This Week in Web #38

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Allo, allo. What’s all this chatter about then?

Look, if I can use a chat app and immediately start sending gif stickers of a twerking bull to someone, I will. If that isn’t entertaining enough, I can send beans wearing condoms, entreating you to “Rubber Up!”, or some kind of… pig monster maybe? asking you to send pics with his Simmons-like tongue sticking out.

But now let’s get down to the core app. Is it worth using? I’m generally a Google kind of guy, and I’m eagerly awaiting their connected home device so I can give up Alexa for something that knows me a bit better, what with most of my email, calendar, chats, and more coming through the internet giant. That said, there are certain times where the magical moments brought up by the company that knows you better than anyone are overshadowed by just how much it knows.

Privacy researchers have been urging users not to turn to Allo, as even though it offers Signal’s end to end encryption protocol in the app, the default is for your conversations to be stored on Google servers indefinitely, to furnish data for their AI in order to improve that magical feeling. This means that anyone who can access Google’s servers (which we know to have happened before) can access those conversations. That’s probably why Ed Snowden also suggested not using apps like Allo for communication.

Add to this the fact that users complain about the glut of chat apps and the fracturing of that market (very true in my experience), as well as the fact that it currently just does not work that well, and Allo is looking less like the perfect new thing that I was waiting for, and a flawed, untrustworthy and not very useful assistant. Given that this is Google, it could go the way of it’s many shelved or otherwise underdeveloped tools, or it could get renewed vigor with live users giving it a go. Considering recent purchases by the search behemoth, including the acquisition of api.ai, they just might be making a go of this as hard as their competitors are.


Verizon issued a pretty stunning statement concerning the Yahoo breach

Jason Abbruzzese, Mashable

Yahoo stakeholders are in a bit of a bind right now. Verizon issued a statement on Thursday, claiming that they only found out about a leak of approximately half a billion accounts and personal details of Yahoo customers two days prior. That is well after the two months ago that they agreed to purchase the beleaguered Yahoo’s web division for almost $5billion.

The breach occurred in 2014, but the data has been for sale since at least August of this year, and no word yet on who has it. The indications given so far are that, like some recently high profile hacking cases, the attack resulting in the breach may have been undertaken by a state actor, rather than individual hackers.

This is bad news for Yahoo, as the deal hasn’t finalized and presumably Verizon has a reason now to alter the terms of the deal, if not cancel it entirely. Even if Verizon continues with the acquisition, there’s no reason that the final value could be lower if the Yahoo stock drops heavily over the news

This story was suggested by @lmelegari. Do you have a story that you think would be good for the newsletter? Please suggest it!


Ted Cruz is wrong about how free speech is censored on the Internet

Tim Berners-Lee and Daniel Weitzner, The Washington Post

When the creator of the World Wide Web talks about the internet, it’s worth a listen. In an editorial in the Washington Post this week, Sir Tim Berners-Lee fights back against a huge backlash in recent weeks of Conservative lawmakers calling plans to cede national control of ICANN an affront on free speech. As Berners-Lee rightly notes, ICANN has nothing to do with free speech or speech of any sort, and does not control what people post online. ICANN is an address book of sorts, pointing you to domains based on a mutual trust between service providers the world over. If a repressive government wants to block a website or shut down internet to their entire country, there is nothing that ICANN can do to stop or help them.


California Supreme Court to hear Yelp free-speech case

Carolyn Said, SFGate

I talked about a legal dispute involving Yelp as a third party between a lawyer in California and a dissatisfied client in the newsletter about a month ago. Yelp challenged a ruling by a lower court that ordered them to scrub a defamatory review from their site, despite them not having been involved in the original dispute, and the DMCA safe harbor protections that they ostensibly get.

That safe harbor has been slowly evaporating, as lawmakers have found it more enticing to remove one of the few positive policies from a law that at times has been quite stifling. Thankfully, the California State Supreme Court has decided to hear out Yelp’s case, after an amicus brief filed by other high-profile tech companies drew attention to the suit. The reason for the added support is that this could be a test case for future rulings against companies that host content that some visitors find distasteful. The reason that they definitely should hear the case out is that Yelp wasn’t in the original dispute, and therefore did not have a chance to be heard.


1.0.0

Mike McQuaid, Homebrew

If you love having a package manager for your apps and use a mac, celebrate that Homebrew has hit a stable release of 1.0.0 this week! If only every app developer built in support for packages, allowing me to update everything at once.


Inside Google’s Internet Justice League and Its AI-Powered War on Trolls

Andy Greenberg, Wired

Another recent story was on Jigsaw, a division of Google. With an AI system that they’ve open sourced and trained on New York Times comments and Wikipedia articles, the company is claiming a 92% success rate (which Greenberg disputes) in recognizing and acting upon abusive comments online. The question is if Conversation AI can grow and adapt as quickly as those who regularly find ways to bypass content censors.

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