iOS 10 Update to My Networking, Privacy, and Security Book Is Out!

My latest book is out: A Practical Guide to Networking, Privacy, & Security in iOS 10. I’ve revised this book across many releases of iOS, and this latest update is the third I’ve self-published. It's thoroughly overhauled for iOS 10.

It covers a huge range of common setup and routine usage issues, with illustrated step-by-step instructions for carrying out these tasks.

The book offers insight into what information you may unintentionally expose about yourself, and how to prevent Apple and third parties from gaining access to your details. It also walks you through security scenarios from securing your data in transit to connecting to a secure Wi-Fi network to recovering or erasing a lost phone.

You can buy yourself a copy—a bundle of PDF, EPUB, and MOBI—by clicking below!

Get Rid of the Google Earth Updater Dialog in Mac OS X

Did you mysteriously start getting what look like a malware popup in Mac OS X for Google Earth—software you might have forgotten you ever installed? 

Updated: I‘ve written a more detailed article about this that’s now up at Macworld. The tl;dr—if you‘re comfortable with the Terminal—copy and paste the following line, and enter your password when prompted to get rid of the Google software update without affecting any installed Google: software. (Note that's two hyphens before “nuke.”)

./Library/Google/GoogleSoftwareUpdate/GoogleSoftwareUpdate.bundle/Contents/Resources/ksinstall --nuke

Patronize Me (and Get Exclusive Writing)

I love my work as a writer, but the current freelance climate makes it different to make a consistent living. It's a constant cycle of research and pitching, and every week has a different outcome. I have some recurring gigs, and I'm trying something new to add one more.

If you like my writing, you could consider becoming a direct patron of my quirky work at Patreon. Starting at $1 a month, you can get exclusive access to a newsletter full of the interesting stuff I constantly find and don't have an outlet to share with, and if I reach certain goals, articles that I write and deliver to patrons first. (Some may appear elsewhere later, like in ebook collections.)

Having this additional way to share stories is a win-win, giving you access to a never-ending stream of the oddball and obscure items I find, and helping me continue to work as a journalist.

You can become a patron here. Thank you for your consideration.

The Muskovian Candidate

My love of the remarkable film, The Manchurian Candidate, just intersected with the supposition about Donald Trump's strange love for and connection with Russian dictator Vladimir Putin and the use of his daughter, Ivanka, to whitewash his personality at the RNC. May I introduce The Muskovian Candidate.

This movie is not suitable for children under 13, children 13 or over, or any audience. Rated R for he's really not Republican.

My New Books about Slack!

Months in the making, my two books about Slack are now available for sale from the fine people at Take Control Books!

I wrote these books in part because Slack has spread so quickly that there's not as much institutional knowledge and as many sources to go for tips and help—even in Google! People want to get up to speed and working fast. It's an amazing communications tool for groups, especially those spread out by distance or across departments. The two books are for different audiences.

(What's Slack? It's a group communication tool that lets members chat in channels organized by topics, message privately, and share files. It comes in free and paid versions, and the free version is surprisingly full featured.)

Looking for a community to ask questions about Slack? Join us at SlackBITS, a free team you can join via a Web site to try Slack out and talk to us about the books and about Slack.

Take Control of Slack Basics will take you from Slack neophyte to master in a matter of a few chapters. Broken out by different aspects of Slack—like working with channels, posting messages, managing notifications, and searching effectively—I've thrown in hundreds of tips, and dozens upon dozens of step-by-step illustrated instructions. And I make some jokes, because Slack is fun.

Did you know you could press the Up arrow in a desktop app and edit the previous message you'd posted? That you can use a three-finger swipe left to switch among multiple teams in the iOS app? That you can enable a beta feature to enable person-to-person audio calls within Slack in a free team—or multi-person calls (up to 15 people) in a paid team? That you can use emoji (including custom ones you add to a team) to tag a message with reactions, but also use those reactions as a form of bookmark for searching?

Example page from Take Control of Slack Basics.

Slacks has released native apps for iOS, Mac OS X, Windows, and Android, and the book covers all those platforms, as well as the highly functional Web app version.

You can read more about the book at the Take Control site and order a copy for immediate download in DRM-free PDF, EPUB, and MOBI (Kindle-compatible) formats. It's 185 pages of creamy Slack goodness for $15.

