How do I protect my online privacy from ‘surveillance capitalism’?

How do I protect my online privacy from ‘surveillance capitalism’? :

…in short, the article explains how personal data is gathered, brokered, and used to serve targeted advertisements. In theory, users should prefer useful adverts to irrelevant ones. In reality, it provides a stream of data to anyone who wants it. Most of us, I suspect, don’t object to the ads as much as to the vast infrastructure used to deliver them. Non-targeted ads are fine with me.

A great overview of what you should be worried about on the web when it comes to your data and what folks can do with it. If you really want to dive in on this, the linked article from the EFF really expands on the ideas. As the author states above, I’m also not opposed to advertising in principle. What I’m opposed to is the massive amount of personalized data companies gather about me to deliver mediocre ads that are not any better than those you might get in a non-targeted way.

How Ring Went From ‘Shark Tank’ Reject to America’s Scariest Surveillance Company

Source: How Ring Went From ‘Shark Tank’ Reject to America’s Scariest Surveillance Company – VICE

Amazon’s Ring started from humble roots as a smart doorbell company called “DoorBot.” Now it’s surveilling the suburbs and partnering with police.

I’m definitely more interested in what HomeKit Secure Video will look like …. from iMore:

When you have security cameras in your home, the footage captured by these cameras will be highly personal and sensitive. You wouldn’t want these recordings to fall into the wrong hands. With HomeKit Secure Video enabled, all of your security camera footage gets end-to-end encryption before it is securely uploaded and stored in iCloud.

Facebook Gives Workers a Chatbot to Appease That Prying Uncle

From Facebook Gives Workers a Chatbot to Appease That Prying Uncle:

What if Mom or Dad accused the social network of destroying democracy? Or what if they said Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s chief executive, was collecting their online data at the expense of privacy?

If you’re having to create a chatbot to handle this sort of thing, you might need to look at the underlying cause, not creating a PR answer bot.

Engineering Mangement Lessons

I became an engineering manager a few years ago now and have since moved into a role where I’m responsible for both direct ICs who report to me but also for other managers and the direction of an entire department. Titles are always funny as they’re so dependent on where you work – but one thing that is fairly universal is how difficult transitioning to a leadership role can be when you’ve been writing code all of your professional life.

I came across this post a while ago about engineering management lessons learned, and a lot of them resonated with me. The biggest takeaways for me:

  • Going from being great at something (writing software) to being awful at something (setting all of that aside and leading others) is hard!
  • Don’t make decisions unless you have to. Whenever possible, allow the team to explore ideas and make decisions on its own.
  • Most conflict happens because people don’t feel heard. Sit down with each person and ask them how they feel. Listen carefully. Then ask again. And again. Then summarize what they said back to them. Most of the time that will solve the problem.
  • Don’t personally fix bugs and ship features. You have to write code to remain an effective tiebreaker, but that’s where your coding responsibilities end.
  • Figuring out what motivates your team can be tough. It takes a lot of trust-building to get to the point where you can get honest answers out of them, but it’s worth it.

My favorite 2019 tech things

As we head into the holiday season, I thought I’d throw my hat in the “best of the year post” ring with a list of a few of my favorite personal tech items of the year. Some of these are bigger than others, but I wanted to list out some things I’m thankful for this year.

Apple Watch Series 5

I’ve owned the Series 0 (review here and here) and a few Series 3 versions before pulling the trigger on the 5 this year and the always on display is a game changer. I’ve gotten into sleep tracking by using the fantastic Autosleep app alongside the built-in fitness tracking and it’s really been illuminating. I’ve changed my sleep habits as a result and feel like I have more of an understanding of my exercise, eating and sleep habits by simply creating a habit of quantifying all of the things I do.


I actually got gen 1 AirPods last year for Father’s Day but my use has really skyrocketed in the past year. I have noise-cancelling QC35s and almost never use them because the AirPods are just so darn convenient. The AirPods Pro seem like game changers, and I’m hoping my gen 1 models last until there’s a second generation of the pros.

