Aside

2022.11.16

Trying out the new AirPods Pro 2 and the fit with the smallest sized earbuds is far superior to the previous version. I still need to assess if they’re going to work longer term but I can’t manage to shake them loose, they don’t fall out when I’m eating something, and they don’t dislodge after walking outside for 20 minutes or so. My longer weekend photowalk will probably help clarify if I’ll keep them or return them.

Link

Can University Faculty Hold Platforms To Account?

Heidi Tworek has a good piece with the Centre for International Governance Innovation, where she questions whether there will be a sufficient number of faculty in Canada (and elsewhere) to make use of information that digital-first companies might be compelled to make available to researchers. The general argument goes that if companies must make information available to academics then these academics can study the information and, subsequently, hold companies to account and guide evidence-based policymaking.

Tworek’s argument focuses on two key things.

  1. First, there has been a decline in the tenured professoriate in Canada, with the effect that the adjunct faculty who are ‘filling in’ are busy teaching and really don’t have a chance to lead research.
  2. While a vanishingly small number of PhD holders obtain a tenure track role, a reasonable number may be going into the very digital-first companies that researchers needs data from to hold them accountable.

On this latter point, she writes:

If the companies have far more researchers than universities have, transparency regulations may not do as much to address the imbalance of knowledge as many expect.

I don’t think that hiring people with PhDs necessarily means that companies are addressing knowledge imbalances. Whatever is learned by these researchers tends to be sheltered within corporate walls and protected by NDAs. So those researchers going into companies may learn what’s going on but be unable (or unmotivated) to leverage what they know in order to inform policy discussions meant to hold companies to account.

To be clear, I really do agree with a lot in this article. However, I think it does have a few areas for further consideration.

First, more needs to be said about what, specifically, ’transparency’ encompasses and its relationships with data type, availability, etc. Transparency is a deeply contested concept and there are a lot of ways that the revelation of data basically creates a funhouse of mirrors effect, insofar as what researchers ‘see’ can be very distorted from the reality of what truly is.

Second, making data available isn’t just about whether universities have the professors to do the work but, really, whether the government and its regulators have the staff time as well. Professors are doing a lot of things whereas regulators can assign staff to just work the data, day in and day out. Focus matters.

Third, and related, I have to admit that I have pretty severe doubts about the ability of professors to seriously take up and make use of information from platforms, at scale and with policy impact, because it’s never going to be their full time jobs to do so. Professors are also going to be required to publish in books or journals, which means their outputs will be delayed and inaccessible to companies, government bureaucrats and regulators, and NGO staff. I’m sure academics will have lovely and insightful discussions…but they won’t happen fast enough, or in accessible places or in plain language, to generally affect policy debates.

So, what might need to be added to start fleshing out how universities are organised to make use of data released by companies and have policy impacts in research outputs?

First, universities in Canada would need to get truly serious about creating a ’researcher class’ to analyse corporate reporting. This would involve prioritising the hiring of research associates and senior research associates who have few or no teaching responsibilities.1

Second, universities would need to work to create centres such as the Citizen Lab, or related groups.2 These don’t need to be organisations which try and cover the waterfront of all digital issues. They could, instead, be more focused to reduce the number of staff or fellows that are needed to fulfil the organisation’s mandate. Any and all centres of this type would see a small handful of people with PhDs (who largely lack teaching responsibilities) guide multidisciplinary teams of staff. Those same staff members would not typically need a a PhD. They would need to be nimble enough to move quickly while using a peer-review lite process to validate findings, but not see journal or book outputs as their primacy currency for promotion or hiring.

Third, the centres would need a core group of long-term staffers. This core body of long-term researchers is needed to develop policy expertise that graduate students just don’t possess or develop in their short tenure in the university. Moreover, these same long-term researchers can then train graduate student fellows of the centres in question, with the effect of slowly building a cadre of researchers who are equipped to critically assess digital-first companies.

Fourth, the staff at research centres needs to be paid well and properly. They cannot be regarded as ‘graduate student plus’ employees but as specialists who will be of interest to government and corporations. This means that the university will need to pay competitive wages in order to secure the staff needed to fulfil centre mandates.

