Big Hacks

Tiny chips from China found in devices used by nearly 30 U.S. companies; a record 800,000 people registered to vote on National Voter Registration Day; and more.


  • This is civic tech: More than 800,000 people registered to vote last week on National Voter Registration Day, a record that surpassed the 2016 total of 771,000 and far more than organizers expected, Katie Reilly reports for Time magazine. Of those, 486,966 came in thru Democracy.works’ Turbovote platform, which worked with dozens of major tech partners. This is one more sign that turnout in the 2018 election may reach the levels typically seen in presidential years.

  • Related: Say hello to Ayirini Fonseca-Sabune, New York City’s first chief democracy officer.

  • Zack Quaintance of GovTech reports on how New York City is using its LinkNYC kiosks to tell the story of how civic hackers are using the city’s open data to improve life in the city.

  • The AP’s Rob Gilles reports on the ongoing controversy dogging Sidewalk Labs’ Toronto project.

  • Goodbye Sesame Street and hello Chu-Chu TV! If you are a parent of young kids, you probably know about this phenomenon already. 1.5 billion views! For context, Alexis Madrigal of the Atlantic explains the fascinating world of YouTube-powered children’s video makers.

  • Tech and politics: Google’s former head of public relations, Jessica Powell, has written a satirical novel called The Big Disruption, and judging from this letter from her on Medium (which has published the novel) and interview with Kara Swisher of Recode, it’s one of those cases where only fiction can really get at the truth. (And yes, we learn that Brian Chesky of Airbnb once really did try to claim during a keynote talk that his company would cause the world to have less wars.)

  • The ACLU’s Neema Singh Guliani writes in the Washington Post that big tech companies sudden interest in consumer privacy legislation is “in fact, an effort to enlist the Trump administration and Congress in companies’ efforts to weaken state-level consumer privacy protections.”

  • Related: Columbia professor Tim Wu writes in the New York Times that the Justice Department’s announcement that it will sue California for imposing strong net neutrality rules is “but one of a series of similar invasions of states’ rights undertaken in the name of corporate sovereignty, which, in the age of a new nationalism, has been elevated above state law.”

  • Technosociologist Zeynep Tufekci opines in the New York Times that while Russian meddling in the other countries’ elections is a real concern, we should be paying more attention to the core of Silicon Valley’s business model of profiting from micro-targeting and elevating polarizing content because it drives user engagement.

  • Life in Facebookistan: Singapore is poised to pass a new law that would force tech platforms to stop the spread of fake news within hours of its being posted, a crackdown that Craig Silverman of Buzzfeed says would be the “most far-reaching” effort by any government in the world to regulate misinformation online.

  • You can now look up “group history” on Facebook, and The New York Times’ Kevin Roose has already turned up some doozies, like the “We Support Brett Kavanaugh (SCOTUS)” group that used to be “Isis Support Group” and “Who Farted !!!”

  • Cyberwar, continued: The UK has formally accused Russia of four major cyber-attacks, Matt Burgess reports for Wired UK, “an attack between July and August 2015 where the emails of a small UK TV station were stolen; the hack against the Democratic National Committee (DNC) in 2016; leaking of athlete data from the World Anti-Doping Agency, and the BadRabbit ransomware that spread in October 2017.” While observers have long assumed the connection, the attribution is significant, he writes.

  • Tiny chips inserted during the computer manufacturing process in China by a unit of the People’s Liberation Army have been found in devices used by nearly 30 companies in the United States, including a major bank, government contractors, Amazon and Apple, Jordan Robertson and Michael Riley report in a major story for Bloomberg BusinessWeek called “The Big Hack.” “China’s goal was long-term access to high-value corporate secrets and sensitive government networks,” they write. “No consumer data is known to have been stolen.”

  • If you didn’t get the emergency presidential alert text that was sent out to millions of Americans yesterday, not to worry, explains Emily Dreyfuss for Wired. After all, it was a test of the system.

  • End times: A timely reminder why politicians should never appear in front of monochrome backgrounds.

  • Program note: Next week I’ll be in Bucharest for the Code for All Global Summit, so First Post will be on hiatus. See you the following week.