Friday, September 29, 2023

The Download: An “Unhackable” Phone and Ring’s TV Show

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Shreya Christina
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This is today’s edition The download, our weekday newsletter that gives a daily dose of what’s going on in the world of technology.

Erik Prince wants to sell you a “secure” smartphone that is too good to be true

Erik Prince’s pitch to investors was simple, but certainly ambitious: pay just €5 million and cure the biggest cybersecurity and privacy scourges of our time.

The American billionaire — best known for founding the infamous private military firm Blackwater — pushed Unplugged, a smartphone startup that promises “freedom of speech, privacy and security” apart from dominant tech giants like Apple and Google.

But these bold claims are undermined by a previously unreported pitch deck obtained by MIT Technology Review. It’s a messy mix of impossible claims, meaningless buzzwords, and outright fiction.

Almost every attempt to build these types of phones has failed. This attempt will probably be no different. Read the full story.

—Patrick Howell O’Neill

Ring’s new TV show is a brilliant but ominous viral marketing ploy

Images of Ring’s camera devices, which customers install to protect their homes, monitor deliveries and see or communicate with who is at the door, have become a common sight on social media in recent years.

Videos like this will form the basis for the new TV show Ring Nation when it airs next month, featuring funny animals, marriage proposals and heartwarming neighborhood interactions.

In addition to an extensive viral marketing campaign, it’s a clever attempt to whitewash the image of Ring – a company that has been constantly criticized for its often lax approach to customer data, and most importantly for allowing law enforcement to view user videos without permission. Read the full story.

—Eileen Guo & Abby Ohlheiser

The Battle for “Instagram Face”

Through beauty filters, platforms like Instagram are helping users reach ever-expanding beauty standards at an astonishingly fast pace, albeit only in the digital world. There is some evidence that overuse of these filters online has harmful effects on mental health, especially for young girls.

“Instagram face” is a recognized aesthetic template: ethnically ambiguous and with flawless skin, big eyes, full lips, small nose and perfectly formed curves largely made accessible by filters. And while Instagram has banned filters that encourage plastic surgery, the huge demand for beauty enhancement on social media complicates matters. Read the full story.

—Tate Ryan Mosley

The must reads

I’ve scoured the internet to find today’s funniest/important/scary/fascinating stories about technology.

1 The US Is Trying To Get More Monkeypox Vaccines
By moving production to Michigan and splitting existing doses into fifths. (WP $)
+ It aims to provide 50,000 vaccines for Pride events across the country. (CNBC)
+ Everything you need to know about the monkeypox vaccines. (MIT Technology Review)

2 A Chicago City Sensor Project Has Gone Global
It tracked everything from air quality to flooding. (MIT Technology Review)

3 How a predatory CEO’s internet fame allowed him to hide in plain sight
Dan Price used social media to shamelessly rehabilitate his image and control the narrative surrounding his actions. (NYT $)
+ Price has resigned from his company, Gravity Payments. (WP $)

4 An Apple security flaw makes devices vulnerable to hacking
Hackers can seize full administrative access to iPhones, iPads, and Macs if users don’t update to the latest software. (The edge)

5 Google employees urged company to stop collecting abortion data
The union is also asking Alphabet to cease its political lobbying after Roe. (the guard)
+ An ad agency revealing trips to abortion clinics has angered the FTC. (WP $)
+ It is still unclear how employer policies regarding employee abortions will work. (The Atlantic Ocean $)
+ Big Tech Shuts Up on Data Privacy Questions in a Post-Roe US. (MIT Technology Review)

6 What can going back to nature teach us about the future?
A ‘hunter-gatherer’ attitude may come in handy as the climate crisis deepens. (Neo.Life)
+ Bio-acoustics are a useful, albeit limited, way to monitor wildlife. (Fast company $)

7 Google’s Quantum Computer Has Been Cracked
By an algorithm running on a standard machine. (new scientist $)

8 How Much Meat Should We Eat?
We should both reduce our intake and farm more sustainably. (Known magazine)
+ Giving up only half of your burgers can really help the climate. (MIT Technology Review)

9 Meet the musicians who connect with fans via email
Forget TikTok and Instagram, Substack is where it is today. (the guard)

10 TikTokers are now stealing cars
The Kia Boyz trend has fueled a wave of car crime in the US. (NY Mag $)
+ The platform has reversed its decision to ban the hashtag schizophrenia. (Input)

Quote of the day

“People are begging for monkeypox vaccines, and we just pissed off that one manufacturer.”

An anonymous health official describes how the Biden administration’s decision to split monkeypox vaccines into fifths didn’t sit well with its creator, Bavarian Nordic, at the Washington Post.

The big story

Inside Singapore’s Huge Bet on Vertical Farming

October 2020

It has taken decades for Singapore to wake up and realize that it is one of the most vulnerable countries in the world in terms of food.

This risk simply hadn’t occurred to authorities in the 1970s, when they tore up the tapioca, sweet potato and vegetable crops that flourished on more than 15,000 acres of land and replaced them with high-rise office buildings and apartments. At that time, the focus was on finance, telecom and electronics, not on food.

But while this strategy successfully grew Singapore’s economy (it is now the fourth richest country in the world, per capita), the country left only 600 hectares of agricultural land. That’s why the country has pinned its hopes on technology, hailing high-output urban farms as the best bet. But vertical farming is not without skeptics. Read the full story.

—Megan Tatum

We can still have nice things

A place for comfort, fun and distraction in these weird times. (Do you have an idea?Give me a callortweet them to me.)

+ Who doesn’t love the Beach boys?
+ The evocado is apparently a more environmentally friendly avocado.
+ A great question – why *do so much* Bicycles end up at the bottom of canals and lakes?
+ Here’s a quick look at just some of the weird and beautiful creatures lurking in the depths of the ocean.
+ How awesome is the dog surfing world championship look? (thanks Charlotte!)

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