Tech News Weekly 314 Transcript

Please be advised this transcript is AI-generated and may not be word for word. Time codes refer to the approximate times in the ad-supported version of the show.


Jason Howell (00:00:00):
Coming up next on Tech News Weekly, it's me, Jason Howell. I start things off talking with Tara Garcia Matthewson, who wrote a report for the markup, all about the crazy privacy implications of being a college student in 2023.

Mikah Sargent (00:00:13):
It is a doozy. And I'm Micah Sergeant. I speak to Eric Midkowski of Beeper about beeper many a way for you to join the Blue Bubble boat and how a young developer reverse engineered iMessage. Then my story of the week, it's another PSA this time about how Apple and Google say governments are spying on people's phones by way of push notifications.

Jason Howell (00:00:37):
That's so weird. I'm so blown away that I never thought about that. And finally, I've got some really big news to share with you that's coming up at the end of the show. Check it out. Tech News Weekly is next. Podcasts you love from people you

Mikah Sargent (00:00:53):

Jason Howell (00:00:55):
This is Tweet. This is Tech News Weekly episode 314, recorded Thursday, December 7th, 2023, reverse engineering iMessage with Beeper Mini.

Mikah Sargent (00:01:09):
This episode of Tech News Weekly is brought to you by Bit Warden, the open source password manager to help you stay safe online, get started with a free teams or enterprise plan trial, or get started for free across all devices as an individual user at bit And by my Elio, my LEO Photos is a smart and powerful system that lets you easily organize, edit, and manage years of important documents, photos, and videos in an offline library hosted on any device. Check out their limited time holiday gift bundle for a 25% discount on my LEO photos plus at 25. And by Melissa, the global leader in contact data quality, bad data is bad business. Make sure your customer contact data is up to date this holiday season. Get started today with 1000 records cleaned for free at Hello and welcome to Tech News Weekly, the show where every week we talk to and about the people making and breaking the tech news. I am one of your hosts of Tech News Weekly, Micah Sargent,

Jason Howell (00:02:17):
And I'm the other guy, Jason Howell. Good to see you, Micah. Good to see you, Jason. We've got a pretty interesting show today. Indeed. So indeed, let's jump right in. And I saw this story that we're going to talk about right now pretty early on in the week, and I realized this is a topic that I'm really fascinated by. It's a very now thing and it's entirely, this is a piece, it was a report for the markup that's all about privacy and college and kind of the lack of privacy because everything at this point has been digitized and camera amplified and so many other things. So this is a topic that's very, now, what is that data for and is it necessary to be collecting all of this and what does it feel like to be a student under the weight of all of this almost technology surveillance state? So we've got Tara Garcia Matthewson who wrote the report for the markup, an excellent, very detailed report. And Tara, it's great to have you here. Thank you.

Tara García Mathewson (00:03:21):
Thanks for having me.

Jason Howell (00:03:22):
Absolutely. You were talking in the pre-show that you were considering having the many kind of dimensions of this long report as individual components and then you kind of crossed paths or discovered the subject of what you did end up posting. I guess start there. Tell us a little bit about how that happened and why you felt the need to change course and really focus like this.

Tara García Mathewson (00:03:49):
Yeah. Well, I just started covering higher education at the end of July after years covering K 12 schools. And so I was reading very widely and coming across a lot of these concerns around tech and higher ed and data collection and tracking and surveillance. And so I was thinking about telling this story in multiple different standalone individual stories about proctoring for example, or about automated license plate readers. And then this student, Eric Natividad from California, he wrote in and mentioned his concerns with his school's data collection and ticked off a couple of the things that I had been looking into, including them, the learning management system at his school, which I didn't mention before. And so it seemed like a great opportunity to tick through a day in the life or a week in the life of a college student and all of the different types of data that is collected about them as they pursue their degrees.

Jason Howell (00:04:45):
And we can get into some of these, what I wrote down as tracking opportunities, opportunity for whoever's doing the tracking. I suppose definitely intrusions on the student, but in a second. But as for Eric, in talking with him about all of this, what is his general take? Because when I think of this moment in technology, I see that there are often a few separate camps. There are the people that are still very kind of overwhelmed by the amount of data sharing and tracking. I want a different way to phrase it than tracking opportunities, but it's just lodged in my head all of these moments and things throughout our life that are tracking us. And some people have kind of negotiated with themselves to say, well, you know what? Everything's online. This is just the way it is. I guess I've come to terms with it. And then there are other people that are really still steadfast like, no, you know what? This is a right that we deserve to own for ourselves. I imagine Eric is in the latter camp there.

Tara García Mathewson (00:05:48):
Definitely. And I would say there's another group too. There's a group that doesn't even realize everything that's being tracked. That's true. And Eric has come into contact with a lot of those students on his campuses. He's been kind of agitating and talking to different people, trying to find out if anybody else shares his concerns and trying to inform people who have no idea. He's really running into a lot of apathy. And then also just lack of understanding about what's even being collected.

Jason Howell (00:06:15):
Yeah, apathy. That's a good word because it really does to a certain degree. And I've certainly felt this, I don't know about you Micah, but I've certainly felt like at a certain point it's like hands in the air, if it's not this, it's a million other things, what kind of power or influence do I actually have other than the small things that I can do, but it sounds like there are ways to tackle it. So what are some of these data collection points that Eric is faced with that you wrote about?

Tara García Mathewson (00:06:42):
Yeah, so there's the academic side of things. Colleges, basically all of them have what's called learning management systems. Professors put on reading material quizzes, discussion prompts. All these things are put onto an online system at Eric's college. It's Canvas, which is offered by a company called Instructure Blackboard's, another one. There are a handful. And so much of education in 2023, whether you're taking an online course or not, happens in these learning management systems. And there's a ton of data that's collected specifically and passed along to professors and instructors. And so there's all of these analytics about who's completed the assignments, who's completed the readings, when do they do so it's an unprecedented grant, unprecedented level of granular data about what students are completing when it comes to coursework. And so that's a key one. On the academic side as well. You have e proctoring, which got a lot of pushback during CO when basically all exams became remote.

