Sizzle Highlights 1H2023


Brisbane woman kicks robot “dog”

A woman in Brisbane’s Fortitude Valley kicked the shit out of a robot “dog” on Saturday night and its owner cracked the sads about it, making a Facebook page to find who did it along with a $500 reward. A friend ratted her out and she apologised to the robot’s owner, Mark Trueno. I know it’s not nice to break other people’s property and I can understand why Mark is upset to have the $15,000 piece of gear damaged and yes, this robot isn’t designed to specifically be a death machine - but also, it just feels right that the robot got kicked in the head? It feels cathartic and good that someone did this??? We shouldn’t be normalising a dude taking his quasi-military robot pretending to be a cute dog called Stampy “for a walk” and expect everyone to be happy about its presence.

Twitter unceremoniously ends API support for 3rd party clients

Twitter pulled the plug on third party clients like Tweetbot and Twitteriffic. There was no announcement made, we only know this because a bunch of clients stopped working and the developers of those apps have told customers that yeah, it’s not just you, the app is busted and there’s nothing they can do about it. Elon Musk’s Twitter didn’t even have the courtesy to tell their API users that anything is changing. That’s how little respect they have for users these days. Tweetbot developer Craig Hockenberry sums it up nicely. It’s a particularly dumb move because as Mike Rockwell said on Mastodon, “that the people using third-party apps are the ones that are most likely to try and most likely to enjoy the fediverse”.

RIP to MSY’s parts.pdf

MSY seems to have recently discontinued production of its legendary “parts.pdf” pricelist. For almost 20 years, Aussie nerds wanting some PC parts or accessories at rock bottom prices with absolutely no customer service would hit up _ and get a poorly laid out multi-page PDF containing prices for various PC bits and pieces. By all measures it was crap, but I loved it. Dense and no bullshit. I don’t know when the PDF disappeared or why, but it ain’t working now and OzBargain noticed recently too. It appears that QLD’s Umart took over MSY at some point in October last year. Nothing is forever, but parts.pdf was with me all my adult life. I’ll miss it.

eSafety Commissioner starts issuing legal requests for cyberbullies to apologise to victims

On the one year anniversary of the Online Safety Act becoming law, the eSafety Commissioner announced they’ve “probed over 1,680 cyberbullying complaints in total and made over 500 informal requests for online platforms to remove content”, along with “6 formal Removal Notices to online service providers” under the Adult Cyber Abuse scheme that also included “investigating over 2,400 complaints and making 450 informal requests for removal”. The bigger news is that they’ve “issued its first End User Notices compelling recipients to remove serious cyberbullying material targeting another child” - these are requests by eSafety to the person doing the bullying telling them to stop and apologise and if they don’t do that, “may result in enforcement action against the recipient”.

US Surgeon General reckons 13 is far too young for kids to be using social media

The USA’s Surgeon General (kinda like our Chief Medical Officer I guess?) told CNN recently that “I, personally, based on the data I’ve seen, believe that 13 is too early… It’s a time where it’s really important for us to be thoughtful about what’s going into how they think about their own self-worth and their relationships and the skewed and often distorted environment of social media often does a disservice to many of those children”. Hard not to agree with that take when you consider social media as Instagram or TikTok or Snapchat. When I was 13 I was using forums and IRC regularly and without the internet during my teen years, I think I would have developed into a pretty boring adult. The internet was a very different place in 1997 though.


Privacy Act review has finally landed, big changes coming

A long awaited review of the Privacy Act was released by the Attorney-General this morning. Some of the concepts floated in the review that could be turned into legislation include: a right to opt-out of targeted ads, the right to erasure (i.e: tell Google/Meta to remove stuff about you), transparency requirements around automated decisions companies make based on the data they have on you, removing the exemption small businesses have to comply with the Privacy Act, mandating the amount of types of data an entity can store on individuals and much more. Expect further analysis of the review once smarter people than me have had time to read it. Now is a good time to give some cash to Electronic Frontiers Australia and Digital Rights Watch. They’ve only got 43 days to read all 311-pages, formulate their opinions, then write them in a way that Canberra bureaucrats will understand. God speed.

