eXtensions - Saturday 19 December 2020


Saturday Notes: Not Anyone's Hill to Die for: Facebook, Apple and Advertising

By Graham K. Rogers


I am still easing myself into my new M1 MacBook Pro. Facebook who use more user data than some think is reasonable, started an argument this week over Apple's labels in iOS 14 showing which apps use what. Things have escalated.

Some sites are reporting that the latest update (11.1) to Big Sur is causing some M1 MacBook Air computers to reboot randomly. This appears to happen most often when the Mac is being hooked up to an external display or hub (Andrew Ng, iPhone in Canada). Other M1 Macs are also showing the same problem as well as some older MacBook Pro computers. I have not experienced this so far on either MacBook Pro (M1 or Intel), but I connected the HP monitor I have and although this has only been running a short time, it did not promote a shutdown. I connected and disconnected the monitor a number of times using both ports: so far no pink screen. As this is a software problem (and was also shown in beta testing) a software fix should be coming.

One of the bars to moving all my operations to the M1 MacBook Pro immediately is the lack of ports. Not that I could not do it; I am just happier round the end of semester holding off. I knew that it only had 2 ports when I bought the Mac of course. I also have the spare MacBook Air that also has the same 2-port setup. While the limit with that Mac has not caused me any problems, the 4 ports of the Intel MacBook Pro are put into full use when I am online with students: screen, power, cam and iPad Pro (for showing students how I do online markups of their work). With the M1 Mac I will not be able to do all this right away.

M1 MacBook Pro
M1 MacBook Pro

I could double up with some adapters: the Apple VGA and HDMI adapters have ports for power and I can use the webcam with one of these. The iPad Pro will not double up. The answer of course is a hub. I had held off on this for the 4 years I had owned the MacBook Pro. The M1 Mac demands that I buy a hub and what I think is a good solution appeared a few weeks back: a 4 port Thunderbolt hub from OWC, with a delivery expected in mid-December.

As I wrote in the Tuesday Diversion I had heard nothing and when I looked at the site was unable to find any information about my order, suspecting that a network problem at my office had filed this with infinity, instead of OWC. At the weekend, I wrote and on Wednesday morning (Tuesday afternoon in the USA) a reply asked me for my full ordering address details. I replied and within minutes had a reply confirming that the order had been placed and would be filled when the new hubs arrived. That problem is on the way to being solved. When a short survey email arrived a few minutes later I was (unusually) happy to complete it.

The new 5nm chip technology with Apple Silicon raised a few eyebrows and Intel made some moves to secure 7nm foundry supplies. Apple uses TSMC (Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company) as a supplier who (Patently Apple reports) have announced its anticipated 3nm process will begin producing 3nm chips sometime in 2023 for Apple. The report also notes that 2nm chips are under development.

In a related item, the new Snapdragon 888 developed by Qualcomm that will power the next Android phones has been benchmarked and shown to be slower than Apple's A14 processor in the current iPhone 12 Pro. AnandTech reports on the benchmark tests shared by Qualcomm and comments on the different sets of results, concluding that the new chips will not disappoint.

A few days ago I pre-ordered Tenet from the iTunes Store. It had an expected release date of Tuesday, so with the time zone variables I expected to be able to view this on Wednesday. In the morning I had a look on iTunes here but a search for Tenet produced no results: did I want to change stores? On Thursday morning however, in AppleTV on the Mac, Tenet was shown and there were links to Play and Download. I saw it also displayed a checkmark for Up Next. At over two hours long, I will save this for the weekend, although first reviews are not positive. Sometimes Art takes a while to sink in (Pollock, Kandinsky, Picasso et al).

Tenet Screenshot
Tenet - AppleTV+

Some while back Walt Mossberg raised a few eyebrows when he reported that the iMac was the best Windows machine in existence then. With Windows running on Boot Camp - it also ran with Parallels Desktop and on VMWare - this was quite a claim. Several users bought into this multi-system capability, although where I work it took a change in department head, plus a grant for construction of a lab before several Mac mini devices were acquired for teaching computer forensics. I had earlier explained how these could run OS X (then), Windows, Linux and had Unix as underlying system, but it fell on deaf ears for a couple of years. Earlier, a previous head of department had written "Intel processor" into specifications for any computer, but that was negated by Apple's switch from Motorola to Intel chips.