Students needed to allow their webcams to turn on and turn over their cameras to a private company to either have a proctor watching them take a test remotely or log the footage to pass on to a professor and then offer flags once the machine that was watching the video could identify whether there were abnormal face or eye or hand movements. Yes, they're tracking exactly what students are doing as they're looking into their screen and taking a test. And that caused a lot of problem for lots of different types of students. And so you have dark skinned students whose cameras weren't even recognizing that they were sitting in front of them. Imagine the anxiety that goes into not even be able to use the program, your professors as you need to prove that you're not cheating on an exam. So that created a lot of problems.

You have online textbooks as well. So Cengage is one I mentioned in the article. They're a textbook company. They track as much or more than the learning systems. And so Cengage in their online privacy policy says they're looking at your keystrokes, so and how you're typing on a page as you're answering an online prompt. In an online textbook activity, for example, they're looking at how your mouse is moving around the screen, what pages you're looking at and how long you're looking at them. And they share that information with their partners who offer targeted advertising to students either on their pages or elsewhere on the web. And then school websites often send information to analytics companies. Google, for example, Google Analytics, they're sending information to Facebook again for advertising. This whole big advertising industry that happens online. So that's only the academic side. And then there's more because students live on campus, and so it's where they're going around campus, where they're parking, what buildings they're entering, how often they're going to the dining hall, how often they're accessing medical services. The list really goes on and on.

Jason Howell (00:09:55):
Oh my goodness, it's dizzying. At that point. You kind of think of it as a little, a city of surveillance within the confines of a campus, which is not really actually that funny. How does all of this compare to the way things were prior to the pandemic? I mean, in many ways the pandemic was a catalyst for so many changes in what we would consider normal. Is this another one of those things or were we seeing some of this already, kind of the culmination and the buildup of a lot of the surveillance stuff prior to the pandemic?

Tara García Mathewson (00:10:31):
Yeah, this has definitely been ramping up, I would say over the last 10 years or so, 10 to 15. I mean, learning management systems have been in use for a while. It's just that more is being put into them. So during covid, when everything went online, professors who had relied on more paper for classroom materials, put it online, and then maybe kept it there since, and so more went there. And then there's just this increasing digitization of everything, this kind of increasing power of the ad tech industry that wants as much data about us as possible. And so everything that happens on a computer offers the potential to be logged and tracked and then added to this bigger picture profile of us as consumers and then proctoring as well. This was something that was born of necessity during the pandemic for a lot of institutions, but people have kept it. Some students think it's convenient to be able to take a test from home, so it's not universal opposition to basically any of these things. There are a lot of students that see the benefits of the convenience. It's trying to figure out what is responsible and when does it cross the line.

Jason Howell (00:11:47):
Yeah, yeah, indeed. Now, one thing that you talk in your piece that I thought was a really interesting thing for me to think about is that the college students now who are facing a lot of this, they were teenagers not very long ago and not very long ago, they were probably, at least to some degree, some of them were doing things like oversharing on social media and really recognizing this thing called social media is a thing exists and they can use that to really share all aspects of their life. And now they've kind of crossed over at least some of those students have really been faced with the opportunity to recognize, oh, hey, wait a minute. Maybe there is a downside to this. Is this evidence like what you're talking about with Eric? And you also talk a little bit about advocacy groups and that sort of thing. Is that evidence that maybe some of these norms around data sharing and stuff are changing, that the children really are our future?

Tara García Mathewson (00:12:55):
Yes, and I think as researchers actually talked to students about their behavior on social media and asked them about their sharing even 10 years ago when everybody thought kids don't care about privacy because look at what they're sharing on social media, people who actually asked them questions or looked carefully at what they were sharing saw clearly that it was context specific. So a student felt like it was reasonable to share personal things with a circle of friends on a social media network, for example. And that same person does not think it's acceptable to have their keystrokes logged, for example, when visiting a website that this company shouldn't know exactly what and how I type before I even press enter to submit an online form. So I think the context specific nature, we didn't give kids credit for 10 years ago, and the privacy researchers that I spoke with said that there's a more widespread understanding that students do care about privacy. Young people do care about privacy, and whether they care or not, they have a right to it.

Jason Howell (00:13:58):
They have a right to it. Okay. So along that line then, are there ways that students who are faced with this mountain of tracking points throughout what they do on campus, are there ways for them to have any sort of control over this? Or is it really at this point, there's probably a limited amount of things that a student could do, but you are almost forced, your hand is forced to a certain degree.

Tara García Mathewson (00:14:25):
We found a really limited number of things that students could do to avoid any of this tracking. So I can tick through some of the things that Eric's doing because he's really getting almost as much as he can. So when he gets online, he uses A-V-P-N-A virtual private network, which obscures his location and also encrypts some of the traffic over his internet connection. And so that helps at least keep the data that he's producing separate from his own personal profile with some of the companies that might otherwise be tracking him or his university. So that's one big one. He talks to all of his professors who assign online textbooks and explains that he prefers the paper version. And so he's gotten out of having to use Cengage, for example, in prior semesters this semester, one of his professors just said no, he needed to use it.

So that only goes as far as the professors will allow it. The automated license plate reader system on his campus, he has chosen not to get a monthly parking pass and turn over his information to the company that runs that. The A LPR cameras still capture his vehicle when it's parked on campus, but he parks in spaces where he needs quarters for the meters, and so expects that he's keeping himself a little bit out of that source of data collection. Otherwise, there's not a lot students can do except advocate. And so that's why you see these more student groups being formed and more online petitions around privacy and security.

Jason Howell (00:16:03):
Yeah, yeah, indeed. Well, I urge everybody who is watching and listening to check out Tara's article on the markup because we really are only scratching the surface of what exactly this looks like. It's a fascinating look into the technical, the technological kind of weight that is placed upon the shoulders of college students these days. So Tara, really appreciate you taking time with us today and telling us all about it. Tara Garcia Matthewson for the markup. If people want to follow and find you online, where can they do so?

Tara García Mathewson (00:16:36):
Oh, they can do so on Twitter. I have a presence on threads. I am new to some of these newer social media sites, so we all go to the They're better about sharing my stuff than I'm

Jason Howell (00:16:48):
Awesome. Thank you, Tara. It's been a pleasure. Appreciate it.

