Mossberg: Apple’s apps need work

Mossberg: Apple’s apps need work
Complexity, feature gaps, and bugs have crept in
By Walt Mossberg
Feb 3 2016

People think of Apple as a maker of excellent premium hardware. In fact, many reviewers regard Apple devices as the best you can buy. For instance, I’m on record as saying its most important product, the iPhone, is the best smartphone on the market. So is The Verge overall.

But there’s more than just metal, glass, and silicon to these products. Apple’s built-in software is a huge part of the experience, and has been since the company introduced the first Mac in 1984. Whether it’s the operating systems or the core apps, a major aspect of what makes both users and reviewers value Apple products is software that melds power, reliability, and ease of use. “It just works!” was a favorite Steve Jobs phrase.

In the last couple of years, however, I’ve noticed a gradual degradation in the quality and reliability of Apple’s core apps, on both the mobile iOS operating system and its Mac OS X platform. It’s almost as if the tech giant has taken its eye off the ball when it comes to these core software products, while it pursues big new dreams, like smartwatches and cars.

Let me be clear: most of the time, in most scenarios, I find the core Apple apps work well enough, sometimes delightfully well. Otherwise, I couldn’t recommend the hardware. I love iMessage, the new Notes, Apple Pay, Touch ID, Safari, AirPlay, and more. And it isn’t as though the core apps made by competitors are generally fabulous.

But the exceptions are increasing. And I hold Apple to its own, higher, often-proclaimed standard, based on all those “It just works” claims and the oft-repeated contention by Mr. Jobs and his successor, Tim Cook, that Apple is in business to make “great products.” Apple’s advantage is that it designs and builds software together, so if the software isn’t excellent, it does the superlative hardware a disservice.


National Security Agency plans major reorganization

National Security Agency plans major reorganization
By Ellen Nakashima
Feb 2 2016

The National Security Agency, the largest electronic spy agency in the world, is undertaking a major reorganization, merging its offensive and defensive organizations in the hope of making them more adept at facing the digital threats of the 21st century, according to current and former officials.

In place of the Signals Intelligence and Information Assurance directorates — the organizations that historically have spied on foreign targets and defended classified networks against spying, respectively — the NSA is creating a Directorate of Operations that combines the operational elements of each.

“This traditional approach we have where we created these two cylinders of excellence and then built walls of granite between them really is not the way for us to do business,” said NSA Director Michael S. Rogers, hinting at the reorganization — dubbed NSA21 — that is expected to be publicly rolled out this week.

“We’ve got to be flat,” he told an audience at the Atlantic Council last month. “We’ve got to be agile.”

Some lawmakers who have been briefed on the broad parameters consider restructuring a smart thing to do because an increasing amount of intelligence and threat activity is coursing through global computer networks.

“When it comes to cyber in particular, the line between collection capabilities and our own vulnerabilities — between the acquisition of signals intelligence and the assurance of our own information — is virtually nonexistent,” said Rep. Adam B. Schiff (Calif.), the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee. “What is a vulnerability to be patched at home is often a potential collection opportunity abroad and vice versa.”

But there have been rumblings of discontent within the NSA, which is based at Fort Meade, Md., as some fear a loss of influence or stature.

Some advocates for the comparatively small Information Assurance Directorate, which has about 3,000 people, fear that its ability to work with industry on cybersecurity issues will be undermined if it is viewed as part of the much larger “sigint” collection arm, which has about eight times as many personnel. The latter spies on overseas targets by hacking into computer networks, collecting satellite signals and capturing radio waves.

“The NSA21 initiative will ensure the National Security Agency continues to be the preeminent signals intelligence and information assurance organization in the world,” said Jonathan Freed, director of strategic communications at the NSA. “These core missions are critical as we position NSA to face complex and evolving threats to the nation. Out of respect for our workforce, we cannot comment on any details or speculation before the plan is announced.”


The Scariest Cable Merger Nobody In Washington Is Talking About

The Scariest Cable Merger Nobody In Washington Is Talking About
By Michael Copps
Feb 1 2016

When Comcast tried to merge with Time Warner Cable last year, reaction was swift and negative. Not many people liked the idea of America’s largest and least loved cable company getting any bigger; the deal collapsed after hundreds of thousands of Americans spoke out and federal regulators signaled that they would not let it go forward.

Big Cable should have gotten the message. But here we are just a year later with a new cable mega-merger in the works. This time, Charter Communications wants to snatch up Time Warner Cable along with Bright House Networks.

