Kara Swisher interviews Tristan Harris vox.com/recode/2019/5/6/185308

Tristan Harris is still one of the most clear-eyed thinkers in the whole "techlash." He's good at pulling together seemingly disparate phenomena and showing how they all stem from the incentives of the attention economy.

One thing I found interesting is that Tristan Harris seems to really lean on Apple as a potential white knight to come in and help clean up the ecosystem. He's right that they're well-positioned for that, since their business model isn't based on attention.

It makes me continue to wonder: is the open-source battle over? Is the new battle over privacy, attention, and well-being? Most tech critics these days (Tufekci, Lanier, etc) sound a lot more like Tristan Harris than like Richard Stallman.

Maybe the major difference is that the open-source (and free software) battles were born in an era when people who used computers and people who *programmed* computers were largely one and the same. So promoting OSS was a way to increase the sum total of human freedom, giving technicians control over their instruments.

Nowadays a much larger share of humanity is using computers, and most of them *aren't* programmers, so OSS is much less interesting to them. Instead, it's privacy/attention/etc.



I've usually explained open source to non-technical people as being the equivalent of an ingredients list on food.

Even if you don't make food yourself, even if you don't know what those ingredient names mean, it's important that the information is public so that experts can check it on your behalf.

@switchingsocial This is a really good explanation but let me push on that a bit: is Android "better" for you than iOS because more of its components are open-source? Is Ubuntu more accessible than macOS for the average non-techie consumer?

I guess maybe the analogy would be that some products list 95% of their ingredients, and others only 50%, but that doesn't mean that the more transparent ones are better for you. Also maybe the ones that list 100% of ingredients have hard-to-open boxes. 😜

@switchingsocial Or maybe the analogy really is: food companies wouldn't put ingredients lists if the FDA didn't force them to, so we need the same thing for software. 😁


Yeah, listing the ingredients alone doesn't make food good for you (chips are usually just salt, potatoes and oil) but makes it a heck of a lot easier for experts to make recommendations.

Apple seems to be better about privacy *at the moment*, but we are having to trust them because they won't let us verify what they do.

If Apple's management changes abruptly (which it has done in the past when Jobs was thrown out), will the new management care about privacy? How would we even know?

@switchingsocial Great points, yeah. I'm nervous about betting the privacy farm on Apple.

@switchingsocial @nolan I feel pretty comfortable that we would know simply because there is a pretty significant watchdog system in place: journalists, actual watchdog groups, the legal requirements of updating ToS, hobbyist communities, etc.

I don’t think seismic shifts can happen in a vacuum anymore.

@chartier @nolan

Well... 😟 I don't want to get conspiratorial, but Apple is notorious for denying access to journalists that criticise it:


Access journalism (where journalists give positive spin in exchange for access) is part of the reason the media goes so lightly on Apple.

I'm guessing a trillion dollar company can lobby politicians pretty well too, and they control government watchdogs.

Open sourcing code would be the best way for hobbyists to check it.

@switchingsocial @nolan As someone who has covered and criticized Apple for over a decade, and knows most of the larger network who also does, I feel pretty solid in saying that is a less common incident than the media blew it up to be.

This stuff gets complicated, and The Register isn’t exactly a publication that shies away from sensationalism.

Many of us criticize Apple for a variety of things. I even got one of those calls once, but I wasn’t blacklisted.

@switchingsocial @nolan And if you’re open to a different perspective on how the media treats Apple, consider: AntennaGate, BendGate, the flood of editorials whenever iCloud/App Store/iTunes have even a partial outage, the completely misrepresented BatteryGate—which was literally built to help older phones last longer, LocationGate (yes I hate the overuse of Gate), the current KeyboardGate, the unending (and valid) criticism of the App Store’s role in destruction of sustainable app prices.

@switchingsocial @nolan The vast majority of sites and writers who have critically covered this stuff, and even often misrepresented details, have not been blacklisted from contacting Apple or receiving review units.

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