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.
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.
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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.
Bryan Menegus is one of the most frustrating editors I’ve ever worked with, which is to say he had annoying feedback like ‘Do you have a source on this?’, ‘This paragraph is complete gibberish’, ‘Did you forget to end this sentence?’, or ‘This is just totally factually wrong’. He also changed the structure of sentences and various words so as to massively and dramatically “improve” my writing and make it “make sense.” Who’s this guy think he is?
So while I am officially sad to report that Bryan and Gizmodo dot com have recently experienced what lawyers call “loss of consortium,” his departure came just soon enough to prevent several members of the G/O Media Group staff from fleeing his editorial oppression and starting an unedited Substack about cancel culture. Or maybe that’s just me. Several of Bryan’s colleagues asked to roast him per the Gizmodo tradition, instead mentioned things like him being an amazing reporter who hasshed light on appalling labor abuses by some of the world’smost powerful corporations, a genuinely good person who does things like volunteering to deliver groceries to vulnerable people during the coronavirus pandemic, oneofGizmodo’sfunniestheadlinewriters, and a pretty baller amateur stick-and-poke tattoo artist. I suspect that last tidbit is selection bias, as anyone who died of bloodborne disease or ink poisoning did not respond to requests for comment.
Anyhow, as much as I might take issue with these positive depictions of Bryan’s character, I’m obligated to reprint them. All of them. There’s a lot. I’m not jealous or anything, I swear.
Gizmodo forever. And please tell Bobbo the cat I love him for me. Also, you still owe me a stick and poke of this. – Tom McKay, staff writer at Gizmodo
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Kelly Bourdet, former Editor-in-Chief of Gizmodo
Bryan is one of the best writers I’ve edited. He is genuinely smart and fearsomely skeptical of those in power. There are few people so absolutely unimpressed by and disgusted by the wealth and trappings of the Silicon Valley rich who tech journalists often cover. This is a credit to him.
Alex Cranz, former Senior Consumer Tech Editor at Gizmodo
When Gawker was broke it took a bunch of money to make Facebook Live videos, but because it was broke it did not actually spend money to make good Facebook Live videos. Which is how, for a few months in 2016, Bryan found himself frequently ingesting the absolutely most repulsive things on camera. I watched him make, and drink, Cheeto-infused tequila (it was greasy), Marmite-based beer (also not good), and joined me in tasting ranch dressing-flavored soda (it tasted, as I would assume, a very sweaty and unclean gentleman’s taint would taste after he attempted to bathe in a chemical spill at a feedlot). Bryan would do anything for the blog Facebook Live.
While I would like to remember Bryan for is the time people begged Facebook Lives to end so Bryan would stop having to consume so much weird shit, or for the way he went from the guy hired to post viral videos he found on the internet to the guy who kind of created the whole tech labor beat and first made everyone pay attention to the outside political power of redditors, I mainly remember him for the time we were both in the office, no one else had come in, and we decided to vape coffee grounds and see what happens.
Don’t do that.
Alex Dickinson, former Executive Managing Editor at Gizmodo Media Group
I have the sneaking suspicion that Bryan is one of those people without a bad bone in their body. That’s despite him never asking me to play guitar, Overwatch, Warzone, or anything with him, really. I was always impressed with his ability to get his hero Elon Musk to drop into Gizmodo’s DMs, and he would take my edits with only the occasional flashes of blinding white-hot rage. He would also prowl the GMG offices listening to this.
Good night, sweet prince.
Hudson Hongo, former Culture Editor at Gizmodo
I’m told that Bryan is a dogged labor reporter, bringing to light shocking revelations like “work sucks.” I have also personally observed his tragic nice-guy-ness, like when he urged co-workers to join a mutual aid network after he got covid(!) while volunteering for one. Based on those qualities alone, you might think he’s like any other Brooklyn-based rose emoji type. You’d mostly be right, but know this: He’s also incredibly tall.
This tallness is notable because he has actively forsaken his phenotypical destiny. A consummate indoor kid, I watched Bryan spend years hunching a basketball star’s frame over a computer screen like a giraffe eating from a dumpster. He did this in pursuit of a much higher calling than journalism. From his humble beginnings click-laundering YouTube videos for Sploid, to the heights he reached reporting out shit-posts like “No One Wants My Hot Dog Salad” and “New York City to Sex-Havers: 😉,” Bryan is a true internet garbageman—one of the last.
Sure, frustrated editors often sent me his drafts because they had “no idea what this [guy] is trying to say.” And more than once I had to remind Bryan to mention the actual subject of his stories in the first 1,000 words. But these were ultimately symptoms of the digital neurocysticercosis he contracted by exposing himself to raw, untreated online. Who else would log onto Tumblr dot com for the sake of readers?
His life at Gizmodo might be over, but the folktale of Bryan Menegus will live on forever. In 20 years, when his former colleagues are huddled around burning e-scooters in the shadow of a fallen world, they will tell the tale of the Jersey Angle, Sadsquatch, the Tiredest Giant in the World. Good night, sweet bud.
Hamilton Nolan, former Senior Writer at Splinter
To a true soldier of the tech labor movement, I salute you.
Catie Keck, Staff Reporter at Gizmodo
To the best of my knowledge, some of the funniest, most unhinged headlines to run on the website Gizmodo dot com in the last few years have been the handiwork of Bryan Menegus. Like the rest of the sickos at this website, Bryan has an absolutely twisted sense of humor. That said, he’s as gifted as a labor and policy reporter as he is at editing your copy into something legible and maybe even interesting. I was always grateful when I was able to put my copy in his capable hands because it meant he would make the piece much stronger than the shape it was in when I filed. Any newsroom would be lucky to have him.
