TechnologyThe Download

The Download: weight loss drugs, and a new abortion fight frontier

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.

Weight-loss injections have taken over the internet. But what does this mean for people IRL?

Over the course of the last year, so-called “miracle” weight-loss drugs have blown up across the internet. Although celebrity users have boosted their standing, they owe much of their fame to social media and discussion boards, where they are promoted by influencers and everyday people alike.

Yet not everyone who wants them goes to a doctor. Throughout 2022, rising demand for weight-loss injections caused global shortages. As a result, some people began seeking these drugs illegally, crossing borders or buying them under the counter without a prescription. 

Do the hype and the hashtags tell the full story? What are the physical, social, and psychological side effects of a miracle? And can all the publicity lead people to do things they definitely shouldn’t? Read the full story.

—Amelia Tait

Texas is trying out new tactics to restrict access to abortion pills online

There’s been a quiet shift in the abortion fight in the US. Since the reversal of Roe v. Wade last June, laws that make most abortions illegal have passed in 13 states. Efforts to restrict abortion care have, so far, focused mostly on criminalizing medical providers. But increasingly, the battleground is moving online.

Texas is currently in the process of trying to limit access to abortion pills by cracking down on internet service providers and credit card processing companies. Earlier this month, Republicans in the state legislature introduced two bills to that effect. 

These tactics reflect the reality that, post-Roe, the internet is a critical channel for people seeking information about abortion or trying to buy pills to terminate a pregnancy—especially in states where they can no longer access these things in physical pharmacies or medical centers. Read the full story.

—Tate Ryan-Mosley

Tate’s story is from The Technocrat, her weekly newsletter giving you the inside track on all things tech policy. Sign up to receive it in your inbox every Friday.

The must-reads

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

1 Tesla’s engineers are burning out
Full-self driving capabilities look as far away as ever, and Elon Musk is distracted with his new toy. (WP $)
+ Is Tesla’s dream of building EVs without rare earths actually feasible? (Bloomberg $)

+ This super-realistic virtual world is a driving school for AI. (MIT Technology Review)

2 The war over abortion pills in the US is escalating
Wyoming has outlawed mifepristone, and other states want to follow. (Vox)
+ Where to get abortion pills and how to use them. (MIT Technology Review)

3 This new app aims to stop AI from scraping artists’ work
It uses a “cloaking” technique to interfere with models’ ability to read artworks. (TechCrunch)+ Why GPT-4 has such a shocking memory. (The Atlantic $)

+ Artists can now opt out of the next version of Stable Diffusion. (MIT Technology Review)

4 Digital detectives are digging into the Nord Stream attack
Six months on, we’re still not certain who ruptured the pipeline—or why. (Wired $)

5 What the tech industry’s failure means for the rest of us
The sector’s suffering ripples out to other jobs, too. (WSJ $)

6 China is investigating another former chip leader 
Zhao Weiguo is the latest high-profile industry figure caught up in a huge inquiry. (Bloomberg $)
+ Corruption is sending shock waves through China’s chipmaking industry. (MIT Technology Review)

7 TikTok creators are philosophical about a potential ban
Platforms come, and platforms go. (WSJ $)

8 EVs are finally becoming more affordable
You can thank the falling price of lithium. (NYT $)
+ Mercedes is poised to sink billions into new EV plants. (Reuters)
+ Meet the new batteries unlocking cheaper electric vehicles. (MIT Technology Review)

9 Can you really be friends with an AI?
For some people, chatting with bots brings them great comfort. (The Guardian)
+ Other chatbot users prefer to pursue romance over friendship. (Reuters)
+ A word of caution against asking an AI to make all your decisions. (Vice)

10 Make some time for the internet’s watch influencers
Tick-tockers are turning the traditional industry on its head. (FT $)

Quote of the day

“They’re just wearing a different outfit to the same party.”

—Todd Irwin, chief strategy officer at branding agency Fazer, explains how crypto companies are dropping the term from their marketing materials in a bid to escape the industry’s negative connotations to the New York Times.

The big story

Inside China’s unexpected quest to protect data privacy

August 2020

In the West, it’s widely believed that neither the Chinese government nor Chinese people care about privacy. In reality, this picture of Chinese attitudes to privacy is out of date. 

Over the last few years the Chinese government, seeking to strengthen consumers’ trust and participation in the digital economy, has begun to implement privacy protections that in many respects resemble those in America and Europe today.

Even as the government has strengthened consumer privacy, however, it has ramped up state surveillance. This paradox has become a defining feature of China’s emerging data privacy regime, and raises a serious question: Can a system endure with strong protections for consumer privacy, but almost none against government snooping? Read the full story.

—Karen Hao

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.)

+ Happy spring equinox! Today the whole world will have 12 hours of light, and 12 hours of darkness. 🌷🌻
+ Time travel is an art form. Here’s a few famous travelers that managed to get it right (mostly.)
+ These giant bubble installations are a real delight.
+ If you’ve never had the pleasure of watching the Spice Girls’ movie Spice World, this is your sign to stream it immediately.
+ What do dogs do when we’re not around? Quite a bit, actually.

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