Archive for November 9, 2017

Thursday, November 9, 2017 [Tweets] [Favorites]

Twitter Increases Limit to 280 Characters

Aliza Rosen (Hacker News):

In September, we launched a test that expanded the 140 character limit so every person around the world could express themselves easily in a Tweet. Our goal was to make this possible while ensuring we keep the speed and brevity that makes Twitter, Twitter. Looking at all the data, we’re excited to share we’ve achieved this goal and are rolling the change out to all languages where cramming was an issue.

[…]

We – and many of you – were concerned that timelines may fill up with 280 character Tweets, and people with the new limit would always use up the whole space. But that didn’t happen. Only 5% of Tweets sent were longer than 140 characters and only 2% were over 190 characters. As a result, your timeline reading experience should not substantially change, you’ll still see about the same amount of Tweets in your timeline.

Peter N. Lewis:

So I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised the the official Twitter/Mac app can’t do 280 characters.

John Gruber:

Given 280 characters, people are going to use them, even to express thoughts that could have fit in 140. Given unlimited characters, such as in email, people ramble aimlessly.

That’s why email feels like a dreary chore, and Twitter feels like fun. The fewer tweets that fit in a single screen at a time, the less fun Twitter feels. I’m sure Twitter considered this change carefully, but I’m convinced they’ve made a terrible mistake.

Part of the charm of Twitter is the finely crafted short tweets. But I think those have already become less prevalent as people resort to posting screenshots and long tweet threads to get around the limit. My guess is that the increased limit will be fine. I think most tweets will remain short and that 280 characters will provide a better overflow experience than threads. App.net had a limit of 256 characters, and that seemed to work well. If long tweets do become a problem, clients could discourage them when posting or display only the first few lines to keep the timeline compact.

Previously: Fixing Twitter With Reputation Systems, Twitter Won’t Raise 140-Character Limit.

Update (2017-11-13): Twitter:

Starting today, your Twitter display name can be up to 50 characters in length! Go ahead, add that middle name or even a few more emojis.

The Paradise Papers

Bastian Brinkmann and Lena Kampf:

In 2014, the law firm Appleby – the recipient of Apple’s long list of questions – took the company on as a client. The Paradise Papers show that in 2015, Appleby listed two Apple subsidiaries as being based in Jersey. Laws on the island allow foreign companies to establish their tax residency there.

[…]

One possible explanation for the company’s presence in Jersey is that Apple wanted to quickly react to the Irish tax reform. Previously, Apple subsidiaries in Ireland, thanks to the trick outlined above, had been considered “stateless” from the perspective of tax law – they weren’t based anywhere at all. But that’s no longer allowed. It could be, then, that Apple’s homeless companies have now finally settled down – on the island of Jersey, where the tax rate is zero percent.

[…]

Those familiar with the procedure say that the end result of Apple’s restructuring is that not much has changed for the company. And in Apple’s publicly available financial information, there has indeed been virtually no change in the amount of taxes paid by the company since 2015. According to that information, Apple paid around 4 percent on profits made outside of the U.S. in both the years 2013 and 2014. In 2015, it was around 5 percent and approximately 6 percent in 2016. Fluctuations of that magnitude are common for international corporations.

Jesse Drucker and Simon Bowers:

“We pay all the taxes we owe, every single dollar,” Mr. Cook declared at the hearing. “We don’t depend on tax gimmicks,” he went on. “We don’t stash money on some Caribbean island.”

True enough. The island Apple would soon rely on was in the English Channel.

Five months after Mr. Cook’s testimony, Irish officials began to crack down on the tax structure Apple had exploited. So the iPhone maker went hunting for another place to park its profits, newly leaked records show. With help from law firms that specialize in offshore tax shelters, the company canvassed multiple jurisdictions before settling on the small island of Jersey, which typically does not tax corporate income.

[…]

The documents reveal how big law firms help clients weave their way through the gaps between different countries’ tax rules. Appleby clients have transferred trademarks, patent rights and other valuable assets into offshore shell companies, avoiding billions of dollars in taxes. The rights to Nike’s Swoosh trademark, Uber’s taxi-hailing app, Allergan’s Botox patents and Facebook’s social media technology have all resided in shell companies that listed as their headquarters Appleby offices in Bermuda and Grand Cayman, the records show.

