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Tinder Thinks Love Has No Borders—Even in the West Bank

Tinder Thinks Love Has No Borders—Even in the West Bank

On the ground, the particular geopolitical situation of Israel and Palestine, with its checkpoints and patchwork of territorial designations, also shapes who uses Tinder’s service and how. Although the interface includes no explicit mention of the separation barrier aside from a dashed gray line to indicate a disputed border, users in the region face a significant obstacle: When Palestinians and Jewish Israelis do match, there is often no legal way for them to meet without leaving the country entirely, despite their geographic proximity when swiping. Israelis can cross the Green Line to travel on segregated roads to Israeli settlements, but not to Palestinian cities or villages. Palestinians in the West Bank, meanwhile, cannot cross the Green Line at all without a permit, which can be exceedingly difficult to obtain. Palestinians who do have a Jerusalem ID or hold Israeli citizenship can travel freely in Israel and Palestine to go on dates when they find a match. But the users I spoke with who do not have this freedom of movement say they are deterred by the fact that the vast majority of people they see on the app are either on the other side of a line that they cannot cross, or are located in Israeli settlements, where it is generally unsafe for them to travel. As a result, in the occupied West Bank the ability of different populations to use Tinder’s service to talk to and meet geographically proximate people varies, largely along ethnic lines.

Of course Tinder is not itself responsible for the injustices of military occupation. Still, in not acknowledging the ways that existing political dynamics impact the scope of their service, the company effectively normalizes occupation, treating de jure segregation (and the access differential it creates) as an acceptable condition under which a geolocation-based dating app can operate.

Samir, for his part, encountered these obstacles many times. In the early days of our friendship, he told me that if I did come to Ramallah I would be the first person from the app he’d meet in person while swiping from Palestine. He had matched with Jewish Israelis before, but until I crossed the Green Line, his Tinder relationships had been purely virtual.

“A couple times we got to know each other and they’d say, ‘If you’re ever able to get a permit and you can come in, hit me up,’ but it never happened,” Samir recounts. He also mentions matching with an Israeli woman in Ariel, a nearby settlement, on Tinder, but says he was uncomfortable when he found out where she lived.

“She invited me to come to Ariel,” he tells me, “but I said, ‘Hell no.’”

In recent years, we as users have collectively begun to question the idea that technology companies bear no responsibility when their platforms are used to disseminate misinformation, sway elections, and wage war. What we have not paid enough attention to, however, is the potential for the core functionality of the technology itself to have incidental political implications, and for nonpartisan companies to participate in marginalization by default. Often, it seems, their obligation to thoughtfully and carefully navigate the geopolitical circumstances of prospective markets is overlooked by a culture that, even amid a techlash, sees access to the free market of technological tools as an indicator of progress.

Facebook’s Name Change Won’t Fix Anything

Facebook’s Name Change Won’t Fix Anything

When Mark Zuckerberg created Facebook, in 2004, it was a mere directory of students at Harvard: The Face Book. Two decades, 90 acquisitions, and billions of dollars later, Facebook has become a household name. Now it wants a new one.

Zuckerberg is expected to announce a new name for the company next week at Facebook Connect, the company’s annual conference, as first reported by The Verge. This new name—meant to encompass Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, Oculus, and the rest of the family—will clarify the company as a conglomerate, with ambitions beyond social media. The Facebook app might be the cornerstone of the company, but Zuckerberg has been very clear that the future of the company belongs to the metaverse.

But what’s in a name? In Facebook’s case, it comes with strong associations, some reputational damage, scrutiny from Congress, and disapproval from the general public. The Facebook name has led to a “trust deficit” in some of its recent endeavors, including its expansion into cryptocurrency. By renaming the parent company, Facebook might give itself a chance to overcome that. It wouldn’t be the first corporate behemoth to seek some goodwill with a new moniker: Cable companies do it all the time.

Still, branding experts—and branding amateurs on Twitter—aren’t convinced that renaming the company will do much to correct reputational problems or distance itself from recent scandals.

“Everyone knows what Facebook is,” says Jim Heininger, founder of Rebranding Experts, a firm that focuses solely on rebranding organizations. “The most effective way for Facebook to address the challenges that have tainted its brand recently is through corrective actions, not trying to change its name or installing a new brand architecture.”

Facebook’s decision to rename itself comes just after whistleblower Frances Haugen leaked thousands of pages of internal documents to The Wall Street Journal, exposing a company without much regard for public good. The documents spurred a hearing on Capitol Hill, where already Congress has, for years, been discussing the possibility of regulating Facebook or breaking up its conglomerate.

A new name might give the company a facelift. But “a name change is not a rebrand,” says Anaezi Modu, the founder and CEO of Rebrand, which advises companies on brand transformations. Branding comes from a company’s mission, culture, and capabilities, more than just its name, logo, or marketing. “Unless Facebook has serious plans to address at least some of its many issues, just changing a name is pointless. In fact, it can worsen matters.” Renaming a company can create more mistrust if it comes off as distancing itself from its reputation.

