March 2, 2021


You’ve heard of Apple’s famous walled garden, the tightly controlled tech ecosystem that gives the company unique control of features and security. All apps go through a strict Apple approval process, they are confined so sensitive information isn’t gathered on the phone, and developers are locked out of places they’d be able to get into in other systems. The barriers are so high now that it’s probably more accurate to think of it as a castle wall. 

Virtually every expert agrees that the locked-down nature of iOS has solved some fundamental security problems, and that with these restrictions in place, the iPhone succeeds spectacularly in keeping almost all the usual bad guys out. But when the most advanced hackers do succeed in breaking in, something strange happens: Apple’s extraordinary defenses end up protecting the attackers themselves.

“It’s a double-edged sword,” says Bill Marczak, a senior researcher at the cybersecurity watchdog … Read the rest


Facebook is blocking Australians from sharing news links in response to a proposed law that would force the company to pay for news. | Robert Cianflone/Getty Images

A law that would require some tech companies to pay news publishers is making waves around the world.

If you’re an Australian Facebook user who loves to share the news on your timeline, you may have noticed something different recently: You can’t.

In the next few days, though, things should go back to normal. Less than a week after suddenly banning news links for Australian users and shutting down Australian news pages to protest an upcoming law, Facebook says it’s gotten reassurances from the Australian government that it won’t be forced to pay publishers but will instead be given the chance to negotiate agreements with them — which it’s already starting to do. According to the Sydney Morning Herald, Facebook has agreed to … Read the rest


Counselors volunteering at the Trevor Project need to be prepared for their first conversation with an LGBTQ teen who may be thinking about suicide. So first, they practice. One of the ways they do it is by talking to fictional personas like “Riley,” a 16-year-old from North Carolina who is feeling a bit down and depressed. With a team member playing Riley’s part, trainees can drill into what’s happening: they can uncover that the teen is anxious about coming out to family, recently told friends and it didn’t go well, and has experienced suicidal thoughts before, if not at the moment.

Now, though, Riley isn’t being played by a Trevor Project employee but is instead being powered by AI.

Just like the original persona, this version of Riley—trained on thousands of past transcripts of role-plays between counselors and the organization’s staff—still needs to be coaxed a bit to open up, … Read the rest


Amazon’s downtown Seattle campus. | Meron Menghistab for Vox

Interviews with diversity managers and internal data obtained by Recode indicate that Black Amazon employees are promoted less frequently and are rated more harshly than non-Black peers.

When Chanin Kelly-Rae started working at Amazon in 2019 as a global manager of diversity in the company’s cloud computing division, she had big ambitions for her new job. She had nearly two decades of experience leading diversity and inclusion efforts inside important institutions, like Washington state’s governor’s office, but she’d never worked at an influential global business leader like Amazon.

But less than a year later, Kelly-Rae quit. Her tenure inside the company convinced her that Amazon’s corporate workplace has deep, systemic issues that disadvantage Black employees and workers from other underrepresented backgrounds. And she was dismayed by her perception that Amazon leadership was unwilling to listen to internal experts about how to … Read the rest


An advisory board to the US Food and Drug Administration voted unanimously in favor of the first single-shot covid-19 vaccine, clearing the path for the health agency to authorize its immediate use as soon as tomorrow.

The one-shot vaccine, developed by Johnson & Johnson, has the additional advantage of being easy to store, because it requires nothing colder than ordinary refrigerator temperatures. It stopped 66% of mild and serious covid-19 cases in a trial carried out on three continents.

It will join a US covid arsenal that already includes authorized vaccines from Moderna and Pfizer. Those vaccines, which use messenger RNA, were significantly more effective (they stopped about 95% of cases), but they require two shots, and the doses need to be stored at ultra-cold temperatures.

Globally, a growing list of injections developed in Russia, China, India, and the United Kingdom all are starting to see wide use.

While the … Read the rest


In the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests in the summer of 2020, companies promised to make their boards more diverse. | FangXiaNuo via Getty Images

Companies promised to make their boards more diverse. Here’s how to actually do it.

After a national reckoning in the summer of 2020 following the police killing of George Floyd and the subsequent Black Lives Matter protests around the country, public and private companies alike vowed to add Black directors to their corporate boards. Some promising developments suggest greater board diversity could actually happen. There are also other ways companies could hurry it along.

Nasdaq submitted a proposal in December that would require companies listed on its exchange to report their board diversity and have — or at least explain why they don’t have — at least one person who identifies as a woman and one person who identifies as an underrepresented minority … Read the rest


Describing a decision-making system as an “algorithm” is often a way to deflect accountability for human decisions. For many, the term implies a set of rules based objectively on empirical evidence or data. It also suggests a system that is highly complex—perhaps so complex that a human would struggle to understand its inner workings or anticipate its behavior when deployed.

But is this characterization accurate? Not always.

For example, in late December Stanford Medical Center’s misallocation of covid-19 vaccines was blamed on a distribution “algorithm” that favored high-ranking administrators over frontline doctors. The hospital claimed to have consulted with ethicists to design its “very complex algorithm,” which a representative said “clearly didn’t work right,” as MIT Technology Review reported at the time. While many people interpreted the use of the term to mean that AI or machine learning was involved, the system was in fact a medical algorithm, which is … Read the rest


Twitter “Super Follows” feature was announced at an investor event. | Screenshot for Twitter’s Analyst Day Presentation

Twitter, a notoriously public platform, is building a walled garden.

Open Sourced logo

Twitter thinks your tweets — or at least some of them — might actually be worth something. At a virtual event for investors Thursday, the company announced that it’s planning to debut a pay-for-posts feature, called Super Follows, in which users will be able to pay the people they follow for their best tweets.

With Super Follows, Twitter will allow users to make money from content that they make exclusive to particular followers. Sample screenshots released by the company show that the payment scheme could take multiple forms. For instance, a follower could pay a creator they follow on Twitter a few dollars a month to access that user’s exclusive newsletter or to see special tweets only available to Super Followers. They might … Read the rest

What progress means 1 min read

“Progress.” We take for granted that it’s a good thing. We constantly invoke it to justify change. But all the ways in which society is measured—from economic indicators to health and education metrics to markers of political development and technological sophistication—rely on long-held assumptions about what progress is. As the economic and political shocks of this still newish century have shown, growing numbers of people are, or feel, excluded by the progress they were told would benefit everyone. And many of the countries that score best on traditional measures of progress have done worst in coping with the covid-19 pandemic, the clearest sign possible that these measures are missing something.

This issue contains MIT Technology Review’s annual list of 10 technological breakthroughs we think will change the world—in other words, leading examples of progress that we predict will lead to … even more progress! So I thought it behooved us, … Read the rest


Your app may be sending location data to a company that sells your data to another company that sells your data to the government. | Chandan Khanna/AFP via Getty Images

Google can’t stop trackers in its apps from selling location data to the government. Maybe the government can.

Open Sourced logo

If you’re relying on Apple’s and Google’s app store rules to keep your location data safe from companies that sell it to the government, you might want to rethink that policy. But if you’re relying on the legal system to stop government agencies from buying that data, you might be in luck — maybe.

A new Treasury Department inspector general report says that it doesn’t believe agencies have the legal right to buy location data from commercial services without obtaining a warrant. The watchdog had been investigating the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) for doing just that, but the IRS isn’t the only … Read the rest