I was reminded of this by a report this week from AppIensider who looked at a comparison between the M1 MacBook Air and a Surface Pro X. Both have ARM chips. Benchmarking showed that the Mac was considerably more powerful. This is not unexpected as the Surface is still really a prototype, with Microsoft's 64-bit x86 emulator still in beta. As interesting as this is, what I would like to see is a comparison between the current M1 and a high-level PC running Windows. That would be a little more realistic.

M1 Image
M1 Cores - Image curtesy of Apple

I raised an eyebrow when I saw that Facebook had taken out a full page advertisement criticizing Apple and claiming to stand up for small businesses: itself risible, particularly considering the way it uses data generated by its own members to target advertising. What Apple is pointing out with its new highlights in the App Store is just how users are affected by developers's apps (not all of them by any means), with Facebook one of the more egregious offenders.

I noted a week ago how Oculus users had been forced to switch to Facebook accounts, thus making their data accessible to "Facebook Central Control". The Netflix documentary on how online social networking sites use or data should also be factored in to this. In an article on BoingBoing (Rob Beschizza) it is explained that FB is to move UK user data to the California plan which has fewer restrictions than EU controls. A note on this Boing-Boing article: it has the creepiest image of the Facebook CEO that I have ever seen: the eyes move.

Over the last few days a few more Facebook foibles have come to my attention, such as the Australian Government's actions over Facebook's alleged use of Onavo data, when it promised it wouldn't (TechCrunch).

First, however, that new Apple information to show how my data is used by a developer. I began with Facebook Messenger on the Mac App Store and took a screen shot of the areas that Apple identifies as being at risk. I had been aware of most areas from which data might be collected, but one or two, such as Health and Fitness, and Sensitive Information - whatever that means - had not been evident.

Data use by Facebook
Data use by Facebook

The ad tracking rules are slightly different (and in iOS 14), but the link is obvious. If a developer is able to track a user through advertisements, then that user reveals data about behaviour and preferences. I commented to my students once that after accessing a photography website to make a purchase, my Facebook page was full of photo-related advertisements. That was not a coincidence.

Apple has responded to the advertisement that Facebook placed in the Wall Street Journal (that in itself is indicative - hardly a fanfare for the common man) and this is reported in a number of sources, like MacRumors (Joe Rossignol ):

We believe that this is a simple matter of standing up for our users. Users should know when their data is being collected and shared across other apps and websites - and they should have the choice to allow that or not. App Tracking Transparency in iOS 14 does not require Facebook to change its approach to tracking users and creating targeted advertising, it simply requires they give users a choice.

The article adds how Apple has built in some ways in which developers can respond and make text changes to inform users, giving them informed choice. This is not the first time that Apple and Facebook have clashed, but Facebook may be on the back foot this time, particularly with regard to other threats it faces in the USA, EU and Germany (Oculus). Apple and Google are also targeted in the proposed EU legislation, although if user data is the reason for this, Apple has less of a risk, although who knows with the USA or EU: politicians do not like to feel that something is beyond their ability to control. Facebook insists Apple is motivated here by profit and not privacy, which is a touch hypocritical coming from that source. Zuckerberg personal wealth is currently $100.8 billion. It is a bit like millionaires complaining when charities feed the poor.

Further to that comment from Apple, Tim Cook put out a similar Tweet which was highlighted by William Gallagher (AppleInsider):

We believe users should have the choice over the data that is being collected about them and how it's used. Facebook can continue to track users across apps and websites as before, App Tracking Transparency in iOS 14 will just require that they ask for your permission first.

A Tweet is considerably cheaper than two full page Wall Street Journal advertisements.

Facebook and Google got rich on using customer data and providing advertisements. Both sell the data to external sources. Apple which is a hardware company and does not sell opaque-ware like this other pair, has several ways (even with the use of devices and software) for customers to opt out. The claim that Apple makes, that it never sells customer data has been breached a couple of times - neither does Microsoft officially - but it is not the core of the business. Neither Google nor Facebook could claim that. Trying to use small businesses as a shield is disingenuous.

