DataDownload: Afghans scramble to delete life online

DataDownload: Afghans scramble to delete life online A weekly summary of all things Media, Data, Emerging Tech View this email in your browser

Imagine if everything you posted online was being used to review your politics, your allegiances, and your beliefs. And, the people who were reviewing it — might well want to hunt you down and kill you. The Wired UK post we’ve linked to is important for all of us no matter where in the world you are.


Meanwhile, back in our tech-centered world, NPR is tracking diversity in real time. That’s good. Talking bananas — also good. Ransomware as told by John Oliver, bad — but in a funny sort of way.

So please read — comment — respond. Or, if you can shut off your brain — here’s a good beach read. Ok, maybe not a conventional beach read, but an important read nonetheless.


Steven Rosenbaum
Executive Director
The NYC Media Lab Must-Read I Joined a Penguin NFT Club Because Apparently That’s What We Do Now

“Metaverse enthusiasts believe that our digital identities will eventually become just as meaningful as our offline selves and that we’ll spend our money accordingly. Instead of putting art on the walls of our homes, they predict, we’ll put NFTs in our virtual Zoom backgrounds. Instead of buying new clothes, we’ll splurge on premium skins for our V.R. avatars.”

Conspicuous consumption used to mean Supreme gear and Rolexes. Now it means Pudgy Penguin NFTs. According to Pudgy co-founder Clayton Patterson: “There are all these ways to tell everyone that you’re wealthy. But a lot of those things can actually be faked. And with an NFT, you can’t fake it.” Patterson — aka mrtubby — studies computer science at UCF. Along with three classmates, he used an algorithm to generate 8,888 unique Pudgy Penguins. The Pudgy Penguin trade is booming. According to NFT Stats, over $25M has been spent on the portly picadors to date, with the priciest puffin procured for $469k.

NY Times / 9 min read

Read more Afghans Are Racing to Erase Their Online Lives

Kabul’s rapid fall to the Taliban has led vulnerable Afghans to increasingly turn to Google Forms, WhatsApp, and private social media groups to organize and share information. According to Mark Latonero: “Real-time messaging platforms are being used to make snap decisions. It signals the intensity of the crisis and desperation.”

But could the tech tools Afghans are turning to save their lives end up putting them at risk? Most security experts, like Łukasz Król, “don’t believe it likely that the Taliban has the capacity to hack WhatsApp or Google Forms.” Still, many are advising that Afghans restrict their friend lists or even delete their digital histories. MIT Tech Review reporter, Eileen Guo, once based in Afghanistan, recently took steps to delete old social media accounts that “showed the faces of participants in programs promoting democracy and women’s rights or decrying violent extremism.”

WIRED UK / 8 min read Read More Tech+Media New Tool Allows NPR to Track Source Diversity in Real Time

Diversity in sourcing has long been a challenge for journalists. Dex (inspired by Rolodex) is a new tool bolted onto NPR’s content management system that encourages reporters to submit the race and ethnicity, gender identity, geographic location, and age range of sources. The hope is that Dex will help NPR to “look and sound like America.”

According to Chief Diversity Officer at NPR, Keith Woods: “Counting sources doesn’t make them more diverse. It doesn’t unto itself change anything about who’s on air. It isn’t the end game at all. But it does have an impact on the individual, and that, we assume, will cause change. And it sets us up to answer some of the important questions moving forward around what levers we need to pull to increase the presence of various demographic groups in our content.”

Poynter / 1 min read Read More You’ve Never Heard of the Biggest Digital Media Company in America

What do CNET, Lonely Planet, The Points Guy, and Healthline all have in common? They’re all owned by Red Ventures — a digital media company with virtually no name recognition, that, according to the NY Times, is maybe the biggest digital publisher in America: “A 4,500-employee juggernaut that says it has roughly $2 billion in annual revenues, a conservative valuation earlier this year of more than $11 billion, and more readers, as measured by Comscore, than any media brand you’ve ever heard of — an average of 751 million visits a month.”

From its South Carolina HQ, “a 180-acre campus with a cluster of modern buildings, a fire pit, a six-lane bowling alley, spin room, pickleball courts and 264 residences for employees who choose to live where they work,” Red Ventures has built an empire on intent-based media — “specialist sites that attract people who are already looking to spend money in a particular area (travel, tech, health) and guide them to their purchases while taking a cut.”

NY Times / 11 min read Read More What if Your Banana Could Talk?

When’s the last time you talked to a banana? Not holding it up to your ear and pretending it’s a phone — but actually listening to its story. Where did the banana came from and when? Was it sourced ethically and sustainably? According to Tiffany Tsui and Shannon Mullen O’Keefe, the future of food is one where “our everyday banana will be able to tell us the full story of its life!”

The autobiography of a banana is unlikely to top the bestseller charts. Still, thanks to blockchain technology, we may soon be able to know much more about “the human lives associated with the banana we choose to buy.” And “trust that everyone and everything has been treated with dignity along the way.”

OneZero / 8 min read

Read More What We’re Watching Ransomware: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver

John Oliver discusses ransomware attacks, why they’re on the rise, and what can be done about them.

LastWeekTonight (YouTube) / 22 min watch

Watch Now What We’re Listening To Podcast: Inside Tumblr’s Latest Meltdown

Tumblr is once again trying a new way to monetize its content, but will its users allow it? Rachel D’nae is joined by fellow former Tumblr teen Allegra Frank to discuss their own origins on the platform, Tumblr’s numerous attempts to make money, and why the users who called a strike over its new Post+ feature might not have the best understanding of the legal system.

Spotify / 32 min listen

Listen Now Virtual Events Free Event: Early Bird Tix for “Summit 2021: Future Imperfect”
Date: October 6–7
Our two-day online conference will once again bring together 1,000+ virtual attendees from NYC Media Lab’s core community — including executives, university faculty, students, investors, and entrepreneurs — to explore the future of media and tech in New York City and beyond. Register Here.

Free Event: Forbes Sports & Business Summit
Date: August 25, 1PM-3:15PM EDT
Join Forbes as they dive into the future of the sports business and discuss how brands plan to adapt to a post-pandemic world, what emerging technologies mean for the sports sector, how teams and athletes need to think about diversity, equity and inclusion moving forward and much more. Register Here. A Deeper Look Deleting Unethical Data Sets Isn’t Good Enough

Scraping the internet for images and text was once considered a legitimate way to build real-world datasets. Microsoft’s MS-Celeb-1M dataset contained 10M images of 100k “celebrities’” faces, gathered without consent. After facing criticism, Microsoft removed MS-Celeb-1M from its websites, but — along with other problematic facial recognition datasets — it remains freely available online.

According to Kenny Peng, author of a recently released study on the subject, deleted datasets linger on a list of websites “more expansive than we would’ve initially thought.” Building ethical datasets is no easy task. According to Margaret Mitchell, recently fired former AI ethics founder at Google: “Data set collection and monitoring isn’t a one-off task for one or two people. If you’re doing this responsibly, it breaks down into a ton of different tasks that require deep thinking, deep expertise, and a variety of different people.”

MIT Technology Review / 6 min read

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