Weekly output: satellite laser links, Twitter’s tech-policy outline, Facebook blacklists, Mark Vena podcast, algorithmic accountability

In addition to affording me two days together with my fellow pixel-stained wretches of the Online News Association, this week had me writing and speaking at the following places.

Screenshot of the story as seen on Safari on an iPad mini10/11/2021: Why Elon Musk’s Starlink satellites are beaming data by laser, Fast Company

This story is a belated result of my brief attendance at the Satellite 2021 conference last month.

10/13/2021: Twitter Has Some Ideas on How Congress Should Overhaul Social Media, PCMag

Twitter posted a short list of principles it wants to see inform any rewrite of laws governing social-media networks, and I had to read part of it as a subtweet of Facebook’s ongoing campaign for “updated Internet regulations.”

10/13/2021: Facebook blacklist, Al Araby

This Arabic-language news network had me on, overdubbed live, to discuss Sam Biddle’s reporting in The Intercept about an extensive list of “dangerous” individuals and organizations.

10/13/2021: S01 E13 – SmartTechCheck PodcastS01 E13, Mark Vena

I was on this industry analyst’s podcast once again; my contribution to the discussion was to note the amazingly low-key arrival of Windows 11.

10/14/2021: Lawmakers Want to Hold Social Networks Responsible for ‘Malicious Algorithms’, PCMag

I wrote up a brief bill that would make yet another revision to Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, in this case lifting that law’s limited immunity for social forums if their algorithms amplify content that contributes to “physical or severe emotional injury.”

Weekly output: standalone 5G, Facebook’s outage (x2), cruise-industry information security, Instagram and teens, Mark Vena podcast, startup sustainability, Microsoft report on digital attacks, NSO whitelists U.K. phone numbers

I’ll be spending two days in Philadelphia at the end of this week to attend the Online News Association’s Insights conference there. It’s been more than two years since I’ve met most of my ONA pals, but it’s also somehow been more than 10 years since I last set foot in Philly–and that previous visit only consisted of a connection in PHL on my way home from my final business trip for the Post.

Screenshot of the article as seen in Chrome on an Pixel 3a phone10/4/2021: In a slow race to launch standalone 5G, T-Mobile stands alone for now, Light Reading

My editor suggested I take a closer look at the big three carriers’ plans to deploy standalone 5G–meaning connectivity that doesn’t lean on a carrier’s 4G signal to set up the connection–and that proved to be an excellent suggestion.

10/4/2021: Facebook’s giant outage, Al Jazeera

This happened on sufficiently short notice that I not only didn’t have time to set up my tripod, I also didn’t have time to shoo my cat out of his spot in my office lounge chair. I hope Abel appreciates the exposure.

10/5/2021: Facebook’s Outage Was No Laughing Matter Outside the US, PCMag

In much of the rest of the world, Monday’s Facebook outage would be more accurately described as “Monday’s WhatsApp outage.” I used this post to recap how aggressively Facebook has worked to cement WhatsApp as an e-commerce foundation in markets like India–sort of like WeChat, but not operating subject to the Chinese Communist Party.

10/5/2021: Tabletop exercises with cruise execs needed to tackle data breaches, Seatrade Cruise News

Seatrade’s Holly Payne wrote up the second panel I moderated last week at their conference in Miami Beach.

10/6/2021: Instagram and teens, Al Jazeera

AJ apparently was not tired of my insights about Facebook, so they had me on a second time to discuss the Wall Street Journal’s recent reporting about Facebook studies that found Instagram left a dent in the self-image of about a third of teenage girls.

10/7/2021: S01 E12 – SmartTechCheck Podcast, Mark Vena

I rejoined my industry-analyst friend’s podcast to discuss, among other things, Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen’s testimony on 60 Minutes and before the Senate’s Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.

10/7/2021: How Not to Fail at Scale, Ascent

I returned to the conference at which I spoke IRL in 2019 and virtually in 2020 to interview Chargebee CEO and co-founder Krish Subramanian about how to run a startup for the long term.

10/8/2021: Microsoft: Digital Attacks Are Getting Worse, Russia Bears Much of the Blame, PCMag

More pass-the-vodka bad news about information security.

10/9/2021: NSO spyware no longer targeting U.K. phone numbers, Al Jazeera

AJ called upon me yet again to discuss the Guardian’s report that the Israeli spyware firm NSO blocked its Pegasus software from targeting the U.K.’s 44 country code, an apparent response to Dubai’s ruling sheikh using NSO’s tools to go after his ex-wife and her lawyer in Great Britain. My responses were heavily informed by a Washington Post investigation published in July that showed NSO had no hangups over selling its services to such repellent customers as Hungary’s authoritarian regime.