Unfortunately, this deal hasn’t received nearly as much public attention as the Comcast-Time Warner Cable proposal. The harms it presents are just as serious however — serious enough for lawmakers and regulators to give this outrageous proposal the attention it merits.

Let’s start with some basics. The three merging companies would create a new Mega Cable company, controlling about one-third of the nation’s cable and cable broadband markets. In addition, the new colossus would own programming, including regional sports networks all across the country, and would completely dominate some of America’s largest media markets, including New York City, Los Angeles, Dallas, Charlotte, Tampa Bay, Orlando and St. Louis. Finally, the combined companies would have an anticompetitive incentive to preference their streaming video offering over that of competitors.

When you add it up, the new company would look a lot like, well, Comcast. Yes, this merger would create a new Comcast — a national cable giant with the ability and the incentive to thwart competition, diversity, and consumer choice.

And it gets worse. Because they don’t compete in any markets, Comcast and the new Mega Cable company would stand shoulder-to-shoulder in control of more than 70 percent of the high-speed broadband market. The two companies would have no incentive to compete against each other, but every incentive to coordinate against their shared marketplace competitors.

Thanks to services like Netflix, Hulu, and Sling, television is are in the midst of a creative renaissance. These emerging services are finally breaking the decades-long stranglehold of the cable bundle on American consumers who have been forced to collectively fork over billions of dollars in monthly cable bills, largely to pay for channels they never watch. The services’ growth has been fabulous for consumers, content creators, and workers in the entertainment industry. Now, just when competition is finally gaining traction, the Comcast-Mega Cable duopoly could squash it.

Then there is the issue of independent programming. Already, too much of the cable dial is filled with content produced by a handful of media conglomerates. When the vast majority of cable homes are served by just two companies, it will become even harder for independent and diverse voices to gain a foothold. That is especially problematic because Comcast and the new Mega Cable will own content that directly competes with independent programmers.


Re: FBI’s war on encryption is unnecessary because the Internet of Things will spy on us just fine

[Note:  This comment comes from friend Steve Schear.  DLH]

From: Steven Schear <>
Subject: Re: [Dewayne-Net] FBI’s war on encryption is unnecessary because the Internet of Things will spy on us just fine
Date: February 2, 2016 at 2:25:41 PM EST
In a similar way that those (like me) without a social web site account (or one obviously linked to them) may be viewed as odd or suspicious by some friends or potential employers there will almost certainly be a social contingent that rejects IoT (or only purchases devices those that can be adequately secured, which may be very few if history is any guide). I am certainly one of the New Luddites.
Tay Zonday, Internet Dream
FBI’s war on encryption is unnecessary because the Internet of Things will spy on us just fine
By Xeni Jardin
Feb 1 2016

Re: US and Europe agree to shield data from mass surveillance

[Note:  This comment comes from a reader of Dave Farber’s IP List.  DLH]

From: Chris Beck <>
Subject: Re: [IP] US and Europe agree to shield data from mass surveillance
Date: February 2, 2016 at 2:29:55 PM EST
To: Dave Farber <>

IANAL but I call shenanigans. No details. Just a verbal agreement that they will agree. Last ditch effort to avoid the problem of admitting that they blew the deadline. I don’t think that it is illegal per se, but I’d be very suspicious of anyone claiming that it (or the old regulations) were still enforceable. I’d think that any US company accepting European data from today is opening themselves up to trouble.


US and Europe agree to shield data from mass surveillance


By Ashley Carman


Feb 2 2016





Re: FCC Allows Further Testing of LTE Service in Unlicensed Spectrum Used by Wi-Fi

[Note:  This comment comes from a reader of Dave Farber’s IP List.  DLH]

From: Brett Glass <>
Date: February 1, 2016 at 7:20:13 PM EST
Subject: Re: [IP] FCC Allows Further Testing of LTE Service in Unlicensed Spectrum Used by Wi-Fi

Dave, and everyone:

LTE will never be a “good neighbor” to other spectrum users — especially WISPs, for whom the 5 GHz spectrum is crucial for the point-to-point links that hold their networks together. These links use high gain antennas to connect access points up to 20 miles apart, and if there is an LTE-U site anywhere within the antenna’s beam, or near it, the links will simply fail.