Jury finds Elon Musk not guilty of lying to investors over funding secured tweet

The jury in Elon Musk’s trial over the “funding secured” tweet found him not guilty of lying to investors that funding was secured. The judge told the jury that the actual tweet was “untrue”, but the jury had to decide if Elon was “untrue” on purpose or he actually believed funding to take Telsa private was secured and it not happening was simply bad luck/bad business - not a lie. In less than 2 hours the jury decided that they believed Musk’s side of the argument and he slips away once again, like the greasy little capitalist piggy he is. One of the jurors said after the trial that “the overall message, it just didn’t land” and that there was “nothing there to give me an ‘aha’ moment” to find Musk guilty of deliberately misleading investors with the tweet.

Auror, a retail crime intelligence platform, is used by our biggest retailers & police

Cam Wilson has a story in Crikey about how places such as Woolworths, Coles, Bunnings, and Myer use a “Retail Crime Intelligence Platform” called Auror to record over 100,000 “crime events” each month. It ingests various data sources (CCTV mainly) and builds profiles on individuals using facial recognition, license plate detection and self-checkout cameras. That data is then shared with other users of its platform, along with police, who have direct access to Auror. From a technical and product perspective, Auror is impressive but damn it’s creepy. Do we want this thing in our society? I’m not sure I like these private dossiers getting built with little to no oversight on who can access it and what is done with the data it collects.

Prime Minister wants Australia to be a lithium battery manufacturing powerhouse

Albo is keen for Australia to do more than dig lithium out of the ground and sell it to China. At a Press Club address yesterday, he said “why aren’t we making more batteries here, we have almost half of the world’s lithium deposits” and that he wants to “make sure that we use the lithium and nickel and other products that we have to make batteries here”. Apparently the government is developing a national strategy for critical materials and battery manufacturing and is currently seeking input from the community. Perhaps Magnis Energy will have something to say, as they’ve signed a deal with Tesla to supply them with Anode Active Materials that go in batteries. Unfortunately, it will be made in a US factory, but at least the company is listed on the ASX?

Attorney-General considers sharing Netflix passwords a form of piracy

You know how Netflix is desperate for more revenue because subscriber number have plateaued, so they’re cracking down on people sharing passwords with different households? Well the Australian attorney-general is giving Netflix a helping hand by expanding what it considers piracy to include password sharing in a survey it conducted recently. It will likely use the results of that survey to justify copyright enforcement changes that are currently under review. Wouldn’t surprise me if this was a bit of quid-pro-quo in return for Netflix, Disney, Amazon etc agreeing to produce more local content here. You give us an easy win for the local media industry and we will make it illegal for Australians to share online streaming service accounts. TorrentFreak has more details on the AG’s “Consumer Survey on Online Copyright Infringement” if you’re keen.


FBI and Catholic Church buy up data from brokers to assist in their nefarious goals

If you needed a sign that data collection has gone way too far, then news that the FBI has purchased data on people for use in a project, has to be that sign. In a US Senate Hearing, the FBI Director was asked “does the FBI purchase US phone-geolocation information?” and he replied with “I understand that we previously — as in the past — purchased some such information for a specific national security pilot project. But that’s not been active for some time”. Meanwhile, “a group of conservative Colorado Catholics” spent US$4m to buy data sourced from Grindr and other gay dating apps to out gay priests. With both the FBI and the Church it’s unknown if the data they got was useful, but the fact they’re able to do and think it might be useful is bad enough.

Silicon Valley weekend bank run ends with the FDIC making account holders whole

Last week I was making jokes about Silicon Valley Bank collapsing and over the long weekend it collapsed, kinda. If you want all the details, Matt Levine’s articles covering the situation are excellent reading and Ben Thompson has a solid summary too, but to summarise even further (that’s what I’m here for!): lots of stuff about bonds and maturity and interest rates and how banks work, but valley VC types panicked when word spread that SVB couldn’t give everyone their money if they wanted it due to some poor investment choices and kicked off an old fashioned “bank run”. The FDIC/government stepped in and created a “full-service FDIC-operated ‘bridge bank’ in an action designed to protect all depositors”, with its new CEO saying the bridge bank is “open and conducting business as usual”.

