Digital authoritarianism is on the rise, according to a new report from a group that monitors internet freedoms. Freedom House, a pro-democracy think tank, said today that governments are seeking more control over users’ data while also using laws nominally intended to address “fake news” to suppress dissent. It marked the eighth consecutive year that Freedom House found a decline in online freedoms around the world.

“The clear emergent theme in this report is the growing recognition that the internet, once seen as a liberating technology, is increasingly being used to disrupt democracies as opposed to destabilizing dictatorships,” said Mike Abramowitz, president of Freedom House, in a call with reporters. “Propaganda and disinformation are increasingly poisoning the digital sphere, and authoritarians and populists are using the fight against fake news as a pretext to jail prominent journalists and social media critics, often through laws that criminalize the spread of false information.”

In the United States, internet freedom declined in 2018 due to the Federal Communications Commission’s repeal of net neutrality rules. Other countries fared much worse — 17 out of 65 surveyed had adopted laws restricting online media. Of those, 13 prosecuted citizens for allegedly spreading false information. And more countries are accepting training and technology from China, which Freedom House describes as an effort to export a system of censorship and surveillance around the world.

Of course, there are tradeoffs between freedom and security. The report is critical of Sri Lanka and India, which have periodically shut down or limited access to the internet in response to the outbreak of ethnic and religious conflict. In both cases, citizens were being murdered by mobs that had encountered misinformation spread through social media.

“Cutting off internet service is a draconian response, particularly at a time when citizens may need it the most, whether to dispel rumors, check in with loved ones, or avoid dangerous areas,” said Adrian Shahbaz, research director for technology and democracy. “While deliberately falsified content is a genuine problem, some governments are increasingly using ‘fake news’ as a pretense to consolidate their control over information and suppress dissent.”

The report also found:

  • Governments in 18 countries increased state surveillance between June 2017 and now, with 15 considering new “data protection” laws, which can require companies to store user data locally and potentially make it easier for governments to access.
  • Governments in 32 countries used paid commentators, bots, and trolls in an effort to manipulate online conversations. WhatsApp and other closed messaging apps are becoming more popular targets for manipulation, the authors write.
  • There were bright spots. The authors credit Armenian citizens’ use of social media, communications apps, and live-streaming services for making possible a peaceful revolution earlier this year. And in Ethiopia, a new prime minster released bloggers and activists from prison and pledged to ease restrictions on online communication.

For the past six years, Information is Beautiful has hosted awards for the best data visualizations and interactive stories. The organization recently announced the shortlist for the 2018 awards (winners will be announced on December 4th), which run the gamut from the psychological effects of movie genres to how spring is arriving earlier and earlier.

Check out some of our favorites below, and be sure to look up the rest here.

 Image: Alberto Lucas López, National Geographic

Frames of Mind, by Alberto Lucas López for National Geographic, analyzes and charts Pablo Picasso’s obsessions, in the style of the painter himself.

 Image: Jordan Vincent

Jordan Vincent’s A Night Under the Stars looks at overnight stays in major US national parks, as measured by number of nights spent per month by type of accommodation. Click here for more information about how to read this detailed map.

This is an interactive piece, so you actually have to click to the website to play around. Satellites: 60 Years in Orbit by Rossiya Segodnya is a 3-D map of the over 8,000 satellites above our planet.

 Image: Francesca Morini

It’s Carb Country by Francesca Morini (which is another entry you have to click through) answers some of the important pasta-related questions that people have always wanted to know: What if pasta calories were converted in kilowatt per hour? How many housing units would be illuminated for 365 days straight?

Peter Savagian, a former chief engineer of General Motors’ famous (and ill-fated) EV1 electric car, has left his job as senior vice president at Faraday Future, two sources tell The Verge. The news comes one week after the electric car startup announced layoffs and salary cuts as a result of a fallout with China’s Evergrande Group, which is Faraday Future’s main investor.

Reached by phone Monday, Savagian declined to comment. A representative for Faraday Future did not return requests for comment.

Savagian started at Faraday Future in the summer of 2016. He was one of a number of high-profile hires that helped bolster the company’s credibility in the early going, like former CEO of Ferrari North America Marco Mattiacci (who left in December of 2016), and Tesla’s former director of Model S manufacturing Dag Reckhorn (who is still with the company). Savagian led the development of the powertrain and battery for the company’s luxury electric SUV, the FF91, and was part of Faraday Future’s “senior executive leadership team,” according to his LinkedIn profile.

