Some thoughts on the Apple vs Epic trial results

Last week we saw the result of the Epic vs Apple trial. As expected, most of the stuff that was discussed on the lawsuit was rejected, and the judge gave Apple a pass on almost all of the accusations (also, Epic will have to pay a lot of money due to breaking contracts with Apple). Of course, Apple is claiming that they won the trial (and if you just look at the numbers, I would tend to agree). However though, there were some parts that I found quite interesting and I want to discuss here.

First, the fact that the judge did not say that Apple is not a monopoly, she just stated that Epic was not able to demonstrate that (and to me this is quite relevant, because we can see other trials in the future discussing exactly this point). Second, the judge ordered that, from now on, Apple has to allow developers including information about different pay options that work outside the Apple Store. Many people will say that Apple will not lose much money from that (and I agree), but I think that this is not the point at all. In fact, the questionable benefit split is still there, and they could even make it worse for developers by arguing that they are losing money. However, allowing developers stating that users can give them money without using the app store (and thus evading the Apple tax) is a small crack on the walled garden that iOS is, and who knows where it could end (I still think that different stores are a terrible long shot, but who knows).

During the trial, Apple stated that their model was good, and used two arguments to try to demonstrate that. First, that the tax is a way to obtain money for all the development that Apple has put onto the store. Second, that this model preserves user security, as parallel stores would promote insecure apps. While I agree on the argument that developing the store was expensive (and it still is, as maintaining and updating it entails some costs), they have already won billions of dollars with it. When is it a good moment to say “okay, that is enough, we already recovered our inversion”? Of course, Apple being a company, this moment will never arrive. The second point is so weak that even during the trial, the lawyers found it extremely hard to sustain it (I mean, you can download apps from wherever you want if you use a computer with MacOS). We saw many examples of malicious apps getting very good reviews, and not being removed from the store for months even when Apple was pretty aware of the problem. Security does not just mean privacy. If your users get lured into fake apps, or are the target of questionable marketing tricks to spend money, your system cannot be labelled as secure.

There is another related topic that I also found very interesting at the time, which is the curation process that the store follows. During the court case, there were many exhibits showing the mess it is, with many examples from developers. We even saw some internal mails showing how scam apps where buying 5-star reviews and appearing on top of the store. Also, there has been a lot of developers telling their experiences during the last months via twitter, for example. It seems quite clear to me that the process they follow now (little to no automation, human-based review) is not working (from the exhibits and the stories you find online, the reviewers are even worse than the ones you usually find in academic journal reviewing). Will they switch to more algorithm-based curation like Google does? Will they hire enough people to improve the system? Or will they come up with new solutions? This is one of the main problems users and developers get when there is just one app store on your platform: there is no competition, so there is no rush to improve these systems and people cannot escape the garden to get a better service (does it sound like monopoly practices just to me?).

So, are we going to see new trials regarding these topics? I am pretty certain we will. Is Apple applying monopolistic actions? While you can always argue that if you don’t like their store, you can choose another operating system (Android), I still feel like the way they handle the store is hurting both users and developers, and they can handle the store in that way because there is no other option in the system. It actually reminds me of the famous case against Microsoft with Internet Explorer back in the day…


If you are interested and want to dive deeper on the trial, I found the following links very informative:

Apple Won a Battle to Lose the War, on 500ish
A COMPREHENSIVE BREAKDOWN OF THE EPIC V. APPLE RULING, on the verge
Apple called its Epic ruling a ‘huge win.’ It wasn’t, on the Washington post

PS: I know this might seem impossible, but if someone at Apple reads this, I would just love to be able to type “Twitter” on the app store and get the oficial Twitter app as the first result, instead of some random advertisement shenanigans (you can try with many very famous services. I particularly like to see Amazon Prime Video as the first result when you search for Netflix). I know you do not have a big budget, but it would be a cool feature.

Some thoughts on the Protonmail case

This week there has been a lot of buzz about the fact that Protonmail (a mail provider that sold privacy above everything) tracked the IP of a climate activist and provided it to the french police, after it was requested. Of course, many people claimed that privacy should be above everything, and that Protonmail has been lying to the users for a long time now. They even changed some of the text you could read on their website regarding privacy and how they manage your data.