Wolfgang Krach (via Hacker News):

Public filings reveal that between 2010 and 2017, on average, Apple generated two-thirds of its profits outside the U.S. Evidently, it earned $41.1 billion in 2016 and $44.7 billion in 2017. What these filings also show is that since 2010, Apple’s foreign-earned income has been taxed at a rate of between 1 and 7 percent. Mr. Cook, do you believe this comports with the “moral responsibility” you have advocated? Such “tax optimization” – albeit legal – is only possible because specialized law firms such as Appleby devise complex company structures inaccessible to most other firms. Skilled workers, small business owners and employees in most countries outside the U.S., many of whom surely use Apple products, don’t have the means to shirk ordinary taxes.

Alastair Houghton:

In a very real sense, for instance, there is no such company as “Apple”. Rather, there is Apple, Inc (which is in the United States), Apple Europe Limited (in the United Kingdom), Apple Operations International (Ireland), Apple Sales International (Ireland), Apple Distribution International (Ireland), as well as a host of other entities. All of them are separate companies, and therefore separate legal entities, though some may hold shares in others and they likely share some directors too. The thing the public thinks of as “Apple” is not, in a legal sense, real — but instead is projected by the actions of a number of co-operating legal entities in various different jurisdictions. You might say this is a sleight of hand, but it’s how the world works because it’s how the laws passed by our politicians work.

[…]

Clearly both the delivery company and the website company will be able to calculate a profit figure (essentially sales minus costs), and so Corporation Tax will be paid at UK rate on the profit made by the delivery company and at some other rate depending on where the website company is incorporated on its profits. Now, let’s say the website company can choose where it incorporates — after all, it’s a website and the Internet is everywhere. So let’s pick somewhere with low tax rates. Luxembourg, say. […] It was fine before I gave them both similar sounding names, and before they had shared directors/shareholders. Why is it suddenly not OK now?

Kirk McElhearn:

If you are a company making widgets, and you don’t sell them directly, you sell them through distributors, and they in turn tell your widgets to retailers, who sell to end users. Lets say you sell your widgets at 50% of their retail price; the local distributors and retailers earn the rest of the money, and pay taxes on it.

But since Apple sells most of their products directly, either through their own store, their online store, or their subsidiaries, they are able to retain much more of the total price of their goods.

Shawn Tully:

But the U.S. code provides ample room for sheltering and avoiding taxes on foreign income, a major reason it needs an overhaul. The rules essentially divide foreign profits into three categories. One bucket of profits is more or less taxed at the full rate of 35%. On a second bucket, the multinational can defer paying the U.S. tax due. And a third category is excluded from all U.S. taxation, amounting to corporate America’s biggest loophole.

[…]

The U.S. GAAP financial accounting rules stipulate that if a multinational either reinvests earnings from operations to grow its business, or intends to do so in the future, it’s required to neither pay U.S. tax on those profits in cash, nor to accrue a tax expense for the future that lowers net income. However, if plans change, and multinational decides that it will eventually bring those profits back, it has accrue U.S. tax on that income.

It’s important to note that Apple is extremely responsible in the use of this exemption for reinvested earnings. Many multinationals report that they intend to plough all of their foreign profits into operations, and hence, don’t make any accruals for U.S. taxes on their offshore earnings. Apple the rare tech titan that books large annual accruals that lower net income.

Via John Gruber:

The news coverage on Apple’s tax avoidance would lead you to believe (and in fact has led many to believe) that Apple pays a lower effective tax rate than most companies, when the truth is they pay a higher rate than most of their peers.

[…]

You can argue that Apple should voluntarily pay more in taxes than they’re legally obligated to, but no one who holds such views would ever get hired as a finance executive at a large publicly held company.

Previously: Apple, Ireland, and the EU.

Update (2017-11-09): See also: Todd Ditchendorf and my tweets.

Update (2017-11-13): Apple:

Apple believes every company has a responsibility to pay its taxes, and as the largest taxpayer in the world, Apple pays every dollar it owes in every country around the world. We’re proud of the economic contributions we make to the countries and communities where we do business.