Take Control of Slack Admin aims to help someone who wants to set up a free or paid Slack team for a group of any kind, but who lacks an information technology (IT) department or consultant to help. Administering Slack isn't that hard, but there's a lot of implicit knowledge and details about choices I help make clearer to anyone who has to start for scratch and doesn't have anyone to call on for help.

As with the Basics book, the Admin title covers all the platforms Slack is available on, and is available in DRM-free PDF, EPUB, and MOBI. It's $15 as well, but you can put both books in your shopping cart and get an automatic 20% off both ($24).

We're also offering bulk purchase discounts starting at 50% off five or more copies of single titles, like the Basics book. So if you want to get the Admin and Basics books for yourself, and then also get several copies of Basics for members of your group, we've trying to make that affordable. 

Immortal Rats Making Phone Calls

You've probably heard about the new study that provides a shocking link between exposure to mobile-phone signals and radiation!!!!! RIGHT?!?!?

It's not shocking. It's a pre-publication, not-yet-passed-peer-review release of incomplete data. The more correct headline on the coverage would have been, "Exposure to radiation leads to longer lives among male rats." You can read the study yourself; particularly focus on the first few pages and the reviewers' comments attached at the end. This hasn't been replicated, and many people are already challenging the statistical validity of cherrypicked data that the researchers chose to focus on in the study and in interviews.

The control group of 180 rats in the study died much younger than the six groups of 180 rats exposed to varying degrees of signal strength (at far higher levels, for longer periods, than almost anyone experiences using a phone). Female rats in the study (50% of all the rats) exposed to radiation had vastly lower levels of cancer than the male rats, for reasons the researchers can't explain…and are probably due to statistical variation. Due to the early mortality of so many in the control group who were isolated from signals, those rats didn't have time to develop cancers at the rate expected.

I've had cancer, I don't trust large companies to act in the best interests of any humans at this point (cf., latest news about Oxycontin), and scientific research can be all over the map because researchers are pressured to provide positive results (showing a thing expected) rather than negative ones (we didn't find a result). There's a growing movement to require all federally funded research to publish all results. You also see things like researchers not counting people who drop out of studies before a certain point, even if that produces a healthier control group, etc.; there, the issue is control group rats dying early, which biases the experiment. 

However, I've been reading studies about electromagnetic exposure and human health for over a decade and talking to researchers across that time. At the outset, I was highly concerned we'd find that cellular phone makers and carriers had suppressed data and it could wind up a huge health disaster—it's the usual pattern of things, unfortunately, whether it's cigarettes, a miracle drug (Vioxx), medical implants, magic pesticides, whatever. But then study after study (the peer-reviewed ones) showed a lack of association.

There are dozens of studies in which people who believe their (legitimate, real) symptoms of distress are caused by exposure to cellular radiation are put through tests. Some are double-blind experiments in which researcher and subject in a signal-isolated room are exposed to signals or not, and the subject indicates how they feel. The symptoms are real, measurable, and sometimes profound, but occurred at the same frequency whether or not a signal was present. (These real symptoms thus have another cause and tin-foil salespeople have misdirected people, rather than helping them find the cause.)

Likewise, researchers have done various longitudinal work in which they examine 100,000s of people's calling records and find the people and get health histories. And epidemiologists have been examining cancer rates related to those that would be expected to occur if there were an effect related to holding a phone near your head, and those rates haven't changed.

As I say, I don't trust industry to do right, and some studies were funded by affected groups. However, many have now been performed under government auspices around the world. It's a hard thing to suggest that reproducible studies are being coordinated in dozens of countries, each of which have different regulatory and safety regimes.

The New York Times promoted its story with a slightly over the top message, but the article itself is detailed and good. The Washington Post did a nice rundown of how to contextualize the study. And a roundup and explanation over at New York magazine.

(I should note for the sake of completeness that I’ve never been employed by any company related to the cellular world, I’ve written critically, sometimes very negatively, about consumer-facing and technology issues caused by and related to cellular handset makers and carriers for decades, and I think carriers currently charge an excessive amount in the U.S. for the services they provide.)

Web Annotation Addenda

Genius' Response in Recode

After Rep. Katherine Clark wrote a letter to Genius asking for clarification about its abuse-reporting and other policies, this article appeared at Recode with its reply. The article includes the full response letter from co-founder Tom Lehman. It notes:

We built the Genius Web Annotator to allow anyone to contribute to a layer of context, commentary, and criticism on top of any web page. Like every platform that enables commentary, it has the potential to be misused. However, we want to be clear that Genius does not enable abuse. This is a false narrative that has taken hold on Twitter and other outlets.

