Hate Is Profitable

They know what will be more likely to lead you deeper into the rabbit hole, and what will make it harder to climb back out. Is it a literal, iron-clad trap? No. But the slippery, spiral path that leads people to the darkest corners of the internet is not an accident.

Hate is profitable.

Yes, terrorists are primarily responsible for their acts. But terrorists are created, not born. Terrorists get their information, find their tribes, and spread their messages the same ways you and I do. And they are getting a lot of help.

Massive platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube “optimize for engagement,” and make automatic, algorithmic suggestions for every bit of content or action. From “you might also like” to “recommended just for you” to prioritizing things — anything — that will get you to click, comment, or share.

How pervasive is this engagement-at-any-cost mindset?

Every user of Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram wants their news feed shown in plain, chronological order. It’s a top, if not the top, feature request. It’s not controversial. It is trivially, stupidly, exasperatingly easy to implement… because that’s how these platforms all worked at first.

So why do you suppose they won’t do it? Why is the default, “Top Posts,” or “Top Tweets”? Why do they hide the settings to turn this off, if they let you turn it off at all? (In fact, Twitter trumpeted the introduction of this feature, without mentioning that the new “sparkle button” removed the previous ability to make the switch permanent.) Is it because they know what you like, can find it faster, and just want to make you happy?

Please.

They know what will catch your attention. They know what will get you “engaged.” They know what will be more likely to lead you deeper into a rabbit hole, and what will make it harder to climb back out. Is it a literal, iron-clad trap? No. But the slippery, spiral path that leads people to the darkest corners of the internet is not an accident.

Sure, cat photos are compelling. But there’s nothing like a good knock-down, drag-out clash among friends to get those fingers tapping.

Hate is profitable. Conflict is profitable. Schadenfreude and shame are profitable. While we smugly point fingers, tsk-tsk, and think we’re being clever as we strategically dole out likes and shares, we forget that we are all just gruel-fed hamsters running on wheels deep inside giant, hyper-engineered, artificially intelligent, fully gamified, corporate-controlled virtual worlds that we absurdly think belong to us.

They won’t fix it. It’s working just fine for them. So what can we do?

We can get off the hamster wheel, for starters. It won’t take long for the lights to go out. And then, if we must, we can build better ones.

This piece is excerpted from a post on Hawaii Blog. Illustration by JBCharis for “Know Your Hate Groups” via The Nib.

Mastodon, the Twitter alternative, surpasses 2 million users

Mastodon servers are federated, similar to the way email is federated. While thousands of users hang out and talk about software development on Mastodon.technology, they can also follow and interact with cat lovers over on Toot.cat, the same way Gmail users can exchange messages with Outlook users.

For social network behemoths Facebook and Twitter, the adage is painfully true: if you’re not paying for the product, you are the product being sold. As publicly traded companies, the only people they need to please are shareholders, and they do this by squeezing out of users that most valuable of resources: attention.

If it takes envy, outrage, and schadenfreude to generate the necessary return, then so be it.

There are alternatives out there. There are many. To be sure, many have emerged shining with hope, only to die of starvation — network effects are hard to come by. Path and App.net are gone, and Ello and Vero are mostly forgotten. By trying to replicate their mainstream counterparts, they fail because they try to monetize a small, niche user base that people don’t join en masse because there aren’t people there already.

But some alternatives are hanging in there.

By flipping the for-profit model and going the open-source route, they’re finding traction. When the software is free and available to anyone, the death of one server isn’t as big of a tragedy when another five have popped up in the mean time. And by trading walled gardens for open standards, these new platforms don’t live and die by Monthly Active User counts.

Mastodon — named for the band and not the extinct elephant — was born out of the mind of a German college student in 2016. It’s very clearly inspired by Twitter, or rather the Twitter tool Tweetdeck, in look and feel, and its clean and familiar interface helped it find its first users. Mastodon was heralded as the troll-free and Nazi-freeTwitter clone” in 2017, and last year’s #deletefacebook movement, born from the outcry over Facebook’s privacy abuses, brought even more attention and users.

Mastodon servers are federated, similar to the way email is federated. While thousands of users hang out and talk about software development on Mastodon.technology, they can also follow and interact with cat lovers over on Toot.cat, the same way Gmail users can exchange messages with Outlook users.

And one upside of the myriad servers is that the handle or username you’ve always craved is probably still available somewhere.

The Mastodon community has grown continuously over the past two and a half years. In the last month, the census keeping @mastodonusercount bot on the bitcoinhackers.org instance (for cryptocurrency fans, of course) clicked past 2 million users.