Weekly output: shipboard IoT, ransomware versus cruise lines, CNN blocks Australia from its Facebook pages

Hello, fourth quarter of 2021; goodbye, Washington Nationals 2021 baseball season.

Photo of a monitor showing the participants of the first panel I moderated at the Seatrade Cruise Global convention in Miami Beach.9/29/2021: IoT: The Future of Operational Efficiency, Seatrade Cruise Global

This hybrid panel–I’m pretty sure it’s the first one I’ve ever done–had Stanislaw Schmal, director of data analytics and AI at Lufthansa Industry Solutions, sitting alongside me on the stage in a room at the Miami Beach Convention Center. Two other cruise-industry executives participated via streaming video: Matthew Denesuk, senior vice president for data analytics & artificial intelligence at Royal Caribbean Group, and Francesco Pugliese, corporate business innovation director for MSC Cruises. We covered many different topics, but as a repeat data-breach victim I most appreciated Schmal’s plea for more companies to practice data minimization.

9/29/2021: Ransomware and Maritime Cyber Security in the Post-Pandemic World, Seatrade Cruise Global

For my second panel at this cruise-industry convention, Mandiant director Pat McCoy spoke in person while Georgios Mortakis, vice president for enterprise technology operations and chief information security officer at NCLH, joined via video. Jairo Orea, global chief information security officer at Royal Caribbean Group, was a last-minute scratch; having enjoyed a prep call with him beforehand, I’m sorry he couldn’t make it.

9/29/2021: CNN Blocks Aussies From Its Facebook Pages, Citing New Liability Ruling, PCMag

I wrote most of this from the speaker room at Seatrade before my two panels, then finished and filed it afterwards before getting lunch. Once again, telling myself “no eating until filing” motivated me to get copy from my screen to an editor’s.

Weekly output: Starlink to exit beta, Mark Vena podcast, Texas social-media law challenged, iOS 15/iPadOS 15 help

This coming week has something unusual on it: business travel to a conference. I’m flying to Miami to moderate two panels at Seatrade Cruise Global, a cruise-industry gathering at which I was supposed to speak last spring before the pandemic forced its cancellation. Then I led one video panel at Seatrade’s virtual gathering in April, which went well enough for the organizers to bring me to Florida.

9/20/2021: Elon Musk says his Starlink satellite internet is coming out of beta, Fast Company

Since pretty much every other tech-news site was also covering SpaceX CEO Elon Musk announcing (in a reply to somebody else’s tweet) that Starlink would exit its beta status in October, I took some time in this piece to compare this broadband satellite constellation’s progress to the slower pace of OneWeb and Amazon’s yet-to-launch Project Kuiper.

9/22/2021: S01 E10 – SmartTechCheck Podcast by Parks Associates, Mark Vena

I rejoined this industry analyst’s podcast with fellow tech journalists Stewart Wolpin and John Quain to talk about Apple and Google knuckling under to Russia by removing the “smart voting” app of dissident Alexei Navalny’s party, Starlink’s service, commercial space travel, and Apple’s iOS 15 and iPadOS 15.

Screenshot of the story as seen in Safari on an iPad mini 5.9/23/2021: Tech Policy Groups Mess With Texas, Sue Over ‘Unconstitutional’ Social Media Law, PCMag

This is the first thing I’ve written for PCMag in several years, but you won’t have to wait nearly as long to read my next piece there. I’m now going to be writing short explainers about tech-policy news at that site. Yes, this debut item on two tech-policy groups suing to overturn the blatantly-unconstitutional Texas law banning large social media platforms from most forms of content moderation runs about 700 words, which is not exactly short even if a lot of it consists of extended quotations from the law and the lawsuit filed by the Computer & Communications Industry Association and NetChoice. I’ll try to be more economical with my prose the next time.

9/25/2021: How to fix some foibles of iOS 15 and iPadOS 15, USA Today

After seeing the reaction to my cranky tweet about iPadOS 15 wrecking my carefully tended arrangement of app icons (even before the Verge’s Chris Welch lent it some extra publicity by embedding it in a story), I pitched my editors at USAT about a column offering advice to people irked by some of the changes in this release. One angle I had to cut from the piece: how the iPhone and iPad versions of Safari are in some ways catching up to mobile browsers like Firefox (which moved its controls to the bottom last August) and Chrome (which added tab groups last May).