Modu says renaming does make sense to clarify a company’s organization, the way other conglomerates have. When Google restructured in 2015, it named its parent company Alphabet, to reflect its growth beyond just a search engine (Google) to now include a number of endeavors (DeepMind, Waymo, Fitbit, and Google X, among others). Most people still think of the company as Google, but the name Alphabet is a signal for how the company fits together.

The Mathematics of Cancel Culture

The Mathematics of Cancel Culture

Makers of our AI-powered devices spend a lot of time canceling friction, making just about everything a no-brainer. They require less and less of us because they do more and more, whether we want them to or not. One click instead of two. They make it effortless to say things, buy things, even cancel things. We don’t need to think twice. Or think at all.

But friction is a good thing—and not just because it might slow down your ability to send that text you later wish you hadn’t or make butt dialing more difficult. We need friction to walk across the room. 

Besides, deleting rarely erases things completely (your old texts included). Canceling leaves traces. In college, I received a report card (a real thing back then) with an inked A in physics crossed out, written over with a B—the ghost of the A still clear. I’d recently declined several invitations from my aged professor to meet after class for a drink. Sexual harassment didn’t even have a name at the time. But the experience canceled my interest in physics for quite a few years.

As we all know, vanquished enemies often return, sometimes in different form. Sometimes they come back to bite you. Our campaign to cancel “germs” has been so successful it’s helped to produce stronger breeds of drug-resistant bacteria.

So what’s the alternative? Bad, dangerous, and dumb things abound. If we don’t cancel them, then what? 

In some obvious cases, addition can eliminate the need for subtraction—though it’s likely slower, more difficult, more expensive. For example, I read that analog clocks are being taken out of school classrooms. Why? The decision to cancel clocks was made because students no longer knew how to use them to tell time. Given that clocks are analogues to the Earth’s rotation, that’s a bigger loss than it may seem. Why not just teach kids to read hands on a clock?

Most canceling is far less trivial, of course, but options do usually exist—even if they require time and resources (and thought). We can repair, reframe, revisit, refashion, restrain, redirect, repurpose, restructure, rework, retool, reduce, revisit, refocus, retrofit, reboot, rethink, reform, and so on. The reformation of our legal system is something law professor Jody Armour has studied and lived for a lifetime and reimagines in his new book, N*gga Theory: Race, Language, Unequal Justice, and the Law. A truly progressive legal system, Armour argues, values restoration, rehabilitation, and redemption over retribution, retaliation, and revenge.

Science could not progress if it canceled old ways of understanding in favor of new. Very rarely do scientists entirely abandon even wrong and discarded ideas. Rather, the building blocks remain, but take on new meaning and context with the discovery of new knowledge, more complete theories, clearer explanations. Science is essentially additive. 

I personally find it strange that most people seem to see aging as mostly a matter of cancellation. True, getting old pares away mobility of our limbs, shaves range and acuity from our senses, severs ties, shrinks stature, chisels away at memory. For me, however, what’s gained easily equals what’s lost. Sure, I’d rather do without the aches and pains, but they force me to jury-rig my way around obstacles—which is a fun challenge (sometimes). If my joints are less flexible, my outlook is more so. I remember less but know more. I have lower energy but more interests. I laugh more. Sometimes it’s the only thing you can do. Nothing wrong with that.

The biggest thing we’ve lost to cancel culture is conversation itself. We’re afraid we’ll say the wrong thing. We’re afraid we’ll get canceled. Sometimes we don’t bother even to cancel and simply “ghost”—the passive-aggressive version.

Probably needless to say, the specter of being ghosted, canceled, has haunted me all the while I’ve been writing this piece. But as I’m closer to my expiration date than most, it wouldn’t matter much. Nature will cancel me permanently, soon enough.


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Google’s Much-Hyped Pixel 6 Undercuts Its Peers at Just $599

Google’s Much-Hyped Pixel 6 Undercuts Its Peers at Just $599

I’ve been using the two for the past few days and can’t share much about them just yet—look for our review next week—but these Pixels feel just as high-end as most $1,000 phones. The Pro especially has shiny aluminum around the edges that give it a classy look, whereas the Pixel 6 sticks with a matte texture that’s more subdued. Both are wrapped in glass, with Gorilla Glass Victus protecting the Pro’s screen, and Gorilla Glass 6 protecting the standard Pixel 6. Victus is a year or so newer than 6, and supposedly more protective.

These are also two of the larger Pixels Google has produced. The Pixel 6 has a 6.4-inch screen and the Pro is a 6.7 incher, but they don’t feel drastically different in size. That’s because the Pixel 6 has thicker borders around the screen, and the Pro’s screen curves out to the edges to maximize screen space. 

Maxed Out Specs

They have pretty much any feature you’d want in a top-end Android phone, including OLED panels, stereo speakers, full 5G connectivity, speedy Wi-Fi 6E, IP68 water resistance, and wireless charging (a new Pixel Stand wireless charger is on the way too). Both also have fingerprint sensors baked into the display, a first for Google but a feature that’s become the norm on most high-end Android phones.