Tara García Mathewson (00:16:51):
Thanks for having me.

Jason Howell (00:16:52):
All right. Talk to you soon.

Mikah Sargent (00:16:53):
Alright, thanks so much. Up next, another way for Android users to hop on that blue bubble boat. Oh yeah. But first, let's take a quick break so I can tell you about our first sponsor, it's bit Warden, who are bringing you this episode of Tech News Weekly. It's the only open source cross-platform password manager you can trust. Security now's Steve Gibson has even switched over to Bit Warden, so why not join him with Bit Warden? All of the data in your vault is end to end encrypted, not just your passwords. Bit Warden protects you by creating unique usernames and adding strong randomly generated passwords for each account or using any of the six integrated email alias services. You can log into Bit Warden and decrypt your vault after using SSO on a registered trusted device with no master password needed on top of being public to the world.

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That's bit Thank you bit warden for sponsoring this week's episode of Tech News Weekly. Alright, so you may have heard about a number of services out there that would let you as a non iPhone user, be able to me. Yes, join the as I'm calling it, the Blue bubble boats, the ability to send iMessages to your iMessage friends and receive iMessages in return. But until very recently, I hadn't seen one that was doing things differently from the way that we've seen these services run in the past. Joining us today to talk about this new beeper mini service is Beeper co-founder Eric Midkowski. Welcome to the show, Eric.

Eric Migicovsky (00:19:38):
Hey, Mika.

Mikah Sargent (00:19:38):
Hi. It's great to be here. It's great to have you. So let's kick things off by talking about Beeper Mini in general because this was a recent announcement and it certainly has kicked off. What is Beeper Mini, how is it different from Beeper and then how is it different from some of the other services that claim to be able to let you send messages and receive messages from iMessage folks?

Eric Migicovsky (00:20:06):
So I've been working on chat for just over three years now. We started three years ago because we wanted to solve the problem that a lot of people have when they looked down at their phone. There's a folder full of different chat apps that all kind of do the same thing except a different subset of your contact list is on each app. That's what we set out to do. And our first product be Cloud actually does that. It's an app that lets you chat with anyone on 15 different chat networks. We've got a desktop app, an iOS app, and Android app. But through the course of building Be Cloud, we realized that there was this very special problem to Android users. Basically there's no iMessage app for Android and here in the US a lot of people use iMessage, especially iPhone users as their primary means of communication. When iPhone users text Android users, they have to send green bubble SMS messages. These are generally, they're worse in a lot of ways that you can't send full resolution images, you can't send emoji tap acts, and then of course they're not encrypted. So anyone can read those messages. We wanted to bring that to Android over the last couple of years. We've had a solution that kind of worked, but it wasn't perfect. Kind of as you alluded to.

Over the summer though, that all changed. We met a 16-year-old security researcher who had reverse engineered iMessage the entire protocol. We started working with him and over the last three months we built Beeper Mini, which is a dedicated iMessage app for Android. It is a native app, which means that there's no server or other system involved. The app connects directly to Apple servers and you can send and receive blue bubble messages with all of your iPhone friends.

Mikah Sargent (00:22:12):
Wow, okay. So there's a lot to break down in there. First and foremost, I have to tell you, I had read through the blog blog posts and gave it a quick cursory read first and then went back and was really going into it, looking at the links. And when I hopped over to the JJ Tech website, which JJ Tech is responsible for, the reverse engineering, as you mentioned, the first thing I saw on the side of the page was high school student learning, many different languages and technologies. And I thought, wait, what? So that first and foremost is pretty incredible now. So I think before we get into everything, I am kind of curious if you could sort of delineate for me what is involved that JJ Tech brought to the game and then what is involved that Beeper brought to the game here?

Eric Migicovsky (00:23:02):
So his major breakthrough was being able to send and receive iMessage protocol messages from any computer. Before that you had to have an iPhone or a Mac or an iPad in order to send iMessage messages. His breakthrough allowed any device at all to do it. And his proof of concept that he published, it's just a Python script. So you could run that Python script on pretty much any computer that sports Python. So we obviously had the same reaction to you, like we were just blown away because what he did had never been done before. It was truly unique.

Mikah Sargent (00:23:42):
Yeah, that was pretty incredible. Now one of the things that you talk about in the system or rather in the blog post, that kind of gives the rundown of everything that's involved here. You go into, and I should say everyone should go read the blog post because it goes into great detail, including in the appendix that kind of breaks things down and looks at how you're sending information, how you're not. One thing that I was interested to hear more about is the way that you have integrated the beeper push notification service, which of course is one unique aspect of this app that you've created due to the way that Android devices versus iOS devices work in terms of being able to receive push notifications from Apple and its servers. So can you break that down for us and explain where Beeper Mini comes into play in that aspect?

Eric Migicovsky (00:24:37):
Sure. So many developers in the audience probably are very familiar with AP PNS, the Apple Push Notification service. That's the service that sends push notifications to iPhones and iPads to wake their app up in the background and receive new incoming messages or updates or whatever. But obviously Android phones don't support AP PNS. Google has a different service called Firebase Cloud messaging. It's very similar to AP NS, but it doesn't, they don't work together. So we had to build a bridge that allows a new push notification from AP P and S to be transferred over to Firebase to FCM and send through to Android. And we had to do that in a way where no confidential or private information was available to either Google or Apple, but we figured it out and created a bridge. So when you receive a new notification in Beeper Mini, we were able to send a push to your phone that wakes it up in the background without actually exposing any of your information to either beeper or fire base.

Mikah Sargent (00:25:50):
Right now I want to go through some of the reactions that I have heard earlier in the week. Some of the questions that folks have had. One thing that stood out, and I think this was just a matter of maybe folks not necessarily reading the blog post to understand is the sign-in process that kicks off in Beeper Mini. So you're not required to sign in with your Apple id. Signing in with your Apple ID gives you the ability to essentially receive these iMessages on other devices like your iPad and everything else, and that it all syncs. But when you first sign in to the Android app, you sign in with Google. Can you explain what is involved there? Because I again heard some early reactions where they were just kind of confused about what the Google sign in has to do with the rest of the process.

