eXtensions - Thursday 22 July 2021


Thursday Review: Regulation for Big tech; Updates to OS Versions; Metadata on iOS Photos

By Graham K. Rogers


The noose tightens as more politicians show intent to rein in Big Tech: Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google particularly. While governments want to loosen the reins, more malware arrives. This week Pegasus is revealed, which is used by the same governments to track opponents. Photos on iOS or iPadOS is particularly weak when it comes to metadata. If the iPad Pro is a pro device, it deserves better. Apple updated its OS versions this week: Watch, AppleTV, iOS, iPadOS and macOS.

It is now less than a week (give or take a time zone or two) until Apple's Q3 2012 financial report. Although the consensus is generally positive from Wall Street, with most expecting high earnings. A couple of items provided slight negative pressure earlier this week: information about the Pegasus malware; flooding in China, which has affected one Foxconn factory so far, but not shut down production; and some sales figures that push iPhone sales down to third in China, although in the USA installations are almost neck and neck with Android (Hartley Charlton, MacRumors). So much for monopolies. That is not stopping the politicians from pressing ahead with regulatory steps to rein in the larger players, particularly Apple and Google. The latest salvo is from the British government who are about to create a special class of company that allows them to impose regulations on services.

This is aimed particularly at the App Store and not only will this demand that a second store be permitted, but that side-loading be made possible. Coming from the laissez-faire British Government of the Tories (except for Immigration) some of whose members rely on offshore banking to avoid taxation, this is a bit rich. Like Vestager in the EU from which the British have now claimed independence in the same way that the population is now free from Covid-19 regulations, the British government does not really understand technology. With the freedom from Covid regulations they are ignoring medical science along with epidemiology and relying on social science and herd immunity as proposed in the Great Barrington Declaration. The British will need a bit more than good luck in coming months.

With the potential for side-loading, outlined in the proposed legislation in the same week as Pegasus was revealed, the government appears to be ignoring the technical experts for the sake of following another herd: the one that seeks short term political popularity; although heaven knows they are in need of that.

iPhone 12
iPhone 12 - Image courtesy of Apple

Pegasus seems to be a problem on the iPhone in particular, but initial analysis was skewed because there are better logs on iOS than there are on Android. Both platforms have been breached via a previously (and still) unknown weakness in messaging that allows a no-click installation of spyware on the phones targeted. Some 45 countries have used this software to target terrorists but some of these are really dissidents or just disagree with someone in power. Quite which group President Macron fits into is not clear to me right now, nor is it clear just who targeted him. I expect the air is bleu around the Élysée Palace. It was later reported that Macron had ordered a series of investigations (Angelique Chrisafis, The Guardian).

And there was an interesting take in India where several are calling out Prime Minister, Modi, for treason. Already under fire for his reactions to the Covid pandemic, like many leaders around the world who have been found wanting in this crisis, this puts more pressure on the Indian leader who once appeared so popular with his nationalistic approach. Nationalism has seen the the political death of many would-be saviors (Hannah Ellis-Petersen and Michael Safi, The Guardian). This is blowing up into as big a scandal as the revelations on NSA surveillance, Cambridge Analytica-related activities, and the Wikileaks revelations of Chelsea Manning.

Apple put out a somewhat ambiguous statement on the Pegasus problems, specifically on the way iMessage is affected (Patently Apple). Oliver Haslam (iMore) comments on Apple's claim that the iMessage flaw is not a threat to most, adding that there is no fix for the unlucky ones. At least users can now check if they have been compromised as a number of sites, including iMore (Oliver Haslam) put out links to a supposed check to see if the spyware affected your phone. This is not simply plug and play and will need some work in Terminal.

I have grumbled about the lack of certain features in Photos on iOS and iPadOS on several occasions in the past. While I deal with the tools available, I do not like that the controls are different from and more limited than Photos on the Mac, although a couple of iOS Photos tools are missing from the Mac version. This is a bone I will not stop gnawing on. Another weakness that I thought was just me, is the inability to add metadata on the iOS/iPadOS versions. I can import RAW images directly from the camera to the iPad Pro (and the iPhone using a card reader), but some critical features that a photographer might need working on the road are not available, particularly keywords.

iPad Pro DSLR import
Image imported directly from DSLR and Edited on iPad Pro

This was brought home to me at breakfast time one day this week in a conversation with a friend who is currently in the USA who asked me how to add keywords. The short answer is, You cannot. The search brings up photos when keywords are added on the Mac, but he wanted to know how to access that feature on iOS. It does not exist. I find that Photos on the Mac is weak, especially when compared with Aperture that I used for a few years before. It has been developed a little, but its metadata management is weak, although the images do have it embedded. It just takes other apps to reveal it: even the Finder does a better job.

It is worse on iOS as not only are the editing tools different with an App that has the same name, but metadata functions (apart from Search) are unavailable. The basic metadata is there, but cannot be added to; and that includes keywords. As my friend said, "People are building rockets and planning missions to Mars" but Apple cannot get basic keyword functionality on photos. He added, Apple is a "2.5 trillion dollar company with a million engineers . . ." You might think they could assign an engineer just to make sure little something like this is consistent. I do not disagree.

