Weekly output: FTC/DOJ merger guidelines, Intuit updates Mint, proposed “surveillance advertising” ban

This was a reasonably relaxed week, along the lines of what I hope for after CES every year.

Screenshot of story as seen in Safari on an iPad. 1/18/2022: FTC and DOJ: Have We Been Getting Digital Mergers Wrong? Let Us Know, PCMag

If two companies that already don’t charge for their basic services propose a merger, can federal regulators fairly judge that corporate combination by a standard centered on consumer prices?

1/19/2022: Intuit Updates Mint With Bill Negotiation, Premium Tier, PCMag

News of a new premium tier for Intuit’s personal-finance app allowed me to revisit Mint’s problematic history under Intuit’s ownership.

1/19/2022: RIP Online Ads? Proposed Bill Would Ban ‘Surveillance Advertising, PCMag

I wrote about yet another bill introduced to regulate large tech companies, which I don’t expect to fare any better in this Congress than prior proposed tech-policy bills.

Weekly output: CES 2022 recap (x3), NextGen TV, RCS explained, terms-of-service bill, Mark Vena podcast, Facebook class-action suit, DirecTV to dump OANN

Instead of trying to get out of D.C. while snow was falling–my situation two Mondays ago–I got to play in the snow this afternoon and evening. That was a lot more fun.

1/10/2022: What it was like to cover a very uncrowded CES during a pandemic, Fast Company

I didn’t start writing this recap of my CES experience until two days after coming home–meaning after I’d had two negative antigen tests.

Screen shot of the story as seen in Safari on an iPad mini 5.1/10/2022: Signals for NEXTGEN TV get a little stronger at CES 2022, FierceVideo

I wrote most of this on my flight back from Vegas, aided by my inflight-productivity hack of not connecting to the WiFi until I had the piece almost entirely written.

1/11/2022: Exploring the Practical and the Fantastical in 5G, Virginia Economic Review

I missed this (non-bylined) feature when it posted; in it, I unpack some interesting work researchers and business types are doing with 5G wireless in my state.

1/11/2022: RCS Explained: Why Google Is Riled Up About It, and Why You Probably Haven’t Used It Yet, PCMag

Google isn’t wrong to complain about Apple leaving iOS-to-Android phone messaging mired in an old, insecure standard, but Google has a lot of work to do in its own house.

1/13/2022: ‘TLDR’ Bill Would Make a Federal Case Out of Unreadable Terms of Service

If a tech-policy story gives you a reasonable opportunity to quote a John Oliver line, you should probably write it.

1/14/2022: SmartTechCheck PodcastS02 E01, Mark Vena

I didn’t join this podcast until the last third of it, owing to a video parent-teacher conference running later than I’d thought possible.

1/14/2022: Pending Facebook Class-Action Suit in UK Claims $3.15B in Damages, PCMag

I made sure to note that the people announcing this lawsuit hadn’t actually filed a complaint, making it hard to judge the merits of their argument.

1/14/2022: CES Virtual Roundtable, Globant

This software consultancy had me on to talk to some of their executives and clients about what I saw at CES.

1/15/2022: Clubhouse Saturday, Washington Apple Pi

I joined this virtual meeting of the local Apple user group for some post-CES Q&A.

1/15/2022: OANN and Done? DirecTV to Dump One America News, PCMag

I enjoyed writing about the impending demise of the sugar-daddy deal this hoax-soaked “news” channel has enjoyed with DirecTV, a bizarre arrangement I critiqued at Forbes two Novembers ago.

Updated 1/23/20222 to add the Virginia Economic Review article.

Weekly output: wireless for less, Alexa in lunar orbit, learning in AR and VR, search-engine competition, Vegas Loop, CES weirdness

I didn’t realize this until adding up the numbers, but I have now covered CES 25 times–24 times in person, from 1998 through 2020 and again this past week, plus last year’s virtual version of the show. None of those previous trips to Las Vegas featured an infectious-disease test after returning, but this week’s has; fortunately, the rapid antigen tests I took Friday night and Sunday afternoon have each yielded negative results.

1/3/2022: How to get your wireless carrier’s network for less – if you can live with these trade-offs, USA Today

This column outlining ways to save money on wireless phone service from resellers of the major carriers (some of which are owned by those big three companies) was the last piece I filed in 2021.