So, let’s talk a bit about this for a moment. I do strongly defend privacy, and I think that everyone should be able to remain anonymous not only on the internet, but everywhere on the planet. This entails a tremendous effort, because we have developed many technologies in the past few decades, but legislation has been tremendously slow, unable to follow the pace of tech development. Moreover, most of these new tools have been developed by private companies (which main objective, and usually the only one, is to get benefits). In many cases, these companies have grown so much that they stopped being national and became multinational, or basically global companies that operate all over the world. While this might seem a good thing at first glance (everyone can use their tech, no matter the country they live in), I firmly believe that the moment you go global, you have so much power that it is almost impossible to legislate your activities. We see examples of companies moving production to third-world countries to win more money, where they pay wages that are so low that people are basically slaves. In the same spirit, there are companies doing business in Europe that sell all their products through fiscal paradieses, evading taxes. During the past few years, we have started seeing countries trying to legislate these activities, with more or less success (it seems that the European Union might be on the right track now, let’s wait and see… *crossing fingers*).

So, let’s go back to protonmail. Do I think that privacy is important? For sure. Should they give information to the country in which they operate? Absolutely. You cannot ask for tech companies following the law and paying taxes but excuse them on different topics like user privacy. No company should be above the state (and ultimately, its citizens), even if I like the company and what they do. The tricky question here is: are countries always right in their claims to companies? And I fear that the answer is a clear no. In this case, France classified a climate activist as a terrorist. Let that sink for a minute. We have many other examples around the world where governments go against their citizen minorities (either for their sexuality, race, or religion). I have already posted some news in this blog about how Apple bent the knee to the China government before. Should companies bend over in those cases? Morally no, but companies are not human beings, they have no moral codes. Can companies legally fight states? Should they? It is an exceptionally tricky situation, to which I honestly do not have a solution. In any case, I think this is a very interesting (and important) problem, and for sure we will see more and more news like this one in the following years.

ProtonMail deletes ‘we don’t log your IP’ boast from website after French climate activist reportedly arrested, on the register
Important clarifications regarding arrest of climate activist, on protonmail.com
ProtonMail Amends Its Policy After Giving Up an Activist’s Data, on wired

Ig Nobels, crypto Salvador, and more: THE WEEKLY RECAP (2021#36)

Another week, another batch of cool news. Let’s start.


2021 Ig Nobels are here

And there is a lot of curious stuff going on! I particularly liked the Economics, Chemistry, and Physics prizes, because they hold interesting science behind the shocking titles. I hope this is the last year they have to do the ceremony online, though.

Sex can relieve nasal congestion, and other work honored by 2021 Ig Nobels, on ars technica

Hold it!

This week El Salvador adopted Bitcoin as one of their legal coins, and surprisingly its value has been “quite” volatile (around 10% drop in a single day). There were also some problems regarding electronic wallets, and there have been quite a lot of protests in the country against this measure. I am really curious about how this will turn out, and who knows, maybe sometime soon we have a longer list of countries where you can officially use this kind of currency…

El Salvador’s world-first adoption of bitcoin endures bumpy first day, on reuters
Crypto exchanges struggle as El Salvador adopts Bitcoin, on the verge

Fear is the mindkiller

My body is ready for this one. Yours should be too. By the way, this is the best thing I have ever listened from Zimmer. I can’t wait to hear what he did for the actual film.

You Can Now Listen to Hans Zimmers’ Dune Sketchbook Soundtrack, on tor.com

9/11, 20 years after

It’s been 20 years, and while many things have changed, many more have not. A very nice read on they day everything changed but nothing changed.

The real lessons from 9/11, on the economist

The movie you never asked for but you will end up watching

I did not particularly enjoy the trailer, but Keanu is Keanu, and I am very curious about how are they going to film the action scenes. The original trilogy had amazing production, and it’s been more than 20 years of CGI advances…


And that’s it for the week. Stay safe!

