Weekly output: Verizon business-5G ambitions, EU fines Meta, video viewing online, Comcast’s Now TV

I often go for a bike ride on a Sunday, but when that Sunday is in the middle of Memorial Day weekend, I have to mix up my usual routing a little to pass by Arlington National Cemetery.

Screenshot of story as seen on Chrome in an Android phone on Verizon's 5G network.5/22/2023: Verizon Business CEO on private 5G: ‘Next year, we’re going full throttle’, Light Reading

I interviewed Verizon business CETO Kyle Malady at the wireless trade group CTIA’s 5G Summit on the previous Wednesday, then wrote and filed my story that Friday after having the Supreme Court eat Thursday of that week.

5/22/2023: EU Hits Meta With Billion-Dollar Fine for Failing to Secure Users’ Facebook Data, PCMag

I noted how the EU’s €1.2 billion fine of Meta for not undertaking the impossible task of securing its European users’ data from the National Security Agency should be seen as a threat to any large American social network–but I didn’t get into what this decision could mean to smaller U.S. tech firms or those in other parts of the world. For the context, you should see Twitter threads from privacy lawyer Whitney Merrill and Georgetown Law professor Anupam Chander.

5/23/2023: Time spent watching video online, Al Jazeera

The Arabic-language news channel asked if I could come in to opine about a recent survey on how much time people spend watching videos and video apps online. I told the hosts that while there’s definitely such a thing as too much TikTok or YouTube time, TV also accounts for a huge chunk of people’s video time and doesn’t give viewers any chance to create content of their own.

5/24/2023: Comcast Courts Cord Cutters With $20 ‘Now TV’ Skinny Streaming Bundle, PCMag

I couldn’t resist comparing the simplicity of the pricing in Comcast’s new skinny-bundle streaming option compared to the rates for its traditional pay-TV product–but then I remembered to check Now TV’s device support and compare it to the much broader compatibility of the Peacock service bundled with this.


Weekly output: VPN guidance, new Verizon plans, Supreme Court rules on content moderation, Dish Wireless, Mark Vena podcast

The weather outside is as good as spring gets around D.C., and it was made even more pleasant by catching up with friends at the Nats game this afternoon and seeing our rebuilding team go on a hitting spree and beat the Detroit Tigers 6-4.

Screenshot of the U.S. VPNs guide as seen in Safari on an iPad mini 6, with a VPN connection active as indicated at top right.5/15/2023: 10 Best VPN Services of 2023, U.S. News & World Report

My first writing for U.S. News since last May was once going to consist of updating a few comparisons of virtual private network services, but then another freelancer backed out and my editor asked if I could take on some extra work. (Cardinal rule of freelance writing: Try to be the person who solves an editor’s problems, especially if the editor can offer more money for a rush delivery.) So my contributions here wound up including profiles of seven VPN services–Hotspot ShieldPrivate Internet AccessPrivateVPNPureVPNTunnelBearVyprVPN, and Windscribe–plus guides to cheap VPNs and VPNs for streaming video and four of those comparisons (Surfshark versus ExpressVPNNordVPN versus IPVanishNordVPN versus ExpressVPN, and Surfshark versus NordVPN).

This VPN immersion left me with a real dislike of the marketing tactics many of these services employ, so I unpacked those trust issues for Patreon readers this week. They also got my own picks for VPN service.

5/16/2023: Verizon ‘myPlan’ Condenses Wireless Menu to 2 Plans, Plus Optional Perks, PCMag

Verizon solved one problem with its old spread of unlimited plans by paring them down from six to two, but in the bargain it left potential customers with as much of math exercise as before–and, if they had appreciated the streaming-media freebies of the old plan, a sense of getting shortchanged.

5/18/2023: Supreme Court: Lazy Content-Moderation Doesn’t Mean Platforms Aided Terrorists, PCMag

I suspected that the Supreme Court would decide that Twitter, Google and Facebook overlooking some of the ISIS terrorist cult’s abuse of their platforms did not amount to aiding and abetting that abomination, but I didn’t expect a unanimous opinion. Or one written by Justice Clarence Thomas, who in 2021 suggested that social platforms needed stricter regulation.

5/19/2023: Dish Wireless: We’ll Meet June Deadline to Cover 70% of Americans With 5G, PCMag

I was going to write up this Wednesday-afternoon session from the wireless trade group CTIA’s 5G Summit on Thursday, but then the Supreme Court upended my plans.

5/19/2023: S03 E54 – SmartTechCheck Podcast, Mark Vena

We talked at some length about the court’s opinion on this episode of my analyst friend’s podcast (also available in video form) before turning our attention to car and smart-home security.

