The Internet Needs a New Architecture that Puts Users First

Quarantine has changed the way we connect, online and off. As we rely on the internet more and more for work, social connections, and basic needs, it is time to talk about the future of meaningful online experiences, and the need for a new internet architecture. We need a user-focused, localized internet. This competitive architecture would deliver an experience that values real-time connectivity over one-way advertising and puts control with the user, not with big tech platforms.

This paradigm would flip the model on its head, letting people start with complete privacy and security, and from there allow them to open their channels depending on trust level. It inverts the terms of service, where instead of any platform imposing them on users, users impose theirs terms on the platform.

A new architecture that competes with the “public” internet is completely possible, and it begins with a policy approach that fosters the necessary innovation and investment, while allowing for flexibility and experimentation.

Fixing the internet is not rooted in treating it like a public utility; it is not to be found in micromanagement by government. In fact, those very backward-looking policies only fuel more harm by protecting the status quo, which is likely why big tech platforms have been so fervently pushing for them.

Over the past decade, progressives have increasingly turned to government intervention in the market as a solution to some mythical problem. This is misplaced. As we argued in challenges to the 2015 Federal Communications Commission’s public-utility-based Net Neutrality rules, this also kills investment, startups, and new innovation. Utility doesn’t increase the value proposition a thousand-fold; rather, utility raises rates and freezes value in place.

Crucial to any new architectural overlay is the underlying infrastructure. With that, the story is rather positive. The United States has successfully solved for capacity; resilient broadband networks have fared well during the pandemic. This is in large part due to a historically regulatory approach, which rejected top-down government control and allowed for private-sector, facilities-based competition and investment. Since the mid-’90s trillions of private dollars have been plowed into our internet infrastructure. And that has increased the value proposition of connectivity a thousand-fold.

Yes, the public internet we experience today created the trillion-dollar tech platforms, but it allows for a few entities in Silicon Valley to colonize the entire planet and kill consumer choice. Six companies control 43 percent of all internet traffic. Of those six, three—Google, Facebook, and Amazon—receive 70 percent of all digital ad revenue in the US.

According to a recent Pew Research study, “roughly six in ten U.S. adults say they do not think it is possible to go through daily life without having data collected about them by companies or the government.” Further, “70 percent of adults say their personal data is less secure” than it was five years ago.

The current model has resulted in the rise of application monopolies, which have the sole purpose of scooping and selling as much personal data as possible, while controlling what you see and do online. There is no two-way relationship occurring, and if there were, these platforms would have customer service lines that actually went somewhere.

While internet security and resilience have been success stories during Covid-19, Big Tech keeps getting bigger, as governments toss out personal privacy for “public good” and turn to Silicon Valley for magical fixes in the form of comprehensive tracking, most often with no way to opt out.

How Surveillance Has Always Reinforced Racism

You talk a lot about surveillance in the book and this idea of looking back, subverting the gaze and the pros and cons of that. I’m interested in your thoughts on these viral police brutality videos. The people who record these videos are often arrested before the cops who are caught on tape committing these violent acts.

If you think about TV, like Cops being taken off the air or Gone With the Wind or whatever it is, there are all these ways black life is framed that shapes people’s viewing. I think it’s what Judith Butler calls a “racially saturated field of visibility,” where these stereotypes form our field of our vision. So, Rodney King bracing himself from the hits from the police, that video gets read by some folks as an act of aggression by him, as an act of violence because black men’s bodies are always figured as potentially violent.

And I’m wondering, are these videos then shared and traded in a way that lynching memorabilia was shared and traded in times prior? Because I could view this and see one thing and other people have a different type of racial framing and might understand it as something else. And you see that when you look at the responses to the video.

I don’t know how to contend with this kind of saturation that we’re all under now of black people dying. Like even “you’re about to lose your job,” the viral video of the black woman dancing as she’s being detained, you know that there’s joy and there’s grief and there’s pain and their survival with it. And that’s … I can’t even put it into words.

