The Download: Uber’s flawed facial recognition, and police drones

The Download: Uber’s flawed facial recognition, and police drones thumbnail

One evening in February last year, a 23-year-old Uber driver named Niradi Srikanth was getting ready to start another shift, ferrying passengers around the south Indian city of Hyderabad. To verify his identity, he pointed his phone at his face. The process works normally seamlessly. However, he couldn’t log in this time.

Srikanth thought it was because he had just shaved his hair. Uber informed him that he had been denied access to his account. He is not the only one. In a survey conducted by MIT Technology Review of 150 Uber drivers in the country, almost half had been either temporarily or permanently locked out of their accounts because of problems with their selfie.

Hundreds of thousands of Indian gig economy workers are subject to facial recognition technology with very few legal, policy, or regulatory protections. For workers like Srikanth getting kicked off or blocked from a platform can have severe consequences. Read more .

–Varsha Bansal

I met a police drone while in VR and hated it

Police departments around the world embrace drones and use them to track criminals, as well as intelligence gathering and surveillance. None of them seem to care about how drone encounters affect people or whether technology will aid or hinder police work.

A team from University College London is studying how people react to police drones in virtual real life. This will help determine if they feel more or less trusting of police officers.

MIT Technology Review’s Melissa Heikkila was unnerved after her encounter with a VR cop drone. If others feel the same, the big question is whether these drones can be used effectively for policing. Read more .

Melissa’s story is from The Algorithm, her weekly newsletter covering AI and its effects on society. Sign up and receive it every Monday in your inbox.

The must-reads

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

1 Twitter won’t be able to cope with the next natural disaster
Its looser moderation and verification make it harder to sift out reliable information. (Wired $)
The platform is now poorly equipped to fend off bad actors too. (Slate $)
There’s still no clear viable alternative to Twitter. (The Verge)
Twitter’s potential collapse could wipe out vast records of recent human history. (MIT Technology Review)

2 Crypto’s staunchest defenders are trying to rewrite history
The same people who lobbied against regulations are now criticizing the US government for not reigning in Sam Bankman-Fried. (The Atlantic $)
FTX’s collapse was triggered by its reliance on four tokens. (WSJ $)
Goldman Sachs is planning a crypto spending spree. (Reuters)

3 Neuralink is being investigated for animal cruelty
The number of deaths is higher than it needs to be, according to staff complaints. (Reuters)

4 Women are suing Apple after their exes used AirTags to stalk them
Despite the company’s claim the device is “stalker-proof.” (Bloomberg $)

5 Facebook is threatening to pull news from its platform in the US
If Congress passes new pro-publisher legislation. (WSJ $)

6 America’s drug shortages are getting worse
Essential drug shortages are becoming more frequent, and longer-lasting. (Vox)
The pandemic has likely changed children’s microbiomes. (The Atlantic $)
The next pandemic is already here. We can learn from Covid how to combat it. (MIT Technology Review)

7 Who should pay for gene therapy?
While it’s possible the cost will drop over time, we don’t know how long the effects of the therapies will last. (Wired $)
This family raised millions to get experimental gene therapy for their children. (MIT Technology Review)

8 A spirituality influencer’s fans keep getting arrested
Rashad Jamal’s followers have been accused of killing several people. (Motherboard)

9 How TikTok makes, and breaks, aspiring singers
Wannabe artists can perform to online audiences of millions before they’ve played a single in-person show. (New Yorker $)
TikTok is expected to ride out the social media advertising freeze. (FT $)

10 Microscopic replicas of famous paintings could help to foil forgers
Thanks to a bit of inspiration from butterflies. (New Scientist $)

Construction workers in New York’s Lower Manhattan neighborhood were breaking ground for a new federal building back in 1991 when they unearthed hundreds of coffins. The site, now known as the African Burial Ground is a national monument.

The African Burial Ground project was one of the first to use a new set of “bioarchaeology tools” that went beyond traditional pickaxes, brushes, and other tools. This was just the beginning of a larger archaeological revolution that brought together scientists and humanities scholars to create data about our ancestors. Read the full story.

–Annalee Newitz

We can still have nice things

A place for comfort, fun and distraction in these weird times. Have any other ideas? Drop me a line or tweet ’em at me. )

Texting yourself all day is an…interesting way to remember things.
Tokyo has opened its first convenience store manned entirely by avatars.
Buffins’ expression sure is appealing!
I like the sound of being a meteorite hunter.
‘Tis the season–to brush up on how to give a thoughtful gift.

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