Tech quote of the day

Our business is not based on having information about you. You’re not our product. Our product are these, and this watch, and Macs, and so forth. And so we run a very different company. I think everyone has to ask, how do companies make their money? Follow the money. And if they’re making money mainly by collecting gobs of personal data, I think you have a right to be worried. And you should really understand what’s happening to that data, and the companies — I think — should be very transparent.

Tim Cook, Apple CEO.

Edward Snowden calls out New Zealand’s Prime Minister

The Prime Minister of New Zealand, John Key, claims that the country’s security apparatus does not have any mass surveillance programs targeting its citizens. Writing in The Intercept, Edward Snowden claims that such denial is false. The entire article is worth a full read, but here is an excerpt:

Let me be clear: any statement that mass surveillance is not performed in New Zealand, or that the internet communications are not comprehensively intercepted and monitored, or that this is not intentionally and actively abetted by the GCSB, is categorically false. If you live in New Zealand, you are being watched. At the NSA I routinely came across the communications of New Zealanders in my work with a mass surveillance tool we share with GCSB, called “XKEYSCORE.” It allows total, granular access to the database of communications collected in the course of mass surveillance. It is not limited to or even used largely for the purposes of cybersecurity, as has been claimed, but is instead used primarily for reading individuals’ private email, text messages, and internet traffic. I know this because it was my full-time job in Hawaii, where I worked every day in an NSA facility with a top secret clearance.

The prime minister’s claim to the public, that “there is no and there never has been any mass surveillance” is false. The GCSB, whose operations he is responsible for, is directly involved in the untargeted, bulk interception and algorithmic analysis of private communications sent via internet, satellite, radio, and phone networks.

* * *

But what does it mean?

It means they have the ability see every website you visit, every text message you send, every call you make, every ticket you purchase, every donation you make, and every book you order online. From “I’m headed to church” to “I hate my boss” to “She’s in the hospital,” the GCSB is there. Your words are intercepted, stored, and analyzed by algorithms long before they’re ever read by your intended recipient.

Faced with reasonable doubts, ask yourself just what it is that stands between these most deeply personal communications and the governments of not just in New Zealand, but also the U.S., Canada, the U.K., and Australia?

Kudos to Snowden for speaking out, once again, in favor of citizen privacy rights and against the previously secret surveillance activities.

David Carr on Apple

David Carr, at the New York Times, offers his take on last week’s Apple event.


I didn’t attend last week’s Applemageddon of multiple product announcements — new phones, a watch and a mobile payment system — but I saw more of the same when I checked the coverage. And while I may not have been clapping, I found myself rooting for Apple to unveil something extraordinary.

When the event was over, you didn’t need a watch from the future to know what time it was: Apple had done it again. By choosing the same site where Mr. Jobs announced the Macintosh computer 30 years ago, and by archly referring to “one more thing” — a Jobs tic when breaking big news — Tim Cook, the chief executive, directly embraced his legacy and sent a message that the company still had magical properties.

A lot of the subsequent coverage has been ecstatic, much of it tinged with palpable relief that a Jobs-less Apple can still set the bar in new and unexpected ways.

“Apple definitely delivered,” Tim Stevens, editor at large at CNET, told CBS News. My colleague and fellow columnist Farhad Manjoo wrote, “The biggest news was about the old Apple: It’s back, and it’s more capable than ever,“ while Matt Burns of TechCrunch said the watch seemed “spectacular.”

Apple event “predictions”

John Kirk, writing at Tech.pinions, offers his predictions of the Apple event after the event. It is a great piece for any Apple watchers out there.


Sales Projections

Expected sales? AT&T said that iPhone 6 demand was “off the charts” and Apple has confirmed that the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus crushed earlier preorder records.  So how many are they going to sell?

My official answer to how many iPhones Apple will sell in the holiday quarter— crap tons. ~ Ben Bajarin (@BenBajarin)

Lindsey Graham wets his pants

Lindsey Graham has never seen a war or potential war that he didn’t like. But now ISIS has become war game. Here is what he said yesterday on Fox News Sunday:

There’s no way in hell you can form an army on the ground to go into Syria to destroy ISIL without a substantial American component. This president needs to rise to the occasion before we all get killed back here at home.

The man is truly unhinged.

