The Weekly Tech Overload: Lavabit goes offline — for the greater good?

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Hello again, folks, and happy Friday. Apologies for the lack of updates this week, but it’s been a busy one. Let’s take a look at the week in tech news and dig right in to what I consider to be the biggest story: the discontinuation of the Lavabit service. In a heart-wrenching open letter to the service’s users, founder Ladar Levison writes about making an impossible decision: “to become implicit in crimes against the American people or walk away from nearly ten years of hard work by shutting down Lavabit.” He’s made the noble and tragic choice to take the latter path.

As noted by Xeni Jardin in her post on the subject at Boing Boing, the secure email service recently gained notoriety thanks to its use by Edward Snowden. Lavabit actually dates back to 2004, offering an alternative to advertising-driven and, presumably, easily cracked Gmail accounts. I confess to thinking little of the need for the service at the time, but recent developments have certainly caused me to reconsider my former “Well if you’re not doing anything wrong…” stance regarding online privacy. Jennifer Granick over at Stanford’s Center for Internet and Society has a brief run-down of the implications. It’s well worth a read.

The service now appears dead, though perhaps existing in a state of suspended animation is a better way to put it. Levison seems to have no interest in handing over the keys to the US Government, but that he’s asking for donations to the Lavabit Legal Defense Fund shows a bit of hope for re-awakening at some point down the road. Now would be a lovely time for a molten carbonite joke and mix in an obscure Han Solo reference, but I’m sorry to say that levity doesn’t quite feel appropriate for this particular story.

Bezos buys The Washington Post

The other big news of the week, announced on Monday the 5th, was the sale of The Washington Post to Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos. And, to be clear, this is Bezos himself making the purchase, not his corporate extension. Lydia DePhillis of, appropriately, The Washington Post, has an interesting piece breaking down why this made more sense as a non-Amazon acquisition — though she then turns around and describes what a natural fit for Amazon this storied publication could be. Kara Swisher at All Things Digital takes a rather different tack, beginning with her own history at the Post and very deftly threading together the stubbornness exhibited and missteps made by traditional publishing during the rapid ascent of the internet age. It’s a compelling piece that’s worth the click if you have the time.

Just what Bezos will do with his new toy was certainly the most common source for speculation at the beginning of the week, and so I hope you’ll forgive me indulging now that we’re at the end of it. I tend to look at this in an optimistic manner. I don’t believe that Bezos is looking to prop up this traditional stalwart and help it to limp along as-is for another decade or so in the face of declining subscribers and revenue. Neither do I think he’ll take the brand and spread it so thin across a series of short-sighted digital properties that it will cease to lose meaning. I would like to think that this will be the beginning of a prompt but controlled move to help the paper best take advantage of all the benefits digital distribution has to offer. I’d like to think there’s a means for institutions like the Post to survive and thrive without resorting to heavy-handed paywalls and/or advertorial. However, I’m sorry to say the Post‘s recently-launched BrandConnect sponsored content platform means it’s probably too late for that bit, at least.

Moto X Reviews

I opined on the Moto X last week, and this week the first reviews hit the web. In Joseph Volpe’s frank analysis at Engadget he finds a phone that he likes a lot, but he fears the $199 price is too high. He also echoes my concern, that limiting Moto Maker to AT&T is a mistake. Kevin Tofel at GigaOm found the phone’s features to be “surprisingly” useful despite the (relatively) limited specs, and Josh Topolsky over at The Verge had a similar reaction, that of initial malaise gradually replaced by respect for the phone’s distinctive features — and colors. Here’s a random sampling of multi-hued reviews to enjoy:

LG G2 Announced

And then, just like that, there was a new contender to the crown of top Android smartphone, the LG G2. The 5.2-inch, 1080p smartphone is running Qualcomm’s hot Snapdragon 800 processor, which should make it a powerhouse, and will be hitting all the four major US carriers here sometime before October. Price isn’t known yet, but the 16 or 32GB (non-expandable) model should come in somewhere in the $199 – $299 range — perhaps shedding a further shadow of doubt over the long-term viability of the Moto X. Or, at least, giving those buyers still on the fence hope for a near-term price cut.

Apple Swapping Chargers

Following the sad death of 23-year-old Ma Ailun, who was electrocuted by a counterfeit iPhone charger, Apple has launched a program to swap out third-party USB chargers for legit Apple units. This, I believe, is a very smart move on multiple levels. At $10, the swap most certainly covers Apple’s costs, protects the company from any potential future knock-off fallout, and most importantly gives the company’s customers a very good feeling. Apple’s chargers are high quality and tend to have folding prongs, thus making them easy to pack, so now might be a good time to replace those wall adapters you picked up cheap. The ones that start to get uncomfortably hot after a few minutes of charging.

Open Season on UAVs

As ridiculous as this story is, I couldn’t help but pass it along. Deer Trail, a town an hour east of Denver, Colorado, is seriously considering creating a drone hunting license. I wouldn’t even bother mentioning it except that a vote this week found the town board split 50-50 on the measure. If passed, and it sadly stands a chance, residents could pay $25 for said license and then would get a $100 bounty for any drone they turned in. Yes, they would get paid for shooting down government and private property. This is preposterous for a seemingly endless number of reasons, not the least of which being the difficulty of hitting the things. They’re small targets, and bullets fired skyward tend to go a long, long way before coming down, occasionally with deadly results. That alone is reason to enough to terminate this measure, and that’s ignoring what it would do to the local radio-controlled aircraft hobbyist scene.

A First-Party Xbox One Unboxing

Finally, I leave you with the official Xbox One unboxing, executed by Microsoft’s Major Nelson. This is just the latest case in companies getting wise to the power of such content and, rather than letting a zillion blogs get all the traffic, deciding to do it themselves. The good Major here got his hands on the boxed retail system a full two months before release, which would have been a heck of a scoop for a publication of any size. That the video garnered 800,000 views in less than a day leaves me wondering why a company like Microsoft would ever again want to let an external journalistic enterprise have the first crack at something like this. Those editorial outlets who see advertorial and paid content as an easy way toward long-term profitability may want to ponder this trend for a moment.

Thank you as ever for reading. It’s been a hectic week of discussions and decisions on my end, and I hope to have some updates for you about my own next steps real soon. Until then, have yourself a great weekend.

Lead photo courtesy of JuditK.

tim.stevens

Freelance journalist and software architect based in Upstate NY. I write for a variety of different places (as you’ll see) -- maybe even for you if you ask nicely.

One Comment

  1. I’m glad you posted an article on Google+; I enjoy your writing and am now in the process of working my way back through your blog.

    I don’t believe that the Moto X’s price point is going to be a big deal with the average consumer. Most “average joe” cell phone buyers either go with brand names that they know (a la Apple and Samsung) or with whatever catches their interest in the store; most of them don’t know or care about specs. As long as the Moto X runs smoothly on display at the store and people understand the features, they will buy it. I mean, if people only bought stuff based specifications alone, the iPhone wouldn’t be as popular as it still is today.

    That being said, what it really has going against it is brand recognition. I almost wonder if Google/Motorola wouldn’t have been better off riding the Droid name recognition through another couple iterations of phone across multiple carriers (unless it’s Verizon that has lease on the Droid license from Lucasfilm; I don’t know). People still confuse the Android and Droid brands, and that might have been something to take advantage of.

    Even as an S4 owner, I have no loyalty to Samsung (TouchWiz is terrible and my phone is running an AOSP derivative) and would love to see Motorola knock one out of the park with Google running the bases with them. I guess time will tell.

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