Basically if universities are to be successful in holding big data companies to account they’ll need to incubate quasi-NGOs and let them loose under the university’s auspice. It is, however, worth asking whether this should be the goal of the university in the first place: should society be outsourcing a large amount of the ‘transparency research’ that is designed to have policy impact or guide evidence-based policy making to academics, or should we instead bolster the capacities of government departments and regulatory agencies to undertake these activities

Put differently, and in context with Tworek’s argument: I think that assuming that PhDs holders working as faculty in universities are the solution to analysing data released by corporations can only hold if you happen to (a) hold or aspire to hold a PhD; (b) possesses or aspire to possess a research-focused tenure track job.

I don’t think that either (a) or (b) should guide the majority of the way forward in developing policy proposals as they pertain to holding corporations to account.

Do faculty have a role in holding companies such as Google, Facebook, Amazon, Apple, or Netflix to account? You bet. But if the university, and university researchers, are going to seriously get involved in using data released by companies to hold them to account and have policy impact, then I think we need dedicated and focused researchers. Faculty who are torn between teaching, writing and publishing in inaccessible locations using baroque theoretical lenses, pursuing funding opportunities and undertaking large amounts of department service and performing graduate student supervision are just not going to be sufficient to address the task at hand.


  1. In the interests of disclosure, I currently hold one of these roles. ↩︎
  2. Again in the interests of disclosure, this is the kind of place I currently work at. ↩︎

Solved: Changed Name Server and Apple Custom Email Domain Stopped Working

Photo by Miguel u00c1. Padriu00f1u00e1n on Pexels.com

I recently moved a self-hosted WordPress website from a shared hosting environment to WordPress.com. The migration was smooth: I had to export the XML for the self-hosted WordPress installation and import it to the WordPress.com CMS, and then fix a few images. The website is functioning well and the transition was smooth.

However, shortly after doing so I started having issues with receiving emails at my custom email which was set up with Apple’s iCloud Custom Email Domain. Not good!

The Problem

I changed the name servers with the domain registrar (e.g., Bluehost or Dreamhost) so that my custom domain (e.g., example.com) would point to the WordPress.com infrastructure. However, in doing so my custom email (user@example.com) that was using Apple’s iCloud Custom Email Domain stopped sending or receiving email.

This problem was surfaced because email could not be sent/received and, also, I could not verify its domain in Apple’s “Custom Email Domain”. Specifically, iCloud presented the dialogue message “Verifying your domain. This usually takes a few minutes but could take up to 24 hours. You’ll be able to continue when verification is complete.” The “Reverify” button, below the dialogue, was greyed out.

Background

When you have registered the domain with a registrar other than WordPress (e.g., Bluehost, Dreamhost, etc) and then host a website with WordPress.com you will have to update the name servers the domain uses. So, you will need to log into your registrar and point the name servers at the registrar to NS1.Wordpress.com, NS2.Wordpress.com, and NS3.Wordpress.com. In doing so, all the custom DNS information you have provided to your registrar, and which has been used to direct email to a third-party email provider such as Apple and iCloud, will cease to work.

The Solution

When transitioning to using WordPress’ nameservers you will need to re-enter custom domain information in WordPress’ domain management tabs. Specifically, you will need to add the relevant CNAME, TXT, and A records.1 This will entail the following:

  1. Log into your WordPress.com website, and navigate to: Upgrades >> Domains
  2. Select the domain for which you want to modify the DNS information
  3. Select “DNS Records” >> Manage
  4. Select “Add Record” (Upper right hand corner)
  5. Enter the information which is provided to you by your email provider

Apple iCloud Custom Domain and WordPress.com

When setting up your custom domain with Apple you will be provided with a set of TXT, MX, and CNAME records to add. Apple also provides the requisite field information in a help document.

While most of these records are self evident, when adding the DKIM (CNAME record-type) record in WordPress.com, the Host listed on Apple’s website is entered in the “Name” field on WordPress’ “Add a Record” page. The “Value” of the DKIM on Apple’s website is entered as the “value” on WordPress’ site.