1/5/2022: Amazon to Send Alexa to Lunar Orbit, PCMag

I wrote up an embargoed announcement from Amazon about plans to send a version of Alexa on the Artemis 1 lunar orbital test mission of NASA’s Orion spacecraft. After I filed this post the evening before the embargo time, I was amused to see a giant video sign on the Strip in Vegas tout the “Alexa, take me to the Moon” command that was only supposed to be revealed the next morning.

Photo of the screen in room N259 of the Las Vegas Convention Center showing my panel lineup1/5/2022: Learning in a Virtual World, CES

Four days beforehand, I got asked to moderate this panel on AR and VR learning after the previous moderator had somebody in his household test positive. That’s not a lot of prep time, but my fellow panelists Rohan Freeman (founder of Sine Wave Entertainment), Chris Stavros (founder and CEO of makeSEA) and Michel Tzsfaldet (CEO of Tekle Holographics) made my job as understudy moerator easy.

1/7/2022: The little-known reason why competing with Google is so hard, Fast Company

This was another post I filed at the end of 2021. It started in early November in Lisbon, when I happened to sit next to a search-engine startup executive on a Web Summit shuttle van and started quizzing him about business.

1/7/2022: Tunnel Vision: What It’s Like to Ride in Elon Musk’s Vegas Loop, PCMag

I had to try out the Vegas Loop, the Teslas-in-tunnels system that Elon Musk’s Boring Company built underneath the Las Vegas Convention Center. And then I had to sell a post about my experience of it.

1/7/2022: The weirdest stuff we saw at CES 2022: John Deere’s self-driving tractor, robot masseuses, USA Today

The “weird stuff seen at CES” piece has been a staple of my coverage of the show for years. As usual, the hardest part was deciding what exhibits to include and what to leave out.

Weekly output: the public domain expands, JetBlue resets passwords

Weather permitting, Monday morning will see me resume my annual pilgrimage to Las Vegas to cover CES. I expect to see a much smaller version of the usual gadget show, thanks to all of the exhibitors that have opted out of a physical presence; for once, CES traffic may be tolerable.

Screenshot of PCMag post as seen in Chrome for Android12/29/2021: Flood of Creative Works Enter the Public Domain on Jan. 1, PCMag

After writing about the overdue expansion of the public domain for Forbes at the end of 2020, I had to revisit the topic for PCMag on the eve of a new crop of creative works entering the public domain. This piece led to one of the more amusing correction requests I’ve ever gotten: The piece as posted envisaged a literary mashup of A. A. Milne’s Winnie-the-Pooh and Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises in which Pooh and Tigger would journey to Hemingway’s 1920s Paris to indulge in some drunken debauchery, but multiple readers noted that Tigger doesn’t make his entrance until Milne’s The House on Pooh Corner, which won’t enter the public domain for another two years. I regret the error.

12/30/2021: JetBlue Tosses Most Passwords Out the Emergency Exit, PCMag

I’m beyond tired of seeing companies shove a mass password reset on their customers without explanation, and this time I had an opportunity to quiz one company briefly about what led to this kind of customer-hostile move.

 

Weekly output: FAA vs. C-Band 5G, CES cancellations, Mark Vena podcast

For all of the stress 2021 has inflicted, its final days still represent a vast improvement over what the end of 2020 felt like.
 

Screenshot of USA Today column as seen on a Pixel 5a's copy of Chrome12/21/2021: How 5G could make a mess of your next flight, USA Today

The latest in a very long series of 5G explainers was more of an aviation-safety story than a mobile-broadband item, so I talked to a different set of sources. And they convinced me that there’s more to this than the Federal Aviation Administration getting persnickety at the last minute. 

12/22/2021: Some Tech Companies (and Tech Journalists) Scrap Plans for In-Person CES 2022 Visit, PCMag

I wrote about the cast of characters–mostly side-stage exhibitors so far, but also a lot of my tech-journalism friends–that had decided to sit out CES 2022 due to concern over the Omicron variant of the novel coronavirus. After this ran, Lenovo announced that it, too, was canceling plans to show up in Vegas.  

12/23/2021: S01 E23 – SmartTechCheck Podcast, Mark Vena

I joined this podcast for one last time this year to discuss some Apple-shareholder activism, the log4j server vulnerability, the C-Band 5G fracas, and the status of CES.

Weekly output: Internet Assocation, Mercedes EQS, NextGen TV in D.C., DJI investment ban, TikTok hysteria

I did not plan to spend so many hours this week in a fruitless search for at-home COVID tests–the worst kind of holiday shopping ever.

