Apple Is Said to Be Maintaining Mask Requirements in Its Stores Despite Recent CDC Guidance

Illustration for article titled Apple Is Said to Be Maintaining Mask Requirements in Its Stores Despite Recent CDC Guidance

Photo: Mladen Antonov / AFP (Getty Images)

Over the past year and then some, one of the unorthodox ways to gauge the severity of the pandemic has been to look at one tech giant: Apple. That might be changing, though. A recent report states that Apple will maintain a mask mandate in its U.S. Apple Stores despite the new guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which in the past few days has given vaccinated people the green light to take off their masks in most settings.

Advertisement

Bloomberg reported this week that Apple had informed its U.S. stores that their mask mandate and covid-19-related procedures would remain in place for now. Apple’s purported instructions to its stores came shortly after the CDC relaxed its recommendations for vaccinated individuals on Thursday. Nonetheless, Bloomberg stated that Apple is continuing to evaluate health and safety measures. At least for now, it’ll still require everyone in its stores to mask up.

Apple told the outlet that its first priority was employee and consumer safety. The company was one of the first major retailers to close its stores in response to the pandemic and has been routinely opening them and closing them when cases go up. It has required all to wear masks in its stores throughout the pandemic.

Gizmodo reached out to Apple to confirm Bloomberg’s report on Sunday but did not receive a response by the time of publication. We’ll make sure to update this blog if we do hear back.

Apple’s reported move stood out when compared to other retail giants such as Walmart, Costco, Trader Joe’s, Publix, and Starbucks, which have all recently announced that they are ending mask requirements except where required to do so by state or local guidelines. Apple wasn’t alone in its caution, however. USA Today reported that Target, Walgreens, and Kroger also kept their mask mandates in place, although some of them stated they would be reviewing the CDC’s guidance.

Considering Apple’s cautious response to the pandemic, its decision to purportedly maintain the mask mandate in its stores isn’t entirely a surprise. Some experts were taken aback by the speed of the CDC’s decision, while others still worry that anti-vaxxers will lie about their vaccination status and put others, such as frontline workers and people unable to get vaccinated, at risk.

At the end of the day, Apple is a private business and can enforce mask mandates on its property if it chooses to do so. While its actions may not necessarily reflect the reality of the pandemic anymore, we’ve got other sources for that.

Advertisement

Ex-Apple Employee Claims Company Knew About His ‘Misogynistic’ Writings and Hired Him Anyway

Illustration for article titled Ex-Apple Employee Claims Company Knew About His 'Misogynistic' Writings and Hired Him Anyway

Photo: Justin Sullivan (Getty Images)

Former Apple employee Antonio García Martínez has refuted the company’s portrayal of his high-profile ouster this week and claims Apple knew about his past writings demeaning women and people of color, which came under fire from employees this week, before it made a job offer.

Advertisement

“Apple was well aware of my writing before hiring me. My references were questioned extensively about my bestselling book and my real professional persona (rather than literary one),” he wrote in a Twitter thread Friday. “I did not ‘part ways’ with Apple. I was fired by Apple in a snap decision,”

“Apple has issued a statement that clearly implies there was some negative behavior by me during my time at Apple. That is defamatory and categorically false,” Martínez continued. He argued that Apple “actively recruited” him for the role on its ads team, even roping in one of his former colleagues to “convince” him to take the job.

On Wednesday, the Verge reported that Apple employees circulated a petition objecting to his hiring and asking for an investigation. At issue is Martínez’s autobiography Chaos Monkeys, which chronicles his journey from Wall Street to Silicon Valley. The petition, which you can read in full here, cites several “overtly racist and sexist remarks” from his writing, such as when he refers to Bay Area women as “soft and weak, cosseted and naive despite their claims of worldliness, and generally full of shit.”

In another damning passage, the former Facebook product manager writes: “There were few women one would call conventionally attractive at Facebook. The few there were rarely if ever dressed for work with their femininity on display in the form of dresses and heels.”

Apple employees argued that Martínez’s “misogynistic statements” didn’t align with Apple’s stated values concerning diversity and inclusion. They also called for Apple to explain how its recruitment team either missed or ignored his published views before offering him the position.

Hours after the Verge’s report, Apple told Bloomberg that it cut ties with Martínez.

