Archive for July 10, 2024

Wednesday, July 10, 2024

USPS Metadata Surveillance Program

Tim Cushing:

The USPS wasn’t filing its required paperwork tracking government requests for snail mail info. The USPS rarely rejected another government agency’s demand for mail metadata. And the problems weren’t minute. The forms detailing compliance with government demands for data often weren’t being filed until more than two years after those reports were due.


It wasn’t until 2023 that Congress made a move to shut the program down — citing not only some concerning privacy violations but the lack of evidence showing easy access to weeks or months of mail snapshots was essential to law enforcement investigations. Roughly a year later, that request from Congress has gone nowhere.


The USPS (quite reasonably) points out there’s no expectation of privacy in the information contained on the outside of mail. And that’s an understandable position to take… to a certain extent. But no postal worker on their own could compile this information on their own despite having access to this information. And even if they could, it could not be obtained in bulk after the fact because the USPS and its employees would need to know what mail to track beforehand to generate these records.


The Unofficial Apple AI Weblog


The Unofficial Apple Weblog (TUAW) has been a cornerstone of Apple-related journalism since its establishment on December 5, 2004. Acquired by Web Orange Limited from Yahoo IP Holdings LLC in 2024 without its original content, our mission has been rejuvenated to continue providing Apple enthusiasts and tech professionals with authoritative and engaging content. We strive to serve as a comprehensive resource for news, credible rumors, and instructional content that spans the Apple ecosystem and beyond.

Karissa Bell:

The sale, notably, did not include the TUAW archive. But, it seems that Web Orange Limited found a convenient (if legally dubious) way around that.

They scraped

Christina Warren:

So someone bought the old TUAW domain name. TUAW was a site that I worked at in college, that has been dead for a decade and that I stopped working for 15 years ago. But now my name is bylined on 1500+ articles alongside an AI-generated photo. Revive the old brand. Fine. But leave my name off of it!

Jason Snell:

They’ve re-used the names of key historic contributors, but generated new bios and photos(!) and claim that new stories are written by these historic contributors.


After coverage here and elsewhere, the site has changed all the names of real people to fake people. Same bios, same photos, but now fake names. This doesn’t stop the new TUAW from being an AI-generated garbage farm, but at least my friends’ names aren’t attached to the garbage anymore.

Eric Schwarz:

It’s like what happened with iPodlounge/iLounge…cashing in on the name, but just crap regurgitated content.


Update (2024-07-15): Nick Heer:

The same advertising identifier has been used with a handful of other previously defunct publications like Metapress and Tapscape, as well as a vanity URL generator for Google Plus.

Adam Engst:

Christina Warren said AOL shuttered TUAW in 2015 and moved the archives to Engadget, breaking all the URLs. I suspect Web Orange Limited used a spider to crawl all old TUAW URLs on the Wayback Machine, had an AI tool “meticulously rewrite” those articles, and posted them on the new site. That would explain how we get Steve Sande’s favorite apps article from 2014 written by “Jeffrey Adams” but still using the first person. Compare against the original on the Engadget site.

TUAW was prolific, so there are thousands of articles going back to the site’s founding in 2004. When I checked out the oldest pages, I quickly found some places where the system broke down, linking modern headlines with ancient content and revealing what looks like generative AI behind the curtain.

Why do this? There are a lot of old TUAW URLs floating around on the Web. They didn’t resolve a week ago, but they do now, and their content will often pass the average Web surfer’s sniff test. Having content on the other side of all those old URLs will help the overall SEO ranking for the TUAW site, thus increasing the chance Google will return TUAW pages for searches and cause people to see ads.

See also: MacRumors and Slashdot.

Calling AI a Bubble

Ron Miller (via Hacker News):

[Rodney Brooks] knows what he’s talking about, and he thinks maybe it’s time to put the brakes on the screaming hype that is generative AI. Brooks thinks it’s impressive technology, but maybe not quite as capable as many are suggesting. “I’m not saying LLMs are not important, but we have to be careful [with] how we evaluate them,” he told TechCrunch.

He says the trouble with generative AI is that, while it’s perfectly capable of performing a certain set of tasks, it can’t do everything a human can, and humans tend to overestimate its capabilities. “When a human sees an AI system perform a task, they immediately generalize it to things that are similar and make an estimate of the competence of the AI system; not just the performance on that, but the competence around that,” Brooks said. “And they’re usually very over-optimistic, and that’s because they use a model of a person’s performance on a task.”