Twitter isn't a news outlet, but a collection of features, but, ok! And every platform always asserts that it doesn't enable abuse until such point as they change features to help fight abuse. 

nd we discover that Genius has moderators who read every annotation. They are…volunteers. And that isn't scalable. But also, ok! From the article:

Zechory said that there is a group of volunteer community moderators (like on Reddit) who examine all this content and can take action if they see abuse. He says that there is also a full-time staffer, originally a Genius community member, whose job is to monitor all comments made on the Web annotation tool as a safeguard, should the moderators miss something.

March 28 articles

Three articles appeared Monday about Genius and Ella's concerns and interactions. Slate wrote "Misguided Genius: A new tool wants to annotate everything on the Internet. But at what cost?" And at the Observer, "Genius Web Annotator vs. One Young Woman With a Blog: Can annotating text online straighten out our collective reasoning, or will it just be a new vector for trolls?"

That latter article included these even more chilling paragraphs:

During a recent interview with Ralph Swick, Chief Operating Officer of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), the web’s standards body, he expressed optimism that a web standard for annotation is coming, which would almost certainly mean that the feature would be built into every major browser.
When and if it does, users might see some sort of flag at the top of their screen showing if any given web page has been annotated. Clicking on that flag might reveal a multitude of layers of communities that have chimed in, perhaps everyone from political parties to 8Chan users.

An article at Recode, "The Company Formerly Known as Rap Genius Is Once Again Enmeshed in Controversy," had this gem from the editor at News Genius (who, for context, is a woman):

But no one is exempt from a closer look under the microscope of Genius — or whatever! — because of their gender.

I don't know if that person understands that they are using the cadence of assault there, but — whatever! It's also not responding to the primary criticism, which isn't about criticism itself, but context and the use of the complete Web page as it appears on someone else's site. That's distinct from nearly every other form of enduring commentary on the Net.

Other Web Annotation Systems

The Internet's long-term memory bank, the aforementioned Mr. Marks, reminded me of two other systems that had elements in common with Third Voice, Spinspotter, and Genius Web Annotator: SideWiki and QuickTopic's original incarnation.

And I found two more, of a different kind. Microsoft Edge includes annotation, but it's essentially local or personal; it's not globally publishable. Dave Peck also noted via a tweet his own 2000-era project, E-Quill (he was employee #1), which allowed annotations you could email to other people. Again, not globally publishable. He notes, "Abuse was... an issue then, too."

Aram Zucker-Scharff commends Diigo to me, "…you left off my fav 'everyone got excited and then forgot about it' web highlighter Diigo, which is still doing its thing."

And another: Annotea, an abandoned W3C local annotation standard (via ttepasse).

Citation, Appropriation, and Fair Use: News Genius Picks Up Again Where Failures Left Off

As an old man of the Internet, I've seen several waves of "scribble on top of other people's pages" plug-ins and web site. Anyone remember Third Voice? It was a browser plug-in that first appeared in 1999. that let you annotate other people's sites. It failed. When it shut down in 2001, Wired wrote this about it:

But the seemingly innocuous "sticky notes" gained enemies quicker than users. Launching a grassroots campaign called Say No to TV, some 400 independent Web hosts banded together to gag Third Voice, which they likened to "Web graffiti." Nearly two years later, it would appear that the group got what it wanted. On Monday, Third Voice posted a short message on its site, notifying users that the service had been discontinued.

Spinspotter started up around 2008. It was a toolbar plug-in that let users annotate news articles and press releases (or, really, any web page) to mark up spin. It was an attempt to crowdsource spin and remove it. (I was on its journalist advisory committee. I quite liked the founders.) By 2009, they pivoted to a new model, as GigaOm reported:

…the company switched strategies because [founder John Atcheson said] “we found it hard to get people to mark spin with the quality level necessary, and (b) we saw a much bigger opportunity elsewhere for the technology we’d developed.”

There are several other similar efforts that I don't believe reached even this level of attention between 1999 and present. The latest entrant is News Genius, part of the Genius network.

From the day’s biggest stories, to the latest travesties of the fashion world, there’s something for you to dive into. And if you don’t see a headline you like on this page, we invite you to start a conversation literally anywhere else on the web.

