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Introducing Plausible Community Edition

[Plausible Analytics]

"We’re real people who have rent to pay and mouths to feed. We make $300 per month from donations from our self-hosted users. It would take us more than ten years of donations to pay one month of salary for our small team. If we cannot capture the economic value of our work, the project will become unsustainable and die."

It's more than a little painful to see new open source businesses re-learn what I and other open source founders have learned over time.

I'm fully in support of Plausible moving to AGPL and introducing a Contributor License Agreement, but I don't believe this will be enough. Indeed, Plausible is moving to "open core" and privatizing some of the more lucrative features:

"We’re also keeping some of the newly released business and enterprise features (funnels and ecommerce revenue metrics at the time of being) exclusive to the business plan subscribers on our Plausible Analytics managed hosting."

What's particularly interesting to me is that they're maintaining source availability for these features - it's just that they're not going to be released under an open source license.

Open source purists might complain, but I believe it's better for the project to exist at all and use licensing that allows for sustainability rather than to maintain open source purity and find that the developers can't sustain themselves. I'd love for these things to be compatible, but so far, I don't believe that they are.


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‘It’s about survival’: Athens mayor focuses on getting capital through extreme heat

[Helene Smith at The Guardian]

"Barely six months into the job, the mayor of Athens’s top priority is simple: ensuring that the people of Greece’s capital – mainland Europe’s hottest metropolis – survive the summer. After a June that was the hottest on record, the city has already witnessed record-breaking temperatures and wildfires."

We're deeply into the climate crisis at this point; a major city having to make major changes in order to "survive the summer" is just another example.

When you get into the detail, it's terrifying - particularly considering that we're still only at the foothills of where the crisis will lead us:

“It’s not a matter of lifestyle, or improving the quality of life; it’s about survival when 23% of the green lung around Athens has in recent years been destroyed by fires. It’s vital we have more trees, more air-conditioned community centres and more water stations on our streets and squares.”

Over time, we're going to see mass migrations and real, sustained changes to the way people live. We're also going to see a great deal of suffering. These are things we've been warned about for many decades, but the stories are transitioning from projections from climate experts to being the news headlines.

The onus is on the international community to respond to the crisis with robust energy, but we've been waiting for decades for this to really happen. Instead we get carbon trading schemes and economic deals that don't cut to the core of the problem.

There's an individual responsibility, too. These days that responsibility goes beyond making sensible choices about our own energy use (although most of us don't) and extends to voting, taking to the streets, and making it clear to our leaders that continued inaction is not acceptable.

If there isn't change, wars will be fought over this. In a certain light, they already are.


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Substack rival Ghost federates its first newsletter

[Sarah Perez at TechCrunch]

"Newsletter platform and Substack rival Ghost announced earlier this year that it would join the fediverse, the open social network of interconnected servers that includes apps like Mastodon, Pixelfed, PeerTube, Flipboard and, more recently, Instagram Threads, among others. Now, it has made good on that promise — with its own newsletter as a start."

I'm certain that this is a large part of the future of how information will be disseminated on the internet - and how publishers will run subscription programs. Subscribers who use the fediverse see the benefit of rich content that they can reshare and comment on; publishers get to understand a lot more about their subscribers than they would from the web or email newsletters.

Ghost's reader will certainly be augmented by other, standalone readers that work a bit like Apple News. Its fediverse publishing capabilities will be followed by other content management systems. Notably, Automattic has been working on fediverse integration, for example, and Flipboard has been doing amazing work in this area.

I'm also convinced there's room for another fediverse-compatible social network that handles both long and short-form content in a similar way to Substack's articles and Notes. If someone else doesn't build that, I will.


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Rural Republicans Pushing Back Against School Voucher Expansions

[Alec MacGillis at ProPublica]

"Voucher advocates, backed by a handful of billionaire funders, are on the march to bring more red and purple states into the fold for “school choice,” their preferred terminology for vouchers. And again and again, they are running up against rural Republicans like Warner, who are joining forces with Democratic lawmakers in a rare bipartisan alliance. That is, it’s the reddest regions of these red and purple states that are putting up some of the strongest resistance to the conservative assault on public schools."

This is heartening to see: a bipartisan push against the school voucher system. Public schools are important social infrastructure that deserve significantly more investment rather than having funds siphoned away to support exclusive institutions. A free market for schools is not the way - and clearly, the communities who would be most affected by a voucher system see this too.

