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The Download

The Download: A baby formula crisis, and the hunt to improve solar panels

Plus: Much of the world is on the brink of an economic crisis

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 baby formula shortage has birthed a shady online marketplace

Across the United States, parents are scrambling to find baby formula amid a nationwide shortage. To non-parents, the shortage may seem sudden, but it’s been quietly snowballing into a crisis for months, sparked by a recall from a plant run by Abbott Nutrition—the main provider of powdered infant formula to the US market. It may take months for supplies to become adequate. 

In the meantime, out of sheer desperation, many parents are turning to Instagram and TikTok for tips on where to find formula, and despite repeated warnings from the FDA that homemade or diluted formula lacks the critical nutrients babies’ delicate systems need, videos of dangerous homemade recipes are being shared online. Parents are also getting stung by price-gouging and outright scams as they try to find formula to feed their babies. Read the full story.—Tanya Basu

These materials were meant to revolutionize the solar industry. Why hasn’t it happened?

Solar panels are basically synonymous with silicon. The material is used in about 95% of the panels in today’s market. But silicon solar cells are limited in how much energy they can harness from the sun, and they are still relatively expensive to make. 

For many, compounds called perovskites have long held promise as potentially cheaper, lighter, more efficient solar materials. But despite the excitement—and a flurry of startups to commercialize the technology—some experts caution that perovskite-based solar cells could still be nearly a decade away from having a significant commercial impact, if it ever happens. Read our story to find out why.

—Casey Crownhart

An infuriating and expensive quest to buy an NFT

Our editor-in-chief Mat Honan attempted to buy an NFT of an Olive Garden restaurant for his friend Katie—partly as a gift, and partly to learn more about NFTs ahead of our print magazine issue all about money, and how it’s changing.

Unfortunately, it was far from straightforward, reflecting just how volatile the NFT market is these days, and reinforcing his belief that money is weird now. Read the full story.

The must-reads

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

1 The risk of starvation is growing sharply in poorer countries
Much of the world is on the brink of an economic crisis, thanks to a combination of the pandemic’s aftermath plus the war in Ukraine, and rising inflation. (NYT $)
2 Elon Musk is hell bent on paying less for Twitter
And he’s happy to use spam bots as a convenient excuse. (Bloomberg $)
3 Data from period tracking apps is on sale
And could be used to identify specific users considering abortions. (Motherboard)
+ Abortion has been legal for the majority of America’s existence. (Wired $)
+ Overturning Roe v Wade will make navigating the unexpected extremely dangerous for women. (Slate $)
4 Apple’s mixed-reality headset program is in turmoil 
Technical challenges and leadership clashes mean it’s unlikely to see the light of day before next year. (The Information $)
5 The internet’s hatred of Amber Heard is rooted in misogyny
Many Johnny Depp supporters are more invested in attacking her than defending him. (The Atlantic $)
+ Cruel TikToks and memes mocking her testimony are hard to avoid on social media. (Wired $)
6 Crypto’s celebrity champions have gone very quiet
Because pushing digital currencies in the middle of a market meltdown is bad business. (NYT $)
+ If you’ve bought crypto in the past year, you’ve probably lost money. (New Yorker $)
+ Comedian Seth Green’s NFTs were stolen in a common phishing scam. (Motherboard)

7 Chinese sellers are abandoning Amazon
Reaching wider audiences has come with a hefty price tag, and they’ve had enough. (Rest of World)

8 The deepfake industry still has a major pornography problem
Despite its efforts to distance itself from vile, non-consensual videos, they’re still easily accessible. (Motherboard)
+ Deepfake porn is ruining women’s lives. (TR)
9 China has leapfrogged the US in the race to supercomputer supremacy
But experts want more collaboration, rather than competition, between the two. (FT $)

10 VHS tapes are reaching new generations of viewers online 📼
Amateur archivists are digitizing and streaming decades-old programs. (Input)

Quote of the day

“The message is clear: if you see something you need to report it.”

—Scott Bray, a US intelligence official, tells a Congress briefing on UFOs that pilots need to feel free to report strange sightings without stigma, according to Quartz.

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.)

+ Watching videos of dominoes falling (or in this case, CGI lipsticks) never gets old.
+ The award for the worst pun of recent memory goes to Metallica for calling their new whiskey Rye The Lightning.
+ Now that we know what the black hole at the center of our galaxy looks like, let's show the Milky Way itself some love.
+ Long suspected, now confirmed—cats know each others’ names, and probably yours, too.
+ How Donna Summer’s disco anthem I Feel Love gave birth to new wave.
+ I fell down a Wikipedia wormhole learning about how a knight visiting every square on a chessboard is called a knight’s tour.
+ The most complete Deinonychus skeleton ever found, which served as inspiration for Jurassic Park’s velociraptors, has sold at auction for a whopping $12 million.

Deep Dive

Humans and technology

anti-choice surveillance tactics
anti-choice surveillance tactics

Anti-abortion activists are collecting the data they’ll need for prosecutions post-Roe

Body cams and license plates are already being used to track people arriving at abortion clinics.

Chinese livestreamer and beauty influencer Li Jiaqi, also known as "king of lipstick," is seen in a subway station in Shanghai
Chinese livestreamer and beauty influencer Li Jiaqi, also known as "king of lipstick," is seen in a subway station in Shanghai

How China’s biggest online influencers fell from their thrones

Three top livestreaming personalities on the platform Taobao commanded legions of fans who bought billions of dollars’ worth of goods—until they suddenly went dark.

animal crossing concepts
animal crossing concepts

Inside the experimental world of animal infrastructure

Wildlife crossings cut down on roadkill. But are they really a boon for conservation?

chore apps haven't helped overworked moms concept
chore apps haven't helped overworked moms concept

Chore apps were meant to make mothers’ lives easier. They often don’t.

Rather than reducing the burden of housework, they tend to become yet another thing to worry about

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Illustration by Rose WongIllustration by Rose Wong

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