Weekly output: Android outside phones, Wear OS 4, Covid exposure-notification apps

The case of Covid that I was sure would trash my Mother’s Day agenda faded remarkably swiftly–I had one test come out negative Saturday morning and another barely positive, followed by two negative tests Sunday morning. That freed me to stick to my original plan of going to the Nationals game with my wife, which the Nats then lost to the Mets 8-2. Eh; as this week has reminded me, things could be worse.

Screengrab of story as seen in Chrome for Android,5/10/2023: Google Touts Android Progress Beyond Phones, Teases XR Platform, PCMag

Google PR gave me an advance copy of its Google I/O talking points about how Android is faring in tablets, smartwatches, TVs and cars. This post includes a couple of data points that contradict Google’s narrative.

5/10/2023: Google Unveils Wear OS 4, Featuring Gmail and Calendar Apps, PCMag

My other I/O advance consisted of details about the next version of Google’s Android-based wearables operating system.

5/11/2023: You Can Uninstall Those COVID Exposure Notification Apps Now, PCMag

Writing this felt like putting together an eulogy for the Apple-Google attempt at pandemic defense to which I devoted thousands of words in 2020 and 2021, including a 19-page report for O’Reilly Media that remains (I think) my only post-college work assignment to be budgeted in pages instead of words.

Weekly output: applied AI, open innovation, Mastodon updates, AI equity, 1Password, Signal, Eve Air Mobility, travel tech, travel tips

After getting back from Brazil early Saturday morning, I’ve napped more than usual but have also spoken at an event in D.C., gotten in some gardening, and enjoyed a shorter-than-usual bike ride.

5/1/2023: Companies adopting AI need to move slowly and not break things, Fast Company

I wrote about how two companies I’ve covered elsewhere recently–the satellite-imagery firm Planet and the customer-support platform Intercom–have been deploying AI-based tools a little more cautiously than others.

5/1/2023: How open innovation can drive your organization forward, Web Summit

I led this somewhat-vaguely-titled roundtable discussion at this offsite conference the day before Web Summit’s programming schedule got into gear.

5/2/2023: Mastodon Makes It Easier for Beginners to Get Started, PCMag

I was going to write a reasonably short post about the federated social network Mastodon’s founder deciding that it was time to add quote-posting and text-search features–both of which had been historically unwelcome there–and then realized that PCMag hadn’t written much lately about Bluesky, another interesting, decentralized Twitter alternative.

5/3/3023: AI Can Give Us a Productivity Boost, But Will Everyone Get a Fair Shot at It?, PCMag

I wrote about the talk that Google’s chief design scientist Cassie Kozyrkov gave to close out the conference’s first day, which I found more enlightening than the conference’s description had suggested.

5/3/2023: Goodbye passwords!, Web Summit

I accepted this opportunity to interview 1Password CEO Jeff Shiner about that password-management service’s hopes for no-password passkey authentication, and then Google announced Wednesday morning that it had added passkeys as a login option worldwide.

5/3/2023: Building an app from the ground up, Web Summit

My second panel Wednesday had me interview Signal president Meredith Whittaker about how that encrypted-messaging app could avoid making the privacy mistakes of other competitors in that market.

5/5/2023: This Florida Startup Says It Can Make Electric Air Taxis Happen, PCMag

My longstanding interest in aviation led me to watch and then write up this Thursday-morning panel in which Eve Air Mobility CEO André Stein talked about Eve’s ambitions in electric vertical-takeoff-and-landing (eVTOL) aircraft.

5/6/2023: Will AI Eat Travel? (Clickbait Title for Session on Travel Tech), Frequent Traveler University

In my first appearance at this frequent-flyer gathering since March of 2020 (which feels like 10 years ago), travel blogger Stefan Krasowski quizzed me about the possibilities for conversational AI and many other tech topics. He’s a good onstage interlocutor and I enjoyed the conversation.

5/6/2023: The state of miles and points – what to expect in the next year, Frequent Traveler University

I closed out the day by joining this plus-sized panel featuring other FTU speakers, during which we answered audience questions about things like recent or impending devaluations among frequent-traveler programs.

Weekly output: Google Authenticator, smartphone-to-satellite call, social-media age-verification bill, climate optimism, “juice jacking” debunked

RIO DE JANEIRO–A year ago, Brazil and the entire Southern Hemisphere did not figure in my near-term travel plans, but then Web Summit announced plans to add a second edition of its flagship conference here. I asked the organizers to keep me in mind, they did, and now I have two panels to moderate Wednesday.

4/24/2023: Google Authenticator Now Syncs Your One-Time Codes Across Devices, PCMag

Writing this allowed me to recycle some choice quotes I got from Google’s security head seven years ago. And then a day later, researchers found that Google doesn’t apply end-to-end encryption to the underlying data. Perhaps not coincidentally, the Authenticator app on my Pixel 5a has yet to get this update.

