Tech Revolution

By Martin SFP Bryant

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Tech Revolution
Issue #1017 • View online
Hello there,
We don’t like little, incremental updates in this newsletter. We’re all about the BIG stuff. So, I won’t spend a lot of time on yesterday’s Apple event, except to say that TechCrunch has a good breakdown of the small improvements to iPhones, iPads, and Watches that were on offer.
With this week’s announcement of a terrifying exploit that allows Apple devices to be compromised without you having to even click on anything, I hope you’ve updated to the latest versions of iOS and macOS, which offer fixes. I’m still rocking an original Apple Watch from 2015, and that hasn’t received software updates for years, so this news was far more of a prompt for me to upgrade than anything new Apple’s marketing department had to offer.
The past week has been a big one for Apple beyond new products it announced, but more on that below.
Meanwhile, this week I have been…
  • Intrigued by news that groundbreaking A.I. company Deepmind tried to break away from Google for years.
  • Horrified by a disturbing new deepfake app.
  • Amazed that a deeply suspicious hoax press release managed to get published on a wire service AND covered widely in the media. No, Walmart won’t be accepting Litecoin, but someone probably made a lot of money from claiming they would.
  • Wondering how spooked UK tech investors really are over concerns about the competition regulator clamping down on tech company acquisitions. This news comes at a time when the government itself is increasingly an investor in startups itself.
  • Pondering whether ‘free speech’ social app Parler really can make a comeback, led by a Brit who used to be in the Brexit Party
  • Glued to updates from the first of two Theranos trials. Will Elizabeth Holmes face a reckoning?
It’s been a busy old week!
Okay, let’s dive into the newsletter proper…
— Martin
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🤔 Big questions
From this week’s news…
📱 Has Epic really hurt Apple?
The Epic Games v. Apple lawsuit ended this week with, as expected, a big win for Apple. For all Epic’s complaints about Apple’s control over the App Store and payments to developers, the law was on Apple’s side. But the headlines were all about the one part Apple didn’t win.
As the Verge explains:
[Judge] Gonzalez Rogers concludes that Apple doesn’t monopolize mobile gaming. But the company does violate California’s Unfair Competition Law (UCL) through its anti-steering rules: policies that restrict developers from telling users they can buy digital goods outside Apple’s ecosystem.
So Apple will soon have to stop forcing developers to use Apple’s payment processing system for in-app purchases. Developers could instead link to a website to charge for in-app content instead, and potentially avoid giving Apple a cut of the sale.
That sounds like a big deal - but there are a couple of reasons it might not be:
  1. Apple’s payment system is far easier to use than any web-based system is likely to be, because you can use Apple Pay with face recognition to pay in an instant. Even if they’re offered a discount, will users want to log into some other payment system and enter their card details manually? Apple may still win through sheer convenience.
  2. Apple may still be able to charge commission on transactions that don’t go through its own system. From the ruling:
The Court presumes that in such circumstances that Apple may rely on imposing and utilizing a contractual right to audit developers annual accounting to ensure compliance with its commissions, among other methods. Of course, any alternatives to IAP (including the foregoing) would seemingly impose both increased monetary and time costs to both Apple and the developers.
That sounds impractical, but Apple could feasibly still do it.
So while Apple has had to give ground on one of the fundamental ways it keeps users locked into its iOS cash factory, it might not cost Apple the billions of dollars some observers have predicted. We’ll have to wait to see how Apple implements the change, and how developers react.
In the meantime, Epic has appealed the overall ruling against it.
👓 When are smart glasses just a camera on your face?
Everyone keeps calling Facebook’s new Ray-Ban Stories sunglasses ‘smart glasses’ but I’ll protest until I’m blue in the face that they’re a wearable camera for photos and video, with an alternative to wireless headphones bundled in.
There’s nothing wrong with that if it’s what you want, but in my book to be ‘smart’ they’d have to offer AR or a virtual assistant. Just yesterday, Xiaomi released a video of a concept device that could fit the bill (if it ever exists).
The privacy concerns around wearable cameras haven’t changed since the days of the Narrative Clip or Snap’s first Spectacles. Facebook’s reassurance that it consulted with privacy advocates over the design of these glasses is more than a little negated by the fact that these groups all take funding from Facebook [see this Twitter thread].
Facebook is working towards proper AR glasses, but until then it’s offered a nice-looking wearable camera. Just don’t call it smart.