This also feels like one of those rare moments where some Republicans are actively practicing old-school conservatism: the kind that isn't drawn from The Handmaid's Tale. That's nice to see, and I'd love to see more of it.

"[Republican Representative] Greene believes vouchers will harm his district. It has a couple of small private schools in it or just outside it — with student bodies that are starkly more white than the district’s public schools — but the majority of his constituents rely on the public schools, and he worries that vouchers will leave less money for them."

Exactly. Not to mention a worse education.


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📖 A Psalm for the Wild-Built

[Becky Chambers]

“You’re an animal, Sibling Dex. You are not separate or other. You’re an animal. And animals have no purpose. Nothing has a purpose. The world simply is. If you want to do things that are meaningful to others, fine! Good! So do I! But if I wanted to crawl into a cave and watch stalagmites with Frostfrog for the remainder of my days, that would also be both fine and good. You keep asking why your work is not enough, and I don’t know how to answer that, because it is enough to exist in the world and marvel at it. You don’t need to justify that, or earn it. You are allowed to just live. That is all most animals do.”

I tend to read whatever the opposite of cozy science fiction is: angry and worried about the world, building tension from speculative extrapolations of what could go wrong. This, on the other hand, is science fiction that encourages you to just chill for a minute.

I don’t know if I could read a lot of this, because I am angry and worried about the world, and reading other peoples’ words along the same lines is cathartic. But the message here — that you don’t need to justify yourself, that you can just be — is soothing, and was necessary for me. And it’s all done with wit and care. What a delightful novella.


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📖 Mobility

[Lydia Kiesling]

It took me a long time to get through the first third of this novel. The protagonist is so vapid, her point of view so incurious and at the same time so familiarly American, against a backdrop of obvious imperialism and climate obliviousness, that it was hard to find the motivation to continue.

But I’m glad I did. This is an indictment of one character, but through her, all of America, and every country and every person that touches the interconnected hyperobject of energy, climate, and western prosperity. It’s savage, witty, and remarkably pointed: the kind of book that’s soothing to read in the modern age because no, you’re not alone, someone else is feeling this too, and their rage has manifested into something far better articulated than you could hope to muster.

Is this shared awareness enough to halt the catastrophe that we’re careening towards? Probably not. But holy shit, there’s something here, and if there’s even a chance we can pull off the total culture change that averting this crisis requires, we need to try.

The remaining two thirds sharpen to a point, an ending that will cut you without mercy. And I’m grateful for it.

Mobility, by Lydia Kiesling


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Declare your AIndependence: block AI bots, scrapers and crawlers with a single click


"To help preserve a safe Internet for content creators, we’ve just launched a brand new “easy button” to block all AI bots. It’s available for all customers, including those on our free tier."

This is really neat! Whatever you land on AI scraping, giving site owners the one-click ability to make a choice is great. Some will choose not to use this; others will hit the button. Making it this easy means it's a choice about the principles, not any kind of technical considerations. Which is what it should be.

Not every site is on Cloudflare (and some also choose not to use it because of how it's historically dealt with white supremacist / Nazi content). But many are, and this makes it easy for them. Other, similar providers will likely follow quickly.


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An Open Letter to the United Nations

[Sir Tim Berners-Lee, Vint Cerf, Hadley Beeman, Daniel Appelquist, Robin Berjon, et al]

"Government engagement in digital and Internet governance is needed to deal with many abuses of this global system but it is our common responsibility to uphold the bottom-up, collaborative and inclusive model of Internet governance that has served the world for the past half century."

A tremendously important open letter to the United Nations in light of the opaque, hierarchical process the Global Digital Compact is being developed with, and the centralized governance many of its proposals can be read to call for.

It's worth clicking through to read the list of signatories: these are people we can thank for the existence of the internet and the web at all. That they believe this is important enough to create this open letter is worth paying attention to.


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Sotomayor says immunity ruling makes a president ‘king above the law’

[Rachel Leingang at The Guardian]

"The President of the United States is the most powerful person in the country, and possibly the world. When he uses his official powers in any way, he now will be insulated from criminal prosecution. Orders the Navy’s Seal Team 6 to assassinate a political rival? Immune. Organizes a military coup to hold onto power? Immune. Takes a bribe in exchange for a pardon? Immune. Immune, immune, immune."

