Weekly output: e-scooter privacy, whither Vudu, World Series viewership, Vint Cerf on 5G, Firefox Web-privacy reporting

LISBON–Getting here the day before the start of Web Summit meant having to miss the Nationals’ victory parade downtown and then catch up with video highlights afterwards. Yes, there I go talking about this weird interest of mine. But just watch the clip of Ryan Zimmerman speaking at the parade, his voice cracking, about what it was like to win it all with the only MLB team he’s ever known–“There’s not a team that I would have wanted to do that with more than these guys”–and see if it doesn’t get dusty in the room.

Fast Company Uber-vs.-L.A. post10/31/2019: L.A. wants to know where you ride your scooter, and Uber isn’t happy, Fast Company

This post started with a talk at The Atlantic’s CityLab DC conference in which the general manager of the Los Angeles Department of Transportation expressed her optimism that all the e-scooter firms operating in the city would comply with its requests for location data. That same day, Uber said they’d see the city in court.

11/1/2019: Walmart seeks to unload Vudu: report, FierceVideo

I spent Friday morning pinch-hitting for my occasional client FierceVideo, covering recent news items. This one folded in some analyst quotes about the possibility that Walmart might sell its Vudu video-on-demand service and who might want to buy it.

11/1/2019: World Series game 7 draws almost 23 million viewers, FierceVideo

I told my editors upfront that one my reasons for covering this was the chance to use the phrase “world champion Washington Nationals” in a story.

11/2/2019: This ‘father of the internet’ still isn’t completely sold on 5G, Fast Company

I got a pitch to cover a conference at which TCP/IP co-author Vint Cerf would talk about ways to get America better broadband, and then that turned into a chance to sit down with Cerf and quiz him for a few minutes. Our 12-minute talk yielded almost 2,000 words of transcript (via the Otter service), so I had to edit it aggressively to get the piece down to a three-digit word count.

11/3/2019: Here’s how to see who’s tracking you across the Web right now, USA Today

I decided to test the upgraded tracking-protection features in Mozilla Firefox by seeing what they’d report about my client USA Today’s own site.

Updated 11/4/2019 to add an image that didn’t publish the first time, plus a link to the USAT column.

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Android 10 first impressions: location, location, no you can’t have my location

A dozen days after installing Android 10 on my Pixel 3a, this operating-system update’s major accomplishment has been helping me to chain down a bunch of my apps.

That’s good! The location-privacy improvements in Android 10–starting with the ability to deny an application access to your location when it’s not running in the foreground–more than justify the roughly seven minutes I spent installing this release.

I expected that after seeing Google’s introduction of Android 10, then named Android Q, at Google I/O this May.

But I didn’t know then that Android would actively warn me when individual apps checked my whereabouts when I wasn’t running them, in the form of “[App name] got your location in the background” notifications inviting me to take the background-location keys from that app.

I was already planning on limiting most of the apps on my phone to foreground location access only, but these reminders have sped up that process and helped spotlight the more obvious offenders. (Facebook Messenger, go sit in the corner.) This is an excellent case of Google borrowing from Apple.

There’s much more that’s new in Android 10–if you’re curious and have an hour or so free, Ron Amadeo’s novella-length review at Ars Technica exceeds 2,000 words on the first of nine pages–but its other changes have made less of a difference in my daily use.

• The battery, WiFi and signal-strength icons are now simple outlines, and when swiped down the notifications area shows your remaining battery life in human language instead of a percentage: “1 day, 2 hr.” Less attractive: The text of notifications doesn’t appear in Android’s usual Roboto font, which bugs me to no end.

• The array of icons in the share sheet no longer painstakingly paint their way onto the screen. And the one I employ most often–the copy-to-clipboard icon–always appears first and at the top right of this list.

• The switch to gesture navigation (for instance, swiping up to see all open apps) hasn’t been as confusing as I’d feared… because Android 10 didn’t touch my previous “2-button navigation” system setting, which keeps the back and home buttons one swipe away. I guess I should try the new routine now.

• I still think dark mode is an overrated concept, having had that as my everyday screen environment on too many DOS PCs, but I get that it can be less distracting at night. And on phones with OLED screens, dark modes also extend battery life. So now that dark theme is a supported Android feature–hint, edit your Quick Settings sheet to add a “Dark theme” tile–I would like to see more apps support it. Starting with Google’s own Gmail.

Finally, I have to note that my phone has yet to crash or experience any impaired battery life since updating it to Android 10. I hope I didn’t just jinx this update by writing the preceding sentence.

