Archive for February 26, 2024

Monday, February 26, 2024

Avast Fined for Selling Browsing Data

FTC (via Lina Khan):

The Federal Trade Commission will require software provider Avast to pay $16.5 million and prohibit the company from selling or licensing any web browsing data for advertising purposes to settle charges that the company and its subsidiaries sold such information to third parties after promising that its products would protect consumers from online tracking.

In its complaint, the FTC says that Avast Limited, based in the United Kingdom, through its Czech subsidiary, unfairly collected consumers’ browsing information through the company’s browser extensions and antivirus software, stored it indefinitely, and sold it without adequate notice and without consumer consent. The FTC also charges that Avast deceived users by claiming that the software would protect consumers’ privacy by blocking third party tracking, but failed to adequately inform consumers that it would sell their detailed, re-identifiable browsing data. The FTC alleged Avast sold that data to more than 100 third parties through its subsidiary, Jumpshot.

Emma Roth:

A joint investigation from Motherboard and PCMag first brought attention to Avast’s data privacy practices in 2020. Avast shut down its data harvesting arm, called Jumpshot, shortly after the reports emerged. Although Avast said it removed identifying information before selling user data, the FTC found it “failed to sufficiently anonymize consumers’ browsing information.” Instead, it sold data with unique identifiers for each browser, revealing websites visited, timestamps, the type of device and browser used, and location.


The FTC has been cracking down on poor data privacy practices in recent weeks. In January, the FTC reached a settlement with Outlogic (formerly X-Mode Social) that prevents the data broker from selling information that can be used to track users’ locations. It banned InMarket from selling precise user locations as well.


Update (2024-02-28): Nick Heer:

What people with Big Business Brains often like to argue about the unethical but wildly successful ad tech industry is that it is not as bad as it looks because your individual data does not have any real use or value. Ad tech vendors would not bother retaining such granular details because it is beneficial, they say, only in a more aggregated and generalized form.

The problem with this argument is that it keeps getting blown up by their demonstrable behaviour.


Avast paid a $16.5 million penalty and said it would not use any of the data it collected “for advertising purposes”. The caveat makes this settlement feel a little incomplete to me.

Apple Arcade’s Uncertain Future

Neil Long (2023, Slashdot, MacDailyNews):

In the 15 years since it launched the App Store, Apple has proved again and again that it cares very little about games – though it is happy to make billions from them. I should know: I was an App Store games editor for seven years.


The woefully understaffed team of app reviewers couldn’t handle the volume of games coming through – and seemingly still can’t today.


Meanwhile, some brazen clone sails through the app review process no sweat. It’s been happening for years. In 2016, a hilariously fake “Minecraft 2” was approved for sale by the App Review team and made it all the way into the Top 10 chart before it was pulled from sale. Brazen Pokémon rip-offs make it through surprisingly often too.


So perhaps, once those huge App Store profits are under genuine threat, we’ll see Apple start to take its role as a mobile game platform more seriously. It has the excellent Apple Arcade subscription service, sure, but it’ll take more than that to help rescue mobile gaming’s reputation.

Neil Long (MacRumors, AppleInsider, The Verge, Hacker News):

Multiple sources have voiced their concern for Apple Arcade’s future, citing a glut of cancelled projects and ever-declining developer payouts.


Payouts for titles on Apple Arcade have been falling for years, our sources said, and following a shift in strategy very few original games are being greenlit unless they are attached to a big family-friendly IP.

Apple is often aloof or difficult to work with too – though as one developer noted, “that’s nothing new”. While some described their relationship with Apple as very positive (and lucrative), others said that Apple is “famously vindictive” and “spiteful” in its dealings with developers – especially once the tech giant discovers that you have signed a deal with Netflix’s rival service.


One studio boss told us that after months of glowing feedback on one particular game, the Arcade team suddenly withdrew its interest in the title, citing a change in strategy. When the developer asked for feedback and offered to reduce the budget and re-tool the game to better fit Apple’s needs, the Arcade team simply stopped responding to their emails.


Update (2024-03-01): John Voorhees (Mastodon):

The details of’s story that I think are most interesting are the ones about the business terms Apple has struck with game developers. Those are details that developers seem to be contractually prohibited from talking about. I know because I’ve asked developers about how it works before. However, according to, Arcade developers are paid an up-front fee and from a ‘bonus pool’ based on something called ‘qualifying sessions’[…]

Brendon Bigley:

it is SO wild to me that apple has such strong leverage here that they can get developers to commit to payout deals that are this opaque

Jack Wellborn:

My sense on Arcade is that while it does address the casinofication of iOS games, it doesn’t really address the fundamental problem -- that mobile games aren’t considered worth paying for. My thinking is that Apple should create a whole new category just for premium games at premium prices, regardless of whether its pay once or a subscription fee.

Craig Grannell:

Sad but unsurprising given that Apple doesn’t have gaming baked into its DNA and at some level thinks they are unserious (unless wheeling a AAA title out for a tech demo).

Brendon Bigley (via John Voorhees):

Arcade was phenomenal in its launch window, with titles like Sayonara Wild Hearts and Fantasian immediately hitting all-timer status in my eyes, but I’ve noticed a waning faith in the player end of things as much as Long also outlines the developer discontent. Take this post on Reddit, for example, filled with subscribers lamenting the loss of Cozy Grove, a game notably making its way to Netflix Games and whose lineup includes a treasure trove of “best of” indie titles from the past decade. This internal strategy pivot towards more family-friendly games feels like a clear play for the iPad-kid market, but how valuable that ends up being long-term is unclear and in the short-term is clearly hurting both player and developer relations.


