The recent fiasco around The Atlantic’s sponsored article in support of Scientology has highlighted something rather important: disclosing a conflict of interest does not exonerate a news source from poor quality control. A “sponsored content” label basically amounts to disclosure that the source was paid to post an advert in the guise of actual copy, and so this example provides ample evidence of why we as content consumers should not so readily accept the disclosure argument as a means of preserving journalistic integrity.

This all raises another important point. A disturbing trend has emerged in recent years whereby the tech media are posting conflicted content and taking on clearly biased writers while using the disclosure argument as a sort of back door out of accepting responsibility for such shoddy journalism. Let’s be clear– just because conflicts of interest are disclosed, does not mean that a publisher is somehow absolved from this sin.

It is very true that conflict of interest cannot be avoided altogether, but providing a platform for people like MG Siegler and Michael Arrington to make paid regular comment on issues of interest to them seriously compromises the journalistic integrity of TechCrunch. The involvement of both of these authors in the CrunchFund venture capital firm means they largely cannot write without bias on topics relevant to the tech industry. Disclosure does not mitigate this– it simply makes it apparent. They should be free to write whatever they want on their own personal blogs but being paid to write articles for a widely-consumed blog professing to have some degree of journalistic integrity? We should not so readily accept this.

I don’t mean to single out TechCrunch. Many other tech blogs are littered with embedded disclosure statements, post “sponsored content” or even include “disclosed” affiliate links in their posts, such as this example from The Next Web. Again, the disclosure of this fact doesn’t somehow elevate TNN out of the depths of journalistic depravity; it simply makes its lack of journalistic integrity more apparent. Of course, if it were to hide this fact this would be a greater sin still, but this doesn’t detract from the fact that TNN is getting paid to write articles about certain topics, and being paid specifically by those that stand to benefit most from the entailing publicity.

And now with this latest The Atlantic fiasco, it should be even more painfully apparent why we cannot simply accept content peppered with disclosures and assume that all is bona fide. Instead we should seek out news sources that genuinely provide a wide, fair and balanced spectrum of information, ones where disclosures of this sort are completely unnecessary.

Written on January 23rd, 2013 , All, Ruminations, Tech


Jack Dorsey recently blogged about how they are abandoning the term “user” in favour of “customer” at B2B mobile payments provider Square. This was a shock for me, because in all my years of being a “customer” nothing has irked me more than being considered simply and only that by the businesses behind the products and services I use.

Being a customer implies that you are nothing more than a unit of economic value to the business, a target to be fleeced of cash, a necessary inconvenience that brings little more to the table than dollars and cents. When I use products and services I generally engage with them far more than what the term “customer” implies. Not only am I a customer, for that product I am a reviewer, a quality gate, a contributor, a value creator, a proponent, a promoter, and sometimes even an evangelist. I am not just a customer. Being called a user may be vague, but at least it doesn’t obscure all this and reduce me to a mere financial incentive for the business. Now that really drives me bonkers.

Written on October 18th, 2012 , All, Mobile, Ruminations, Tech

One thing that most consumer software of value does today is to integrate in some way with the major social networking incumbents, Facebook and Twitter. zeebox, naturally, is no different, and we’ve worked fairly closely with Facebook to get our Open Graph implementation right while also ensuring that we make best use of their platform.

There’s been a few bumps along the way. In past, Facebook have gently chided us for pre-filling the message field when posting to people’s walls from the app, which runs afoul of Facebook’s platform policy. Basically, any app that posts to your wall should have an empty field that allows you to express your thoughts about the subject matter you are posting.

But the truth is, there are loads of apps out there that flout this policy.

Draw Something:

Amazon Kindle:

And even some of zeebox’s competitors.. yap.tv:

In all these cases, Facebook’s platform policy is being violated because there is pre-filled content in the field rather than it being blank. In the case of yap.tv, you can’t even edit the text and, worse still, incomplete text is being displayed to the user.

It’s a little frustrating to see that FB’s platform policy isn’t quite enforced with an even hand, though I suppose the benefits of having a good relationship with Facebook outweigh this.

Written on April 23rd, 2012 , All, Dev & Test, Social Software, Tech


Facebook does many things very well, but most would agree that they are not particularly adept at managing their users’ privacy or security.

A recent example hit me the other day while browsing the Facebook iOS SDK integration docs. Facebook suggest that SDK developers store the Facebook access token that grants a client (e.g. an iPhone app) access to the Facebook platform in the iOS user defaults. This is not secure and could result in someone else masquerading as the user on Facebook or hijacked the user’s identity.

What is a Facebook access token?

A Facebook access token allows a 3rd party app to interact with Facebook on behalf of a particular user. Depending on what permissions the user granted to the app, the holder of the Facebook access token can do anything from posting to a friend’s wall, to accessing all the user’s personal information. It is important, therefore, that this access token is only ever accessible by the app in question.

What are iOS user defaults?

As any iOS developer knows, this is where an app can store a user’s preferences and any other information that might help the app to understand a user better across app sessions. These defaults might store things like a user’s ID, a preferred colour scheme, or the user’s first name, among other things.