Advertisement

“At Apple, we have always strived to create an inclusive, welcoming workplace where everyone is respected and accepted,” an Apple spokesperson told the outlet. “Behavior that demeans or discriminates against people for who they are has no place here.”

Apple declined to comment on details of his departure and has not confirmed what job title Martínez held, but sources say he was hired as a product engineer on Apple’s advertising platform team, according to Bloomberg. Apple did not immediately respond to Gizmodo’s request for comment, but we’ll update this blog once they do.

Advertisement

The iPhone maker and other tech giants have repeatedly come under scrutiny for their lack of workplace diversity. Apple’s latest diversity statistics show that 66% of its employees are male and 47% are white despite notable increases in its number of women, Hispanic, Latino, and Black workers in recent years.

Amazon’s New Echo Buds Are Annoyingly Good for the Price

Illustration for article titled Amazon's New Echo Buds Are Annoyingly Good for the Price

Photo: Caitlin McGarry/Gizmodo

Amazon is trying its hand at earbuds again after stumbling out of the gate with its first pair of Echo Buds in 2019. The improvements, I’m mildly irritated to say, are good.

Advertisement

Amazon’s hardware is all over the place: Its Kindle lineup is excellent but still sports microUSB ports, its smart displays are very good but also mildly creepy, its first fitness tracker was horrifyingly invasive, and its first-gen Bluetooth earbuds were outdated from the jump (see, again, microUSB) and didn’t sound great. I wasn’t sure what to expect when the Alexa-forward second-gen Echo Buds arrived on my doorstep, but I have to admit, when evaluating the latest buds against the rest of the increasingly competitive pack of other Bluetooth earbuds, the new ones are priced so well that the little issues I have aren’t dealbreakers. They also sound pretty good.

And then there’s Alexa. More on that in a minute.

Boring Design Is Perfectly Fine

The Echo Buds look almost completely free of personality or branding until you peer closely at each earbud and notice the Amazon smile logo. Virtually no one wants to wear Amazon’s logo in their ear, but the black logo on black earbud is so faint as to be nearly invisible. The charging case is also branded, but the smile is on the bottom of the device so no one can see it. (I didn’t get a chance to see the white version in person, though the Amazon logo on those appears to be a little more obvious in photos.)

The buds come with four silicone eartips, which are mercifully color-coded so you know which to grab, and two sizes of wings, which are damn near impossible to get on and off the earbud and can also easily cover the charging magnets that snap the earbud to its spot in the charging case. I found that out the hard way and accidentally drained my left Echo Bud from 100% to 11% thanks to an errant wing fit, which I promptly ditched. (The wing part doesn’t help with fit all that much anyway.) But even without the wings, I got a solid fit and a nice seal, and the vented design prevents discomfort even when wearing them for a couple of hours at a time.

Each bud is touch-sensitive so you can control music playback with a tap or two (or three), and you can customize one gesture, a long hold, to control volume on either the left and right buds. Customizing that gesture means removing the ability to control Active Noise Cancellation (ANC) and pass-through using a long hold, so I sacrificed that functionality.

Advertisement

The Echo Buds sport an understated design—some might say boring—and fit well.

The Echo Buds sport an understated design—some might say boring—and fit well.
Photo: Caitlin McGarry/Gizmodo

Surprisingly Good Audio

The biggest change Amazon made to the second-gen Echo Buds is the addition of active noise cancellation instead of the first-gen version’s noise reduction. And it works.

Advertisement

I went for a 3-mile run outdoors in the heart of Hollywood to test the Echo Buds’ ability to drown out ambient street noise or filter in the outside world when I needed to for safety, and the ANC was effective. You can control the noise cancellation using a long press of either earbud, or ask Alexa to turn it on or off. Pass-through is fine, though I didn’t hear as much of the outside world as I hear with other ANC earbuds. (I should note that the Echo Buds are only rated IPx4 and are therefore not sweat-proof, so if you need earbuds that can withstand workouts, look elsewhere.)

One pass-through feature is specifically for phone calls, a setting called Sidetone you can activate in the Alexa app, which lets you more clearly hear yourself when you’re talking on the phone. This was buggy—I could hear myself marginally better than without it turned on at first, but then it quit working. The change wasn’t big enough to be super noticeable on my end, but when I was talking to my mom with Sidetone activated, she asked what I was making—the sound of my hair brushing against the earbud was so intense that it sounded like I was chopping iceberg lettuce, she said. Without Sidetone on, my hair wasn’t an issue.