I just don’t want to have this kind of technological determinism that a camera will save us from the camera, because it definitely won’t. Videos alone won’t make things substantially different for black people resisting surveillance or white supremacy. But there is something, with those videos showing our own narration of them, our ways of understanding that moment, to recognize white supremacy and to challenge it, that’s happening now. But it’s still black death.

And we’re sharing them in spaces like Instagram. We’re sharing them in spaces that can erase them at any moment.

There’s a literal policing, in terms of police officers, but there’s a secondary policing. When you upload these videos to Facebook and Instagram, they’re subject to content moderation and sharing and recommending algorithms. When you put a video on social media, the point is for it to be shared as widely as possible and viewed as much as possible and not really given that critical eye. It can be taken down, but the violence also becomes just another form of content or entertainment, like the memorabilia you mentioned, like postcards.

White people attending these lynchings would photograph the bodies, share postcards, people would take body parts, this was a part of white community formation and white supremacist formation were these ritualized acts. And so what are the rituals that are happening now, when it’s platforming or mediated through YouTube?

It’s policing, but it’s like policing that now is mediated through these platforms, like Instagram and Facebook and other things. That’s not literal police, but it still is about the governing of black life and black resistance by the state or state-adjacent entities. And we know that Facebook is hand in hand with the Trump administration. So how do we then reconcile the seeming necessity of these technologies?

Google Will Delete Your Data by Default—in 18 Months

At its Worldwide Developers Conference on Monday, Apple introduced a litany of new security and privacy features that fit into what the company calls its four privacy principles. Today, Google is announcing its own privacy-focused improvements as well, under what Google CEO Sundar Pichai says are “three important principles” of privacy.

Google already announced security and privacy upgrades to Android 11 earlier this month. But Wednesday’s changes focus on the data that Google services like Maps and YouTube can access—and how long they keep it for.

“We’re guided by the principle that products should keep information only for as long as it’s useful to you,” Pichai wrote in a blog post. “Privacy is personal, which is why we’re always working to give you control on your terms.”

Google has been criticized for collecting and retaining data that users don’t even realize it has. A year ago, the company added auto-delete controls that allowed you to set your Google account to delete history—like Web and App Activity and location—every three months or 18 months. Such a mechanism was long overdue, but Google would still collect this data indefinitely by default. You had to find the right toggle in your settings to set the auto-delete in motion.

Google’s announcements on Wednesday flips this policy around. Newly formed Google accounts will auto-delete activity and location every 18 months by default. YouTube history will delete every 36 months. Existing accounts, though, will still need to proactively turn on the feature, as Google doesn’t want to force a change on users who, for whatever reason, want the company to maintain a forever-record of their activity. (You can find our complete guide to limiting Google’s tracking here.) As soon as you do, the company will nuke your accumulated activity and location data that’s 18 months or older, and continue to do so going forward. Google will also push notifications and email reminders to get existing customers to review their data retention settings.

Courtesy of Google

From Google’s perspective, the idea is to give users the convenience and benefits of things like recommendations that come from retaining 18 months of history, while eliminating indefinite storage. But though users can elect to drop down from the 18-month default to three-month auto-delete, there is still no option to auto-delete data on a smaller timescale, like once a week. Auto-delete features also don’t apply to services explicitly meant for long-term data storage, like Gmail, Google Drive, and Photos.

Google is also surfacing its existing Incognito Mode in its Search, Maps, and YouTube mobile apps. In the coming weeks all the apps will update so you can turn on this feature by long-pressing on your profile photo in the upper right of the screen.

Courtesy of Google

Incognito Mode works as a sort of pause on Google’s activity collection, but it isn’t a sophisticated privacy and security shield. The feature doesn’t stop Google tracking your browsing anonymously or shield you from potential surveillance by Internet Service Providers or governments. It simply disassociates that activity from your Google account. Using services like Maps without being logged in is similar to using Incognito Mode all the time.

