John C. Abell

Shellacking Apple

Apr 25, 2011 22:24 UTC

Apple was outed last week for doing something either sinister or stupid (or both): Researchers revealed that the iPhone remembers where you’ve been pretty much all the time and saves that information in a way that almost anyone can access.

The revelation whipped up a media frenzy, and why not? Internet privacy is a hot topic — rightly so — as more of our computing goes mobile. The biggest subsidy for access to free and cheap content remain targeted ads. The more relevant the ad, the more valuable they are to advertisers and publishers — and the less annoying to the consumer. Google alone makes about $5 billion every three months mainly on ads that are more likely to pique your interest because they are determined by what you are searching for, or key words in your e-mails.

This iPhone dossier should not exist, at least in its current form. It lives, zombie-like, without any form or protection of encryption, not only on your iPhone but also on the computer you use to sync and back it up. Even if Apple isn’t hand-feeding your bread trail into the salivating mouths of sleazy marketers (and there is no evidence it is) the mere existence of this database is very problematic for very practical reasons: It could, for example, give a jealous spouse new leverage to demand you produce actual evidence to back your word about working late last week, and your employer a means to verify that you really did have that expensive lunch you expensed.

But a funny thing happened while many of us were getting exercised about this curious discovery: Apple didn’t say a word about it. Nobody even asked about it during the company’s fortuitously-scheduled earnings conference call. Shares in the red-hot company even closed up on the week, largely on a quarterly report which saw profits nearly double.

Remember antenna-gate? When a slight design issue with the iPhone 4′s external antenna, which affected call quality, prompted CEO Steve Jobs to hold an uncomfortable live press event and offer anyone who wanted one a free case, $30 retail value? Remember when Jobs was seen as cavalier by tacitly acknowledging the problem by suggesting we should “Just avoid holding it in this way?

The water’s fine, but maybe don’t come in

Apr 18, 2011 19:18 UTC


Is the Internet turning us into hopeless narcissists, spurring us on to produce a constant flow of image-burnishing tidbits but all the while sapping our ability to create anything meaningful?

No, I haven’t just had a near-death experience, or been tagged by a total stranger in a picture I didn’t know was taken, or had my latest book proposal rejected. The trigger for this heretical notion comes from an e-mail from a friend, a writer, whose own relationship with the Internet is, admittedly, a love/hate one. The email contained a lament that tapped into a thought I’ve sort of had but haven’t, um, had the time to think through.

After recounting a lovely domesticated evening of no particular consequence, my friend opined:

A little Internet private time

Apr 11, 2011 16:23 UTC


We all freaked out a little bit last week over what may have been the worst breach in e-mail address security ever. For me, the rolling thunder of annoyance came in the drip drip drip of e-mail alerts from a number of companies with whom I’ve done business saying that the address I had shared with them for limited, specific purposes had been acquired by a hacker.

A bigger story emerged only later: These were not individual notes, but rather a symphony of breach because e-mail addresses from lots of customers shared with lots of companies were all stored in one place, a company called Epsilon.

Most people probably didn’t realized they had agreed to share their addresses with Epsilon, whose business includes managing marketing mailing lists, by virtue of the contracts they have with thousands of retailers. Nobody really reads privacy agreements and the terms of service because — and let me make a bold assertion here — they are needlessly long and verbose precisely to deter anyone from attempting to do so.

Don’t beat the news innovators, join them

Apr 4, 2011 16:14 UTC


Getting a cease and desist letter isn’t exactly a laughing matter, but it often can be laughed off — even when it comes from lawyers representing 11 major media companies who say what your are doing is “plainly illegal” and you are a little startup using their copyrighted material in your little iPad magazine.

They aren’t exactly laughing it off, but the folks over at Zite are taking it all in stride, and, so far so good.

Zite recently joined a new breed of news apps designed for the iPad which are unique in at least two ways: None of the companies behind them gather news, and all seem infinitely better than the gatherers at distribution on a platform that is barely a year old. Among this group are Flipboard and Pulse — which make boring RSS feeds pretty — and Instapaper and Read It Later — pioneers in the “undesign” movement which do sort of the opposite, by taking a loud web page and serving up the core text in a bookish way.