4/25/2023: AT&T, AST SpaceMobile Claim First Smartphone-to-Satellite Phone Call, PCMag

I got a heads-up about this news from AT&T, which in turn let me engage in further story-notes recycling by using some quotes I’d gathered at the Satellite 2022 show in D.C. in March. And then a post that was supposed to be simple took far more time than I’d expected because AST needed prodding to provide the date when this groundbreaking call happened.

4/27/2023: Senate Bill Would Require Social Media Age Verification for Everyone, PCMag

The buried lede in this bill to require age verification to use a social-media service is its provision for a federal pilot program through which people could get a “secure digital identification credential” to present to social platforms instead of uploading a photo ID or providing a video selfie.

Screenshot of story as seen in Safari for iPadOS; the illustration is a stylized image of wind turbines marching into the distance.4/28/2023: Why some climate experts are optimistic about the future of cleantech, Fast Company

The idea for this story started with watching a SXSW talk–yes, I believe this is the longest I’ve taken to write up anything from that mid-March event. Now that it’s finally written, edited and published, I dearly hope that its optimistic tone will not require a correction later on.

(Patreon readers got a bonus post from leftover SXSW notes about my visit to a nuclear reactor then.)

4/28/2023: The FBI Is Warning About ‘Juice Jacking.’ Are Public Charging Stations Safe?, AARP

Asking the FBI’s public-affairs office about the unsubstantiated warning circulated by the bureau’s Denver field office reminded me of the first time the FBI figured in my copy: the December 1995 cover story I wrote for the Washington Post’s Weekend section about “X-Files” fan culture. This piece also features quotes from two of the people I’ve gotten to know through security conferences, and I’d like to think that it’s the first time a founding member of the L0pht hacker collective has been quoted in a story for AARP.

Weekly output: Speedtest rankings, Starship test launch, new T-Mobile plans, social-media propaganda in Sudan

On Saturday I’m traveling someplace new to me–Rio de Janeiro, where Web Summit is hosting a second annual edition of its conference. My part of it will be interviewing 1Password CEO Jeff Shiner and Signal president Meredith Whittaker; last week, I invited Patreon readers to suggest questions for each of those sessions.

4/17/2023: In Speed Showdown, T-Mobile Leads the Pack, and Not Just in 5G, PCMag

Seeing T-Mobile vault to the head of network-comparison tests like this makes me feel old, because I remember when one of the primary ancestors of that carrier did business as VoiceStream and was nobody’s idea of a threat to AT&T and Verizon.

Screenshot of the PCMag post as seen in Safari for iPadOS; the illustration is a photo showing Starhip ascending from the pad, leaning  slightly to the left.4/20/2023: SpaceX’s Starship Launches Before Exploding 24 Miles Up, PCMag

I once thought I would be able to write this story in early 2022, but I should have given Elon Musk’s optimistic words a much more skeptical hearing. And then the day finally arrived and the giant rocket didn’t make it to staging. I described that as a successful failure, in the sense that SpaceX should now have a wealth of flight data about Starship’s performance, but I didn’t know then that Starship had pulverized part of its launch pad. Or that SpaceX had conducted Starship’s static-fire test in February at only half of the first stage’s thrust.

4/20/2023: T-Mobile Makes a Bid for Hardcore Hotspot Users With New ‘Go5G’ Plans, PCMag

T-Mobile showed up in my coverage again when the carrier introduced two new plans that aren’t named “Magenta” and effectively bracket the previous top-of-the-line Magenta Max plan.

4/23/2023: The war of social media, Al Araby

This Arabic-language news channel had me on to talk about the dueling social-media propaganda campaigns unfolding from both sides of the civil war in Sudan–both of which seem to involve a great deal of deception that benefits from Twitter’s recent “meh” approach to disinformation. I leaned heavily on reports from the Sudanese news site Beam Reports and the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensics Lab.

Weekly output: QuaDream spyware, AI policy, commercial satellite imagery, Discord leaker

I think I have our taxes squared away with two more days until I have to file them–or file for an extension as I often do–so of course I’m worrying about what financial data points I’m overlooking and how they might cause us to pay more than required.

4/11/2023: QuaDream spyware, Al Jazeera

The Arabic-language news channel had me make a Skype appearance about this commercial spyware flagged by Microsoft and Citizen Lab. The week ended with news that the Israeli firm behind this iPhone hacking tool was shutting down

Screenshot of the story as seen in Safari on an iPad--featuring an illustration of a cartoon robot swearing an oath.4/12/2023: Worried About AI? The Feds Want Your Help Writing Rules to Keep It in Check, PCMag

I had missed the National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s announcement Tuesday of its request for comments about policies to hold artificial-intelligence applications accountable, but hearing Microsoft president Brad Smith commend this effort during an appearance at a conference Wednesday morning gave me something extra for a day-after story.

