The Download: Trouble for a CO2 removal startup, and a US spy spyware bid

The Download: Trouble for a CO2 removal startup, and a US spy spyware bid

Running Tide is an aquaculture company based out of Portland, Maine. It said that it expected to create tens of thousands tiny floating kelp farm in the North Atlantic between this Summer and next. The hope is that the fast growing macroalgae will eventually sink below the ocean floor, storing thousands of tons of carbon dioxide.

The company has raised millions in venture funding and gained widespread media attention, and it counts big names like the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative among its customers. Running Tide failed to grow kelp along the open ocean rope lines during its initial attempts last year. Sources with knowledge of the matter told MIT Technology Review that they have lost a number of scientists in recent months.

At least a few of the departures were caused by concerns that company executives weren’t paying enough attention to the possible ecological consequences of its plans. Running Tide was also discussing controversial practices such as adding nutrients to the ocean to encourage macroalgae growth, which some employees found disturbing. Read more .

–James Temple

The must-reads

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

1 A US defense company is considering buying Pegasus spyware
Potentially putting a spy tool so powerful it’s considered a weapon in US hands. (FT $)
NSO was about to sell hacking tools to France. It’s now in crisis. (MIT Technology Review)

2 Cars running autopilot systems have crashed hundreds of times
Raising serious questions over the safety of such systems, and our reliance on them. (WP $)
The big new idea for making self-driving cars that can go anywhere. (MIT Technology Review)
Elon Musk thinks Tesla would be worth “basically zero” without its self-driving tech. (Insider)

3 Inside crypto’s ugly culture war
Employees claim that the boss of major crypto exchange Kraken fostered a poisonous work atmosphere. (NYT $)
The future of lending platform Celsius isn’t looking bright. (Bloomberg $)
Crypto is weathering a bitter storm. Some people hold on to their lives. (MIT Technology Review)

4 Rural America’s long wait for fast internet shows no sign of abating
Despite the government sinking billions of dollars into upgrades. (WSJ $)

5 China’s radio telescope captured a mysterious signal
Which, while fascinating, is unlikely to be aliens. (The Conversation)
Here’s how factories in space could work. (Quartz)

6 Ukraine’s internet is being rerouted to Russia
Thus subjecting its traffic to the country’s censorial regime. (Wired $)
The US wants to know how its electronics ended up in Russian military gear. (WP $)

7 The internet birthed a new way of working for the middle classes
However, making big bucks is still the preserve of precious few. (New Yorker $)
Why TikTok is undoing all MTV’s hard work. (The Atlantic $)

8 How eBay shaped the modern internet
And became one of our very first platforms in the process. (The Guardian)

9 Why your baby’s name isn’t as unique as you think it is
We’re all more influenced by our cultural surroundings than we realize. (Motherboard)

10 The memefication of Catholicism is in full swing
That doesn’t mean more people are attending church, though. (Vox)

Quote of the day

“What else can I offer them? Security? Comfort? They don’t deserve it. That’s where the tragedy is.”

–Sanjiva Weerawarana, who runs a software firm in Sri Lanka, despairs over how difficult it is to retain talented IT workers, who are leaving the country amid its worst economic crisis in over 70 years, he tells Rest of World.

The big story

How the world’s biggest gun helped solve a long-standing space mystery

November 2019

On a sweltering day in August, in a windowless strip mall office in Florida, Rafael Carrasquilla and a dozen other students wore surgical gloves as they picked through piles of dust with tweezers. They were looking for tiny slivers carbon fiber that were only millimeters in length, almost invisible to the naked eyes.

When they found one, they recorded its appearance in a database and bagged it. They then tagged it and placed it among thousands of other fragments in plastic bins.

Carrasquilla leads the fragment characterization effort for the University of Florida, part of a NASA-led experiment called DebriSat that began in 2011. DebriSat was designed to answer the question: What happens if a piece orbital debris crashes into a satellite traveling at thousands of miles an hour? Read the full story.

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