⚰️ In the future, we may attend our own funerals. Capturing the world's most notorious cybercriminal. DuckDuckGo launches a privacy game changer
Welcome to another gnarly edition of Bizarro Devs. Hopefully you've been able to reflect back on all that you've accomplished in 2022. If there's a project or something that you really wanted to scratch off of your list before the year is over, you still have until the end of the month to make it happen.
In the meantime though, set all that aside and spend a few minutes with us, as we bring you the latest offerings from the wonderful world of technology.
⚰️ In the future, we may attend our own funerals - Ms. Marina Smith already has.
🕵️♀️ The rise and fall of cybercrime's enemy number one - the notorious Alpha02.
🛑 Is DuckDuckGo's new App Tracking Protection feature a privacy game changer?
With that said, let's get into it!
📰 From the Newsroom
An 87-year-old woman named Marina Smith, who passed away in June of this past year, was able to interact with mourners at her own funeral in the UK. How is that possible? Well, with a little AI magic, the woman surprised her funeral guests by being present in the form of a "holographic conversational video experience."
An AI startup company called StoryFile asked Ms. Smith about 250 questions prior to her death. They recorded her responses using 20 cameras and then uploaded the data into an AI software that virtually recreated her after she passed away.
Ms. Smith's son, Stephen, conversed with the virtual representation of his mother in real time, and allowed others at the funeral to ask her questions as well. He said: "Mum answered questions from grieving relatives after they had watched her cremation. The extraordinary thing was that she answered their questions with new details and honesty."
StoryFile's technology represents a broader trend by tech companies to resurrect the deceased with the power of AI. In another similar example, earlier this year Amazon showcased a new feature of its Alexa smart speaker. The feature? A late grandmother's voice reading a bedtime story to a child.
As technology, and particularly AI, continues to advance, it will impact us in many ways, one of which is how we deal with death. There's no doubt that as more of this becomes mainstream, the psychological process of mourning is going to change fundamentally. The question is: what is the world going to look like for future generations that are born into a society that blurs the line between reality and simulation?
It's a story that reads like a fictional Hollywood blockbuster, but the tale of AlphaBay and its founder, Alexandre Cazes, is very much non-fiction. While we might never see it made into a film, you can read a very intriguing six-part series about the rise and fall of this young kingpin. The story goes into detail on how he rose to dominate the dark web; the cybercrime investigations that followed; and his eventual downfall in Bangkok, Thailand.
AlphaBay, the self-proclaimed eBay-style underworld marketplace, officially launched on December 22, 2014. It saw a steady growth, with 14,000 new users in the first 90 days of operation alone. By October 2015, AlphaBay had over 200,000 users and more than 21,000 product listings for drugs. Sometime around the middle of 2016, AlphaBay surpassed a sales rate of $350,000 a day, according to researchers at Carnegie Mellon. It had become not only the biggest black market on the dark web, but the biggest cryptocurrency black market of all time.
The young Canadian man who founded AlphaBay juggled three identities while living a life of luxury in Bangkok, Thailand. There was his public persona as that of an early Bitcoin investor and owner of a tech company. Under this identity, he flaunted his wealth with fancy cars, multiple properties, and $40,000 dinners (that's for one dinner). He had another strictly-business identity as Alpha02, the criminal mastermind running AlphaBay's day-to-day operations. Finally, he had a third identity as Rawmeo, a misogynistic womanizer who picked up women for one-night stands and boasted about it on an internet forum devoted to the same topic.
Without revealing too much more of the plot and spoiling it for you, it took the cooperation of law enforcement agencies from several different countries to apprehend him. In the month leading up to his arrest, nearly 20 agents, analysts, computer forensic experts, and prosecutors from the FBI, DEA, IRS, Department of Justice, Department of Homeland Security, and Canada's Royal Canadian Mounted Police convened in Bangkok to complete the mission.
If you're into cybercrime, then this is a must-read story that will keep your eyes glued to the screen. One caveat here: Wired will only let you read through a portion of the full six part series without creating a free account with them. It's free, but you'll have to complete a brief registration. Otherwise, you can still read the first two parts (which alone are worth it) and then check out the more abbreviated versions from the Verge and the CBC. Both of those were written back in 2017, when the mastermind was first caught.
Unless you've been living under a rock the past decade, then you're well aware that our devices spy on us in various ways. The business model for a lot of companies has been reliant on these tracking features to sell us products and services via targeted ads. I recently activated DuckDuckGo's new App Tracking Protection feature, and I was shocked when I discovered the true extent of how aggressive these data-grabbing attempts are.