Advertisement

The new Echo Buds have 5.7mm drivers and three mics: two external beamforming ones and one internal. Music definitely sounds good, but I will say that the Echo Buds audio doesn’t quite as full or immersive as it does with pricier earbuds (like Apple’s AirPods Pro and the Jabra Elite 85t), but I only noticed that listening to the same song on all devices back to back. I tested this with a few different genres, from EDM to classic rock and, of course, Fiona Apple. But overall the Echo Buds are well-balanced, and the ability to adjust the EQ in the Alexa app means I can bump up the bass as much as I want.

Battery Life Could Be Better

The second-gen Echo Buds come in two versions: the $120 model, which charges via USB-C, and a pricier $140 version, which has both USB-C and supports wireless charging with any Qi charger. Apple’s second-gen AirPods with wireless charging case will cost you $199 and they don’t even offer ANC, so this seems like a steal by comparison.

Advertisement

The charging isn’t particularly fast either way—the case charges about 30% in 30 minutes via USB-C or wireless charger—but 15 minutes in the case gives the earbuds themselves about two additional hours of juice, which is useful (see above, when I inadvertently drained my left earbud and had to quickly resuscitate it). Amazon promises four hours of call time on a charge and eight additional hours in the charging case with ANC and Alexa enabled, which tracked in my testing—I got a few days of battery life between listening to tunes and podcasts, going for a run, and making phone calls.

USB-C port (left) and Bluetooth pairing button (right). Quick and easy.

USB-C port (left) and Bluetooth pairing button (right). Quick and easy.
Photo: Caitlin McGarry/Gizmodo

Advertisement

Battery life improves if you turn ANC and Alexa off—6.5 hours in the buds and 19.5 hours total with the charging case. That’s on par with what you get from AirPods Pro, which are $120 more expensive than the base-model Echo Buds, but the Jabra Elite 85t remain my fave for the 25 total hours you get with ANC turned on. (The 85t are also $230, but I love them.)

But I did appreciate the fact that the case has three color-coded LED lights—one for the case itself and one for each earbud—that let you know how much battery life is left in each. You can also ask Alexa for a quick battery status update, which brings us to the Echo Buds’ marquee feature.

Advertisement

Alexa’s Pros, Cons, and Privacy Concerns

Look: If you’re thinking of buying a pair of Amazon earbuds, you’re probably comfortable with Amazon as a company. Perhaps your home already has a handful of Alexa devices, despite the fact that Alexa has historically been a privacy minefield for reasons we’ve covered before—a reputation Amazon has never quite been able to shake, for good reason. While I am personally not all-in with Alexa, Amazon has made it possible to use these earbuds with no Alexa at all, or with minimal Alexa when you want it.

Advertisement

Though you have to set up the Echo Buds with the Alexa app to access features like adjustable EQ and customizing the tap controls, you can also just pair the Echo Buds to your phone using the standard Bluetooth settings, no app required. There are also a handful of ways to activate Alexa but mute the assistant when you want to so that the earbuds’ microphones aren’t always capturing your audio and sending it to the cloud. First, the Alexa app has to be open and running in the background on your phone for Alexa to function. And an earbud has to actually be in your ear to activate Alexa; it won’t be listening if placed in the case or on a table, for instance. If you want to use the earbuds but mute Alexa, you can do so in the app or by customizing a physical gesture (long-pressing the earbud). You will hear a tone when Alexa recognizes the wake word, but there are no physical indicators.

You don’t actually have to set up Alexa at all, but if you do, you unlock a whole bunch of features.

You don’t actually have to set up Alexa at all, but if you do, you unlock a whole bunch of features.
Photo: Caitlin McGarry/Gizmodo

Advertisement

All of that said, if Alexa knows literally all of your business and you have no qualms about that, then having the assistant directly in your ear can be useful.

Amazon’s Echo system is not my go-to jam, so I am always taken aback when I remember just how fast Alexa picks up its wake word and responds. Even better, Alexa listens to me and responds even if I’m listening to something on the Echo Buds. For instance, while cooking dinner and listening to a podcast, I asked Alexa to set a timer for me, and while the pod volume lowered a bit as I spoke, Alexa didn’t interrupt to respond—the timer was set, the timer went off, and I went about my business. (Here’s where I could complain about Siri’s, but that sad, sad horse has long since stumbled off into the sunset.)