TypeNameValue
CNAMEsig1._domainkeysig1.dkim.example.com.at.icloudmailadmin.com
Visualization of Adding iCloud CNAME Record for WordPress.com


Note: Apple will generate a new TXT record to verify you control the domain after pointing the name servers to WordPress.com. This record will look something like “apple-domain=[random set of upper/lower case letters and numbers]”. You cannot use the “apple-domain=“ field that was used in setting up your custom email information with your original registrar’s DNS records. You must use the new “apple-domain=“ field information when updating your WordPress.com DNS records.

Once you’ve made the needed changes with WordPress.com, and re-verified your domain with Apple’s iCloud Custom Domains, your email should continue working.

In the Future

It would be great if WordPress actively and clearly communicated to users who are pointing their name servers to WordPress.com that there is a need to immediately also update and add email-related DNS records. I appreciate that not all customers may require this information, but proactively and forcefully sharing this information would ensure that their customers are not trying to fix broken email while simultaneously struggling to identify what problem actuallyy needs to be resolved.


  1. WordPress does have a support page to help users solve this. ↩︎

So You Can’t Verify Your Apple iCloud Custom Domain

Photo by Tim Gouw on Pexels.com

When you set up a custom iCloud email domain you have to modify the DNS records held by your domain’s registrar. On the whole, the information provided by Apple is simple and makes it easy to set up the custom domain.

However, if you change where your domain’s name servers point, such as when you modify the hosting for a website associated with the domain, you must update the DNS records with whomever you are pointing the name servers to. Put differently: if you have configured your Apple iCloud custom email by modifying the DNS information at host X, as soon as you shift to host Y by pointing your name servers at them you will also have to update DNS records with host Y.

Now, what if you don’t do this? Eventually as DNS information propagates over the subsequent 6-72 hours you’ll be in a situation where your custom iCloud domain email address will stop sending or receiving information because the routing information is no longer valid. This will cause Apple’s iCloud custom domain system to try and re-verify the domain; it will do this because the DNS information you initially supplied is no longer valid.

Should you run into this issue you might, naturally, first reach out to Apple support. You are, after all, running your email through their servers.

Positively: you will very quickly get a real-live human on the phone to help you. That’s great! Unfortunately, however, there is very little that Apple’s support staff can do to help you. There are very, very few internal help documents pertaining to custom domains. As was explained to me, the sensitivity and complexity of DNS (and the fact that information is non-standardized across registrars) means that the support staff really can’t help much: you’re mostly on your own. This is not communicated when setting up Apple custom email domains.

In a truly worst case scenario you might get a well meaning but ignorant support member who leads you deeply astray in attempting to help troubleshoot and fix the problem. This, unfortunately, was my experience: no matter what is suggested, the solution to this problem is not solved by deleting your custom email accounts hosted by Apple on iCloud. Don’t be convinced this is ever a solution.

Worse, after deleting the email accounts associated with your custom iCloud domain email you can get into a situation where you cannot click the re-verify button on the front end of iCloud’s custom email domain interface. The result is that while you see one thing on the graphical interface—a greyed out option to ‘re-verify’—folks at Apple/server-side do not see the same status. Level 1 and 2 support staff cannot help you at this stage.

As a result, you can (at this point) be in limbo insofar as email cannot be sent or received from your custom domain. Individuals who send you message will get errors that the email identify no longer exists. The only group at Apple who can help you, in this situation, are Apple’s engineering team.

That team apparently does not work weekends.

What does this mean for using custom email domains for iCloud? For many people not a lot: they aren’t moving their hosting around and so it’s very much a ‘set and forget’ situation. However, for anyone who does have an issue the Apple support staff lacks good documentation to determine where the problem lies and, as a result, can (frankly) waste an inordinate amount of time in trying to figure out what is wrong. I would hasten to note that the final Apple support member I worked with, Derek, was amazing in identifying what the issue was, communicating the challenges facing Apple internally, and taking ownership of the problem: Derek rocks. Apple support needs more people like him.

But, in the absence of being able to hire more Dereks, Apple needs better scripts to help their support staff assist users. And, moreover, the fact that Apple lacks a large enough engineering team to also have some people working weekends to solve issues is stunning: yes, hiring is challenging and expensive, but Apple is one of the most profitable companies in the world. Their lack of a true 24/7 support staff is absurd.

