Let’s pretend this is a double feature. Life happened and I couldn’t produce a Reading List last week. This is me, trying to make up for it.

Apple robbed the mob’s bank

With ATT, Apple has robbed the mob’s bank. In bolstering its ads business while severely handicapping other advertising platforms — but especially Facebook — with the introduction of a privacy policy that effectively breaks the mechanic that those platforms use to target ads, Apple has taken money from a party that is so unsympathetic that it can’t appeal to a greater authority for redress. Apple has brazenly, in broad daylight, stormed into the Bank of Facebook, looted its most precious resource, and, camouflaged under the noble cause of giving privacy controls to the consumer, fled the scene.

Motives aside, which may have been anything from noble to despicable, I believe it’s important to keep in mind that the road to more online privacy has been a years-long trend with restrictions constantly being tightened. Platforms and ad agencies haven’t done much to propose alternative but have done a lot trying to circumvent the or earn exceptions to whatever new measure was being applied by platforms and governments. Also, as is rightly noted here, Facebook hasn’t done much to be taken seriously for their policies.

Apple uses data about in-app purchases that users have made and apps that they have downloaded to personalize ads. This data was previously available to other advertising platforms through the event streams they ingested from apps and websites via SDKs and pixels, but ATT will sever that access. Apple is using the particular definition of “tracking” — and a very generous definition of all transactions facilitated through the App Store as being first-party data — to capture advertising market share.

For the sake of intellectual honesty, it’s important to flag three facts here:

  1. Apple has used the data identified above to target ads with Apple Search Ads since it was launched, so this isn’t new;
  2. Apple isn’t alone in defining targeting in the way I describe above: so does the W3C, for instance;
  3. Apple is not, and has never, built user profiles for use in ad targeting. As Apple’s privacy documentation states, Apple puts users into segments on the basis of their behavior in an application of differential privacy. Each segment must be comprised of at least 5,000 users before that segment can be targeted.

All true and all awkward.

This is the odious specter of ATT: it’s an obvious commercial land grab dressed up as a moral crusade, and it will ultimately subvert the open web and the freemium business model. ATT doesn’t provide real consumer choice, and Apple has clearly privileged its own ad network with this new privacy policy in very obvious ways. And Apple has engineered all of this while being cheered on by parties that ape Apple’s commercial slogan regarding the righteousness of first-party data for ads targeting. Case studies will be written in decades to come about Apple’s astute attack on Facebook via an esoteric advertising identifier. If anything is clear from the (protracted) rollout of ATT, it is that Apple’s PR department deserves a pay raise.

And even more awkward, especially so when updates to Apple’s platform just happen to be rolled out a couple of weeks after iOS 14.5 release. I’d like to counter the quoted thesis though with a couple of notes that don’t negate it but round it out.

Apple maybe keeping data for itself to make more through their ad platforms. But I, as a user, find it easier to make a conscious decision to trust or not to trust Apple. When my activity is tracked throughout the web no matter where it started, it’s impossible for me to even define who expects or asks for my trust. Moreover this makes it impossible to target one party for a complaint. Now, who ever hopes to target Apple in a dispute, that’s a different sore point entirely.

Standard Ebooks

Standard Ebooks is a volunteer-driven project that produces new editions of public domain ebooks that are lovingly formatted, open source, free of copyright restrictions, and free of cost.

Ebook projects like Project Gutenberg transcribe ebooks and make them available for the widest number of reading devices. Standard Ebooks takes ebooks from sources like Project Gutenberg, formats and typesets them using a carefully designed and professional-grade style manual, fully proofreads and corrects them, and then builds them to create a new edition that takes advantage of state-of-the-art ereader and browser technology.

I’d be happy with full proofreading but I know I’ll be grateful for the formatting and typesetting efforts of the Standard Ebooks project. Timeless classics are about to become sexier and remain free. Till now some publishers would touch things up and sell the same works for a little something so I suppose that’s going to go away sooner or later. Or one of the two will have to do even better work going forward.

Facebook’s Oversight Board has upheld Trump’s ban — what’s next?

That would be one thing, if it was just getting read from the bench and that’s all you heard about it, and you let the reasoning of the opinion or the decision stand on its own. But you didn’t. You then had everyone off tweeting all of their thoughts about everything and talking. And I think that that’s one of the things. I even asked one of the people who came on my show that day, I was like, “What’s going on?” If this was a court you wouldn’t be doing a TV hit to talk about what the conversation was like in chambers. That would be totally verboten. So it is like, “Well, are you a court? Because this sounds a lot like a court but you’re not exactly comporting yourself as a court.”

The Supreme Court, doesn’t say, “Our big decision in this massive policy issue is coming out tomorrow at 9AM. Everybody get ready.” And then queue up its press hits. I keep coming back to that question. Is it a court? We’ve all called it this Facebook Supreme Court. It seems right, conceptually.

Facebook has difficult decisions to make. It doesn’t seem to want to make them or be accountable for them so it’s going to kick them over to this other place. They will take the hit and Facebook will presumably do what they say. But if you’re going to be that kind of institution, there’s just a part of it where that’s not how courts actually act. But just conceptually, I can’t tell if this is a court or not.

I think they’re there with you. I think they’re still deciding what they want to do. So for example, just to put it right on the nose, they talked to me, a number of the board members, on condition of anonymity. They talked to me for The New Yorker piece explaining some of their first decisions and how they had reasoned through them and what they had thought. And that was a level of access that a court would not usually grant to a reporter or anything else. And after that, they decided not to do that anymore.

There are changes that they’re making to their policy. It’s not set in stone. I’ve heard a lot of people wondering, “Well, this is an incredibly well-reasoned and rigorous legal opinion, so this is most definitely seeming like a court.” But the way that it’s being talked about by the people who are making this decision is not quite the same as what we expect to see out of courts that, traditionally, we’ve seen in the United States.

It’s so like Facebook to set up a board that functions in anonymity with that anonymity being undermined by members of the board itself. It seems there’s been a change of heart there —after criticism of course— so there’s that. But it amazes me how such illustrious personalities couldn’t keep themselves from turning this into a PR op. This only goes to illustrate how such bodies should not be dictated by private companies. We wouldn’t even need to ask ourselves if this is like a supreme court based on a… feeling. We’d know.

These solutions are completely inappropriate. But they do highlight what I keep saying. It’s the law that has to deal with such matters. Instead of pestering companies to do what we thing is right, we should be pestering governments and legislative bodies. As things stand the latter are just too happy to offload on companies and hope for the best.

What do you hope for though?

eBay Is Banning Hentai and Other Adult Content

eBay did not respond to a Motherboard’s inquiry regarding the motivation behind the change. At the bottom of the new policy, the company writes: “[w]e want to make adult items available to those who wish to purchase them and can do so legally, while preventing those who do not wish to view or purchase these items from easily accessing them.”

This cracked me up. Apparently banning almost all adult content from your platform helps those that wish and can legally purchase it do exactly that. One has to admire the impeccable logic at play here.