I've been worried about the world my son will grow up into since before he was born. Over time, my worry has been upgraded to a fear that is becoming ever more visceral and searing. Today the volume of my fear turned up still further.

The thing is, this isn't the only thing allowing for misconduct. The President has effectively been able to commit crimes internationally with very little accountability since forever. Coups, backroom exchanges, and assassinations are all things the US has done to other countries for generations.

My hope is that (1) we come out of this more or less intact, (2) we eventually use this as an opportunity to create stronger ethical and legal rules for our leadership, wherever they act.

Whatever happens, these are truly scary times.


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Calm Down—Your Phone Isn’t Listening to Your Conversations. It’s Just Tracking Everything You Type, Every App You Use, Every Website You Visit, and Everywhere You Go in the Physical World

[Jonathan Zeller at McSweeney's]

"We do not live in some tech dystopia in which our smartphones clandestinely use their mics to pick up every word we say and then feed us commercial messages based on them. The truth is simpler and not at all alarming: your phone only seems to be listening to you because it’s collecting data about every word you type, every website you visit, and, through GPS tracking, everywhere you go in the physical world."

No notes: this is pretty good.


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Peter Capaldi says posh actors are smooth, confident and tedious

[Vanessa Thorpe in The Guardian]

“Art is about reaching out. So I think it’s wrong to allow one strata of society to have the most access.”

This is an older article, but it resonated with me so much that I wanted to share it immediately.

This is so important, and a sign of what we've lost:

“I went [to art school] because the government of the day paid for me to go and I didn’t have to pay them back. There was a thrusting society then, a society that tried to improve itself. Yes, of course, it cost money. But so what? It allowed people from any kind of background to learn about Shakespeare, or Vermeer.”

A culture where only the rich are afforded the space, training, and platform to make art is missing the voices that make it special.

The same goes for other spaces: newsrooms where only the wealthy can serve as journalists cannot accurately represent the people who depend on it. Technology without class diversity is myopic. Above all else, a culture of rich people is boring as hell.

Art school - like all school - should be free and available to everyone. It's tragic that it's not. We all lose out, regardless of our background.


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Fighting bots is fighting humans

[Molly White]

"I fear that media outlets and other websites, in attempting to "protect" their material from AI scrapers, will go too far in the anti-human direction."

I've been struggling with this.

I'm not in favor of the 404 Media approach, which is to stick an auth wall in front of your content, forcing everyone to register before they can load your article. That isn't a great experience for anyone, and I don't think it's sustainable for a publisher in the long run.

At the same time, I think it's fair to try and prevent some bot access at the moment. Adding AI agents to your robots.txt - although, as recent news has shown, perhaps not as effective a move as it might be - seems like the right call to me.

Clearly an AI agent isn't a human. For ad hoc queries - where an agent is retrieving content from a website in direct response to a user query - it clearly is acting on behalf of a human. Is it a browser, then? Maybe? If it is, we should just let it through.

It's accessing articles as training data that I really take issue with (as well as the subterfuge of not always advertising what it is when it accesses a site). In these cases, content is copied into a corpus in a manner that's outside of its licensing, without the author's knowledge. That sucks - not because I'm in favor of DRM, but because often the people whose work is being taken are living on a shoestring, and the software is run by very large corporations who will make a fortune.

But yes: I don't think auth walls, CAPTCHAs, paywalls, or any added friction between content and audience are a good idea. These things make the web worse for everybody.

Molly's post is in response to an original by Manu Moreale, which is also worth reading.


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AP to launch sister organization to fundraise for state, local news

"Governed by an independent board of directors, the 501(c)3 charitable organization will help AP sustain, augment and grow journalism and services for the industry, as well as help fund other entities that share a commitment to state and local news."

Fascinating! And much needed.

I'm curious to learn how this fits into other fundraising efforts, like the $500M Press Forward initiative for local news that was announced last year.

I do also have a question about whether all this centralized philanthropy is sustainable. What happens to these newsrooms if the foundation dollars go away? Are they incentivized to find their own business and fundraising models, or does this create a kind of dependence that might be harmful in the long run?

My hope, of course, is that these efforts are the shot in the arm that journalism needs, and that the newsrooms which receive this funding will be sustainable and enduring. It's certainly lovely to see the support.