What’s the solution if you ever find yourself in this situation, then? Make sure that you’ve done what you can with your new domain settings and, then, just sit back and wait while Apple tries to figure stuff out. I don’t know how, exactly, Apple fixed this problem on their end, though when it is fixed you’ll get an immediate prompt on your iOS devices that you need to update your custom domain information. It’s quick to take the information provided (which will include a new DKIM record that is unique to your new domain) and then get Apple custom iCloud email working with whomever is managing your DNS records.

Ultimately, I’m glad this was fixed for me but, simultaneously, the ability of most of Apple’s support team to provide assistance was minimal. And it meant that for 3-4 days I was entirely without my primary email address, during a busy work period. I’m very, very disappointed in how this was handled irrespective of things ultimately working once again. At a minimum, Apple needs to update its internal scripts so that their frontline staff know the right questions to ask (e.g., did you change information about your website’s DNS information?) to get stuff moving in the right direction.

Hopes for WWDC 2022

Judgement
(Judgement by Christopher Parsons)

Apple’s Word Wide Developer Conference starts tomorrow and we can all expect a bunch of updates to Apple’s operating systems and, if we’re lucky, some new hardware. In no particular order, here are some things I want updated in iOS applications and, ideally, that developers could hook into as well.

Photos

  • The ability to search photos by different cameras and/or focal lengths
  • The ability to select a point on a photo to set the white point for exposure balancing when editing photos
  • Better/faster sync across devices
  • Enable ability to edit geolocation
  • Enable tags in photos

Camera

  • Working (virtual) spirit level!
  • Set burst mode to activate by holding the shutter button; this was how things used to be and I want the option to go back to the way things were!
  • Advanced metering modes, such as the ability to set center, multi-zone, spot, and expose for highlights!
  • Set and forget auto-focus points in the frame; not focus lock, but focus zones
  • Zone focusing

Maps

  • Ability to collaborate on a guide
  • Option to select who’s restaurant data is running underneath the app (I never will install Yelp which is the current app linked in Maps)

Music

  • Ability to collaborate on a playlist
  • Have multiple libraries: I want one ‘primary’ or ‘all albums’ and others with selected albums. I do not want to just make playlists

Reminders

  • Speed up sync across shared reminders; this matters for things like shared grocery shopping! 1
  • Integrate reminders’ date/time in calendar, as well as with whom reminders are shared

Messages

  • Emoji reactions
  • Integration with Giphy!

News

  • When I block a publication actually block it instead of giving me the option to see stories from publications I’ve blocked
  • It’d be great to see News updated so I can add my own RSS feeds

Fitness

  • Need ability to have off days; when sick or travelling or something it can be impossible to maintain streaks which is incredibly frustrating if you regularly live a semi-active life

Health

  • Show long-term data (e.g. year vs year vs year) in a user friendly way; currently this requires third-party apps and should be default and native

Of course, I’d also love to see Apple announce a new MacBook Air. I need a new laptop but don’t want to get one that’s about to be deprecated and just don’t need the power of the MacBook Pro line. Here’s hoping Apple makes this announcement next week!


  1. In general I want iCloud to sync things a hella lot faster! ↩︎
Aside

2022.4.9

I’ve been doing my own IT for a long while, as well as small tasks for others. But I haven’t had to do an email migration—while ensuring pretty well no downtime—in a long while.

Fortunately the shift from Google Mail (due to the deprecation of grandfathered accounts that offered free custom domain integration) to Apple’s iCloud+ was remarkably smooth and easy. Apple’s instructions were helpful as were those of the host I was dealing with. Downtime was a couple seconds, at most, though there was definitely a brief moment of holding my breath in fear that the transition hadn’t quite taken.

Link

‘Glass Time’ Shortcut

man people woman iphone
Photo by Ron Lach on Pexels.com

Like most photographers I edit my images with the brightness on my screen set to its maximum. Outside of specialized activities, however, I and others don’t tend to set the brightness this high so as to conserve battery power.