Samsung’s faking pictures of the moon taken on their smartphones and are proud of it

Someone on Reddit discovered that their fancy new Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra’s photos of the Moon were way too good than what the little sensor in the phone should theoretically be capable of. They ran a few tests and ultimately discovered that phone is doing some sort of AI trickery to enhance crappy blurry photos of the Moon when it thinks a photo of the Moon has been taken. A few days later Samsung has confirmed “Scene Optimizer” AI enhancement in a blog post and went some detail on what’s going on. The Moon is a “specific object” Scene Optimizer can detect and apply “detail enhancement”. I don’t know what other objects Samsung is automatically “enhancing”, but at what point do we start to doubt the images coming out of the cameras on our smartphones are real? At the very least it would be nice if companies doing this stuff were way more transparent about what exactly is happening in the background.

SETI@Home calls it quits, no longer crunching new data to find aliens

Bit of a sad one for nerds of a certain age - SETI@Home is going into hibernation. If you don’t remember, it was a project that distributed chunks of radio telescope data to volunteer computers with the aim of finding anything interesting that might be aliens trying to communicate with us. A post on their website says that “we are no longer distributing tasks. The SETI@home message boards will continue to operate, and we’ll continue working on the back-end data analysis. Maybe we’ll even find ET! Thanks to everyone for your support over the years. We encourage you to keep crunching for science”. I loved running SETI@Home on my computer as a screensaver back in the early 2000s. I hope they find something one day.

Internet Archive loses copyright infringement case with publishers, will appeal

A New York federal judge has found against the Internet Archive in the lawsuit brought upon it by Hachette, HarperCollins, John Wiley and Penguin Random House. The publishers reckon the Internet Archive’s “open library” is mass copyright infringement despite “controlled digital lending” (i.e: 1 copy loaned for each physical copy the Internet Archive owns) put in place and the judge agreed, saying that “IA’s wholesale copying and unauthorized lending of digital copies of the Publishers’ print books does not transform the use of the books, and IA profits from exploiting the copyrighted material without paying the customary price”. The IA will appeal the decision, but it doesn’t look good for them unfortunately.


Twitter Inc no longer exists, is now X

Twitter, technically, no longer exists. Musk has merged Twitter Inc with a new company called X Corp, which he’s talked about in the past as an “everything app” like WeChat in China where “users can send payments, shop, and message each other all on one platform” all, turning Twitter into a US$250b mega-corp. I don’t doubt Musk will try to do this, but I doubt it’ll be any good. The merger also moves Twitter from the US state of Delaware, with a court system that seem to not like Elon’s antics, to Nevada, who have looser regulations and where Musk has way more political sway.

Substack’s CEO is a bit of a dickhead, naive doofus at best

Chris Best, Substack’s CEO and co-founder was on The Verge’s Decoder podcast last night and it was a shitshow. When asked about moderation of the new Notes feature, Chris refused to say Substack would ban something as straightforward as overt racism (!!), justifying that choice with weak as piss “we believe in free speech” statements. On Substack’s recent funding failure, he justified asking Substack customers to invest without seeing recent financial information, because he has invested in companies without seeing their financial information. There’s some clips of the interview on TikTok. I’ve never felt more confident that my decision to self-host everything Sizzle related was a good one.

Privacy organisations want permanent Joint Standing Committee on Digital Affairs in federal Parliament

A group of privacy organisations, including Digital Rights Watch and Electronic Frontiers Australia, want a permanent Joint Standing Committee on Digital Affairs in federal Parliament. They argue that “A dedicated standing Committee would allow for a better allocation of time, resources and expertise and help develop a more sophisticated understanding of digital and technology policy. Existing portfolio committees are overworked and their broad remits mean that they neither have the capacity nor time to proactively interrogate emerging tech issues”. Makes a lot of sense to me. Get on it Albo.