Google is also promoting its Security Checkup feature, which helps walk users through their security and privacy settings. And the company is expanding the tool to include its Password Checkup mechanism for alerting users if any of their passwords are exposed in a data breach.

Where Apple is embarking on more aggressive efforts to block ad-tracking and cross-platform tracking, Google’s steps on Wednesday seem much more incremental. As Pichai puts it, “We continue to challenge ourselves to do more with less.” The question is, just how much less?

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The Anatomy of a Cisco Counterfeit Shows Its Dangerous Potential

When an I.T. company asked Finnish cybersecurity firm F-Secure to analyze some of its equipment last fall, the client wasn’t worried about a new malware infection or recent breach. Instead, it had discovered that some of its core Cisco devices—the ones responsible for routing data as it zipped through its internal network—were counterfeits that had been lurking undetected in its infrastructure for weeks.

Fake Cisco devices are relatively common, largely because of the company’s ubiquity. Cisco has a whole brand-protection division dedicated to working with law enforcement, and it offers tools that help customers verify the legitimacy of their equipment. Still, bogus Cisco products are pervasive, and they’re big business for scammers.

A detailed teardown of counterfeits, though, is a special opportunity for researchers to understand how they could be compromised for digital attacks. The units F-Secure analyzed posed as Cisco Catalyst 2960-X Series switches—trusted devices that connect computers on an internal network to route data between them. In this case, it appears the fakes were created simply for profit. But the privileged network position they hold could have been exploited to place a so-called backdoor to let attackers steal data or spread malware.

“It’s like when you have a fake Rolex these days—unless you actually open it and look at the movement, it’s really difficult to tell,” says Andrea Barisani, head of hardware security at F-Secure.

Cisco encourages customers to buy equipment from the company itself or authorized resellers. In practice, though, procurement chains can balloon in the open market, and network equipment vendors can inadvertently end up with counterfeits.

The fake switches the researchers analyzed had worked normally until a routine software update essentially bricked them, tipping off the F-Secure client that something was amiss. In their analysis, the F-Secure researchers found subtle cosmetic differences between the counterfeit devices and a genuine Cisco 2960-X Series switch used for reference. Small labels, like numbers next to ethernet ports, were misaligned, and the fake devices were missing a holographic sticker Cisco puts on the real units. F-Secure points out that some forgeries have this sticker, but devices that don’t are almost certainly fake.

“Counterfeit products pose serious risks to network quality, performance, safety, and reliability,” a Cisco spokesperson said in a statement. “To protect our customers, Cisco actively monitors the global counterfeit market as well as implements a holistic and pervasive Value Chain Security Architecture comprised of various security controls to prevent counterfeiting.”

The F-Secure team found some small differences and indications of tampering on the devices’ circuitboards themselves, but there was a particular divergence that stood out immediately. One of the counterfeit devices had a very obvious extra memory chip on the board. After more investigation, the researchers realized that the other sample counterfeit their client had sent had a more subtle and sophisticated version of that modification to achieve the same goal. Through digital forensic analysis, F-Secure discovered that both versions of the hack exploited a physical flaw in the switch’s design to bypass Cisco’s integrity checks. The objective was to bypass Cisco’s Secure Boot feature, which stops a device from booting up if it has been compromised or isn’t legitimate.

“What we know is that an authentication mechanism is implemented in the main application that is able to detect that the software is running on counterfeit hardware,” says Dmitry Janushkevich, a senior hardware security consultant at F-Secure who led the research. “Likely, the counterfeiters either were not able to figure it out or the authentication method was good enough so they could not work around, buy, or forge that part. Otherwise they would be able to produce a perfect clone. Therefore, they chose the only option remaining, which is bypassing Secure Boot.”

20 Xbox Series X Games Revealed (Trailers): Every Game Shown

The summer of prerecorded E3-type events continues! Sony told us all about the PS5’s games some weeks back, and now Microsoft’s Xbox Showcase just wrapped up, bringing a handful of new games and a few Xbox Series X exclusives—some of which are coming out this year.