The result is that when we, as photographers, as well as members of the viewing public tend to look images on photography platforms we often aren’t seeing them as their creator(s) envisioned. The images are, quite starkly, darker on our screens than on those of the photographers who made them.1

For the past few months whenever I’ve opened Glass or looked at photos on other platforms I’m made an effort to ensure that I’ve maximized the brightness on my devices as I’ve opened the app. This said, I still forget sometimes and only realize halfway through a viewing session. So I went about ensuring this ‘mistake’ didn’t happen any more by creating a Shortcut called ‘Glass Time’!

The Shortcut is pretty simple: when I run it, it maximizes the brightness of my iOS device and opens the Glass app. If you download the Shortcut it’s pretty easy to modify it to instead open a different application (e.g., Instagram, 500px, Flickr, etc). It’s definitely improved my experiences using the app and helped me to better appreciate the images that are shared by individuals on the platform.

Download ‘Glass Time’ Shortcut


  1. Of course there are also issues associated with different devices having variable maximum brightness and colour profiles. These kinds of differences are largely intractable in the current technical milieu. ↩︎

Policing the Location Industry

Photo by Ingo Joseph on Pexels.com

The Markup has a comprehensive and disturbing article on how location information is acquired by third-parties despite efforts by Apple and Google to restrict the availability of this information. In the past, it was common for third-parties to provide SDKs to application developers. The SDKs would inconspicuously transfer location information to those third-parties while also enabling functionality for application developers. With restrictions being put in place by platforms such as Apple and Google, however, it’s now becoming common for application developers to initiate requests for location information themselves and then share it directly with third-party data collectors.

While such activities often violate the terms of service and policy agreements between platforms and application developers, it can be challenging for the platforms to actually detect these violations and subsequently enforce their rules.

Broadly, the issues at play represent significant governmental regulatory failures. The fact that government agencies often benefit from the secretive collection of individuals’ location information makes it that much harder for the governments to muster the will to discipline the secretive collection of personal data by third-parties: if the government cuts off the flow of location information, it will impede the ability of governments themselves obtain this information.

In some cases intelligence and security services obtain location information from third-parties. This sometimes occurs in situations where the services themselves are legally barred from directly collecting this information. Companies selling mobility information can let government agencies do an end-run around the law.

One of the results is that efforts to limit data collectors’ ability to capture personal information often sees parts of government push for carve outs to collecting, selling, and using location information. In Canada, as an example, the government has adopted a legal position that it can collect locational information so long as it is de-identified or anonymized,1 and for the security and intelligence services there are laws on the books that permit the collection of commercially available open source information. This open source information does not need to be anonymized prior to acquisition.2 Lest you think that it sounds paranoid that intelligence services might be interested in location information, consider that American agencies collected bulk location information pertaining to Muslims from third-party location information data brokers and that the Five Eyes historically targeted popular applications such as Google Maps and Angry Birds to obtain location information as well as other metadata and content. As the former head of the NSA announced several years ago, “We kill people based on metadata.”

Any arguments made by either private or public organizations that anonymization or de-identification of location information makes it acceptable to collect, use, or disclose generally relies tricking customers and citizens. Why is this? Because even when location information is aggregated and ‘anonymized’ it might subsequently be re-identified. And in situations where that reversal doesn’t occur, policy decisions can still be made based on the aggregated information. The process of deriving these insights and applying them showcases that while privacy is an important right to protect, it is not the only right that is implicated in the collection and use of locational information. Indeed, it is important to assess the proportionality and necessity of the collection and use, as well as how the associated activities affect individuals’ and communities’ equity and autonomy in society. Doing anything less is merely privacy-washing.

Throughout discussions about data collection, including as it pertains to location information, public agencies and companies alike tend to provide a pair of argument against changing the status quo. First, they assert that consent isn’t really possible anymore given the volumes of data which are collected on a daily basis from individuals; individuals would be overwhelmed with consent requests! Thus we can’t make the requests in the first place! Second, that we can’t regulate the collection of this data because doing so risks impeding innovation in the data economy.

