Smartphone Spying Comes to Surface | Writers vs Cancel Culture | Taking On Trump’s Taxes
July 10, 2020
“Before you become too entranced with gorgeous gadgets and mesmerizing video displays, let me remind you that information is not knowledge, knowledge is not wisdom, and wisdom is not foresight. Each grows out of the other, and we need them all.” ― Arthur C. Clarke
Tracing Phones, Saving Lives, But That’s Not All
(SOPA Images via Getty Images)
For years, hidden trackers in smartphone apps have gathered our data and sent it to unfamiliar companies — it’s essential to the mobile app economy. The practice has flown under the radar for the most part, but that changed when the coronavirus pandemic hit.
In early March, an animated map from a company called Tectonix went viral. The map showed tiny orange dots, representing spring breakers clustered on a Florida beach, and the paths they took over the next two weeks when returning to homes across America.
The data used by Tectonix didn’t just tell the story of how a single beach gathering can spread a virus far and wide: it was also a reminder that smartphones are the ideal tool for collecting information for use by advertisers and data brokers. Apps usually do so through software development kits, or SDKs, that companies provide free in exchange for the information they can collect from them, or a cut of ads sold through them.
Accessing a weather app for a localized forecast can allow SDKs to collect your location data and send it elsewhere, which is how X-Mode, an SDK developer, got the data used to create Tectonix’s spring break map. Similarly, Cuebiq collected location data through its SDK and shared it with journalists, who used it to write multiple articles about how social distancing changed as stay-at-home orders were lifted and states reopened.
Such invasive data used to prevent the spread of diseases or save lives is a good thing. But media has reported that location data is also sold to law enforcement, who use it to catch undocumented immigrants. Recently, a data company named Mobilewalla even boasted of its ability to track protesters, including identifying their age, gender and race, despite such data supposedly being anonymized, showing a more sinister side of the technology that Tectonix used to educate viewers about the spread of COVID-19.
- As mayor of Seoul, a city of some 10 million, Park Won-soon was one of South Korea’s most influential politicians and played a high-profile role in its response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Before becoming mayor in 2011, Park was a prominent human rights activist and lawyer, pursuing a bevy of policies promoting gender equality.
- He was even being touted as a potential presidential hopeful in South Korea’s coming 2022 elections. On Wednesday, one of Park’s secretaries filed a sexual harassment complaint against him with local police. Thursday morning, after cancelling policy meetings for the day, Park left the mayor’s official residence wearing a black hat and a backpack.
- At 5:17 that evening, his daughter reported him missing. She said her father had left a phone message that sounded “like a will.” Hundreds of police, using drones and dogs, began searching the scenic mountainous area just minutes from the city. More than seven hours later, rescue dogs found Park’s body near a restaurant in the wooded hills in northern Seoul. There were no signs of foul play and no suicide note was found. Officers refused to elaborate on the cause of Park’s death. (Guardian)
- Late Seoul mayor says in his will he feels sorry to people (AP)
Thai-ing The Knot
- Thailand’s cabinet approved a draft bill Wednesday that legally recognizes same-sex civil partnerships and gives greater rights to same-sex couples. If the bill is ratified by parliament, Thailand would become the first Southeast Asian nation to allow for the registration of same-sex unions.
- The island state of Taiwan in East Asia legalized same-sex marriage last year. Thailand’s Civil Partnership Bill doesn’t legalize same-sex marriage, but same-sex couples would be allowed to register their union, adopt children, claim inheritance rights, and jointly manage assets such as property.
- To register, couples must be at least 17 years old and at least one of the pair must be a Thai citizen. Those under age 17 must get permission from their parents or a legal guardian. The bill also covers rules for separations. Some LGBTQ activists decried the proposed legislation as not going far enough; the bill did not include entitlements to spousal benefits, such as tax exemptions, social security benefits, and medical rights.
