Archive for March 11, 2021

Thursday, March 11, 2021

Roblox in the App Store

Ben Thompson:

In short, Roblox isn’t a game at all: it is world in which one of the things you can do is play games, with a persistent identity, persistent set of friends, persistent money, all disconnected from the device that you use to access the world.


[By] controlling everything Roblox can bring all of the disparate parts of gaming into one place; instead of one app for social interactions, another app for purchases, and a different app for every different game, everything is all in the same place.


That’s the screen you see when you launch the app, and I have to say, it looks an awful lot like an App Store! That’s a problem because Apple states in its App Store Guidelines that “Creating an interface for displaying third-party apps, extensions, or plug-ins similar to the App Store or as a general-interest collection” is “unacceptable”.

On one hand, perhaps Roblox is fine because these are not 3rd-party App Store apps, unlike, say, the rejected Facebook Gaming app. But then again, Xbox Game Pass wants to launch 3rd-party games that run in the cloud, not on the iPhone at all, and Apple also said no.

And, unlike xCloud, Roblox downloads the game code, which is also forbidden:

2.5.2 Apps should be self-contained in their bundles, and may not read or write data outside the designated container area, nor may they download, install, or execute code which introduces or changes features or functionality of the app, including other apps.

David Heinemeier Hansson:

Great example of Apple’s infinite contradictions with the App Store.


Lou Ottens, RIP

Daniel Boffey (Hacker News):

Ottens’s idea was that the cassette tape that should fit in the inside pocket of his jacket. In 1963 the first tape was presented to the world at an electronics fair in Berlin with the tagline “Smaller than a pack of cigarettes!”

Photographs of the invention made their way to Japan, where substandard copies started to emerge. Ottens made agreements with Sony for the patented Philips mechanism to be the standard.

Bill Chappell:

Ottens’ goal was to make something simple and affordable for anyone to use. As Taylor says, “He advocated for Philips to license this new format to other manufacturers for free, paving the way for cassettes to become a worldwide standard.”


Nearly 20 years after Philips introduced cassette tapes, Ottens helped the company to develop compact disc technology for the consumer market and, with Sony, to settle on a format that would become the industry standard.

Update (2021-03-14): John Gruber:

I spent a fortune on CDs when I went to college, but I don’t have the reverent nostalgia for CDs that I do for cassette tapes. (Cassettes were even part of computing — my elementary school had a few TI-99/4A computers with cassette tapes instead of floppy drives.)

Brave Search

Brave (tweet, Hacker News):

Today Brave announced the acquisition of Tailcat, the open search engine developed by the team formerly responsible for the privacy search and browser products at Cliqz, a holding of Hubert Burda Media. Tailcat will become the foundation of Brave Search. Brave Search and the Brave browser constitute the industry’s first independent, privacy-preserving alternative to Google Chrome and Google Search, which rely on tracking users across sites and have 70 percent and 92 percent market share, respectively.

Under the hood, nearly all of today’s search engines are either built by, or rely on, results from Big Tech companies. In contrast, the Tailcat search engine is built on top of a completely independent index, capable of delivering the quality people expect, but without compromising their privacy. Tailcat does not collect IP addresses or use personally identifiable information to improve search results.


We will provide options for ad-free paid search and ad-supported search.

John Gruber:

Putting aside the question of whether any non-Google search engine provides good enough search results to replace Google as Safari’s default — a huge question! — if Apple were to make such a move in the name of privacy, it almost certainly would come as a multi-billion dollar annual hit to the company’s Services revenue.


Google to Replace Ad Cookies With FLoC

David Temkin (via John Gruber):

Today, we’re making explicit that once third-party cookies are phased out, we will not build alternate identifiers to track individuals as they browse across the web, nor will we use them in our products.


People shouldn’t have to accept being tracked across the web in order to get the benefits of relevant advertising. And advertisers don’t need to track individual consumers across the web to get the performance benefits of digital advertising.

Advances in aggregation, anonymization, on-device processing and other privacy-preserving technologies offer a clear path to replacing individual identifiers. In fact, our latest tests of FLoC show one way to effectively take third-party cookies out of the advertising equation and instead hide individuals within large crowds of people with common interests.

Sam Schechner and Keach Hagey (via John Gruber, Hacker News):

Google’s heft means the change could reshape the digital ad business, where many companies rely on tracking individuals to target their ads, measure the ads’ effectiveness and stop fraud. Google accounted for 52% of last year’s global digital ad spending of $292 billion, according to Jounce Media, a digital ad consultancy.

Nick Heer:

One reason Google is doing this is because it operates at such a vast scale that it can continue to abuse user privacy with its own services with little adjustment. This affects third-party tracking and data, so it disadvantages smaller ad tech firms that are not part of the web advertising duopoly.

Bennett Cyphers (via Nick Heer, John Gruber):

This post will focus on one of those proposals, Federated Learning of Cohorts (FLoC), which is perhaps the most ambitious—and potentially the most harmful.

FLoC is meant to be a new way to make your browser do the profiling that third-party trackers used to do themselves: in this case, boiling down your recent browsing activity into a behavioral label, and then sharing it with websites and advertisers. The technology will avoid the privacy risks of third-party cookies, but it will create new ones in the process. It may also exacerbate many of the worst non-privacy problems with behavioral ads, including discrimination and predatory targeting.

Google’s pitch to privacy advocates is that a world with FLoC (and other elements of the “privacy sandbox“) will be better than the world we have today, where data brokers and ad-tech giants track and profile with impunity. But that framing is based on a false premise that we have to choose between “old tracking” and “new tracking.” It’s not either-or. Instead of re-inventing the tracking wheel, we should imagine a better world without the myriad problems of targeted ads.


Facebook Gets Location From EXIF

Zak Doffman (via DuckDuckGo):

When you upload your photos to Facebook or Instagram, most metadata is stripped out and replaced by Facebook’s own codes. The date and time remain, but the location data does not. This is a major privacy benefit, you don’t want others to download your Facebook or Instagram photos and have details of where you live or work, for example, or to map your movements by the photos you’ve taken.

But that location metadata is not thrown away by Facebook—it is way too valuable. It is harvested, “collected and processed” to be added to the data treasure trove it holds on each of us. Let’s be very clear here, in your iPhone’s “Location Services” settings, under “Privacy,” you can select to “never” allow Facebook access to your location. This shuts down the Facebook app’s access to the location derived from the iPhone itself when using the app or in background. But Facebook still uses this hidden EXIF workaround and it’s your data that is being taken, with most of you not realising it’s being done.


Facebook acknowledged to me that it collects and processes EXIF data—it’s in its data policy, if you know where to look. But its explanation to me focused on technical data to better handle images—it did not want to be drawn on location data, which is the real issue.