Sophie Kleeman, former News Editor at Gizmodo
I initially figured it would be difficult to roast Bryan for two reasons: he is a big sweetie, and he is my ex-boyfriend, so it might be kind of awkward. But then I remembered his hot dog salad blog and almost puked, so fuck it.
I met Bryan when he was still known around here as “Sploid Boy” (RIP Sploid). He soon proved he was capable of much more than that, including blog hits like this, this, and this (but not this, and, sadly, not this either).
It quickly became clear that he was one of those rare people who really, genuinely knew and appreciated the weird corners of the internet. Better still, his appreciation wasn’t some gross cornerstone of a try-hard personality like it is for so many Online People — he’s just really good at finding and cataloguing weird, repulsive, and otherwise horrifying internet ephemera, for no reason other than it makes his friends laugh (or cry). Similarly, unlike performative Internet War Reporters, he didn’t cover online extremism for personal glory, but rather because he wanted to call out the platforms implicitly encouraging it before it was too late. (Ah, well.)
The only story I can think of that comes close to roasting Bryan is extremely boring (I asked him to take care of my plant for 3 months while I was overseas and he almost killed it because he left it in the dark), so instead I will share my favorite Bryan story: On Valentine’s Day in 2017, we got drunk and went to see Fifty Shades Darker. He stood up and looked around the theater to make sure none of our coworkers had the same idea, and lo and behold, our boss Katie Drummond was sitting in the back with her husband. This would have been way more mortifying, but Katie was also seeing a 50 Shades of Grey movie on Valentine’s Day, so really, we all just owned ourselves.
Anyway, Bryan is good, and I hope whoever was responsible for running him out of here dies on the vine.
Alex Brook Lynn, former Video Producer / Live Broadcast at Gawker Media
Bryan Menegus was probably way too nice to me.
When I arrived at Gawker Media to spearhead the Facebook Live initiative, which was another way in which the monolith social media network attempted to siphon content from newsrooms by granting each the start-up capital to hire someone like me, I was a pain in the ass for almost everybody. It was my job to take a bunch of deadline-driven, blogging journalists and haunt them to participate in experimental video productions that would stream live from our office.
In trying to enlist some of the voices across all the Gawker brands, there were a few reactions that weren’t overwhelmingly avoidant: some wanted desperately to be on camera, as they may have had ambitions for a future on the smallest screen; some just drew the short straw, as every Gawker brand had to provide talent for some kind of content per week; some… like Bryan, were just really nice. I was never sure if he felt bad for me, or if he thought it was easier to do what I ask than dodge my requests for the next day or so. I like to believe that he enjoyed some of the antics I would enlist him in, like an on-camera deep dive into the merits of Cheerwine, or one full Power Hour of Super Mario Smash Brothers.
I left Gawker Media, now Gizmodo Media Group or GMG G/O Media, in 2017. I am grateful that he was one of the people I actually stayed in touch with, not just because we share an interest in boxing but also because I am now the proud owner of one of his famous stick n’ poke tattoos which took up residence on my outer calf in the form of a coffee cup and saucer. I can only imagine he is on his way to bigger and better.
Matt Novak, Writer for Gizmodo and Paleofuture
Bryan is one of those internet renaissance people who can do everything. He’s a writer, editor, and artist. He can work on serious pieces, funny pieces, and everything in between. His versatility is what made Gizmodo a destination site, and he’s sorely missed. But wherever he winds up will be better for it. We miss you, Bryan.
Rose Pastore, Science Editor at Gizmodo
Bryan, you are so much more hardcore than me, and I’ll really miss your influence.
Andrew Couts, Deputy Editor for Gizmodo
By the time I arrived at Gizmodo, Bryan had moved on from his Spolid-y, Facebook Live-y days and was firmly into his I Am a Very Serious Journalist Who Is Taller Than You phase, which is something I just made up but is at least partially true on multiple points. Anyway, it became immediately clear to me that Bryan’s superpower is calling out bullshit—Amazon’s, mostly, but he applied it to anyone who thought they could slip one past him, and watching him rip apart some PR person’s nonsense was one of my favorite parts of the job. Thing is, he’d apply the same argumentative rigor to get out of doing work he thought was stupid. I cannot tell you how many times I assigned a blog to Bryan only for him to spend as much time as it would have taken him to write the damn thing explaining to me why the story was simply not worth covering. Sure, he was often right, but I’m still mad about it.
The stories Bryan did decide to write, however, are excellent. And as an editor, he made every story he touched better. He’s that rare journalist with an equal capacity for deep, investigative reporting and deranged, hilarious shitposting. He’s profoundly empathetic and brutally honest. He’s a caring and loyal friend and a talented artist. He makes lovely baked goods. On top of all that, he is as tall as I assume most rich people are but without all the ghoulish parts and has a fantastic cat. Gizmodo is poorer without you, Bryan. Please send cookies.
Yessenia Funes, former Reporter for Earther
Bryan!! You always looked so tired. I hope you’re getting some time to rest. Or at least to stream some cool weird shit.
Ryan Mandelbaum, former Senior Writer at Gizmodo
I never had a dirtbag coworker before Bryan. But now that I’ve had one dirtbag coworker, I wish I had more dirtbag coworkers. Also fuck you for the hot dog salad post.
Victoria Song, Consumer Tech Reporter at Gizmodo
I’m mad that Bryan runs faster than me—it’s probably because he’s a skinny beanpole but it’s infuriating considering how hard I have to try to be a whole minute or two slower per mile. I’m also mad that whenever he edited my blogs, he knew exactly what to cut and add where to make it a better piece. Further, I’m mad that Bob is no longer in Cat Slack and that aside from being good with words, Bryan does rad tattoos. It’s incredibly rude to be talented on multiple levels AND have a cute cat. I’m mad that I didn’t get to have more of my blogs edited by him. I’m MADDEST, however, that he inflicted the hot dog salad upon the world. Eat shit, my dude.