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Law enforcement is spying on thousands of Americans’ mail, records show

[Drew Harwell at the Washington Post]

"Postal inspectors say they fulfill [requests from law enforcement to share information from letters and packages] only when mail monitoring can help find a fugitive or investigate a crime. But a decade’s worth of records, provided exclusively to The Washington Post in response to a congressional probe, show Postal Service officials have received more than 60,000 requests from federal agents and police officers since 2015, and that they rarely say no."

I wish this was surprising. Something similar seems to have gone on in every trusted facet of American life: from cell phone providers to online library platforms to license plate readers on the roads. It's all part of an Overton window shift into pervasive surveillance that has been ongoing for decades.

Senator Ron Wyden is right to be blunt:

“These new statistics show that thousands of Americans are subjected to warrantless surveillance each year, and that the Postal Inspection Service rubber stamps practically all of the requests they receive.”

We shouldn't accept it. And yet, by and large, we do.


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The Future of Fashion Commerce Is a Designer's AI Bot Saying You Look Great and Your Personal AI Bot Sifting Through the Bullshit

[Hunter Walk]

"The best commerce platforms will be constantly grooming you, priming you, shaping you to buy. The combination of short-term and long-term value that leads to the optimal financial outcome for the business."

I think this is inevitably correct: the web will devolve into a battle between different entities who are all trying to persuade you to take different actions. That's already been true for decades, but it's been ambient until now; generative AI gives it the ability to literally argue with us. Which means we're going to need our own bots to argue back.

Hunter's analogy of a bot that's supposedly in your corner calling bullshit on all the bots trying to sell things to you is a good one. Except, who will build the bot that's in your corner? Why will it definitely be so? Who will profit from it?

What a spiral this will be.


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Why does moral progress feel preachy and annoying?

[Daniel Kelly and Evan Westra in Aeon]

"Many genuinely good arguments for moral change will be initially experienced as annoying. Moreover, the emotional responses that people feel in these situations are not typically produced by psychological processes that are closely tracking argument structure or responding directly to moral reasons."

This is a useful breakdown of why arguments for social progress encounter so much friction, and why the first emotional response may be to roll our eyes. It's all about our norm psychologies - and some people have stronger reactions than others.

As the authors make clear here, people who are already outside of the mainstream culture for one reason or another (immigration, belonging to a minority or vulnerable group, and so on) already feel friction from the prevailing norms being misaligned with their own psychology. If that isn't the case, change is that much harder.

But naming it is at least part of the battle:

"Knowing this fact about yourself should lead you to pause the next time you reflexively roll your eyes upon encountering some new, annoying norm and the changes its advocates are asking you to make. That irritation is not your bullshit detector going off."

Talking about these effects, and understanding their origins, helps everyone better understand their reactions and get to better outcomes. Social change is both necessary and likely to happen regardless of our reactions. It's always better to be a person who celebrates progressive change rather than someone who creates friction in the face of it.


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Systems: What does a board of directors do?

[Anil Dash]

"I realize that most people who've never been in the boardroom have a lot of questions (and often, anxieties) about what happens on a board, so I wanted to share a very subjective view of what I've seen and learned over the years."

This is great, and jibes with my experiences both being on boards and supporting them as a part of various organizations.

The most functional boards I've seen do what Anil describes here: they're pre-briefed and are ready to have a substantive discussion in a way that pushes the organization forward. Board meetings have a heavy reporting component, for sure, but the discussion and working sessions are always the most meaningful component.

This is also often true, and a challenge:

"I believe in the structure of a board (usually along with some separate advisors) to help an organization reach its fullest potential, in much the same way as I believe in governments having separate branches with separate forms of accountability and appointment. In practice, having nearly all-powerful executives select the membership of the organization that's meant to hold them accountable tends to fail just as badly in business or non-profits as it does in governments."

The board meetings I've attended that are the most robust and open to discussion and genuine debate have also been the ones attached to the most successful companies. I don't think it's quite causation, but rather two things that come from a particularly pragmatic attitude towards running a business: one where outside perspectives and differences of opinion are a strength, not a threat.