My translation from marketing speak is, "We want this to be the equivalent of what Talk Soup once was and Joan Rivers' red carpet commentary crossed with a show like Crossfire, but we're throwing spaghetti at the wall because we have no idea what will stick."

Site Cite

The genius of the original Genius (once called Rap Genius) is that it was planned around a corpus that people know: All the lyrics of every song ever written. It's an extension of handwritten and typewritten projects I used to see as a kid (some of which migrated online), where someone would take a song like "American Pie" and try to decipher the easter eggs, clues, and deeper meanings. Genius performs that task at scale, and sometimes gets rather Talmudic in how deep people go.

Some (many?) songwriters and musical artists embraced Genius, because it provides a platform for deeper analysis. A friend's father, an English professor, assembled and edited a collection of critical essays about a well-known British author a number of years ago. He sent her a copy of the book, and her reply to him, as best as I can remember it was, "An author's work is most likely to survive their lifetime when it is taken seriously enough to examine this deeply."

Because Genius expanded into literary works and other genres, its extension into news doesn't seem that peculiar. Except when you examine their marketing phrase carefully: literally anywhere else on the web. While they focus on high-level partnerships and the ability for sites to incorporate Genius Web Annotator into their site, that's not necessary. They generally promote this on their main about page, too: "you can annotate most pages without downloading or embedding anything."

Any web page can be annotated and viewed with that annotation at the News Genius site. In an era full of sites that allow grievers and trolls to flourish and plan coordinate attacks—sections of reddit, 4chan, and many lesser-known sites—why anyone would want to resuscitate this notion of arbitrary annotation, I don't know. Although it was just yesterday that Microsoft had to abandon its machine-learning Twitter bot after it turned into an anti-Semitic, misogynistic, hates-spewing account within 24 hours, having apparently not considered what happens when you put no thought whatsoever into how the unfettered Internet might behave. The best headline on the affair from the UK's Telegraph:

Microsoft deletes 'teen girl' AI after it became a Hitler-loving sex robot within 24 hours

There's a world of difference between specific corpuses—all lyrics, all books, all news articles—and overlaying annotation on the entire rest of the Internet. Those corpuses are typically all copyrighted (unless old enough to be out of copyright or dedicated to the public domain), and, more importantly, are defended typically by firms that have the resources to employ lawyers who can mediate and negotiate over the use of the source material. (For instance, the Hamilton web site links directly to the Genius annotations, and Lin-Manuel Miranda participates in the markup.)

With that in mind, there's also a huge difference between what I'd separate into citation and appropriation:

  • Citation is the reference to something else, whether it's lyrics, a blog post, someone's public tweet, or a published article online or only in print. Because the commentary in citation links to the original or, at most, reproduces a small part of it, there's a clarity of it having a freestanding purpose and nature.
  • Appropriation reforms someone else's work into a product on which you build. It typically involves either outright violation of copyright or invocation of the fair-use doctrine. Reproduction of the whole in much the same form as the original (or a translation, such as audio into words that are identical) forms the basis.

In American law, fair use provides some guidance on commentary. It's perfectly legal—though you may have to defend it in court—to reproduce 100% of an originally copyrighted item if the case for critique can be made well. 

The original Rap Genius involved appropriation: lyrics were reproduced literally in order to comment on them. However, Genius recognized that its fair-use basis might not be enough, and put a licensing arrangement in place just three years ago. It's not that it was indefensible, but rather that fair use is always tried in court, and it can take years and piles of money without any concrete assurance of winning. (The "Happy Birthday" lawsuit that was just concluded is a famous example, but there are many much quieter ones.)

The Genius Web Annotator is a hybrid of citation and appropriation that doesn't respect the source's owner nor have any mechanism to opt out or block it. The site retrieves the original page through a proxy server and then rewrites it with added JavaScript, which lets it overlay its commentary tool. I wrote the company earlier in the week through its general feedback form asking about how to opt my sites out. I've received no response so far.

This annotation is probably transformative under the definition of the fair-use doctrine, but it needs the inclusion of the whole to make sense. Genius offering "criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research," which is considering in fair use, and citation or clippings from the original coupled with commentary wouldn't have the same value to Genius. However, reproducing an entire work (such as a complete song, article, or blog entry) often doesn't play out well in court.

Web search engines long ago mostly agreed to honor an opt-out signal, robots.txt, and have used that as a way to knock down legal challenges and ethical ones. If you don't want to have your pages "spidered" (retrieved, indexed, and included in the corpus), the robots.txt file lets you mark pages or an entire site off-limits to every spider or to specific ones.

