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The Talk Show: ‘Pinkies on the Semicolon’

27 February, by John Gruber[ —]

The state of the Mac, with special guest John Siracusa.

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Brazilian Rainforest Plots Are Being Sold Illegally via Facebook Marketplace Ads

27 February, by John Gruber[ —]

Joao Fellet and Charlotte Pamment, reporting for BBC News:

Parts of Brazil’s Amazon rainforest are being illegally sold on Facebook, the BBC has discovered. The protected areas include national forests and land reserved for indigenous peoples. Some of the plots listed via Facebook’s classified ads service are as large as 1,000 football pitches.

Facebook said it was “ready to work with local authorities”, but indicated it would not take independent action of its own to halt the trade.

Just in case you hadn’t been angered by Facebook this week.

MailTrackerBlocker for Apple Mail on MacOS

27 February, by John Gruber[ —]

Open source plugin for Apple Mail on MacOS, by Aaron Lee:

MailTrackerBlocker is a plugin (mailbundle) for the default Mail app built-in to macOS. Email marketers and other interests often embed these trackers in HTML emails so they can track how often, when and where you open your emails. This plugin works by stripping out a good majority of these spy pixels out of the HTML before display, rendering the typical advice of disabling “load remote content in messages” unnecessary.

Browse your inbox privately with images displayed once again.

There’s a simple installer to download, and the project’s GitHub page has instructions for installing via HomeBrew. I’ve been running it since Wednesday, and it seems to do just what it says on the tin — it blocks many (most?) marketing and newsletter trackers without requiring you to turn off all remote images. When it does block something, there’s a very subtle indication — the small “ⓧ” button turns blue. Click that button and you get an alert telling you what it blocked. Simple and unobtrusive.

MailTrackerBlocker is a cool project Lee has made available for free, but he has a sponsor page where you can send some dough to thank him. (I sent him a one-time donation via PayPal — you should too if you dig this as much as I do.)


27 February, by John Gruber[ —]

Speaking of Justin Duke, in addition to Buttondown, he also created and runs Spoonbill, a nifty free service that lets you track changes to the bios of the people you follow on Twitter:

How it works.

  1. First, you sign up. (Duh.)

  2. Then we look at all the folks you’re following on Twitter.

  3. We check every couple minutes to see if they’ve changed their profile information.

  4. If they have, we record it!

  5. Then, every morning (or every week), we send you an email with all the changes.

Daily was too much for me, perhaps because I follow too many accounts on Twitter, but once a week is perfect. And you can subscribe via RSS instead of email — this is a very natural service for RSS.

Buttondown: Newsletter Service That Allows Opting Out of Tracking

27 February, by John Gruber[ —]

It’s hard to find newsletter services that even allow you — the purveyor of the newsletter — not to track your subscribers. Buttondown — from Justin Duke — is one option, and it looks pretty sweet. (Markdown editing, for example.) From Buttondown’s privacy feature page:

Many busineses thrive the concept of collecting data about individuals based on their email addresses and inbox usage. (You can read about that here.) Buttondown is different. As a bootstrapped business, I don’t need to engage with data on level. Your information is yours, and yours alone.

Buttondown collects the standard bevy of email analytics: IP addresses, open and click events, client information. Buttondown sends that to absolutely nobody besides, well, you, the beloved customer. And if you want to completely opt out, you can.

By default, Buttondown seems just as privacy-intrusive as all the other newsletter providers:

Track Opens and Clicks — Per-email analytics mean you get an easy funnel of how many folks are engaging with your emails and what content they’re interested in.

Translated to plain English: “Spy tracking allows you to know when each of your subscribers opens and reads your newsletter, including the ability to creep on them individually.” Buttondown’s privacy “win” is that it at least allows you to turn tracking off with a simple checkbox. Most services don’t. I can’t find any hosted service that doesn’t offer tracking period, or even defaults to no tracking.

[Update: Justin Duke, on Twitter: “thanks for the buttondown mention! agreed that defaulting to opt out of tracking automatically is better: the current default wasn’t a deliberate choice so much as an artifact of the initial behavior’s implementation.” He’s changing the default to not use analytics, as of tonight. Nice!]

One message I’ve heard from folks who would know is that two of the reasons for the ubiquitous use of tracking pixels in newsletters are anti-spam tools (anti-anti-spam tools, really) and the expense of sending emails to people who never read them. Newsletters being flagged as spam — especially by major players like Gmail and Hotmail — is a never-ending game of whack-a-mole, and spy pixels help alert newsletter providers that their messages are being flagged. Expense-wise, those who send free newsletters want to cull from their lists people who never open them or click any of the links. Sending newsletters to thousands (let alone tens of thousands or more) of subscribers is, relatively speaking, expensive.

I’m sympathetic, but that’s a YP, not an MP, so fuck you and your tracking pixels. I’m blocking them and you should too.

