The Download: China’s influencer crackdown, and covid’s origins

The Download: China’s influencer crackdown, and covid’s origins

No one could have predicted how quickly three of China’s most influential influencers would disappear. On June 3, Austin Li, a 30-year-old live-streamer with over 60 million followers, abruptly cut off a live stream after a tank-shaped ice cream dessert appeared on the screen. Although he later claimed it was due to technical difficulties, most people understand it to have triggered government censors who saw it as a reference the Tiananmen Square massacre.

Li hasn’t been known to be arrested. His account is still active but he hasn’t streamed or posted any social media content since. Fans believe he may not have permission to stream again.

Live-streaming e-commerce in China is a massive industry worth over $180 billion. Influencers such as Li have become so popular that they can facilitate billions of dollars in online purchases within a single night.

But in Li’s and at least two other cases, these online empires were toppled overnight in what appears to be a government crackdown extending back to late 2021–suggesting a reckoning is well underway. Read more .

–Zeyi Yang

The must-reads

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

1 We’re still being kept in the dark about the origins of covid
We need more data from China, a new WHO report says. (NYT $)
It also wants to investigate the theory it was leaked from a lab further. (WP $)
Meet the scientist at the center of the lab leak controversy. (MIT Technology Review)

2 Quantum computers could create an entirely new forms of matter
The likes of which have never been seen before in nature. (New Scientist $)
Data is at risk of being broken by computers that don’t even exist yet. (Spectrum IEEE)
The US is already concerned about the threat they pose to encryption. (MIT Technology Review)

3 How eBay sellers are evading its ban on assault weapons
Some listings are blatant about what they’re selling, while others are more subtle. (LA Times)
While you’re theoretically not allowed to sell guns on Facebook, you have to break that rule 10 times for it to be enforced. (WP $)

4 Is community governance the answer to social media’s problems?
Relying on the cooperation of strangers is risky, but so is allowing one man unfettered power over a platform. (The Atlantic $)
Eight legal complaints were filed against Facebook this week. (Protocol)
Big Tech spent $36 million on adverts opposing a US antitrust bill. (WSJ $)

5 NASA is joining to hunt for UFOs
It wants to collect data on phenomena we don’t understand. (WP $)
Astronomers are rethinking how the planets came to be. (Quanta)
A key substance for life has been found in asteroid samples. (CNET)
Japan’s space agency is experimenting with a four-legged lunar robot. (CNN)

6 East Asians’ eyesight is getting worse
More sunlight exposure might help future generations, though. (Economist $)

7 Stimulating your muscles with electricity is the hottest new fitness trend
But there’s no evidence it’s more effective than good old fashioned exercise. (Neo.Life)

8 Silicone breast implants are still making women sick
Despite their issues being known for decades. (Slate)

9 The internet was supposed to make life easier
Now we’re reliant on middlemen our grandparents never needed. (The Atlantic $)

10 The moral implications of whether animals dream
And why we may, one day, know what they’re dreaming about. (Motherboard)

Quote of the day

“It’s all come back to bite us.”

–Tran Tuan, a GrabCar ride-hailing driver in Ho Chi Minh City, is frustrated by the company’s decision to raise its prices amid a spike in fuel prices, after years of rapid growth, he tells Rest of World.

The big story

AI will tell you how beautiful you are

March 2021

Qoves started as a studio that would airbrush images for modeling agencies. It is now a “facial aesthetics consulting” that promises to answer the age-old question of what makes an attractive face. The “facial assessment instrument” is its most striking feature. This AI-driven system promises to tell you how beautiful and/or ugly you are, spitting out numerical ratings similar to credit ratings.

If that isn’t enough, many of these algorithms are filled with inaccuracies and ageism. It is also impossible to know how they work, how much they are being used, and how they affect users. Read the full story.

Read More