Giga-voxel multidimensional fluorescence imaging combining single-pixel detection and data fusion

Data fusion concept. From Fig.1 in the manuscript. Do you want a 4D reconstruction? Just take several 2D/3D objects and merge them in a clever way.

Some time ago I wrote a short post about using Data Fusion (DF) to perform some kind of Compressive Sensing (CS). We came with that idea when tackling a common problem in multidimensional imaging systems: the more you want to measure, the harder it gets. It is not only the fact that you need a system that is sensitive to many different physical parameters (wavelength, time, polarization, etc.), but also the point of having huge datasets that you need to record and store. If you try to measure a scene with high spatial resolution, in tens or hundreds of spectral channels, and with video frame rates (let’s say 30 or 60 frames per second), you generate gigabytes of data every second. This will burn through your hard drives in a moment, and if you want to send your data to a different lab/computer for analysis, you will need to wait ages for the transmission to end.

While there have been many techniques trying to solve these problems, there is not a really perfect solution (and, in my honest opinion, there cannot be a single solution that will solve all the problems that different systems will face) that allows you to obtain super high quality pictures in many different dimensions. You always need to live with some tradeoffs (for example, doing low spatial resolution but high frame rate, or gathering a low number of spectral bands with good image quality).

Data fusion results, from Fig.3 in the manuscript. Here you can see that the initial single-pixel datasets have low spatial resolution, but the DF results have high spatial resolution AND both spectral and temporal resolution.

However, there are cool ideas that can help a lot. In our last paper, we show how, by borrowing ideas from remote sensing and/or autonomous driving, you can obtain high resolution, multispectral, time-resolved images of fluorescent objects in a simple and effective manner. We use a single-pixel imaging system to build two single-pixel cameras: one that measures multispectral images, and another that obtains time-resolved measurements (in the ps range). Also, we use a conventional pixelated detector to obtain a high spatial resolution image (with no temporal or spectral resolution). The key point here is that we have multiple systems working in parallel, each one doing its best to obtain one specific dimension. For example, the single-pixel spectral camera obtains a 3D image (x,y,lambda) with a very good spectral resolution, but with very low spatial resolution. On the other hand, the pixelated detector acquires a high spatial resolution image, but neither spectral nor time resolved. After obtaining the different datasets, DF allows you to merge all the information in a final multidimensional image, where all the dimensions have been sampled at high resolution (so, our final 4D object has high spatial, temporal, and spectral resolution).

So, what about the compression? The cool thing here is that we only obtain three different datasets: the high resolution picture from the camera, and the two multispectral/time-resolved images from the single-pixel cameras. However, after the reconstruction we obtain a full 4D dataset that amounts for about 1 Gigavoxel. In the end, if you compare the number of voxels we measure versus the number of voxels we retrieve, we have a compression ratio higher than 99.9% (which is quite big if you ask me).

As a sample of the technique, we show the time-resolved fluorescence decay of a simple scene with three different fluorophores (each one of the letters you see on the following figures), where the species are excited and the fluorescence process takes place in less than 25 ns (woah!). You can see the live reconstruction here, and a short talk I made a while ago after the info of the paper, where you can see all the details about the system, the reconstruction algorithm, and so.

Giga-voxel multidimensional fluorescence imaging combining single-pixel detection and data fusion

F. Soldevila, A. J. M. Lenz, A. Ghezzi, A. Farina, C. D’Andrea, and E. Tajahuerce, on Optics Letters (and the arxiv version)

Abstract: Time-resolved fluorescence imaging is a key tool in biomedical applications, as it allows to non-invasively obtain functional and structural information. However, the big amount of collected data introduces challenges in both acquisition speed and processing needs. Here, we introduce a novel technique that allows to acquire a giga-voxel 4D hypercube in a fast manner while measuring only 0.03% of the dataset. The system combines two single-pixel cameras and a conventional 2D array detector working in parallel. Data fusion techniques are introduced to combine the individual 2D and 3D projections acquired by each sensor in the final high-resolution 4D hypercube, which can be used to identify different fluorophore species by their spectral and temporal signatures.

