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How To Maximise the Good From AI (Artificial or Augmented Intelligence) Augmenting Humanity – A Quick Take

Fri, 01/21/2022 - 22:33

Recently, the SETI institute hosted a webinar titled, ‘AI: Augmenting Humanity for Good’. The discussion, presented by two experts in their field, was largely thoughtful. The speakers did cover what one might have anticipated from the title, including a short video presentation on an app available for the iPhone that enables AI for the blind, and speaks aloud whatever the camera can see, including the active environment, photos, etc. They also covered near-horizon applications as well as issues related to AI bias and its mitigation. 

What impressed me most was what was not covered, at least not explicitly. Perhaps the speakers purposefully kept the topics light and generic. Here are three topics that, irrespective of audience, should probably feature in any public discourse on AI when considering how to maximise the benefits whilst minimising its risk and harm: 1) Science literacy and understanding the product; 2) Ethics in the design and application of AI; 3) Reshaping society and ourselves, the challenges that these impose, and their mitigating safeguards. 

Scientific and Technological Literacy

Our shared society is undergoing a troubled relationship with truth and facts. Collaterally, there is a distrust of science that, at least for some, is a function of a distrust of authority – any authority – other than an accepted one related to one’s identity and world view. There is a growing gap between the current state of our science and our common understanding that, apart from potentially rendering us scientifically and functionally illiterate, imperils our health, safety, well-being and future security.  As our science and technology continue to advance, it is essential that we have at least a rudimentary understanding of how it works, appreciate how and where it is applied, what it means for us, and where possible to engage in public dialogue about its applications. Nowhere is this more relevant than with AI. As one of the discussants on the SETI panel mentioned, if we go to the grocery store to purchase a loaf of bread, we might look at its list of contents to decide whether or not we wish to consume it. Yet we consume technology products without questioning how they work and how they might affect our well-being. Specifically with AI, this is a tool that is learning about our behaviour in order to not simply be responsive to it, but in turn to shape it. The happy version of the latter is that AI will shape our behaviour in ways that benefit us, such as making us more efficient, and increasing our productivity. On the other hand, we are witness to the nightmarish consequences of AI shaping our behaviour in destructive ways, such as distorting our perception of our body image and exacerbating depression, fuelling our outrage and leading us to commit violence and terror. Earlier generations had a working knowledge of their tech, how it worked, and could even repair and modify it. We need to at least generally understand how our present-day technology works, specifically AI – enabled technology, in order to anticipate challenges, identify and shield ourselves and our loved ones from unwanted effects, and appreciate which applications of this technology, or it abuse, we might choose to avoid. 

Ethics and AI

We have mentioned before the Hippocratic Oath for AI developed by Oren Etzioni. As laudable as it is to pledge to do no harm, and as much as such an oath might conduce to rectitude of conduct, this assumes that we sufficiently understand and foresee what harm might arise from our AI applications. Our history of applying science to create new technologies suggests that such confidence is misplaced and that we may not be able to control what we have created or how others might use it, an age-old fear brilliantly captured in an enduring morality tale

There are proven measures that can be put in place to reduce the likelihood of adverse consequence and abuse, such as oversight boards, peer-review, and post-production surveillance, including independent impact studies under the review of regulators (eg FDA for medical technologies, devices, therapeutics and vaccines; FTC for a wide array of business-related practices). 

There is another measure, underused but essential for AI development and minimising adverse impact on specific demographics, namely diverse inclusion in product development and testing, as detailed in a recent Forbes piece. One example given by the SETI panel was the selfie camera and how Google noted early on that certain photos were inappropriately oriented. Upon investigation, they found that these were left-handed users. There had been no left-handed users in the product development and testing phase. 

A more prominent example is AI-powered face recognition technology. We have mentioned before that dark-skinned users have reported unreliable performance and others its potential for society-level abuse, resulting in some companies abandoning its further development. Microsoft found that one their early AI products, a chatbot named ‘Tay’ could be easily repurposed in less than one day in a coordinated attack to spew racial hatred, raising important questions about safety of such tools in the wild. Others have opined that AI could be co-opted to harm specific groups, proposing mitigation measures with as yet untested efficacy. All of this reverts to our earlier point about the limitations of the AI Hippocratic Oath alone, and assuming that we know which applications of this technology will lead to harm at the outset. We do not know, and assuming that we will is dangerous, and leaves us vulnerable. 

