The last few issues have seen somewhat more developed “Six Links” stories, and this issue is no exception. It allows for more context, but perhaps it’s also redundant, so let me know if you have any strong feelings either way on this format.
Bitcoin’s energy usage is becoming a problem for the industry–The Financial Times takes a deeper look at the energy use of Bitcoin, after Tesla’s decision to stop accepting it as payment, and also mentions a group in New York that bought a decommissioned power plant to turn it back on and start mining crypto. In a classic “option value” problem, the high prices of Bitcoin have made mining it more attractive, and it seems the problem is now becoming large enough to attract governments’ attention as well. Despite supporters’ efforts to address the issue, it looks like this may become Bitcoin’s Achilles heel, perhaps allowing other coins to gain further ground.
Relatedly, crypto exchanges in South Korea are struggling to meet new regulatory requirements (primarily linking trading accounts to real bank accounts) and hence may be forced to shut. As the industry expands, more attention from regulators is also inevitable. (FT $, The Verge, FT $)
”Personal Safety Network” Citizen is coming under a lot of scrutiny lately–The service was mentioned in last week’s issue after their intention to offer a private police service became clear, a goal that has been pretty much confirmed by the CEO of the company that provided the personnel. Now a new story shows that Citizen put a 30,000 USD bounty on an innocent man’s head, with the company’s CEO frantically egging on his employees. And, apparently in response to all this coming to light, a “hacktivist” scraped and published a good chunk of the service’s data. These stories obviously serve to remind us of the dangers inherent in vigilantism, but they also highlight how important it is to reaffirm our notion of what a “public service” is, and to what extent that notion has been encroached upon by private interests in our era. (Vice)
US soldiers unwittingly teach their nuclear secrets to the world–Amazing story from open-source investigation outfit Bellingcat: US soldiers posted to airbases across Europe have used flashcard apps to memorise nuclear weapons protocols in force at those bases, and unwittingly published them online for the world to see. The presence of nuclear weapons at these bases is officially a secret (albeit more to offer plausible deniability to local governments than for any operational reasons), so this represents an obvious breach. Arguably another example of an app acting in its own best interest (make more content available) but ignoring that of its users. (Bellingcat)
Chicago Police Dept’s crime prediction tool illustrates the danger of self-fulfilling prophecies in algorithms– Long story short, the algorithm predicted a man would be involved in a shooting, but couldn’t point out whether it would be as a victim or a perpetrator. With this information, the police paid the man a visit and told him he would be under increased scrutiny. This then prompted others in the community to conclude the man was an informant, which caused him to become the victim of a shooting not once, but twice. Another reminder to tread very carefully with algorithms. (The Verge)
Activists are fighting to make scientific research papers accessible to all–The publication of research papers is an industry dominated by a handful of very large players, who charge exorbitant prices and aggressively enforce copyright laws, usually to the frustration of the scientists who wrote the papers. Sci-Hub is an initiative launched years ago where scientists share their papers for free, and which has become an invaluable resource, especially for developing countries. After a latest attack from authorities, the site’s supporters are now asking volunteers to host the entire archive of papers and make them available on peer-to-peer file sharing services, to put them out of reach of law enforcement. Altogether seems like a worthy fight, reminiscent of the original ideals of the internet. (EFF)
Amazon will have you know they care about their employees’ wellbeing–To prove the point, the ecommerce giant introduced “ZenBooths” to its warehouses, a semi-transparent, coffin-sized box in the middle of the work floor where stressed employees can watch a guided meditation video. I’m sure the warehouse workers feel better already. (Vice)