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I Will Piledrive You If You Mention AI Again

[Nikhil Suresh at Ludicity]

"This entire class of person is, to put it simply, abhorrent to right-thinking people. They're an embarrassment to people that are actually making advances in the field, a disgrace to people that know how to sensibly use technology to improve the world, and are also a bunch of tedious know-nothing bastards that should be thrown into Thought Leader Jail until they've learned their lesson, a prison I'm fundraising for."

I enjoyed this very much.

Here's the thing, though: I don't think what Nikhil wants will happen.

I mean, don't get me wrong: it probably should. The author is a leader in his field, and his exasperation at the hype train is well-earned.

But it's not people like Nikhil who actually make the decisions, or invest in the companies, or make the whole industry (or industries) tick over. Again: it should be.

What happens again and again is that people who see that they can make money out of a particularly hyped technology leap onto the bandwagon, and then market the bandwagon within an inch of everybody's lives. Stuff that shouldn't be widespread becomes widespread.

And here we are again with AI.

This is exactly right:

"Unless you are one of a tiny handful of businesses who know exactly what they're going to use AI for, you do not need AI for anything - or rather, you do not need to do anything to reap the benefits. Artificial intelligence, as it exists and is useful now, is probably already baked into your businesses software supply chain."

And this:

"It did not end up being the crazy productivity booster that I thought it would be, because programming is designing and these tools aren't good enough (yet) to assist me with this seriously."

There is work that will be improved with AI, but it's not something that most industries will have to stop everything and leap on top of. The human use cases must come first with any technology: if you have a problem that AI can solve, by all means, use AI. But if you don't, hopping on the hype train is just going to burn you a lot of money and slow your actual core business down.


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New ALPR Vulnerabilities Prove Mass Surveillance Is a Public Safety Threat

[Dave Maass and Cooper Quintin at EFF]

"When law enforcement uses ALPRs to document the comings and goings of every driver on the road, regardless of a nexus to a crime, it results in gargantuan databases of sensitive information, and few agencies are equipped, staffed, or trained to harden their systems against quickly evolving cybersecurity threats."

As the EFF points out, it's often vulnerable software - and even when it's not, it violates the security principle of only collecting the information you need. Information security and data strategies are not core law enforcement skillsets, and the software they buy is often oversold.

As the EFF explains:

"That partially explains why, more than 125 law enforcement agencies reported a data breach or cyberattacks between 2012 and 2020, according to research by former EFF intern Madison Vialpando. The Motorola Solutions article claims that ransomware attacks "targeting U.S. public safety organizations increased by 142 percent" in 2023."

The use of these tactics seems uncontrolled - perhaps this is one area where legislation could help.


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Social-Media Influencers Aren’t Getting Rich—They’re Barely Getting By

[Sarah E. Needleman and Ann-Marie Alcántara at the Wall Street Journal]

"Earning a decent, reliable income as a social-media creator is a slog—and it’s getting harder. Platforms are doling out less money for popular posts and brands are being pickier about what they want out of sponsorship deals."

For many kids, becoming an influencer has become the new becoming a sports star: in enormous numbers, it's what they want to be. More broadly, if you dare to say that it's not a real job, you're likely to be drowned out by complaints and contradictions.

But it isn't, and this article makes it clear:

"Last year, 48% of creator-earners made $15,000 or less, according to NeoReach, an influencer marketing agency. Only 13% made more than $100,000."

Of course, some people really did shoot to fame and have been doing really well. But there aren't many Mr Beasts or Carli D'Amelios of this world, and the lure of being famous has trapped less lucky would-be influencers in cycles of debt and mental illness.

This is despite having sometimes enormous followings: hundreds of thousands to millions of people, with hundreds of millions of views a month. The economics of the platforms are such that even at those numbers, you can barely scrape by.

I like the advice that, instead, you should cultivate a genuine expertise and use social media to promote offsite services you provide around that. It might be that a following can land you a better job, or help you build up a consultancy. Trying to make money from ads and brand sponsorships is a losing game - and thousands of people are losing big.


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Sharing Openly About ShareOpenly

[Alan Levine at CogDogBlog]

"ShareOpenly breaks the door even wider than sharing to Mastodon, and I intend to be using it to update some of my examples listed above. Thanks Ben for demonstrative and elegant means of sharing."

Thank you, Alan, for sharing!

There's more to come on ShareOpenly - more platforms to add, and some tweaks to the CSS so that the whole thing works better on older devices or smaller phone screens. It's a simple tool, but I'm pleased with how people have reacted to it, and how it's been carried forward.

