This is today’s edition of The Download, our weekday newsletter that provides a daily dose of what’s happening in the tech world.
Erik Prince wants to sell you a “secure” smartphone that’s too good to be true
Erik Prince’s pitch to investors was simple, but certainly ambitious: pay just 5 million euros and cure the biggest cybersecurity and privacy plagues of our time.
The American billionaire, best known for founding the notorious private military firm Blackwater, was pushing Unplugged, a smartphone startup that promised “free speech, privacy and security” untethered from dominant tech giants like Apple and Google.
But those bold claims are undercut by a previously unreported presentation argument obtained by MIT Technology Review. It’s a jumbled mess of impossible claims, meaningless buzzwords, and pure fiction.
Almost all attempts to build this type of phone have failed. This attempt is likely to be no different. Read the whole story.
—Patrick Howell O’Neill
Ring’s new TV show is a brilliant but nefarious viral marketing ploy
Images of Ring’s camera devices, which customers install to secure their homes, monitor deliveries and see or interact with who’s at the door, have become a common sight on social media in recent years.
These videos will form the basis of the new TV show Ring Nation when it starts next month, featuring funny animals, marriage proposals and heartwarming neighborhood interactions.
As well as an extended viral marketing campaign, it’s a clever attempt to whitewash the image of Ring, a company that has been continually criticized for its often lax approach to customer data and, more importantly, for allowing forces of the order access users’ videos without consent. Read the whole story.
—Eileen Guo and Abby Ohlheiser
The fight for the “face of Instagram”
Through beauty filters, platforms like Instagram are helping users achieve ever-shrinking standards of beauty, albeit only in the digital world, at a surprisingly fast pace. There is evidence that excessive use of these online filters 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, a small nose and perfectly contoured curves largely accessible through filters. And while Instagram has banned filters that promote plastic surgery, the massive demand for beauty enhancement on social media is complicating things. Read the whole story.
I’ve combed the internet to find you the funniest/important/scary and fascinating stories about technology.
1 The United States is trying to get more monkeypox vaccines
By moving the production to Michigan and dividing the existing doses into fifths. (WP$)
+ It wants to provide 50,000 vaccines for Pride events across the country. (CNBC)
+ Everything you need to know about monkeypox vaccines. (MIT Technology Review)
2 A city of Chicago sensor project has gone global
It tracked everything from air quality to flooding. (MIT Technology Review)
3 How a predatory CEO’s Internet fame allowed him to hide in plain sight
Dan Price used social media to shamelessly rehabilitate his image and control the narrative around his actions. (NYT$)
+ Price has resigned from his company, Gravity Payments. (WP$)
4 An Apple security flaw makes devices vulnerable to hacking
Hackers could take full administrative access to iPhones, iPads and Macs if users don’t update to the latest software. (The edge)
5 Googlers urged the company to stop collecting abortion data
The union is also asking Alphabet to end its political lobbying after Roe. (The Guardian)
+ A tech company disclosing trips to abortion clinics has drawn the ire of the FTC. (WP$)
+ It’s not yet clear how employer policies that cover workers’ abortions will work. (The Atlantic $)
+ Big Tech Remains Silent on Data Privacy Questions in Post-Roe America. (MIT Technology Review)
6 What returning to nature can teach us about the future
A “hunter-gatherer” attitude could come in handy as the climate crisis intensifies. (Neo.Life)
+ Bioacoustics is a useful, if limited, way to monitor wildlife. (fast company $)
7 Google’s quantum computer has broken
Using an algorithm that runs on a standard machine. (New Scientist $)
8 How much meat should we eat?
We should reduce intake and farm more sustainably. (Knowable Magazine)
+ Giving up just half the burgers can really help the climate. (MIT Technology Review)
9 Meet musicians who connect with fans via email
Forget TikTok and Instagram, Substack is where it’s at these days. (The Guardian)
10 TikTokers are stealing cars now
The Kia Boyz trend has fueled a car crime wave in America. (NY Mag$)
+ The platform has reversed its decision to ban the schizophrenia tag. (entrance)
quote of the day
“People are asking for monkeypox vaccines and we just upset the manufacturer.”
—An anonymous health official describes how the Biden administration’s decision to split monkeypox vaccines into quintessence did not sit well with its manufacturer, Bavarian Nordic, to the Washington Post.
The great story
Within Singapore’s big commitment to vertical agriculture
It has taken Singapore decades to wake up and realize that when it comes to food, it is one of the most vulnerable countries in the world.
That risk simply hadn’t occurred to the authorities in the 1970s, when they uprooted the tapioca, sweet potato and vegetable crops that flourished on more than 15,000 hectares of the country’s land and replaced them with office buildings and high-rise condominiums. height Back then, the focus was on finance, telecommunications and electronics, not food.
But while this strategy successfully boosted Singapore’s economy (it is now the fourth richest country in the world, per capita), it left the country with only 600 hectares of farmland. Consequently, the country has pinned its hopes on the technology, with high-yield urban farms hailed as its best bet. But vertical farming is not without its skeptics. Read the whole story.
We can still have beautiful things
A place for comfort, fun and distraction in these strange times. (Any ideas? Drop me a line ortweet them to me.)
+ Who doesn’t love the Beach Boys?
+ The avocado is a more environmentally friendly avocado, apparently.
+ A big question: why *do* so many bikes end up at the bottom of canals and lakes?
+ Here’s a brief look at some of the weird and wonderful creatures that lurk in the depths of the ocean.
+ How amazing is the World Dog Surfing Championship? (thanks Charlotte!)