Plus, every game on this list will be available through Xbox Game Pass. It’s not a big surprise given Microsoft’s current lineup on Game Pass; it’s been a place where you can play exclusives for a while now. But it’s good to hear the subscription service is a big part of Microsoft’s future plans for the Xbox One and Xbox Series X. All right, here they are, all the games announced at today’s Xbox Showcase.

Halo Infinite


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What would an Xbox console launch be without a new Halo game? The Master Chief returns, and he’s exploring another mysterious alien ring world. This one, Microsoft promises, is going to be bigger than ever before, with an open world for you to explore and shoot your way through. The trailer itself tugged at the heartstrings, evoking memories of the first Halo trailer. (And I mean the real first one, not just the trailer for Halo: Combat Evolved—if you know, you know). It looks delightfully nostalgic, a return to form for Halo. It’s coming holiday 2020 on Xbox One, Xbox Series X, and Windows.



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This wasn’t a gameplay trailer. It’s one of those cinematic teasers, but it’s worth mentioning because Fable was a big hit on the original Xbox, and it’s been a decade since the last full Fable game, which changed some aspects of its story (and your appearance) based on how kind or cruel you were toward others. This one isn’t a numbered sequel, so it could be more of a reboot than anything, and at this point that’s not a bad idea. It’s been an eternity since the last release.



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In Everwild you take on the role of an Eternal, a forest witch with the gift to feel how magic flows through nature and connects every living thing. In the trailer, we see players gently directing natural phenomena and wild animals to restore balance to a mystical forest.

Outer Worlds: Peril on Gorgon


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It’s about time we returned to the Outer Worlds. Obsidian unveiled a DLC adventure called Peril on Gorgon at the Xbox event today, showing off a dangerous and lawless asteroid filled with intrigue and corporate machinations. It comes out on September 9, 2020, for Xbox One and Windows.



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Another game from Obsidian, Grounded puts you in the shoes of a kid who’s been shrunk down to miniature size. You and your friends explore and try to survive in the dangerous wilds of your backyard. Think Honey I Shrunk the Kids meets Rust. You’ll be able to play it in Steam early access and Xbox preview on July 28.

Psychonauts 2


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Cult classic Psychonauts is finally getting a full-on sequel! Psychonauts 2 takes you to a world painted up like a psychedelic fever dream, accompanied by a mote of light voiced by Jack Black. We don’t know much more about the game, but the signature Psychonauts art style looks great on a modern console, and if Double Fine’s previous games (and this music-centric trailer) are any indication, the soundtrack is going to be chef kiss emoji.

The Medium


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This trailer gave me Soul Reaver vibes in the best way. In The Medium you take on the role of a psychic exploring a haunted world in both our world and a mysterious underworld, simultaneously. Players will shift from one reality to the other seamlessly because they’re both rendered at the same time by the Xbox Series X’s powerful hardware. It looks spooky.

Warhammer 40K: Darktide


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Speaking of spooky, this Warhammer 40k: Darktide trailer is appropriately foreboding and delightfully dark. Warhammer 40k has a bit of a mixed track record when it comes to videogame adaptations; they’re either amazing or terrible. By the looks of this one, it’s going to be a cooperative shooter not unlike Warhammer: Vermintide. Instead of fighting swarms of rat people, you’ll battle swarms of space … people? Space zombies? Coming 2021!

Stalker 2


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The original Stalker was a creepy game that takes place in a supernatural version of the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone. Instead of being just ravaged by radiation, the fictional version features mutants and tears in the fabric of reality. We don’t see much in this new trailer, but it’s positively dripping with the cold, dreary, and menacing spirit of the original, and I’m here for it.

The Rest of the Announcements

Here are all the other games that were shown in some form or another today.

  • Avowed: A new epic fantasy RPG from Obsidian, the studio behind Outer Worlds and Pillars of Eternity, set in a fictional world called Eora! That’s literally all we know at this point.