Jill Pantozzi, Deputy Editor at io9
Bryan is so talented at a ridiculous number of things it’s hard to believe he’s a real person that exists. But he once brought me baked goods when I really needed them and that’s why he’ll forever be in my heart. Also Bob. Bob is aces.
Shoshana Wodinsky, Staff Reporter at Gizmodo
Bry is an incredible reporter, a damn good editor, and a (surprisingly!!!!!) decent tattoo artist. He’s smart, funny, and one of the most compassionate people I’ve ever met on the Gizmodo team. That said, he was also the one who convinced me to watch The End Of Evangelion on, like, my first week here, which was undoubtedly the worst prank anyone’s ever played on me. No amount of thoughtful, patient editing will make up for the fistfuls of brain cells I undoubtedly lost after waking up at 3 a.m. for the fifth day in a row from flying killer robot nightmares. In short, fuck that guy.
Brian Kahn, Managing Editor at Earther
In the three-plus years of Earther’s existence, Bryan maybe wrote one or two blogs for us. it just so happens that one of those blogs is perhaps the most beautifully deranged piece I have ever had the pleasure of editing. It was about New York’s styrofoam ban. A normal person would look at the topic and deploy facts and figures to argue that styrofoam has no place in society, and that throwaway culture is strangling the planet. Bryan chose to write a piece entirely in NYC Guido Voice. In a world of intractable problems, we need more problem-solvers like Bryan.
William Turton, former Reporter for Gizmodo
Bryan is a total sweetheart and a really talented guy. He’s also good-looking.
Veronica de Souza, former Head of Audience and Social at Gizmodo Media Group
This makes me feel insanely old but I have known Bryan for over 10 years. We met as two little (yet obscenely tall) shits in college, when Bryan’s hair had roughly the same diameter as an astronaut’s helmet and mine was a questionable shade of “box red.” We went on to work together at *two* jobs, meaning we’ve been bitching about work to each other for over half a decade. Bryan is the first person I text when I encounter something truly vile online, knowing I can send these things to him without warning or context. He is funny, kind and smart, although he *did* once “vape coffee” for a story for some reason. I cannot find this story but I am in possession of the vaporizer he used for his research.
If I were to roast Bryan, I’d probably share a video of the time he ate an entire lemon, including the skin, at his desk while insisting he’s “never thrown up where he’s not supposed to.” I’d also maybe share a screenshot of the time he thought the movie Ford v Ferrari was about tennis.
The thing is, I don’t want to roast Bryan, because he is a great writer and editor and a great person. I’d rather roast the various [REDACTED] who run [REDACTED], and continue to hold the very competitive top spot for dumbest [RDACTED].
Whitney Kimball, Current Reporter at Gizmodo
Great to see so many formers back on the blog! We should all just prewrite our roasts at this point, amirite? Ha ha ha.
Anyway, there’s a scene in the movie Children of Men in which Michael Caine repeatedly tells a gunman “pull my finger,” even after getting his finger blown off. Bryan is like that. Hardcore til the end. Solid dude.
Marina Galperina, Gizmodo Features Editor
First time I edited Bryan he had just returned from a miniature horse convention in Lexington, Kentucky. He was very dedicated to communicate this specific equine enthusiasm as an understandable thing, kind of relatable actually, but also with its own very distinct qualities. Culinary shitposting aside, Bryan bringing back the atmosphere was always fun to hear secondhand, even when he didn’t have that much fun in the field itself because sometimes he’d go to awful places like the DeploraBall. I wish for Bryan to now be getting into terrible situations for journalism, banging out good funny headlines, coming up with more weird ways other people can fix bad things, and bullying rich nerds. His cat is suspicious.
Christina Warren, former Senior Writer at Gizmodo
There are so many things I could write in a roast to BryBry, our bloggy boy who went from writing up sploids and doing deep, wonderful investigations into the weird internet and transitioned into being an amazing labor and investigative reporter and editor, but I’ll start with the solemn and the obvious: Bryan deserved and deserves better.
Frankly, all of you do. But I just want to put it on the record that Bryan, you deserved better.
Being your friend and colleague was such a joy. Watching you work, so exciting. I’ve never seen someone who *gets* internet culture quite like you, and tho those days are mostly behind you, it’s the weird shit I’ll always remember. Because I’m also a citizen of the internet and we recognize each other when we see it.
Sure, you made us look at a lot of bad stuff. And the internet has deeply broken your brain, but you somehow made it worth it.
I’m very mad that you weren’t able to blog this video as your final blog.
You got this stupid song from second grade stuck in our heads one day and Dicko almost let you blog it, but we all agreed it would be the perfect final blog to inflict upon the world. I’m so angry that was taken away from all of us. So there it is for the readers. This is the shit Bryan would just drop into Slack.
I was in a car the other day with other people because that is allowed now and that fucking song was on some Spotify playlist. And all I could think of was the repetition of that third verse. Over. And over. And over. And now I’m writing this, knowing this will be stuck in my head for hours if not days.
If you want to call me “baby”
Just go ahead now
And if you like to tell me “maybe”
Just go ahead now
And if you wanna buy me flowers
Just go ahead now
And if you would like to talk for hours
Just go ahead now
Just go ahead now. Fuck off for this, buddy. But also I love you.