“He’s the backbone of the company,” says one former employee who requested anonymity because they signed a nondisclosure agreement. “That was THE guy,” says another.

Before joining Faraday Future, Savagian spent 18 years at General Motors, where he led the automaker’s electric propulsion team. He was also the chief engineer of the EV1, which was the company’s — and the industry’s — first serious attempt at mass producing an electric car. The EV1 met an infamous demise that became the focus of the 2006 documentary, Who Killed the Electric Car? Faraday Future hired at least three other people associated with the EV1 program, and all three are still with the company according to their LinkedIn profiles.

Faraday Future started 2018 on a positive note, announcing in late December that, after a year full of drama and money trouble, it had secured a $2 billion investment. (Evergrande’s involvement was announced in June.) The first $800 million installment, the company said, would be enough to finally get the FF91 into production by the end of the year at a restored factory in Hanford, California. Subsequent $600 million installments would be released by the investor in 2019 and 2020 if the company hit undisclosed production goals.

But Faraday Future spent nearly all of the $800 million by July. CEO Jia Yueting requested an advancement of $700 million, which Evergrande denied. This month, Jia tried to break the deal by filing for arbitration in Hong Kong. The Hong Kong International Arbitration Centre announced last week that Faraday Future could seek up to $500 million in new investment, but didn’t allow the company to split from Evergrande.

In the meantime, Faraday Future is low on cash and decided to resort to layoffs and 20 percent wage cuts for all its workers. Some were cut without severance, or saw the 20 percent cut applied to their final paychecks. Faraday Future has a factory, and has inched closer to production in recent months. But the company now needs to find another new investor to start manufacturing the FF91.

Savagian’s departure means that, if and when that happens, another one of the key people behind the technology that powers the car won’t be there to see it come off the line. In a video of a company event from September, the former GM executive effused about the work he and his fellow employees had accomplished. “Today is a rare time we can stop for a moment and admire our great work,” he said. “We’ve made something great, something we can all be proud of.”

The US is preparing tariffs against all Chinese imports that still remain untaxed, in the event that President Donald Trump’s talks with Chinese leader Xi Jinping fall through, according to Bloomberg, citing anonymous sources. These new tariffs could come as early as December and would cover all goods that aren’t already affected. They would cover about $257 billion worth of goods.

That spells trouble for many hardware-producing tech companies, who have so far managed to elude the worst of the tariffs. Apple, for instance, saw its AirPods, HomePod, and Apple Watch escape unscathed from the September round of tariffs.

The early December due date for new tariffs would also mean that the effective date could coincide with the Lunar New Year holiday in February, which is also a time for sales and promotions in China. Still, the anonymous sources told Bloomberg that the new tariffs haven’t been finalized.

In the summer, the US and China levied tariffs on $50 billion of each other’s respective goods. Then in September, a 10 percent tariff was placed on another $200 billion of Chinese goods. The rate is set to increase to 25 percent by the end of 2018, unless Xi and Trump are able to come to an agreement.

Xi and Trump are tentatively set to meet at a summit from November 30th to December 1st.

Apple released watchOS 5.1 earlier today, but has temporarily removed it from availability after users reported that their watches were rendered unusable by attempting to install the update. 9to5Mac’s Guilherme Rambo experienced the issue, as well as several MacRumors readers.

Serious issues with the Apple Watch can be more complicated to resolve than with iPhones or other devices, because there’s no way to plug the device into a computer and reinstall the software yourself. The only recourse tends to be contacting Apple for service. The issue seems limited to the brand new Apple Watch Series 4, too, which is likely to compound frustration for affected users.

watchOS 5.1 includes the 70-plus new emoji that came with iOS 12.1 today, as well as support for group FaceTime audio and a new fullscreen color watch face. For now, if you managed to download the update before it was pulled, you shouldn’t attempt to install it — it likely wouldn’t be possible anyway, but better safe than sorry.

<em>Alphabet executive Rich DeVaul, pictured above, has left the company following accusations of sexual harassment published by </em>The New York Times<em>. </em>” src=”×0:1600×1066/1310×873/”></p>
<p id=An executive at Google parent company Alphabet’s X division has resigned after being named in a high-profile New York Times investigation into the company’s mishandling of sexual harassment claims, according to Axios. The executive, Rich DeVaul, held the title of “Director of Rapid Evaluation and Mad Science” at X, formerly known as Google X and the division responsible for Alphabet’s experimental “moonshots” projects like self-driving car unit Waymo and the Google Glass wearable headset. He did not receive an exit package of any sort, Axios reports.