Eric Migicovsky (00:26:46):
Oh yeah. It's extremely simple to use. Be mini, you just go on the Google Play store and search for Be Mini. It takes about 15 to 20 seconds to actually set it up. It's incredible. Like you mentioned, you don't actually need an Apple ID to use Be Mini. You can set it up solely with your phone number, which means that your phone number becomes a blue bubble whenever an iPhone friend sends you a text. And you can also be added into group chats because most people text using their phone numbers. We use the Google account login just as a way of kind of authenticating who's using the app. And then after that step, the only other thing you need to do is grant be mini SMS permission. We do that because we need to be able to send a message to Apple's servers to confirm that you own that phone number. And we also use that to import your past SMS history. So when you start using Beeper Mini, you can see which of your friends that you previously had been texting are actually on iMessage.

Mikah Sargent (00:27:42):
And then the big thing that I have heard folks wondering about, and I'm curious where you stand currently when it comes to the fact that this is now an influx of Android users who are accessing in some way Apple's servers by way of AP PNS, I mean A. Do you know of any reaction yet from Apple itself? B, do you predict any reaction from Apple itself and C, what is the stance of beeper in terms of the legality and the potential blowback and everything that's involved there? That's definitely the sort of elephant in the room. Even if it's a big soft blue elephant, it's still an elephant in the room. I,

Eric Migicovsky (00:28:32):
I'm a bit shocked that everyone else is so shocked at this idea. At the end of the day, currently as iPhone users, when you text an Android person, you're getting a pretty crappy experience. And considering that 50% of the US uses Android, that's a lot of iPhone to Android conversations that have really small images, blurry videos, and most importantly lack of end-to-end encryption. And so for a company like Apple that prides itself in having the utmost security and privacy, it is a pretty glaring oversight to say that iPhone, you see the billboards on the one oh one, it says iPhone equals private or iPhone equals secure. And there's an asterisk after that that says, well, except when you're texting someone on an Android phone. So with Beeper mini, all of the conversations between iPhones and Androids are actually encrypted. They get full resolution images. And I would say that Beeper Mini actually makes the iPhone experience better. So if I were Apple, I would actually encourage this. This is an app that actually makes iPhone users experiences better and more secure.

Jason Howell (00:29:50):
I would agree. And by the way, hi, it's good to see you again. Eric had you on a couple of years on all that Android a couple of years ago to talk about the original instance of beeper, or at least back in 2021. I would agree that it's better for users. Apple apparently doesn't care at least enough to do it themselves. They haven't. I guess where my mind is at right now is you mentioned reverse engineering iMessage, and when it comes down to a legality question, when it comes down to these other services have tried to do the iMessage on Android thing, apple was not very happy about that. But it's different this time or maybe it isn't different or maybe it is. I guess my question, but is that because reverse engineering iMessage is different from creating something that forces it to work? You know what I mean? Is there something about the process of reverse engineering that Absolves absolves you potentially from legal interference from Apple?

Eric Migicovsky (00:30:58):
So just about three weeks ago, apple actually announced that they're going to support the RRCs open source chat protocol standard sometime by the end of 2024. That's great. It's going to be amazing to have Apple iPhones be able to send messages using a standardized protocol. So I think it's clear that Apple already recognizes that they have a pretty glaring deficiency here between iPhones and Androids, and they're working to solve that Beeper already supports RCS. So as soon as iPhone or Apple publishes an iOS update that supports RCS messaging, I think the problem might already be solved right there. And we're excited about that because our long-term ambitions for Beeper is not just a focus on iMessage. We're actually building a universal chat app. One app that lets you chat with anyone on any chat platform will be supporting 15 different chat networks when we get it all set up.

Mikah Sargent (00:32:02):
So ultimately it's feeling like this is a question that can't be answered in terms of what you think Apple's reaction to this in particular is going to be like. But they already

Eric Migicovsky (00:32:17):
Reacted. I mean, they said that they're going to be adopting an open source chat protocol standard, so it's clear that they're making moves in this direction. And I think that's great, honestly.

Mikah Sargent (00:32:27):
Yeah, absolutely. And your earlier point too about, I mean, as an iPhone user, I 100% agree that any means of making the communication between two devices easier and better is a win for everybody involved. And as you've said, this maintains that encryption. I think where, and that's the interesting thing to watch. How does Apple potentially balance this as the billboards on the 1 0 1, this push for more encryption, more privacy and a better experience for its users with maybe some sort of reaction to this or maybe not. And that has been kind of what I've seen in terms of the reaction to this is going, this is

Eric Migicovsky (00:33:11):
Super cool, I'm Optim optimistic here. I think most companies want to make the experience better for their users, more secure, more features. There's not many companies that actually want to make things go backwards.

Mikah Sargent (00:33:22):
Well, that is definitely optimistic and I am optimistic about it. I want this to continue on. Yeah, I do too. I would love to know that when I send Jason messages that and he sends them to me, that we're getting them in full quality and I'm not worried about the message not delivering or something that has been, or if we're in a group message, yeah, group message actually works together. That is great. So we want this. Yeah, congratulations to the young individual who reverse engineered this in the first place and great work to you and the team who have implemented this in a way that actually is working. I just earlier this week received several messages from Leo LaPorte, the founder of the network who was going, I'm sending these from my Google Pixel right now. How are they coming through? Does everything look right?

And it was all just working. It was pretty cool. So yeah, it's pretty awesome to see. And I love the open source nature of what you're doing as well that you're saying, look, we've got it out there. Really respect too that in the post you talk about, hey, any security folks who want to look at the special version of the app that kind of reveals some of the way that messages are being sent and what's being sent and how that that's out there. So yeah, I think that's fantastic. So folks can head to the Google Play Store to find Beeper mini if they want to stay up to date with what the company is doing and what you're doing. Is there a place online they should go?

Eric Migicovsky (00:34:53):
Yeah, we're on Twitter at On beeper.

Mikah Sargent (00:34:56):
Wonderful. Well, Eric, thank you so much for joining us today. We appreciate you taking some time out of your day to talk about Beeper Mini and I'm sure we'll have you join us again in the future.

