Links for December 7-11, 2020

Links for December 7-11, 2020

  • Frustrating the state: Surveillance, public health, and the role of civil society || “…surveillance in times of crisis poses another threat. By granting states unfettered power through emergency orders, data collected through digital surveillance could be shared across agencies and used for purposes beyond the original intention of fighting COVID-19. In states where democratic backsliding has been underway, surveillance could be used to deter dissent and silence government critics. According to Verisk Maplecroft, a risk consultancy firm, Asia is now the highest risk region in both their “Right to Privacy” and “Freedom of Opinion and Expression” indices as “strongmen” in Asia capitalize on the pandemic.” // Surveillance is, almost by its nature, inequitable and the potential harms linked with pandemic surveillance are neither novel nor unforeseeable.
  • Rebecca Solnit: On not meeting nazis halfway || “… the truth is not some compromise halfway between the truth and the lie, the fact and the delusion, the scientists and the propagandists. And the ethical is not halfway between white supremacists and human rights activists, rapists and feminists, synagogue massacrists and Jews, xenophobes and immigrants, delusional transphobes and trans people. Who the hell wants unity with Nazis until and unless they stop being Nazis?”
  • Instagram’s latest middle finger || “…Instagram is now nearly completely unrecognizable from the app that I fell in love with. The feed of images is still key, but with posting now shoved into a corner, how long until that feed becomes a secondary part of the service?” // Cannot agree more.
  • The Epicenter // The storytelling for this piece on the experiences of the Covid-19 outbreak is poorer areas of New York by the NYT is simultaneously beautiful and heartbreaking.
  • Poor security at online proctoring company may have put student data at risk || “Kumar, CEO of Proctortrack’s parent company Verificient, says students have “valid concerns” and that he sympathizes with their discomfort. Proctoring software is “intrusive by nature” he says, but “if there’s no proctoring solution, institutions will have to totally change how they provide exams. Often you can’t do that given the time and limitations we have.”” // Justifying producing a gross product on the basis that if you didn’t other organizations would have to behave more ethically is a very curious, and weird, way of defending your company’s very existence.
  • China rethinking its role || “China’s use of war memory to shape its international position has been much less effective overseas than it has at home. However, the significance of its efforts is real, and may become more effective over time. China wants to create a global narrative around itself which shares a common understanding of the modern world – the idea that 1945 is the beginning of the current order – but places China at the heart of the creation and management of that order. The narrative had more power during an era when the US, anomalously, had a leader who cared little for the order shaped by America in Asia since 1945. Now that a president with a more long-range view of the role of the United States is about to take office, we may see something different again: two differing versions of what 1945 meant in Asia, as defined by Beijing and Washington – and the competition for moral standing that comes from the embrace of that legacy.” // This is a fascinating recounting of how China is re-interpreting activities undertaken by Nationalist forces during World War Two, today, to justify its efforts to be more assertive in the international order today. Like so much in China, understanding how narratives are built and their domestic and foreign rationales and perceived utility is critical to appreciate the country’s foreign policy ambitions, and those ambitions’ potentials and limitations.

The constraint on the Move goal is my rest days. I don’t do yoga on Tuesdays or Thursdays. Instead, I cook, usually in big enough portions that I can use the leftovers for lunch the next day. The relevant thing here is that cooking takes time; I can’t work out and cook at the same time. Without rest days, I hardly cook at all, which means I spend more money on takeout, which is generally worse for me than the foods I prepare myself.

The Apple Watch doesn’t care about any of this. Rest days are the limiting factor on my ability to hit my Move goal — while I easily hit 700 calories by the Watch’s measure on my workout days, I move a lot less when I take time off from working out. But rest days are crucial for exercise: they let your body recover. Without recovery, you don’t get the strength you’re trying to build, and you place yourself at risk for overuse injuries.

At times I remind myself of what Blahnik said: this is a minimum. You’re supposed to beat it. This reminder makes me feel worse, not better. I stop letting the Watch set my Move goal. It is too unkind to me.

The Move goal is adjustable — I can lower it at any time — but there’s no way to program the Watch to consistently honor my rest days. I just have to manually lower the goal for that day, and then raise it for the next one. Unfortunately, this requires too much of my attention. I have actual things to do that are more important than manually telling my fitness app to let me rest, so mostly I forget to do it until it’s too late. Even when I remember, I wind up with a different problem: I forget to reset the Watch to a higher Move goal the next day. I spent one week being psyched that I hit my goal only to discover that I had only hit the lowered goal.

In my case, it drives me nuts that if I’m sick for a few days that my fitness streaks go to hell. Or if I’m travelling, and I can’t move as much as normal because I’m stuck in a flying coffin for 6-16 hours I get penalized. It’s a serious failing of the current iterations of the software though, also, a failing that Apple or other companies could correct if they just invested the time and energy. Maybe they could talk to real or normal users of their technologies?