The surest antidote to that potentiality is to include a representative group of potential users in both the development and testing of such technologies prior to rollout. We do this in medical research out of necessity because it limits unforeseen adverse events at product release. The same must occur with AI product development. This is the proven standard for limiting post-production harm whilst maximising the widest possible benefit. Post-production or post-market surveillance on product performance is no less essential for new technologies to further identify unexpected rare but important events, and should be adopted as an industry standard for AI as well. 

Reshaping Society and Ourselves 

The most widely adopted technology is that which solves a problem or addresses an unmet need. This in turn reshapes our behaviour, and thereby our culture and norms. It creates new problems to solve and new demands, which in turn give rise to yet new technologies. Ad infinitim. Thus far, we have been relatively laissez faire in our rollout and adoption of new digital technologies, often responding post facto after problems arise, as we have seen with social media

Any technology that takes direct aim at modifying our behaviour, like AI, requires close monitoring, with pre-existing protocols in place as to how we will identify (ie select a reliable signal) and respond to specific adverse consequences, and how we will define and measure a successful response. These discussions and decisions cannot be left to a technological oligarchy, but must include independent expert opinion and take place in the public domain. While we will require knowledgable experts to identify the most reproducibly reliable indicators to monitor and conduct impact analyses, these reports must be available to the public, and cannot be sequestered by the private sector, which might remain hidden from public view. Though specific industry products are proprietary, neither the user community nor a product’s societal impacts are. Thus, reporting and monitoring systems, published reports, and discussions about remedial actions and alternatives must occur in the public domain, and involve public participation as essential stakeholders. 


AI is a technology designed specifically to interact with human behaviour, ostensibly as an aid to augment human productivity, but will inevitably alter our behaviour in unexpected ways, as it already has, and in turn can be further altered by us. As free societies, we must acknowledge two truths: 1) the greater our understanding of AI’s underlying technologies, the more likely we are to anticipate challenges, and; 2) we cannot anticipate every challenge. Many of our interactions with AI, and their outcomes, cannot be predicted and can result not only in the abuse of the vulnerable, but pose a threat to society at large, and must be monitored. A free society has a right to expect safe and reliable products, including AI, backed by adequate regulatory controls. The very nature of AI requires that an inclusive workforce be engaged in its development to minimise bias and to thwart targeted abuse. All of society should be engaged in assessing AI’s various impacts; which of these are beneficial and go forward, and which of these are harmful and rejected. Only in this way can we maintain the requisite level of control over this evolving, behaviour and capacity augmenting technology to ensure the widest possible benefit with the least amount of harm. 


Someone Reverse Engineered ‘Wordle’, Here are the Secrets

Fri, 01/21/2022 - 21:43

Robert Reichel has reverse engineered Worldle and posted a write-up on his blog. It includes a list of words the game uses.

At this point, we’ve done enough digging to know how Wordle is choosing the word of the day. We know that Wordle uses a client-side date-based algorithm to determine which word to use from a static wordlist. Each day is predictable so long as we have all of the code pieced together.


Merck Wins Court Dispute Over ‘NotPetya’ Attack

Fri, 01/21/2022 - 21:23

Merck wins a court dispute with insurance companies for US$1.4 billion in losses due to the NotPetya attack. This was a cyberattack in 2017 deployed by Russia in its conflict with Ukraine (via Bloomberg).

Merck Wins in Court

The pharmaceutical giant had sue its insurers for damages it suffered from NotPetya. On January 13, New Jersey Superior Court Judge Thomas J. Walsh ruled that insurers can’t claim the Act of War clause because they didn’t tell companies that cyberattacks wouldn’t be covered in the contract. This clause refers to physical armed conflict.

It’s seen as a win for companies because cyberattacks have increased in the past few years, especially in 2021. “The question of whether a cyberattack counts as an act of war is one piece of a broader insurance industry ‘reckoning.'”

The Not Petya Attack

Called “the worst cyberattack in history” it affected scores of companies, ports, and government agencies. Pretending to be ransomware, it encrypted systems and demanded $300 in bitcoin to decrypt.

