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The Download

The Download: The true global covid death toll, and what Russians see about Ukraine on TV

Plus: How period-tracking apps could be weaponized in a post-Roe world

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.

The true covid death toll could be more than double what’s been reported

The news: The true death toll of the pandemic is far higher than official figures suggest , according to the World Health Organization (WHO). While 5.4 million global deaths from covid had been reported by the end of 2021, the actual number was likely to be closer to 15 million, the WHO estimated. This suggests that many counties undercounted deaths. 

How it was calculated: The WHO’s figures are based on excess mortality, which counts the number of deaths above how many people would have been expected to die without the pandemic. This allows it to calculate both the number of people who died directly as a result of covid and those who died indirectly, for example patients who didn’t receive care for other health conditions. The WHO believes the majority of the extra 9.5 million deaths were directly caused by the virus.

India, which was overwhelmed by the highly infectious Delta variant last year,  was the country with by far the highest death toll. The WHO estimates that 4.7 million people in India had died of covid by the end of last year, dwarfing the 481,000 officially reported deaths. That would mean India accounted for close to a third of covid deaths globally. The Indian government has rejected the methodology, saying it has “concerns” about the process and outcome.

Why it matters: Measuring the number of excess deaths is designed to paint a clearer picture of the pandemic’s global impact, particularly for low-income countries where testing and death registration may be inconsistent. While the origins of the virus are still shrouded in mystery, working with true death estimates can help authorities establish what went wrong, and, crucially for future pandemics, how deaths could have been prevented.

—Rhiannon Williams

The must-reads

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

1 How Russian TV spins the war in Ukraine
This runs deeper than disinformation. State-run TV wants to leave its audience baffled about what to believe. (NYT $)
+ We can’t afford to become complacent about the war's horrors online. (NYT $)
+ How you can avoid spreading war misinformation online. (TR)
+ The data leaking out of Russia is of a higher value than ever before. (FT $)

2 Period-tracking apps could be weaponized post-Roe
And they’re just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to potential data risks. (Protocol
+ Progressive pastors are preaching pro-choice sermons on TikTok. (Input)
+ The Roe v Wade draft opinion leak may not be illegal. (WP $)

3 Facebook deliberately caused havoc in Australia to influence a new law
The removal of emergency and charity pages was not inadvertent, but strategic, whistleblowers say. (WSJ $)
+ A week off social media can reduce feelings of depression and anxiety. (Bloomberg $)

4 How Zillow’s house-flipping dream crashed and burned
But it’s still optimistic there’s money to be made, this time through loans. (Bloomberg $)
+ House-flipping algorithms are coming to your neighborhood. (TR)

5 Elon Musk is rallying his rich friends to finance his Twitter purchase
In his typically unconventional style. (FT $)
+ Musk’s commitment to free speech at all costs could stretch back to his childhood. (NYT $)
+ He hates adverts. That’s a problem for Twitter’s advertisers. (NYT $)
+ Musk’s Wikipedia page has turned into an online turf war. (Slate $)

6 Even high-profile crypto investors admit it’s a Ponzi scheme 
The rest of us don’t stand a chance. (Wired $)
+ Bankers are quitting their jobs in the hopes of making more money in crypto. (Bloomberg $)
+ Digital money is dividing the masses like never before. (FT $)

7 Not speaking English is a language barrier for top coders
Developing more diverse programming languages could empower overseas developers. (Rest of World)

8 AI has identified groups of criminal cops in Chicago
Less than 4% of officers made up a quarter of all shootings and complaints from Black and Hispanic residents. (Motherboard)
+ Minneapolis police used fake social media profiles to surveil Black people. (TR

9 Remote Alaskan villages are embracing food delivery apps
The deliveries aren’t hot or fresh, but they’re still a luxurious treat. (NYT $)
 
10 Fans of Squishmallow plush toys are getting harassed online
Simply for trying to buy or resell the cuddly critters. (Input)

Quote of the day

“I get up, eat, and then I go back to bed. Other than food, I can’t think about anything else.”

—Yang Jiwei, 21, describes his daily routine in locked-down Shanghai to the New York Times.

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.)
+ When it comes to revealing his plans for the metaverse, the Pope’s playing it coy.
+ Unsure what to drink tonight? Drinkify will suggest a tipple to match your choice of music — the Iggy Pop is particularly appealing. (Thanks Charlotte!)
+ A controversial list is always entertaining, and this ranking of Kendrick Lamar’s 20 greatest songs does not disappoint.
+ There’s really nothing like a good, long bath to soak your troubles away (pet lion optional.)
+ Why celebrities enjoy humiliating themselves by trying (and failing) to eat spicy chicken wings.
+ Scientists share their favorite space photos, and explain what makes them so special.
+ Look, I’m not encouraging you to cheat at Wordle, but if you were to look at this list of the best starter words, I wouldn’t tell.

Deep Dive

Biotechnology

He Jiankui
He Jiankui

The creator of the CRISPR babies has been released from a Chinese prison

He Jiankui created the first gene-edited children. The price was his career. And his freedom.

Aging Clocks concept
Aging Clocks concept

Aging clocks aim to predict how long you’ll live

These clocks promise to measure biological age and help identify anti-aging drugs, but there are lingering questions over their accuracy.

transplant surgery
transplant surgery

The gene-edited pig heart given to a dying patient was infected with a pig virus

The first transplant of a genetically-modified pig heart into a human may have ended prematurely because of a well-known—and avoidable—risk.

locked-in patient communicates via computer
locked-in patient communicates via computer

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

In a world first, the man was able to ask for soup, beer, and even talk about his son for the first time since becoming completely paralyzed.

Stay connected

Illustration by Rose WongIllustration by Rose Wong

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