The actual population of Mastodon users is probably larger, even, because the aforementioned bot can only see the populations of other servers with which it federates. Mastodon is very big in Japan, for example, but for some disconcerting reasons many servers in the Western world don’t trade messages with them.

And are some of these Mastodon accounts bots that post automatically to the timeline? Yes. But they declare themselves as bots, and their posts can be categorically filtered out. There’s even a server dedicated to them.

Does this mean Nazis and racists can set up Mastodon, too? Yes. But individual servers aren’t required to federate with every other server. Trump fans have flocked to Mobile.co, but the users there can pretty much talk only amongst themselves.

To be sure, Mastodon is still niche. And it will never surpass Facebook and it’s 2.2 billion monthly active users.

But Mastodon doesn’t need to make money, as open-source contributors help keep the software evolving, and Mastodon instances are supported by donations, subscriptions, or simply out of love. (Most are run on love.) Today there are instances for pretty much every community, from artists to academics to solarpunk Libertarians. And there are mobile apps on iOS and Android (like Toot! and Fedilab) that can make Mastodon look as much or as little like Twitter as you like.

And Mastadon is only one suburb in the decentralized, open social web. There’s also Pleroma and Friendica and Diaspora and Pixelfed, which can all interact with each other. But thanks to a thriving mix of themed servers and a variety of apps, it’s probably the easiest place to start exploring the federated universe (or ‘fediverse‘).

Still not convinced? Here’s an exhaustive library of articles about Mastodon worth checking out:

And here are some Mastodon instances worth checking out:

How to turn off location tracking in Facebook for Android

Facebook has now added the ability for Android users to turn off the continuous logging of locations in the background. For people who use Facebook for iOS, nothing is changing.

Unlike Apple’s iOS, the Android mobile operating system has pretty sparse privacy controls. Apps either have access to everything, or nothing, meaning many users reluctantly or unknowingly grant them more permissions than they need.

Facebook has now added the ability for users to turn off the continuous logging of users’ locations in the background. In its announcement, the social media juggernaut announced “Location Control and Checkup” options.

“With this update, you’ll have a dedicated way to choose whether or not to share your location when you aren’t using the app,” Facebook says. “For people who previously chose to turn their Location History setting ‘on,’ the new background location setting is “on.” For people who had turned Location History ‘off’ – or never turned it on in the first place – the new background location setting is ‘off.'”

The ‘checkup’ is what Facebook is rolling out for users of Apple’s iOS devices.

“For people who use Facebook for iOS, nothing is changing,” the company notes. “But we will send a similar alert to everyone who chose to turn on Location History in the past so they can check to make sure their settings are right for them.”

To access location privacy controls, open the Facebook app and then tap “Privacy and Settings” in the main menu. There, click on “Location” to choose your preferred setting.

“Location information makes it possible for people to use Facebook to plan events, see more relevant ads, mark themselves safe in a crisis and share their favorite places,” Facebook explains, adding that location information also helps keep your account secure.

But if you don’t use Facebook features that rely on location information, you might as well flip those switches to “off.”

Rise of the (Personal) Drones — A Look at the Hover Camera Passport Drone

In the future, our own personal drones will follow us around to take photos of us like our own personal flying paparazzi. It’s not too hard to see that this is where things are going.

Here’s the thing: like so many other things, the future is happening a lot sooner than most people think. It’s operating on its own timetable and has been since 2007. The Hover Camera Passport Drone (from Chinese startup Zero Zero Robotics) is that future — today.

For $500, you get a drone that folds to size of a small notebook. Its propellers are protected in a carbon fiber fence, which also should keep most fingers out of the danger zone (cue Kenny Loggins, if you like). It packs facial recognition, “body tracking” (which keeps your entire body in frame, handy if you’re doing the sort of active things people like to post on Instagram) into that small package, and can do orbits around you or take 360 degree panoramic shots on 4K video or 13 MP stills. Flight time is 10 minute on a full battery charge and the kit includes two batteries, with a maximum altitude of about 65 feet. It’s controlled by an iPhone app, and though the Hover Camera Passport Drone is being exclusively sold in Apple Stores, an Android app is also available.

I saw a display unit at the Apple Store in Ala Moana (in Honolulu) and remembering a post that some stores were giving demos, I ask the staff if anyone could show it off to me. They were giddy with excitement to play with the drone.

There’s a few kinks that needs to be worked out. The staff attempted, and failed, to install a firmware update. The Hover Camera Passport Drone also needs assistance in take off in the way of being held until its propellers generate enough lift to get it airborne. The facial recognition also seems a little finicky, taking some time to kick in.