Google wants copyright law relaxed so it can train AI models without legal issues

In a submission to the Attorney-General’s Copyright Enforcement Review, Google said it wants the government to modify copyright laws so it can train AI models without the inconvenient hassle of obtaining permission from the owner of that information. In an attempt to shame and/or scare the government into doing what it wants, Google says that “the lack of such copyright flexibilities means that investment in and development of AI and machine-learning technologies is happening and will continue to happen overseas”. Meanwhile, Elon Musk is suing Microsoft, claiming its AI stuff was “trained illegally using Twitter data” and Reddit is planning to charge for access to its API for the purposes of training AI.

Australian study reports that “unsupportive or hostile culture” at work turns women off STEM jobs

Yet another study has shown “an increase in women’s participation in STEM education in schools and though into undergraduate education” but “gains from there into graduate education, career, and senior career, however, have been modest”. The University of South Australia’s study reckons “unsupportive or hostile culture was consistently mentioned during the think tanks as a major barrier to women in the workplace and was often reported as a cause for women leaving a job” and recommends “policies to promote workplace flexibility for all employees regardless of gender, in part to encourage greater participation in unpaid care work by men – which in itself would help shift the dial on societal stereotypes and messaging”. Common sense stuff, time for management to get their shit together.


Replika AI gave people romantic AI friends then took them away

Have you watched the 2013 movie “Her”? If so, the story of Replika AI will be familiar as it’s pretty much what Luka, the company behind the app, has created. They went around promoting an AI companion to lonely people who eventually wanted to have sex with their AI friend (aka Erotic Role Play), so Luka ramped up the horniness of their bot, pitching it to users as an “AI girlfriend”. It went too far, with users claiming it was too aggressive or “sexually harassed” them, so Luka dialed it down and eventually, got rid of the sex and romantic stuff entirely as it got too messy. A significant number of people took to Reddit mourning the loss of their AI partner much like the loss of a real person. Gio has a very well written blog post explaining the “emotional rug-pulling” and mental damage that took place with Replika AI.

Leaked Google memo laments their lack of agility against open source AI

Over at Google, someone leaked a “very recent” internal document to SemiAnalysis, in which “a researcher” argues that they, along with OpenAI, do not have a “moat” against a growing number of open-source AI projects that are “lapping us” and “doing things with $100 and 13B params that we struggle with at $10M and 540B” in “weeks, not months”, with the leaking of Facebook’s LLaMA being the catalyst for all of it. The researcher is essentially arguing that Google (and OpenAI, who are not so open these days) should open source everything they’re doing and let the wider public experiment and do stuff that Google will never do because it’s either too big or too afraid of the ramifications. Hard to argue with the results.

Have you seen Larry Page lately? The US Virgin Islands wants to know where he is

Where the fuck is Larry Page? You know, the co-founder of Google. Where is he? I ask because the U.S. Virgin Islands can’t find him anywhere in the world and wants to serve him papers relating to its legal action against JPMorgan, who the Virgin Islands reckons “facilitated and directly benefited from Epstein’s sex trafficking of underage girls prior to 2019, when the billionaire was found dead of an apparent suicide in a New York prison cell”. Dunno what exactly the Virgin Islands are claiming Larry Page was involved in, but they want a peek at communications and payments between Page and Epstein as far back as 2002. If I was Larry Page, I too would fuck off with my billions and never be seen in public again. Even if I didn’t visit pedophile island with a pedophile, I would still do that.

ASX ditches blockchain replacement for CHESS

The Australian Stock Exchange’s hare-brained plan to replace the venerable CHESS system with a blockchain based platform is officially dead. Back in November, a report the ASX commissioned found that after seven years of waiting for New York based company called Digital Asset to make something usable, they’d have to do a major overhaul to get anything remotely close to production ready using blockchain, so they stopped work and had a think about what to do next. The plan now is to “go down the more conventional route, that is without the focus on DLT (or) blockchain” and “use a more conventional technology than in the original solution in order to achieve the business outcomes”.

