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: Mark Vena podcast, Firefox’s redesign

My work calendar for this coming week has a strange event: meeting another person, in-person, to get lunch. It also has me spending all of Tuesday (Virginians, y’all do know we have a primary election then, right?) working once again as an election officer.

6/1/2021: SmartTechCheck Podcast (6-1-21), Mark Vena

My major contribution to this week’s edition of the podcast hosted by Vena, an analyst with Moor Insights & Strategy, was unpacking Google’s move to start charging for Google Photos storage after you hit the 15 GB cap on your account’s storage. I am okay with the idea of charging for storage, but I do think Google could provide more useful tools for people looking to keep their picture archives under that limit. We (meaning my analyst friend as well as fellow tech scribes John Quain and Stewart Wolpin) also talked about the ongoing ransomware epidemic, Roku’s fight with Google, and the Apple WWDC event that kicks off Monday; in addition to the audio of our banter at the above link, you can watch a video version on YouTube.

Firefox story as seen in Firefox, with the browser's privacy report card for Fast Company's site displayed6/4/2021: Firefox still wants to be the ‘Anti-Chrome.’ Can it beat Edge, too?, Fast Company

The release of a fairly major update to Mozilla Firefox’s desktop interface gave me an opportunity to look at how this browser compares to the competition–by which I really mean Microsoft Edge, the other major privacy-optimized browser that you can run in Windows, macOS, Android and iOS. I still find Firefox a better product on privacy grounds; for example, Firefox displays a more comprehensive privacy report card for sites, as seen in the screengrab here, and uses end-to-end encryption to synchronize your search and browsing history between computers while Edge does not. But Microsoft is putting serious effort into the browser that already represents a bigger competitive threat to Google’s Chrome. And it can bring exponentially more resources that Mozilla to closing any feature gaps.

Weekly output: Scripps’ broadcast bet, AT&T CEO, Discovery downgrade, Betacom, ransomware lessons, Boost Mobile + DraftKings, exploding ISP prices

This month is ending in a flurry of deadlines, and I am profoundly grateful to have tomorrow as a day off to think about people who have had much harder jobs than me.

5/24/2021: Scripps CEO on why he’s bullish on OTA TV, FierceVideo

I talked to E.W. Scripps CEO Adam Symson about his ambitions for distributing the company’s new Newsy channel via old-school broadcast TV.

5/24/2021: AT&T’s Stankey defends WarnerMedia spinoff at J.P. Morgan event, FierceVideo

My editors at Fierce asked if I could fill in to cover some breaking news Monday, and the first result was this recap of AT&T’s CEO defending his decision to unwind the company’s expensive media strategy.

5/24/2021: MoffettNathanson disses Discovery with ratings downgrade, FierceVideo

I also filed this post on a clueful market-research firm’s pessimism about one apparent beneficiary of AT&T’s retreat from media.

5/25/2021: Betacom makes its private-wireless-network bid with $15M in funding, Light Reading

My other trade-pub client wanted me to cover a wireless-infrastructure firm’s pivot.

Screengrab of ransomware post5/26/2021: Why the Colonial Pipeline ransomware attack is a sign of things to come, Fast Company

I spent a fair amount of the previous week watching panel discussions at the RSA Conference, and a series of talks about the ransomware plague at that information-security event yielded this piece.

5/27/2021: Boost Mobile bets on DraftKings as a partner, FierceWireless

FierceVideo’s sister publication requested my help in covering another bit of breaking news: an unusual marketing tie-in between an online sportsbook and an ambitious reseller of T-Mobile’s service.

5/30/2021: Buyer, beware: Internet providers may have ‘exploding prices’ after year one or two, USA Today

As I wrote to my editor when I filed this piece: “After I invoice USAT for this, I would like to invoice Comcast for pointing out their broken Web design.” It’s one thing to offer promotional prices that end after a set period of time, but it’s another to send a would-be customer on a dark-pattern detour to figure out what the real price will be after the new-subscriber honeymoon ends.