But when the drone works, it is something to see. It follows the user around like a well-trained flying dog…that looks like a flying notebook. The video and stills, from what I could see, was sharp and good enough (at least) for social media posts. The cool factor, especially if you have even a passing interest in drones, is undeniable. It’s not a professional homebrew or DJI rig, but it’s not supposed to. It’s more like a camera on a phone rather than a DSLR.

The staff at the Apple Store I talked to said they were selling well, and gave an anecdote about a tourist buying it when they watched them fly it — which makes sense, as this is the perfect sort of impulse buy a well-heeled visitor vacationing in Hawaii would make. It’s essentially a selfie stick, but with a lot more wow factor and a lot more potential.

And while we’re comparing this to a selfie stick, people might long for the days of people walking around with poles when they realize the buzzing noise of a hundred drones at their favorite beach may very well be a thing.

But let’s face it. Personal drones are now a thing. Telling someone from 2006 that people will have their own computers in their pockets in 2007 would probably draw a guffaw. That person from 2006 would also have no idea the potential that would be unlocked because of fast cellular networking and smartphones. In same way, it’s impossible to say what good people having ready access to their own drones would be. Imagine events captured on smartphones, like the Arab Spring, now being augmented by a swarm of drones.

Those lofty possibilities aside, today’s Hover Camera Passport Drone suffers from the sort of first adopter problems you’d expect. But they’re also the sort of problems sorted out in the 2.0 version of the device. So if you’re not the type to buy the first version of something, you might want to wait to see how the next version fares.

With a solid product launch, the Hover Camera Passport shows that personal drones will be a popular thing sooner rather than later — whether it’s for better or worse, we’ll soon find out.

Teens Talk Apple Music

Someone, a long time ago, said children are our future.

While I remember the artist and song it came from, the demographic that’s going to make or break Apple Music has probably never heard of Whitney Houston or The Greatest Love of All, and if they have it’s because of their unhip parents.

With the three month free trials of Apple Music coming to a close soon, the question is whether people pay for the service. I’m in my early 40s and I’ve been actively collecting music since the late ’80s. While I own a lot of bad music, The Greatest Love of All is not part of that collection. I made the great digital leap forward and transferred all my music to .MP3 in the early 2000s and now I’m getting used to the idea of my music in a datacenter in the middle who-knows-where.

However, people of my age will not make or break Apple Music. Teens with access to anything they wanted to listen to at any time by playing a flat fee will make or break the service. They have no real allegiance to any of the services, like the inhabitants of Adam Smith’s perfect free market. However, companies are keen to earn their business because, as the conventional wisdom goes, they’ll be loyal to those brands for the rest of their lives.

So we’ve talked to four teenagers 16 to 18, all female, who Apple has in its crosshairs for its streaming music service.

For the most part, they named the biggies in the streaming music space as services they regularly used: Pandora, Spotify, occasionally Last.fm, iHeartRadio and Soundcloud; there was even a pre-Apple Music Beats user and someone who actually bought music from iTunes in the mix.

They all listened to a wide variety of music, including ones you wouldn’t expect. Megabands from the ’90s were named, like The Red Hot Chili Peppers, Green Day and Blink 182 were mentioned, as were classic rock mainstays like Led Zepplin and AC/DC. More contemporary artists were named, of course, like Lorde, Kendrick Lamar, Ed Sheeran and Sam Smith.

The genres that were big included the usual suspects: alternative, hip-hop,  EDM. But there were a few very niche categories that showed up: German metal, K-pop and trap.

So, in short, they’re not just the Taylor Swift-listening mob that the popular media would like to believe. In fact, some of them just didn’t care that 1989 was on Apple Music at all.

But what they are into is a very deep, very wide catalog of music that they can access to any time. Some of them actually did own physical music, but streaming made up the bulk of their listening habits.

So will they use Apple Music? Two of the four said yes; the other two haven’t tried it yet. The two that did try Apple Music said they liked it a lot — in fact, one of them was sold within the first two days of using it.

Image via Clive Darra.

California Fines Uber Millions

Uber may be based in the Golden State, but it’s increasingly under more scrutiny by the state’s agencies. First, the California Labor Commission found that one of its drivers was, in fact an employee, not a contractor, and was entitled to all the benefits of a full-timer.

Now the California Public Utilities Commission hit the ride-sharing service with a $7.3 million fine for not providing details about its drivers, riders, the kinds of rides it was giving. The company is also being sued for not providing equal access to disabled riders, with reports of its drivers refusing service to riders with service dogs and those in wheelchairs.