The willingness of digital forensics firms to sell to pretty much any paying law enforcement agency, regardless of the country’s human rights record, has stirred up no minor amount of controversy. These tools, critics say, allow bad governments expansive, invasive powers, and may be used in the course of investigations that illegitimately target activists or journalists.
In what seems like a key example of this problem, a new report published this week by the Committee to Protect Journalists shows how U.S. and Israeli digital forensics firms were recently used by the government of Botswana to investigate several journalists for… well, that part isn’t exactly clear.
The report details the ordeal of Oratile Dikologang, a reporter and co-founder of the Botswana People’s Daily News, who was arrested last year and allegedly tortured after being accused of spreading “fake news” about the nation’s President and Covid-19. Police officers, claiming Dikologang was responsible for producing a series of inflammatory Facebook posts, charged him with “publishing statements with intention to deceive persons about the COVID-19 infection.” They then allegedly hauled him into a local station, stripped him naked, and put a black bag over his head before interrogating him about his sources.
In interviews with CPJ, the journalist denied actually writing the social media posts in question and said that authorities sought to use the incident to retrieve information from him about his reporting practices.
Adding to the dystopian tenor of this whole episode was the way in which data extraction tools were used by police to quickly achieve a full-spectrum understanding of who the reporter’s contacts were. Authorities allegedly used Israeli firm Cellebrite’s Universal Forensic Extraction Device (UFED) product and U.S.-based company AccessData’s Forensic Toolkit, which helped police to extract thousands of pieces of data from the reporter’s phone. CPJ reports:
Dikologang told CPJ that he refused to reveal his sources – but he did provide the password to his phone. Police then “successfully extracted” and “thoroughly analyzed” thousands of the journalist’s messages, contacts, images, audio files, and videos, as well social media accounts and applications, according to an affidavit that they submitted to court to support the ongoing prosecution.
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Jonathan Rozen, one of the researchers who investigated the episode, said that the presence of digital forensics technology in government investigations of journalists is a growing problem. In numerous cases, CPJ has discovered these kinds of technologies being sold in countries where authorities “have demonstrated a willingness to arrest reporters, seize their devices and then seek access [to the contents] of those devices,” Rozen said, in a phone call with Gizmodo.
“The idea that the authorities could seize and access the contents of your phone, your research, the information you’re gathering as a part of your work—that has a real chilling effect [on journalism]. Privacy is a really important press freedom,” he said. “Everywhere where we have identified the acquisition of this technology by authorities, journalists are alarmed.”
Companies should be reviewing their sales practices and looking at these issues in a more comprehensive way, Rozen said.
“We have been pursuing dialogue with these companies for some time now, as have other researchers,” he said. “We consistently get responses that make general references to human rights considerations. Their terms of service make sweeping statements of compliance with human rights vetting…and we are not clear exactly on what those processes include. What kind of due diligence are these companies doing before they sell this technology to a security agency or a government?”
Recent research has also shown how easily some of these data extraction devices can be manipulated, potentially spoiling evidence. The ongoing question of what exactly is up with Cellebrite’s own security—as helpfully pointed out by Signal CEO Moxie Marlinspike—adds an additional layer of concern to incidents like this.
Rozen also said that the Botswana episode is one of a growing number of cases worldwide in which journalists have been jailed on accusations of spreading fake news. In Dikologang’s case, the legal charges against him included a bevy of violations, including producing an “offensive electronic communication,” of “publishing alarming statements” and of violating the government’s emergency Covid-19 regulations by “publishing with the intention to deceive,” Rozen said. All over the world, governments have increasingly relied on similar arguments to go after reporters, he added.
We reached out to both Cellebrite and AccessData for comment. We will update this story when they get back to us.
Google maintains it is “very confident” it will face no consequences for firing three workers involved in unionization efforts, despite the acting top counsel of the National Labor Relations Board’s opinion that the tech giant may have violated labor law.
In late 2019, Google fired five different staffers known for workplace activism on issues like pay disparity, contracts with U.S. Customs and Border Protection and Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and Google’s hiring of union-busting firm IRI Consultants. Google claimed that four of the workers, Laurence Berland, Paul Duke, Rebecca Rivers, and Sophie Waldman, leaked internal information about the company. A fifth terminated employee, Kathryn Spiers, says she was never told how she violated company policy but did code a small pop-up that appeared on the Chrome browser on Google work machines that informed staff of their “right to participate in protected concerted activities.”
The NLRB already filed a complaint against Google for firing Berland and Spiers late last year. In an email seen and reported on by Bloomberg on Wednesday, however NLRB Acting General Counsel Peter Sung Ohr wrote that the company “arguably violated” federal laws by “unlawfully discharging” Duke, Rivers, and Waldman. Ohr told an NLRB regional director to amend the original complaint to add their names to the list.
The original NLRB complaint, filed in December 2019 by the Communications Workers of America (CWA), accused the company of using illegal tactics to discourage labor activism. Those included time-honored union-busting moves like interrogating activist workers, targeting them for punitive enforcement of company policies, and imposing rules that illegally prohibited protected organizing. Such labor complaints can take years to resolve and are often followed by appeals.
When the NLRB took up the complaint in December 2020, Berland told Gizmodo in an emailed statement that “This complaint makes clear that workers have the right to speak to issues of ethical business and the composition of management. This is a significant finding at a time when we’re seeing the power of a handful of tech billionaires consolidate control over our lives and our society.”
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“Workers have the right to speak out about and organize, as the NLRB is affirming, but we also know that we should not, and cannot, cleave off ethical concerns about the role management wants to play in that society,” Berland added.