- The draft bill still needs to go through a public hearing, after which the House of Representatives will debate and vote on it. If it passes, the bill then goes to the Senate for another vote, a process that could take months. (CNN)
Additional World News
- Serbia Protests Meet Violent Response in Europe’s 1st Major Virus Unrest (NYT, $)
- Partisanship around the world: Future of ‘Third Republic’ defines run-off vote in Poland (Guardian)
- Major Explosion Rocks Iran Again, the 3rd Blast in 3 Weeks (NYT, $) & Who’s behind the recent explosions in Iran? (Slate)
- Xinjiang: US sanctions Chinese officials over ‘abuse’ of Muslims (BBC)
- Australia suspends extradition with Hong Kong and offers path to citizenship for city’s residents (CNN)
- North Korean leader’s sister says another summit unlikely but “a surprise thing may still happen” (Reuters)
- Turkey Torn on Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia: Museum or Mosque? (Time)
- Used Clothes Ban May Crimp Kenyan Style. It May Also Lift Local Design. (NYT, $)
- Two Wealthy Sri Lankan Brothers Became Suicide Bombers. But Why? (NYT, $)
- South Africa warns of coronavirus ‘storm’ as outbreak accelerates across continent (Guardian)
- How New Zealand went ‘hard and early’ to beat Covid-19 (BBC)
- Bolivia’s president and Venezuela’s Socialist party leader test positive for Covid-19 (Guardian)
- What It’s Like to Enter the Work Force From Your Childhood Bedroom (NYT, $)
- The Moving Lights of a World in Quarantine (Atlantic, $)
- Study of 17 Million Identifies Crucial Risk Factors for Coronavirus Deaths (NYT, $)
- ‘It’s all on hold’: how Covid-19 derailed the fight against plastic waste (Guardian)
Taking On Trump’s Taxes
(Pete Marovich via Getty Images)
- The Supreme Court has decided two cases involving President Trump’s tax returns. One stemmed from subpoenas issued by prosecutors in New York, who were seeking the documents as part of an investigation into whether Trump had improperly handled hush money payments, including one to adult film star Stormy Daniels during the 2016 presidential campaign.
- The justices ruled that a Manhattan grand jury could have access to some of Trump’s financial documents. “This is a tremendous victory for our nation’s system of justice and its founding principle that no one – not even a president – is above the law,” Manhattan’s district attorney said. Although the records aren’t expected to become public ahead of the November election, it was still a major blow to the president in his fight to keep his tax records secret.
- A separate opinion gave Trump a temporary reprieve. The House Intelligence Committee had issued a subpoena for the records to one of Trump’s accountants, Mazars USA, as part of their investigation of foreign influence in the 2016 election. The House Oversight and Reform Committee had also sought the records in considering whether to rewrite ethics laws to require elected officials to disclose tax documents.
- SCOTUS affirmed that, while Congress had the power to subpoena the documents, the president had some privilege not to turn them over. Justices sent the case back to a lower court ordering it to reconsider the “significant separation of powers concerns implicated by congressional subpoenas for the president’s information.” Trump’s attorney Jay Sekulow released a statement saying SCOTUS had blocked both Congress and New York prosecutors from obtaining the president’s financial records, which was incorrect. (Guardian)
- US Supreme Court rules half of Oklahoma is Native American land (BBC)
- A Conservative Court and Trump’s Own Appointees Declare Their Independence (NYT, $). Thankfully, despite the partisan times we live in, the Supreme Court is still upholding its place in the system of checks and balances.
- The Swamp Is Coming From Inside Trump’s Campaign (NYT, $)
- “We Have to Be Prepared for Trump Losing”: As Chaos Engulfs Trump Campaign, Ingraham, Other Loyalists Look For the Next Thing (Vanity Fair, $)
Cancelled Culture vs Creativity
- On Tuesday, an open letter appeared online and in Harper’s Magazine. It’s entitled “A Letter on Justice and Open Debate,” and signed by a diverse group of 153 luminaries, among them artists, authors, journalists and intellectuals.
- The letter pleads for the “free exchange of information and ideas, the lifeblood of a liberal society” and decries what the signatories see as “an intolerance of opposing views, a vogue for public shaming and ostracism and the tendency to dissolve complex policy issues in a blinding moral certainty.”
- The letter’s authors “refuse any false choice between justice and freedom.” Rather, they say “As writers we need a culture that leaves us room for experimentation, risk taking and even mistakes.” The debate over diversity, free expression, and the limits of acceptable opinion certainly isn’t new. The letter itself began as part of a long-running conversation about these issues among a small group of writers increasingly disturbed by what one called the dangerous “illiberalism” of President Trump.
- One signer, leading Black intellectual Gregory Pardlo, said that as someone who has felt the “chilling effect” of being the only person of color in predominantly white institutions, he hoped the letter would spark conversation about those “chilling forces, no matter where they come from.”
