Later On

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Archive for June 6th, 2021

Apple’s tightly controlled App Store is teeming with scams

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Reed Albergotti and Chris Alcantaran report in the Washington Post:

Apple chief executive Tim Cook has long argued it needs to control app distribution on iPhones, otherwise the App Store would turn into “a flea market.”

But among the 1.8 million apps on the App Store, scams are hiding in plain sight. Customers for several VPN apps, which allegedly protect users’ data, complained in Apple App Store reviews that the apps told users their devices have been infected by a virus to dupe them into downloading and paying for software they don’t need. A QR code reader app that remains on the store tricks customers into paying $4.99 a week for a service that is now included in the camera app of the iPhone. Some apps fraudulently present themselves as being from major brands such as Amazon and Samsung.

Of the highest 1,000 grossing apps on the App Store, nearly two percent are scams, according to an analysis by The Washington Post. And those apps have bilked consumers out of an estimated $48 million during the time they’ve been on the App Store, according to market research firm Appfigures. The scale of the problem has never before been reported. What’s more, Apple profits from these apps because it takes a cut of up to a 30 percent of all revenue generated through the App Store. Even more common, according to The Post’s analysis, are “fleeceware” apps that use inauthentic customer reviews to move up in the App Store rankings and give apps a sense of legitimacy to convince customers to pay higher prices for a service usually offered elsewhere with higher legitimate customer reviews.

Two-thirds of the 18 apps The Post flagged to Apple were removed from the App Store.

The most valuable company in U.S. history, Apple is facing unprecedented scrutiny for how it wields its power and is fighting to hold onto it, including in a blockbuster trial that concluded last month. Regulators and competitors have zeroed in on the App Store in particular: Unlike app stores on other mobile operating systems, Apple’s store faces no competition and is the only way for iPhone owners to download software to their phones without bypassing Apple’s restrictions. Through it, Apple keeps a tight grip on software distribution and payments on its mobile operating system, called iOS.

Apple has long maintained that its exclusive control of the App Store is essential to protecting customers, and it only lets the best apps on its system. But Apple’s monopoly over how consumers access apps on iPhones can actually create an environment that gives customers a false sense of safety, according to experts. Because Apple doesn’t face any major competition and so many consumers are locked into using the App Store on iPhones, there’s little incentive for Apple to spend money on improving it, experts say.

[He believed Apple’s App Store was safe. Then a fake app stole his life savings in bitcoin]

“If consumers were to have access to alternative app stores or other methods of distributing software, Apple would be a lot more likely to take this problem more seriously,” said Stan Miles, an economics professor at Thompson Rivers University in British Columbia, Canada. . .

Continue reading. There’s much, much more. Apple’s responses are evasive and defensive and Apple employees seem to have been forbidden to comment (except for those employees paid to lie).

Later in the article:

Apple says it is constantly improving its methods for sniffing out scams and usually catches them within a month of hitting the App Store. In a recent news release, Apple said it employed new tools to verify the authenticity of user reviews and last year kicked 470,000 app developer accounts off the App Store. Developers, however, can create new accounts and continue to distribute new apps.

Apple unwittingly may be aiding the most sophisticated scammers by eliminating so many of the less competent ones during its app review process, said Miles, who co-authored a paper called “The Economics of Scams.” [Typical of meme evolution when a selection process eliminates some memes: the surviving memes adapt to evade being selected out — cf. in lifeform evolution how widespread use of antibiotics leads to the rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. – LG]

“If people do believe or are not worried about being scammed, then there’s going to be a lot of victimization,” he said. Miles also said Apple could warn consumers that some apps “are probably fraud and so buyer beware and you do your homework before you buy the app and don’t trust our store.”

And later:

The prevalence of scams on Apple’s App Store played a key role at trial. Apple’s lawyers were so focused on the company’s role in making the App Store safe that Epic’s attorneys accused them of trying to scare the court into a ruling in favor of Apple.In other internal emails unearthed during trial that date as far back as 2013, Apple’s PhilSchiller, who runs the App Store, expressed dismay when fraudulent apps made it pastApp Store review.

[Apple is lobbying against a bill aimed at stopping forced labor in China]

After a rip-off version of theTemple Run video game became the top-rated app, according to Schiller’s email exchange, he sent an irate message to two other Apple executives responsible for the store. “Remember our talking about finding bad apps with low ratings? Remember our talk about becoming the ‘Nordstroms’ of stores in quality of service? How does an obvious rip off of the super popular Temple Run, with no screenshots, garbage marketing text, and almost all 1-star ratings become the #1 free app on the store?” Schiller asked his team. “Is no one reviewing these apps? Is no one minding the store?” Apple declined to make Schiller available to comment.At trial, Schiller defended the safety of the app store on the stand. The app review process is “the best way we could come up with … to make it safe and fair.”