It made use of EternalBlue, a penetration tool created by the U.S. National Security Agency and leaked in 2017. This tool takes advantage of a then-flaw in Windows that let hackers remotely run their malicious code. Another tool called Mimikatz pulled login passwords from the computers’ memory.

It was called NotPetya because of its similarities to Petya, a piece of ranswomare uncovered in 2016. But NotPetya’s ransom demands were fake, and the machines were completely scrambled. Although Russia targeted Ukraine, it spread to other companies and countries, even back to Russia. A White House assessment put the total damages of the NotPetya attack at over US$10 billion.

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YouTuber Ruben Sim Must Pay Roblox Over ‘Cybermob’

Fri, 01/21/2022 - 20:48

The Roblox Corporation sued YouTuber Ruben Sim over leading a “cybermob” on its platform and terrorizing players, many of whom are kids.

The original ban, according to Roblox’s lawyers, was issued after the YouTube creator harassed other players using racist and homophobic slurs, allegedly sexually harassed users, and uploaded photos of Adolph Hitler to Roblox. Sim disputed this characterization in a YouTube video uploaded last week.

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What You Need to Know About HP+ Smart Printer Solution

Fri, 01/21/2022 - 19:52

In early 2021, Hewlett-Packard launched its new HP+ cloud-based printing solution. Just more than 9 months later, the offering remains confusing for some customers. While it isn’t for everyone, a little understanding (and better transparency) could go a long way in appreciating what the HP+ smart printer solution can offer.

What Is the HP+ Smart Printer Service?

On select models of HP printers, consumers receive access to the HP+ Smart Printer service. This provides an additional year of warranty service, connected smart features, and discounted prices on ink and toner. Customers also have the option of getting 6 months of HP’s Instant Ink subscription free of charge.

With Instant Ink, consumers get their Ink or toner delivered when they are running low. HP offers various plans, but the first 6 months are free for up to 1,500 printed pages per month. After that, customers can continue the plan and pay a monthly fee based on usage.

The Devil Is in the Details

The Instant Ink service is what seems to trip up more than a few customers. This program has you paying based on how many pages you estimate you will print each month. It’s very similar to the metered plans many businesses use for their office printers. With this sort of plan, you aren’t paying for your ink cartridges. You’re paying for a certain number of printed pages each month.

With this type of subscription, you aren’t locked into a contract and you can cancel at any time. However, if you cancel, HP shuts off your Instant Ink cartridge at the end of the billing period you’ve paid for. You have to purchase a new ink cartridge to continue printing.

“But there’s still ink left in the cartridge I paid for,” you might be thinking. Remember, with Instant Ink, you aren’t paying for an ink cartridge. You’re paying to print a specific number of pages each month. Once your billing period is over, you need to either pay for another month or get a regular ink cartridge.

More Fine Print to Know About Your HP+ Smart Printer Service

HP doesn’t require you to use HP+ to print, but any printer labeled as part of that program is locked into it. Consumers who would rather buy their own ink, either from HP or a third party, need to be careful which model printer they purchase.

You also need to understand that HP is taking steps to ensure customers only use HP-branded ink or toner. The printer looks for an HP microchip every time you install an ink or toner cartridge. If the chip isn’t authentic, the printer may refuse to use it. The company also incorporates “Dynamic Security” within this authentication process. Non-HP ink or toner that works one day may not work the next.

Many printer manufacturers use similar restrictions. However, HP seems to be taking more aggressive steps than most to lock out third-party supplies. This is worth taking into account when purchasing a printer.

Is HP+ Right for You?

As long as you understand what you’re signing up for, the HP+ program can be a very good fit. If you can accurately predict how much you’ll be printing each month, the Instant Ink program may offer excellent savings. Even if you choose to purchase your ink or toner a la carte, the service could be cost-effective. On the other hand, if you can’t say that you know you’ll be printing a specific number of pages in a month, it might not be the right fit for you.

It’s important that you understand, though, that HP doesn’t want you turning to other ink and toner manufacturers. Furthermore, a monthly subscription for your printer supplies means paying not for an ink or toner cartridge, but for a specific number of printed pages each month. If such a plan won’t prove to be a good deal for your needs, you might want to consider other printer manufacturers that aren’t as aggressive in getting your ink or toner dollars.