Eric Migicovsky (00:35:07):
Thank you. Very great to chat with you guys. Thanks very much for having us on. Great to

Mikah Sargent (00:35:10):
See you. Alrighty, up next, another PSA from yours, truly. I think I had one last week, but first we will take a quick break so I can tell you about the next sponsor. It's Myo who are bringing you this episode of Tech News Weekly. We have become big fans of my LEO photos, and right now for a limited time, you got to hop on this. My Leo is offering a holiday gift bundle, which means it's the perfect time to get started. The holiday gift bundle includes one full year of my LEO photos, plus easy to use editing software, radiant photo and premium membership to the photographer community platform view bug. My LEO photos recently dropped the year's biggest update offering even more customization, accessibility options and control to how you handle your digital libraries. My LEO photos plus offers even more by letting you connect all your devices and take full advantage of the new shared albums and spaces tools to share your media with customized control and privacy.

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This opens the door for more productive collaborations with your team or automatically sharing photos with family members signed into the account. And with remote control, you have full control over what's visible and which tools are available on each device connected to your account no matter who it is. It's perfect for work portfolios, managing project assets, and even personal organization. You can even use Myo photos for free on one device. So get 25% off your first year of myo photos Plus today for a limited time, check out the holiday gift bundle for even more great deals by going to our special URL 25 for your 25% discount. That's MYLI 25. So download LEO photos plus for free right now at 25. Alright, we are back from the break and that means it's time for my story of the week. Again, this is another kind of PSA Reuters received a report I believe earlier, was it earlier this week or earlier?

Yeah, just earlier this week as we're recording this show on Thursday, December 7th that governments are spying on Apple and Google users through push notifications. This has been revealed to us by Senator Ron. Is it Whedon or Wyden? I can never remember. Wyden, I believe. Yeah, Wyden. And this was a letter written to the Department of Justice. And because that information has been delivered in that way, it's been able to be confirmed by Apple and other tech companies. Essentially what's going on here is it's using what I would call a bit of a loophole or at least a place if not a loophole, I can't think of what those are called. A pit trap. A pit trap because it's something you're not paying attention to and then suddenly you fall into it a pit trap. Okay, so we're all paying attention to the other means of record collection.

And maybe you didn't think about push notifications, but push notifications as we just talked about with Eric Makovsky. Eric was talking about how with beeper what they've had to do is Apple's push notifications service is in charge of all push notifications that come through on your device. And so any company, any app has to register and use Apple's push notification service. And then on Google, same thing applies that there's a push notification service that the companies use. And so you essentially have a clearing house, Google and Apple serve as these clearing houses where the notification system from the company or the app goes to Google or goes to Apple and then it serves your push notification to your phone what companies or what the government is doing. And this includes the United States government as well as other governments is requesting that push notification data and then they're able to see in almost every case what's available to be seen is that a specific account is receiving push notifications from a specific app or service.

So you could at the very least make a link between this person's device getting notifications from an encrypted messaging service. You could confirm that at the least. But Apple, and I'm not sure about Google because the Vice article only mentions Apple in terms of confirming this. Apple does not require that developers encrypt to their push notifications. It highly encourages it, but it is an added effort. And so I guess that's why it's not required. It's just highly suggested. So as far as I know, when I get a notification from, well, I won't name a specific one because I don't know for sure. So let's say I've got an app that is for grocery delivery and I order my groceries and then I get these notifications, Hey, this person sent you a message to let you know that your favorite soda is out of stock, so do you want something to replace it?

Those notifications that are coming through, if that app chose not to encrypt them, then the government would have access to that. Obviously the government doesn't care about my groceries, but the point is, if there is an opportunity to pull information from that, it may very well be grabbed that way. Now there's not a whole lot unfortunately, that we as individual users can use or can do to try and it's course correct for this other than to reach out to the developers of the apps we use, particularly the apps that we use, that we want that extra level of privacy. So if you are using a messaging app or service and it doesn't specifically talk about those push notifications being encrypted, then you would want to What

Jason Howell (00:42:20):
A point of failure that would be. Exactly. If you have a messaging app that was fully encrypted. Yeah, everything,

Mikah Sargent (00:42:25):
But the notifications

Jason Howell (00:42:25):
Aren't, they're traveling to be, like you said, between servers as well,

Mikah Sargent (00:42:29):
Right? Yeah, yeah, exactly. And so that is something you need to be mindful of essentially is that, hey, look, it may very well be the case that you are getting notifications that if your data was subpoenaed by way of your Apple id, which is then associated with a registered Apple push notification service token that could be grabbed and would be able to be used as part of some legal process. Again. So I'll say Google did respond about it, sent in an emailed statement to motherboard. We were the first major company to publish a public transparency report sharing the number and types of government requests for user data we receive, including these requests referred to by the senator. We share the senator's commitment to keeping users informed about these requests. Apple did update its privacy report to make sure that these specifically the push notification type requests are separated out so that you're able to at least see how many times and which governments requested these kinds of push notifications or rather this kind of data. Yeah, I think it's just something to be mindful of that you may be using an app or whatever service that is delivering your push notifications, and if it's not doing it in an encrypted manner, it's likely that data could be used against you in a court of law.

Jason Howell (00:44:03):
This is a really interesting oversight that I never really

Mikah Sargent (00:44:07):
Considered. That's why it's a pit. Yeah, I've never thought about the push notification being the thing that would be at issue here and that they were even collecting push notification information specifically. It's just, yeah, and that's why I think the senator wanted to reach out about this is it was something that they investigated. It says the senator's office received a tip last year that government agencies in foreign countries were demanding smartphone push notification records from Google and Apple. And so the senator wrote in to Attorney General Merrick Garland and said that his staff had been investigating this tip for the past year and that it was indeed doing this, but that the practice was restricted from public release by the government. And so I guess, I don't know if this was a purposeful move. I don't know specifically speaking of this, I don't know that if you write a letter to the Department of Justice, if that means that that letter is available to the public. And so this was kind of a way of saying, Hey, we're restricted from talking about this, can you address it? And then suddenly, because it's freedom of Information Act, now we know about it. I don't know. That's pretty cool if that's how this was done. But basically up to this point, that information was restricted from public release by the government, so we know now, which is cool. Cool. Yeah, it's cool that we

Jason Howell (00:45:34):
Know I guess word for it. Yeah,

Mikah Sargent (00:45:36):
We know. But what does that do? Turn off your push notifications. I guess that could be one way of doing it. If you don't have push notifications on for a messaging app, you won't know when they come in. You'll just have to check. But it would mean that those push notifications aren't going to Apple servers or Google servers, and then those requests are exactly out of sync. Knowing is half the battle. I was about to say it's a small half, but that doesn't make sense. Knowing is a quarter of the battle. Yeah.