The initial investigation primarily centered on Android co-founder Andy Rubin, who an employee accused of sexual assault in 2013. After Google investigated the claims and found them to be credible, Rubin left the company, but not before being awarded a $90 million exit package. Alphabet CEO Larry Page, who was aware of the allegations and the investigation’s findings, did not disclose publicly Rubin’s reason for leaving, saying in a statement at the time, “I want to wish Andy all the best with what’s next.”

Prior to the Times investigation, it was known that Rubin had been accused of some form of sexual harassment, but the nature of the allegation and his exit package from Google were not known. Rubin has gone on to found Android phone maker Essential, which recently cut 30 percent of its work force and has cancelled plans to release a second-generation Essential Phone.

Rubin has denied the claims, writing in a tweet that the Times story contained “numerous inaccuracies about my employment at Google and wild exaggerations about my compensation.” He went on to say, “These false allegations are part of a smear campaign to disparage me during a divorce and custody battle. Also, I am deeply troubled that anonymous Google executives are commenting about my personnel file and misrepresenting the facts.”

In the Times story, DeVaul allegedly invited hardware engineer Star Simpson, who was interviewing to work at Google, to the art and culture festival Burning Man, telling her he and his wife were polyamorous. Simpson attended the festival in hopes it would improve her chances of getting hired — she brought her mother with her and “professional attire,” according to the Times. Yet DeVaul encouraged her to remove her clothing and asked to give her a massage.

Later on, Simpson learned that she did not get the job, and that DeVaul knew this when she chose to attend Burning Man. Simpson says she informed Google of this series of events two years later and was encouraged not to go public with it because “appropriate action” would be taken, yet DeVaul remained at the company. In a statement to the Times, DeVAul apologized for his “error of judgment” and claimed he thought Simpson had been aware that she did not get the job when she attended the festival.

DeVaul has been an employee of Alphabet since August 2011, when he joined the X lab’s Project Loon, an initiative to deliver wireless internet using high-altitude balloons, as a chief technical architect. DeVaul assumed his role at X two years later and remained in that position since. He left the company earlier today, Axios reports. Alphabet was not immediately available for comment.

In response to the initial Rubin story, Google CEO Sundar Pichai issued a statement last week saying the company had instituted a new program in 2015 to combat sexual harassment in the workplace. He said that the program, alongside improvements to its reporting policy and more hardline approaches to punishment, have resulted in 48 employees being fired for sexual harassment-related offenses in the last two years.

“We are dead serious about making sure we provide a safe and inclusive workplace. We want to assure you that we review every single complaint about sexual harassment or inappropriate conduct, we investigate and we take action,” Pichai wrote. “We are committed to ensuring that Google is a workplace where you can feel safe to do your best work, and where there are serious consequences for anyone who behaves inappropriately.”

Despite Pichai’s assurances, Google employees have reportedly been incensed by the Rubin revelations and at the company’s handling of such claims. Yesterday, BuzzFeed reported that hundreds of employees are planning a walkout to protest Google’s protection of high-profile male executives accused of sexual harassment.

“Personally, I’m furious,” a Google employee told BuzzFeed, requesting anonymity. “I feel like there’s a pattern of powerful men getting away with awful behavior towards women at Google‚ or if they don’t get away with it, they get a slap on the wrist, or they get sent away with a golden parachute, like Andy Rubin. And it’s a leadership of mostly men making the decisions about what kind of consequences to give, or not give.” The walkout is scheduled to take place tomorrow, and more than 200 people are confirmed to attend.

Update 10/30, 7:40PM ET: Added more context around Google’s response to the NYT investigation and reported plans for an employee walkout scheduled for Thursday, November 1st.

Update 10/30, 7:49PM ET: Clarified that DeVaul was not fired, but resigned from the company. The headline has been updated to reflect this fact.

A group of Chinese spies worked for years to hack aerospace companies and steal aircraft technology secrets, the Justice Department said today, as it announced the indictment of 10 people accused of stealing companies’ confidential information.

According to the department, Chinese intelligence officers and their operatives worked to steal the technology behind a turbofan engine used in commercial airliners. The scheme allegedly went on from at least early 2010 until May 2015, and targeted an unnamed French aerospace company that was working on the engine with a US company.

Chinese intelligence officers allegedly hacked the French company, as well as aerospace companies in several states and the United Kingdom. Prosecutors said the hackers used techniques like spear phishing and malware to gain access to the confidential information.

The indictment is the third of its kind announced by the Justice Department since last month. In one case, the department accused another Chinese intelligence officer of attempting to steal aircraft engine secrets, while a US Army recruit has been accused of working on behalf of Chinese intelligence.