Streamer anxiety, the cookies are back, iPrivacy, and more: THE WEEKLY RECAP (2021#35)

Back from summer holidays (that was short), and a lot of interesting stuff to post. Let’s go!

Designed in California, Assembled in China, Purchased by You, Owned by Us.

A very interesting piece by Snowden on the recent changes to privacy done by Apple. I could not help but read tons of articles on how the system will work, and how could end up being a repression tool. Who says Apple will never tweak the databases to find for troubling people in China? They already gave their users data to them by building data centers in the country instead of storing on the US ones. Also, during the last weeks there have been more and more reports on how they handle internal problems and/or privacy of their workers which seem very troubling…

The All-Seeing “i”: Apple Just Declared War on Your Privacy, on Continuing Ed

New jobs, old? problems

I have been reading/watching many people who work as streamers/youtubers recently openly talking about the struggles they have while doing their job. At first glance, they are super successful, but they face anxiety, stress, and uncertainty almost everyday. While these problems are not new for me (as someone doing research, I have never had stability and I am 33 now…), I really enjoyed the openness with they tackled the topic.

Pokimane Has Done Enough—and Has So Much Left to Do, on Wired
The reality of being a streamer (in Spanish), on knekro’s youtube channel

Duodecillion cookies!

A cool piece on the story of idle games, in particular on the development of Cookie Clicker, which came to Steam this week (with an amazing soundtrack by C418!!!). Also on the debate of idle games actually being games, which is something I never really thought about.

‘Cookie Clicker’ Wasn’t Meant to Be Fun. Why Is It So Popular 8 Years Later?, on vice

And that’s it for the week. Stay safe!

The Facebookverse, QR privacy, and more: THE WEEKLY RECAP (2021#30)

I am writing this at 22:30 and its 30º with ~80% humidity. So yes, I am finally back in Spain after one year without visiting. Not sure if the following weeks there will be any updates, but let’s keep the ball rolling while we can.


Ready Facebook One

If you like cyberpunk there is a big chance you know about Snow Crash. While I am not a big fan of the book, there are many ideas floating around there that are quite interesting, and it is probably the most famous book on the genre. Some years ago we got Ready Player One (the XXI century version of the book) and it was obviously worse and almost any aspect. Even more, while I could not image any way to make it worse, we got a movie adaptation and a second book. Anyway, it seems that some billionaires are not planning to go to space, but instead they want to make that dystopia real. And coming from Zuckerberg, I can’t wait to see the shitshow Facebook is gonna build. Get ready for disaster, people.

PS: it was all fun and laughs when Epic talked about a metaverse in Fortnite during the Apple vs Epic trial, but now we start to see other companies trying to go that route. Interesting times ahead…

Facebook announces Metaverse product group headed by Instagram VP Vishal Shah, on protocol
Mark Zuckerberg Wants To Build An Online “Metaverse” Accessible On All Game Consoles, on thegamer

Hi [customer_name], nice to have you back. Do you want your usual [customer_name_usual_food]?

It seems that there are many places where you can go to eat something, and the menu is digitally implemented by using a QR-code. By doing it this way, there is no need for interaction (so that’s a good thing you might think, we have corona after all), and they also need less people working there (that’s not so good?). Oh, and one last thing: they can also sell your data / use it for marketing. What a time to be alive.

QR Codes Are Here to Stay. So Is the Tracking They Allow, on the nytimes

On China and their industry decisions

Very interesting read on what does it mean to be a tech company, what value do tech companies really produce, and how different countries might have totally different views on that.

Why is China smashing its tech industry? in noahpinion

Google doing something nice?

I see on openculture that Google has been digitizing many many paintings at astonishing resolutions. Besides being super cool to “visit” virtually, I think it might be even useful for many interesting side projects (if I find some way to download them).

A Gallery of 1,800 Gigapixel Images of Classic Paintings: See Vermeer’s Girl with the Pearl Earring, Van Gogh’s Starry Night & Other Masterpieces in Close Detail, on openculture
Google Arts and Culture

And that’s it for the week (month?). Stay safe!