Apple, Google and Microsoft given a heads up by PwC on how to get around tax laws PwC cooked up for Australian Treasury & ATO

Corporate goons PwC get truckloads of money from the government to practically come up with policies and get an even bigger truckload of cash from megacorps to come up with ways to get around those policies. Never has this utterly fucked situation been more fucked than a story in the AFR yesterday explaining how Apple, Google and Microsoft were the first people PwC got on the blower to after an ex-PwC partner finished up formulating the multinational anti-avoidance law for Treasury and the ATO in 2015. PwC gave these three massive tech companies (and others) advice on how to get around the very tax laws they created. Dunno if this is “tech news” but Apple, Google and Microsoft are involved and it pissed me off, so in The Sizzle it goes.


Apple Vision Pro is not a VR headset, is a “spatial computer”

Now we get to the keynote’s main course - the Apple Vision Pro spatial computer. It’s an augmented headset that runs “visionOS” and contains an impressive hardware stack in a slick looking package. No hand controllers, it’s all eye-tracking, gesture and voice based. There’s a lot going on here so watch Apple’s 10 min “trailer” to get an idea of what Apple reckons it’s useful for. Goes on sale “early next year” in the USA only, for US$3,499. The EyeSight feature that lets you see people’s eyes as they use the headset is incredibly creepy. Nilay Patel got a hands-on demo with the Vision Pro and while it’s the best headset he’s used, it’s not really like the slick marketing videos from Apple and that “wearing this thing felt oddly lonely”. The bits in the WWDC keynote of a father watching his kids play while wearing them and then wearing them while at a birthday party (nobody else is wearing a headset) is unsettling to me.

Edward Snowden on the 10th anniversary of his legendary whistleblowing

Edward Snowden has given an interview with The Atlantic where he talks about the 10th anniversary of his brave whistleblowing, exposing the global industrial scale espionage the US government was spearheading. He said he has no regrets over what he’s done despite living in exile in Russia and views the “widespread use of end-to-end encryption as one of the positive legacies of the leaks”. He also said that stuff like “facial-recognition software, AI, and invasive spyware such as Pegasus” make the things he exposed in 2013 “look like child’s play”. He admits now that digital privacy is “an ongoing process” and “we will have to be working at it for the rest of our lives and our children’s lives and beyond”. That’s depressing, but realistic.

Large chunks of Reddit go into private mode in protest over API changes

If you’ve logged into Reddit in the last 24 hours there’s a high chance one or more of your favourite communities has gone private and you’re unable to view any posts. Over 7,000 subreddits, including some big mainstream ones like r/funny, r/gaming and r/music are participating in a protest against Reddit’s management jacking up the price of API access, making 3rd party tools for moderation economically unfeasible. The site actually crashed due to so many communities going private at once. Reddit’s CEO gave an enlightening AMA on the weekend, saying that “unlike some of the (third-party) apps, we’re not profitable”, the API costs them “tens of millions of dollars” per year and when asked how he feels about Reddit forgetting about the community, “we’ll continue to be profit-driven until profits arrive”.

US intelligence agencies love buying up commercially available personal data

A 2022 report by the US Office of the Director of National Intelligence was declassified this week and details how “commercially available information, or CAI, has grown in such scale that it has begun to replicate the results of intrusive surveillance techniques once used on a more targeted and limited basis”. All the data spewing out of our internet connected devices is getting purchased wholesale by US intelligence agencies via data brokers on the open market. It’s so good the intelligence agencies are using it to get around the Fourth Amendment (i.e: surveil people without a warrant) and the US government itself is confirming this activity! Really gotta wonder what has to happen for any sort of meaningful change to occur when it comes to data privacy.

We must continue to egg on Zuck & Musk into a cage match, ideally to the death

The two biggest wankers in tech wanna get into a fight after Zuck and Facebook management teased Musk about how shit Twitter is going and Musk responded the only way he knows how - Twitter taunts that devolved into Musk asking Zuck if he wants to fight. It’s not that far fetched either, as “Musk, 51, has the upper hand on Zuckerberg in terms of sheer physical size, and he has talked about being in ‘real hard-core street fights’ when he was growing up in South Africa. Meanwhile, Zuckerberg, 39, is an aspirational MMA fighter who is already winning Jiu-Jitsu tournaments. He also claims to have recently completed the grueling ‘Murph Challenge’ workout in just under 40 minutes”. My money is on Zuck. He will rip Elon Musk apart and I desperately want to see it. Please, let them fight!!!