4/14/2023: Why the Feds Appreciate Private Satellite Images of Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine, PCMag

Beyond Smith’s quotes about the NTIA RFC, Planet Labs’ Planet Explore 2023 conference also yielded this story about how much the intelligence community has come to appreciate commercial satellite imagery even though it has its own, far more capable reconnaissance satellites in orbit.

4/14/2023: Discord leaker, Al Jazeera

I made a studio appearance to discuss the bizarre case of Massachusetts Air National Guard airman Jack Teixeira and his months-long sharing of classified documents in a Discord group. My comments boiled down to “this guy is going to go to jail for the dumbest possible reason, which is that he wanted to look cool on the Internet.” 

Weekly output: eSIM hands-on report, T-Mobile renews MLB partnership

Happy Easter, everyone!

PCMag eSIM hands-on report4/7/2023: Here’s What It’s Like to Rent an eSIM on an Android Phone, PCMag

This is a story I could have done in November–when first I took a loaner Pixel 7 phone to Europe and could readily have tried out Airalo while in Lisbon for Web Summit–but didn’t think to do that sort of field test until MWC brought me to Spain at the end of February. And then I needed another four weeks to get some commitments to other clients out of the way, clarify some details about Airalo’s service and actually write the thing.

4/8/2023: T-Mobile Renews MLB Partnership, Free MLB.tv for Subscribers Through 2028, PCMag

Having another five seasons’ worth of free MLB.tv–as in, what I hope is more than enough time for that service to finally add in-market viewing–caught my eye, but so did the part about T-Mobile building a private 5G network in a to-be-announced minor-league ballpark to support baseball’s experiment in automated ball-strike (ABS) calls and challenges.

Weekly output: White House commercial-spyware limits, Amazon opens Sidewalk to developers, MLB’s tech upgrades

This week involved my having to finish a whole more writing than what you see below, so you can imagine my relief at still being able to step away from the keyboard in time to see the Dungeons & Dragons movie with friends Friday evening.

3/27/2023: White House Exec Order Bans Government Use of Most Commercial Spyware, PCMag

I wasn’t sure there was a story in this executive order until I saw enough tech-policy types (with no pattern of cheerleading for the Biden administration) say that, yes, it was a big deal.

Screenshot of the story as seen on an iPad mini 6's Safari browser3/28/2023: Amazon opens Sidewalk network to outside developers, Light Reading

This story ran under a different headline: “Amazon opens Sidewalk mesh network to outside developers.” After it ran, the Amazon PR rep who offered me an advance on the story emailed to say that Amazon doesn’t regard Sidewalk as a mesh network, since clients on it can only connect to Sidewalk nodes and can’t extend the network on their own. That is a valid point, but it’s also come after three years of everybody calling Sidewalk a mesh network.

3/28/2023: With MLB’s 3D Version of Gameday, Watch Plays From Any Angle Like a Video Game, PCMag

Major League Baseball hosted a press preview Tuesday at its New York offices (which I watched via Zoom) of tech changes coming to its systems and apps. MLB’s online presentation of games has come a mighty long way since I first covered it in 2005.

Weekly output: the CIA’s SXSW sales pitch, Amazon unveils Project Kuiper receivers, NASA’s plans for privately owned space stations

This week went by fast, between my spending the first two days of it in Austin for SXSW and then spending all of Wednesday at the Satellite 2023 conference in downtown D.C. And then St. Patrick’s Day came around–which this year reminded me of how great it was to return to Ireland last summer, the first trip I made there with my Irish passport.

Screenshot of story as seen in Firefox for Windows 113/15/2023: The CIA’s SXSW Sales Pitch: We Need Your Help, Please Come Work for Us, PCMag

Four Central Intelligence Agency executives gave a talk at SXSW Monday afternoon with an interesting wrinkle: If you resent ubiquitous digital surveillance and want to find ways to defeat it, our agents and assets in hostile countries could use your help.

3/15/2023: Amazon’s Project Kuiper Satellite Receivers Cost Less Than $400 to Make, PCMag

If Satellite 2023 had not been scheduled on top of SXSW, I could have watched Amazon’s Tuesday-morning keynote in person and filed this post Tuesday afternoon. Instead, I wrote up the company’s news about its upcoming Project Kuiper constellation of low-Earth-orbit broadband satellites after reading Amazon’s blog post and reading press accounts of the talk.

3/17/2023: Here’s how NASA plans to replace the International Space Station—by becoming a private company’s tenant, Fast Company

This story started out with my watching a few panels about NASA’s plans for “commercial LEO destinations” at the Commercial Space Transportation Conference in early February, spending the next two weeks lining up interviews with most of the companies bidding for this work, having MWC force me to set aside the work for a week, finally filing the story the night before I headed out for SXSW, and then having my editor not look at the piece until after SXSW because he was also busy at the festival.