Subscriptions, Scams, and Privacy: Exploring the Latest in Tech News on Friday Finds

On this week’s Friday Finds episode, we’re covering a range of topics in the tech world. First, we discuss the recent changes to the popular app, Voice Dream Reader, and the impact of a new subscription model on users. Then, we dive into the flood of scam chat GPT apps on the Mac App Store and provide tips for staying safe while browsing. Finally, we explore the rumor of app sideloading coming to iPhones and the potential privacy and security implications for users. Join us as we delve into the latest in tech news with an accessibility view.
transcripts:

Transcript:

Hey everybody, so I am the bearer of the bad news. To begin with here, last week we talked

about Bookshare raising its membership fee to 80 bucks for those of us who pay out of

pocket and unfortunately this week we have another sad tale of something that we’re paying

for that we didn’t used to have to, for some people that is. So I was looking at the iPhone,

The VI phone, it’s called the VI phone list.

This is an email list, it’s a Google,

I think it’s a Google list that basically talks about

everything iOS for blind and visually impaired folks.

There is an app that we, many of us in the blind community

know and love and trust.

And it is called Voice Stream Reader.

This app has been around, oh my gosh,

I can’t even, I’m not exactly sure how long,

but it is a quality app.

I mean, most people that use this app just love it.

We are just, you know, the developer is awesome.

He really, really, if there’s a problem,

you could write to him and he would help you right away.

His name was Winston Chen.

His name is Winston Chen, I should say.

Great developer.

So it was sort of a shock to a lot of us

when we find out that there will now be,

that the app was sold to a group

that I’ve never heard of,

but the applause group it’s called.

I’ve never heard of that group,

but apparently they are taking over the development

and everything about Voice Dream Reader.

  • Well, I’ve never even heard of that group either.

  • A floss group?

  • Yeah, do you know what else they make by jam, sir?

  • I don’t.

Winston said that he liked the group

because he felt that they would continue developing the app,

that they would really do right by it.

So if you’ve already have the app,

you’re grandfathered in, so you wouldn’t have to pay.

I don’t know about upgrades or anything like that.

So it’s $59.99 is gonna be the annual price.

So that’s, you know, 60 bucks a year is something that,

it sort of shocked me a little bit.

  • Yeah, that’s a lot of money, 60 bucks a year?

  • Yeah.

  • This is one of the higher, most expensive prices

I’ve seen.

And you know, the thing is,

once someone kind of goes for something like this

and tests the water, then everyone else sort of goes,

well, if they’re doing it, we can do it.

And the thing that makes me nervous

is that if everyone starts charging, you know,

50, 60, $7 a month for apps, you know,

you’re really gonna have to decide

what apps you absolutely need

and what apps you absolutely don’t need

because you can’t just get everything, you know?

  • Yeah.

  • Because people can’t afford,

if you were to add all that up,

just if you’re paying for three, four, five apps,

you know, 60 bucks a year for all of those

becomes a lot of money.

Demoss, did you use this app for anything?

Is this your tools you got in your toolbox?

  • I have been a voice stream reader user

since it was released and I continue to use it today.

  • Yeah.

  • Voice String Reader is very, very heavily used

in the education market because of the text

to speech capabilities, whether it’s using a built-in voice

or someone to specialize voices.

It also will play audio books back,

handles daisy files, EPUBs, docs, plain text, et cetera.

Another wide usage of the application

and kind of where Winston was trying to position the app

in addition to helping those with blind and low vision

is people who are dyslexic are also very heavy users

the app because of the text highlighting that happens visually and some other features that

are in there visually for those people.

So very popular app.

I’ve been using it and recommending it to people for over 10 years now.

Now my question to you, if the price went up to 60 bucks a year, would you still use

it and pay that money to you?

Is it that important or would you find something else?

So let me get some clarification here because I may have missed it.

But as far as I know, the cost is just for the Mac application, correct?

Or are they also implementing this across the iOS app?

It seems to me that it is on the iOS side as well.

That’s why it was discussed on the iPhone list, which is basically for iOS issues.

Okay, because as it stands right now, or at least as it stood before this change was announced,

you only paid a subscription for the Mac app.

So if you already own the iOS app, that was free.

So for me, I don’t have to pay for the iOS access at all.

I do pay for the Mac app.

I pay a monthly subscription for the Mac app, primarily because I wanted to support Winston,

because again, I bought this app when it was on sale for $4.99 when it first released.