📣 Can propaganda defeat end-to-end encryption?
Tired of fighting tech companies who refuse to build a back door into their encryption, the UK government is launching a campaign to win the public over, hoping that if users take their side, the likes of Facebook will have to give in.
As the Register explains:
The government’s long-signalled push to deter Facebook from implementing E2EE comes, inevitably, at a significant cost to taxpayers: London ad agency M&C Saatchi has been hired at an undisclosed cost by the Home Office to tell the public that Facebook (and WhatsApp) harbours criminals. The ad campaign will run online, in newspapers and on radio stations with the aim of turning public opinion against E2EE – and, presumably, driving home the message that encryption itself is something inherently bad.
The anti-encryption push has kept going, with Metropolitan Police chief Cressida Dick this week using the 20th anniversary of 9/11 as an opportunity bemoan how encryption makes law enforcement’s job harder.
When I recently asked WhatsApp chief Will Cathcart if he was doomed to lose the encryption fight, he seemed resigned to the possibility. If a backdoor is forced in one country, hackers (and governments) in any country could find the way in.
It’s hard to imagine a pro-encryption protest movement gaining popular traction, as important as that is to fighting back. Encryption is not a topic that people can immediately relate to their lives (“I’m not a terrorist and I have nothing to hide!” is a common sentiment in the UK), and being seen to oppose something that protects children isn’t likely to seem like a good look to many.
Small protests against Apple scanning users’ phones have apparently taken place in the US, but I sadly can’t see a lot Brits getting passionate about privacy absolutism.
At least there is a sign that the UK government doesn’t see victory as inevitable. It last week announced a challenge to help it scan for illegal material on end-to-end encrypted systems without compromising user privacy.
News you shouldn’t miss…
  • A new battery technology could lead to smaller gadgets, and electric vehicles with longer range. [MIT Technology Review $$$]
  • Tiny microchips sprinkled on the surface of the brain could be used to monitor brain activity more effectively than implants. [Wired $$$]
  • Twitch is suing some of its own users after they allegedly orchestrated ‘hate raids’ against streamers. This is a rare and particularly extreme form of moderation. [Ars Technica]
  • LAPD officers have been told to collect social media account information from everyone they stop, whether they’re a suspect or not. [The Guardian]
  • Super-quick grocery delivery startups still find life challenging. The latest crop of these companies, which promise to deliver supplies in minutes, have raised a lot of money, but it’s still a tricky business to succeed in. One UK-based company, Weezy, is already said to be looking to be acquired. [Bloomberg $$$]
🛸 Almost sci-fi
UFO Hunter and Harvard Geneticist Announce $15 Million Effort to Resurrect Woolly Mammoths
Steve Wozniak Appears to Be Launching a Space Garbage Company
🏭 Future of work
Remote work sceptics gleefully shared news over the weekend that a Microsoft study showed how productivity and innovation were at risk due to the growth of remote work.
But as many people not desperately keen to find any justification at all to get people back into the office argued, you can hardly view a forced, overnight switch to remote working during a pandemic when kids were at home as representative of all remote work. A business that quickly adopts cobbled together working practices to let employees work from home is unlikely to achieve the best possible outcomes.
Ed Zitron’s takedown of the study concluded:
Arguably the biggest problem I have with the study (other than the date range) is the fact that it doesn’t actually seem to evaluate work. It evaluates communication, which is part of work, and connections, which are in some cases tangentially part of work, and then makes conclusions about work without evaluating the work being done. By removing productivity and execution from the study, they’re not actually evaluating remote work.
If you want everyone back in the office, this is not the study to back up your cause. And if you think remote work is going to be an important part of working in the future, don’t let this study put you off.
More future of work
  • ‘Bezosism’: the practice of using tech to squeeze ever more performance out of workers. [Wall Street Journal $$$]
  • Dutch Uber drivers are employees not contractors, a court has ruled in the latest blow to the foundational idea of the gig economy, that low-paid workers are actually entrepreneurial contractors. [TechCrunch]
📰 Big reads
Why even giant ships can't solve the shipping crisis
What does it mean when a company says, “We do not sell your data”?
20 Years After 9/11, Surveillance Has Become a Way of Life
More big reads:
⌚ The past was good too
LEGO Super Mario 64 Playset Revealed
That's all for now...
I’ll be back next week with more. Got something to tell me? Just hit ‘reply’ to this email and drop me a line. I love to hear from readers.
— Martin
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