Weekly output: Mark Vena podcast, Discovery’s streaming video ambitions

Ten years ago today, I finally crossed “see a space launch” off my to-do list, and I’m still working on the best words to describe what it was like to see, hear and feel Endeavour rocket into a cloudy Florida sky. Sometimes, I can’t quite believe that I did that–or that I’ve since had the immense privilege of returning to the Kennedy Space Center’s press site for two other launches. Fortunately, I have a framed print of the photo I took of the shuttle’s liftoff hanging on the far wall of my home office to remind me that I really did accomplish the goal I’d had in my head since I was 10.

5/11/2021: SmartTechCheck Podcast (5-11-21), Mark Vena

After a couple of weeks off, I returned to this podcast to talk about the tech business with our host from Moor Insights & Strategy and fellow tech scribes John Quain and Stewart Wolpin. Among this week’s topics: the legal battle between Apple and Epic over the former’s App Store governance, a newly announced smart-home standard, and the plague of ransomware.

Screenshot of the article as seen on an iPad5/12/2021: Discovery CEO says SVOD success won’t end its TV-bundle role, FierceVideo

My trade-pub client asked me to write up Discovery CEO David Zaslav’s interview at a conference hosted by the market-analysis firm MoffettNathanson. I figured Zaslav would wax optimistic about the company’s Discovery+ subscription video on demand (SVOD) service, but I didn’t expect him to explain that Discovery makes as much or more money off a D+ streaming subscriber than a cable or satellite viewer–and yet he expects no pay-TV provider will be able to get away with dropping Discovery from its lineup. I don’t imagine that many of you are feeling terribly sorry for those cable and satellite operators at this point.

Weekly output: net neutrality (x2), 2018 security risks, bargaining for a better TV or Internet bill

One of the ways that self-employment has taught me to see the calendar differently: Once you put November in the books, you’ve pretty much put your yearly income in the books too unless you can sell something early in December to a client that pays unusually fast. (See also, a client worth keeping around.)

USAT net-neutrality transparency post11/28/2017: After net neutrality: Up to you to police the ISPs, USA Today

My contribution to USAT’s coverage of Federal Communications Commission chair Ajit Pai’s move to repeal all of 2015’s net-neutrality rules was to unpack the disclosure requirements he would impose on Internet providers. One big catch: An ISP wouldn’t have to post on its own site that it blocks or slows certain sites or charges others for priority delivery of their bits.

11/28/2017: Why the FCC chair says social networks are the real threat to the free internet, Yahoo Finance

Pai gave a speech Tuesday that included some reasonable arguments against the current, proscriptive net-neutrality rules–and then pivoted to the deeply dubious contention that we should really worry about Twitter and other social networks being mean to conservatives.

11/29/2017: How hackers might target you in 2018, Yahoo Finance

I wrote up McAfee Labs’ cybersecurity forecast for next year–which identified the companies selling connected gadgets for your home as a major part of your privacy and security risks.

12/3/2017: Check your cable or Internet bill: After the first year discounts, it’s time to bargain, USA Today

Three weeks ago in San Francisco, I sat down with my USAT editor for the first time after two-plus years of her handling my column to brainstorm tech-support columns that might resonate over the holidays, and this was among them. Conveniently enough, my Thanksgiving tech support a week ago allowed me to inspect my mom’s Fios bill to see how Verizon breaks down its promotional discounts and what you’ll owe after their expiration.

 

Weekly output: Adobe Flash’s farewell, white-spaces broadband, People You May Know

Two of this week’s three articles (there weren’t more because I was visiting family for most of the week and trying to approximate being on vacation) involve topics that I’ve been following for more than a decade. That has me feeling my age, as does today’s lack of a nap.

7/25/2017: Why everybody should be happy that Flash is finally dying, Yahoo Finance

Writing this post about Adobe’s announcement that it will officially retire Flash at the end of 2020 had me re-reading stuff I wrote seven or eight years ago, not all of which looks too prescient today.