Like its competitors, the Pixel 6 range does not include charging adapters in the box, just a USB-C to USB-C cable and a USB-C to USB-A adapter. 

Google Pixel 6

Pixel 6 Pro

Photograph: Google

Here’s how they differ:

Pixel 6: There’s a 90-Hz screen refresh rate, just like on last year’s Pixel 5, and a 1,080 x 2,400-pixel resolution. The Tensor chip, which Google says delivers up to 80 percent faster performance over its Qualcomm-powered predecessor, is joined with 8 gigabytes of RAM. It has a 4,524-mAh battery cell, which Google says should last more than a day. Neither has a MicroSD card slot (nor a headphone jack), but on the Pixel 6, you can choose between 128 or 256 gigabyte storage options. 

Pixel 6 Pro: You get a higher 1,440 x 3,120-pixel resolution and a 120-Hz screen refresh rate, which Google says can dip as low as 10-Hz when there’s not much happening on the screen to save battery life. The bigger size means a bigger 4,905-mAh capacity, and you also get 12 gigabytes of RAM. And if you record a lot of video, there’s an additional 512 gigabyte storage option. The Pro has an exclusive ultra wideband (UWB) chip, which can help it pinpoint the location of other UWB devices, similar to how the new iPhone 13 can find the precise location of Apple AirTags. Google says it will roll out “several features” that utilize UWB in the coming months but we don’t yet know what those will be.

Camera Upgrade

Google Pixel 6

Pixel 6

Photograph: Google

Pixel phones are known for their stellar cameras, but their lead has waned. To combat this, Google is upgrading its imaging hardware. Both the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro have the same main camera, a 50-megapixel large 1/1.31-inch sensor that can take in up to 150 percent more light than the Pixel 5. The camera uses a process called pixel binning, where pixels merge to absorb more light, so you end up with a 12.5-megapixel photo. 

Games Can Show Us How to Enact Justice in the Metaverse

Games Can Show Us How to Enact Justice in the Metaverse

It was 2016, and Jordan Belamire was excited to experience QuiVr, a new fantastical virtual reality game, for the first time. With her husband and brother-in-law looking on, she put on a VR headset and became immersed in a snowy landscape. Represented by a disembodied set of floating hands along with a quiver, bow, and hood, Belamire was now tasked with taking up her weapons to fight mesmerizing hordes of glowing monsters.

But her excitement quickly turned sour. Upon entering online multiplayer mode and using voice chat, another player in the virtual world began to make rubbing, grabbing, and pinching gestures at her avatar. Despite her protests, this behavior continued until Belamire took the headset off and quit the game.

My colleagues and I analyzed responses to Belamire’s subsequent account of her “first virtual reality groping” and observed a clear lack of consensus around harmful behavior in virtual spaces. Though many expressed disgust at this player’s actions and empathized with Belamire’s description of her experience as “real” and “violating,” other respondents were less sympathetic—after all, they argued, no physical contact occurred, and she always had the option to exit the game.

Incidents of unwanted sexual interactions are by no means rare in existing social VR spaces and other virtual worlds, and plenty of other troubling virtual behaviors (like the theft of virtual items) have become all too common. All these incidents leave us uncertain about where “virtual” ends and “reality” begins, challenging us to figure out how to avoid importing real-world problems into the virtual world and how to govern when injustice happens in the digital realm.

Now, with Facebook predicting the coming metaverse and the proposal to move our work and social interactions into VR, the importance of dealing with harmful behaviors in these spaces is drawn even more sharply into focus. Researchers and designers of virtual worlds are increasingly setting their sights on more proactive methods of virtual governance that not only deal with acts like virtual groping once they occur, but discourage such acts in the first place while encouraging more positive behaviors too.

These designers are not starting entirely from scratch. Multiplayer digital gaming—which has a long history of managing large and sometimes toxic communities—offers a wealth of ideas that are key to understanding what it means to cultivate responsible and thriving VR spaces through proactive means. By showing us how we can harness the power of virtual communities and implement inclusive design practices, multiplayer games help pave the way for a better future in VR.

The laws of the real world—at least in their current state—are not well-placed to solve the real wrongs that occur in fast-paced digital environments. My own research on ethics and multiplayer games revealed that players can be resistant to “outside interference” in virtual affairs. And there are practical problems, too: In fluid, globalized online communities, it’s difficult to know how to adequately identify suspects and determine jurisdiction.

And certainly, technology can’t solve all of our problems. As researchers, designers and critics pointed out at the 2021 Game Developers Conference, combatting harassment in virtual worlds requires deeper structural changes across both our physical and digital lives. But if doing nothing is not an option, and if existing real-world laws can be inappropriate or ineffective, in the meantime we must turn to technology-based tools to proactively manage VR communities.

Right now, one of the most common forms of governance in virtual worlds is a reactive and punitive form of moderation based on reporting users who may then be warned, suspended, or banned. Given the sheer size of virtual communities, these processes are often automated: for instance, an AI might process reports and implement the removal of users or content, or removals may occur after a certain number of reports against a particular user are received.