The regulatory body stated, “In adopting these reporting requirements, the CPUC intended to gather information necessary to its oversight of TNCs (transportation network company) on behalf of the riding public: whether TNC services are being provided in a nondiscriminatory manner enabling equal access to all, and whether TNC services are being provided in a manner that promotes public safety.”

Lyft and Sidecar, Uber’s competitors in the rideshare space, were given the same requests and both the companies provided the information that was requested.

The CPUC threatened to shut down ride share companies because of rides given to and from the airports in the state. The company’s also had its commercial carpooling services declared illegal by the government body.

Via re/code. Image via Uber.

Facebook Security Chief Says It’s Time to Kill Flash

Abode revealed three critical vulnerabilities in the last week. The zero-day exploit, made public by the dump of Hacking Team’s data and email, was the most publicized but the company also disclosed another two issues that compromises the security of its users.

This comes on the heels of many more security issues that involve the browser plug-in. Steve Jobs famously penned his reason as to why iOS devices would not support Flash because of its affect on battery life and, most of all security. At the time he was seen as outlier — app developers publicly questioned Jobs and competing operating system made compatibility with Flash a selling point.

Since then, Flash support’s been dropped by all major mobile operating system for the reasons Jobs outlined. Increasing concerns about security, especially in light of the Hacking Team exploit, has lead to many uninstalling it on all their computing devices, including laptops and desktops.

Facebook security honcho Alex Stamos is advocating that Adobe kill it entirely.

“It is time for Adobe to announce the end-of-life date for Flash and to ask the browsers to set killbits on the same day,” Stamos, who formerly headed the security at Yahoo, Tweeted.

Graham Cluley, security analyst for HotForSecurity.com was blunt in his assessment of Flash’s future: “As it is, the only people who truly seem to love Adobe Flash these days are the criminals themselves.”

Via Hot for Security. Photo by Dave Maas/flickr

Rumor: BlackBerry Prepping Android Phone for AT&T

While BlackBerry would like you to think everything’s fine and there’s nothing to see, the former smartphone powerhouse is attempting to stay relevant by embracing Google’s little green droid. Amazon’s Android Appstore apps currently run on the Canadian company’s devices, but it intends to take it a step further with the imminent release of an actual Android phone.

The device was hinted at in March during the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, but tech leaker Evan Blass (@evleaks), posted high resolution devices of the device. The phone will have curved edges, much like the Samsung Galaxy Edge S5, and keeping to BlackBerry’s DNA, it will feature a slide-out physical keyboard.

The phone is rumored to be an AT&T exclusive, at least in launch. The reports of the BlackBerry’s Android phone comes amid a Reuters article that mentions the company will be going with be switching to the Google mobile operating system.

Via The Verge. Photo by Evan Blass (@evleaks).

Prince Won’t Stream — and this is What it Sounds Like When Doves Cry

With the launch of Apple Music, it’s easy to get heady about the state of streaming media. Holdouts like AC/DC are making their music available on streaming services and Taylor Swift made 1989 available on the fruit company’s service.

So, war is over (which is also available on streaming)?

Not exactly. Prince (remember when he was symbol dude?), is making waves about taking his music unavailable via streaming. The Purple One pulled his music from Spotify and Rdio and is so far a no-show on Apple Music. But his tracks are still available on Google Music All Access and Tidal.

TechCrunch is speculating that Prince is removing his work from services with a free tier.

Prince is no stranger to criticizing the music industry and digital distribution. He’s pulled his music from Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. He also called Taylor Swift the new Prince for her stand on streaming music.

However, he’s also made curious statements about the internet in general, calling it “completely over…The internet’s like MTV. At one time MTV was hip and suddenly it became outdated. Anyway, all these computers and digital gadgets are no good. They just fill your head with numbers and that can’t be good for you.”

While you consider those words of wisdom, here’s Kevin Smith talking about a project he was supposed to work on with Prince.

Via TechCrunch. Photos by Jessica Watkins/flickr.

Apple Music: What’s in a Name? A Whole Damn Lot

When the iPhone originally launched, it didn’t come with Apple Music. It didn’t even come with a “Music” app. That was years later. Early adopters who can remember that far back will tell you that it came with an iPod app.

Which makes sense. When Steve Jobs introduced the iPhone in 2007, the anticipation building up to the event was that Apple put a phone into an iPod. When Jobs unveiled the iPhone, he described it as an iPod, a phone and an internet communicator.

The iPod was the 600-pound gorilla in the early 2000s — the iPhone and its music services had to be put into the context of the iPod. At the time, you’d be hard pressed to find someone who wasn’t excited at the prospect of an iPod that happened to make calls and access the internet.

