Archive for January, 2022

One week left to save the Web!

(Last Updated on 7 February 2022)

Okay, okay, so perhaps the title is a little hyperbolic. But this is a very important week. The UK monopoly regulator, the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), is investigating Apple and Google’s mobile app stores. The opportunity for comments closes at 5pm UK time on 7 February. Here are some pre-written sample emails you can use. (If you’re in the USA, contact your elected senator; things are getting serious in Washington, too.)

if you are a UK developer, or non-UK but do business in the UK, you can let CMA know what you think about Apple’s refusal to allow other browser engines on iOS. iDevice owners can download something called Chrome or Firefox, but they are branded skins of WebKit, the same engine that Safari uses and Apple controls. This is because of Apple’s App Store rule 2.5.6:

Apps that browse the web must use the appropriate WebKit framework and WebKit Javascript.

This is ostensibly to protect user privacy and security. However, last week Apple finally patched a bug that meant web users’ web history was leaking, 58 days after it was initially reported to them:

The leak was reported to the WebKit Bug Tracker on November 28, 2021 as bug 233548.

Update (Wednesday January 26th 2022): Apple has released Safari 15.3 on iOS and macOS where this vulnerability has been fixed.

For almost two months, iOS web users’ data was vulnerable–and downloading a differently-named browser would not have helped, because of Apple’s rule 2.5.6.

The lack of browser choice on iOS means that Progressive Web Apps can’t be distributed on iOS as they can on all other browsers. This means that developers either have to use a much less reliable technology like React Native (from Facebook) or make two apps, one for Android and one for iOS (and, potentially, a web app). This greatly increases development and testing costs for businesses. And, of course, developers must pay fees to Apple to be in their developer programme, plus a percentage to be listed in the App Store.

The CMA’s interim report came out in December, and was scathing. It suggests some potential remedies it could require:

  • making it easier to switch browser, resulting in greater competition between browsers
  • requiring Apple’s operating system to allow third-party browser engines on iOS, or in the alternative to require Apple to allow web app developers greater interoperability with its mobile ecosystem
  • addressing the ability of Apple and Google to exercise market power by using browser settings to favour other parts of their mobile ecosystems, in particular digital advertising.

If you agree (or disagree) with any of these suggested requirements of Apple, please email CMA before 7 Feburary.

It would be useful to tell them as many of these as is appropriate

  • If you are a UK resident, or your organisation does business in UK
  • A brief summary of the interests or organisations you represent
  • whether you are providing any material that you consider to be confidential, and explain why this is the case; and if the response contains confidential information, please also provide a non-confidential version of your response alongside it.
  • The specific ways in which unfair App Store or Browser choice policies have hurt your business (think lost revenue, increased costs, bugs, etc.)
  • Specific missing features and bugs that cause your ongoing business harm
  • What you would like CMA to do (e.g., alternative browser engines on iOS) and between the web and native (e.g., the inability to offer a lower-cost, higher service web experience vs being forced into app stores)
  • If you are an individual (ie you are not representing an organisation), please indicate whether you wish for your response to be attributed to you by name or published anonymously

It doesn’t have to be long, but we need CMA to see how Safari (and lack of alternatives) hurts developers, and businesses, and ultimately consumers. Perhaps you could derive inspiration from this response by Jeremy Keith or Aaron T. Grogg. You *will* be listened to; they listened to me (twice!) and I’m no cleverer than you. The final report is due to be published in June 2022.

Please, make your voice heard.

Email: mobileecosystems@cma.gov.uk

Post: Mobile Ecosystems Market Study
Competition and Markets Authority
25 Cabot Square
London
E14 4QZ

Reading List 285

Multiple Sclerosis and cunnilingus

New Scientist is reporting the Strongest evidence yet that Multiple Sclerosis is caused by Epstein-Barr virus:

A huge study of US military personnel suggests almost all cases of multiple sclerosis are triggered by the common Epstein-Barr virus, meaning a vaccine could largely eradicate the condition

Good news! I looked up Epstein-Barr virus on Wikipedia and found out that

Infection with EBV occurs by the oral transfer of saliva and genital secretions.

This makes sense. As a black belt (5th dan) in snogging and cunnilingus, I’m a victim of my own giving nature.

Farewell, 2021

Not much happened in 2021, for obvious reasons. One surprising event was that I took a permanent job for the first time since Opera went tits-up in 2016. I had been contracting for Babylon Health for 6 months, helping them on their mission to make “high-quality healthcare accessible and affordable for everyone on Earth” and I liked them (even more surprisingly, they liked me) so when they offered me fripperies like paid time off and sick leave during a pandemic, I said yes.

Conferences didn’t really happen. I came to dislike speaking at Zoomferences, but did manage to harangue people in person at Front Conference Zurich, which was brilliantly organised by volunteers. Hopefully I can shout at people in real-life after Spring 2022 (and stay tuned for an exciting announcement about this).

Instead of conferences, I put my rabble-rousing urges into ending the Apple browser Ban, twice invited to brief the UK Competition and Marketing Authority about their investigation into Apple’s iOS browser monopoly and Progressive Web Apps. The final report will come out in June.

In personal news, I gained a few kilos due to an even more sedentary pandemic lifestyle, and didn’t smoke all year. And I managed to sell an Evil demonic spirit, captured in a box. Genuine ghost. Do NOT open the box! on eBay.

However, by the end of the year, I was feeling burned out and depressed, so decided to spend Christmas in Thailand, where I have a little rural holiday home. I felt a bit irresponsible travelling during Covid (and had to pay through the nose –pun intended– on 4 PCR tests for each family member), but it was absolutely worth it. It was such a tonic to get some sun, speak another language, eat different food and just see different surroundings after 2 years of the pandemic.

On return, however, I’m not feeling optimistic for the winter. In Thailand, everyone –and I mean, everyone– wears a mask outside their home, even in 30+ centigrade heat. No whining about “muzzles” or “liberty”, just social responsibility and a sense of shared endeavour. Yesterday, after my Day 2 PCR test came back negative, I could go to the supermarket to restock after my holiday. I reckon 50% of shoppers wore masks. Today my son returns to college. Given multiple sclerosis is my own immune system attacking my nervous system, I’m fully expecting to get sick. Hopefully, my vaccinations and booster will save me from serious illness.

Let’s hope 2022 brings better times for all.