“Our thorough investigation found the individuals were involved in systematic searches for other employees’ materials and work, including distributing confidential business and client information,” a Google spokesperson told Bloomberg via email. “As the hearing on these matters moves forward, we’re very confident in our decision and legal position.”
During Donald Trump’s administration, the Republican-stacked NLRB issued numerous decisions ruinous to labor organizers—such as a determination that work emails can’t be used for organizing activity. Laurie Burgess, an attorney for the five workers, told Bloomberg the NLRB’s advice division originally determined that Duke, Rivers, and Waldman shouldn’t have been added to the complaint because their activism opposing Google’s business contracts with U.S. Customs and Border Protection wasn’t protected speech. The NLRB did not immediately respond to Gizmodo’s request for comment and we’ll update when we recieve a reply.
The five-member NLRB board is still controlled by Republicans, but Joe Biden fired the Trump-appointed general counsel of the organization, Peter Robb, after the attorney refused to resign. Ohr, his acting replacement, promptly rolled back many Trump-era NLRB policies. According to Bloomberg, Biden’s permanent pick to replace Robb, Jennifer Abruzzo, works for CWA.
Biden threw his weight behind a unionization drive at an Amazon facility in Alabama in March, warning the company to stop intimidating organizers. The union vote later failed, although the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union said that Amazon used illegal methods to subvert the election and is asking the NLRB overturn the results in a hearing scheduled for Friday.
While Biden’s support for the union effort was welcomed by labor activists, the real test of his presidency’s commitment to the labor union will center around the PRO Act, a massive bill that would overhaul federal labor laws to an extent not seen in decades. Biden has yet to mount an effort to push the bill through Congress, where it may face long odds. Tech firms rely on armies of contractors that would find it easier to unionize under the Pro ACT—such as gig apps like Uber, Lyft, Doordash, and Instacart—and the money men have only started to ramp up their lobbying efforts to kill or water down the bill. Companies like Amazon, Facebook, and Google also employ large numbers of contractors, in Google’s case outnumbering permanent staffers. That potentially sets the stage for tech firms to be key players in a looming fight over the bill.
On Wednesday, Facebook’s Oversight Board, the pseudo-legalistic, questionably independent body that the company claims has the power to review and potentially overrule official moderation decisions, issued its not-so-final proclamations regarding the status of Donald Trump’s account.
The now-former president has been suspended from Facebook and its subsidiary Instagram after inciting deadly riots at the Capitol on Jan. 6 in an ill-fated bid to stop Congress from certifying Joe Biden as the winner of the 2020 elections. In short, the board punted right back to Facebook, upholding the suspension itself but claiming Facebook arbitrarily made up rules regarding “indefinite” bans to handle the Trump situation. The Oversight Board told Facebook to make an actual decision to either permanently ban Trump or unlock his account within six months.
As with everything regarding this godawful company, the inevitable pile-on took a clear partisan split. Republicans and right-wingers viewed the decision not to allow Trump back on the site—which could potentially have ramifications for any attempt at a political resurgence—as an affront on their values and free speech. Democrats and civil rights groups, for their part, generally expressed relief that the Oversight Board spared the country yet more angry posts from the ex-president but also focused on the ludicrousness of the entire venture.
As it turns out, the only people to have swallowed Facebook’s attempts to brand the Oversight Board as a pseudo-governmental arm of a sovereign entity hook, line, and sinker are right-wingers. Suddenly confronted with a vision of corporate dystopia they didn’t like, some Republicans turned to a higher power for help— among them Charlie Kirk, head of the ebullient diaper lad campus Republican and Facebook-spamming organization Turning Point USA. No, we don’t mean God, just something else equally as unlikely to intervene: the Supreme Court.
The US Supreme Court should overturn the Facebook’s ‘Oversight Board’s” ‘ruling’ which upholds the outlawing of the 45th President of the United States from social media.
This is a big tech, corporate oligarchy without standing and it’s gone too far. Enough is enough.
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(The decision is not subject to review by SCOTUS, unless the type of lawsuit that has historically been laughed out of lower courts somehow makes it there, and the justices all decide to join Justice Clarence Thomas in throwing out decades of precedent and law to declare digital platforms as common carriers who can’t ban anyone.)
Kirk’s panicked viewpoint was mimicked by conservative pundit J.D. Vance, author of the loathsome Hillbilly Elegy and who has graduated from self-declared Trump supporter whisperer to prospective Ohio Senate candidate.
The Facebook oversight board has more power than the United Nations.
Conservatives were right to worry about giving our sovereignty away to a multinational institution. We just picked the wrong one.
Will Chamberlain, co-publisher of right-wing magazine Human Events, tweeted, “A corporate committee has no more legitimacy to rule on censorship issues than a random anon on Twitter.” Random QAnon conspiracy theorist turned congresswoman Lauren Boebert, issued a vague threat: “Facebook will pay the price. Mark my words.”
More generally, Republicans used the Oversight Board ruling as an opportunity to continue harping on endlessly about alleged anti-conservative bias in Facebook algorithms (pure bullshit, as right-wing pundits and media consistently make up the bulk of the site’s top performers). According to CNN, the usual circus of right-wing sites including Fox, Breitbart, and Gateway Pundit all led with coverage declaring the decision as Orwellian censorship. Senator Tom Cotton said that the Oversight Board shouldn’t be weighing in on “issues of free speech,” while former White House chief of staff turned radio host Mark Meadows and guest Representative Jim Jordan both agreed it was time to “break them [Big Tech] up.”
Trump issued a statement to several media outlets that we don’t give a shit about.
The reaction from Democrats and activist organizations focused less on the fate of Trump than the convoluted, corporate funhouse carnival process by which the decision was made, as well as whether it was meaningful at all.
