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Stephen Hackett's blog about things that light up and make noise. 512 Pixels is about Apple, technology, journalism and design.

On Evernote's new Context feature, and why it's a problem

In today’s iOS and Mac update, Evernote added a new feature for premium users named Context. Here’s the description from the release notes:

Premium feature: Context

  • Context displays notes, articles, and people related to what you’re working on
  • View related articles from The Wall Street Journal and other sources and related people from LinkedIn and your business

That first bullet point isn’t all that new. For a while now, Evernote has been able to show related notes in the Mac app, but pulling in data from the web is new. Here’s a list of sources that can appear in Evernote based on the content of the current note:

Clearly, this is a business move by Evernote to diversify its income past selling premium memberships, and I don’t disparage the company trying to do that.

However, there is no situation in which I want content from the Internet appearing alongside the endless amounts of information about work clients, home projects and my business I store within Evernote.

Of course, it’s foolish to think Evernote — as a corporation — doesn’t have the ability to see what I store in its applications. However, on its “Three Laws of Data Protection” webpage, Evernote’s CEO Phil Libin writes:

Everything you put into Evernote is private by default. We are not a “big data” company and do not try to make money from your content. Our systems automatically analyze your data in order to power Evernote features, such as search and related notes, and to tell you about important features and products that we think will enhance your Evernote experience, but we never give or sell your content to any third party for advertising purposes.

bold emphasis his, not mine

While Context may not officially break this “law of data protection,” it sure feels icky.

As of today — October 31, 2014 — the term context does not appear in Evernote’s Terms of Service, but it does in the company’s Privacy Policy:

With our Context feature, the Evernote Service uses a number of technologies to show you relevant content. The content we show you may include Notes from your own account, Notes from accounts you are connected to through Evernote Business or Work Chat, and third party content that you have elected to receive. We believe features like these, which work automatically without any person at Evernote reviewing your Content, will enhance your experience using the Service. Context is turned on by default in applications where the feature is offered, but you can choose to turn it off. Context appears as “related results” in our Web Clipper, a feature which is turned on by default for our Business users.

While I’m glad humans aren’t looking at my notes, I don’t want content from the web being pulled into Evernote.

To disable the Context feature, you have to take a trip into Evernote’s application settings on each device. On the Mac app, the verbiage makes me think that Context can’t be turned off, just hidden:

Clicking the “Manage Context Sources” button loads the Evernote web app, where sources can be turned off:

These settings do sync with the iOS device, which is nice, but again, it’s unclear if this feature can be disabled completely.

This is another example of Evernote spreading itself past its primary scope. I want Evernote sync to be fast and reliable, and I want their apps to be world-class. That’s not true today, and until it is, additions like Context have me wondering if its time to move on from the service.

Ruining Lives With Perspective

Connected 11:

This week, after saving Greenland, Federico, Stephen and Myke compare and contrast what’s on their iPhone home screens.

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More on SugarString

T.C. Sottek at The Verge:

For now, it's easy to shrug off Sugarstring as just another hilariously dumb attempt to make a corporate brand look cool. Its format is somewhere between Digg, BuzzFeed, and Verizon's corporate blog. It appears to gather much of its content from Reddit. It's powered by Wordpress. It inexplicably has 74,000 Twitter followers. It publishes headlines like "Can you survive without chatting at work?" and "Three reasons Neil DeGrasse Tyson is wrong about innovation."

But in the broader context, Sugarstring is frightening. It resembles a future where enormous corporations that own the pipes through which speech travels also own that speech. Hell, that's not even a vision of the future; Comcast already owns NBC, and its promises for good behavior as a vertically integrated superpower have an expiration date.

So far we've been worried about the subtle effects of corporate control of the internet — stuff like data caps, and throttling, and "fast lanes." Sugarstring is something entirely different. It's brazen, disrespectful, and deeply cynical. There can only be two possibilities for its existence: Verizon thinks people aren't paying attention, or they're just too stupid to get it.

SugarString

Patrick Howell O’Neill:

Verizon is getting into the news business. What could go wrong?

The most-valuable, second-richest telecommunications company in the world is bankrolling a technology news site called SugarString.com. The publication, which is now hiring its first full-time editors and reporters, is meant to rival major tech websites like Wired and the Verge while bringing in a potentially giant mainstream audience to beat those competitors at their own game.