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Apple Stopping Providing HeadPhones With iPhones in France

Fri, 01/21/2022 - 19:42

Apple will no longer have to require EarPods with the iPhone 13 in France. The relevant legislation has been altered, AppleInsider revealed, picking up on local media reports in the country.

Apple to Stop Putting HeadPhones in Box With iPhones in France

Apple changed its policy on providing free headphones and charging bricks with iPhones back in 2020. However, laws in France meant that it still head to provide EarPods to local buyers. The regulations in the country have though now changed. It is understood Apple will stop providing free headphones in the box from Monday, January 24, 2022. The company had not commented in publicly at the time of this writing, although it is understood that official resellers have been informed.

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Congress Explores Blockchain Energy Usage From Mining

Fri, 01/21/2022 - 17:32

On Jan. 20, the Oversight and Investigations subcommittee of the U.S. Congress House Energy and Commerce Committee discussed blockchain energy usage and other concepts related to mining and consensus.

Representatives then took to the floor with statements and questions. A few used their time for partisan attacks and political grandstanding, yet most made an honest effort to ask questions that either tackled the energy-related issues at the core of the hearing or sought broader context on the uses and potential applications of blockchain technology.

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Intel Plans Ohio Factory for Semiconductor Fabrication

Fri, 01/21/2022 - 17:25

Intel plans an Ohio factory that will include at least two chip fabs on the 1,000-acre site. The company will research, develop, and manufacture computer chips, reports Time. Construction will begin in 2022 and the plant should be operational by 2025.

Intel Ohio Factory Plans

The site of the Intel Ohio factory will be in New Albany on the outskirts of Columbus. Intel expects to employ at least 3,000 people. Eventually, the company could expand to 2,000 acres and up to eight fabs. Intel CEO Pat Gelsinger:

Our expectation is that this becomes the largest silicon manufacturing location on the planet. We helped to establish the Silicon Valley. Now we’re going to do the Silicon Heartland.

Due to shortages of computer chips as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the government hopes to bring more chip manufacturing to the U.S. In 2021 Congress passed the CHIPS for America Act that authorizes federal investments in chip manufacturing. It doesn’t provide funding; although the Senate passed US$52 billion in funding in June, it did not pass the House.

Intel is not the only company looking to the U.S. The company’s news follows a report that TSMC plans a second chip production site located in Arizona. The company expects its capital expenditure to reach US$44 billion in 2020, a 32% increase from the US$30 billion in expenditure in 2021. TSMC aims to address competition from Samsung and Intel.

In addition to the Intel Ohio factory, the company also announced [PDF] plans to build two fabs at its foundry operation in Ocotillo, Arizona. An investment of US$20 billion has been committed for the new Intel Foundry Services.

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New ‘Monsterverse’ Series Coming to Apple TV+

Fri, 01/21/2022 - 16:44

Apple TV+ announced Thursday that it has ordered a new original live-action series from Legendary’s Monsterverse franchise. It starts after the battle between Godzilla and the Titans in San Francisco and follow’s a family’s journey to uncover a secret organization known as Monarch.

‘Monsterverse’ Coming to Apple TV+

The ‘Monsterverse’ series does not yet have a title, and no release date was known at the time of this writing. Chris Black (Star Trek: Enterprise, Outcast), who will serve as showrunner, having co-created the series alongside Matt Fraction (Hawkeye). The Monsterverse franchise starts with 2014’s “Godzilla” and includes 2017’s Kong: Skull Island, 2019’s Godzilla: King of the Monsters, and 2021’s Godzilla vs. Kong.

It’s hard to see this other than the first Apple TV+ attempt to challenge Disney+ and the dominance of Marvel. It will be interesting to see if it pays off.

Red Cross Data Breach Affects 515,000 Vulnerable People

Fri, 01/21/2022 - 15:57

A contractor for The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) suffered a data breach, as revealed on Wednesday. Over 515,000 people are affected in the Red Cross and Red Crescent networks. These include those separated from their families due to conflict, migration and disaster, missing persons and their families, and people in detention.

Red Cross Data Breach: What We Know

A spokesperson for the Red Cross told TechCrunch the data included names, locations, and contact information, along with employee credentials for roughly 2,000 employees and volunteers. Due to the attack the Committee has been forced to shut down the Restoring Family Links network. This segment of the organization helps reunited family members who have been separated by conflict, disaster or migration.