And this was over 10 years ago.

I have been getting routine use.

This is one of the apps that if it’s not on my phone,

like it doesn’t work right.

So giving him $4.99 a month, I think,

is what the subscription currently is on the Mac,

was no problem for me.

I don’t really use the Mac app all that often.

I may add things to it from there,

but I still primarily use it on my iPhone.

If this change is also going to affect current iOS users,

then that’s a little bit different of a story.

For me, when I pay 60 bucks a year for it, I would.

I mean, I don’t know if I would pay 60 bucks a year

just for the Mac app,

but if they’re doing a wholesale change where,

you know, the only way to access the Apple Cross platform

is to pay 60 bucks a year,

and I feel like I’m probably gonna end up paying 60 bucks a year

’cause I don’t know of another application

that is as fully featured as this one is.

Like, you know, you can read EPUBs in the Kindle app,

but there’s no audiobooks there.

It doesn’t do OCR, so that’s another feature

that’s built into Voice Stream Reader is OCR on iOS.

So if I drop in a scanned PDF that’s instantly OCR,

then I can read it.

And the handy thing for me with Voice Stream Reader

is putting a PDF or EPUB file in

and having it play back as though it’s an audiobook,

meaning I can lock my phone, put it in my pocket,

and proceed to do dishes or whatever it is.

Yeah, it just does what it does and does it very, very well.

Winston said– and I guess this is something

that we all have to get to grips with–

that the one-time pricing model is just not sustainable now.

If you want an app to grow with the times,

change with the different developments in the iOS,

and it’s a moving target, a constant moving target.

And I guess–

[BEEPING]

Lots obviously. Are we gonna get sideloading on our

iPhones?

App sideloading. This is the big rumor. It’s supposedly coming in 17 iOS 17 and

Apparently Apple’s gonna pick which markets

sideloading can occur in and they’re saying that Europe is probably gonna be first because

Europe has a lot of

anti-monopoly

That’s why I think they’re saying that what is it? The iPhone is gonna be have the

SBC because they’re saying, you know, it’s not fair that Apple has this monopoly on the app store

and so I think a lot of this is coming from Europe. I would agree with you there. I would say that

In the beginning this probably and this is I have no inside knowledge on this

I this is just my own opinion

But I think that if they’re going to do something like this

They’re gonna start only in Europe and they’re gonna see how it goes

I think this is something really that’s gonna be a major undertaking

I’d be really curious to see how are they gonna still

continue to make it safe?

How are they going to police it?

I mean, as we just got done talking about,

they’re having some issues

with their own app store currently.

So how are they gonna add a side loading app store,

keep that safe?

So I think that they’re gonna start off in Europe

and see how it goes there if they implement this,

if they’re actually gonna do this.

And we’ll have to see how that goes.

And we’ll see if they bring side loading

to other countries, US and alike.

It’ll be interesting, definitely.

I definitely want to know and see how they’re going to keep track of this,

police it and keep everyone safe or if it’s going to become completely out of

control. I don’t know.

Yeah. It worries me a lot because you know,

there are sort of advantages to the walled garden right now.

Yeah, definitely.

You can keep it, although we can sideload on the net.

I mean, not when they’re not trimming the weeds back into the walled garden,

not so much.

Yeah. Yeah. So I guess.

I mean, just like in the story,

we’re hearing problems with other apps that they’re getting in there and they’re

getting by the process.

  • That’s a consistent problem with Apple.

The GPT apps are new, but the underlying issue of scam apps

or fake apps or pretend apps getting by app review

quite a bit is not a new story in the Apple App Store

for iOS’s community at least anyway.

Nobody pays much attention to the Mac App Store in general,

but you see a lot of this in the iOS App Store.

I mean, oftentimes you go into the App Store

and you search for an app and by name

and you’re getting different results at the top

versus what you’re looking for

and sometimes it’s even made to look like,

I mean, there’s a weather app or there was.

They probably have gotten rid of it now

that made the news.

But before Apple had their weather app on the iPad,

there was a weather app that was called Weather Space,

and this is what was in the actual text

of the app submission, right?

So it looked exactly like what Apple’s app would look like

before they had one for the iPad.

It looked just like the iPhone app

just designed for an iPad screen.

And they were charging like,

you know, I don’t remember how much.

It wasn’t a ridiculous amount of money,

but they were fooling people that this was the Apple app.

