The Download: Opting out of the crypto hype, and the gig workers resisting oppressive algorithms

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.

It’s okay to opt out of the crypto revolution. 

Crypto advertising is everywhere. Billboards surround the Bay Area and line LA highways, and you can’t catch a train in NYC without running into an ad for a coin or exchange. A-listers like Gwyneth Paltrow are pushing crypto platforms, and this year’s Super Bowl broadcast was studded with big-budget crypto spots, each trumpeting the opportunity to strike it rich.

But despite their ubiquity and lavish expense, these ads routinely omit any description of what crypto is, or what any of the crypto companies that have paid to plaster our landscape are actually selling. There’s a good reason for that. While the industry has been good to lucky speculators with the disposable cash to risk and the time to figure out how to do so, it has little to offer the average person today. 

Crypto enthusiasts claim that the industry will revolutionize financial systems by decentralizing commerce, grabbing the reins from the banks that have betrayed us in the past and the Big Tech gatekeepers. But so far, the crypto industry has not made good on that democratizing promise. Read the full story.

—Rebecca Ackermann

The gig workers fighting back against the algorithms

In the Bendungan Hilir neighborhood, just a stone’s throw from Jakarta’s glitzy central business district, motorcycle drivers gather in an informal “base camp.” They are drivers with Gojek, Indonesia’s largest ride-hailing firm. They’re also part of the backbone of a growing movement of resistance against the dispatch algorithms that dominate their lives.

Base camps grew out of a tradition that existed before algorithmic ride-hailing services came to Indonesia. They’re the network through which drivers around the city stay in tight communication. This sense of community is now at the heart of what distinguishes Jakarta’s drivers from other gig workers around the world, and could reveal a new playbook for resistance: a way for workers to build collective power, achieve a measure of security, and take care of one another when seemingly no one else will. Read the full story.

—Karen Hao and Nadine Freischlad

This is the third part of our series investigating AI colonialism, shining a light on how the technology is impoverishing the communities and countries that don’t have a say in its development. The final part is coming tomorrow, but you can read part one here, part two here, and Karen Hao’s introductory essay here.

Quote of the day

“People are my air.”

— Robin Solod, a woman who lives alone on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, speaks for many of us when she tells the New York Times how much she’s come to appreciate the need to socialize.

The must-reads

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

1 China is claiming that only 17 people have died from covid in Shanghai
Which raises questions about how it defines a covid death. (NYT $)
The city is forcing vulnerable and elderly residents into makeshift quarantine camps. (CNN)
Unsurprisingly, the strict lockdown has sparked a major mental health crisis. (The Guardian)
China is resorting to censoring its own national anthem. (Newsweek
A Spanish woman contracted covid twice in just 20 days. (BBC)
Working out when to receive your next booster is tricky. (WP $)
It’s totally fine if you still feel cautious about catching covid as restrictions lift. (Slate $)

2 Online disinformation is wreaking havoc in Sri Lanka
And, naturally, Facebook is playing a central role. (Rest of World)
+ Barack Obama is worried about disinformation. (NYT $)
Russia’s “fake news” law is being used to persecute investigative journalists. (The Guardian)

3 A social media campaign brought a murder suspect to trial
After the police stepped back, a community of amateur sleuths came to the rescue. (The Cut $)

4 Meet the pandemic’s PPE scammers 
Lots of people saw a crisis. Others saw an opportunity to make a lot of money. (The Verge)

5 Who are digital pills containing trackers that alert doctors if they’re not taken really for?
They’re unlikely to help the people who may need medication the most. (Slate $)

6 Gen Z is embracing “authentic” social platform BeReal
It’s got no ads, no visible follower count, and, crucially, no filters. (WSJ $)
+ Instagram really wants you to stop reposting TikToks to Reels. (The Verge)

7 Solar power is still a rich man’s game ☀
And that’s a massive barrier for wider adoption. (Wired $)
Climate change is ravaging lives across the globe. (WP $)
An Ecuadorian flower was named after its own extinction, before being rediscovered. (WP $) 

8 How a stealth camera reveals hidden creatures in the sea’s depths 🦑
We’re still discovering freaky new underwater species. (Vox)

9 Firms are so desperate for chips, they’re tearing apart washing machines
The semiconductor shortage is biting, and companies are panicking. (Bloomberg $)

10 Gut Health is taking over TikTok
But it’s quick fixes and not long-term healthy lifestyle changes that tend to go viral. (NYT $)
A study says time-restricted eating doesn’t work as a weight loss strategy. (NYT $)
Popular TikTok recipes sound delicious and disgusting in equal measure. (The Guardian)
Deep dive analysis of all sorts of topics is taking over TikTok. (Vox)

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.)

+ A timeless joke for a timeless song.
+ Did you know soccer managers used to have to send VHS tapes to the South Pacific in order to have their matches analyzed? Fascinating stuff.
+ Why are dolls so pervasive in popular culture right now? 
+ Enjoy this mesmerizing clip of a Feather Star marine creature bobbing along.
+ Turns out a Clueless-style closet isn’t all it’s cracked up to be—it sounds exhausting.
+ These old-skool special film effects are enchanting.
+ If you’ve ever needed to know why Oreo cream only ever sticks to one wafer, here’s your answer.

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