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The Download

The Download: Google’s stalkerware ban failure, and a bet for climate catastrophe

Plus: Russia is using chips for household appliances in its military equipment

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.

Google is failing to enforce its own ban on ads for stalkerware

Google Search displays advertisements for stalkerware services that boast real-time monitoring of romantic partners and spouses, despite the company’s self-imposed ban on such ads.

According to research by mobile security firm Certo Software and confirmed by MIT Technology Review, Google Search queries related to tracking partners such as a wife or girlfriend commonly return ads for software and services that explicitly offer to spy on other individuals.

Stalkerware, also referred to as spyware, is software designed to secretly monitor another person, tracking their location, phone calls, private messages, web searches, and keystrokes. Although Google banned ads promoting stalkerware in August 2020, stalkerware companies are still able to buy ads containing phrases including “app to see spouse’s text messages,” “see who your girlfriend is texting,” and “it’s like having their device” against search results such as “read wife’s texts app.” Read the full story.

—Rhiannon Williams

Quote of the day

“We understand that this is not a war between Ukraine and Russia. This is a war of the pure and the light that exists on this earth, and darkness.”

—A Ukrainian soldier known as Rusin explains his reasoning behind wanting to fight Russian invaders to the New York Times.

The must-reads

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

1 Fossil fuel giants are betting that we'll fail to tackle climate change
They’re collectively planning projects that will blow right past the crucial 1.5°C threshold. (The Guardian)
+ The likelihood we’ll cross the threshold is now around 50/50. (BBC)
+ Democrats are missing a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to pass crucial climate legislation. (The Atlantic $)
+ Carbon removal is now “essential” to prevent rising temperatures. (TR)
+ Why using the oceans to suck up CO2 might not be as easy as hoped. (TR)

2 Russia is using computer chips meant for fridges for military equipment
After Western sanctions banned semiconductor exports to the country in February. (WP $)

3 The US could be on the cusp of a huge water disaster
California’s Delta hub is under threat. The problem is that no one can agree how to save it. (New Yorker $)
+ How we drained California dry. (TR)
+ Why our water infrastructure needs to change to ward off future disaster. (TR)

4 North Korea has reported its first official covid outbreak
But hasn’t said how many people contracted it or where they got it from. (The Guardian)
+ Xi Jinping is unlikely to ditch his zero-covid strategy for the sake of China’s economy. (FT $)
+ The world risks sleepwalking into another covid crisis, says a former UK prime minister. (BBC

5 Crypto prices are crashing again 📉
Turns out Bitcoin is more like a traditional, risky tech stock than enthusiasts would like to admit. (NYT $)
+ Former fans of Do Kwon, stablecoins Luna and Terra’s creator, are furious. (Intelligencer $)
+ The crypto wealthy don’t know how to pass on their digital riches after they die. (Bloomberg $)
+ The future of a crypto-libertarian city project in Honduras isn’t looking bright. (Rest of World)

6 San Francisco Police are surveilling people via driverless cars
Which essentially makes them mobile evidence-gathering spying devices. (Motherboard)

7 New projects could allow doctors to fully sequence babies’ genomes
While it could reveal thousands of potential disorders, not every parent will want to know that information. (Economist $)
+ The scientist who co-created CRISPR isn’t ruling out engineered babies. (TR)

8 Google is opening up its AI language model—but not to everyone
Select users will be able to ask the AI to imagine scenarios to highlight errors. (The Verge)
+ Meta has built a massive language AI—and it’s giving it away for free. (TR)

9 Safety-conscious adults are buying tricycles
Not only are three wheels more stable than two, there’s room for groceries. (WSJ $) 

10 How to romanticize your life 💐
Finding joy in small things is one of the pandemic’s most enduring social media trends. (NYT $)

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.)

+ This 10.5-foot long sturgeon fish is pretty mind blowing.
+ Thousands of pages of Timbuktu manuscripts have been digitized and uploaded to Google.
+ It’s high time we changed our clichéd notions of cowboys.
+ Don’t worry, you’re not messy—you’re just a cluttercore practitioner.
+ How do you make a margarita even more delicious? By making it a spicy margarita.
+ Bob Dylan’s largest ever sculpture, of a railway freight car, has been installed in a vineyard.
+ An impressive list of 10 historic homes in the UK you’ll be dying to stay at—including two castles. 🏰

Deep Dive

Tech policy

How conservative Facebook groups are changing what books children read in school

Parents are gathering online to review books and lobby schools to ban them, often on the basis of sexual content.

Why can’t tech fix its gender problem?

A new generation of tech activists, organizers, and whistleblowers, most of whom are female, non-white, gender-diverse, or queer, may finally bring change.

How the idea of a “transgender contagion” went viral—and caused untold harm

A single paper on the notion that gender dysphoria can spread among young people helped galvanize an anti-trans movement.

The world is moving closer to a new cold war fought with authoritarian tech

At the Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit, Iran, Turkey, and Myanmar promised tighter trade relationships with Russia and China.

Stay connected

Illustration by Rose Wong

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