7/27/2017: How Microsoft wants to bring broadband to rural Americans, Yahoo Finance

I had meant to file this story the previous week, but it took multiple phone calls and e-mails to pin down the pricing and features of an upcoming wireless-broadband service built on “white spaces” technology. For all the griping I do about PR people, sometimes you run across a company that would communicate its message much more effectively with professional help.

7/30/2017: Why Facebook’s ‘People You May Know’ makes some weird suggestions, USA Today

This Q&A involved its own game of e-mail tag, but it was worth that effort to document Facebook’s friend suggestions in more detail than the social network’s own online help.

 

Weekly output: Virgin Mobile USA Inner Circle, Microsoft on security, D.C. tech media, Sprint Flex, SMS two-step verification

This week involved a large tech conference, but I didn’t have to go any farther than D.C. for it: Microsoft Inspire ran from Monday to Wednesday at the convention center, with the morning keynotes held at the Verizon Center. The event yielded one post, an idea for another and a sweaty evening at Nationals Park Wednesday, the location of the Carrie Underwood concert that closed out the gathering.

7/10/2017: Virgin Mobile’s iPhone-only plan: What’s the catch?, USA Today

This snakebit column required not one but two corrections. The first remedied my mistake in reading “$1” as this Sprint prepaid brand’s promotional monthly rate when it was the cost for the entire first year of service; minutes later, I saw a reader comment calling out my dumb error in writing “megabits per second” instead of “kilobits per second” when describing a streaming speed limit.

7/12/2017: Microsoft reveals two big ways to stop ransomware attacks, Yahoo Finance

Microsoft president and chief legal officer Brad Smith’s keynote Wednesday called for collective action to stop ransomware and other malware outbreaks. But getting companies and organizations to end their long-running abusive relationship with Windows XP won’t be easy; neither will persuading governments to stop hoarding vulnerabilities in favor of promptly disclosing all of them so they can be fixed.

7/12/2017: Working with Tech Media in the Washington D.C. Region, Washington Network Group

I spoke on this panel with the Washington Business Journal’s Andy Medici and FedScoop’s Tajha Chappellet-Lanier (a fellow Washingtonian Tech Titan honoree) about coverage priorities, tech trends and PR pet peeves. Once again, I implored publicists not to follow up by re-sending the original e-mail topped by nothing more than “Any interest?”

7/14/2017: Sprint doesn’t want you to buy your next phone, Yahoo Finance

Sprint gave me an advance on this, but its PR pitch for its new Flex leasing deal didn’t spell out that this move would also end Sprint’s installment-payment pricing on phones. Because I’m slow, I needed a couple of rounds of Q&A to grasp that difference. Sprint, in turn, didn’t clarify the international-unlocking policy under Flex until Friday morning, after its embargo on the news had passed but before it had posted its own press release.

7/14/2017: How a system meant to keep your money safe could put it in danger, Yahoo Finance

I expected to see everybody else jump on this story of a PayPal customer losing money after an AT&T rep let an unknown attacker move his number–the last line of defense on his PayPal account–to a new SIM, since I learned about it on Twitter a week earlier. Instead, I had time to quiz PayPal, AT&T and others; verify that a no-longer-advertised phone-free form of two-factor authentication still worked at PayPal; and have an enlightening chat with Google security product manager Stephan Somogyi about the tradeoffs of different “2FA” methods.

Weekly output: niche online video, biometric boarding passes, EC vs. Google, Petya, Canada vs. Google, Nexus bootloop, Google diet

I made up for a few slow weeks at Yahoo with this week’s surplus of stories. That represents a lesson learned from last year, when I let some slow months of writing slide on the idea that I could compensate for that shortfall later on.

