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Apple's slippery slope

Good morning! Great news from Queensland yesterday, with Cairns lifted out of lockdown following no new cases 'in the wild'. 🙌

Unfortunately it was all downhill after that – the Greater Sydney outbreak has officially moved into the regions, sending Dubbo, Walgett Shire and seven other local government areas in western NSW into snap lockdowns. It wasn't much better for the state as a whole, either, with 344 new cases of which at least 101 were infectious in the community. Another 500 Australian defence personnel were also sent to Sydney to help enforce even tighter rules, bringing the total to 800...

Down in Melbourne the city's sixth lockdown was extended for a second week following another 20 new cases 😔.


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There was another record high for the US S&P500 (+0.25%) overnight, after consumer prices slowed on a monthly basis to a seasonally adjusted 0.5% in July. While that means inflation is still tracking at an elevated 6.2% on an annualised basis, it was a significant slowdown from the 0.9% monthly increase in June, helping ease market concerns that the Fed might bring forward monetary tightening.

Locally, the ASX200 gained 0.29% to – surprise! – a fresh record high. A notable mover was CBA, which came close to breaking its own record with a 1.51% increase after it announced it would double its dividend and buyback $A6 billion shares.

Still optimistic: The Westpac-Melbourne Institute Consumer Sentiment index for August (survey conducted 2-7 August) wasn't as bad as many expected, dropping 4.4% to its lowest point all year but remaining over 100 (104.1), which is the neutral level between optimistic/pessimistic. Slightly concerning was the fact that a small majority of consumers across all three major states (NSW, VIC, QLD) now expect conditions to deteriorate rather than improve over the next year.

Lockdown blues: New home sales in Australia collapsed 20.5% in July compared to a month earlier, with only WA recording an increase (8.5%).

Heating up: Korea's unemployment rate dropped to just 3.3% in July, the lowest level in a year and a big fall from 3.7% in June. Consumer price inflation is currently increasing at 2.6% year-on-year (the Bank of Korea's target is 2%), with some now expecting the central bank to raise the cash rate as early as this month.

Running hot: The inflation-adjusted US Employment Cost Index fell in the last quarter and is running 2% below its pre-pandemic trend, as consumer price growth continues to outpace wages. Good for corporate profits, not so hot for the bottom half...

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Apple's slippery slope

Meme showing Xi Jinping and Shinzo Abe as Winnie the Pooh and Eeyore, respectively.
Apple's backdoor could conceivably be tweaked to pick up memes like this. BBC

By now you may have heard about Apple's controversial plan to scan devices for 'Child Sexual Abuse Material', or CSAM for short. Essentially:

  • the iMessage app "will use on-device machine learning to warn about sensitive content"; and
  • "iOS and iPadOS will use new applications of cryptography... [to] help Apple provide valuable information to law enforcement on collections of CSAM in iCloud Photos".

Breaking it down: The problem people have with Apple's plan is not what it's doing – which is already done by every tech company, as required by US law – but how it's doing it. Apple's approach differs from existing models because it will do all the scanning on the devices themselves, not once the content has been uploaded to its servers.

Why this matters: By building the technical capability to scan files on any Apple device – otherwise known as a backdoor – Apple has exposed itself to the slippery slope argument. For example, Apple says it will only scan files as they get uploaded into iCloud Photos. That's all well and good, but it's not unrealistic to expect a government to one day compel them to scan all files (Apple has previously caved to both the FBI and Chinese government), or for the database against which it scans (maintained by a government agency) to have its scope broadened.

Similarly, while the iMessage app will only scan decrypted messages of those aged under-13 and only if their parents opt them in, that capability will soon be technically possible on every Apple device – all it would take is a bit of external pressure to make it happen. 🔨

The Wrap Up

  • 📅 South Australians aged 16 to 39 will be able to book a Pfizer vaccine as of Monday, with appointments available in September and October.
  • 🐱‍💻 In decentralised finance (DeFi), one coding error can cost you everything: More than $US600 million was stolen after hackers exploited a vulnerability in Poly Network, a DeFi platform.
  • 🔬 A new study in medRxiv (not yet peer reviewed) found that being fully vaccinated suppresses SARS-CoV-2 mutations.
  • 🏖️ Google unveiled a 'pay calculator', which shows employees that the further away they move from the office, the more severe their pay cut – up to 25% in some cases.
  • TikTok overtook Facebook as the world's most downloaded app.
  • 🎓 High school students in Oregon, USA will no longer have to prove proficiency in reading, writing and math to graduate...
  • 😷 Thailand's department of health advised lovers to refrain from face to face contact and wear face masks.
  • 🕵️‍♂️ ABC journalist Louise Milligan agreed to pay Andrew Laming $79,000 plus an estimated $50,000 in legal fees for a series of defamatory tweets. The costs will reportedly be covered by the ABC (i.e. the taxpayer), not Milligan.
  • 💉 The head of Israel's Health Ministry's advisory committee for infectious diseases said: "It's unavoidable that the pandemic will infect the majority of the population... The [real] question is whether the infected person is vaccinated or not."
  • 🦠 Norway's Prime Minister said one week after all adults have been offered a second vaccine dose "it will be possible to live normally... Norwegian society will have to live with the fact that we have this virus, as we live with other infectious diseases".
  • 🍁 "Unvaccinated people in Quebec will be denied access to non-essential public spaces such as bars, restaurants and gyms as of 1 September."