“State-sponsored hacking is a direct threat to our national security,” US Attorney Adam Braverman said in a statement. “This action is yet another example of criminal efforts by the MSS [China’s Ministry of State Security] to facilitate the theft of private data for China’s commercial gain.”

The ways modern science has harnessed the waste products of the human body for good may surprise, with researchers recently using urine to power mobile phones, hydrogen vehicles and even form biological concrete. Now a team from the University of Cape Town has developed what it says is the world’s first biological brick made with human urine, with the strength able to be tweaked to serve a range of needs.

The technology is based on a similar natural process that results in seashells, called microbial carbonate precipitation. Granules of loose sand are colonized with bacteria that produce an enzyme called urease. When confronted with urine, the urease breaks down a compound within it called urea, and it is this chemical reaction that produces calcium carbonate to form the structure.

Over a number of months, engineers at the University of Cape Town have been experimenting with this process to produce materials of differing shapes and tensile strengths. The sand can be coaxed into solid columns and cylinders, but it was the form of a rectangular brick that had the team particularly enthused about their breakthrough.

By testing these different recipes, the teams says it can produce bricks of various strengths, tailor-made to suit a customer’s needs. It has significant environmental benefits too because they form in molds at room temperature, whereas regular brick-making involves bringing kilns to temperatures of around 1,400° C (2,550° F), which produces carbon dioxide as a by-product.

“If a client wanted a brick stronger than a 40 percent limestone brick, you would allow the bacteria to make the solid stronger by ‘growing’ it for longer,” says Dr Dyllon Randall, who supervised the research. “The longer you allow the little bacteria to make the cement, the stronger the product is going to be. We can optimize that process.”

This technology has the potential to produce more than just environmentally friendly bricks. Describing urine as “liquid gold,” the team points to the high amounts of nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium within it that can be captured and used as ingredients for commercial fertilizer, which would essentially equate to a manufacturing process that produces zero waste.

“In this example you take something that is considered a waste and make multiple products from it,” says Randall. “You can use the same process for any waste stream. It’s about rethinking things.”

Scientists build bricks with human urine [New Atlas]

To follow a business you’re interested in, simply hit the new “follow” button on its profile page. After that, relevant news and updates will show up in the app’s “For You” tab.

And that’s not all. To ensure you’re not the last to know about the next cool opening in town, Google Maps will soon start showing business profiles for up to three months before they open. Simply look out for the opening date — shown in orange text — and then make your plans to go along.

Businesses that are yet to add a listing to Google Maps can do so here, and that includes any new ones that want to offer up information ahead of opening.

Announcing the new features, Paul Cole, product manager at Google Maps, wrote in a post: “Ever wandered by your favorite store just to find out you missed a great sale? Or maybe you’re always the last of your friends to find out about the new hot spots opening in town.

“With more than 150 million places on Google Maps and millions of people looking for places to go, we made two updates so it’s even easier for you to keep up with the places you care about and find out about places coming soon.”

It’s been a busy ol’ time for Google Maps. In the last month alone, it has rolled out a slew of new features, including real-time journey tracking for iPhone, improved navigation for less stressful commutesgroup polling to help you and your buddies decide where to eat, and locations for EV charging stations

If you’re a light user of Google Maps but want to learn more about the huge range of features that it offers, then check out Digital Trends’ recent guide to getting the most out of this very powerful app.

Most of us know by now plastic bottles aren’t great for the environment yet more than 1 million plastic bottles are bought every minute — or about 20,000 per second — around the globe. A new app wants to eliminate purchases of single-use plastic water bottles by making it easy for you to find a place to fill up your reusable water bottle.

Available for free for Android and iOS, Tap displays nearby clean drinking water locations, from restaurants and retail stores to public water fountains, so you can refill your water bottle. So far, the app highlights 34,000 refill stations across 7,100 cities in 30 countries.

“Nobody up till now has built a Google Map for (drinking) water,” founder Samuel Rosen told Forbes. “Finding water is inconvenient. When I go to Google Map and type ‘water fountain,’ there is nothing. We solve it by building Google Map for water… We are a search engine. We tell you where the water is.”

Rosen, founder and formerly CEO of on-demand storage startup MakeSpace, was inspired to create Tap when he paid $5 for a bottle of Evian at the airport.

“Water is a mispriced public good,” he said. “I believe we, as consumers, have been robbed of our own water and sold back to us by corporations.”