Eric Friedman, head of Apple’s Fraud Engineering Algorithms and Risk unit, or FEAR, said that Apple’s screening process is “more like the pretty lady who greets you with a lei at the Hawaiian airport than the drug sniffing dog,” according to a 2016 internal email uncovered during the Epic Games trial. Apple employs a 500-person App Review team, which sifts through submissions from developers. “App Review is bringing a plastic butter knife to a gun fight,” Friedman wrote in another email. Apple declined to make Friedman available to comment. In deposition testimony, Friedman pointed to investments Apple has made to stop fraud. “A lot has changed in the last five years,” he said.

Though the App Store ratings section is filled with customer complaints referring to apps as scams, there is no way for Apple customers to report this to Apple, other than reaching out to a regular Apple customer service representative. Apple used to have a button, just under the ratings and reviews section in the App Store, that said “report a problem,” which allowed users to report inappropriate apps. Based on discussions among Apple customers on Apple’s own website, the feature was removed some time around 2016. Sainzsaid customers can still report apps through other channels.

And there’s much more. It’s a long article and it shows just what a bad job Apple is doing. Part of that may be because Apple gets a heft cut of money spent in the App Store and so doesn’t really care to police it effectively: they make money in either case.

Written by Leisureguy

6 June 2021 at 12:49 pm

Malcolm Gladwell’s Fantasy of War From the Air

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In the New Republic Colin Dickey reviews a recent book by Malcom Gladwell:

There’s a scene in the 2011 film Moneyball where Brad Pitt’s Billy Beane is mentoring young Peter Brand (Jonah Hill) on how to cut a professional baseball player from the roster: bluntly, without euphemism. “Would you rather,” he asks, “get one shot in the head or five in the chest and bleed to death?” Imagine, if you will, that this was not a rhetorical question or an analogy about firing someone but rather a serious, literal question. Now imagine 206 pages of this, and you have a sense of what it’s like to read Malcolm Gladwell’s new book.

The Bomber Mafia: A Dream, a Temptation, and the Longest Night of the Second World War is a nasty, brutish book—if it’s also short, it’s not nearly short enough. It is a breathless and narratively riveting story about the best way to kill hundreds of thousands of civilians. It is the story of two different approaches to killing hundreds of thousands of civilians, and of the heroic men who each championed their own method for mass killing. Its central question is whether one should approach the wholesale massacre of the innocents with indifference or with hypocrisy, and its conceit is that this is a relevant or fascinating distinction. It is a book detailing a series of ingenious new technologies for butchery, dressed up in the polished technophilic language of a TED talk.

The book details the rise and fall (and rise again) of the doctrine of precision air bombing, an idea that emerged from the Air Corps Tactical School (the aviation equivalent of the Army War College), nicknamed the “Bomber Mafia.” The Air Force was not yet a separate branch of the military in the 1930s, but with the advent of military aviation the men at the Air Corps Tactical School (based at Maxwell Field in Montgomery, Alabama) began to fantasize about entirely new kinds of war-making and attempted to birth a revolution in how war might be fought. Their singular obsession, according to Gladwell, was this: What if, instead of bringing the full might of one’s military on the enemy, battering them into submission, you could take out key infrastructure and manufacturing targets (“choke points,” in the Bomber Mafia’s parlance) that would incapacitate your opponent while avoiding mass death?

It’s an interesting enough idea. In the opening years of World War II, aerial bombing meant total destruction. The London Blitz was designed to overwhelm the British and demoralize them into submission. England’s answer to this was Arthur “Bomber” Harris, whom Gladwell describes as, simply, a “psychopath.” Harris was one of the chief architects of the British tactic of “area bombing” or “morale bombing”: Reduce cities to rubble and incinerate the civilians until they submit. For Harris, civilians were viable targets if for no other reason than some of them worked in the factories that made bombs and submarines. As he would say later, “They were all active soldiers, to my mind.”

The minds at the Air Corps Tactical School thought there might be a different way. “The whole argument of the Bomber Mafia, their whole reason for being, was that they didn’t want to cross that line,” Gladwell writes. “They weren’t just advancing a technological argument. They were also advancing a moral argument.” When the Americans joined forces with the British Royal Air Force in bombing Germany, the Bomber Mafia sought to prove its approach. Under the command of General Haywood Hansell, the Americans argued that if they could destroy the German’s capacity to make ball bearings, they could bring their manufacturing to a standstill. What if you could leave the Germans for want of a nail and lose them the whole ship?

