10 stories this week (w/e 18 Apr)

This week's 10 stories looks at Facebook's fiasco with Libra, Instacart scammers, and more.

4:03-min read

Hello from 20 Minutes into the Future. Welcome to our weekend round-up of 10 stories of the week that take a critical look at how technology is shaping our lives today. Grab your cuppa and tuck in.

⓵ Ross Anderson from the security team at Cambridge on bad actors and digital contact tracing:

Anyone who’s worked on abuse will instantly realise that a voluntary app operated by anonymous actors is wide open to trolling. The performance art people will tie a phone to a dog and let it run around the park; the Russians will use the app to run service-denial attacks and spread panic; and little Johnny will self-report symptoms to get the whole school sent home.


⓶ File under people are shitty: Instacart workers have become a lifeline for some during the pandemic. Now they’re getting trolled with high-tips that get cancelled at the last minute. We need better protections for essential workers. Especially those in the gig economy that have long had no protections.

⓷ Planned obsolescence, like propaganda and many other terrible things in the world, has its roots in marketing.

The idea of planned or built-in obsolescence is certainly not new – it was first written about in 1928 by the American marketing pioneer Justus George Frederick. In the words of one subsequent account: “He stated that it was necessary to induce people to buy an ever-increasing variety of things, not in order to use them but to activate commerce and discard them after a short period of time.” The concept even has its own film – in The Man in the White Suit (made in 1951, and recently screened as part of a BBC Two Ealing comedies series sparked by the lockdown), a chemist falls foul of textile producers and trade unions for creating a material that never needs replacing.


⓸ John Ackerly on learning from the past mistakes of mass surveillance post-9/11.

Data privacy must be a foundational and transparent component of our response to COVID-19. We must lead the world in innovative strategies that enhance both safety and trust. The solution demands giving the American public actual technical control over their data so that people don't have to rely on the promises of technology companies or the government for how they will use (and reuse) personal data.


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⓹ Reddit rolls out a subreddit to publicly monitor all the political ads that run on their hell-site. They finally join Facebook in doing the absolute bare minimum to help fight propaganda. Yay?

⓺ In the immortal words of Nelson Muntz, “Ha ha.”

⓻ The faithful can also muck up location data accuracy for contact tracing too:

The ACLU recently cautioned against using location data for contact tracing, citing its questionable accuracy and spotty coverage of certain groups. Raicu points to ultra-Orthodox communities in Israel who did not receive mobile notifications about the coronavirus because their Kosher phones block internet connections and mobile apps. Some believe that same issue led to a slow uptake of social distancing among Hasidic Jews in Brooklyn.


⓼ Amazon continues to fire employees agitating for employee rights. This is union-busting. And it’s illegal.

Sick and tired of big tech behaving badly? 20 Minutes into the Future is about holding the bastards to account. One way we can do that is by spreading the word of their misdeeds.


⓽ Bezos continues profiteering off of the pandemic while his workers fight tooth and nail for survival.

⓾ Eric Schmidt should Google “go fuck yourself.”

P.S. As I’ve mentioned before I’ve recently joined the team at Nothing Here. As I like to describe it, it's Boing Boing but with angry mutants instead of happy mutants. My friend Corey recently wrote an absolute barn-burner of a bonus letter drawing parallels between Tom Clancy’s The Division and the pandemic. It contains gems like this:

The economy is all powerful, but every now and then its wheels of progress must be greased with the blood of the poor, the elderly, the precarious, and the immunocompromised. We must return to business as usual so the economy can grow strong again. A hundred thousand people might die, but what is a life worth, truly, when compared to our GDP?


The next letter from Nothing Here drops on the 19th. Go subscribe now.

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20 Minutes into the Future is a critical look at how technology is shaping our lives today. And what actions we can take for a better tomorrow. If you're not already a subscriber and found this newsletter worth your while then please sign up.

My name is Daniel Harvey and I write 20 Minutes into the Future. I’m a product designer and have written for Fast Company, Huffington Post, The Drum, & more. If you're pissed about the current state of tech and want to see us do better then you’ve found a kindred spirit.

You can email me at daniel.harvey@gmail.com or follow me on Twitter @dancharvey.