Advertisement

You can set up all the standard Alexa skills in the app to request that the assistant play music, audiobooks from Audible, add reminders to your to-do list, make phone calls—the works. That all happens quickly and easily, though I find Alexa to be most useful while bumming around at home or out on a walk (though if you’re out in public wearing a mask and no one can see you mumbling to yourself, by all means). And an Alexa Transit feature available in major cities like New York, San Francisco, and Chicago will help you plan your public transit route and give you status updates on the train or bus you’re waiting for. This hasn’t yet been flipped on where I live, in Los Angeles, but using your earbuds to plan your commute is kind of neat.

I appreciated using Alexa to do dumb little things like set timers, ask for the weather forecast, and play DJ for me—things you might have purchased an Echo smart speaker to handle, but could instead be accomplished with a pair of earbuds that can be used in your home or on the go. If your smart home is rigged with Alexa-compatible gadgets from tip to toe, you’ll likely find the Echo Buds even more useful.

Advertisement

What I Don’t Like

The Echo Buds are very good for the price, but they aren’t perfect. There are a few advanced features that don’t work as well as they should, and one big thing is missing.

Advertisement

Following so closely on the heels of Apple’s AirTag launch, I was surprised to find a Find My feature for the new Echo Buds in the Alexa app. It may not surprise you to learn that the Alexa Find My feature for Echo Buds is not quite as advanced as the one Apple uses for AirTags. I never lose just one earbud, but I regularly misplace the case with both earbuds tucked inside. Unless the Echo Buds charging case is open, however, it won’t play a sound (that’s because the earbuds themselves independently play sounds, and not the case itself). This is not helpful, to say the least. I have never lost an earbud charging case while it was wide open.

I don’t usually lose my earbud case like this.

I don’t usually lose my earbud case like this.
Photo: Caitlin McGarry/Gizmodo

Advertisement

Then there are the quibbles I have with Sidetone and battery life that I mentioned earlier.

But really, the biggest issue is the lack of a feature I really, really need from Bluetooth earbuds: the ability to connect to multiple devices. The Echo Buds can only be paired to one device at a time, which means you can’t seamlessly switch audio from your phone to your laptop, which is crucial for me. If this is also an important feature for you, what with the pandemic era’s endless phone calls and video conferences, I would recommend splurging on a pricier pair of ANC earbuds that can connect to multiple devices at once. My go-to is the Jabra Elite 85t (or the also good Elite Active 75t, which has software-based ANC that’s actually very capable). Apple’s AirPods Pro are great for iPhone users with MacBooks, though the fit is not my favorite.

Advertisement

Who Should Buy Echo Buds?

As I started testing the Echo Buds, I wasn’t quite sure if they’d be any good for those of us who are either skeptical of Alexa or who avoid the assistant altogether. But they are good, especially considering the price. For $120, you get a solid-sounding pair of earbuds with capable ANC and comfortable fit, and for an extra $20 you get a wireless charging case. There are a few drawbacks—the battery life could be better, and not being able to switch devices sucks—but I’m surprised by how much I liked using these things. I don’t like them enough to fully embrace Alexa, but the good news is: You really don’t need to.

Advertisement

Apple Employees Petition New Hire Over Views on Women, People of Color

Illustration for article titled Apple Employees Petition New Hire Over Views on Women, People of Color

Photo: Scott Barbour / Staff (Getty Images)

Apple employees circulated a petition on Wednesday to express concern over a new hire and his apparently problematic views on women and people of color.

Advertisement

In the petition — which is available to read in full over at The Verge — employees object to the hiring of former Facebook product manager and Chaos Monkeys author Antonio García Martínez. In his book, García Martínez details his journey from Wall Street to Silicon Valley, and according to employees, his characterization of that journey — and the role that women in particular played in it — is among their primary causes for concern.

In most of the objectionable excerpts, García Martínez repeatedly casts women as sex objects who are either shabbily dressed or dead weight in Silicon Valley’s corporate environments.

“There were few women one would call conventionally attractive at Facebook,” García Martínez writes. “The few there were rarely if ever dressed for work with their femininity on display in the form of dresses and heels.

In another passage currently making the rounds on Twitter, García Martínez refers to Bay Area women in particular as “soft and weak, cosseted and naive despite their claims of worldliness, and generally full of shit … they become precisely the sort of useless baggage you trade for a box of shotgun shells or a jerrycan of diesel.”

