“Behind People’s Backs”

Filed Under Computers & Tech, Security on October 24, 2014 | 2 Comments

I’m fed up with people being dishonest about the new search feature in Yosemite. You can have reasonable discussions about the pros and cons of this feature, but for goodness sake enough with the fact-free hyperbole.

I’ve lost count of how many people insist Apple is sending this information back to Apple “behind people’s backs”. Sorry, but that is a fact-free assertion. The screenshot below shows the search feature in question:

Yosemite Spotlight Popover

Here it is again with the important aspects highlighted:

Yosemite Spotlight Popover (Anotated)

If that’s “behind people’s backs” then I’m the pope!

Something I will agree with critics on is that I think that link to instructions should be a button or checkbox to disable the feature. A link to instructions is nice, a button would be perfect!

This data is not being sent for no reason, it’s being sent to offer people a richer search experience, and Apple were actually playing catchup in this regard. Here’s what Microsoft say Windows 8.1 does:

By default, the Search charm searches the apps, files, and settings on your PC and OneDrive, plus the web.

The real question is whether or not Apple have thought about our privacy when implementing this feature, and whether or not they have designed the feature well. Here is what Apple say they do:

We are absolutely committed to protecting our users’ privacy and have built privacy right into our products. For Spotlight Suggestions we minimize the amount of information sent to Apple. Apple doesn’t retain IP addresses from users’ devices. Spotlight blurs the location on the device so it never sends an exact location to Apple. Spotlight doesn’t use a persistent identifier, so a user’s search history can’t be created by Apple or anyone else. Apple devices only use a temporary anonymous session ID for a 15-minute period before the ID is discarded.
We also worked closely with Microsoft to protect our users’ privacy. Apple forwards only commonly searched terms and only city-level location information to Bing. Microsoft does not store search queries or receive users’ IP addresses.
You can also easily opt out of Spotlight Suggestions, Bing or Location Services for Spotlight.

So, your searches are not tied to your Apple ID or any other persistent ID, instead, your device creates a new random identifier every 15 minutes, so your searches are anonymous, and most importantly, they can’t be profiled because the IDs are ephemeral. The fact that the device fuzzes the location before sending it on is also very good. The fact that IP details are not logged is also good. Finally, the fact that only a sub-set of the request is sent on to Bing is great.

I do not believe Apple would blatantly lie to users. For a start, as a publicly traded company that would almost certainly be criminal, but even leaving that aside, it would be spectacularly damaging for Apple to be caught lying about stuff like this.

Bottom line, Apple have been very open about this, Apple have implemented this feature with privacy in mind, and this feature is not unique to Apple OSes. Finally, if you want to opt-out, you can.

If this really is such a scandal, why is Windows 8.1 not coming under the same fire? *cough* link bait *cough*

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With the recent Flashback outbreak, Mac security has become very topical, getting a lot more discussion than it has for some time now. Unfortunately, I’ve seen a lot of FUD doing the rounds, particularly from AV vendors, who want to capitalise on the situation to scare as many people as possible into paying them for their products. People are looking for a simple message, but the reality is not at all simple. There is truth in most of the arguments you hear, but rarely the whole truth. This is because Apple are simultaneously badly behind on some of the simple stuff, and miles ahead of the pack on some of the more advanced stuff.

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Remembering Steve

Filed Under Computers & Tech on October 6, 2011 | 4 Comments

Steve Jobs 1955-2011

Apple have asked Mac fans to share their thoughts on today’s passing of Steve Jobs with them via rememberingsteve@apple.com. I’ve just sent off the email below – please consider taking some time out of your day today to share your thoughts too.

Subject: May his legacy out-shine his short time on this Earth

As one of the very many relatively recent Apple converts, I’d always hoped there’d be many more keynotes to come, and many more revolutions for Steve to introduce us all to. I wasn’t there for the unveiling of the Mac in 1984, or the iMac on Steve’s return to Apple, or OS X, or even the iPod, but I did get to enjoy the keynotes that introduced the world to the iPhone, the iPad, and iCloud. I think it’s safe to say that the first two of those have already revolutionised our interaction with the world, and I lets hope iCloud goes on to do the same.

I’m tempted to dwell on thoughts of all the great things Steve could have shared with the world had he been as immortal as we all wished, but I think that’s the wrong way to look at things. Steve planted a seed, watered it, and cared for it for years. That seed has developed into a strong and vibrant young tree, which is mature and strong enough stand alone now. It’s a tree that will bear many more great fruits, and each of those fruits will be infused with Steve’s passion and vision. I don’t think it’s possible to extract Steve’s values or aspirations from Apple any more, so in my mind, a part of him has found immortality. A strong, vibrant, and innovative Apple will serve as the best possible memorial to Steve. I hope his family and friends will be able to take some comfort from watching his legacy grow, mature, and blossom.

Here’s hoping that Steve’s legacy through Apple, Pixar, and his family, will stand as a beacon through time for much longer than the 56 short years of his life.