  • State of Decay 3: This CG trailer teases a new entry in the State of Decay series of zombie-survival building games.

  • Forza Motorsport: This game has gorgeous cars rendered with startling accuracy. It’s the latest entry in the Forza series and headed for Xbox Series X.

  • Tell Me Why: From developer Dontnod comes a game following in the footsteps of its previous series, Life Is Strange. In Tell Me Why you explore the mysterious past of its two protagonists as they navigate a small town full of secrets.

  • Ori and the Will of the Wisps: Beautiful but punishing platformer Ori and the Will of the Wisps is getting a graphical upgrade for the upcoming Xbox Series X.

  • As Dusk Falls: From indie developer Interior/Night comes an interactive drama set in the American Southwest, following flawed people trying to find their way as misfits in a cruel world.

  • Destiny 2: Looter-shooter Destiny 2 is coming to Game Pass, including all expansions, starting September 2020.

  • Phantasy Star Online 2: New Genesis: The original looter-shooter is getting a next-gen sequel.

  • Tetris Effect: Connected: Microsoft unveiled a new version of Tetris Effect coming this holiday season alongside the Xbox Series X.

  • The Gunk: From the creators of the SteamWorld series comes The Gunk, where you’ll explore a vast alien world overtaken by a mysterious substance known only as the gunk. Looks sticky.

  • CrossfireX: Following in the footsteps of Crysis, this game puts you in the shoes of a super soldier fated to destroy the world.

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The Big Tech Hearing Proved Congress Isn’t Messing Around

Legally speaking, this is damning stuff. The Clayton Act of 1914, the main federal antitrust statute, explicitly prohibits corporate acquisitions if “the effect of such acquisition may be substantially to lessen competition, or to tend to create a monopoly.” As Jerrold Nadler, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee of which the antitrust subcommittee is a part, put it, referring to the Instagram deal, “This is exactly the type of anticompetitive acquisition that the antitrust laws were designed to prevent.” (Zuckerberg, for his part, pointed out correctly that the Federal Trade Commission waved the Instagram acquisition through. Subcommittee chairman David Cicilline retorted, “I would remind the witness that the failures of the FTC in 2012, of course, do not alleviate the antitrust challenges the chairman described.”)

But while the subcommittee made a devastating case that Facebook deliberately suppressed competition, what was less clear was why it matters. One goal of a public hearing is to win over the public, and the average American might not care one way or the other whether Instagram is a part of Facebook or a rival to it. By the same token, the subcommittee members raised a litany of issues, but didn’t always tie them back to questions of size or competition. If Google encourages YouTube advertisers to microtarget children, or Amazon allows counterfeit goods on its platform—to pick two of the many accusations made against the companies—well, those are bad things, but they don’t obviously stem from the companies’ size. Small companies do bad things, too.

There were a few moments, however, when the subcommittee members did manage to draw out the link between monopoly power and more direct harms. One of the most impressive lines of questioning came from Florida congresswoman Val Demings. Demings noted that when Google bought DoubleClick, at the time the largest publisher-side digital ad platform, in 2007, it promised the government that it would never merge its own data on users with DoubleClick’s. In 2016, however, the company reneged on that promise—“essentially destroying anonymity on the internet,” according to Demings. Then she carefully drew the connection between that move and Google’s unrivaled place in the digital market.

“In 2007, Google’s founders feared making this change because they knew it would upset their users—but in 2016 Google didn’t seem to care,” she said. The difference, she argued, was that by 2016, Google controlled so much of the market that it could afford to violate customers’ preferences. “Isn’t it true that what changed between 2007 and 2016 is that Google gained enormous market power, so that while Google had to care about user privacy in 2007, it no longer had to in 2016?” Pichai had no real answer for this, other than to repeat the company line that users have control over how their data is used.

Demings’ question was the clearest articulation of the theory of the case underlying the entire investigation. The basic premise of antitrust is that, in a capitalist economy, we want businesses to get ahead by competing to offer some combination of the best products, the best service, and the best price. What we don’t want is for a company to get so big, to crush or absorb the competition so thoroughly, that it can stop caring as much about what the customer wants without jeopardizing its profits.