Jason Howell (00:46:07):
I think what's interesting to me is that we already said this aspect of it, privacy never really occurred to me before. And then understanding the technological structure of how push notifications are managed, I would imagine that there's probably not a lot of thought put into what that infrastructure actually looks like. I'm sure at some points, because I haven't really done a lot of deep consideration around push notifications, I might just assume that this is something that is just translated from the app itself and not from a server in the cloud.

Mikah Sargent (00:46:43):
A hundred percent. And that's what I think a lot of, I

Jason Howell (00:46:45):
Would imagine that's what most

Mikah Sargent (00:46:47):
People would probably think

Jason Howell (00:46:48):
If they had to think about

Mikah Sargent (00:46:49):
It, that the app is just sending push notifications. But the only way that I knew about push notifications requiring so much is because I used to work at a startup, and I remember when we first implemented push notifications in our app and how long that took and how many errors there were and all the work that was required. And so I knew that because not only do you have to have registration with apple's push notification service, but you also have to have stuff in your own system that is the push notification gets pushed to Apple, that gets pushed to your device. So it's this process that's involved and requires a lot of work and a lot of insight and a lot of special making sure the data isn't too much. I mean, it's kind of wild, right? Because you think about how it means handling notifications across millions and millions of devices. In some cases, the New York Times sends out a push notification, and that's a lot of devices that all get alerted that they need to pop up with this thing. So yeah, it's quite involved. But yeah, I don't think you think about this front of mind, and so I'm glad that now we're going, oh, right, here's another place that's

Jason Howell (00:48:10):
Another vector.

Mikah Sargent (00:48:11):
Yep. You got to pay

Jason Howell (00:48:11):
Attention. Well, and the unencrypted nature of the majority of it, that kind of blows me away too. So then I could absolutely see, I don't know about Apple, but I could definitely see Google saving that for a future Android update to be like all of our push push notifications now, encrypt, encryption required, and some sort of move in that

Mikah Sargent (00:48:36):
Direction. Yeah, I kind of wonder why that's not the case. Exactly.

Jason Howell (00:48:39):
That's what I wonder

Mikah Sargent (00:48:40):
Because a device, I think it's probably because it is a lot of work for an app developer because they would have to do the generation of public and private keys, the private keys stored on your device. And so I think that that is, cryptography is not something that every developer is capable of doing, and it would maybe lead to not as many developers, but this is all just speculation. I don't know exactly why they don't, but

Jason Howell (00:49:09):
Super interesting.

Mikah Sargent (00:49:10):
Yeah. Perhaps this is going to lead to also Apple saying we've figured out a way to make it so that it's easy to implement push notification, encryption on every app. Well,

Jason Howell (00:49:23):
An Apple and Google are so reactive right now to the threat of force regulation around certain things, so it's kind of like ripe for the picking to a certain degree. Actually, if the EU did this, then it would definitely happen. Yeah, exactly.

Mikah Sargent (00:49:37):
Exactly. All already. Alrighty, up next, you might want to be sitting down for Jason Howell's story of the week. I'm not kidding. We'll get to that in just a moment. But first, this episode of Tech News Weekly is brought to you by our friends at Melissa, the global leader in contact data quality this holiday season. Let Melissa help your business meet online shopping expectations. Increase ROI reduce waste and costs associated with lost and undeliverable packages and improve your customer's overall satisfaction. The importance of early preparedness for retailers before the holiday season is indisputable. Here are some of Melissa's tips to help you get started. You can start by cleaning out your contact data with Melissa's data cleansing solutions. All of your stale, outdated data gets replaced with verified accurate information, such as old addresses for people who have moved and adding new emails or phone numbers.

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Jason Howell (00:52:15):
Week. Oh, my goodness, my story of the week. I don't even know where to begin on this one. Well, I'll just cut to the chase. This is my last episode at twit. I am done with this episode of Tech News Weekly, and actually we do have some things that we're going to do after this episode, so this won't be the official last time you'll see me on the network, but you've heard Lisa and Leo talking pretty strongly about the challenges in podcasting and running a podcast network, and they have to make changes here at twit. And so I will only speak for myself, but officially being laid off from the company, and I got to tell you, I'm in a really great place about it. I'm actually in a pretty fantastic place, so you'll see me smile. You might see me tear up a little bit, but that would probably primarily be because I've been here for 13 years and I've known and worked with a lot of really great people and really enjoyed my time here, and so there's some sadness there for sure.

The fact that I am allowed to come here and do this show with you and have the ability to talk to everyone and share this news, be kind of the first person to really share this news, I'm just really grateful for that. It was really a wonderful gesture from Lisa and Leo to let me do that. But yeah, this is kind of it, folks. I started back in 2010 and my time here has been really, I got to say, pretty remarkable. I've had a really great time. I've learned a lot when I think about when I started at twit, I was just coming over from cnet. I'd been working with Tom Merrit in podcasting at CNET for about five years. He was hired over from CNET to twit, and Tom was doing tech News today, which actually, if you're watching Tech News Weekly right now, that is the successor to TNW is Tech News today.

That was really why Tom was pulled over, was to do the five days a week daily tech news show. And a few months later, I got a call from Lisa and she said, Hey, can we bring in for an interview? I found out that Tom reached out and said, Hey, man, I want you to produce this with me, and pulled me over and jumped in as I want to do, because Tom really gave me my introduction to podcasting, and I highly respected Leo at the time as well. We'd done a lot of cross opportunity stuff between CNET and twit, so I was very familiar with Leo and his rich history in the industry, and when I came over, I was primarily a producer slash editor, so I was doing a lot of the editing stuff behind the scenes, and over the years, kind of got the opportunity to do other things.