On Creating a Prototype Transparency Notice

On Creating a Prototype Transparency Notice:

… the traditional website privacy policy is failing to protect the interests of online consumers. The argument was based on the idea that the privacy policy’s main goal was to protect the owners of the site, and that it had been mis-sold as a vehicle for better consumer information.

Instead, we put forward the idea of a transparency statement, as a device solely dedicated to informing visitors, principally about how their information is treated. When writing the article, we had no idea really what the transparency statement would look like, but of course the immediate challenge coming back was to produce one.

I think everyone who’s reasonable can agree that privacy policies are an insufficient way of informing individuals about how their personal information is collected, retained, used, and disclosed. But I don’t think that a ‘transparency notice’ is quite the response either. I also have no real clue as to what the appropriate solution really should be…

Facebook’s ‘Other’ Folder

David Pogue’s recent post on Facebook’s ‘Other’ folder notes how the company is effectively hiding a significant number of legitimate messages from its users in an attempt to prevent spam and ‘unimportant’ messages from disturbing subscribers. What follows are a few examples of legitimate messages that subscribers missed because they were placed in this folder:

  • “Notification of the death of a friend was hidden in my Other box. I had been very hurt at not being told, and actually missed her funeral.”
  • “I just checked my ‘Other’ folder and found out that I won a free high-end kitchen faucet for a contest I entered last year. Rats.”
  • “Just looked at my ‘Other’ messages and found one about a job opening — in 2011. Think it’s been filled?”
  • “Whoa! There’s tons of important messages in here. Former students of mine were trying to reach out to me. I can’t believe Facebook doesn’t notify you in any way about these.”
  • “Unbelievable! My husband’s wallet was lost and presumed stolen — someone had found it a year ago and sent us a Facebook message, which was hidden until now! Thanks so much.”
  • “Just checked and found a message from someone telling me that they found my lost wallet…a year ago. They really need to redo some thinking on that ‘other’ folder.”

The intent of Facebook’s filtering is noble, insofar as it’s meant to cut down on the cruft and spam that people inevitably get in their email inboxes on a daily basis. I’m sure that the logic is as follows: if we can get people to like using Facebook messages more than email, then we can convince people to rely on our corporate system and wean people off of their traditional email services. Unfortunately, it looks like Facebook’s filtering system suffers from flaws, just as their competitors’ systems do. Worse, and unlike most of their competitors, Facebook subscribers can’t access this folder from their tablets or smartphones without visiting Facebook via the web interface. So, for people that predominantly engage with Facebook using the company’s mobile applications, this folder is effectively invisible. Messages simply vanish into a black hole. This is a very bad thing.

While Facebook’s system makes sense, I suspect that a great many people are as ignorant of the ‘Other’ folder’s existence as the people who wrote to Pogue. This information asymmetry between the developers and users suggests a problem in the UX or UI, insofar as it shouldn’t be a shock that this folder exists. Good UI and UX will prevent subscribers from getting ‘shocked’ about the existence of hidden messages, and will help ensure that the service remains ‘sticky’ for its user base.

Network effects can stymie subscriber churn but they can’t stop it entirely. If Facebook undermines professional or personal networks because of how it handles suspected ‘unimportant’ messages, then the network effect that Facebook currently enjoys could be weakened and expose a part of Facebook’s flank to companies that are more attuned to people’s communicative interests and desires. It will be curious to see how/whether Facebook incorporates the information that arose from Pogue’s columns, and if they actually modify users’ interfaces such that the ‘Other’ folder is more prominently displayed. At the very least, something should change in the mobile applications so users can at least theoretically access all of those ‘unimportant’ messages.


…tablets have gotten so cheap that it’s hard to make a case that spending $500+ on a new Windows 8 machine is better than just keeping what you have and spending $200 on a cheap tablet. That goes double when the cheap tablet in question has hundreds of thousands more apps. Throw in an unfamiliar user interface, and you’re basically telling people to please leave the Microsoft Store.

* Pete Pachal, “The Problem With Windows 8

Windows 8 has a new design paradigm; to find programs’  settings you must hover your cursor to the right of the screen. There is no indication that these settings panels exist.

The new paradigm can be contrasted against the ‘early’ Metro paradigm in Windows Phone. Under the ‘old’ paradigm ellipses are used to indicate additional options. The translation of Metro to the desktop – insofar as ellipses are being removed – strikes me as a poor decision for two reasons:

  1. It breaks Metro UI tenants that Windows Phone users have learned;
  2. The Mail settings aren’t linked with any OS-wide settings (so far as I can tell), which means that if you don’t figure out the ‘hover to the right’ paradigm you can spend considerable time getting frustrated trying to just add a new mail account.

There has to be some indication to users that additional information (i.e. the settings panel) exists or the settings should be accessible in multiple locations. Failure to accommodate these needs should be understood as design failures insofar as UI parsimony is damaging the overall UX.