Weekly output: how states are working to expand broadband availability, lessons learned from Estonia’s digital society

This week saw two minor personal milestones: my first in-person attendance at a conference since last March (appropriately enough, it was the Satellite trade show then and now; sadly enough, Richard Branson didn’t say anything nearly as quotable as Elon Musk did last spring), followed by my first reception around town since then (an event at a Rosslyn rooftop with breathtaking views of the city).

Photo of first two pages of the story, held in front of a loop of fiber-optic cable hanging off a utility pole.9/9/2021: How States are Bridging the Digital Divide, Trust

This feature for the Pew Charitable Trusts’ quarterly magazine provided my first print appearance in a while. If you get the mag in paper form yourself, you may have seen it before Thursday–my own comp copies showed up two weeks ago–but the date above reflects the piece’s appearance on Pew’s site.

9/10/2021: This country moved its government online. Here’s why that wouldn’t fly in the U.S., Fast Company

More than three weeks after I set out on my transatlantic journey to Tallinn, this recap of what I learned on that Estonian-government-hosted trip week ran. I used the time after coming home to check in with a few U.S. experts in election security and digital government to get second opinions about Estonia’s digital-society project.

Weekly output: 5G leaders, Mr. Antenna, streaming study, Desi Bundle, Disney’s Star+, Seinfeld coming to Netflix, two-factor authentication, HBO Max on Vizio, Locast logs off, Apple loosens App Store rules for “reader” apps, Nielsen nixed, checking wireless coverage, WhatsApp privacy fine

I worked a volunteer shift at a COVID-19 vaccination clinic Friday, the fourth time I’ve done so. On this occasion, we had far fewer customers than before, most coming for their second round of Pfizer or Moderna. But a few had yet to get any dose, which meant that they got to choose between those two vaccines or Johnson & Johnson’s; the latter needing a single jab made the difference for one man who said he was only getting vaccinated because his job required it. We also had a few under-18 kids who were limited to Pfizer–and one whom had been brought by her mom on her 12th birthday, so we had to take a minute to sing “Happy Birthday” to her.

8/30/2021: The 5G 50 to Watch Top Ten List, Light Reading

I helped write the bios for this list of top telecom industry executives put together by my trade-pub client. Yes, my last name is spelled wrong at the end of the piece.

8/31/2021: OTA antenna service alleges Vegas station refused to air its ads, FierceVideo

I spent most of this week filling in at my other big trade-pub client. I started by covering an allegation by a broadcast-antenna vendor named Mr. Antenna that a Las Vegas station had quit airing its ads because increased broadcast viewing would undercut its cable-TV income.

8/31/2021: New study finds more Americans splitting their streaming budget, FierceVideo

I wrote up a Leichtman Research Group study finding more Americans signing up for at least three streaming services.

8/31/2021: DistroScale streaming bundle serves up free South Asian channels, FierceVideo

If you didn’t know that “desi” is a term for people of South Asian descent before reading this post, you did after.

9/1/2021: Disney debuts Star+ in Latin America, FierceVideo

Writing this led me to dust off my VPN service for the first time in months to see what pricing this new Disney streaming service would show to a viewer in its target Latin American markets–the press releases I saw didn’t list any.

9/1/2021: Seinfeld coming to Netflix Oct. 1—and in 4K, FierceVideo

I only referenced one Seinfeld catch phrase in this piece, which I thought showed remarkable restraint.

Screengrab of column as seen in USAT's iPad app9/1/2021: Why you shouldn’t rely on texts when using two-factor authentication to sign into accounts, USA Today

I could have written this column at any time in the previous two years, but T-Mobile’s latest data breach made it newly relevant.

9/2/2021: HBO Max app comes to Vizio connected TVs, FierceVideo

This post reminded me how much of HBO Max’s early struggles with getting its apps on streaming platforms.

9/2/2021: After hostile court ruling, Locast logs off, FierceVideo

As I tweeted after this story ran, the broadcasters who succeeded in suing Locast offline might not want to gloat too much. Viewers aren’t getting any less weary of endless pay-TV rate hikes, and telling people without good over-the-air reception to stick with cable will only get less persuasive every year.

9/2/2021: Apple to let video apps point users away from its payment system, FierceVideo

Apple deigning to allow “reader” apps to include one link to their own site shouldn’t be a big deal, but it is in the context of that company’s history of App Store control-freakery.

9/3/2021: Media Rating Council suspends Nielsen accreditations, FierceVideo

My last post for Fierce this week covered an industry group snubbing Nielsen’s audience-tracking work.

9/3/2021: Which wireless carrier has the best coverage where you’re going? Here’s how to find out, USA Today

A friend’s query about ways to see if T-Mobile or Verizon would offer better service than AT&T at his home was followed by my realizing that USAT had yet to cover the FCC’s release of a new and surprisingly helpful map of predicted LTE coverage from the major carriers.