Yahoo forces declassification of its challenge to PRISM in 2007

Yahoo has won a declassification of more than 1,500 pages of once secret documents related to a legal action filed by the NSA requiring Yahoo to provide user information to the agency. Yahoo lost the case, but has now been successful in proving that it did what it could, as a believer in privacy, to challenge the huge expansion of surveillance under the NSA’s PRISM program. The company has posted a release that says that the NSA threatened the company with fines of $250,000 per day if Yahoo refused to provide the requested information. A full read is recommended.


Today we are pleased to announce the release of more than 1,500 pages of once-secret papers from Yahoo’s 2007-2008 challenge to the expansion of U.S. surveillance laws.

In 2007, the U.S. Government amended a key law to demand user information from online services. We refused to comply with what we viewed as unconstitutional and overbroad surveillance and challenged the U.S. Government’s authority.

Our challenge, and a later appeal in the case, did not succeed. The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) upheld the predecessor to Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act. The Court ordered us to give the U.S. Government the user data it sought in the matter.

The FISC and the [FISC-Review Court] are “secret” courts that oversee requests by the U.S. Government for surveillance orders and other types of legal process in national security investigations. The Court’s hearings and records are closed to the public and typically classified. For example, our role in the 2007-2008 lawsuit remained classified until 2013. In spite of this, we fought to declassify and to share the findings from the case.




Apple Watch quote of the day

I’m not even sure we can call it a watch. Okay, it goes on the wrist, and it happens to tell the time, but that’s about where the similarities between Apple’s just announced watch and the hand-assembled, often painstakingly finished mechanical watches we write about, and obsess over, end. I was lucky enough to be invited to Cupertino to witness the announcement of the Apple Watch firsthand, and though I do not believe it poses any threat to haute horology manufactures, I do think the Apple Watch will be a big problem for low-priced quartz watches, and even some entry-level mechanical watches. In years to come, it could pose a larger threat to higher end brands, too. The reason? Apple got more details right on their watch than the vast majority of Swiss and Asian brands do with similarly priced watches, and those details add up to a really impressive piece of design. It offers so much more functionality than other digitals it’s almost embarrassing.

– Benjamin Clymber, writing at Hodinkee, in an article worth a full-read.

Launching war against ISIS not necessary

The US press, many in Congress, and the President himself are beating the drums of war and calling for military action against ISIS. I think the US is rushing into a terrible mistake based on fear rather than rationality. I consider what is being planned as yet another effort doomed to failure and carrying enormous risks all out of proportion to what we will pay in blood and treasure.

My view is similar to that of Retired Army Col. Douglas Macgregor, as quoted in The Intercept:

ISIS is a contemporary version of Mohammed’s 7th Century force with pickup trucks instead of horses, but with the same brutality. Its successful conquest of largely Sunni Arab areas in irrelevant desert is evidence for the weakness in those areas and their surroundings rather than strength on the part of ISIS.

Frankly, I think lots of Westerners with either no personal experience on the ground fighting and killing Arabs or with agendas (ideological or self-enrichment) are making a mountain range out of very small hills at best. Also, keep in mind if ISIS in Syria presented any real threat would the Israelis stand by and do nothing about it? Of course not.

Finally, we created the conditions for ISIS through our intervention and installation of Iranian power in Baghdad, but Riyadh, Ankara and Doha are now the recruiting and financial centers for ISIS. As long as they and their surrogates want to wage this proxy war against Iran and its satellites/allies the conflict will continue.

After the 1991 failure to remove S[addam] H[ussein] from power, we wasted two decades, trillions of dollars and thousands of lives on Iraq and the region. It’s time to stop.

The article from which the above quote is taken, written by Dan Froomkin, highlights many other US thinkers who believe that launching a war against ISIS is irrational and it is worth a full read.

And there is another point. Yesterday evening, during his speech to the country, Obama said the following:

[ISIS] poses a threat to the people of Iraq and Syria, and the broader Middle East – including American citizens, personnel and facilities. If left unchecked, these terrorists could pose a growing threat beyond that region – including to the United States.

Read that carefully. The President is acknowledging that ISIS is not an immediate threat to the US. This is hardly a basis for war.

Given that ISIS is not a direct threat against the US, at least at this time, we should drop our hubris and more thoughtfully decide whether this upcoming war is worth the costs.

The gold Apple Watch

Robert X. Cringely has an interesting take on the gold Apple watch.


In all the coverage and hype concerning Apple’s event on Tuesday I’d like to concentrate on one easily-overlooked product I feel is by far the most revolutionary of those announced. I am of course talking about the Apple Watch Edition — Apple’s gold watch.