There are no terms to sign and there's nothing to sign up for; adding a modern "share this" button to your site is as easy as following a few very simple instructions.


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Succor borne every minute

[Michael Atleson at the FTC Division of Advertising Practices]

"Don’t misrepresent what these services are or can do. Your therapy bots aren’t licensed psychologists, your AI girlfriends are neither girls nor friends, your griefbots have no soul, and your AI copilots are not gods."

The FTC gets involved in the obviously rife practice of overselling the capabilities of AI services. These are solid guidelines, and hopefully the precursor to more meaningful action when vendors inevitably cross the line.

While these points are all important, for me the most pertinent is the last:

"Don’t violate consumer privacy rights. These avatars and bots can collect or infer a lot of intensely personal information. Indeed, some companies are marketing as a feature the ability of such AI services to know everything about us. It’s imperative that companies are honest and transparent about the collection and use of this information and that they don’t surreptitiously change privacy policies or relevant terms of service."

It's often unclear how much extra data is being gathered behind the scenes when AI features are added. This is where battles will be fought and lines will be drawn, particularly in enterprises and well-regulated industries.


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United Airlines seat ads: How to opt out of targeted advertising

[Michael Grothaus at FastCompany]

"United Airlines announced that it is bringing personalized advertising to the seatback entertainment screens on its flights. The move is aimed at increasing the airline’s revenue by leveraging the data that it has on its passengers."

Just another reason why friends don't let friends fly United. We should all be reducing our air travel overall anyway, given the climate crisis, and in a world where we all fly less, shouldn't we choose a better experience?

This sounds like the absolute worst:

"United believes its advertising network will be appealing to brands because “there is the potential for 3.5 hours of attention per traveler, based on average flight time.”"

Passengers from California, Colorado, Connecticut, Virginia, and Utah can opt out of having their private information used to show targeted ads to them for the duration of what sounds like an agonizing flight. Passengers from other US States are out of luck - at least until their legislatures also pass reasonable privacy legislation.

Other airlines are removing seat-back entertainment to reduce fuel, so on top of the baseline climate impact of the air travel industry, there's a real additional climate implication here. Planes with seat-back entertainment, in general, use more fuel; United is making a revenue decision with all kinds of negative impacts that they should not be rewarded for.


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Perplexity AI Is Lying about Their User Agent

[Robb Knight]

Perplexity AI doesn't use its advertised browser string or IP range to load content from third-party websites:

"So they're using headless browsers to scrape content, ignoring robots.txt, and not sending their user agent string. I can't even block their IP ranges because it appears these headless browsers are not on their IP ranges."

On one level, I understand why this is happening, as everyone who's ever written a scraper (or scraper mitigations) might: the crawler for training the model likely does use the correct browser string, but on-demand calls likely don't to prevent them from being blocked. That's not a good excuse at all, but I bet that's what's going on.

This is another example of the core issue with robots.txt: it's a handshake agreement at best. There are no legal or technical restrictions imposed by it; we all just hope that bots do the right thing. Some of them do, but a lot of them don't.

The only real way to restrict these services is through legal rules that create meaningful consequences for these companies. Until then, there will be no sure-fire way to prevent your content from being accessed by an AI agent.


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Pentagon ran secret anti-vax campaign to incite fear of China vaccines

[Chris Bing and Joel Schechtman at Reuters]

"The U.S. military launched a clandestine program amid the COVID crisis to discredit China’s Sinovac inoculation – payback for Beijing’s efforts to blame Washington for the pandemic. One target: the Filipino public. Health experts say the gambit was indefensible and put innocent lives at risk."

Reading this, it certainly seems indefensible, although unfortunately not out of line with other US foreign policy efforts. Innocent people died because of this US military operation.

It's a reflection of the simple idea, which seems to have governed US foreign policy for almost a century, that foreign lives matter less in the quest for dominance over our perceived rivals.

Even if you do care about America more than anywhere else, this will have hurt at home, too. The internet being what it is, it also would make sense that these influence campaigns made their way back to the US and affected vaccine uptake on domestic soil.

The whole thing feels like the military equivalent of a feature built by a novice product manager: someone had a goal that they needed to hit, and this was how they decided to get there. But don't get me wrong: I don't think this was an anomaly or someone running amok. This was policy.


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