Alphabet’s Sidewalk Labs Scraps Its Ambitious Toronto Project

When Google sibling Sidewalk Labs announced in 2017 a $50 million investment into a project to redevelop a portion of Toronto’s waterfront, it seemed almost too good to be true. Someday soon, Sidewalk Labs promised, Torontonians would live and work in a 12-acre former industrial site in skyscrapers made from timber—a cheaper and more sustainable building material. Streets paved with a new sort of light-up paver would let the development change its design in seconds, able to play host to families on foot and toself-driving cars. Trash would travel through underground chutes. Sidewalks would heat themselves. Forty percent of the thousands of planned apartments would be set aside for low- and middle-income families. And the Google sister company founded to digitize and techify urban planning would collect data on all of it, in a quest to perfect city living.

Thursday, the dream died. In a Medium post, Sidewalk Labs CEO Dan Doctoroff said the company would no longer pursue the development. Doctoroff, a former New York City deputy mayor, pointed a finger at the Covid-19 pandemic. “As unprecedented economic uncertainty has set in around the world and in the Toronto real estate market, it has become too difficult to make the … project financially viable without sacrificing core parts of the plan,” he wrote.

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But Sidewalk Labs’ vision was in trouble long before the pandemic. Since its inception, the project had been criticized by progressive activists concerned about how the Alphabet company would collect and protect data, and who would own that data. Conservative Ontario premier Doug Ford, meanwhile, wondered whether taxpayers would get enough bang from the project’s bucks. New York-based Sidewalk Labs wrestled with its local partner, the waterfront redevelopment agency, over ownership of the project’s intellectual property and, most critically, its financing. At times, its operators seemed confounded by the vagaries of Toronto politics. The project had missed deadline after deadline.

The partnership took a bigger hit last summer, when Sidewalk Labs released a splashy and even more ambitious 1,524-page master plan for the lot that went well beyond what the government had anticipated, and for which the company pledged to spend up to $1.3 billion to complete. The redevelopment group wondered whether some of Sidewalk Labs’ proposals related to data collection and governance were even “in compliance with applicable laws.” It balked at a suggestion that the government commit millions to extend public transit into the area, a commitment, the group reminded the company, that it could not make on its own.

That chunky master plan may remain helpful, Doctoroff said in his blog post. Sidewalk Labs did serious thinking about civic data management over the course of the two-and-half-year project. As recently as March, Sidewalk Labs executives discussed with WIRED how the company might approach the issue with complete transparency. (Critics said even those efforts did not go far enough.) Doctoroff says that work—and the work of Sidewalk Labs’ portfolio companies, which seek to tackle various urban mobility and infrastructure problems—will continue.

Still, the project’s end raises questions about the “smart cities” movement, which seeks to integrate cutting-edge tech tools with democratic governance. The buzzwords, all the rage when the adage “data is the new oil” generated fewer eye rolls, suffered during the techlash. Cities and their residents became more suspicious of what Silicon Valley companies might do with their data. In theory, one way to fix this sort of project is to actually start at the grassroots. “The next time this is done by Sidewalk Labs or any big tech corporation that wants to reimagine the future of neighborhoods, it will be done in close communication with communities,” says Daniel O’Brien, who studies research and policy implications of “big data” at Northeastern University’s School of Public Policy.

Paradoxically, the Toronto project’s demise comes as data collection and surveillance are viewed as key tools to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus. Google codeveloped with Apple technology for smartphones that will automatically track infected patients’ encounters with others. The companies say the data will only be recorded anonymously, and the contact tracing regimen may eventually liberate most Americans from sheltering in place. The world is about to go through a major experiment in what can and should be done with data. For now, an abandoned sliver of Toronto won’t be part of it.