12/15/2021: After Microsoft and Uber Flee, The Internet Association Logs Off, PCMag

This post gave me an excuse to dust off some notes from IA events I’d attended in the Before Times.

Screenshot of the PCMag story as seen on an iPad mini 512/16/2021: Like an Electric Spaceship: Hitting the Road in the Mercedes-Benz EQS, PCMag

The EQS 580 I test-drove around Tysons was, at $120,000, easily the most expensive vehicle I have ever taken out for a spin. This was a fun post to write, even if dealing with Tesla fanboys on Twitter afterwards was not so much fun. (Remember, the block button is there for a reason; online malcontents are not entitled to waste your time.)

12/16/2021: ‘NextGen TV’ Broadcasts Now on the Air in DC, PCMag

Almost five years after I first wrote about this upgrade to broadcast television, NextGen TV (originally known as “ATSC 3.0”) is finally on the air in Washington, courtesy of Howard University’s WHUT hosting the signals of the four major network stations here. Another thing that’s changed since the early days of this standard: Compatible sets have gotten much cheaper, even if some major manufacturers continue to sit out NextGen.

12/17/2021: Feds Ground All US Investments in DJI, PCMag

Once the lede for this popped into my head, the rest pretty much wrote itself. Which is a good feeling!

12/18/2021: TikTok school-threat hysteria, Al Jazeera

As my friend Mike Masnick wrote at Techdirt, this wasn’t really a TikTok story but a pack-journalism story: Traditional media outlets raced to cover an alleged post or posts threatening violance against schools without ever pointing to specific posts making such a threat. Note that TikTok says they couldn’t find any such thing.

Weekly output: Devin Nunes, Mark Vena podast, tech journalists about tech PR, Instagram and kid safety, your data for sale, Charter CEO

As I wrote on my Patreon page Thursday, I continue to be happy to be off the gadget-gift-guide treadmill.

12/7/2021: Devin Nunes Quits Congress to Run Trump’s Social Media Venture, PCMag

I enjoyed noting how this famously litigious representative will now get to square his dislike of online mockery with running a social platform that touts its opposition to censorship.

12/8/2021: S01 E21 – SmartTechCheck Podcast, Mark Vena

My contribution to this week’s episode was unpacking Qualcomm’s attempts to sell an “always-on camera” as a privacy upgrade for smartphones.

12/8/2021: NPC Lunch & Learn: Meet the Technology Media, National Press Club

I joined fellow panelists Musadiq Bidar of CBS News and CIO Dive and Cybersecurity Dive editor Naomi Eide in this Zoom panel, in which we discussed our interactions with tech-PR types.

12/8/2021: Instagram kid-safety moves, Al Jazeera

I joined the Arabic-language news network via Skype to discuss the Facebook-owned app’s moves to tamp down overindulgence by teenage users. One early thought: I’d like to see more like that from YouTube.

12/9/2021: Guess What? The Cops Can Buy Your Data Instead of Going to Court for It, PCMag

I wrote up a new report from the Center for Democracy & Technology about how often and easily government agencies can get the information they want by buying it from data brokers instead of getting a search warrant. The piece closes with a reminder that Android and iOS include useful tools to limit how an app can get your location; if you haven’t looked at those settings, please do so now.

12/9/2021: Charter CEO: Wireless is the future, video is not yet the past, FierceVideo

I’m getting tired of seeing cable CEOs profess that they’ve moved past from relying on video subscriptions even as their pricing continues to favor TV subscribers.

Weekly output: Russia’s tech-hostage law, Mark Vena podcast, Qualcomm’s always-on camera, T-Mobile 5G plans,

This week featured exponentially more air travel than a typical post-Thanksgiving week–about 9.570 miles’ worth–thanks to my attending Qualcomm’s Snapdragon Tech Summit on the Big Island of Hawaii. And with that trip in the books, 2021’s business travel is done.

11/30/2021: Russia to Top US Tech Firms: Set Up Shop Here or Get Out, PCMag

Russia now requires that large U.S. tech companies establish a physical presence in the country–which I must read as a demand that these firms name hostages that Putin’s authoritarian regime can threaten if they don’t comply with its demands.

12/3/2021: S01 E20 – SmartTechCheck Podcast, Mark Vena

I joined this podcast from my hotel room in some downtime at Qualcomm’s event, which gave me an excuse to wear a Hawaiian shirt to the proceedings; my setup for the recording, however, also somehow resulted in repeated audio glitches.

