The Download: LinkedIn scammers, and annual covid shots

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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.

The 1,000 Chinese SpaceX engineers who never existed

If you were just looking at his LinkedIn page, you’d certainly think Mai Linzheng was a top-notch engineer. With a bachelor’s degree from Tsinghua, China’s top university, and a master’s degree in semiconductor manufacturing from UCLA, Mai began his career at Intel and KBR, a space tech company, before ending up at SpaceX in 2013. Except all is not as it seems.

The profile of “Mai Linzheng” is actually one of the millions of fraudulent pages set up on LinkedIn to lure users into scams. Scammers like Mai claim affiliation with prestigious schools and companies to boost their credibility before connecting with other users, building a relationship, and laying a financial trap.

Victims have now lost millions of dollars through scams that originated on the platform, and the problem is only growing. Read the full story.

—Zeyi Yang

Podcast: How retail is using AI to prevent fraud

We’ve all experienced the frustration of a blocked credit card, triggered by a transaction deemed suspicious that was, in fact, perfectly ordinary. It’s the most visible way that the complex web of systems designed to root out fraud fails, but far from the only one.

In the latest episode of our podcast, In Machines We Trust, we explain how it’s a technological arms race between companies and scammers, with us caught in the middle. And AI is playing an increasingly important role in the fight. Listen to it on Apple Podcasts, or wherever else you usually listen.

The must-reads

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

1 The US is planning an annual covid vaccine
Like the annual flu shot, a covid booster should offer a high degree of protection for a full year, according to the White House. (WP $)

2 The Merge is crypto’s greatest test to date
If it’s successful, it could solve many of the industry’s problems. (Economist $)
+ The Ethereum upgrade will greatly improve its security. (Protocol)

3 Doomscrolling is bad for your health 
Partially avoiding the news made the study participants feel less distracted. (The Guardian)
+ How to mend your broken pandemic brain. (MIT Technology Review)

4 Apple’s relationship with China is long and complicated
The company’s plans to shift some iPhone production to India may not go as smoothly as hoped. (NYT $)
+ Apple is planning to appeal Brazil’s decision to ban iPhones sold without chargers. (Bloomberg $)

5 Twitter and Elon Musk’s lawyers met at a pre-trial hearing
Whistleblower Peiter Zatko’s claims loomed large over the meeting. (WSJ $)
+ Musk cited the war in Ukraine as a reason to delay the takeover. (FT $)
+ Twitter’s new edit button will be able to change tweets up to five times. (TechCrunch)

6 No, the shift to clean energy isn’t raising the risk of grid failures
It’s a common argument that’s fundamentally flawed. (Vox)
+ India’s answer to Silicon Valley is largely underwater thanks to intense flooding. (FT $)
+ These plastic batteries could help store renewable energy on the grid. (MIT Technology Review)

7 Mobile gambling is birthing a new generation of addicts
Heightened by the constant accessibility of the devices. (Motherboard)

8 How Minecraft turned its back on the blockchain
Causing its players to lose thousands of dollars’ worth of crypto in the process. (Rest of World)

9 How the internet solved a six-year mystery
Starring a mysterious pointy-eared man. (New Yorker $)

10 TikTok’s teachers tread a fine line
Between shining a light on their profession and respecting student privacy. (Wired $)

Quote of the day

“One of the claims is, ‘This is digital blackface.’”

—James O. Young, a professor of philosophy at the University of Victoria, explains the backlash surrounding virtual rapper FN Meka, which critics claim perpetuated Black stereotypes, to the New York Times.

The big story

Technology exposed Syrian war crimes over and over. Was it for nothing?

October 2019

Syria was one of the first major conflicts of the social media era, with many Syrians had cell phones with cameras and access to high-speed internet.

The material collected by Syrians allowed people far away from the actual fighting to take part in the investigative efforts too. In 2012 Eliot Higgins, then an unemployed British blogger, began sifting through videos and photos posted from Syria, trying to identify the weapons being used; later he started a website, Bellingcat, and assembled a team of volunteer analysts.

Spurred on by the optimism that social media and digital connectivity could be a force for good, and the encouragement of Western politicians, such efforts made the Syrian conflict the most thoroughly documented in human history. Someone just needed to act on the detailed information collected from the ground. Read the full story.

—Eric Reidy

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.)

+ There’s a whole website dedicated to bread tags, because of course there is.
+ São Paulo’s barbers sure are a creative bunch.
+ Balloon jousting will only end in tears.
+ The only good tattoo is a bad tattoo, apparently.
+ For the science-minded among you, here’s an intriguing reading list for fall.

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