The ICRC has no information on who carried out the attack. It targeted a contracting company located in Switzerland that the Committee uses to store data. It is also unknown that the data has been leaked or shared publicly.

Robert Mardini, ICRC’s director-general, asked the attackers not to share the data:

While we don’t know who is responsible for this attack, or why they carried it out, we do have this appeal to make to them. Your actions could potentially cause yet more harm and pain to those who have already endured untold suffering. The real people, the real families behind the information you now have are among the world’s least powerful. Please do the right thing. Do not share, sell, leak or otherwise use this data.

Contact Information

For more information, the ICRC provides the following contact information:

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Apple TV+: ‘Servant’ Season Three Now Available

Fri, 01/21/2022 - 13:14

The first episode of Servant season three premiered on Apple TV+ on Friday. The series from M. Knight Shyamalan stars Lauren Ambrose, Toby Kebbell, and Ruper Grint. It follows the story of a couple in Philadelphia, and how they react following an unspeakable tragedy. All episodes of seasons one and two are available now, with new episodes now being released weekly. A ‘first look’ clip has also been released.


Dr. Bernice A. King Talks With Apple’s Barbara Whye on Martin Luther King Day

Thu, 01/20/2022 - 22:59

On Martin Luther King Day 2022, Dr. Bernice A. King, the civil rights leader’s daughter who runs the Center dedicated to continuing his work, spoke with Barbara Whye, Apple VP of Inclusion and Diversity. She was also on the new season to ‘Time to Walk’ on Apple Fitness+. This was one of the various ways Apple marked the day.

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Developers Receive Class Action Settlement Notices

Thu, 01/20/2022 - 22:52

Thanks to a settlement in an antitrust class action lawsuit, some iOS app developers are entitled to cash payments. The web site for the fund went active recently. Some developers have even received postcards inviting them to join the settlement.

The “Small Developer Assistance Fund”

As part of the settlement, the Cupertino-based company established a fund to grant financial assistance to eligible small developers.

This fund will pay $100 million, split among all developers who earned $1 million or less for all their apps and in-app purchases in each calendar year from 2015 to 2021. Depending on how much a developer made, these payments range from $250 to $30,000.

Class Action Settlement Notices Mailed Out

The Mac Observer has obtained photographs of the postcard mailed to many eligible developers. It outlines what developers need to do to benefit from the settlement, or opt out of the class.

class action settlement postcard

Developers can also remain in the settlement class but object to its terms. Those wishing to claim a benefit need to do so by May 20, 2022. If you wish to exclude yourself from the class or object to the settlement, you will need to submit those requests no later than March 21, 2022.

For more information, affected individuals or businesses can visit the settlement website or call (833) 920-3778, a toll free number. They can also email class attorneys at The final hearing will take place June 7, 2022 at 2pm PST at the US District Court for the Northern District of California in Oakland, Calif.

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Apple TV+: ‘The Sky is Everywhere’ to Premiere Valentine’s Weekend

Thu, 01/20/2022 - 22:40

The Sky is Everywhere will premiere on Apple TV+ on February 11, Valentine’s Day weekend, it was announced Thursday. The film stars Grace Kaufman as a musical prodigy and is directed by Josephine Decker. Jason Segel and Cherry Jones are also in the cast.

‘The Sky is Everywhere’ Debuts February 11 on Apple TV+

Ms. Kaufman’s character is Lennie Walker. Aged 17, she battles with grief following the unexpected loss of her sister. She is drawn to the new guy at school, Joe Fontaine, but an increasingly complicated relationship with her late sister’s boyfriend affects this new love.

An official trailer has also been released:

The Sky is Everywhere is part of an ongoing relationship between entertainment firm A24 and Apple. It is based on the novel by Jandy Nelson, who adapted the work into a script.


Federal Reserve Releases Paper on Digital Dollar, Seeks Public Comment

Thu, 01/20/2022 - 21:47

The Federal Reserve has released a 40-page paper [PDF] on its study of a digital dollar. It seeks public comment as it takes no position at this time.