Representative Frank Pallone of New Jersey, chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, tweeted, “Facebook is amplifying and promoting disinformation and misinformation, and the structure and rules governing its oversight board generally seem to ignore this disturbing reality.” He added that “real accountability will only come with legislative action.”
Evan Greer, director of digital rights nonprofit Fight for the Future, told Gizmodo in a statement, “The vast majority of people who are silenced by Big Tech platform censorship are not former Presidents or celebrities, they are marginalized people, particularly sex workers and politically active Muslims who live outside the U.S. We can go back and forth all day about where the lines should be drawn, but simply demanding more and faster removal of content will not address the very real harms we are seeing.”
“It’s quite telling that Facebook refused to answer several of the Oversight Board’s questions about its algorithms and actual design decisions,” Greer added. “We need to strike at the root of the problem: break Big Tech giants, ban surveillance advertising and non-transparent algorithmic manipulation, and fight for policies that address this parasitic business model while preserving the transformative and democratizing power of the Internet as a powerful tool for social movements working for justice and liberation.”
David Segal, executive director of the Demand Progress Education Fund, a nonprofit that advocates enforcement of antitrust law, told Gizmodo in a statement that the Oversight Board is a smokescreen for Facebook’s business practices.
“Facebook’s monopoly status means it does not compete in a free marketplace: not on privacy, not on algorithms, not in the online advertising market–which accelerates the spread of incendiary content,” Segal wrote. “To the extent anyone focuses on what the Facebook ‘Oversight’ Board says and not what they are—a mechanism to distract attention from and provide credibility to Facebook—we give Facebook a pass for its unfair and dangerous monopolistic practice.”
The Lawyers’ Committee for Human Rights Under Law, a civil rights group, focused on the Oversight Board’s decision not to ban Trump outright.
David Brody, the head of the group’s Digital Justice Initiative, wrote to Gizmodo that “Facebook must immediately and permanently ban former President Trump.” He added the Oversight Board’s decision “did not evaluate the full context of the case and it used legal technicalities to avoid answering hard questions. For example, it failed to address Trump’s repeated use of Facebook to inflame hate and racism, or his long history of spreading divisive lies and disinformation prior to the 2020 election. Over-reliance on formalist schools of legal analysis entrenches dominant power structures by turning a blind eye to the big picture.”
Greer told Gizmodo that while there is growing pressure to act against Facebook for its monopolistic business practices, lack of transparency, and monetization of hate speech and propaganda, ill-advised legislation seeking to rein in the company’s power could do more harm than good. For example, Republicans and Democrats alike have targeted Section 230, the law that shields websites from most liability for user-generated content, with legislation that could have unforeseen consequences or threaten the legal foundations of the internet economy.
“The most dangerous thing that could happen right now is if the public accepts the idea that lawmakers should just do ‘something, anything’ about Big Tech,” Greer wrote. “We need thoughtful policies that actually address harms, not more partisan dunking and working of the refs.”
America may have to wait another six months to find out whether Facebook has the capacity to make a good decision.
On Wednesday, Facebook’s Oversight Board announced that it would uphold the social media network’s decision to suspend Donald Trump from its main site and Instagram after he rallied his supporters to attack the Capitol on Jan. 6 in a failed effort to stop the certification of Joe Biden’s victory in the presidential race. It also ruled that when Facebook announced Trump would be banned “indefinitely” and punted the final decision on whether it would become permanent to the board, it was just arbitrarily making shit up.
“The Board has upheld Facebook’s decision on January 7, 2021, to restrict then-President Donald Trump’s access to posting content on his Facebook page and Instagram account,” the board wrote in its decision. “However, it was not appropriate for Facebook to impose the indeterminate and standardless penalty of indefinite suspension. Facebook’s normal penalties include removing the violating content, imposing a time-bound period of suspension, or permanently disabling the page and account.”
“The Board found that the two posts by Mr. Trump on January 6 severely violated Facebook’s Community Standards and Instagram’s Community Guidelines,” the board continued. “‘We love you. You’re very special’ in the first post and ‘great patriots’ and ‘remember this day forever’ in the second post violated Facebook’s rules prohibiting praise or support of people engaged in violence. … The Board found that, in maintaining an unfounded narrative of electoral fraud and persistent calls to action, Mr. Trump created an environment where a serious risk of violence was possible.”
“Given the seriousness of the violations and the ongoing risk of violence, Facebook was justified in suspending Mr. Trump’s accounts on January 6 and extending that suspension on January 7,” they added. “…[But] it is not permissible for Facebook to keep a user off the platform for an undefined period, with no criteria for when or whether the account will be restored… In applying a vague, standardless penalty and then referring this case to the Board to resolve, Facebook seeks to avoid its responsibilities.”
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The board then told Facebook that within six months, it must revisit the matter and either make Trump’s ban permanent themselves or release his account. They wrote the final determination “must be based on the gravity of the violation and the prospect of future harm” and “be consistent with Facebook’s rules for severe violations, which must, in turn, be clear, necessary and proportionate.”
Facebook’s normal penalties include removing the violating content, imposing a time-bound period of suspension, or permanently disabling the page and account.
The Oversight Board, depending on who one asks, is either an independent body made up of academics, lawyers, politicians, and free speech activists with the ability to review and overrule virtually any of Facebook’s moderation decisions, including when Facebook rules in favor of the person who posted the contested content—or it’s an exercise in thinly veiled corporate obfuscation designed to add a patina of legitimacy to the company’s decisions. (Don’t blame us; blame the Oversight Board!) The board issued its first set of rulings in January, but the board took months to reach a conclusion as to whether our former carbuncle-in-chief’s use of Facebook to try and incite a coup, albeit a really shitty one, violated the site’s rules despite it clearly having done so.
