Steve Streza

Software developer, comic book writer, video creator, hobbyist located in Seattle, WA.

Separating Apple Watch from iPhone as a Public Health Good


At their September event, Apple spoke of their annual upgrades to their iPhone and Apple Watch lines. While the iPhone update was mostly limited to the processor and camera, the Apple Watch had some more significant improvements, notably including the capability to capture an electrocardiogram, atril fibrillation detection, fall detection, and an emergency SOS feature.

While the original pitch for the Apple Watch included health features, it was more concerned with being a workout accessory and general activity tracker. Over the years, it has grown more sophisticated at being not just an accessory, but a true guardian of the wearer’s health. Features like ResearchKit are making it possible for medical research to be conducted on people on a daily basis. It’s clear Apple is going to continue moving the Apple Watch in this direction.

This has potential to be transformative to public health, but there’s a problem: this device is limited to people who have iPhones, which makes up about 2 in 5 US phones and 1 in 5 phones worldwide. That means these features are not available to the vast majority of smartphone users, a market that is currently starved for a comparable product. And while there are finally some signs of life for an alternate smartwatch platform, Apple’s actively working with the FDA on some of their features; they’re simply better positioned to have accurate results.

When the iPhone launched, it was tethered to a computer running iTunes, but with its fifth release, the iPhone went PC-free and became fully self-sufficient. While it’s unlikely that the Apple Watch could ever be completely run without a connection to some other device, surely there will be many features that aren’t dependent on an iPhone. The health care features alone would be transformative for many people; there are absolutely people who would buy an Apple Watch just to have a modern health guardian device. Are they obligated to make the Watch work without the iPhone? Of course not. But it would dramatically expand the market for the device, and provide a marked improvement to the health and lives of people who can’t get one today.

Firefox is going to start being more aggressive about blocking slow and invasive trackers by default. This is a great move to speed up the web and make things more secure and private by default. And there’s a way to enable it today.

Long page load times are detrimental to every user’s experience on the web. For that reason, we’ve added a new feature in Firefox Nightly that blocks trackers that slow down page loads. We will be testing this feature using a shield study in September. If we find that our approach performs well, we will start blocking slow-loading trackers by default in Firefox 63.

In the physical world, users wouldn’t expect hundreds of vendors to follow them from store to store, spying on the products they look at or purchase. Users have the same expectations of privacy on the web, and yet in reality, they are tracked wherever they go. Most web browsers fail to help users get the level of privacy they expect and deserve.

In order to help give users the private web browsing experience they expect and deserve, Firefox will strip cookies and block storage access from third-party tracking content. We’ve already made this available for our Firefox Nightly users to try out, and will be running a shield study to test the experience with some of our beta users in September. We aim to bring this protection to all users in Firefox 65, and will continue to refine our approach to provide the strongest possible protection while preserving a smooth user experience.

Deceptive practices that invisibly collect identifiable user information or degrade user experience are becoming more common. For example, some trackers fingerprint users — a technique that allows them to invisibly identify users by their device properties, and which users are unable to control. Other sites have deployed cryptomining scripts that silently mine cryptocurrencies on the user’s device. Practices like these make the web a more hostile place to be. Future versions of Firefox will block these practices by default.

Firefox got really good last year and you should be using it.

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In my last website post I talked about my plans for setting up website notifications on AWS Lambda and DynamoDB. The idea is that a function on AWS Lambda would get called when the site had an update, which would fetch all the site data, diff it against the previous state, and determine which pages actually changed. Those changes would get saved to AWS DynamoDB, which has a streaming feature that other AWS Lambda functions can be triggered by for each event. Multiple Lambda functions (one for each service) would get those updates and fire off whatever integration was necessary for each service.

This would put the burden of running the service and hosting the data to Amazon’s ops crew, which is undoubtedly better than what I would have set up. As long as I stayed within the limits of the AWS free tier, which looked pretty decent, I would be able to run this in perpetuity, right?

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I created an account on Mastodon.social, you can find me on @stevestreza@mastodon.social. If you’re into that sort of thing, you can follow me over there.