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Elon Musk Defies Lockdown Orders and Reopens Tesla’s Factory

Musk has been skeptical of the risks of Covid-19 and critical of California officials’ response. In March he tweeted that “coronavirus panic is dumb” and predicted that US cases would “negligible” by the end of April. (They were not.) On an earnings call with investors last month, he called state and local shelter-in-place orders “fascist.”

Some local officials, including Fremont mayor Lily Mei, appeared sympathetic to Musk. “The city encourages the county to engage with our local businesses to come up with acceptable guidelines for re-opening our local economy,” Mei wrote in a statement over the weekend.

Alameda County has reported 2,101 cases of Covid-19 and 71 deaths. But factory workers travel to the Fremont facility from as far away as Stockton, 60 miles away to the northeast, on a network of shuttle buses. Tesla on Saturday published a plan to reopen the factory safely, including procedures for increased cleaning and shift changes to maintain social distancing. But assembly work often places employees in close proximity. The reopening plan also asked workers to bring or make their own personal protective equipment if the company has not provided it to them, and to perform a “complete self-health check” before returning to work. The document said workers may be required to undergo temperature or symptom screenings.

More than 10,000 people work at the Tesla factory, and the company employs more than 20,000 people statewide. The carmaker’s corporate headquarters are in Palo Alto, which also falls under Bay Area pandemic guidelines.

California governor Gavin Newsom seemed surprised Monday when reporters informed him during a press conference that the carmaker had reopened. “My understanding is when I walked up to the podium today that wasn’t the case,” he said. Newsom said he is a Tesla supporter, and said he hoped the carmaker could reach an agreement to reopen early next week.

Indeed, the very public battle over the reopening of the Tesla factory appears to be over just a few days of operation. On Saturday, Alameda County supervisor Scott Haggerty told The New York Times that officials were negotiating to reopen the assembly plant on May 18. “I know Elon knew that,” Haggerty told the Times. “But he wanted it this week.”

The “Big Three” US automakers, Ford, General Motors, and Fiat-Chrylser, have permission to reopen their Michigan facilities this week, but all three are waiting until next Monday to restart manufacturing.

Musk’s companies have repeatedly benefited from government help. In 2015 the Los Angeles Times estimated that Tesla, the energy company SolarCity (now a Tesla subsidiary), and SpaceX had received $4.9 billion in government support. That included a record-breaking $1.3 billion subsidy package from Nevada to build the company’s battery factory, and $950 million from New York state to help build a solar panel factory in Buffalo. Last month, the Buffalo News reported that Tesla intends to seek a one-year waiver of its commitment to create 1,460 jobs in the factory. If the waiver is not granted, the company may have to pay a $41 million penalty to the state.

Tap Strap 2 Review: An Answer in Search of a Question

Have you ever wished that you could wear your keyboard or mouse on one hand like a glove? Me neither, but that’s what the Tap Strap 2 does. It’s a wearable you slip over your preferred hand’s fingers and thumb, and through a series of taps or by sliding your hand on a flat surface, you can use it like an invisible mouse and keyboard for anything with Bluetooth—your phone, laptop, virtual reality headset, Apple TV, and more.

It sounds exciting and futuristic. But after wearing it for weeks, the steep learning curve and difficultly I had putting it on and taking it off, not to mention the Strap’s incorrect registrations, have made me run back to my wonderfully physical mouse and keyboard with open, unconstricted hands.

Can’t Truss It

With the Tap Strap 2 on your hand, you don’t just type as if you’re using an invisible QWERTY keyboard. You learn a whole new system of combining various tapping patterns for each letter, number, and symbol. It’s like learning a five-finger Morse code.

The box the Strap comes in includes a little paper map that lists out all the unique tap patterns for typing effectively—something I constantly needed anytime I had to type something out. For example, let’s type out my first name, Matthew, using the Tap Strap 2.

First, tap down with your index and ring finger simultaneously—while not moving your other fingers—for M. If you move other fingers, it’ll type some other letter, or maybe a symbol. Try that for a sec: Put your hand down on a table with all your fingers touching the surface and only lift and tap your index and ring fingers. Not easy, right?