“It’s so exhausting being a woman in tech; sitting opposite men who think because of my gender, I am soft and weak and generally full of shit,” one Apple employee wrote on Twitter alongside a screenshot of the passage in question. “It’s not even worth it to say I have worked relentlessly for every accomplishment I have.”

García Martínez’s hiring “calls into question parts of our system of inclusion at Apple, including hiring panels, background checks, and our process to ensure our existing culture of inclusion is strong enough to withstand individuals who don’t share our inclusive values,” the employees write.

Advertisement

Women in tech have long been dogged by pompous and persistent claims by men that they are inherently inferior or less suited to perform jobs in STEM fields, so you can imagine it feeling like sort of a slap in the face when your company hires the guy who wrote the literal book on those stereotypes to sit at the desk next to you.

Although Apple has yet to comment on the blowback directly, the company has come under frequent criticism for its lack of workplace diversity in recent years. As of this writing, Apple’s global workforce is currently 66 percent male, and 47 percent of its employees are white.

Advertisement

Apple Faces Employee Backlash for Hiring Antonio García Martínez Over His Views on Women, People of Color

Illustration for article titled Apple Faces Employee Backlash for Hiring Antonio García Martínez Over His Views on Women, People of Color

Photo: Scott Barbour / Staff (Getty Images)

Apple employees circulated a petition on Wednesday to express concern over a new hire and his apparently problematic views on women and people of color.

Advertisement

In the petition — which is available to read in full over at The Verge — employees object to the hiring of former Facebook product manager and Chaos Monkeys author Antonio García Martínez. In his book, García Martínez details his journey from Wall Street to Silicon Valley, and according to employees, his characterization of that journey — and the role that women in particular played in it — is among their primary causes for concern.

In most of the objectionable excerpts, García Martínez repeatedly casts women as sex objects who are either shabbily dressed or dead weight in Silicon Valley’s corporate environments.

“There were few women one would call conventionally attractive at Facebook,” García Martínez writes. “The few there were rarely if ever dressed for work with their femininity on display in the form of dresses and heels.

In another passage currently making the rounds on Twitter, García Martínez refers to Bay Area women in particular as “soft and weak, cosseted and naive despite their claims of worldliness, and generally full of shit … they become precisely the sort of useless baggage you trade for a box of shotgun shells or a jerrycan of diesel.”

“It’s so exhausting being a woman in tech; sitting opposite men who think because of my gender, I am soft and weak and generally full of shit,” one Apple employee wrote on Twitter alongside a screenshot of the passage in question. “It’s not even worth it to say I have worked relentlessly for every accomplishment I have.”

García Martínez’s hiring “calls into question parts of our system of inclusion at Apple, including hiring panels, background checks, and our process to ensure our existing culture of inclusion is strong enough to withstand individuals who don’t share our inclusive values,” the employees write.

Advertisement

Women in tech have long been dogged by pompous and persistent claims by men that they are inherently inferior or less suited to perform jobs in STEM fields, so you can imagine it feeling like sort of a slap in the face when your company hires the guy who wrote the literal book on those stereotypes to sit at the desk next to you.

Although Apple has yet to comment on the blowback directly, the company has come under frequent criticism for its lack of workplace diversity in recent years. As of this writing, Apple’s global workforce is currently 66 percent male, and 47 percent of its employees are white.

Advertisement

Apple Is Still Struggling to Unload Its Launch Day HomePods

Illustration for article titled Apple Is Still Struggling to Unload Its Launch Day HomePods

Photo: Justin Sullivan (Getty Images)

Two months ago, Apple decided to discontinue the original HomePod. And yet, it appears the product is still available in the Apple Store—and if you buy one, you might actually get sent a HomePod from the original launch stock.

Advertisement

Typically when a product is discontinued, you can find massive discounts, and if the product is remotely good that leftover inventory can vanish pretty quickly. For instance, according to 9to5 Mac, the iMac Pro was discontinued around the same time as the HomePod and leftover stock vanished before the month was over. The space gray HomePod was sold out before Apple made the decision to nix the device, but the white version is still for sale at $299.