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler consistently gives lip service to the mantra, “Competition, Competition, Competition” — and yet appears to be doing nothing about this extremely serious threat to it. Cellular providers — the world’s largest hoarders of licensed spectrum — already have ample spectrum of their own; they have no actual need to destroy the utility of the spectrum commons upon which small competitors — shut out of the auctions by the moguls’ pre-emptive bids — depend. LTE-U is an existential threat to competition and should be prohibited, just as Metricom’s attempt to commandeer the 900 MHz band was halted by modifications to Part 15 of the FCC’s rules in the late 90s. If this is not done, all consumers will suffer from a lack of choice and competition.

–Brett Glass


FCC Allows Further Testing of LTE Service in Unlicensed Spectrum Used by Wi-Fi


By Ina Fried


Jan 31 2016



Snowden intelligence docs reveal UK spooks’ malware checklist

Snowden intelligence docs reveal UK spooks’ malware checklist
By Cory Doctorow
Feb 2 2016

Boing Boing is proud to publish two original documents disclosed by Edward Snowden, in connection with “Sherlock Holmes and the Adventure of the Extraordinary Rendition,” a short story written for Laura Poitras’s Astro Noise exhibition, which runs at NYC’s Whitney Museum of Modern Art from Feb 5 to May 1, 2016. 

“I’d tell you, but I’d have to kill you.” This is what I shout at the TV (or the Youtube window) whenever I see a surveillance boss explain why none of his methods, or his mission, can be subjected to scrutiny. I write about surveillance, counter surveillance, and civil liberties, and have spent a fair bit of time in company with both the grunts and the generals of the surveillance industry, and I can always tell when one of these moments is coming up, the flinty-eyed look of someone about play Jason Bourne. 

The stories we tell ourselves are the secret pivots on which our lives turn. So when Laura Poitras approached me to write a piece for the Astro Noise book — to accompany her show at the Whitney — and offered me access to the Snowden archive for the purpose, I jumped at the opportunity.

Fortuitously, the Astro Noise offer coincided perfectly with another offer, from Laurie King and Leslie Klinger. Laurie is a bestselling Holmes writer; Les is the lawyer who won the lawsuit that put Sherlock Holmes in the public domain, firmly and unequivocally. Since their legal victory, they’ve been putting together unauthorized Sherlock anthologies, and did I want to write one for “Echoes of Holmes,” the next one in line?

The two projects coincided perfectly. Holmes, after all, is the master of HUMINT, (human intelligence), the business of following people around, getting information from snitches, dressing up in putty noses and fake beards… Meanwhile, his smarter brother Mycroft is a corpulent, sedentary presence in the stories, the master of SIGINT (signals intelligence), a node through which all the intelligence of the nation flows, waiting to be pieced together by Mycroft and his enormous intellect. The Mycroft-Sherlock dynamic perfectly embodies the fraternal rivalry between SIGINT and HUMINT: Sherlock chases all around town dressed like an old beggar woman or similar ruse, catches his man and hands him over to Scotland Yard, and then reports in to Mycroft, who interrupts him before he can get a word out, arching an eyebrow and saying, “I expect you found that it was the Bohemian stable-hand all along, working for those American Freemasons who were after the Sultan’s pearls, was it not?”

In 2014, I watched Jennifer Gibson from the eminent prisoners’ rights group Reprieve talking about her group’s project to conduct a census of those killed by US drone strikes in Yemen and Pakistan. The CIA conducts these strikes, using SIGINT to identify mobile phones belonging to likely targets and dispatch killer drones to annihilate anything in their vicinity. As former NSA and CIA director Michael Hayden once confessed: “We kill people based on metadata.”

But the CIA does not specialize in SIGINT (that’s the NSA’s job). For most of its existence, the CIA was known as a HUMINT agency, the masters of disguise and infiltration..

That was the old CIA. The new CIA is just another SIGINT agency. Signals Intelligence isn’t just an intelligence methodology, it’s a great business. SIGINT means huge procurements — servers, administrators, electricity, data-centers, cooling — while HUMINT involves sending a lot of your friends into harm’s way, potentially never to return. 

We are indeed in the “golden age of SIGINT”. Despite security services’ claims that terrorists are “going dark” with unbreakable encryption, the spooks have done much to wiretap the whole Internet. 

The UK spy agency GCHQ really tipped their hand when they called their flagship surveillance program “Mastering the Internet.” Not “Mastering Cybercrime,” not “Mastering Our Enemies.” Mastering the *Internet* — the very same Internet that everyone uses, from the UK’s allies in the Five Eyes nations to the UK Parliament to Britons themselves. Similarly, a cursory glance at the logo for the NSA’s Special Source Operations — the fiber-tapping specialists at the NSA — tells the whole story.