 

Weekly output: 8K TV, privacy at Google I/O, Waymo

A week after taking off for the Bay Area to cover Google’s I/O conference, I’m departing for Denver early Monday afternoon. This week’s excuse for propping up the airline industry: moderating a state-of-the-industry panel at the Pay TV Show, in return for which the conference organizers are covering my travel costs.

5/6/2019: Dark clouds invade forecast for 8K TV shipments, FierceVideo

My big takeaway from the IFA Global Press Conference two weeks ago was a dramatically more pessimistic forecast for 8K TV shipments from the research firm IHS Markit. It was refreshing to see analysts decline to get in line behind industry hype over a new product category.

5/8/2019: Google attempts a pivot toward privacy at I/O developer conference, USA Today

For the first time in my experience, USAT didn’t send any of its own reporters to Google’s developer conference, leaving this piece my client’s sole dateline from that event.

5/10/2019: Waymo Doesn’t Mind Being Boring, CityLab

I took a break from I/O Wednesday morning to attend a press event hosted by Waymo, the self-driving-car subsidiary of Google’s parent firm Alphabet. Said event did not feature any time as a passenger in one of Waymo’s autonomous Chrysler Pacifica minivans, because the company apparently still doesn’t have the California permit needed to offer rides to non-employees.

On top of those stories, I also launched a page on the Patreon crowdfunding site. Despite getting no more publicity than a post here Saturday evening and one appreciative tweet afterwards, this experiment already has a non-zero number of supporters pledging to chip in a couple of dollars a month. So I’ve got that going for me, which is nice.

Weekly output: wiping flash drives, Apple Maps to-do list, geospatial privacy issues

Having July 4 bisect this workweek ensured that I would spend much of it checked out of work. I hope that was the case for you as well, even if you didn’t have the additional factor of visiting relatives you’ve missed.

USAT flash-drive wiping column7/5/2018: Ready to ditch your old flash drive? Don’t just erase and recycle, USA Today

The number-one reader question I got after my earlier column on how to destroy a dead hard drive was “what if the drive still works–how do you be sure no data’s left on it in that case?” This column should be your answer, although I’m not sure how many Windows users will go to the trouble of installing VeraCrypt and using that free, but complex open-source app to scramble drives before disposal, resale or recycling.

7/5/2018: 5 ways Apple maps can improve to compete with Google, Yahoo Finance

A report by TechCrunch’s Matthew Panzarino about Apple’s ongoing effort to rebuild its mapping app on an in-house foundation gave me an excuse to vent about some longstanding problems with Apple Maps. Writing this also led me to consider other ways in which both that app and Google Maps fail to grasp such transportation alternatives as high-occupancy/toll lanes and using bikeshare or ride-hailing services to augment transit.

7/6/2018: GEOINT Law & Policy: A Poorly Mapped Frontier, Trajectory Magazine

I wrote a feature for the U.S. Geospatial Intelligence Foundation’s quarterly magazine about how many of the laws and norms governing geospatial privacy have failed to keep up with advances in the tools that can track us.

Updated 7/10/2018 to add a link to the Trajectory article (it didn’t show up in a Google News search, and I forgot to check the magazine’s site on my own.)

 

Weekly output: credit checks for wireless service, Carpenter v. U.S., Safari security, Facebook listening patent

The second quarter of the year is in the books. Or to put this in less financial terms: Happy almost Fourth of July! Please take a moment during this holiday to remember that democracy is not a spectator sport.

6/25/2018: Sprint’s $15 unlimited data plan required a ‘hard pull’ credit report, and it’s not the only one, USA Today

The Collision conference gets an assist here for introducing me to CreditKarma co-founder Nichole Mustard, who on short notice provided a concise explanation of different levels of credit inquiries.

6/25/2018: Four things to note about the Supreme Court’s location privacy ruling, The Parallax

I applaud the Supreme Court ruling that the government has to get a search warrant to see my location history as tracked by my wireless carrier. But it also left many things unclear, like the validity of the “third-party doctrine” that originally allowed warrantless access to that location data.

6/29/2018: Apple’s Safari has dropped the ball on security, Yahoo Finance

News that Twitter would finally support two-step verification based on cryptographically-signed “U2F” USB keys gave me a timely peg for a piece recounting how Apple’s browser has been late to implement many security advances–even as Safari has led the industry in adding privacy protection.

6/30/2018: Facebook’s listening patent, Al Jazeera

I got a call from a producer as I was walking to Metro to meet friends for brunch, asking if I could talk about recent reports of Facebook obtaining a patent that appears to describe turning on a phone’s microphone when an ad broadcasts a special, inaudible-to-humans tone. I said this patent only showed that Facebook has aggressive patent lawyers. Why? See Nilay Patel’s debunking of this allegation in the Verge, based on a close reading of the claims in the actual patent.