User defaults, however, are not secure. Data stored in the defaults is stored in plain text, and while iOS apps cannot access the defaults of another app, anyone who had access to your phone, or a backup of your phone, could easily extract the Facebook access token and use it to masquerade as you. Not a good scenario.

Facebook makes the suggestion in the “Implementing SSO” section of their iOS tutorial. The offending bits:

The right place to store secure data on iOS devices is in the keychain.

Written on February 27th, 2012 , All, Dev & Test, Mobile, Social Software, Tech

For the past few months I’ve been working at zeebox on a new app for iPad that is genuinely one of the coolest products I’ve come across recently.. and so it has been an absolute pleasure having the opportunity to build it! I’ve been largely working on the social aspects of the app, e.g. Twitter integration, Facebook authentication, and the chat system, which is brilliant as this combines my two favourite spheres of software development: mobile and social.

Basically, zeebox acts as a glorified TV guide with social elements. You can see what your friends are watching ,chat with them about shows, invite them to watch with you and various other things. Despite a huge amount of work going into it, the app is still pretty nascent and it’s clear that it will improve dramatically over time, as long as people within the company continue to dream up more great ideas (this hasn’t been a problem thus far!).

There have been 4 of us working on the iPad app, but naturally there’s also a great team of engineers building the back-end services that tie the whole thing together. iPhone, and Android versions of the app are to follow. Check it out!

Written on October 28th, 2011 , Agile, All, Dev & Test, Mobile, Social Software, Tech


After a fair bit of wrangling, it’s finally come together. We’ve partnered with MTV and the Staying Alive Foundation to rebrand iCondom as the MTV iCondom, with a grand portion of proceeds going towards the Staying Alive Foundation, a sexual health charity. MTV will be broadcasting adverts across their worldwide network and ads have been produced in several different languages. See the English-language ad here.

We’re also looking for further partners to help update and maintain our ever-growing database of locations, so please get in touch if this is of interest!

Written on August 2nd, 2011 , Dev & Test, Mobile, Tech

Another raaza app in the wild. This one is US Flu Fighter, which is basically a mashup of various different CDC feeds with Facebook and Twitter in an iOS native app. It’s another one with a Ruby on Rails web services back end, which I’m finding increasingly handy for quickly building such back ends. I used the CorePlot framework to draw the graphs, which was a pleasure to use once i got familiar with it. US Flu Fighter has been submitted to the CDC’s Flu App Challenge so please go ahead and give it a vote.

Written on June 3rd, 2011 , Dev & Test, Mobile, Social Software, Tech


This is year two for the Addicted to Ibiza Island Guide, a location-based listings app for the Ibiza party crowd. It includes event listings, a club guide, maps, DJ mixes and more.

The back end for this one was built in Java using largely the same components as last year, i.e. Struts 2, Spring, Hibernate, Freemarker and JAXB. If I had to do it again I would probably build it on Ruby on Rails, simply for the increased speed at which the solution could be delivered.

It’ll be available until December this year and then taken out of the store in anticipation of next years guide. :-)

You can learn more about it on the Addicted to Ibiza blog, and don’t forget to like the Addicted to Ibiza fan page on Facebook to hear all the atest Ibiza news… 250,000 members and going strong.

Written on April 24th, 2011 , Dev & Test, Mobile, Social Software, Tech

uktalogotype


The latest app from raaza, UK Terror Alert, has just gone live in the iPhone App Store. This is another Ruby-on-Rails backed app that feeds data sourced from the UK Home Office and the MI5 Secret Service into native app format. This was the first time I’ve used Apple push notifications in an iOS app and it was a bit of a trying process getting an APN server up and running on top of RoR.

As for the basics, with UK Terror Alert you can:

  • see the latest alert levels for international and Ireland-related terrorism
  • receive push notifications whenever the alert levels change
  • view a history of all alert level changes
  • get practical advice on how to mitigate the effects of terrorism
  • share this info on Facebook and Twitter.

For more info, visit the website:
http://www.ukterroralert.com

Written on January 20th, 2011 , Dev & Test, Mobile, Social Software, Tech



Postcode Envy Logo

Postcode Envy for iPhone has just gone live in the iPhone App Store. I really enjoyed doing this app as everything from design to development was under my own control. With the app, you can:

  • See house prices for postcodes in England and Wales.
  • View area ratings for these postcodes.
  • Compare average house prices across postcodes.

There are a number of ways to get the skinny on a postcode. You can look up postcode data for:

  • Your current location.
  • A postcode you choose.
  • A random postcode.

FYI the app only provides house price data for England and Wales.

As with the iCondom, I did the backend of this app in Ruby on Rails with JSON for transport. I’m finding the combination of Rails + ActiveScaffold + ObjectiveResource to be the fastest way to get apps of this sort up and running, much faster than any of the frameworks and tools I’ve tried for PHP and Java.

Have a closer look at Postcode Envy here.

Written on November 12th, 2010 , All, Mobile, Tech

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