Eventually I hope to create an ActivityPub setup that can publish directly to my own site and the Mastodon network. But until then, this is good enough. Between Twitter’s ongoing moral cowardice and their ongoing hostility towards the developers that made them what they are, I can’t continue siloing my data there.

But Mastodon is so far revealing itself to be much more pleasant than Twitter, and it has some interesting forward-thinking decisions that I’ll talk more about later. In the meantime, go find me on there. You can sign up on the instance I use, Mastodon.social, or you can sign up at any number of other instances, such as those found on instances.social or joinmastodon.org. Even if you sign up on a different instance, just search for my handle @stevestreza@mastodon.social and it should work just fine.

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Apple’s App Review has made another sweeping change that is disrupting the lives of developers yesterday, kicking out a bunch of apps without warning that are for gambling. Many of the apps involved have either nothing resembling gambling mechanics in them. And many of these are from small developers who effectively have no recourse.

It appears that this was a massive overreach that is actively getting walked back by Apple, but it still highlights the fact that Apple can and will terminate your business on a whim, without warning, based on whatever reason they like. And since you can’t bypass the App Store like you can on Android, if your business depends on this, you’re toast. Decisions like this are why I don’t make my own iOS apps anymore.

Apple’s official line:

In order to reduce fraudulent activity on the App Store and comply with government requests to address illegal online gambling activity, we are no longer allowing gambling apps submitted by individual developers. This includes both real money gambling apps as well as apps that simulate a gambling experience.

As a result, this app has been removed from the App Store. While you can no longer distribute gambling apps from this account, you may continue to submit and distribute other types of apps to the App Store.

They’ve pulled magazine app (since restored), a GIF search app (since restored), a YouTube search app (since restored), a YouTube player, a photography app, a Reddit client (since restored), and many others. It’s unclear if these were all automated, though in at least one case it appeared to involve a call to Apple developer support. There’s also an 11 year old blackjack game and a poker chips calculator app, which possibly could fall under some definition of “simulated gambling”, which is now apparently against the rules for some reason.

Since there is no oversight of App Review or the rulings it makes, there is no way to know the full extent of the bans, how many apps were affected, or what percentage of them are being reinstated. Still, it sounds like this was an error at least some of the apps are returning. I’m sure the developers could’ve done without the panic attack from an email suddenly stating that their apps were kicked off, though.

Meanwhile, Apple continues to allow and profit heavily from apps with actual gambling mechanics like loot boxes and gacha games that encourage people, including minors, to gamble.

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Homebrew Website Club Seattle Notes


Tonight I went to my first Homebrew Website Club at the Wayward Coffeehouse, a real nice coffee shop. I got to meet Doug Beal who put the Seattle club together. It was mostly just the two of us, as well as Margo Vansynghel, a reporter who was interested in what we were up to and how it related to other tech stories about silos like Facebook.

Neither of us really had been to one of these events before, so we weren’t sure what to do. We mostly worked on our own sites, and helped explain some of the IndieWeb principles about things like data ownership and building tools for yourself. I think by the end of it she had sent her first Webmention, a standard I need to learn how to use soon for this site.

I continued working on the syndication system for this site I outlined in the last post. I’ve now got the DynamoDB set up working, so when I commit any post change to the website, it gets built and triggers a Lambda function to scan the entire site for changes, logging those into DynamoDB. This creates a stream of create/update/delete events that other Lambda functions can be triggered by. With tonight’s work, I hooked a new microservice up to that which publishes created posts (but not updated or deleted posts) to a Telegram channel. It works locally with hardcoded keys, so now I just need to make it work when deployed, which should be quick; I just need to figure out how to store credentials properly. Then I can start building out more syndication methods.

Toward the end, we answered some questions about IndieWeb, took our group photo, and went our separate ways. It was a great time, and hopefully we can start building out a proper Seattle club. If you’re interested in taking control of your online data, consider stopping by an event near you, or a virtual one online. They take place every two weeks; the next one will be on August 22.