App Tracking Protection is a free feature from DuckDuckGo. It blocks third-party trackers within apps, even if those apps are in idle mode. When enabled in DuckDuckGo's browser, it detects when apps are about to send data to third-party tracking companies and then blocks most of those data requests. All this happens directly on the device without routing your data through DuckDuckGo's servers. At the moment, it's only available for Android users.
In a blog announcing the public beta rollout, DuckDuckGo said that on any day, the average Android user can experience between 1,000 to 2,000 tracking attempts from over 70 different tracking companies. This is based on a phone with about 35 apps installed.
I tested it for five days, and over the course of those five days, the app blocked 14,264 tracking attempts from five apps. When I dug deeper into the analytics, some of the data grab attempts that were successfully blocked were highly intrusive. One company requested access to my internal storage. Now, there are some apps that do legitimately need access to internal storage in order to function properly (e.g., for photo editing), but this particular snooper did not fall under that category.
If you have an Android phone and you remotely care about your personal privacy, I recommend taking the DuckDuckGo browser for a test run and turning on this feature. There is definitely a disconnect between understanding the concept that your device is spying on you, versus seeing hard attempts to collect personal data, totaling in the thousands, in only a few days. Check it out and drop me a line to let me know what you think about it.
⛓️ Ten Must See Links of the Month
Enter the bizarre world of the Longevity Investors Conference. A two-day event with a $4,500 entrance fee, and a requirement to be willing to invest at least a million dollars into a longevity project. So was it all pseudoscience and hype, or will the ultra-wealthy soon have legitimate access to a fountain of youth?
South Korean company LG announced that they've developed a stretchable display that can be elongated by 20%. The full-color display supports 100 pixels per inch (ppi) resolution and can be extended from 12-inch in size to 14-inch.
A new cancer treatment that trains the patient's own immune system to attack tumor cells has been developed and shown to be successful in human cancer patients.
On multiple levels, the net is fragmenting into separate domains that are no longer able or willing to connect. This fragmentation – sometimes referred to as the "Splinternet"– is happening along geopolitical lines, pointing to a potential future where global connectivity is not so global anymore, but separated by digital iron curtains set up by rivaling great powers – with the US, the EU, China, and Russia being the primary actors.
Facebook's like button is one of the most successful pieces of code ever written. Read the inside story of how and why this relatively simple feature was created, and how nobody expected it to have the impact that it went on to have.
Colossal is the world's first “de-extinction” company, and it has big plans to bring back the wooly mammoth using DNA technology and a surrogate mother from a related species.
Rome is an ambitious project aiming to unify the dozens of frontend language tools into a single easy-to-use tool built from scratch. It's full of useful features like formatting and linting, with even more coming soon.
External hard drives are sooo last year. The new way of storing data? DNA. That's right, scientists have figured out how to store data using DNA, and it turns out that DNA can store a massive amount of data in a tiny physical space.
If you work with digital content, you may have heard of “scrollytelling.” However, this engaging design practice is relatively new. Fortunately, scrollytelling is pretty straightforward, and all sorts of site owners can use it to grab their users' attention.
Have you been looking for remote work, but struggling with finding the right job boards? Check out this list of 21 job boards that are focused on remote work.
🎤 It’s How They Said It
"How do you make a small fortune in social media? Start out with a large one.”
- Elon Musk (proud new owner of Twitter)
🧮 The numbers game
1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 isn't just some really long number. In November, this number was given a precise name, along with several others that you will probably never use. It was the first time since 1991 that scientists approved the expansion of the prefixes used in the global measurement system (i.e., the metric system).
Over 20,000 is the number of recent new hires that quit their jobs with Foxconn, the China-based company responsible for Apple's iPhone production. As a result, November's production of premium iPhone models, including the iPhone 14 Pro, was significantly reduced.
More than 2,000,000 is the number of new users per day that Twitter has been adding as of November 16th. That's based on the previous seven days, prior to that date - according to Elon Musk. Also according to Mr. Musk, daily signups are up by 66% compared to the same time last year.
⚒️ Tools and Resources
Over 400 popular open source alternatives to proprietary SaaS exist, and you can find them all on opensourcealternative.to.
Hopefully, you enjoyed this month's stories, tools, and fun facts. If you have any interesting links to share, please send them my way. All you need to do is reply to this email, and they'll land in my inbox. Maybe they'll even wind up in next month's issue!
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Have a great month,