used to send a message to a specific device. The connection is encrypted with TLS using a client-side certificate, that is requested by the device on the activation of iMessage.

    That’s right, every single iMessage sent and received (that includes everything from photo attachments to Animoji) goes through Apple’s servers first, and uses end-to-end encryption ensuring that only the sender and the receiver can de-encrypt messages. Which means, if an intercept takestephen.news, the would-be-attacker would now be in possession of a unusable soup of characters. Kind of like this:

    Without the client-side certificate, your would-be attacker is now shit-out-of-luck. Definitely a win for privacy rights.

    Let's talk about Chat™️… from Google?

    That’s right. I’m not talking about Allo, or Google Chat, or Google Hangouts — I’m talking about Chat. It’s not a new app from Google, nor is a protocol. Confused? You should be. This thing is a fucking mess. Chat is the alias for a carrier-based service (remember, like how GSM is a carrier-based service) called RCS. RCS (Rich Communication Services) is an acronym, who’s sole existence is meant to differentiate itself from the service it wants to supersede. 

    Instead of sending messages via GSM (or directly through your service provider), they’re sent over the internet (similar to iMessage), but no encryption out of the box. That means if we’re both on the same Wi-Fi at Starbucks, your messages are now subject to interception and surveillance.  

    To make matters worse, Google is actively working with carriers to make this the elevated standard protocol for devices going forward. Which means that your carrier can now surveil your messages. You’ver cell phone carrier — you know the one who doesn’t care about #NetNeutrality.

    From The Verge:

    But remember, Chat is a carrier-based service, not a Google service. It’s just “Chat,” not “Google Chat.” In a sign of its strategic importance to Google, the company has spearheaded development on the new standard, so that every carrier’s Chat services will be interoperable. But, like SMS, Chat won’t be end-to-end encrypted, and it will follow the same legal intercept standards. In other words: it won’t be as secure as iMessage or Signal.

    Google is essentially giving up on creating a competing chat service comparable to Signal, iMessage, and WhatsApp. If you’re an Android user, there’s no shortage of messaging options available, sure — but RCS is a loss for everyone. Why? Because if I’m an iOS user, and I message a Chat user, now we’re both at risk.

    Not a win for privacy rights.

  • 2017

  • Twitter and The Transparency Center

  • Marty Swant of Adweek:

    In the next few weeks, the company will begin showing its users more information about who is advertising on Twitter and what those ads entail. The additional disclosures will include all ads running on Twitter, how long they’ve been running, the creative for a campaign and information about why a user is targeted with an ad.

    The tool will be called the Transparency Center. According to the report, certain information will be made public such as: the organizations that buy political ads, the target demographical data, ad spending for a candidate per advertiser and more.

    This tool, has likely been under construction for a while now but the announcement timing was pretty coincidental. The Honest Ads Act was introduced to The House only 6 days ago.

    Personally I’m glad to see Twitter doing this. Glad to see it setting an example for others to follow. While, Facebook on the other hand has been pretty lukewarm to the problem (and solution).