This is the “dream” of the subtitle—what if by changing one’s perspective and focusing on something small and seemingly insignificant, one could change how wars were fought? One can see how the author of The Tipping PointBlinkand Outliers would be taken by a group whose motto was Proficimus more irrententi—“We make progress unhindered by custom.” The Bomber Mafia is adapted from an audiobook, which means that what sounds conversational and engaging on tape can sound garrulous on the page, but it also allows Gladwell to telegraph his breathless fascination with these men. “I worry that I haven’t fully explained just how radical—how revolutionary—the Bomber Mafia thinking was,” he says at one point, before launching on a long digression about chapel architecture. Unbound by tradition, the Bomber Mafia wanted to innovate and rethink war from the ground up (or the sky down). This is a group “utterly uninterested in heritage and tradition,” Gladwell explains; rather than “studying the Peloponnesian War or the Battle of Trafalgar,” they were readying themselves for “today’s battles.”

In Gladwell’s world, the people who matter are the innovators, the disrupters. The protagonists of The Bomber Mafia are all various analogs of Steve Jobs or John Lennon—heroic icons who brought a unique perspective and, through determination and insight, pursued a dream that changed the world. But such decisions never happen in a vacuum, and by foregrounding such technological pursuits, The Bomber Mafia furthers the fiction that somehow airstrikes can be moral.


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How much can you change the world from the air? In the 1920s, when aviation was in its infancy, proponents for air power imagined a utopian possibility: The airplane was so new, so unrefined, and offered so much potential. The sky was the limit, and perhaps somewhere in this technology would be a way to end war once and for all.

Though this dream would fade fast, the book strains to carry this early naïveté over to the realities of World War II. Gladwell organizes his chapters around individual men with unique, startling ideas, like Carl L. Norden, a Dutch engineer whose obsession was the aerial bomb sight, which would enable precision strikes and could entirely change how aerial warfare was conducted. The book follows first Norden and then the Air Corps Tactical School under Haywood Hansell, as it attempts to prove the efficacy of the precision bombing thesis. This group is repeatedly contrasted with men like Harris, as searching for a “moral” approach to bombing. Hansell, we’re told, “provides us with a model of what it means to be moral in our modern world.”

Gladwell repeats this line throughout; he quotes Tami Biddle, professor of national security at the U.S. Army War College, on this as well: “I think there’s a strong moral component to all this,” she tells Gladwell,

a desire to find a way to fight a war that is clean and that is not going to tarnish the American reputation as a moral nation, a nation of ideas and ideology and commitment to individual rights and respect for human beings.

Tellingly, though, Gladwell provides no direct quotes from Hansell or the Bomber Mafia suggesting that they thought their approach was moral; it’s all a retrospective appraisal from contemporary historians. After all, here is what their so-called “moral” approach looked like at the time: In a wargame that proposed a conflict between Canada and the United States, the Bomber Mafia gamed out what it would take for a hypothetical airstrike launched from Toronto to take out New York City. Bomber Mafia associate Muir Fairchild instead theorized that you could bring the city to its knees by striking 17 targets: the bridges, the aqueducts that brought fresh water to the city, and the power grid. As military historian Robert Pape explains, “They basically want to create a situation where there’s almost no potable water for the population to drink.” This would avoid “wave upon wave of costly and dangerous bombing attacks” or reducing the city to rubble, while still incapacitating the city. This, somehow, is the moral option: cutting off a city of millions to die slowly of thirst. We are back to Billy Beane’s question: Would you rather get one shot in the head or five in the chest and bleed to death? . . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

Written by Leisureguy

6 June 2021 at 8:03 am

Southern Baptist leaders mishandled sex abuse claims

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The Southern Baptist organization provides a good example of how a memeplex’s immune system springing into action. Thinking of such cultural entities as multi-meme “organisms” often allows accurate predictions of behavior. Sarah Pullman Bailey reports in the Washington Post:

New allegations about the mishandling of sex abuse claims at the highest levels of the Southern Baptist Convention were made public in a recent letter between two high-profile leaders that was obtained Friday by The Washington Post.

While such allegations have been made by several women in the past, the letter includes new details from internal conversations, alleging that some institutional leaders bullied a sexual abuse victim, who was called a “whore,” and described in detail how many leaders resisted sexual abuse reforms.