9/3/2021: WhatsApp fined under GDPR, Al Jazeera

The Arabic-language channel had me on to discuss WhatsApp getting hit with a €225 million fine for violations of the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation. The European Data Protection Board’s ruling in this case calls those failures of transparency, but I see the underlying problem as WhatsApp insisting on access to your phone’s contacts list to place a call or send a message to anybody who hasn’t already contacted you in the app.

Weekly output: Fastest Mobile Networks, Mark Vena podcast, streaming-video deals

The first item on this list doesn’t contain a single word written by me.

Screenshot of the Fastest Mobile Networks package as seen in Firefox on a Windows 10 laptop 8/24/2021: Fastest Mobile Networks 2021, PCMag

After years of citing PCMag’s drive testing in my work at Wirecutter and elsewhere, I contributed to it. I picked the test locations and did the driving for half of Baltimore, all of D.C., Raleigh, and Charlotte, and half of Atlanta–plus hundreds of miles, mostly on rural byways, between those cities.

8/25/2021: S01 E07 – SmartTechCheck Podcast by Parks Associates, Mark Vena

I joined my analyst friend’s podcast yet again; my major contribution was explaining my drive-testing work to listeners (or, for those who get the podcast via YouTube, viewers).

8/29/2021: Want to save on your streaming bill? Check your credit card reward, mobile carrier offers, USA Today

If you sign up for any of my Patreon tiers, you’ve been getting cheat sheets from me about which digital services offer cash-back offers through credit cards. This column walks USAT readers through this money-saving option and option and also notes the streaming freebies available on some wireless plans.

Weekly output: Memories management

This week involved more time in airplanes than any other I’ve had since 2019. And then a week from Monday, my kid will be getting on a bus to start a new year of school–another thing that hasn’t happened since 2019.

Screenshot of Verge post as seen in Safari for iPad8/18/2021: How to turn off unwanted ‘memories’ in Apple Photos, Google Photos, and Facebook, The Verge

I thought this how-to about fine-tuning the Memories features in Facebook, Apple’s Photos and Google Photos would be a fairly simple listicle to write. But then the settings in some of these apps proved to be a good deal more complex than I realized. And I probably would have missed one iOS feature had I not checked in with Web developer Eric Meyer, whose writing on what he once called “inadvertent algorithmic cruelty” first made me aware of how these flashback features can go awry.

Weekly output: supply-chain attacks, Mark Vena podcast, password managers, 5G vs. IMSI catchers, fake vaccination cards

TALLINN, Estonia–I’m writing a post from the other side of the Atlantic for the first time since November of 2019 because of a press trip set up for this week by Estonia’s business-development types to show off the country’s tech sector. That sort of thing would be a non-starter were I on anybody’s staff, but I’m not and I’ve gotten a lot out of a few previous trips along these lines. It does help that Estonia is no Las Vegas in its approach to the pandemic. 

Screenshot of the story as seen in Safari on an iPad8/10/2021: More SolarWinds-style attacks are coming. Here’s how to stop them, Fast Company

I wrote up the keynote that opened Black Hat, in which security researcher (and excellent Twitter individual) Matt Tait outlined how getting hostile code into a software supply chain can yield rewards so outsized that attackers have to work extra to focus their attack.

8/11/2021: SmartTechCheck Podcast by Parks Associates, Mark Vena

This week’s edition of my tech-analyst pal’s podcast featured an unusually contentious debate over Apple’s announced plans to do on-device scanning of photos ready to be uploaded to iCloud for matches of known child sexual-abuse material.

8/12/2021: Best Password Managers of 2021, U.S. News & World Report

I contributed an update to the guide I helped write at the start of this year. My work this time includes profiles of 1Password, Bitwarden, Dashlane, Enpass, and LastPass, plus comparisons of 1Password and LastPass, Dashlane and LastPass, and 1Password and Dashlane.

8/13/2021: 5G defends against IMSI catchers – but implementation is critical, Light Reading

My Black Hat coverage-from-afar continued with this writeup of a briefing about 5G’s vulnerability to IMSI catchers, the fake base stations sometimes used by law-enforcement and national-security investigators as well as criminal enterprises to intercept people’s communications.

8/13/2021: Fake vaccination cards, Al Jazeera

I thought the Arabic-language news network would want me to talk about the technical difficulties involved in making counterfeit-proof vaccination cards, but instead they stuck to such big-picture queries as why people would even want to spend $100 or so on fake vax cards sold by random con artists on Telegram.