If those arguments sound familiar, they should. They’re very similar to the plays made by industry groups who’s activities have historically had negative environmental consequences. These groups regularly assert that after decades of poor or middling environmental regulation that any new, stronger, regulations would unduly impede the existing dirty economy for power, services, goods, and so forth. Moreover, the dirty way of creating power, services, and goods is just how things are and thus should remain the same.

In both the privacy and environmental worlds, corporate actors (and those whom they sell data/goods to) have benefitted from not having to pay the full cost of acquiring data without meaningful consent or accounting for the environmental cost of their activities. But, just as we demand enhanced environmental regulations to regulate and address the harms industry causes to the environment, we should demand and expect the same when it comes to the personal data economy.

If a business is predicated on sneaking away personal information from individuals then it is clearly not particularly interested or invested in being ethical towards consumers. It’s imperative to continue pushing legislators to not just recognize that such practices are unethical, but to make them illegal as well. Doing so will require being heard over the cries of government’s agencies that have vested interests in obtaining location information in ways that skirt the law that might normally discipline such collection, as well as companies that have grown as a result of their unethical data collection practices. While this will not be an easy task, it’s increasingly important given the limits of platforms to regulate the sneaky collection of this information and increasingly problematic ways our personal data can be weaponized against us.


  1. “PHAC advised that since the information had been de-identified and aggregated, it believed the activity did not engage the Privacy Act as it was not collecting or using “personal information”. ↩︎
  2. See, as example, Section 23 of the CSE Act ↩︎

Solved: Set A Default Email Address in Apple Contacts

I figured out how to set a default email address for a contact in Apple Contacts, where the contact has multiple email addresses associated with them.

The Problem

Apple support claims that Siri is capable of learning which email address to use when someone you are contacting has multiple email addresses associated with them in your contact book. In my experience this is hit and miss. The result is that you need to check, each time, to ensure that an email is being sent to the correct email address.

The Solution

For the contact in question you must ensure that the email you want to most regularly contact them is the first email in the list of emails. Thus, if you had a set of emails ordered as such:

  • example1@email.me
  • example2@email.me
  • example3@email.me

and wanted ‘example 3@email.me’ to be the default email that you send message to, you would:

  1. Open Contacts and the individual’s card, and then click ‘Edit’
  2. Copy the email that you want to remove as the current default (e.g., example1@email.me)
  3. Create a new email record by clicking the field beside ‘Other’ at the bottom of the list and paste the email address you copied at 2
  4. In the top email field (i.e., example1@email.me) replace it with the preferred default email (e.g. example3@email.me)
  5. Delete the now-duplicated example3@email.me
  6. Click ‘done’

At the conclusion of this reordering, your email order list would appear as:

  • example3@email.me
  • example2@email.me
  • example1@email.me

The result of the reordering is that you should, by default, now send email to the contact’s example3@email.me. I hope this helps anyone else who’s running into this problem!

Vacation Street Photography Challenge

(Come Towards the Light by Christopher Parsons)

This year I took a very late vacation while Toronto was returning to its new normal. I’ve been capturing the city throughout the COVID-19 pandemic and I wanted to focus in on how the streets felt.

During the pandemic we’ve all been attached to our devices, and our phones in particular, and thus decided to document the city through the lens of our ever-present screen: the smartphone. I exclusively shot with my iPhone 12 Pro using the Noir filter. This filter created a strong black and white contrast, with the effect of deepening shadows and blacks and lifting highlights and whites. I choose this, over a monotone, as I wanted to emphasize that while the city was waking up there were still stark divides between the lived experiences of the pandemic and a continuation of strong social distancing from one another.

95% of my photos were captured using ProRaw with the exception of those where I wanted to utilize Apple’s long exposure functionality in the Photos application.

Darkroom Settings

In excess of the default Noir filter, I also created a secondary filter in Darkroom that adjusted what came off the iPhone just a bit to establish tones that were to my liking. My intent was to make the Noir that much punchier, while also trying to reduce a bit of the sharpness/clarity that I associate with Apple’s smartphone cameras. This adjustment reflected, I think, that digital communications themselves are often blurrier or more confused than our face-to-face interactions. Even that which seems clear, when communicated over digital systems, often carries with it a misrepresentation of meaning or intent.

(more…)