6/26/2017: Surveying the Field, FierceTelecom

I contributed to another Fierce bundle of stories with this article (e-mail signup required) at how some niche online-video sites try to market themselves to subscribers. Bonus of talking to one of them, Silver Spring-based CuriosityStream: reconnecting with a producer I worked with at ABC News Now in the previous decade, back when that now-vanished network regularly had me as a guest on its tech show “Ahead of the Curve.” Anybody remember watching that?

6/26/2017: Your fingerprints could replace your airline boarding pass, Yahoo Finance

I headed over to National Airport to see how Delta is using Clear’s biometric system to let passengers enter its SkyClub without showing a boarding pass or ID. I can confirm that it worked, and that the Thai chicken soup at that lounge was delicious. NBC Washington’s Adam Tuss also checked out this demo; you can see my face briefly in his report.

6/27/2017: Even a $2.7 billion fine can’t hurt Google, Yahoo Finance

The European Commission’s record-setting fine of Google doesn’t seem to match the actual offense–a search engine, perish the thought, selling ads against user queries. Not that Google’s influence over the industry isn’t troubling…

6/28/2017: Petya attack, Al Jazeera

I had a longer-than-usual spot talking from a windowless, almost airless studio about this new malware outbreak. This was my first appearance on AJ’s Arabic channel since Qatar’s neighbors demanded that the country shut down the news network, a novel sort of business risk for me.

6/29/2017: A ruling against Google in Canada could affect free speech around the world, Yahoo Finance

Another day, another ruling against Google. In this case, Canada’s Supreme Court ordered Google to stop pointing anybody in the world to the site of what looks like a thoroughly sleazy Canadian firm. That is not a good precedent.

7/1/2017: My Android phone crashed and it won’t finish booting up, USA Today

I turned my now-resolved smartphone snafu (yes, Google did fully refund my Nexus 5X purchase as promised) into a column.

7/1/2017: How you can cut Google out of your life … mostly, Yahoo Finance

I’ve had this “how to go on a Google diet” idea in mind for a while, and the EC fine of Google gave me a reason to start writing. I don’t expect this post will get anybody to stop using Google–I certainly won’t–but if even a small fraction of users start to spend some time at alternate search services, I will have done my part for media literacy.

Weekly output: WannaCry, Google I/O, Android O, AMP, DVD on UHD

 

Google I/O consistently ranks as one of the most info-dense events I cover. After Google has put out its headline news in the opening keynote, the conference offers dozens of talks that get into the weeds on things like mobile-ad formats, Android’s notifications interface, and augmented-reality applications. I take far more notes than I can put into the stories I file from this event, but those notes inform many more stories over the next 12 months.

5/15/2017: Rob Pegoraro Finance and Tech Writer from Yahoo.com [Interview], Mike and Molson

I talked about the WannaCry ransomware outbreak with Johnny Molson and Mike Wennmacher, hosts of this show on the Springfield, Illinois station WMAY.

5/17/2017: Google Assistant and Google Home Make Renewed Pitch to Consumers, Consumer Reports

An editor at CR e-mailed to ask if I could do an I/O recap right as I was going to e-mail him to ask if they needed one.

5/18/2017: Android O: Google tries to fix Android’s biggest weakness, Yahoo Finance

I led with Project Treble, Google’s overdue move to speed Android updates by putting a hardware abstraction layer between that operating system and that machine-specific code that talks to a phone’s chipsets. Google did not, relegating Treble to brief mentions in presentations until engineering V.P. Dave Burke called Treble “probably the biggest architectural change since we started” in a Q&A session Thursday evening.

5/19/2017: How Google’s trying to make the mobile web look less ugly, Yahoo Finance

My big takeaway from a few I/O talks about Google’s Accelerated Mobile Pages effort: How about putting the same effort into making the desktop Web look less like hot garbage?

5/21/2017: Ultra-high-def TV’s image problem, and how to fix it, USA Today

A chat over breakfast at the IFA Global Press Conference last month with another tech journalist led me to this under-reported problem with 4K televisions: how bad a DVD can look on them.