See also: Sean O’Grady.

Enduring Xcode and SourceKitService Problems

Ling Wang:

This is how I’ve been coding in Xcode 9 since WWDC. Code completion is totally broken. It’s basically TextEdit with syntax highlight.

Many issues beside code completion:

  1. Jump to Definition shows menu not jump
  2. to ObjC header not Swift

Tony Arnold:

My experience isn’t as bad, but it’s still poor enough to have made me think seriously about starting a different career. There were a few points in the last year where Xcode made me want to give up coding entirely.

I file bugs, I sympathise and I try to understand where I can. But I have jobs to do, too - there are limits to my time.

Sadly and ultimately, working with Xcode is a minefield where the basics sound amazing on paper, but just don’t live up to the promises made.

I had a realisation earlier this week that the only reason I was considering buying an iMac Pro (which is likely to be a $10-15k AUD Machine) was to make Xcode run faster because I spend half of my professional time cleaning & rebuilding my projects to get basic editing working.

My recollection is that the old ProjectBuilder was solid but that Project Builder and Xcode have been perpetually buggy. It used to be that the compiler tools were reliable and the interface was buggy and crashy. Lately, the app itself has gotten better, but the Swift support (highlighting, jumping to definitions, and compiler) have been dragging it down. It is rare for me to make it through a day without the compiler crashing or the editor breaking. Fixing these issues would save developers inside and outside of Apple countless hours and frustration.

Previously: Swift 4.0 Released, Why I Don’t Write Swift.

Update (2017-11-09): Slava Pestov:

I think we’ve reached an inflection point and general compiler crashes have been getting fixed at a good pace since 3.1

SourceKit crashes have the same root causes often but are more challenging because SourceKit sees more invalid states

Source compatibility as a goal means we can grow the body of code we test against with the source compat suite

Up until Swift 3 we had the double whammy of spending most of our time on language features and changes and also breaking compatibility meaning we had trouble getting good test coverage

There is still a lot of work to do but I’m much happier with our priorities now that the language has settled down and things are moving in the right direction

Update (2017-11-10): Joe Groff:

Turns out Ling’s problem was a bug that is fixed in master SourceKit. You can remove -v from OTHER_SWIFT_FLAGS to work around it.

Facebook Solicits Nude Photos to Stop Revenge Porn

Louise Matsakis:

As part of a new feature the social network is testing in Australia, users are being asked to upload explicit photos of themselves before they send them to anyone else, according to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC).

[…]

The social network then builds what is referred to as a “hash” of the image, meaning it creates a unique fingerprint for the file. Facebook says it is not storing the photos, just the hashes of the photos. If another user tries to upload the same image on Facebook or Instagram, Facebook will test it against its stored hashes, and stop those labeled as revenge porn from being distributed.

Joseph Cox (tweet):

What that and other explanations do not necessarily make clear, however, is that prior to making that fingerprint, a worker from Facebook’s community operations team will actually look at the uncensored image itself to make sure it really is violating Facebook’s policies.

[…]

“It is absolutely necessary for images to be reviewed by a person when introduced into the checked for dataset, otherwise it would be trivial for someone to abuse this process to censor images,” Nicholas Weaver, a senior researcher at the International Computer Science Institute in Berkeley, California, told The Daily Beast. Weaver pointed at the iconic photo of Tank Man in Tiananmen Square as an example.

Nick Heer:

In a bizarre way, this actually makes some sense: Facebook already bans pornography, but there’s no algorithmic way to determine if a photo was shared non-consensually, so a user must manually state that certain images were shared without their consent. The distinction is important because someone sharing consensual porn is merely violating Facebook’s terms of use, while someone sharing non-consensual images is violating a person’s privacy and, potentially, the law.

Bruce Schneier:

I’m not sure I like this. It doesn’t prevent revenge porn in general; it only prevents the same photos being uploaded to Facebook in particular.

Previously: Photos Machine Learning and Trusting Apple.

Update (2017-11-09): Wil Shipley:

Facebook could have said: “Here’s a tool for you to create hashes of anything you’re afraid someone might post in revenge. Send us the hashes and if we see matching posts we’ll evaluate their content then and take them down if needed.”