Genius offers no such tool, nor any opt-out mechanism I can see. They view their annotator as an extension of commentary. In a tweet yesterday, the company's account wrote: "But your blog is public! People can comment on Twitter, Fb etc; Genius is in its simplest form a more efficient tool for this."

Except all those cases that Genius cites are citations; in none of them is appropriation involved.

Sucker Punch Down

Into this environment, my friend Ella Dawson got suckerpunched by News Genius' approach and its editor. Ella is a social-media manager by day, and an advocate for the de-stigmatization of sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Shaming people, mostly women, for STIs is another tool of culture to put every consequence of sexual interaction on women, even when a man is involved in the act. Ella has herpes, isn't shy about it, and is my hero for using her voice to take the heat in the path to help others.

She writes today about how someone took offense to a post she wrote about journalists referring to people with STIs as "sufferers." (As a survivor of both cancer and a heart blockage, I agree with her. I was a person with cancer; suffering implies a host of not-necessarily-accurate associations, and can be used to condescend or remove the agency of the person inflicted with a disease. With a chronic condition that has few or no side effects with proper care, "sufferer" seems like a huge overstatement, too.)

After some back and forth, Ella blocked this person, who then took to News Genius to annotate the article, noting it may be "punching down a little bit here." The editor of News Genius joined in with snarky and hostile comments. Despite having blocked both individuals on Twitter, they linked to Ella's tweets, which is potentially a violation of Twitter's terms of service, but certainly indicates a violation of agency when, say, a political figure isn't involved or some other newsworthy person.

As with many Internet tools created without any forethought about abuse, opting out, and reporting and resolving issues, Genius seems malicious in absence rather than in intention. As Ella wrote:

You can hate-read my content all you want—I know that is a risk of being a person who says things on the Internet. But when you create a tool that pastes commentary directly on top of my work without letting me opt-in and without providing a way for people to turn off the annotation on their pages, you are being irresponsible. You are ignoring the potential your tool has to be abused, and you are not anticipating the real harm your tool can do.

Contrast this with Medium's approach to annotation on Medium's site. Essay authors can receive public or private notes, and choose which to make public and which to remain private or delete. Commentary on a post, called "responses," is presented at the end like comments, but each response is a full-fledged Medium post.  (Last year, Medium added the ability for everyone, instead of certain outlets or requiring email, to disable responses to appear linked; they can still be made, they just don't appear at the end of the referenced post.)

It's not a question of attempting to deny people all fora in which to critique her work. It's not a question of whether what she wrote is public or not. My friend Anil Dash linked me yesterday to a very smart essay he wrote in 2014, "What is Public?", in which he examines what that word means in the social-networking era:

Public is not simply defined. Public is not just what can be viewed by others, but a fragile set of social conventions about what behaviors are acceptable and appropriate. There are people determined to profit from expanding and redefining what’s public, working to treat nearly everything we say or do as a public work they can exploit. They may succeed before we even put up a fight.

This no opt-in, no opt-out appropriation by Genius is a taking. It attempts to put a beachhead on one's own words and create a new kind of public work that's beyond the reach of the creator to affect. This is distinctly different than social-media, blog, or other commentary. One would never argue reddit has no right to have comment threads that link to Ella or my or anyone's work. (Some companies have tried to make legal cases that every inbound link to a publicly available web page does require an explicit license, but let's ignore that illogic.)

Rather, there's a not fine distinction at all between citation and appropriation. 

How will this play out? Genius will likely continue to put out mealy-mouthed statements until something happens that's too egregious to ignore, or they're sued by an individual or organization that has the wherewithal and interest to pursue it for long enough and with enough money that it prompts Genius to change the parameters of what it does.

Like Third Voice, Spinspotter, and other failed efforts, I expect Genius' "annotate everything" effort to fail as an extension of its main focus, which is valuable and defensible.

See addenda at follow-up at this post.

Update! Genius is adding a way to report abuse and Hypothesis is adding nuance and thoughtfulness to redesigning aspects of being able to annotate everything without consent. We'll see how it plays out, but it's a relatively quick response to some aspects of the critique. 


Note: I originally said Genius was using a frame-based approach that let the user's browser load the content, and then Genius to overlay it. In fact, as Kevin Marks pointed out to me, it's using a proxy server and posting the contents from its servers, which is substantially more problematic.