They were like, people would look at that and say,

“Oh, it looks like the one on my phone.

“I’m gonna get that one,” right?

Not realizing Apple’s not gonna charge you

in app subscription for weather.

It’s not a thing they do.

Yeah, and that’s what they’re saying about the open AI chat GPT.

When you look at some of these apps,

it looks like it’s coming from this company.

It’s from open AI.

And that’s where the problem is.

It’s not.

You know, I mean, you can find–

you don’t really– if you want an open AI account,

you go on their website and you make one.

And then you can do whatever you want with it at that point.

It’s your login credentials and stuff like that.

But you just have to be aware.

And I think Damasi would agree, because Damasi

does a security podcast, right?

And I think that Mac and iPhone people,

we tend to be a little bit more complacent

because we think we’re safer, right?

It’s Apple, you know, Apple doesn’t have virus programs,

Apple doesn’t have malware.

But when you think about everything that’s included

in your Apple account, your credit cards,

your, you know, your whole life, I mean.

  • It comes down to a proportion gain, all right?

If you only have 10 people using Macs

and two people get a virus, well, people are gonna assume

that Macs are pretty impervious to viruses, right?

Whereas when you scale from 10 people using the Mac

to a million people and 200,000 get a virus,

that’s a much bigger number, so you start paying attention.

There’s always been malware on the Mac

or around the Mac ecosystem.

It’s just the smaller it was, the less of an issue it was,

especially compared to, now compared to general malware

in the Windows world versus the Mac,

it does seem like there’s nothing happening

over here on the Mac.

But there are things going on,

and there are people actively trying to attack the Mac

as well as there are people trying to defend the Mac.

I don’t think you need to run out

and install any virus on your Mac if you don’t do

silly things on the internet, but other than that,

With the sideloading conversation, though,

I kind of feel like this.

So I’ve heard some people say they’re worried about it.

I’ve heard some people say they don’t care.

I’ve heard people say this and that.

I want to kind of put a little perspective in here, though.

First off, even if sideloading comes to everybody

at some point on iOS, it doesn’t mean you have to do it.

People on Android have the capability

to sideload applications, but first you

have to go and enable the functionality.

And secondarily, you have to actually want to do it.

If you don’t want to do it, it doesn’t affect you.

It doesn’t weaken your security because the feature is there.

As far as the EU– so the EU has the DMA, the Digital Markets

Act.

And this is kind of where they’re hitting it at Apple

and Google a little bit too.

They’re going after Apple harder

because Apple has made it a little easier for them to say,

well, the only way people can get on your iPhone

or your iPad is to go through your store.

We don’t like this.

We need to open this up a little bit more,

make it more flexible.

The rumor currently is that, yeah,

they’re gonna turn this on in Europe first

because that law goes into effect in 2024.

So they’re gonna have to do something

if that’s what they tell them they have to do.

I don’t think that anybody’s told Apple they have to do this.

I think they’re trying to prepare for it

and get ahead of it.

As for security, the thing is,

I don’t know that Apple’s gonna take this approach

because they’re a very large company with a PR department,

so they may not say this the way that I’m gonna say this,

but if you decide to go turn on a feature in settings

to side load an app, that relieves me

of the responsibility of what you side load.

That’s not my problem, right?

I don’t mean that to be a jerk about it,

but the facts are, if I have a store,

if I’m running Apple and I have an app store,

and you can go to the app store and download an app,

or you choose, you make a choice,

and I’m not forcing you, nobody tells you,

in order to get Apple Music, you gotta go sideload it, right?

Just about anything you want is gonna be an app store.

If you want to sideload an app,

that is your responsibility.

So say with the Mac, right?

I can choose to go through the Mac app store.

I can go to a trusted third-party developer

that has their app notarized and signed and all of that,

so it’ll just run.

Or I can go outside of those miles

and download somebody’s random code off of GitHub

and force it to run on my computer.

At that point, I have bypassed the protections

that were in place for me.

So that is completely my responsibility.

I think the way that they handle general security

for everybody there is kind of the same way

have done it on the Mac, which is there will be the iOS app store, as there always has

been. There will be a mechanism, maybe not functionally exactly the same, but basically

what we have on the Mac with app notarization and app signing. So, my Mac currently, if

I download, if I go to Rogan Meebuh’s website or if I go to Texas Mandarin, I download their

app from their website because they’re not an app store at all. I have no problems running

their software because one, it’s been signed with their developer certificate and two,

Apple has the notarization, which is, you know, developers send their third-party app

to Apple, Apple scans it for malware and malicious things and if it passes their tests, they

sign off on it and give it an Apple signature as well.