This is not something that Tim Cook thought about over breakfast one morning. The use of data from users - you, me, anyone else - has been an ongoing worry for several people. I have been teaching about this for a few years, and it is probable that Apple management have also been concerned. These labels are just another way to alert the user, not to take away Mark Facebook's billions. You can opt out of sharing your data if you wish: it should not be up to the developer. I share data with Apple regarding usage as I think this is useful to help produce improvements. I don't have to; I choose to. Stephen Warwick at iMore has just written about an Axios report that shows Facebook and FB Messenger use more user data than competitors. The Axios chart shows other data-sucking apps. So, Yes, Mark Zuckerberg is on shaky ground here.

Not directly linked, although also related to Apple is the membership of CAF who are moaning about what they call the Apple Tax on in-app subscriptions. They are not ones to miss a good bandwagon when it comes along (Sarah Perez, TechCrunch). They object to the 30% that Apple has been levying since the App Store opened in 2007. They might object to Apple's fees, but they mention nothing about the discounts they have had to offer to newspaper wholesalers and retialers who actually do the job of taking published items from the printers to the customers. They were not of course charities, so no one expected then to do it for free: warehouses, trucks, staff. Apple supplies a complete infrastructure, and a closed environment in which to deliver the apps end to end, but that is apparently not fair.

It was reported on Thursday (Patently Apple and others) that Facebook had opened a web page with small business testimonials. Just like that. The claim that small businesses could see a cut in rates and using the emotive "in a pandemic" is clever but does not hold up particularly in the light of Facebook's own advertising. I used this for eXtensions a few years back, paying the rates for exposure to promised thousands (in reality hundreds) of online users, but after a short while I noticed the numbers dwindling, until, just before I stopped this, less than a hundred hits were shown for the same price as promised thousands. When I questioned this, I had a boilerplate reply that would have done justice to airline PR.

The only reason I use Facebook now is the ease of communication with students but my patience has been paper thin for a couple of years. Instagram and Cambridge Analytica did not help, nor did seeing the robotic evasiveness of Zuckerberg in front of that committee, nor the help that Facebook is now providing Fortnite. Several sources have reported that a judge has ordered both Tim Cook and Craig Federighi to testify in that case and has also demanded documents be produced.

On the other hand, Facebook is meekly disabling some features on Instagram and Messenger to comply with new EU regulations (Tom Warren, The Verge). Where are the full page advertisements for that?

As a note, Google, which is already under some pressure, is now facing an additional lawsuit brought by a coalition of states, "for anticompetitive behavior" ( John Gruber, Daring Fireball).

As an additional late note, I see in a Tweet (Kaz Weida) that Breitbart (reliable source?) has alleged in a Tweet that Zuckerberg paid for the election judges and for dropboxes; plus paid officials to board up windows; and also bought the election machines. Now I am no fan of Mr Robot, but. . . .

Breitbart and Facebook
Breitbart on Facebook

Earlier in the year I tried a couple of of cameras from Ilford: two were disposable with Ilford films preloaded; and the Harman reusable camera came with a couple of rolls of their Kentmere 400 film. I also tried some color film with this. Results were mixed as I was short of time. I later tried a KitKat camera which is also reusable. It came with a 10-shot film roll which I think was Fuji from the markings. I ran some black and white film through that too. There were three cameras in the series (milk chocolate, white chocolate and green tea) each had a double bar of KitKat in the box. I could not find a green tea camera, but I still have the white chocolate one unopened. A colleague noted what good stocking fillers these could be (at 390 baht).

A few weeks ago there was some information from Ilford concerning a rereleased Sprite35_II camera ( Jaron Schneider, Petapixel. These were quite popular before digital cameras arrived and with film growing in popularity now this seems like a smart move. Nikon just ceased production of its last film camera, so apart from specialist devices and a few toy cameras, there is just the used market where prices are rising. If I were to sell some of my older cameras, I could make a healthy profit, but that is not the point. I use digital for work-related images, but film (mostly B&W) because I enjoy it.


Graham K. Rogers teaches at the Faculty of Engineering, Mahidol University in Thailand. He wrote in the Bangkok Post, Database supplement on IT subjects. For the last seven years of Database he wrote a column on Apple and Macs. After 3 years writing a column in the Life supplement, he is now no longer associated with the Bangkok Post. He can be followed on Twitter (@extensions_th)



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