The Download: Big Tech’s post-Roe silence, and the US EV charging landscape

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.

Big Tech remains silent on questions about data privacy in a post-Roe world

In the days after the US Supreme Court overturned the constitutional right to abortion, tech companies rushed to show their support for employees living in states where the procedure is now outlawed. Meta promised to pay expenses for staffers who need to travel out of their home state for an abortion. Alphabet, Google’s parent company, told employees they could apply to relocate from states banning abortion.

These companies have not given that same kind of support to their users, amid growing concerns that a digital footprint—including websites visited, location data from a phone, or private messages on a social platform—could be used to build a criminal case against someone seeking an abortion.

MIT Technology Review asked five major tech companies—Alphabet, Meta, Reddit, TikTok, and Twitter—how their policies banning content promoting illegal activity will apply to posts advocating for abortion access or aiding those who now need to travel out of state for the procedure. Their responses, when provided, were inconsistent. Read the full story.

—Abby Ohlheiser and Hana Kiros

The U.S. only has 60,000 charging stations for EVs. Here’s where they all are.

The United States has around 150,000 fuel stations to refill its fleet of fossil-fuel-burning vehicles. Despite the rapid growth of electric vehicles in America—400,000 of them were sold in 2021, up from barely 10,000 in 2012—the country has only 6,000 DC fast electric charging stations, the kind that can rapidly juice up a battery-powered car.

A glance at America’s charging map reveals an abundance of charging deserts, particularly outside big cities. This makes sense, as EVs still represent less than 3% of new car sales. But while it’s illustrative of how American charging infrastructure lags far behind what’s needed for the whole country to transition to electric driving, there’s still time to catch up. Read the full story.

—Andrew Moseman

How green steel made with electricity could clean up a dirty industry

The news: Startup Boston Metal has recently installed a new reactor at its headquarters, a significant step in its bid to make emissions-free steel. Since its founding in 2013, the company has developed a process to make green steel. The new reactor, along with a coming fundraising round, represents the next leap for the company as it tries to scale up.

Why it’s important: Industrial steelmaking spits out about two tons of carbon dioxide emissions for every ton of steel produced—adding up to nearly 10% of such emissions worldwide. The global steel market is expected to grow about 30% by 2050, the date by which some of the largest steelmakers have pledged to reach net-zero emissions. Unless major changes come to the industry, and fast, that goal might be out of reach. 

What’s next?: Fossil fuels are essential to today’s steel production. If Boston Metal can indeed scale its clean production process and access enough renewable electricity to run it, the company could help solve one of the world’s toughest challenges in controlling carbon emissions. Read the full story.

—Casey Crownhart

The must-reads

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

1 Facebook is taking down posts offering to mail abortion pills
While the platform claims the posts violated its community standards, other posts about mailing painkillers were allowed to remain up. (Motherboard)
+ What overturning Roe v Wade means. (MIT Technology Review)
+ Ending abortion is particularly dangerous for black women. (The Guardian)
+ The App Store’s most popular period tracker voluntarily hands over user data. (Motherboard)
+ A Louisiana judge has temporarily blocked the state from banning abortion. (BBC2 CRISPR is 10 years old today
The gene-editing technology changed the face of modern science. (NYT $)
+ The scientist who co-created CRISPR isn’t ruling out engineered babies someday. (MIT Technology Review)
+ CRISPR is even being taught in some high school classrooms. (NYT $)

3 Big Tech’s antitrust battle is turning dirty
The industry doesn’t want the legislation to make it to the Senate. Opponents are fighting back. (WP $)
+ A Danish search engine has filed a new antitrust complaint against Google. (Reuters)

4 The importance of naming new species
A small British Columbia island community wants to protect its environment. Naming is part of it. (Hakai Magazine)

5 NASA’s tiny spacecraft is testing a new elongated moon orbit
CubeSat, which is the size of a microwave oven, is a guinea pig for future spacecraft. (The Verge)
+ Don’t forget about all the other moons in our solar system. (Gizmodo)
+ This is what NASA wants to do when it gets to the moon. (MIT Technology Review)

6 A biotech entrepreneur has been charged with arranging a murder
After dazzling medical investors with his “innovative” theories for treating HIV and covid. (WSJ $)

7 Bacteria-inspired microbots don’t need AI right now
Much simpler technology, like sensing temperature changes in a patient’s bloodstream, is enough to make them medically useful. (Knowable Magazine)

8 What marine life can teach us about being human 🐙
Sea creatures are pretty strange beings, too. (The Atlantic $)

9 Does logging movies take the fun out of watching them?
While some people find joy in documenting their cultural consumption, others claim it’s reductive. (The Guardian)

10 A Nepali teacher is fixing the internet’s patchy depiction of his country 
By launching his own YouTube channel detailing his travels. (Rest of World)

Quote of the day

“Let’s face it, they got a bit rancid and people got sick.”

—Artist Adrian Boswell explains to the Wall Street Journal why he stopped nailing real heads of broccoli to walls in London’s east end in favor of making NFTs of the vegetable.

The big story

Logging in to get kicked out: Inside America’s virtual eviction crisis

December 2020

Before the pandemic, an average of 3.6 million Americans lost their homes to evictions every year, according to Princeton University’s Eviction Lab. That number is estimated to have vastly increased, with the financial hardship exacerbated by covid-19 leaving many in a precarious situation.

Eviction hearings that used to be handled only in physical courtrooms are now taking place over video, or simply by phone conference. The result, say lawyers and tenants’ rights activists, is that an already problematic situation has become dramatically, tragically worse. Read the full story.

—Eileen Guo

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.)

+ Graffiti prophet Tsang Tsou-choi was the scourge of Hong Kong’s authorities for decades. Here’s his fascinating story.
+ I could watch this adorable sushi conveyor belt all day.
+ I think we can agree that these sci-fi apocalypse bunkers are all somewhat lacking.
+ Maybe it’s high time we all got into birding.
+ A city in Japan is campaigning to protect the beautiful forest that inspired the seminal anime My Neighbor Totoro.

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