But that’s why the world needs a company like Apple to take action. If Apple were to kneecap email tracking in Mail for Mac and iOS, the industry would have to adapt.

Mailcoach: Another Self-Hosted Newsletter Service

26 February, by John Gruber[ —]

“Mailcoach is a self-hosted email marketing platform that integrates with services like Amazon SES, Mailgun, Postmark or Sendgrid to send out bulk mailings affordably.”

Mailcoach lets you disable tracking with a checkbox, and the next version will have tracking off by default.

Sendy: Self-Hosted Newsletter Service Built Atop Amazon SES

26 February, by John Gruber[ —]

Sendy is an interesting newsletter service recommended by a longtime DF reader:

Sendy is a self hosted email newsletter application that lets you send trackable emails via Amazon Simple Email Service (SES). This makes it possible for you to send authenticated bulk emails at an insanely low price without sacrificing deliverability.

You need to host the PHP application yourself (more or less like self-hosting, say, WordPress), but the emails go out via Amazon’s service. Sendy makes it easy to disable tracking pixels, and, even if you do track subscribers, the tracking information never involves any third parties, including Sendy. Just you.

Sendy’s big pitch isn’t privacy but cost: they claim to be 100-200 times cheaper than MailChimp or Campaign Monitor.

Twitter Teases Upcoming Features: Paid ‘Super Follows’ and Community Groups

26 February, by John Gruber[ —]

Jacob Kastrenakes, reporting for The Verge:

The payment feature, called Super Follows, will allow Twitter users to charge followers and give them access to extra content. That could be bonus tweets, access to a community group, subscription to a newsletter, or a badge indicating your support. In a mockup screenshot, Twitter showed an example where a user charges $4.99 per month to receive a series of perks. Twitter sees it as a way to let creators and publishers get paid directly by their fans.

Twitter also announced a new feature called Communities, which appear to be its take on something like Facebook Groups. People can create and join groups around specific interests — like cats or plants, Twitter suggests — allowing them to see more tweets focused on those topics. Groups have been a huge success for Facebook (and a huge moderation problem, too), and they could be a particularly helpful tool on Twitter, since the service’s open-ended nature can make it difficult for new users to get started on the platform.

Both these features sound great. Ben Thompson and I encouraged Twitter to do something like “Super Follows” a few weeks ago on Dithering. Almost certainly, though, all of this will only work in Twitter’s own client, not third-party apps like Tweetbot and Twitterrific.

Twitter hasn’t said how the economics will work — what cut of the money they’re going to take — but last month when they acquired paid-newsletter Substack rival Revue, they cut Revue’s take to just 5 percent. (Substack takes 10.)

‘Steve Jobs Stories’ on Clubhouse

26 February, by John Gruber[ —]

Computer History Museum:

Chris Fralic, Steven Levy, Esther Dyson, Mike Slade, John Sculley, Seth Godin, Andy Cunningham, Dan’l Lewin, Doug Menuez, Regis McKenna, Andy Hertzfeld, and Steven Rosenblatt share their “Steve Jobs Stories” in honor of what would have been the Apple cofounder’s 66th birthday.

I missed the first half of this show on Clubhouse, but caught the second half live. Easily the best event I’ve heard on Clubhouse. Good stories, well told. Nice job by the Computer History Museum getting this recorded and posted to YouTube for posterity.

El Toro ‘One-to-One IP Targeting’

26 February, by John Gruber[ —]

“Ad tech” (read: spyware) company El Toro is just one company in an industry full of competitors, but their description of their capabilities struck me as particularly flagrant in its utter disregard for privacy:

As a marketing organization focused on sales not metrics, El Toro’s ad tech brings the location-specific accuracy of direct mail to digital advertising. Through our patented IP Targeting technology we target digital ads to your customer by matching their IP address with their physical address, bringing a wide variety of banner and display ads to the sites the targeted customer visits on the Internet.

Specifically, El Toro offers: Targeting without having to use cookies, census blocks, or geo-location tools.

They claim the ability not just to match your IP address to a general location, but to your exact home street address, and from there to specific devices within your home. Their pitch to would-be advertisers is that they can target you by IP address the same way marketers send all those print catalogs to your house. From their above-linked IP Targeting website:

The El Toro patented algoirthm [sic] uses 38+ points of data to match an IP to a household with 95% accuracy.

Do I believe they can match IPs to street addresses with 95 percent accuracy? No. I wouldn’t believe a word out of these guys’ mouths, to be honest. But the fact that they can do it with any degree of accuracy is a problem that needs to be solved.

Why doesn’t Apple build a VPN into its OSes? Or as an offering of paid iCloud accounts at least? At this point, if privacy truly is a paramount concern, it might be necessary to do everything over a trusted VPN. IP addresses are inherently not private.

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