• Alyssa Feliciano

Dark Tech: Coming to A County Near You!


(Tony Reid/Unsplash)

Since the birth of the internet in 1983, the technology industry has evolved at a breakneck pace. From dial-up internet to having access to a world of information in our back pockets, technology runs our world.


But with the positive development of technology comes the bad — and sometimes the bad can lead to the ugly. And the ugly can lead to the dangerous.


Every major country in the world has had their fair share of dangerous technological advances. Here are six dark moments in technology’s history.



ENGLAND


Ever wonder how Facebook can give you an ad for exactly what you were looking for? You can thank Cambridge Analytica for that. Cambridge Analytica is a London-based political-analysis firm brought into the spotlight during the 2016 U.S. presidential election.


Cambridge Analytica allegedly collected data on 50 million Facebook users without their consent, according to WIRED. How did Cambridge Analytica do this? Through an app called “thisisyourdigitallife.”


To use the app, you sign in through Facebook Login. Vox reported that Facebook Login not only allows apps that utilize the feature to collect information about the user, but their friends as well. This access is not technically against the rules, according to Facebook (Reminder: Read the fine print). The issue arose when the creator of the “thisisyourdigitallife” shared the data with Cambridge Analytica.


When Trump ran for president, his campaign did a lot of online ad targeting with data obtained by Cambridge Analytica. The data, which was used to try to influence American voters, was collected from Facebook without user consent to create targeted ads.



UNITED STATES


Ah, yes. Welcome to the United States, the land of opportunity especially for Elizabeth Holmes, a Stanford drop-out and founder and CEO of the now-defunct healthcare technology Theranos.


Elizabeth promised technology that would change the world: With her invention, the simple prick of a finger would be able to test for dozens of diseases, including cancer and cardiovascular issues. She attracted investors quickly, and Theranos was soon valued at $9 billion, according to Business Insider. Elizabeth was even able to strike up a deal with Walgreens to bring her new life-saving technology into the national pharmacy brand.


The only issue? It didn’t work.


There was no data on how well the tech worked. Employees were under strict secrecy agreements, and Elizabeth insisted on having complete control. As the press coverage on Theranos grew, so did the criticism. After months of questioning, a study concluded that Elizabeth was providing false results, and the machine did not even meet the company’s own standards.


In June 2018, Elizabeth was indicted on fraud charges. In Sept. 2018, the company closed. The Verge reported that investors lost around $1 billion.



CHINA


In Jinhua, China, children start their days. They arrive at school and make their way to their classrooms. Then, they put on a headband that can tell their teachers whether they are focusing in school.


Colors displayed on the front on the headband tell the teacher how well each student focuses. Red means the students are very focused on their work. Blue means they are distracted. White means offline.


The headband has three electrodes that detect what is going on in the brain, and the data is sent to both the teacher and the parents of the child.


Does it work? It’s unclear. The Wall Street Journal spoke with neuroscientist Theodore Zanto about it. Theodore said that not only is there little research on the headbands, but the technology it uses is susceptible to mistakes.


These headbands are part of a greater effort by the Chinese government to expand its use of AI to collect data.


So where does the data go? According to the Wall Street Journal, no one’s really sure. Companies say it goes to government-funded research, but parents have never been given a straight answer.

The students’ biggest complaint? The headbands squeeze their heads.



UGANDA


Taxes are confusing for everyone, but Uganda has found a way to complicate the process more. The Ugandan government will now be taxing social media apps.


Free apps, such as Facebook and WhatsApp, will now have a charge by the Ugandan government. According to The Guardian, users of these apps are expected to pay upwards of 200 Ugandan Shillings, which is equivalent to 5 cents. The Uganda Communications Commission reported that within three months of the tax being implemented, subscriptions to these apps dropped by 2.5 million users.


But why? What’s the point?


Critics say it's the Ugandan government’s way to silence the nation’s poorest people and suppress freedom of speech.


The finance minister of Uganda said the tax serves as a way to “raise funds for public service.” But the Ugandan president, Yoweri Museveni, wrote to the finance minister that the tax would be a good way to deal with “online gossip.”


Young people in Uganda were quick to point out that the new tax shows just how out of touch the government is with its people.



BOLIVIA


In Bolivia, fake news is a potentially life-threatening concern.

Bolivia’s Oct. 2019 presidential election was deemed fraudulent, and the former president sought asylum in Mexico in Nov. 2019. For a brief period of time, Bolivia had no leader. While chaos ensued in the government, the facts of what happened were blurred.


Fake news spread quickly in Bolivia. In one instance, a doctored video with a CNN logo showed what appeared to be a Bolivian helicopter firing at random houses. A fact-checking group in Bolivia determined that the video was actually filmed in Mexico in 2016.


Additionally, a number of fake Twitter accounts were created around the time of the coup. They spread confusion regarding the president’s resignation. The tweets read a variation of the phrase, “Friends from everywhere, in Bolivia there was no coup.”


The tweets spread rapidly, and despite Twitter taking down most of the bot accounts, there were about 4,200 tweets with the phrase still on Twitter in Nov. 2019.



Editors Note: A previous version of this article appeared in Rowdy Magazine Vol. III, "A Sensible Guide To Raising Hell." Published April 2020.