So now you have the developer account certificate and you have Apple certificate saying, “Yes,

we have trusted and verified this app.”

It runs fine on your stuff.

I think that’s the way they’ll handle it on iOS because it seems to me they already have

that mechanism in place with Gatekeeper on the Mac.

Like just use that same protocol there to get that to work for people.

And again, just as on the Mac, you have the ability to stay just in the App Store and

never download or run anything that’s not from the App Store if that’s what you choose

to do.

I feel that it’s gonna be the way to handle it on iOS

for people now.

If you go out there and download somebody’s random code

and put it on your iPhone,

it’s just your risk, right?

You did that.

  • Yeah, especially now because the Apple ecosystem now

is I mean, people have savings accounts, right?

They have basically banking.

I mean, this is what the malware creators

and virus creators now, they just want money.

They used to be able to–

  • Yeah, but I wouldn’t panic so much

about that part of it though,

because the thing is the sandboxing rules on iOS

still are gonna be in effect.

So just because even if I go out and say download app from a third party again

Assuming nobody does anything silly with a law that forces Apple to do something less secure

Apple’s approach is gonna be okay. You can go download app if it’s notarized and signed it

I have no problem running, but it still will have to adhere to the same sandboxing

You know rules that apply. I mean we switch from the Mac all the time, right? I can go download

transmit which is a

FTP client right doesn’t matter what that does but I download the app

I open it up and before I can use this app

I have to give it certain permissions because that is the structure Apple has put in place on the Mac to help protect me

Oh this app would like to access files in your document folder. Okay. Well, maybe I don’t want to give you a document folder access

So I say no, right? So it’s not the fact that

Sight-loading instantly means the end of the world at the end of your security

My biggest concern with it really is that we’re gonna see a lot of these larger companies start to pull their apps out of the

App store because they will have a little bit more flexibility in what they can do when it comes to tracking your data

tracking you and

You know amortizing your usage of their app to make money. So Facebook is when it comes to mind

I’m not picking on Facebook particularly but Facebook likes to gather scrape all the data they possibly can so my concern is that we’re gonna see people

Like meta pull the Facebook app out of the App Store pull Instagram out of the App Store

So that they can actually run the code that they typically run on their website or that they would run on Android

It gives them a lot more data about you as a user

Apple doesn’t let a lot of that stuff through the store for them

So they step outside of that now they they’re not up under those restrictions

I’m more concerned about people’s privacy with the apps that they choose to use because

a lot of these bigger companies may move out of the store.

As opposed to, I am about somebody getting a side-loaded application that goes in and

empties their Apple savings account or spins up and gets their Apple credit card.

Because all of that stuff is still secured the same way it was.

You’re not going to be able to go through my Apple wallet and yank all my cards out

of my Apple wallet and get that information because it’s encrypted in a way that nothing

on the system actually gets to read that data.

Same with your fingerprint or face ID information.

It’s not readable by any part of Apple’s system,

including Apple, ’cause it’s encrypted.

All you get back when you do Face ID, for example,

is here’s the face I just saw is what the camera says,

and on the encrypted space side of the phone

where you’re at that information store,

it says, “Yep, that matches what I have.”

Or, “Nope, it doesn’t match what I have.

“Don’t let ’em in.”

So I’m not concerned so much about the security

as I am about people’s general privacy.

Because these bigger apps will move out of the store,

because look, if Facebook moves out of the store,

people will go get Facebook.

If, say, a Marco Arment decides

he’s gonna take overcast out of the store,

well, who’s gonna care?

I’ll probably get it, but most people are like,

“Psh, man, you know, I’ll just shoot out the podcast app.”

But Instagram, Facebook, Twitter,

you know, if they move out of the store,

people will have to start sideloading,

and that’s when I get more concerned about their privacy.

  • All right, everyone, so thanks very much

for checking out our Friday finds,

and if you have questions, comments, or anything else,

you can always reach us at [email protected],

and I wanna thank Damasi for joining us today.

Thanks, Damasi.

  • Thank you.

  • And Lynn, thank you.

  • For your assistance.

Sir, it’s been fun.

  • And we’ll see you next time.

[music]

[Music fades]

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