Eileen at the time and wife said, Hey, we should start an Android show. And so we did all that Android. That was amazing fun. I mean, to the end, I mean all that Android went away just a handful of months ago, and really largely is one of the big key things that defines for me how enjoyable it has been to work here and be given the freedom and flexibility to really do what I want. And that really developed over the years. TNT had its fluctuations. Tom left, Mike Elgan came in the role for a couple of years. Then when Mike left, Megan Maroney came in, and Megan and I kind of re-fired up a TNT in the spirit of the original TNT of the five days a week. Really kind tried to recapture the fun of the five days a week, which still can you imagine doing five days a week.

That blows my mind. You two must have just never slept well. What's weird about it is when I think about it, when I think about it now, having distance from it, I'm like, how did we pull that off? But at the time, it just was when I was at cnet, we were doing buzz out loud, and that was a five day a week news show. So that was my introduction to mostly my introduction to podcasting was getting on that hamster wheel and then coming over to twit. It was right into TNT, and it was the same thing. It was just what I knew. All of my habits and my approaches and everything were really baked around that. It's only once we moved to a weekly schedule and turned it into TNW and got a few months removed from that where I really looked back and I was like, holy cow.

That was a lot of work. I can't imagine. That was insane. Always searching for new guests every single day, five days a week, find a new guest and everything like that. So anyways, I've seen a lot of change here. I've seen some pretty significant ups, and I've seen some downs, and I think overall I'm just really grateful for being able to come here and talk in front of a camera about how I think about things and make a career for myself and a life for my family, and some really wonderful friends. God, I've loved everybody I've worked with here. I think what's hard, what's good from my perspective, and maybe not from yours if you don't want to see me around here, but I literally live like seven minutes away, and so I'm not really too far away and I don't plan on being a stranger just because like I said, you guys, you're my friends, you're my family, and you're such a significant part of my life and have been for so long, so I'm going to miss that.

I did though, while I was thinking about this, I did kind of bring together just a couple of things, if you don't mind. Yes, please. When I was thinking about, okay, I've seen a lot, I've done a lot since I've been at twit, what are some of the things, the moments that really stand out for me when I really think about the things that I cherish? And actually right before the show, Jamer B mentioned one that I forgot about, which was when we went to, was it our first time at Google io where we were invited to Google io? It wasn't our first time at Google io, but it was our first time interviewing the top brass at the event, and we set it up on their campus and everything. And I'm not certain exactly why, but for whatever reason, I decided to pull out my phone and hit record on the audio recorder and put it on the table, something I don't normally do.

Well, it turned out that there was a mic level, line level issue on the master recording of the interview, and at the end of the day, had I not done this, we would've lost the interview entirely, but for whatever reason, I decided to put that phone out there and were able to salvage that, and it was just one of those moments where it was like, it is just crazy. Thank goodness. Yeah, thank goodness. I don't know where that came from, but anyways, thank you for reminding me of that, John, because that was good. The two-factor Folly moment on this week in Google, which was basically while I was hosting episode at Twig, I decided I'm not signed up for two factor, so I'm going to go ahead and do this while we're on the show. Leo does that all the time. He's always like, I'll do it on the fly.

Meanwhile, he's a total expert. And what I did wrong is I put in my Google Voice phone number as the two factor destination number for the text SMS code. And what that means is in order for me to log into my account to get access to my Google Voice, to get, I need the Google Voice to get the code. And so basically my account was completely inaccessible and I was only granted access primarily because we knew people. You know what I mean? At the end of the day, it would've been very hard for me, if not impossible, if we didn't do what we do.

So that was interesting. Skydiving with Anthony Nielsen, and this is actually, I don't know if I don't think I know about this. Okay. Well, it was indoor skydiving for new screensavers at I Fly and it's like a VR experience. So you go into this tunnel vomit inducing, yeah. Oh, but I was so excited. You go into this tunnel and it's a high pressure, high power air blowing through and you're wearing your suit and everything like that, and it kind of whips you around. I don't know that we ever really talked about this, and I'm just going to go rogue and mention this because it's long gone at this point. But when they suited me up, well, when they gave me the suit, they told me how to suit myself up and I buttoned it or I velcroed it, but I didn't zip it and I didn't realize this.

I was kind of caught up in the moment. And so when I went in there the first time, it was only Velcro holding the suit closed, and there was no zipper to really hold it closed. So that air has come through super powerful. Suddenly my jacket went opened up and my head went into the window. I just went head first right into that window. Oh my gosh. And thankfully I was okay and kind of shook it off and we took 10 minutes, 15 minutes to really recover, and then it was like, do you want to still do this? It was like, yes, I definitely want to still do this. I had a little bit of soreness for a week or whatever, but I took really good care of myself. And I think after that Lisa was like, we're not doing things like that anymore. Do not do that anymore.

So that was definitely memorable. New screensaver title sequence, if you ever watched the new Screensavers, and this is just a weekend of fun with so many really great friends here at twit riding around on those, why am I suddenly blanking? The sways with the, yeah, through San Francisco, through Petaluma. It felt like we were on tv, you know what I mean? It felt like we were really special, super special on TV and just a lot of fun filling that, playing Starship Horizons, what is it? Bridge Simulator here in the studio with everybody. That was also for new Screen Savers, and that was just super nerdy fun and I think the last one, oh yeah, this is it. And we were all perched around the table. Oh, neat. Yeah. Megan, Victor, Brian Patrick was Padre in there. Did I what? Can you

Mikah Sargent (01:02:53):
Tap on the screen? Touch screen?

Jason Howell (01:02:55):
Yeah, indeed. It was just so much fun and Oh, and Alex Gumbel, of

Mikah Sargent (01:02:59):
Course. Oh, I love Everybody's got their different roles.