Apple has released updates to its OS versions, although early Tuesday morning, after reading several online reports, when I went for the iPadOS update, the system showed that 14.6 was current. I thought this might be because Apple sometimes runs a time-zone rollout and this would appear on my devices later in the day. I lost that argument immediately by finding iOS 14.7 available for my iPhone. Most of the benefits (MagSafe Battery support, Apple Card updates) were not relevant to me or Thailand, but the generic sounding "other improvements and bug fixes" may be much more useful. Catalina and Mojave also saw updates to Safari for security reasons.

After I had updated the iPhone I saw that WatchOS 7.6 was also available. Downloads of this OS are far easier these days and while I watched it began the "Preparing" stage. The update was complete by the time I came out of the shower. While the iPhone, Watch and Apple TV updated with no problems whatsoever, expected updates for both macOS (11.5) and iPadOS (14.7) failed to appear and were not released for a couple of days. The iPadOS update was finally shown on my devices on Thursday morning.

iPad OS 14.7 update

An update to macOS (11.5) was also available for the Mac. It was 3.85GB for the M1 Mac I now use and that took around 2 minutes to download: not bad for rural Thailand. It then took another 20 minutes to install. Before downloading I backed up the Mac, in case I should need to go back. I have not had any problems for a couple of years, but redundancy pays off.

Hardware speculation is ramping up and this week I saw some rumors that told me the next iPad mini, which is strongly rumored, would use the A13 chip, while the next day, it the A15 chip Hartley Charlton, MacRumors) was the flavor of the day. That is also expected to be in the upcoming iPhone. The A13/A15 difference is aired in the article. The source of the rumor apparently uses both but a close reading showed that this is a different product code and is referred to as the "entry level" iPad. Some may have been confused and thought that entry level meant the iPad mini because it was small. A welcome part of the rumor pitch is the suggestion that the iPad mini could have the USB-C port. I have also been hoping for the last year or so that Apple moves the iPhone to this port.

I use the BBEdit text editor and feature this in some of my teaching. Students want to start using Word or the Google equivalent and fail to understand the development needed for writing: academic, creative. They want to start with the finished product and instead of using their brains, begin with a Google search. That may come into the equation at some point, but I ask students (and myself) to begin by thinking. And looking; for example if I am examining software. That includes taking notes, and not starting by writing the first sentence of an Abstract. I insist that my students use paper as a first step, and show what I do with pages of almost-illegible writing full of errors.

Writing on paper
Presentation shot of handwritten text

Students ask if they can write on a tablet device. When I confirm that paper is the only way to go (What don't you understand about paper?), many shortcut that by providing a copy that is neat, tidy and totally error-free. That shows they have either copied it out, or written it on a computer then copied it to paper, because they want it to look good. I am distinctly unimpressed.

Unfortunately for these students who are mainly not native speakers of English, there are plenty of ways for me to suggest improvements, so I mark up the text and send the work back with a simple comment: Fix. This may happen several times with some students. My own approach after the handwritten stage is to use a text editor.

BBEdit As I type I begin to make improvements as I spot things: missing ideas, logic, contradictions, as well as spelling and grammar errors. In the initial stage, jotting ideas down there are always errors. Moving to the unformatted content of a text editor, like BBEdit, allows me to make improvements. My brain is hard at work.

The next stage is odd. I either markup and view in a browser before uploading, or copy to a Word Processor and run through several times. With each medium change (paper to text editor, text editor to browser or word processor) my eyes and brain examine the content in a different way and each change allows me to spot problems I had not noticed before. I am afraid the students do not grasp this: all they want is to finish the task as quickly as possible.

BBEdit was updated this week from 13.5.7 to 14 which has a number of improvements. These include built-in support for Language Server Protocol (LSP) servers, a dedicated Notes window, six new languages including Go and R, a "Repeat Last Command" command, and recognition of Anaconda environments. It looked as if I had a license and a query with BBEdit gave me an answer within a couple of hours. I bought the upgrade and downloaded version 14, which I am using to type this. I note that it also has a new logo, which I have now dragged to the Dock.

My last MacBook Pro had two screen replacements. One was my fault, but the screen was also replaced free by Apple because of the "Footlights" problem. As might be expected, there was a class action on this as users (or more particularly their lawyers) sued Apple for just being Apple: because the company knowingly concealing an alleged flex cable display defect impacting some 13 and 15-inch MacBook Pro models (Juli Clover, MacRumors). Knowingly, in law, takes some proving, but the lawsuit has been dismissed as the fault occurred outside the warranty period. However, the judge is leaving the door open for the complaint to be amended, which some may see as two bites of the cherry.

I expect that the problem cable was designed down to be just strong enough for the purpose, although that hinge for the screen must have an awful lot of flexing day to day. If you take a metal paperclip and bend it back and forth, within a few minutes it will break (metal fatigue), although just before it goes it will become hot, so be ready. The same must happen with the plastic cable (apart from the heat, hopefully) and eventually, the cable will begin to weaken allowing the contacts inside to fail. With the MacBook Pro this was initially intermittent on my device, but eventually the full footlights effect appeared.

As I knew that there was a repair program for this I took it along to the (then) new Icon Siam Apple Store (currently closed due to Covid restrictions) and was told that not only did it qualify for the screen fix, but also the keyboard would be replaced (the intermittent keys problem), and that there was also a replacement program for the battery which I had not known about. It was ready a few days later and it was almost like a new Mac with all those parts replaced. The repairs cost me nothing apart from taxi fares.

Apple Store, Icon Siam
Apple Store, Icon Siam, November 2018

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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