Cori Crider, a director at Foxglove, a non-profit that works with Facebook content moderators around the world, told Gizmodo via email that the Oversight Board served to distract from Facebook’s broken moderation system and the grueling conditions that the army of contractors who man it labors under. Crider said absorbing the real cost of providing adequate “staff, pay, and mental health support” to keep Facebook would be transformative for the company, which is why they’ve done everything in their power to avoid doing it.
“Facebook is desperately hoping we’ll all pay attention to its shiny Oversight Board and ignore the real issue–content moderation on Facebook is totally broken,” Crider wrote. “It’s mostly done not by this Board but in digital sweatshops, and they don’t want to spend the money to fix it.”
“Today’s decision about Donald Trump is just one of thousands of similar decisions that get made every day with far less fanfare by underpaid, outsourced content moderators,” Crider wrote. “But instead of a plummy title and a six-figure stipend, the real content moderators are kept in working conditions that give lots of them PTSD. Facebook refuses to hire them, even though they’re the very heart of the business. And this lackadaisical approach to industrial-scale content moderation hasn’t been remotely enough to stop Facebook being a river of hate, lies, and violence.”
“… Moderators have real insight into the spread of lies and violence on Facebook, but when they try to suggest changes or report issues up, it’s like talking to a brick wall. Zuck ought to listen to their views,” Crider added. “I’d also invite all the Oversight Board members, if they’re really concerned about the health of the global public square, to sit in a Facebook moderator’s shoes for a week and grapple with the violence and hate and child abuse themselves. It would open their eyes to what Facebook really is – and lead to them calling for their colleagues to be given a fairer shake.”
Trump was always more concerned with the ban on @realDonaldTrump, his now-defunct Twitter account where he could more directly influence or at least try to piss off the droves of media and political elites on the platform. His account peaked at nearly 89 million followers before the kill date in January. Trump went so far as to continue posting via a series of alts including his campaign account, which was banned too. He’s seemed less eager about Facebook, where he has just shy of 33 million followers and an additional 24 million on Instagram, despite the site fueling a vast, servile right-wing digital media ecosystem that relentlessly promoted his presidency, filled his coffers, and ginned up the manpower for the Jan. 6 riot. He did briefly attempt to evade the ban by livestreaming via daughter-in-law Lara Trump’s account, though that attempt was aborted after Facebook warned workarounds wouldn’t pass scrutiny.
While Wednesday’s decision does uphold Facebook’s original decision to suspend access to Trump’s account, it could also be read as giving Facebook up to another six months to make up its mind after seeing which way the winds are blowing. Conservatives went into virtual apoplexy when Trump got banned from both sites, neutering his social media presence overnight. They’re bound to be just as displeased about the Oversight Board’s decision, which puts a capstone on four years of Facebook and its CEO Mark Zuckerberg bending over backwards to please Republican politicians and pundits who went on to vitriolically criticize the site anyhow.
Now will start another era of Facebook doing exactly that, just in a slightly different manner with vaguely different rhetoric and with or without Trump. The system works!
This is a breaking news story and will be updated as more information becomes available.
After threatening for months to disrupt social media with a bespoke platform that would allow him to bypass community guidelines (and the embarrassingly long list of platforms he’s been banned from), our big patriotic boy has finally made good on his promise. Folks, the wait is over — the future is now, and it’s a blog.
On Tuesday, former president Donald Trump launched his long-awaited social media platform, which, if you really squint at it, kind of resembles a rudimentary version of Twitter, if Twitter had been designed by a day-glo boomer hunkered down in Palm Beach, Florida. Titled “From the desk of Donald J. Trump,” the “feed” is tucked inconspicuously into a corner of Trump’s website and features that classic commentary we all know and love — pithy observations from a very old man who always cared more about how his snarky commentary would be received than he did about actual governance or, you know, people.
“Happy Easter to ALL, including the Radical Left CRAZIES who rigged our Presidential Election, and want to destroy our Country!” reads one post.
“So nice to see RINO Mitt Romney booed off the stage at the Utah Republican State Convention,” reads another. “They are among the earliest to have figured this guy out, a stone cold loser!”
Although the platform just launched, there are already posts dating back as early as March, which implies the existence of a universe where developers could have simply “forgotten” to plug this thing into the internet and kept it offline forever, leaving Trump content to shoot his foul musings straight off into the void for the rest of time.
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The platform also features the option to share Trump’s commentary on Twitter and Facebook — two platforms that, as of this writing, the former president is still currently banned from. Significantly, the platform’s launch comes just hours before Facebook’s Oversight Board is expected to hand down a decision on whether or not Trump will be allowed back on Facebook and its subsidiaries, including Instagram.
Trump was famously banned from a host of platforms in January after his rage-stoking rigged-election commentary incited an angry mob that stormed the U.S. Capitol, ultimately leaving five people dead.
According to Fox News, the page is the work of Campaign Nucleus, a “digital ecosystem made for efficiently managing political campaigns and organizations,” helmed by Trump’s former campaign manager, Brad Parscale.
The moral of the story is clear: You can take the Twitter out of the president, but you can’t take the tweet out of the poster. Or something like that.
A series of Instagram ads run by the privacy-positive platform Signal got the messaging app booted from the former’s ad platform, according to a blog post Signal published on Tuesday. The ads were meant to show users the bevy of data that Instagram and its parent company Facebook collects on users, by… targeting those users using Instagram’s own adtech tools.
The actual idea behind the ad campaign is pretty simple. Because Instagram and Facebook share the same ad platform, any data that gets hoovered up while you’re scrolling your Insta or Facebook feeds gets fed into the same cesspool of data, which can be used to target you on either platform later.