HomePod defenders might shrug and say, so what if it’s been two months? Well, YouTuber Michael Kukielka bought two HomePods after they’d been discontinued and both were apparently from Apple’s launch stock. As in, the HomePods were manufactured for the device’s launch in 2018 and sitting in boxes ever since. Kukielka posted proof that one of two HomePods he’d bought was produced on Dec. 19, 2017, while the other had been made on Feb. 3, 2018. The latter HomePod came out of the box running iOS 11.2.5 firmware, which was publicly released in January 2018. He also had another picture of the HomePod’s plug, covered in white dust from plastic breaking down after sitting in a box for over three years.

Look, we know the HomePod didn’t sell well, but this is next level.

The HomePod was one of Apple’s more public flops. While many reviewers praised its sound quality, the initial $349 price tag was a lot considering most other smart speakers at that time were much more affordable and came with a digital assistant that didn’t suck. Not helping matters was the fact that you were confined to Apple Music. If you wanted third-party music streaming, you’d have to rely on AirPlay, a feature that was readily available on other high-quality smart speakers like the Sonos One. About a year after launching, Apple permanently slashed the price of the HomePod from $349 to $299. And if there’s one thing about Apple, permanent price cuts for an active product are beyond rare—they’re nearly unheard of.

It’s even harder to recommend the HomePod now that the more affordable HomePod Mini is here. Not only has the original not been discounted further, but also some owners couldn’t access Apple Music via Siri after updating to iOS 14.5. Given that Apple Music is only one of a handful of streaming services the device natively supports, this isn’t great. Meanwhile, the Mini is a third of the price, sounds impressive for its size, can do most of what the original can, and is competitively priced to rival smart speakers. It’s sort of a no-brainer.

While we don’t know the exact numbers, it’s also clear the HomePod Mini is selling much better than its predecessor did. The device sold out on day one, and Apple itself confirmed in a statement to multiple outlets that the Mini “has been a hit since its debut last fall.” To rub salt in the wound, market research firm Omdia estimated Apple sold 2.4 million smart speakers in the U.S. in Q1 of 2021, with 91% of those sales being the Mini. If the rest were the original HomePod, that would shake out to roughly 216,000 units sold. And yet, we’re still here two months later with leftover launch stock. Yeowch.

Advertisement

I Guess If You Must Put an AirTag on Your Siri Remote, This Is Fine

Illustration for article titled I Guess If You Must Put an AirTag on Your Siri Remote, This Is Fine

Image: PrintSpiredDesigns/Etsy

In the months of rumors leading up to Apple’s official AirTag reveal, I couldn’t help but shake the idea that somebody was going to try to stick one on their Apple TV remote. Of course, somebod(ies) absolutely did.

Advertisement

Upon receiving their newly released AirTag devices, multiple Apple TV users shared their plans for affixing the trackers to their streaming remotes using all manner of adhesives—some of them more outrageous than others. There was duct tape. Rubber cement was at one point suggested. Others recommended double-sided tape, velcro, and even sticky silicone cases to fasten the AirTag to what is perhaps the most widely misunderstood remote on earth.

But maybe the best option so far—the one that least makes your expensive Apple TV wand look less like the victim of a toddler who broke into the glue drawer and went wild—is a 3D-printed AirTag Case for Apple TV Siri Remote from Etsy shop PrintSpiredDesigns, which was earlier spotted by MacRumors.

Illustration for article titled I Guess If You Must Put an AirTag on Your Siri Remote, This Is Fine

Image: PrintSpiredDesigns/Etsy

The remote sleeve will cost you all of $13 at the time of this writing, and the best part? Its product description states that the Apple tracker “clicks satisfyingly into place, and the Siri Remote fits snugly and securely overtop.” In other words, it doesn’t even need to be permanent.

Now, the case is only available for the Apple TV HD and Apple TV 4K Siri remote. It does have a back opening for Lightning charging without having to disassemble the component parts, but the product description does state that as a result of the “orientation of the AirTag in the case, the loudness of the AirTag speaker may be reduced.”

The ability to lose the Apple remote is often among the top complaints from Siri remote naysayers. If this sounds like a problem specific to your own user experience, might I recommend simply putting the remote on your couch’s armrest, on the coffee table in front of you, or literally anywhere but the cracks between the cushions that are evidently regularly eating your Apple TV remote? A remote basket, maybe?

Advertisement

However, if you absolutely must affix the AirTag to your remote, for the love of god, do not use glue. Try this perfectly fine solution instead.