Soon you may see a blue “Tap” sign in store windows indicating the business is available for anyone in search of clean drinking water. The app gives consumers relevant info about the water source, like if the water is sparkling or tap, and if its coming from somewhere like a drinking fountain or water cooler.

But the app isn’t just to help thirsty people out. Tap also wants to make an impact on how many plastic bottles are getting into the environment and our oceans. A widely reported study by the World Economic Forum and Ellen MacArthur Foundation determined that by the year 2050, the ocean will contain more plastic than fish.

“We didn’t have to wait to convince anyone to sign up. It’s for the same right reasons what corporations are doing with sustainability… We have brand ambassadors as young as 10 signing up local businesses,” Rosen said. “This is a movement.”

This App Tells You The Closest Place You Can Refill Your Water Bottle [Green Matters]

Manufacturers, inventors, and futurists all over the world have been fixated on the idea of 3D printing, noting its speed, efficiency, accessibility, and long-term potential to revolutionize how we develop prototypes and manufacture goods. Now, entrepreneurs, investors, and real estate experts are wondering how 3D printing could be used in residential construction to provide more housing for everyday citizens.

Property management in Houston and other big cities make rental properties more affordable and accessible to urban residents in the developed world, but construction in less developed areas tends to be more expensive—and harder to execute, despite the needs of local populations.

So could 3D printing be a realistic solution to build housing in the developing world? Or could it one day be used to create cheap housing in the United States and in other developed nations?

Where We Stand 

Right now, the construction startup ICON and the housing nonprofit New Story are capable of 3D printing inexpensive housing. Their prototype model is approximately 650 square feet, complete with a bedroom, living room, kitchen, bathroom, and porch. They can build a model like this in just under a day, for less than $10,000. When building in developing countries, the costs can be reduced to just $4,000, making it an affordable way to build reliable housing for practically anyone on the planet.

This is the United States’ first real foray into the world of 3D printing as a means of home construction, though startups in other countries (like Russia and China) have followed a similar process. New Story now hopes to fund a 100-home community in El Salvador as its first major project, hoping to allow new residents to move in by the third quarter of 2019. In the near future, when the technology is better perfected and regulations become more accepting, 3D printing could feasibly be used to build housing throughout the United States.

The Tiny House Movement 

Momentum for 3D printed housing could be fueled by the tiny house movement, which has captivated hipsters, environmentalists, and minimalists all over the country. The 650-square-foot living space is luxurious by tiny house standards, and achieves all the goals of the average community member. If the trend continues, it could motivate an entire demographic to jump on these affordable, accessible, cozy living spaces.

Environmental Sustainability 

3D-printed housing is also extremely environmentally sustainable:

  • Materials. The 3D printing process relies almost exclusively on sustainable materials, including concrete, which enables 3D printing to make much less of an impact on the environment than a typical construction process.
  • Pollution. Because the machinery involved is precise, efficient, and carefully controlled, it also produces less pollution.

The Propensity to Scale 

3D printing is also friendly to scaling. Machines are largely automated, so human supervision is only minimally required, and because an entire house can be completed in 24 hours or less, a single machine can churn out hundreds of houses a year. As the technology becomes more sophisticated, capable of building houses in less time and with fewer materials, the range of possible applications could grow even faster.

The Limitations

 There are, however, some limitations to this technology:

  • Slow advancement. Current prototypes are small, simple houses, but it’s going to be many years—or even decades—before 3D printing advances enough to work on skyscrapers, or is capable of working with more diverse designs and materials.
  • Conservative adoption. The construction industry has historically been slow to change. While nimble startups might be free to innovate new technologies and new solutions, if large-scale construction companies refuse to invest or change their current approaches, it won’t do the average homeowner much good.
  • Initial investments. A mainstream concrete printer, onsite, currently costs between $500,000 and $2,000,000—and a device like that is limited to producing relatively small buildings. Getting started with a 3D printing venture is cost prohibitive to most entrepreneurs, even if the buildings themselves end up relatively cheap.
  • The complexity of the jobsite. Machines work phenomenally when under ideal conditions, but they aren’t great at adapting to sudden or unexpected changes, like a turn in the weather; accordingly, many job sites will require additional human supervision.
  • Regulations and engineering. 3D construction is still new territory, which means it may be a while before developed countries like the United States are willing to allow it to be used openly for residential construction.

Companies and organizations like ICON and New Story are ahead of the curve. It may be some time before we see 3D-printed homes emerging on the market in the United States, but we’re on the right track to both affordable, accessible housing, and a sustainable method for tackling bigger construction projects.