Instead, it provides an exhaustive look at benefits such as speeding up the electronic payments system at a time when financial transactions around the world already are highly digitized. Some of the downside issues the report discusses are financial stability risks and privacy protection while guarding against fraud and other illegal issues.

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Peloton Pauses Production of Bikes, Treadmills Over Decreasing Demand

Thu, 01/20/2022 - 21:17

Peloton is pausing production of its bikes and treadmills in February-March, according to internal documents obtained by CNBC.

Peloton has essentially guessed wrong about how many people would be buying its products, after so much demand was pulled forward during the coronavirus pandemic. It’s now left with thousands of cycles and treadmills sitting in warehouses or on cargo ships, and it needs to reset its inventory levels.

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Twitter NFT Profile Photos Roll Out to iOS Subscribers

Thu, 01/20/2022 - 21:10

Twitter NFT profile photos are rolling out to members of the Twitter Blue subscription in the U.S., Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.

At launch, Coinbase Wallet, Rainbow, MetaMask, Ledger Live, Argent, and Trust Wallet are supported. After authenticating, you’ll select the NFT you want to showcase. Twitter says that, currently, JPEG and PNG NFTs minted on the Ethereum (ERC-721 or ERC-1155 tokens) can be used as NFT Profile Pictures.

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Apple Names Company Veteran As New Head of PR

Thu, 01/20/2022 - 20:56

Apple has named Kristin Huguet as its new head of PR. She will replace Stella Low with immediate effect, Buzzfeed News reported.

Apple Appoints New Head of PR

Ms. Huguet is a company veteran, who has worked at Apple since 2005, a stint that has seen her be involved with the wrangling with the FBI over iPhone encryption, amongst other things. She will report directly to CEO Tim Cook. In a statement confirming the move, Apple said:

Kristin has played an instrumental role sharing Apple’s story of incredible innovation and strong values for more than 15 years. With an extraordinary depth of experience and a long track record of principled leadership, Kristin is uniquely suited for her new role overseeing worldwide communications.

Ms. Low joined from Cisco in May 2021. Apple said she is leaving to spend more time with her family.

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Exclusive: UK Apple Store Covid ‘Appointment Only’ Procedures Set to End

Thu, 01/20/2022 - 20:25

LONDON – Apple is set to phase out its Covid procedures in the UK which meant almost every customer had to book a time slot to visit one of its stores. The Mac Observer has learned that starting this Saturday through to next week the majority of retail outlets will transition away from the ‘Appointment Only’ model currently in place.

‘Appointment Only’ Being Phased Out in UK Apple Stores

Apple has implemented various procedures throughout the pandemic to comply with the different government guidance and laws in the territories where it has retail outlets. However, in this instance, it was going beyond what was required and being done by other stores in England. The country implemented its so-called ‘Plan B’ measures in December in response to the onset of the Omicron variant. This included asking people to work from home where possible, the requirement to wear a mask in indoor settings, and COVID passes showing vaccination status or a negative LFT or PCR result from within 48 hours of entering certain venues (not stores or restaurants). These requirements will all end on January 27, although masks in crowded indoor settings will still be encouraged. Other restrictions and guidance apply in the other parts of the UK.

Covid ‘Plan B’ in England

Notably, ‘Plan B’ in England did not include any social distancing measures. The ‘Appointment Only’ policy from Apple Stores is understood to be a way of providing more space for customers and staff. While no doubt many customers appreciate this, The Mac Observer has also received reports of it causing inconvenience, particularly for those who want to do things at short notice. Again, this not at the request of the government. It is a choice being made by Apple. The Mac Observer approached the company, but a spokesperson declined to provide a statement.


[[Update 23 October] What is it Like Going to an Apple Store During The COVID-19 Pandemic?]

Visiting a Flagship UK Apple Store

Testing this out, I went to Apple’s flagship London store on Regent Street. When I arrived, there were security and Apple staff out front, filtering anyone who wanted to go in – one queue for the Genius Bar, one to pick up pre-ordered items, and one for shopping. (See picture above.) I was greeted by the (very polite) staff, explained that I just wanted to browse, and was sent to wait in line.

It’s worth reiterating, no such requirements were in place in any other stores on this major shopping street.  Indeed, I walked into the Microsoft store just up the road and was allowed to go straight in. In fairness though, it seemed like it was pretty much only staff in the store!