#001 – Facebook Outage [Video] – March 14, 2019

Facebook, Instagram, Messenger, WhatsApp all experienced an outage. Four services, but one company. It not only affected the Facebook service, but other services that rely on it.

Facebook, Instagram, Messenger, WhatsApp all experienced an outage. Four services, but one company. It not only affected the Facebook service, but other services that rely on it, as Facebook is often used as a ‘quick’ login for other apps. And WhatsApp is critical communications for many countries, with 1 billion users, 700 million in India alone.

Before yesterday’s Facebook outage, there were big outages for Verizon, Google’s Gmail, and Google’s YouTube.

Was it hackers? They’re an easy suspect, but usually not, for large tech institutions. Usually internal, usually sometimes simple. But it does serve as a wake-up call for how much we rely on these services.

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

Microsoft Announces Job Cuts and Losses, Majority of Layoffs in Mobile Products

It’s not a good day if your work with Windows Phone or for Microsoft’s mobile division. The company cut 7,600 jobs tied to the devices and wrote off $7.6 billion of the division’s assets.

Situation leaves Microsoft in an unenviable bind: on one hand, analysts point out that the company can’t and won’t keep on trying to break into a market where they’re a distant third to Apple and Google, at best. On the other, mobile phones are too important a market segment for the company to abandon.

With its acquisition of Nokia, Microsoft is expected to pare down the phone selection it offers. It is expected to revamp the Lumia line of Windows Phones and release a flagship device — which the brand hasn’t had since Microsoft bought the Finnish company. In addition, while Microsoft’s Office products were only available on Windows’ mobile devices, the company has since ported them to iOS and Android.

Via CNet. Photo by Stilgherrian/flickr

Netflix’s Feature Movies set to Premiere in October

Netflix has a name for itself in short time with a roster of series stands toe-to-toe with any cable network — House of Cards, Orange is the New Black, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. That’s also not counting documentaries they’re released, including The Square and What Happened Ms. Simone?

The streaming video company is gearing up to add a slate of feature movies that are just as impressive as the rest of its lineup. Cary Fukunaga (aka the guy who directed the first season of True Detective) will kick off with Beasts of No Nation starring Idris Elba. In December, Adam Sandler’s The Ridiculous Six will be available (if you’re rolling your eyes, Sandler’s movies actually do well on DVD and VOD). Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: The Green Legend the long-awaited sequel to the 2000 original will be shown in March of next year.

The flicks will also also have brief runs in actual theaters to ensure they’ll be eligible for awards consideration.

Via TechCrunch. Photo by Christopher/flickr.

Apple: All Your Packaging Are Belong to Us (in the Apple Store)

It’s something so Apple, you wonder why they didn’t do it earlier — for better or worse — the Cupertino company is requiring third party vendors who do business with its retail juggernaut to co-design its packaging with the company to comply with the company’s standards.

This requirement is in addition to Apple’s existing environmental requirements for third-party vendors as well as agreements that force vendors who stock the Apple Store to not seek out or even read about the specifications of upcoming products on rumor blogs, or any kind of news outlets.

The redesigned boxes will look like the artwork for Apple’s own products, with the product against a white background, simple fonts and “higher-quality materials” and simplified compatibility listings.

Via 9to5 Mac. Photo by Sacha Fernandez/flickr