Screenshot of story as seen in Firefox for Windows 1012/3/2021: Are you ready for Qualcomm’s new “always-on” smartphone camera?, Fast Company

It appears that Qualcomm did not expect that announcing an “always-on camera” feature as a privacy upgrade would yield much blowback. Hours after this post was published, a publicist with that firm e-mailed to provide some useful details–for example, this locked-down sub-system only captures 640-by-480-pixel images–that company executives had not through to mention in prior briefings.

12/3/2021: T-Mobile debuts new 5G layer cake, Light Reading

I spent half an hour at Qualcomm’s event quizzing two T-Mobile executives about the carrier’s plans for building out its 5G network. For another take on T-Mo’s 5G agenda, see this writeup from PCMag’s Sascha Segan, who talked to the same execs not long after I did.

Weekly output: Verizon Tracfone purchase approved, spectrum-sharing progress, cloud-storage choices

This year’s Thanksgiving, unlike last year’s, did not warrant descriptions like “house arrest.” And now I will follow up that overdue family time by flying almost 5,000 miles away from my own for a tech event, Qualcomm’s Snapdragon Tech Summit 2021. I have clients awaiting coverage of this event (and who are fine with Qualcomm covering the airfare and lodging, another departure of sorts for me) and I’m sure I will learn a lot and appreciate connecting with other telecom nerds starting Monday afternoon in Hawaii. But… yeah, if this travel schedule leads you once again to question my life choices, I can only reply “fair.”

11/23/2021: FCC Greenlights Verizon’s Purchase of Tracfone, With Conditions, PCMag

The Federal Communications Commission seems confident that a set of temporary rules can ensure that the nation’s largest wireless carrier buying the nation’s largest wireless reseller will not lead to harm to customers.

11/24/2021: Spectrum-sharing task force chair: ‘It really doesn’t have to be a spectrum fight’, Light Reading

This post offered a welcome chance to get into the weeds about the finer points of freeing up wireless spectrum currently in use by some non-trivial military hardware.

11/27/2021: Apple, Google or Microsoft? How to match cloud storage to your computers – and cut costs, USA Today

Yes, you’ve read a version of this column before, down to its emphasis on picking an online backup service that pairs best with the hardware you’re most likely to take out of the house. But unlike the 2018 release, this one incorporates some money-saving tricks I’ve picked up over the past few years–like checking to see if credit cards have cash-back offers on one company’s cloud storage, or if you can buy a gift card good for that storage at a discount from a third-party retailer.

Weekly output: smartphone plans, online misinformation, Twitter perceptions, SpaceX Starship, cord cutting stats, online-privacy bill

I have a short workweek followed by my first family-reunion Thanksgiving in two years.

Patreon readers got an extra post this week: a look at my attempts to ensure that the panels on which I speak aren’t filled out by people who look more or less like me.

Wirecutter phone-plans guide, as seen in Chrome on a Pixel 3a Android phone11/15/2021 The Best Cell Phone Plans, Wirecutter

This update–the first substantial revision to this guide since the summer of 2020–should not have taken this long, but it’s been a trying year for everybody.

11/15/2021: How Do You Combat Online Misinformation? Katie Couric, Prince Harry Have Some Ideas, PCMag

I wrote about a report on online misinformation from an unusual group of experts.

11/15/2021: We Read Twitter for Entertainment, Trust It for News (Unless We Vote Republican), PCMag

This post covered a pair of Pew Research Center studies about people’s attitudes towards Twitter. The most susprising finding: how many Twitter users misunderstood their own privacy settings.

11/18/2021: Elon Musk’s Starship rocket may launch to orbit in January, Fast Company

The SpaceX founder was scheduled to speak for 30 minutes but spent more than twice as much time at this virtual National Academy of Science meeting. I could have filed a vastly longer story, but I didn’t want to write myself into a bad per-word rate.

11/18/2021: Cord Cutting’s Latest Toll: 1.34 Million Legacy Pay-TV Subscribers Gone, PCMag

I decided to write up this report on pay-TV subscriptions by comparing the numbers involved to cities. Hence: “The top seven cable operators combined to lose 700,500 subscribers, a figure you may find easier to visualize as ‘almost the population of Denver’.”

11/19/2021: Who Owns Your Data? Calif. Congresswomen Try Again With Online Privacy Act, PCMag

The Online Privacy Act reintroduced by Reps. Anna Eshoo (D.-Calif.) and Zoe Lofgren (D.-Calif.) seems to get a lot of things right, but it lands in a Congress that seems singularly incapable of passing even incremental privacy upgrades.