He added that the problem is that generative AI is not human or even human-like, and it’s flawed to try and assign human capabilities to it. He says people see it as so capable they even want to use it for applications that don’t make sense.

M.G. Siegler:

Seemingly every investor I talk to these days is struggling with the same basic thing: they believe AI is going to be one of the most transformative technologies of the past several decades – and perhaps ever – but they have almost no idea how to invest in the space. And yet they are investing in the space. At a pace that puts the crypto boom to shame. Because, well, that’s the job.

Katie Balevic (via Hacker News):

Tech companies are spending big on the AI craze, but it will be a while before they have much — if anything — to show for it.

As companies prepare to spend over $1 trillion on artificial intelligence, a Goldman Sachs report examined the big question at hand: “Will this large spend ever pay off?”

That sizable investment will go toward the data centers needed to run AI, the power grid, and AI chips. But shortages of those AI ingredients could lead to disappointing returns for companies.

The report is here.

Edward Zitron:

The report covers AI’s productivity benefits (which Goldman remarks are likely limited), AI’s returns (which are likely to be significantly more limited than anticipated), and AI’s power demands (which are likely so significant that utility companies will have to spend nearly 40% more in the next three years to keep up with the demand from hyperscalers like Google and Microsoft).


The report includes an interview with economist Daron Acemoglu of MIT (page 4), an Institute Professor who published a paper back in May called “The Simple Macroeconomics of AI” that argued that “the upside to US productivity and, consequently, GDP growth from generative AI will likely prove much more limited than many forecasters expect.” A month has only made Acemoglu more pessimistic, declaring that “truly transformative changes won’t happen quickly and few – if any – will likely occur within the next 10 years,” and that generative AI’s ability to affect global productivity is low because “many of the tasks that humans currently perform…are multi-faceted and require real-world interaction, which AI won’t be able to materially improve anytime soon.”

Dare Obasanjo:

This is a great article from Sequoia which argues the tech industry needs $600B in AI revenue to justify the money spent on GPUs and data centers.

OpenAI is the biggest AI pure play and is at $3.4B ARR. This feels like a bubble unless products worth buying show up.

There is no doubt that there will be a lot of money made from AI. The question is whether it will be enough to support a $3T valuation for Nvidia?

Hemant Mohapatra (Thread Reader, via Hacker News):

So now that Nvidia has far outstripped the market cap of AMD and Intel, I thought this would be a fun story to tell. I spent 6+yrs @ AMD engg in mid to late 2000s helping design the CPU/APU/GPUs that we see today. Back then it was unimaginable for AMD to beat Intel in market-cap (we did in 2020!) and for Nvidia to beat both! In fact, AMD almost bought Nvidia but Jensen wasn’t ready to sell unless he replace Hector Ruiz of AMD as the CEO of the joint company. The world would have looked very different had that happened. Here’s the inside scoop of how & why AMD saw the GPU oppty, lost it, and then won it back in the backdrop of Nvidia’s far more insane trajectory, & lessons I still carry from those heady days[…]

Update (2024-07-15): See also: Hacker News.

Google Maps Is Killing Timeline for Web

Emma Roth:

Google Maps is changing the way it handles your location data. Instead of backing up your data to the cloud, Google will soon store it locally on your device.

In an email sent to users, Google says you have until December 1st to save all your travels to your mobile device before it starts deleting your old data. Timeline — previously known as Location History — is the feature that tracks your routes and trips based on your phone’s location, allowing you to revisit all the places you’ve been in the past.

But now, instead of tying all of this information to your Google account, the company will link it to the devices you use.

Mahmoud Itani (via Hacker News):

Through a dedicated button on the updated app, you’ll then be able to migrate your existing location history to the on-device database. If you take no action and miss the deadline, Google could purge some or all of your location history when it sunsets Timeline’s web access.

To help users retain their data in the long run, Google Maps has also introduced a new backup feature for Timeline. Users can rely on it to save encrypted copies of their location history on Google’s servers. They can then restore these backups in the Google Maps app when they switch to a new phone.

Pieter Arntz:

As I pointed out years ago, Location History allowed me to “spy” on my wife’s whereabouts without having to install anything on her phone. After some digging, I learned that my Google account was added to my wife’s phone’s accounts when I logged in on the Play Store on her phone. The extra account this created on her phone was not removed when I logged out after noticing the tracking issue.

That issue should be solved by implementing this new policy. (Let’s remember, though, that this is an issue that Google formerly considered a feature rather than a problem.)