Leaked Apple Documents Inadvertently Helped the Right-to-Repair Movement

Illustration for article titled Leaked Apple Documents Inadvertently Helped the Right-to-Repair Movement

Photo: GIUSEPPE CACACE / AFP (Getty Images)

Cyberattacks are rarely useful to anybody except cyber-attackers, but a recent ransomware incident has had some unexpected upsides for those in the right-to-repair community, new coverage from Motherboard suggests.

Advertisement

In April, the ransomware gang REvil announced that it had stolen blueprints for some of Apple’s newest products. The documents were allegedly obtained via a cyberattack on Quanta Computer, a Taiwanese company that manufactures parts for Apple. When the hackers’ extortion demands were not met, they leaked a limited amount of the product diagrams to the web.

If you’re struggling to see a silver lining here, consider the ongoing fight between tech giants like Apple and the loose-knit community of activists and business owners who have been struggling to obtain just this kind of data.

Right-to-repair is a grassroots movement that seeks to make it easy for consumers and small businesses to repair products that big companies make difficult or impossible to repair themselves. The goal is to give consumers more autonomy over their possessions while also cutting down on the blight of “planned obsolescence,” the practice in which manufacturers create products that are meant to be phased out, thus creating needless waste.

Large corporations like Apple have hedged against these proposals, iterating that sharing hardware manuals or diagrams like the kind that were leaked by REvil would expose “trade secrets.” This means that there is no easy roadmap for those who might want to learn how to mend their own product, should it break. Enthusiasts can reverse engineer a product once they have it, but a simple diagram would sure make this process a whole lot easier.

Louis Rossmann, owner of the Rossmann Repair Group, recently told Motherboard that the REvil cyberattack was actually a big win for people in his business. Rossmann’s company offers repairs and data retrieval for damaged or broken Apple products, such as a MacBooks and iPads. Rossmann said that the blueprints would assist with delivering better results to his customers:

“Our business relies on stuff like this leaking. This is going to help me recover someone’s data. Someone is going to get their data back today because of this…You can’t go to Apple and say ‘I will give you $800,000 to give me this data,’” Rossmann told Vice.

Advertisement

Speaking with Motherboard, Rossmann clarified that he wasn’t happy about the cyberattack on Quanta, per se, but noted that there are few other ways for him to obtain the information that had been leaked:

“I’m not saying I’m in favor of people hacking into computers to get this information,” Rossmann said. “I would prefer to get this by going to Apple and giving them $1,000 every year to get this information.”

Advertisement

Another right-to-repair proponent, Justin Ashford, owner of the Art of Repair YouTube channel, told Motherboard:

“I’m still waiting for someone to tell me legitimately what having a wiring diagram ahead of time does to hurt them, especially since they used to give it away,” Ashford said. “I’m going to use it and I’m going to help people with it.”

Advertisement

If there haven’t been any major legal shifts as a result of this whole conversation yet, it increasingly looks like that might be the case. Bloomberg reports that at least 20 states are now considering legislation that would bolster customers’ ability to fix their things themselves.

Too Bad, Zuck: Just 4% of U.S. iPhone Users Let Apps Track Them After iOS Update

Illustration for article titled Too Bad, Zuck: Just 4% of U.S. iPhone Users Let Apps Track Them After iOS Update

Photo: Saul Loeb (Getty Images)

Apple recently rolled out its highly anticipated App Tracking Transparency feature with iOS 14.5, which lets users decide whether apps track their activity for targeted advertising. Overwhelmingly, users seem happy to leave app tracking disabled. Just 4% of iPhone users in the U.S. have agreed to app tracking after updating their device, according to the latest data from Verizon-owned analytics firm Flurry.

Advertisement

Worldwide, that figure jumps to 12%, a healthy increase but one that still doesn’t spell great news for companies like Facebook that sell targeting to advertisers by hoovering up user data. With iOS 14.5, if a user has app tracking requests enabled, then whenever they download or update an app, it has to ask permission before it can track their activity. And it’s clear most users are saying: “Nah.”

Users who want to turn off tracking altogether without rejecting permissions for each app individually can toggle “Allow Apps to Request Track” in the iPhone’s privacy settings. Since the update launched on April 26, Flurry’s data shows that, on average, about 3% of U.S. iOS users and 5% of international iOS users have restricted app tracking.