As the iPod’s fortunes fell, the iPod app changed. If you owned the first iPhone or its followup, the 3G, you tapped on an app that looked like the familiar and iconic clickwheel device. By the iPhone 3GS, the writing was on the wall. The iPhone was a monster hit that was a phone and internet communicator that happened to also be an iPod…and the app was renamed Music.

Which brings us to the present day. Apple used to announce its iPod sales with the same fanfare they now do with iPhones, but now iPhones outsell iPods by about nine times. The iPod app begat the Music app which today begat Apple Music. The iPod is a fading memory. It’s not even a product you can access on the Apple home page.

In its time, the iPod represented a radical shift in consuming music. Rather than being limited by how many CDs or tapes you could carry, you were limited by how much storage capacity you had. While hard drives of the first iPods were minuscule compared to the 64GB to 128GB iPhones consumers use today, the fact that weeks of music could be carried in a package about the size of a deck of cards was mind blowing.

Over a decade later, Apple Music represents another radical shift — storage space doesn’t matter. Streaming does. Your mobile broadband connection — wifi, LTE — they’re your gateway to more music than you could ever listen to. Granted, Apple was late to this game and didn’t define the streaming market the way iTunes and the iPod defined the downloadable market. But when you consider that you have access to millions of tracks of music, in addition to your own collection of music that you’ve curated yourself and painstakingly ripped and uploaded, it takes the sting out of realizing that you’re now renting your music and not buying music.

You’re going to read a lot about Apple Music over the next few days. I think the access to almost everything I want to listen to (with the exception of bootlegs, small bands that never made it big but should have and my oddball collection of songs from anime movies and series that I’ve uploaded anyway) is astounding. Though I was skeptical of Beats 1, human curation of music through a knowledgeable DJ is a very good thing.

These guys are not the annoying fuckwads that make crank calls in some hick town’s “morning zoo”. The Beats 1 DJs are like the best kind of clerks at that music store you loved in the ’90s who turned you on to all kinds of music. If you’re too young to remember what a music store is, this is what consuming music was like before Clear Channel bought every radio station in America and enforced their “formats” to capture some market-driven demographic.

What Apple Music represents is the deeper philosophical change going on in Cupertino. Apple Music. Apple Watch. While those names seem like simple branding decisions, they’re really deeper, existential milestones in the history of Apple. When the iPod was introduced in 2001, the bad old days and the lean times of Apple weren’t far behind the company. Apple was sixty days away from bankruptcy when Steve Jobs returned as CEO in 1997. If it wasn’t for Bill Gates floating Apple a loan, it’s very likely there would be no Apple, at least not the company we know today.

Jobs launched the iMac — the device that he hoped consumers would gravitate toward because of its design and colors. The “i” was supposed to stand for internet, but it also stood for I, and in the individual. iMacs were not the uninspiring beige boxes PC clone manufacturers were pumping out. It was Jobs’ first hit during his second coming. Then there was the iPod and finally, the iPhone. All of them products that could only exist because of the internet, but they were also Apple’s statement that they were iconoclasts and independents that made products for individuals.

It was marketing of the highest order to appeal to the need to be unique, because Apple needed every advantage it could get at the time.

The turnaround of Apple is the stuff of legend. When Jobs passed, the company reached unknown heights and because the world’s most valuable company. Its base of users increasingly identified with the company — in contrast to the ’90s, when Apple needed to connect to its customers for its continued survival.

The mark of this newly confident Apples is its new products. Apple Watch. Apple Music. Its name alone carries the weight to carry a product with the most generic of names. It seems like a small thing, but Apple Music is a very big deal as to what Apple is in 2015, compared to iTunes in 2000.

(Also, let’s face it — the iPhone’s days as being named as such are probably numbered. Cook, Ive and the rest of the executive team are probably itching to rename it Apple Phone.)

Much was written about Steve Jobs and his involvement with Zen Buddhism. As such, he would have to embrace change.

Apple Music is representative of that change and things to come. Where does your music and the company’s library of tracks begin and end? Does it matter? Do you need iTunes for your iPhone? Yes. No. Either answer is correct. For now.

Acknowledging the internet is passé. The internet is as pervasive and ubiquitous as the wind. What Apple ultimately wants are phones and computers that communicate to each other wirelessly, accessing videos, music and photo through high speed wireless connections to its data centers. Apple wants to kill the sync cable and is inching us to that inevitable future.

But all the while, the “i” of things will still be there. Though the personal connection to your devices that an Apple Watch provides, through the human curators of Apple Music that introduce you to your next favorite band you’ve never heard before or that connection to other people that negates distances the current and future iPhone does so well.

Screenshot by the author.