Siri Shortcuts

With iOS 13, Siri Shortcuts have gotten super powerful. I’ve been setting more and more of these up over the past few months and it’s helped me automate a lot of little things that Tasker for Android used to allow me to do (and more!) A few examples:

  1. Bus commute: when I leave my work on weekdays between 3-6pm. It checks my departure time in that area against the bus schedule and assumes I’m on the nearest one before the current time. It then sends a text to my wife with my departure time and expected arrival time.
  2. Reading time: I’m asked how long I’d like to read and in which app (Kindle or Apple Books). It then turns on Do Not Disturb for that time period, turns on dark mode, adjusts the volume/brightness and starts up some chill instrumental music. Finally, the app I chose launches.
  3. Create packing list: this shortcut pulls from a Bear note template that I have and creates a new packing list based on the type of trip and prefixes it with a lot of metadata. That way, each trip I go on I update the template with any things I typically forget or need.

Chromecast / Nest Hub music management

Chromecasts can finally “hand off” to other groups/speakers like you can with Airplay 2. So I can be in the Kitchen and say “play this on all speakers” and it’ll keep playing the same music but throughout the entire home. Additionally, the Nest Home Hub now allows you to have more control over speakers from the UI so you can adjust volume for groups and individual speakers. I use this a ton, so I’m super thankful it’s here.

DuckDuckGo is finally good enough

I’ve mostly stopped using Google for search in the past year. DuckDuckGo is a super powerful search engine with privacy at it’s core, and the results are finally good enough for me to put my digital information eggs in multiple baskets. A recent Wired article makes the point better than I ever could. I still use Gmail and Calendar, with an occasional Google Maps search so I’m not burning anything down. Heck, as you can see above, I’m still using Nest stuff so I’m not going anywhere. But I’m also wary of the idea of Surveillance Capitalism being something we’re okay with.

Google’s smart home ecosystem is a complete mess

Google’s smart home ecosystem is a complete mess:

While Google might argue its new system will be good for users in the long run, the fact remains that customers spent money on a product, and Google is taking that product out of customers’ hands and replacing it with something different. In effect, Google just unplugged many of its users’ smart homes, all while asking them to kindly move into a new, Google Assistant-branded tenement. In the long run, Google assures us, things will get better. Its track record with killing products doesn’t inspire confidence.

I found myself nodding my head a ton while reading this article. I’m moving to Alexa/Sonos over the next few months.

Hey, Siri (and minimum wage contractors) … 

From: Siri records fights, doctor’s appointments, and sex (and contractors hear it) | Ars Technica

These cases bring up a series of questions. What can Apple and its colleagues do to better protect user privacy as they develop their voice systems? Should users be notified when their recordings are reviewed? What can be done to reduce or eliminate the accidental activations? How should the companies handle the accidental information that its contractors overhear? Who is responsible when dangerous or illegal activity is recorded and discovered, all by accident?

Now it looks like your Siri voice recordings can be heard by contractors roughly 1% of the time.

I think my issue with all of this is that it’s not opt-in other than the “by using this software you agree to …” BS all tech companies shove down our throat. I think one solution to this problem would be to allow users to opt-in to have humans review your recordings as long as they are properly anonymized. There’s still a chance an accidental wake word could trigger some of the scenarios mentioned in the article but at least give folks the ability to make decisions about how much they want to contribute to making these voice assistants better.

I’ve turned off the “raise to talk to Siri” on my watch long ago but we do have Google Home devices in our house and “Hey Siri” is still activated on my phone. I could shut off the wake word functionality on my phone but I’m not even sure you can do that with the Google Homes. I’ll be honest, I’m starting to lean toward yanking most of the voice assistant stuff out of my house in favor of dumb speakers hooked up to Chromecasts or maybe just going full Sonos (although that has it’s own privacy issues).

Update: Looks like Apple is halting the program for now and will be adding a way to disable this in the future. Good for them.

Revisiting the iconography of Apple Maps – Mercury Intermedia – Medium

I just got done reading Revisiting the iconography of Apple Maps and it scratched every design nerd itch I could ask for. For example, here’s a breakdown of the color grouping changes over time in the app’s icons:

There’s a ton more like this and it’s really worth checking out. I’m not an Apple Maps user all the time but I do think it’s the best looking and cleanest solution out there.