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The Download

The Download: Trouble for a CO2 removal startup, and a US spy spyware bid

Plus: Cars running autopilot systems have crashed hundreds of times in just 10 months

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.

Running Tide is facing scientist departures and growing concerns over seaweed sinking for carbon removal

Running Tide, an aquaculture company based in Portland, Maine, has said it expected to set tens of thousands of tiny floating kelp farms adrift in the North Atlantic between this summer and next. The hope is that the fast-growing macroalgae will eventually sink to the ocean floor, storing away thousands of tons of carbon dioxide in the process.

The company has raised millions in venture funding and gained widespread media attention, and it counts big names like the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative among its customers. But Running Tide struggled to grow kelp along rope lines in the open ocean during initial attempts last year and has lost a string of scientists in recent months, sources with knowledge of the matter tell MIT Technology Review.

At least several of the departures were due, in part, to concerns that the company’s executives weren’t paying sufficient attention to the potential ecological effects of its plans. Some employees were also disturbed that Running Tide was discussing more controversial practices, including adding nutrients to the ocean to stimulate macroalgae growth. Read the full story.

—James Temple

The must-reads

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

1 A US defense company is considering buying Pegasus spyware
Potentially putting a spy tool so powerful it’s considered a weapon in US hands. (FT $)
+ NSO was about to sell hacking tools to France. Now it’s in crisis. (MIT Technology Review)

2 Cars running autopilot systems have crashed hundreds of times
Raising serious questions over the safety of such systems, and our reliance on them. (WP $)
+ The big new idea for making self-driving cars that can go anywhere. (MIT Technology Review)
+ Elon Musk thinks Tesla would be worth “basically zero” without its self-driving tech. (Insider

3 Inside crypto’s ugly culture war
Employees claim that the boss of major crypto exchange Kraken fostered a poisonous work atmosphere. (NYT $)
+ The future of lending platform Celsius isn’t looking bright. (Bloomberg $)
+ Crypto is weathering a bitter storm. Some still hold on for dear life. (MIT Technology Review)

4 Rural America’s long wait for fast internet shows no sign of abating
Despite the government sinking billions of dollars into upgrades. (WSJ $)

5 China’s radio telescope captured a mysterious signal
Which, while fascinating, is unlikely to be aliens. (The Conversation)
+ Here’s how factories in space could work. (Quartz)

6 Ukraine’s internet is being rerouted to Russia
Thus subjecting its traffic to the country’s censorial regime. (Wired $)
+ The US wants to know how its electronics ended up in Russian military gear. (WP $)

7 The internet birthed a new way of working for the middle classes
However, making big bucks is still the preserve of precious few. (New Yorker $)
+ Why TikTok is undoing all MTV’s hard work. (The Atlantic $)

8 How eBay shaped the modern internet 
And became one of our very first platforms in the process. (The Guardian)

9 Why your baby’s name isn’t as unique as you think it is
We’re all more influenced by our cultural surroundings than we realize. (Motherboard)

10 The memefication of Catholicism is in full swing
That doesn’t mean more people are attending church, though. (Vox)

Quote of the day

“What else can I offer them? Security? Comfort? I can’t offer them that. That’s where the tragedy is.”

—Sanjiva Weerawarana, who runs a software firm in Sri Lanka, despairs over how difficult it is to retain talented IT workers, who are leaving the country amid its worst economic crisis in over 70 years, he tells Rest of World.

The big story

How the world’s biggest gun helped solve a long-standing space mystery

November 2019

On a sweltering day in August, in a windowless strip mall office in Florida, Rafael Carrasquilla and a dozen other students wore surgical gloves as they picked through piles of dust with tweezers. They were hunting for tiny slivers of carbon fiber only millimeters long, almost invisible to the naked eye.

When they found one, they logged its appearance in a database, bagged it, tagged it, and placed it among tens of thousands of others painstakingly organized in ranks of plastic bins.

Carrasquilla leads the fragment characterization effort for the University of Florida, part of a NASA-led experiment called DebriSat that began in 2011. DebriSat was created to answer a question: What happens when a piece of orbital debris slams into a satellite at thousands of miles per hour? Read the full story.

—Mark Harris

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.)

+ I can’t believe it’s taken someone on Twitter so long to make this joke, but here we are.
+ Meet Ludvig, the Scandinavian man whose skull was selected for a secretive ritual 8,000 years ago.
+ Do yourself a favor and don’t read about what your tea really contains.
+ This guy’s emu deterrent methods are pretty extreme.
+ Scare yourself silly with this rundown of six English country homes that appear in your favorite scary movies.

Deep Dive

Climate change

China’s heat wave is creating havoc for electric vehicle drivers

The country is a leader in EV adoption, but extreme weather is exposing weaknesses in its charging infrastructure.

We must fundamentally rethink “net-zero” climate plans. Here are six ways.

Corporate climate plans are too often a mix of fuzzy math, flawed assumptions, and wishful thinking.

This is what’s keeping electric planes from taking off

Batteries could power planes, but weight will limit how far they fly.

The US agency in charge of developing fossil fuels has a new job: cleaning them up

The Office of Fossil Energy and Carbon Management has a new name, new leaders, and a new mandate to meet Joe Biden’s climate goals.

Stay connected

Illustration by Rose Wong

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