Photograph: Tap Systems, Inc.

OK, now tap with the thumb for a. That’s an easy one. Then the middle and ring fingers down together for a t. Then again for another t. And then … well. Let’s just stop at Matt.

Typing was made harder by the amount of backspacing I had to do, because the device didn’t always register the right letters. It’s hard (at least for me) to type some of them while making sure other fingers stayed absolutely still. But other times I’d tap the right letter and the Strap would just type something else. I’d try to type an o and it’d type an s. Then another s. Then I’d accidentally toggle the number pad and fill up my screen with 9s.

Hard to Handle

The Strap consists of U-shaped rubber finger bands all connected on the top and bottom by a single piece of flat fabric string, like a shoelace, which you pull to cinch the wearable down on your fingers.

There’s a bit too much friction with the string to do all of this quickly, but eventually I worked out a somewhat clumsy rhythm to get them on faster. It still never really became a quick or easy process. And once I’m successful, I can’t do much else with my hand with the Tap Strap on except pick up a soda can.

Every time I got up to go to the bathroom, I’d have to take the Tap Strap off so I could wash my hands. In a normal day, there are a lot of interruptions we don’t notice because our mice, keyboards, and trackpads aren’t attached to our hands. It’s nothing to accept a UPS package at the door and then flick open a utility knife to cut open the tape—unless you’re wearing a Tap Strap. Or to go brew yourself another cup of coffee—unless you’re wearing a Tap Strap.

How Does a Virus Spread in Cities? It’s a Problem of Scale


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The people who design and build cities have a saying, or they used to: The mistakes of the planners are inherited by the health department. When basic city functions fail, people get sick.

So it makes sense, in a syllogistic sort of way, that the converse might also seem true: If people get sick in a city, the planners must somehow be at fault. When 193,000 people test positive for Covid-19 and nearly 16,000 die in New York City, the densest major urban concentration in the United States, maybe the closely woven fabric of the city itself is to blame. Both Governor Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill De Blasio said it straight-out: New York’s density makes it especially vulnerable to a respiratory disease pandemic—all those people crowding into subways, skyscrapers, studio apartments, Brooklyn coffee shops, and presumably Greenwich Village hep-cat jazz boîtes, asymptomatically exhaling the virus on each other and causing a catastrophe that could play out again in city after city without some posthaste suburbanization. “There are mechanistic reasons we would expect there to be more transmission in places where the population density was higher,” says Linsey Marr, a Virginia Tech researcher who studies airborne virus transmission. “I think there are more opportunities for transmission.”

It’s more complicated than that, of course. New York City has suffered from Covid-19 in ways disproportionate to its population, yes, but not because of density. At least, not the way most people understand the word.

One way to talk about density is through the number of people in a geographic space—population density, or people per square kilometer. New York City, with a density of about 10,000 people per square kilometer, reports 234 cases per 10,000 residents as of May 13. That’s a lot. Los Angeles, at about 3,300 people per square kilometer—reports 40.2 cases per 10,000 residents, and only 1,834 deaths, just about a tenth of New York’s.

Yet most cities defy the easy pattern. In China, the source of the Covid-19 outbreak, cities like Wenzhou and Xinyang, with lower population density than the locus in Wuhan, had more infections than high-density cities. Hong Kong, with an average density of 6,300 people per square kilometer, has 1.4 cases per 10,000. So it’s twice as densely populated as LA, but with a fraction of the caseload. And on the flip side, New Orleans, with a population density of 431 people per square kilometer, reports 1,718 cases per 10,000.

Or here’s another way to look at it: According to data assembled by the Financial Times, New York City has experienced a 408 percent increase in deaths from all causes since the beginning of the pandemic. But another global hot spot, Italy’s Bergamo province—with a population density that’s only a fifth of New York’s—has seen deaths increase just shy of 500 percent. That’s two places on opposite ends of the population-density continuum with similarly enormous increases in their death tolls.