When the Supreme Court decided to overturn Roe v Wade, it was a common refrain that stripping abortion protections would send the US back to the 1970s.
That’s not quite right. It’s actually in a worse position than that. Back in the 1970s, people who were getting abortions — because abortions happen regardless of their legality — didn’t have a little personal surveillance device in their pocket that shared information about their identity, location and private questions with anyone who stumps up to buy that information. Thanks to advances in technology, we do, thereby making it much easier for states to gather evidence about obtaining illegal abortions. Lucky us!
The first story for tech journalists after the overturning of Roe v Wade was to look at the privacy of the period-tracking apps (which are popular products that people can use to track their fertility and health). There were concerns that data collected through the apps could be seized by police trying to crack down on illegal abortions — or even more insidiously, police could buy data from brokers who had bought it from the app creators, sidestepping the need to even obtain a warrant.
Soon after, the major apps came out and said they weren’t selling data, they would only deal with police if legally required, and they were taking technical steps to ensure that they wouldn’t even be able to collect data to be seized. OK, tech crisis averted, right?
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Regular readers of this newsletter will know that, no, crises are rarely averted and this case is no different. The tentacles of surveillance built into almost everything we do means that the problem is bigger than that. In previous abortion-related legal cases, states have used unsecured communications and search history to prosecute people, so you better hope you’ve never searched anything or communicated anything about abortions either.
I’m not sure the dudes who invented Google had really planned that they were creating an omnipresent dragnet to help increasingly authoritarian countries punish people for exercising body autonomy, but hey, here we are!
Additionally, a TechCrunch investigation found that one of the most popular period-tracking apps, Stardust, was inadvertently sharing its users’ phone numbers with a third party, allowing outside groups to link a user’s account (and the information they volunteered) with their real-life identity. Yikes.
What’s the common thread to these Roe v Wade-related tech anecdotes? It’s that tech doesn’t work like it was intended. Whether it was designed for another purpose or badly designed, many of technology’s most harmful uses aren’t the obvious ones. It would behove us to keep it in mind when we consider how tech is impacting our lives.
Police, governments, businesses track protesters. Here’s how to avoid being surveilled
It’s legal to protest in Australia, but there are many reasons why you may want to avoid your attendance being recorded by a government or police force. Here’s how to make it harder to track you. (Crikey)
How global fraudsters used a local crypto exchange to fleece this SMSF
It’s curious how every story about the benefits of cryptocurrency seems to be about the hypothetical or future uses, while stories about actually using it are mostly about the scams. Just curious, that’s all. (AFR)
No one is safe from Melbourne’s brutally honest and fearless meme-makers
I liked how this captured how absolutely ruthless hyperlocal Instagram meme accounts are. (The Age)
The Internet Communities That Love Watching People Die
For as long as the internet has existed, it’s been used to watch pornography and videos of people dying. I enjoyed this piece that traced this urge back to ye olden days of Rotten.com. (Vice Australia)
Australia made a $75 million app for incoming travellers. Everyone hates it
What a surprise! Another government app that turned out to be awful. (Crikey)
I don’t know how to ease you into the topic so I’m just going to say it: mobs of unruly teens inspired by viral TikToks are attending showings of the new Despicable Me film, Minions: The Rise of Gru, dressed in suits. Naturally, they call themselves the Gentleminions.
How big is this? Tens of thousands of videos have used the TikTok sound — meaning that they’ve used the platform’s feature to use the same audio on a new video, often to replicate it in their own way. There are teens all around the world doing it; I saw some Spanish and Polish versions too. Things are getting so out of hand that UK cinemas have banned the practice.
The video that really kicked off this trend was created by an 18-year-old from Sydney, Bill Hirst. His TikTok of 15 of his friends watching the movie at Chatswood Sydney has been viewed more than 35 million times.
Hirst was kind enough to get on the blower to explain why he did it: “Everyone’s always loved a bit of Minions. They’re big on TikTok. So we thought it would be funny to chuck on some suits and go to a showing.”
When his crew rocked up at the cinemas, incredibly, there was another group dressed up as Minions. Hirst said that other attendees were a bit weirded out at first by a gaggle of young men in suits attending a showing of a sequel of a spin-off of a popular children’s movie franchise, but, by his telling, “when we started interacting with the other group [dressed as Minions], everyone got a good laugh”.
Hirst wasn’t planning on filming it initially. In fact, it’s his first video ever on the platform. With the video’s viral success, he’s now got north of 100,000 followers from the single video. Hirst tells me he’s planning on creating another video but not about the Despicable Me film (“I don’t think we want to be too repetitive, but I think suits in places you don’t see are a funny concept.”)
It’s early days, but Minions: The Rise of Gru has already been a huge box office hit. Its success is due in part to the fact that the Minion characters have had an incredible cultural staying power as anyone who browses Boomerbook — err, I mean Facebook — can attest. I wouldn’t say the film’s success is being driven by the TikTok trend, but if the movie manages to defy the normal box office drop-off that happens after the first week, I think you can attribute that in part to the power of a real-life meme.
Oh, and is the film any good? Hirst gave it a big thumbs up. “Film was great, good, short film. 90 minutes. Brought back some good memories,” he said.