Across each of these platforms, you’re also able to target people using a nearly infinite array of data points collected by Facebook’s herd of properties. That data includes basic details, like your age or what city you might live in. It may also include more granular points: say, whether you’re looking for a new home, whether you’re single, or whether you’re really into energy drinks.
Based on this kind of minute data, Signal was able to create some super-targeted ads that were branded with the exact targeting specs that Signal used. If an ad was targeted towards K-pop fans, the ad said so. If the ad was targeted towards a single person, the ad said so. And if the ad was targeted towards London-based divorcees with degrees in art history, the ad said so.
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Apparently, Facebook wasn’t a fan of this sort of transparency into its system. While the company hasn’t yet responded to Gizmodo’s request for comment, Signal’s blog post explains that the ad account used to run these ads was shut down before many of these ads could reach their target audiences. Personally, I think that’s a shame—I’d have loved to see an ad that showed what Instagram really thinks of me.
Apple has rushed out fixes to two major vulnerabilities in iOS and iPadOS 14.5, last month’s update that implemented its App Tracking Transparency feature. Both bugs could have allowed malicious parties to remotely execute code, possibly leading to the takeover of an affected device. That means you need to update your devices as soon as possible.
According to Ars Technica, the 14.5.1 update on Monday mends two zero-day vulnerabilities (possibly already exploited in the wild) in Webkit, a rendering software that controls how web content is rendered in apps like Safari, the App Store, and others. Apple tagged the bugs as CVE-2021-30663 and CVE-2021-30665 in update notes; as Ars Technica explains, both issues were also noticed and patched in MacOS 11.3.1, released on Monday.
Both have an identical impact listed and note that Apple is aware that they had possibly been used in cyberattacks:
Processing maliciously crafted web content may lead to arbitrary code execution. Apple is aware of a report that this issue may have been actively exploited.
Apple addressed one of the two vulnerabilities, a “memory corruption issue,” “with improved state management,” after being flagged by researchers with Chinese firm Qihoo 360. In the other vulnerability, reported to Apple by an anonymous engineer, “An integer overflow was addressed with improved input validation.”
According to ThreatPost, Apple also fixed another issue (CVE-2021-30666) in the iOS 12.5.3 update for older devices that could have similarly led to “arbitrary code execution.” Google’s Project Zero, which keeps a running tally of major zero-day vulnerabilities, is up to 21 so far this year, seven of which affected Apple products—all but one of them having to do with Webkit. Microsoft also stands at eight zero-day vulnerabilities, while Google is up to five, and Adobe had one.
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A separate element in 14.5.1 fixed a bug with the previously released App Tracking Transparency feature, which gives users greater control over which apps have access to which data and is the subject of an ongoing spat with Facebook. According to Ars Technica, a separate bug where the toggle button for the feature remains improperly greyed out in the Settings menu doesn’t appear to have been fixed yet.
“This update fixes an issue with App Tracking Transparency where some users who previously disabled Allow Apps to Request to Track in Settings may not receive prompts from apps after re-enabling it,” Apple wrote. “This update also provides important security updates and is recommended for all users.”
Over the past year, we’ve seen schools shift to digital services at an unprecedented rate as a way to educate kids safely during the covid-19 pandemic. We’ve also seen these digital tools slurp up these kid’s data at a similarly unprecedented rate, suffer massive breaches, and generally handle student’s personal information with a lot less care than they should.
Case in point: A new report published Tuesday by the tech-focused nonprofit Me2B Alliance found the majority of school utility apps were sharing some amount of student data with third-party marketing companies. The Me2B team surveyed a few dozen so-called “utility” apps for school districts—the kind that students and parents download to, say, review their school’s calendar or bussing schedules—and found roughly 60% of them sharing everything from a student’s location to their entire contact list, to their phone’s mobile ad identifiers, all with companies these students and their parents likely never heard of.
In order to figure out what kind of data these apps were sharing, Me2B analyzed the software development kits (or SDKs) that these apps came packaged with. While SDks can do all sorts of things, these little libraries of code often help developers monetize their free-to-download apps by sharing some sort of data with third-party ad networks. Facebook has some super popular SDKs, as does Google. Of the 73 apps surveyed in the report, there were 486 total SDKs throughout—with an average of just over 10 SDKs per app surveyed.
Of that 486 total bits of code, nearly 63% (306) were owned and operated by either Facebook or Google. The rest of those SDKs were sharing data with some lesser-known third parties, with names like AdColony and Admob.
But the data sharing didn’t stop there. As the report points out, these lesser-known SDKs would often share the data pulled from these student apps with dozens—if not hundreds—of other little-known third parties. What’s interesting here is that these SDKs, in particular, were found abundantly in Android apps, but way fewer iOS apps ended up bringing these pieces of tech onboard (91% versus 26%, respectively).
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There are a few reasons why this might be the case. First, even if Apple isn’t always careful about following its own privacy rules, the company does set a certain standard that every iOS developer needs to follow, particularly when it comes to tracking and targeting the people using their apps. Most recently, Apple turned this up to 11 by mandating App Tracking Transparency (ATT) reports for the apps in its store, which literally request a user’s permission in order to track their activity outside of the app.
Even though Android does have its own review process for apps, historically, we’ve seen some insecure apps slip through the cracks and onto countless people’s devices. Also, there’s a good chance that many apps developed for Android are beaming some degree of data right back to Google.
And with Apple slowly tightening its standards surrounding ATT, it’s possible that the divide between the two OS’s will only keep broadening—which leaves student’s data stuck in the middle.