I have no problem whatsoever with publications having advertisers. If you’re reading this on my site, you’ll see both a graphic ad and a text ad. Once a week, I post sponsored content in my RSS feed.

The difference between what I — and countless others — do and what Verizon is doing with SugarString is a clear divide between content and advertising. SugarString screams Verizon, from the red colors to the bold text. Oh, and the Verizon logo. And the “PRESENTED BY VERIZON” graphic at the bottom of the page.

Then there’s this:

There’s just one catch: In exchange for the major corporate backing, tech reporters at SugarString are expressly forbidden from writing about American spying or net neutrality around the world, two of the biggest issues in tech and politics today.

Verizon is one of the worst offenders at trying to limit net neutrality and has taken a major hit in the press over this year’s shocking news about programs like the NSA’s Prism. To help counter this, SugarString editors are allowed to cover these issues outside the US, but not inside. Just check out this article on Hungary’s plan to tax Internet traffic:

It’s every government’s responsibility to keep internet charges as low as possible, so access to high-quality information isn’t limited to the rich. By artificially increasing the price of internet access, Hungary’s government would punish users who were trying to contribute to the world’s knowledge and economy. If they managed to force providers to bear the costs, they’d be punishing those companies any time they grew, discouraging them from increasing bandwidth or improving their services. An internet traffic tax is an innovation tax, and any such tax, no matter how small, would be philosophically devastating.

All that about advertising and content being intermixed is small in my eyes compared to this. SugarString is condemning Hungary for doing what its parent company Verizon has been lobbying for — sometimes in terrible ways — for years.

SugarString isn’t bad journalism; it’s not journalism at all. It’s just plain, old-fashioned PR bullshit that is brazen even for a company as tone deaf as Verizon.

Why the iPod classic died

Benedict Evans:

Tim Cook: iPod Classic was discontinued because they couldn't get the parts. And not worth designing a whole new one.

Clearly if Apple had wanted to keep the iconic music player alive, it could have, but I believe Cook when he said the demand just wasn't there. RIP, little spinning disk buddy.

Apple’s Greg Joswiak addresses iOS 8.0.1 issue

Dawn Chmielewski:

Joswiak acknowledged the mistake in the initial update of Apple’s iOS 8 mobile operating system — but said the problem resided in how the software was “wrapped,” not with the update itself.

“It had to do with the way the software was being sent over servers,” Joswiak told Re/code on Tuesday at the Code/Mobile conference in Half Moon Bay, Calif. “It was the way software was being distributed.”

Joswiak said the company reacted within an hour of discovering the problem, and it swiftly offered a software fix. But he brushed off questions about whether Apple has a larger issue with quality assurance.

On iOS 8.1 and iCloud issues

Federico Viticci:

For the past week, apps like MindNode, Twitterrific, Pixelmator, and (before the latest update) Drafts have been hanging or crashing at launch on my devices, forcing me to force-quit them, reboot (with a hard reset), or manually copy data because iCloud wasn't syncing. Each app was tested with existing document libraries as well as an empty database.

In short, apps using iCloud data will freeze or just crash at launch for many users. I'm seeing it all over the place in my iPhone 6, and like Fraser Speirs, can't use apps like Keynote. Infuriating and pathetic.

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'I pledge my allegiance to iMac Nation'

Jason Snell:

This is the promise of the 27-inch iMac with Retina 5K Display: It’s one of the fastest Macs ever attached to the best Mac display ever. Yes, it’s an iMac, meaning you can’t attach a newer, faster computer to this thing in two or three years. But I have a feeling that these iMacs will have the processor power, and the staying power, to make the aging process much less painful.

FBI asks Congress to require smartphone backdoors

Colin Lecher at The Verge:

FBI Director James Comey has been on a media tour lately, making an anti-encryption pitch to the public. Apple's new encryption standards, Comey has argued, are an unnecessary hurdle to law enforcement — and the FBI needs an easy way to bypass them. Now Comey is bringing the argument straight to Congress, asking them to update a law to allow backdoors in smartphones.

Screw you, Mr. Comey.