I think it would be an unfortunate pivot, as Arcade has brought me a huge amount of joy via inventive titles from smaller teams, but you can practically see the boardroom conversations that would lead to such a decision.

Eric Schwarz:

While Arcade has plenty of excellent titles, it never clicked with me to keep it beyond any trial (I have a handful of purchased favorite iOS games and even those don’t get played that often). It reminds me a lot of Apple News, a great idea on paper, but the execution has been lacking.


Unfortunately, unless they continue to add excellent games through cultivating great developer relationships, everyone doing worthwhile stuff will walk away, leaving buggy or lazy ports, along with derivative franchise releases as the main options on the service.

Steve Troughton-Smith:

Apple is optimizing its developer base for ‘people who only care about money’ and I’m sure that’s not going to come back to bite them at all 😛

Update (2024-03-05): Craig Grannell (Mastodon):

[While] I thought it was a weird decision, I’m nonetheless glad it exists. Because it’s objectively good. Sure, people who claim the only ‘real games’ are AAA (and who even attempt to dismiss the Switch, let alone mobiles) won’t give it a chance. But there are loads of fun titles, even if much of the service’s strength now lies in ‘+’ fare (existing App Store releases minus ads/IAP) rather than exclusives. It’s superb for kids who like mobile games (again: no ads; no IAP). And there are still interesting new things to play. (I mean, Arcade added a pinball game at one point. And pinball is pretty niche!)

For me, the main error Apple Arcade made was during its launch. It offered too much, too soon. It was simultaneously overwhelming and somehow yet made people think they could blaze through everything and instantly demand more. And more didn’t come for a long while, and so users felt they weren’t getting good value, even though Arcade at the time cost only five bucks per month.

Might Have Been

Ben Lovejoy:

Jony Ive tried to persuade Apple to cease making the MacBook Air, leaving a redesigned MacBook Pro as the only portable Mac.


Mossberg’s source said this led to a huge battle between Ive’s design team and the product managers, and was only finally resolved in 2018, when the product team got their way.

It’s a big claim to base on a single source, even coming from Mossberg. There are some reasons to give it credence. It’s undeniable that the MacBook Air spent some years in the wilderness, seemingly neglected by Apple before the 2018 model. It’s also notable that this model, while a big upgrade technically, didn’t get a redesign.

Joe Rossignol:

The name AirPods Extreme was floated by at least one member of Apple’s leadership team, but the company ultimately decided to move forward with AirPods Pro branding after many employees objected to the change, we have learned.

Joe Rossignol:

Before the Dynamic Island, Apple explored a popover menu on the right side of the screen that would have provided users with quick access to the time, cellular signal and Wi-Fi strength, display brightness, volume, and battery charge level. The menu essentially looks like a second notch, and it would disappear when not in use.

Another idea that Apple considered was hiding the notch with an all-black status bar area at the top of the screen.

Apple initially made the Dynamic Island permanently elongated across the top of the screen, before deciding that it would be less intrusive if it changed size as necessary. Apple also considered showing volume and a full row of system shortcuts in the Dynamic Island, tested a never-used layout for ongoing phone calls, and more.


Update (2024-02-27): Chance Miller (via Hacker News):

According to Google’s filings, Microsoft pitched Apple on making Bing the default search engine in Safari on at least seven different occasions: 2009, 2013, 2015, 2016, 2018, and 2020. Each time, Google says that Apple passed on the opportunity due to search quality.


Also in the filing, Google wrote that Microsoft approached Apple in 2018 to tout improvements it had made to Bing’s search quality. Microsoft’s goal was to either “sell Bing to Apple or establish a Bing-related joint venture.”

John Gruber:

Calling these small earbuds “Extreme” would make no sense side-by-side with AirPods Max. To me, at least, “AirPods Extreme” would be the name for over-the-ear headphones even better than AirPods Max.


A Complete Guide to Bluesky

Kuba Suder:

For the past 10 months, I’ve been a pretty active user of Bluesky. I enjoy it a lot, and I’ve managed to learn a lot about how it works, what works well and what doesn’t, and also what’s likely coming next.

I’ve decided to write down some of the tips & tricks that I often give to friends when I send them an invite code, or the advice and answers that I sometimes give to people that I find in some feed asking about things.

Steve Klabnik:

One of the reasons I am enthusiastic about BlueSky is because of the way that it works. So in this post, I am going to lay out some of the design and the principles behind this design, as I understand them.

Bluesky (Hacker News):

Today, we’re excited to announce that the Bluesky network is federating and opening up in a way that allows you to host your own data.


Mastodon is another federated social network built on a protocol called ActivityPub. While Bluesky — built on a protocol called the AT Protocol (atproto) — shares the term “federation” with other networks, the way it works is very different.

On Bluesky, server choice doesn’t affect what content you see. Servers are only one piece of the protocol — when you browse Bluesky, you see posts that are pulled together from many different servers. This is why you can change your server after signing up without losing your username, friends, or posts.

Craig Grannell:

Not terribly impressed by the answers to the third questions in the #Bluesky ‘open social web’ post, which spends an awful lot of time talking about Mastodon in a manner people on Mastodon wouldn’t recognise.

If you’re going to write about a rival service, not misrepresenting it is a better way to engender trust. Spin, not so much.

It’s not clear to me what Bluesky misrepresented.