- Pardlo was surprised at some of the fierce blowback the letter has received on social media, saying: “It seems that some of the conversation has turned to who the signatories are more than the content of the letter.” Criticism has been so intense some signatories appeared to back away, even asking that their names be removed from the letter. One individual noted that the letter, which was partly about internet shaming, was now being used to shame people on the internet. (NYT)
- Rowling, Rushdie and Atwood warn against ‘intolerance’ in open letter (Guardian)
- Is free speech under threat from ‘cancel culture’? Four writers respond (Guardian)
Additional USA News
- Trump Pushed CIA to Give Intelligence to Kremlin, While Taking No Action Against Russia Arming Taliban (Just Security)
- Biden unveils $700bn ‘buy American’ proposal to revive US industry (Guardian)
- Immigration Hopes Lead Thousands Of Indians To Risk Long, Perilous Route To US (NPR)
- Some Republican senators to skip national convention due to pandemic (Guardian)
- California investigating Google for potential antitrust violations (Politico)
- Facebook’s Decisions Were ‘Setbacks for Civil Rights,’ Audit Finds (NYT, $)
- Mail Carrier in West Virginia Pleads Guilty to Attempted Election Fraud (NYT, $)
- Can Our Ballots Be Both Secret and Secure? (New Yorker, $)
- ‘Big Mess’ Looms if Schools Don’t Get Billions to Reopen Safely (NYT, $)
- Stop Building More Roads: There’s a right way to do infrastructure. Why does America get it wrong? (NYT, $)
Eating Ant Butts
- In Columbia — if you want to eat like a king — you’ve gotta eat the queen. With their juicy bottoms, locals in the country’s north-central Santander region have come to relish the behinds of queen ants as a delicacy. During each spring’s mating season, millions of hormigas culonas (which roughly translates to “big-butt ants”) emerge from the ground, providing townsfolk the opportunity to harvest the precious insects in search of culinary bliss.
- If one can fend off the thousands of devout soldier ants — which draw blood with a single bite — on their way to the queen, they are rewarded with a delicious snack. The queen’s plump butt can be roasted and salted, creating a crunchy treat that resembles extra savory popcorn. Columbian foodies swear by the crunchy ants, which are served on street corners and 5-star restaurants alike.
- Not only do queens pack a mouthwater flavor, they also offer a number of health benefits. High in protein, fatty acids, and antioxidants, locals claim these insects contribute to their long healthy lifestyles. A common Columbuan wedding present, these crunchy crawlers are even known as aphrodisiacs because the queens are usually captured in the midst of mating season.
- However, the ant’s status as a culinary staple does not provide it immunity from the dangers of climate change. Scientists fear that changing weather patterns could disrupt the delicate balance of humidity, sun and rainfall that cultivate the hormigas’ mating season. (BBC)
- An Enzyme Linked To Exercise Shows Potential For Enhancing Memory (NPR)
- The astonishing vision and focus of Namibia’s nomads (BBC). An interesting look at modern society’s effects on how our minds work.
- Was This Ancient Taoist the First Philosopher of Disability? (NYT, $)
- Why good teachers allow a child’s mind to wander and wonder (Psyche)
- The Things We Can’t Control Are Beautiful (Nautilus). Besides global pandemic outbreaks, of course.
- Linkin Park T-Shirts Are All the Rage in China (Wired, $)
- Should we eat more like the Japanese? (BBC)
- How European empires broke the habit of opium consumption (Aeon)
- 120,000-year-old necklace tells of the origin of string (Ars Technica)
- Dogs May Be Good for Children’s Psychological Development (NYT, $)
- ‘People want blood and gore’: what we got wrong about filming sharks (Guardian) & The Real Horror of ‘Jaws’ Isn’t the Shark (NYT, $). Fun fact: the author of “Jaws” regretted ever writing the book due to the damage it did to sharks’ image. Making people more scared of sharks weakened conservation efforts for the predators, which are killed by the millions each year. He eventually dedicated much of his life to shark conservation efforts.
- ‘Regime shift’ happening in the Arctic Ocean (Stanford News)
- How to Buy Tech That Lasts and Lasts (NYT, $)
- When Reality is Surreal, Only Fiction Can Make Sense of It (NYT, $)