Jason Howell (01:03:00):
Yes. It was a really, really well set up and a lot of fun. And then the last one, because I could go on for far too long and I probably already have, is cooking in place or cooking in place. The twit after hours experience with

Mikah Sargent (01:03:15):
You. Oh, poor thing. Because what happened? Something went wrong, something didn't turn on or wouldn't start, and so you don't remember that your oven wasn't working or something and so you ended up going outside and grilling vice

Jason Howell (01:03:28):
Versa. That's right. I forgot about that. That's right. There was just so much happening during this and it was covid time, so we had to, and then of course, there's my daughters. They were very much required themselves to be a part of this, and I love that we did because it is a moment that we still talk about where they're like, you remember when we did that cooking show? They see it as a true TV moment. Oh

Mikah Sargent (01:03:51):
Yeah. Same my family. I remember whenever you were on the TV doing this and that. Yeah,

Jason Howell (01:03:56):
They loved that too. It was amazing. So anyways, I think very fondly of this place and all the opportunity that I've been given and just can't thank Leo and Lisa and everyone here for just being so wonderful and giving me so many opportunities to learn and grow. I also thank you out there for watching and listening for the last 13 years here at twit, and more than that, if you were with me at cnet, where I'm at now is I'm put into a really interesting situation where it's like, what do I want to do with my life? What do I want to do when I grow up? And I think what I'm going to do is I'm going to go independent because I've thought about it for a very long time prior to this considered what it would be like. I know a lot of people who have done that, and it just seems like a moment where it's like, you know what?

Might as well try. Throw the spaghetti on the wall, see what happens. If it doesn't work out, that's fine. I'm going to be okay. I'm a smart guy. I'll figure it out. But I hope that it will work out. So what I have set up is if you go to free jason, actually I have to hit publish on this. I didn't want to publish it before the show, but free jason You'll see kind of like a post and it is exactly what it says it is. Basically, it's a point for you to follow the things that I'm up to. I just got

Mikah Sargent (01:05:19):

Jason Howell (01:05:19):
Did you get notified about

Mikah Sargent (01:05:21):
It? I got an email about,

Jason Howell (01:05:22):
Oh, okay. See, that's why I didn't want to publish it too soon. I didn't want to beat anyone to it or make people wonder what this is about without any context. But yeah, just go there free jason I'm going to keep that updated on exactly what I'm up to because it really is a moving target right now. I do have a slash Jason Howell. That's for if you want to get in in the beginning and be a part of helping me with it, because my hope is to expand this opportunity out to the people who do care enough to kind of be involved and help me come up with some ideas. I've got a ton of ideas set aside, and I'm not going to get into all this stuff right now, but just go to one of those places. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for all this time at Tuit. I really do appreciate it, and I've just had a wonderful, wonderful 13 years here and it's been really wonderful and you can hear my voice cracking. That's because I care and thank you. And that's it. That's what I

Mikah Sargent (01:06:27):
Got. Thank you, Jason. Thank you for

Jason Howell (01:06:30):
Everything. Yeah.

Mikah Sargent (01:06:32):
Would you like to sign us off? Oh

Jason Howell (01:06:33):
Yeah, that's right. That's usually my thing, isn't it? You get to do it still. Oh my goodness. Okay, so we do, or rather going forward, Micah does Tech News Weekly every Thursday at TWI tv slash tnw. That's where you can go to find all the ways to subscribe to this wonderful show in audio and video formats, twit TV slash tnw.

Mikah Sargent (01:06:53):
If you'd like to get all of our shows ad free and help support the network, make sure we can keeping on. Please check out Club twit $7 a month, $84 per year to join the club at twit tv slash club twit. When you join the club, you get some great stuff. First and foremost, you get every single twit show with no ads. It's just the content. You also gain access to the Twit plus bonus feed that has extra content you won't find anywhere else behind the scenes before the show, after the show. Special Club TWIT events get published there, so when you join the club, you'll get a huge back catalog of stuff. It's awesome. As well as access to the members only Discord server. A fun place to go to chat with your fellow club TWIT members and all of us here at TWIT as well, so be sure to check it out.

Again, twit TV slash club twit, $7 a month, $84 a year. Along with that, you will get some Club TWI exclusive shows. There's the Untitled Linux Show, which is, as you might imagine, a show all about Linux. There's Hands on Windows, which is a short format show from Paul Thora that covers Windows tips and tricks. There's Hands on Mac, which is an Apple show that covers Apple tips and tricks from yours truly, as well as Home Theater Geeks from Scott Wilkinson. It's a show full of interviews, reviews, and well, what else? Product reviews. I already said that It's a lot of great stuff involving the home theater, all available at twit tv slash club twit. You can check out my show iOS Today on Tuesdays, which I host with Rosemary Orchard. You can check out Hands on Mac if you're a club member later today, that'll publish, and then of course on Sundays you can tune in to watch. Wow, not Home Theater Geeks. Where is my brain? You can tell it's elsewhere. Ask the Tech Guys, which is a great show that Leo LaPorte and I host where you call in, ask your questions, and we do our best to answer them. Yeah. Oh, I'm at Micah Sargent on Mini a social media network where you can to Chi Wawa coffee. That's C-H-I-H-U-A-H, where I've got links to the places I'm most active online. Jason Howell, where could people find you online?

Jason Howell (01:09:04):
Well, I did do the Reagan fun thing there. I'll update that a little bit later this afternoon. I have a feeling I'm going to be pretty busy today. And then, yeah, just go to free jason If you subscribe there, you'll be able to follow along with everything that I'm going to be up to in the coming weeks and months and cross my fingers. It all works out big thanks to everyone here in the studio now. The studio has a lot more people in it. Y'all are amazing, and I really do truly love you from the bottom of my heart. Thank you for such a wonderful time working here. Thank you, Micah. Thank you. Thank you for watching and listening each and every week, and Micah will see you next time on Tech News Weekly. Bye bye everybody. Yay. Hey, come guys. Alright, let's all get in there. It's okay. It's okay. I'm literally five minutes away.

Club TWiT (01:10:04):
Listeners of this program, get an ad-free version if they're members of Club twit. $7 a month gives you ad-free versions of all of our shows plus membership in the club. twit Discord, a great clubhouse for twit listeners. And finally, the Twit plus feed with shows like Stacey's Book Club, the Untitled Linux show and more. Go to twit tv slash club twit and thanks for your support

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