Anti-vax disinformation profits and suspicious tracking devices

in June 16th, 2021

Here's what we emailed out the week of June 16, 2021. Sign up for updates directly in your inbox.

Would you wait for hours to see an endangered flower? Crowds in Warsaw, Poland lined up this weekend to get a glimpse of the Sumatran titan arum, a giant blossom referred to as the “corpse flower” for producing a dead body smell. It grows up to 10 feet tall, making it the largest flowering structure on Earth. Unfortunately, deforestation has endangered its species and the latest bloom is already withering away. A live video was also set up for those who prefer to avoid the smell and busy crowds.


The $1.1 billion in anti-vax profit

Wed Jun 2

The social media disinformation saga continues with an alarming new report revealing that the global anti-vaccination (anti-vax) industry generates $1.1B in annual revenue for social media giants. In return, the anti-vax industry itself earns up to $36M a year. Two-thirds of this content comes from 12 influencers labeled the “disinformation dozen” — including Robert F. Kennedy Jr. — reaching an estimated audience of 62 million.

Companies like Facebook are disputing the findings, saying they run the world’s largest online vaccine information campaign (by labeling posts mentioning COVID with accurate resources) and removing misleading content. Other groups seem to be having a different experience:

  • Citizen Browser, a nationwide panel of over 3,100 Facebook users, has continued to discover (and be recommended by Facebook’s algorithm) anti-vax groups and pages explicitly created for the purpose of propagating lies about the pandemic.
  • VAERS, the largest U.S. database for tracking potential vaccine side effects, is actively being used to spread disinformation about COVID-19 vaccines across social media.

The proposed solution? Deplatform the major influencers. In fear of a reality where this could happen, some anti-vax influencers have tried encouraging their followers to switch to platforms such as Telegram but have seen limited success. In fact, some of the leading anti-vaccine organizations have even admitted in legal filings that they rely on platforms like Facebook and YouTube to make money and spread their ideals. Others suggest (and have for some time now) that federal regulation is needed to help govern the new digital landscape of information. 

Some additional resources...


Concerns of stalker tech spreads around devices used to find lost keys

Sun Jun 6

Women are taking to social media to share odd stories of tracking devices appearing in their bags, including one woman’s recent TikTok video that has been viewed nearly a million times. While uncertainty exists around how these trackers got in their bags and why, warnings are being shared to help others avoid potentially dangerous outcomes. 

First, let’s understand the trackers. There are two main devices in question: Tiles and AirTags. A Tile is a small, bluetooth tracking device for tracking misplaced keys, wallets, and even pets (if you attach one to their collar). AirTag is Apple's version, which launched with much anti-competition concern from Tile, fueling ongoing antitrust allegations against Apple. 

And concerns over how this technology could be abused are well known

  • Apple says safeguards such as iPhone alerts have been implemented to prevent stalking attempts, but some worry that victims of domestic violence can be coerced into turning such alerts off by their aggressor.
  • While the devices are said to work only within a set radius, worries are settling in as Tile’s collaboration with Amazon’s Sidewalk could remove those distance limits. Airtags are also proving hackable by one security researcher who reprogrammed theirs.

Beyond individual safety, privacy advocates are worried about the growing surveillance power of tech companies from these devices. Every iPhone 11 and above is automatically listening for AirTags and constantly pinging Apple’s servers with the detected location data. And with Tile partnering with Amazon on the newly launched mesh network Sidewalk, Amazon could further grow its surveillance business. For now, anyone concerned can opt-out of Apple location services and Amazon’s Sidewalk.

This story includes first-hand reports the Below the Fold team received from readers who found trackers in their bags while traveling.  

Some additional resources... 

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Grows 10 feet tall? Produces a dead body smell? What in-carnation!

Art Credit: ASCII Art Archive

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