Flurry based its findings on a sample size of 2.5 million daily mobile active users with iOS 14.5 in the U.S. and a sample size of 5.3 million such users worldwide. According to the company, its analytics tool is installed in more than 1 million mobile applications and it aggregates data from about 2 billion devices per month.

As a vocal opponent of Apple’s new feature, Facebook has launched a sweeping fearmongering campaign to convince users that these privacy measures are, in fact, a bad thing. Facebook took out multiple full-page ads arguing that Apple’s feature will devastate small businesses that rely on its ad targeting services and warning that many free sites may have to start charging users money for subscriptions or in-app purchases. Other tech giants like Snapchat, Google, and Twitter have also said that, if the majority of users decide to forego app tracking, it will likely affect their bottom line.

Granted, this data is just our first glimpse at the response from users. iOS 14.5 has only been out for a little less than two weeks, and, given more time, we’ll likely gain a better understanding of the average number of users opting-in or opting-out of app tracking. But one thing’s crystal clear: People value their privacy. And if that means missing out on a few personalized ads, well, plenty of folks seem happy to make that sacrifice.

FTC Report Calls Out Manufacturers on Their Anti-Competitive Repair Policies

Illustration for article titled FTC Report Calls Out Manufacturers on Their Anti-Repair Bullshit

Photo: Alex Cranz/Gizmodo

After nearly two long years of waiting, the Federal Trade Commission released its “Nixing the Fix” report on restrictions employed by manufacturers on product repairs. Folks, it does not mince words, saying there is “scant evidence” justifying the obstacles companies put in place to limit consumers’ options when it comes to repairs.

Advertisement

The lengthy report initially spawned out of a 2019 FTC workshop, which then prompted Congress to call on the agency to continue its investigation into the issue. While right-to-repair advocates have been banging the drum that manufacturers have unfairly rigged the game against independent repair shops and consumers, manufacturers have retorted that the market works fine as is. The bipartisan FTC report categorically disagrees. “Although manufacturers have offered numerous explanations for their repair restrictions,” the report concludes, “the majority are not supported by the record.”

The list of major issues highlighted by the FTC warranties is extensive. It includes:

  • Warranties being routinely voided in violation of the Magnuson Moss Warranty Act
  • Product designs that either complicate or prevent repairs
  • Parts and repair information being made unavailable
  • Designs intended to make an independent repair “less safe”
  • Policies designed to herd consumers toward manufacturer repair networks
  • Disparaging third-party repair parts
  • Software locks and firmware updates
  • End-user license agreements
  • Companies enforcing patent rights and trademarks as a means of shutting down independent repair

The report also notes that repair restrictions placed heavier burdens on lower-income communities and communities of color. “Many Black-owned small businesses are in the repair and maintenance industries, and difficulties facing small businesses can disproportionately affect small businesses owned by people of color,” the report reads. On top of harming small business owners in underserved communities, the FTC report says repair restrictions can also result in greater financial burdens for lower-income families, as they may lack broadband internet at home and therefore rely heavily on smartphones.

The FTC also highlighted that the pandemic only exacerbated these problems, as repair restrictions made it much harder for consumers to get their products fixed while working from home. Supply chain shortages mean that parts can be hard to come by, leaving customers to sometimes wait months for appliance repairs. Likewise, requiring customers to go through authorized repair facilities means that many have had to wait weeks for broken computers or other work-related gadgets—a situation that’s untenable during the work-from-home and remote learning era.

Advertisement

As far as tech companies go, Apple had the dubious honor of being held up as a specific example of a company guilty of restrictive repair policies. If you’ve been following the news, this won’t come as a shock. Apple has historically been hostile to independent repair shops and prefers its customers go to a pre-approved list of authorized repair vendors. The Cupertino giant is also guilty of restricting access to repair manuals and famously had that debacle with iPhone throttling in a bid to preserve battery life.

As for what to do about the current situation, the report concludes with several suggestions ranging from new legislation, strengthening the Magnuson Moss Warranty Act, self-regulation like the auto industry, transparent repairability scores for products, and taking some cues from the European Union, which last year decreed that manufacturers would have to make household appliances both longer-lasting and easier to repair. The FTC also urged consumers to report manufacturers who void warranties because of independent repairs in a release and on its Twitter.

Advertisement

“This is a great step in the right direction,” iFixit CEO Kyle Wiens said in a statement. “The bipartisan report shows that [the] FTC knows that the market has not regulated itself, and is committing to real action.”