Bart Busschots,
co-Producer,
International Mac Podcast.

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With the release of Lion there seems to be wide-spread fear, bordering on panic in some quarters, that it’s the start of the end of the Mac. The feeling seems to be that Steve is pushing us all towards iPads and iPhones, and that he’s going to leave all us power users in the lurch. Sine Apple watching is so much like Kremlinology, we can’t just ask Apple PR where they are headed, we have to infer and imply based on the past and the present. The doom-sayers are projecting a future where Apple dumb-down their desktops and laptops to the point that they have no more power than their iPhones and iPads. When I look at the same past and present, I see Apple moving towards a very different future, not one where Macs become iPad-like, but one where Apple unify the look, feel and design philosophy across all their computing products, but where no features are lost. The best analogy I can come up with is the computing experience aboard the Star Ship Enterprise (the D of course), Apple are not moving to ‘iPadify’ the Mac, they are moving to ‘Startrekify’ their entire line.

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Following on from my post yesterday with three examples of using Automator to create Services, and some good suggestions in the comments, I spent some time this afternoon making the script in the third of those examples a little more efficient, and a lot more robust.

The Service I optimised was the one to strip keywords from image files. This Service assumes that both Growl and EXIFTool are installed, and that you’re running OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard or later.

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Automator IconSome Apple haters just love to say that there is nothing to a Mac except for flashy marketing. There are a million different reasons that’s BS, but one in particular is ease of automation. The learning curve to start automating your Mac is very short and very gentle. Without ever seeing a single line of code you can add your own custom functionality to OS X to relieve you of your most boring repetitive tasks. If you can tolerate seeing a line or two of code, you can take things even further and tie Unix command line tools straight into your GUI. The best candidates for automation are simple repetitive tasks that you do often. You might only save 30 seconds each time, but if do that 10 times a day that soon adds up! In this post I just want to give three simple examples to whet your appetite and hopefully get you thinking about some simple tasks in your computing life that you could easily automate.

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I’ve been saying for a long time that the iPad looks cool, but that I wouldn’t be buying this first incarnation of apple’s tablet. I had two reasons for that, firstly, for me, it felt like a solution in search of a problem, and secondly, I’m very grumpy about Apple not allowing the iPad to share the iPhone’s data connection via tethering. Before people jump on me, I want to clarify that I’m not saying that the iPad is a solution in search of a problem in any sort of universal sense, but just in terms of my life at the time. Well, I stuck to my word and didn’t buy an iPad, but I do now own one thanks to the generosity of Allison & Steve Sheridan of the NosillaCast. I’ve had it for a few days now, so I thought it might be worth sharing my first impressions.

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Apple have added in a few lines of extra language to their Developer Agreement for the latest version of their iPhone SDK. You can read the exact wording changes on Daring Fireball, but the effect of the language is that you have to use Apple’s XCode development environment to compile all your code. This has had the effect of killing some unsupported means of making iPhone apps, most notably MonoTouch and Adobe’s about-to-be-released iPhone Flash bundler in CS5. My initial reaction was very negative (ask my Twitter followers), but that was purely an emotional response because Apple didn’t give us any reason for this change. Because Apple didn’t explain themselves, we were left to come up with our own explanations, and the first few that came to my mind were none too positive. Ultimately, I greatly dislike Objective C, so I was pissed off at the alternatives getting the chop. But, slowly, a different story is emerging. I still haven’t heard anything official from Apple, but I think I understand what’s going on, and it changes my opinions significantly.

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My Aperture 3 Disaster

Filed Under Computers & Tech, Photography on February 21, 2010 | 7 Comments

When Apple announced Aperture 3 I was excited. The more I read about it on their site, and the more video demos I watched, the more I fell in love. The feature-list has everything I really wanted, and more besides. For me the really big deal was a power local adjustments feature, as well as Faces and Places. They also fixed some of my quibbles with Aperture 2. On paper this app was perfect for me. In reality however, it turns out not to be ready for the main-stream yet. The design is spot-on, but the implementation feels like a poor beta. As I write this I’ve down-graded back to Aperture 2.

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The iPad – First Thoughts

Filed Under Computers & Tech on January 27, 2010 | 24 Comments

These are my very first thoughts having just finished “watching” (or rather reading live blogs of) the event. At this stage I have more questions than answers in some regards, but, I have to say, I’m impressed. This was a tablet demo, what Balmer did a few short weeks ago at CES was a pathetic side-show – a feeble pre-emptive “me too” that’s clearly not even nearly enough to compete on quality.

It was great to see Steve set the scene and give us the philosophy behind the device. He basically talked us through Apple’s thinking on the space now inhabited by netbooks, i.e. the gap between laptops and smartphones. It was like he was telling us a story, and it made sense. You can’t deny that Apple have put a lot of thought into this thing. I’m pretty sure Jobs has been using one of these things for a while, and I think he’s really worked out what a tablet needs to be in order to really be useful.

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