some links for you

i read all of it so you dont have to - 2/28/2020

Some people like to talk about Bitcoin as a safe haven asset, which I guess would mean that people will flock to it to protect their wealth in times of economic turmoil. It just so happens that the entire stock market exploded amid the threat of a global pandemic. Great for Bitcoin, right? Well… that didn’t exactly play out. 

Not the best look for Bitcoin, but not really something I am worried about. Why? There was a bit of reporting from Al Jazeera on Bitcoin use in Lebanon that captures what I picture when I think of Bitcoin as an option in times of turmoil: 

But as Lebanon has spiraled into its worst economic crisis in decades, banks have imposed informal capital controls that force people to withdraw their savings in Lebanese pounds at the official exchange rate that effectively values their savings at 40 percent less than what its worth on the parallel market.

"Nothing can prepare you for the shock of this," Maher told Al Jazeera.

But Maher, who asked his surname be withheld to protect his privacy, is not standing by helplessly. He is trying to move what is left of his savings out of Lebanon via a financial instrument many in the country have not embraced - until recently.


"Suddenly everything turns upside down and all the options are open," said Maher.

I don’t think anyone thinks Bitcoin would be useful in a Mad Max apocalypse scenario. Mainly because you need the internet to use it, but also because you can’t eat it.

But what’s unfolding in Lebanon is different. In situations where creeping mismanagement of an economy suddenly culminates in the snatching of rugs out from under savers, and there’s rush to get money out of banks and local currencies, Bitcoin seems like a useful tool. 

The New York Times discovered that the NSA spent over $100 million spying on Americans between 2015 and 2019. But that’s not the shocking part. All that expense and violation of privacy ultimately yielded only TWO leads in that time. Sadly the article focuses more on the apparent waste of resources more than the significant mismatch between cost and benefit of this privacy violation. Hopefully more people will start thinking about that too. 

Here’s a shocking story about lengths that the Chinese government is going to in its efforts to track down and silence voices that are critical of its handling of the coronavirus crisis. As Vice reports

Left, who asked not to be identified by his full Chinese name, said he first received a warning message from WeChat administrators. Then he began receiving strangely specific messages that appeared to come from four of his friends on WeChat, all asking him for his location, what hotel he was staying at in San Francisco, what his room number was, and what his U.S. phone number was.

Then his cell phone received a warning message that someone in Shanghai was trying to log into his account.

Finally, when he wouldn’t tell them where he was staying, the same accounts all simultaneously began urging him to return to China as soon as possible.

Left told VICE News the he believes his friends only sent the messages after they were coerced by agents from the Ministry of State Security in an attempt to get him to reveal his location, and part of a much wider effort by the Chinese government to crack down on any dissenting voices who are sharing content related to the coronavirus outbreak.

At this point it seems like a caricature of what a surveillance state might look like. 

Did you know that there is an app that lets Saudi men easily restrict the movements of women in their family? Apple and Google have refused to ban the app, which was created by the Saudi government and is framed as an easy tool to help people navigate local laws (some of which happen to be abhorrent). 

Now two women who had to flee the country are trying to raise awareness of this. As Coda reports

As they wait for answers from embassies and United Nations agencies on what their future holds, the sisters have a message for the Silicon Valley giants Google and Apple which just weeks ago refused to take down the Saudi-government app Absher that helped their father to restrict their travel rights:

“This is a stupid and aggressive application against women,” said Maha. “Either they remove this application or they change the permissions of its users,” continued her younger sister.

Launched in 2015, Absher was designed to help Saudis navigate local bureaucracy, but it also allows Saudi men in the ultra-conservative Islamic kingdom to grant or deny travel permissions for women in their family with a click.

Yet another reminder that being compliant with local laws is not always the moral position. 

It turns out the “free” payments service Venmo is sharing your personal data with a bunch of other companies whenever you use it. Who would have thought? 

I discovered this week that when I opened PayPal-owned Venmo to pay my personal trainer and made sure to click "private," yet the app recorded my GPS location (home address) and the trainer's name, and sent it off to Braze, a third-party data collection firm. 

Think about that for a minute. You use the app to pay your bill, and, in return, some company you've never heard of now has your address and associations. How icky is that? 

Feel free to send that to anyone who tells you Venmo works perfectly fine for person to person payments.