Later this month, more than 14,000 Southern Baptists are expected to meet in Nashville for the convention’s annual meeting, which is intended to inspire unity among Baptists. But the June 15-16 meeting will take place in the midst of intense debates over issues such as sex abuse, racism and the role of women, as well as significant Southern Baptist support for former president Donald Trump, topics that have caused fissures in recent years and caused many high-profile departures from the country’s largest Protestant denomination.

In a dramatic turn of events this week, two letters written by Russell Moore, who recently left his position as head of the SBC’s policy arm, the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, have been made public. The new allegations are contained in a May 31 letter Moore sent to the current president of the SBC, J.D. Greear, that appeared on Friday on the site the Baptist Blogger, which has published other internal documents and recordings from Southern Baptist leaders in the past.

“You and I both heard, in closed door meetings, sexual abuse survivors spoken of in terms of ‘Potiphar’s wife’ and other spurious biblical analogies,” Moore wrote to Greear. “The conversations in these closed door meetings were far worse than anything Southern Baptists knew — or the outside world could report.”

In the ancient biblical story, Potiphar’s wife tries to seduce Joseph and falsely accuses him of having assaulted her.

On his last day as a Southern Baptist professional, Moore, who has served as one of the highest-profile leaders in the convention, decided to reveal specific names of key individual leaders involved in what he described as intimidation tactics.

Moore’s letter took direct aim at several members of the SBC’s Executive Committee, the group based in Nashville that runs the business of the convention and handles its finances. He described the “spiritual and psychological abuse of sexual abuse survivors by the Executive Committee itself,” as well as “a pattern of attempted intimidation of those who speak on such matters.”

Moore and Greear did not respond to requests for comment on the letter.

Russell Moore’s departure from the Southern Baptist Convention’s leadership prompts questions over its future

Three employees who work in SBC institutions, who said they needed to remain anonymous to keep their current jobs, corroborated several of the factual details of the letter. Details in the letter were also confirmed by a former employee, an abuse survivor and a prominent abuse advocate.

Moore drew national attention in 2016 when he openly criticized Trump and his evangelical supporters, and Trump responded on Twitter that Moore was “a nasty guy with no heart!”

Moore describes enormous rifts behind the scenes over the issue of how to handle sex abuse within SBC institutions. He wrote in his letter that during the last few years, he tried to smile and pretend everything was all right through his experiences.

“What [people involved] want is for us to remain silent and to live in psychological terror, to protect them by covering up what they do in darkness, while asking our constituencies to come in and to stay in the SBC,” Moore wrote.

In the letter, he refers to a “disastrous move” by some leaders to “exonerate” churches with credible allegations of negligence and mistreatment of sexual abuse survivors. “You and I were critical of such moves, believing that they jeopardized not only the gospel witness of the SBC, but also the lives of vulnerable children and others in Southern Baptist churches.”

Moore also spoke of a sexual abuse survivor whose words, he alleges, were altered by the Executive Committee staff to make it seem as though her abuse was a consensual affair. The Washington Post generally does not name victims of sexual assault without their consent, but the woman, Jennifer Lyell, a former vice president at the SBC’s Lifeway Christian Resources and once the highest-paid female executive at the SBC, said in a text message that she agreed to be identified.

Instead of reporting that she had been abused, Baptist Press, which is overseen by the Executive Committee, reported in March 2019 that Lyell had admitted being involved in a “morally inappropriate relationship” with her former professor.

Lyell, who says she has lost her job, her reputation and her health, confirmed Moore’s account of “bullying and intimidation” by the Executive Committee.

In his letter, Moore wrote that he heard someone refer to Lyell as a “whore” in a corridor at the SBC. The Executive Committee paid her a financial settlement but refused to apologize, he said.

A spokesman for the Executive Committee did not return requests for comment.

Moore’s account of Lyell’s experience was confirmed by Rachael Denhollander, a former USA gymnast who outed team doctor Larry Nassar’s serial sexual assault and has since been a prominent advocate for church abuse survivors and has helped bring attention to Lyell’s case.

“It shows the level of corruption and vile behavior that comes from the leaders in the SBC, the ones who really have the power,” said Denhollander, whose husband is a PhD student at the flagship SBC seminary Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

On Friday evening, The Post reached out to the individuals named in the letter, most of whom declined to comment or did not respond by Saturday late morning. Rolland Slade, chairman of the Executive Committee, wrote in a text message his support for Moore. . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

Written by Leisureguy

6 June 2021 at 7:42 am

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