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The Download

The Download: Part 3 of our investigation into Minnesota police

Plus: a man with locked-in syndrome has been able to communicate using a brain implant.

March 23, 2022

This is today's edition of The Download, our weekday newsletter that provides a daily dose of what's going on in the world of technology.

Inside the app Minnesota police used to collect data on journalists at protests

Photojournalist J.D. Duggan was covering a protest in Minnesota in April 2021 when police officers surrounded him and others, and told them to get on the ground. 

Officers sorted the press from the protesters, walked them to a parking lot, and began photographing them, one by one, with cellphones, which they told Duggan would be stored in an app. 

A personal data request to the Minnesota State Patrol revealed multiple photos of Duggan, geolocation data about where the photos were taken, and information about the officer who took them. 

MIT Technology Review’s investigation has found the data was collected using a tool called Intrepid Response, an easy way to almost instantly de-anonymize protest attendees and keep tabs on their movements. The photos are kept in data repositories which include photos and personal information about individuals at protests and appear to be accessible to multiple agencies, including federal groups.

For some, the tool’s use is a dangerous step in the direction of authoritarianism. Read the full story

—Sam Richards & Tate Ryan-Mosley

This story is the third part of an investigative series into police surveillance in Minnesota. The first lifts the lid on a vast, sprawling program called Operation Safety Net which targeted civil rights activists and journalists in the aftermath of the murder of George Floyd in May 2020. The second reveals how the operation continued long after officials claimed it had ended. 

A locked-in man has been able to communicate in sentences by thought alone 

A completely paralyzed man has been able to communicate entire sentences using a device that records his brain activity. The man was able to train his mind to use the device, which was implanted in his brain, to ask for massages, soup, and beer, and to watch films with his son.

It is the first time a completely locked-in person—someone who is conscious and cognitively able but completely paralyzed—has been able to communicate in this way, say the researchers behind the work. The man, who lives in Germany, learned to communicate entire sentences to researchers and his family.

Researchers believe the “potentially life-changing” technology could be routinely offered to similarly locked-in individuals within the next 10 to 15 years. Read the full story.

—Jessica Hamzelou

The must-reads

I’ve combed the internet to find you today’s most fun/important/scary/fascinating stories about technology.

1 Amid heavy losses in Ukraine, a blame game has started inside Russia
Even Putin’s supporters are having to concede how wildly he has miscalculated. (NYT $)
  + Hundreds of thousands of people are still stuck in dire conditions in Mariupol, say Ukrainian officials. (The Guardian)
  + A Kremlin spokesman refused to rule out the use of nuclear weapons. (CNN)
  + How likely is it that Russia will use them? (New Scientist $)
  + There are wildfires around Chernobyl. (NYT $)
  + It’s a golden age for armchair generals. (Vice)
  + The threat of Russian cyberattacks looms large. (New Yorker $) 

2 Are we on the cusp of curing sickle cell disease? 
Gene therapy might be about to deliver a cure. The big question is whether we ensure the people affected can afford it. (New Yorker $)
  + The first approved gene-edited babies could be for sickle cell disease. (TR

3 Europe lifted covid restrictions too quickly, says a top WHO official 
Cases are rising rapidly in many countries across the continent. (The Guardian)
  + Another covid surge in the US seems likely. Is it ready for it? (NYT $)
  + This app gauges your level of covid risk. (IEEE Spectrum)
  + What can we learn from covid’s data wizards? (Nature)
  + The CDC is still scrambling to get a better handle on public health data. (Politico)
  + If you’re doing a rapid test, do more than just one. (Ars Technica

4 Is Yandex too big to fail?
It took Arkady Volozh 20 years to build it into Russia’s biggest tech behemoth. It’s taken just 20 days for it to start to unravel. (Wired $)

5 Dopamine seems to help get you moving 🧠
A fascinating discovery about one of the brain’s most misunderstood chemicals. (Quanta)

6 There’s mystery swirling around an alleged hack of Okta
The identity management company’s response to claims of a breach by a hacking group has been confusing at best. (Wired $)
  + It says it’s not a new cyberattack. (WSJ $)
  + But Microsoft confirmed it. (The Verge)
  + And Okta has had to admit that hundreds of its clients may be affected. (CNN

7 San Francisco has gone off ride-hailing apps
Despite being the place where the most famous ones were founded. (FT $)
  + Uber is ditching its ‘split fare’ feature. (Mashable)
  + California’s plan to electrify Uber and Lyft doesn’t add up. (Wired $)
  + Elon Musk has opened Tesla’s first factory in Europe. (WSJ $) 

8 We’re spending less time on Facebook
It’ll be no time before it’s only the boomers left. (CNBC)

9 What transhumanists get wrong in their quest for human perfection
Quite a lot, actually. (Slate $)
  + It’s possible that geometry is something that only humans, not animals or machines, can grasp. (NYT $) 

10 ‘Digital resting points’ let you stop doomscrolling without logging off
They’re the nice things people post to cleanse our timelines—pretty photos, fun videos, and meditation tips. (WP $)

Quote of the day

“I can still feel a huge rush of adrenaline in my body because every flight is a fight.”

—Ukrainian Air Force pilot Andriy tells the New York Times he and his fellow pilots are still prevailing against Russia, despite being vastly outnumbered. 

We can still have nice things

A place for comfort, fun and distraction in these weird times. (Got any ideas? Drop me a line or tweet 'em at me.)
  + McDonald’s is bringing back its Szechuan sauce! For how long? Who knows. So enjoy that while it lasts. 
  + Seems the moral of this tale is that impersonators of world leaders are much nicer than the leaders themselves.
  + Geography nerds, feast your eyes on this Instagram account
  + Baby penguin squeaks <3 
  + An utterly ridiculous Legally Blonde/A Few Good Men mash-up
  + The longest suspension bridge in the world is now in Turkey
  + Busting some myths about cooking beans.

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Illustration by Rose WongIllustration by Rose Wong

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