Where we might expect an Apple Watch to be aimed at competitors like Samsung, LG, or even Sony, the Apple Watch Edition is aimed squarely at Rolex. It is Apple’s first-ever true luxury product.

There have been near-luxury products from Apple before, but nothing like the Apple Watch Edition, which I am convinced is the brainchild not of design director Jony Ive or CEO Tim Cook, but of SVP of Retail and Online Stores Angela Ahrendts (former CEO of Burberry) and Patrick Pruniaux, former VP of Sales and Retail at Swiss watchmaker (and LVMH brand) Tag Heuer.

Let’s consider for a moment what this gold watch means for Apple. They didn’t announce the price for the gold model, but given that we’re told the Apple Watch comes in three basic styles starting at $349 I’d guess that the gold model will list for 10 times that amount or $3495. 10X pricing is one of the fundamental definitions of a luxury product.

Insane, right?


That price puts the Apple Watch squarely in Rolexville and Heuerland.

Reactions to yesterday’s Apple event

Farhad Manjoo, New York Times:

Four times before in its history, at media events planned with military precision, Apple introduced a new invention that radically altered how the technology industry conceived of its future. The company hopes it did that again for a fifth time on Tuesday by unveiling the Apple Watch, a stylish smartwatch that is the company’s first advance into a new product category since it created the iPad in 2010.

Yet in some ways, the most consequential headline at the event went unannounced. The biggest news was about the old Apple: It’s back, and it’s more capable than ever.

Any question about how well Tim Cook, Apple’s chief executive, is managing the reins of the world’s most valuable company will most likely be put to rest after Tuesday’s profusion of product announcements at the Flint Center in Cupertino, Calif., where Steve Jobs first showed off the Macintosh in 1984.

The announcements included two large-screen iPhones and a new electronic payment system that allows users to make purchases at stores through their phones.

Apple, under Mr. Cook, looks every bit as daunting to rivals as it did under its iconic co-founder, Mr. Jobs.

Walt Mossberg, re/code:

The Tim Cook era at Apple emerged onto the public stage today in full force, and it bears subtle differences from Steve Jobs’s Apple.

Jobs liked to say that Apple lived at the intersection of technology and liberal arts. He even appeared next to a huge slide showing a mock-up of the crossroad of streets bearing those names.

Tim Cook’s Apple appears headed to some different street corners — the intersections of technology and fashion, and technology and banking.

Steve Jobs at the intersection of technology and liberal arts
The company has entered new product categories — smartwatches and mobile payments — for the first time since the iPad was unveiled by Jobs in 2010. And the two new iPhone models it introduced at a lavish ceremony today were the first wholly new designs since Jobs’s death in 2011.

At the event today announcing those new products, it was crystal-clear that Apple sees itself as a financial player and a company aligned with the fashion world, via the stylish watches and bands it showed off.

And it was also crystal-clear that Cook is finally getting Apple moving forward again in a big way, and taking some different paths. In fact, it’s hard to remember when Apple, at least in recent years, has entered two big new product categories on the same day.

Nilay Patel, The Verge:

I just had the chance to play with the larger 5.5-inch iPhone 6 Plus, and while it’s nothing surprising after all the leaks, it’s still a fascinating phone. It’s right in the middle of the familiar iPhone experience and the iPad; enough so that it’s hard to see why anyone would want an iPad mini if they have this larger iPhone.

If you’ve seen the leaks, you already have a good understanding of what this larger iPhone looks like, but in person it’s not at all what you’d expect.

First off, it’s much smaller in the hand than I expected — the thinness really helps here. And the screen is just stunning; it looks more like you’re touching pixels than ever before, and the rounded edges make it somewhat easier to hold. I have big hands and can reach across the the entire display with my thumb one-handed, though, so I’ll have to ask someone with smaller hands here what they think. I’m especially curious about the double-tap on the home button that slides the interface down to make one-handed operation easier; I’ll never use it since I don’t have to, but it’s a unique riff on the idea of one-handed operation.

Philip Elmer-DeWitt sums up the Wall Street analysts views here, if scroll down a bit.

RIP iPod classic

English: iPod Classic 120GB Silver, Next to or...
English: iPod Classic 120GB Silver, Next to original box. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The iPod classic was my all-time favorite music player (at least until the iPhone came along). And now, finally, Apple has killed the product. My very old iPod classic, however, still works like a dream.

Your NSA: putting the dumb in freedom