Friday Five: Desperate Trump sues tech giants

Zone’s Ross Basham handpicks and shares the five best new stories on digital trends, experiences and technologies…

1. Trump sues tech giants alleging ‘censorship’

Donald Trump has filed a lawsuit against Google, Twitter and Facebook, claiming he is the victim of censorship. The former US president was suspended from his social accounts in January over public safety concerns in the wake of the Capitol riots, led by his supporters. And plans for his own social media platform have come to nothing.

As a result, without his social media megaphone Trump has been unable to speak directly to voters — a method which proved invaluable in getting him elected in the first place. However, his lawsuit is unlikely to succeed, because, as private companies, the tech firms have the right to decide who uses their platforms.

2. Artist uses AI to catch out Flemish scrollers

A Belgian artist has devised a novel way to catch out politicians who are looking at their phones rather than paying attention during government meetings. Dries Depoorter uses machine learning to monitor YouTube coverage of meetings, then publicly shames culprits on his Twitter account, named The Flemish Scrollers.

Of course, there are many valid reasons why politicians may be checking their phone (and who hasn’t during a meeting?) And while this project may seem harmless, it does raise awareness of AI surveillance creep, as it’s not hard to imagine this kind of constant employee monitoring becoming widespread if there aren’t moves to curb it.

3. WeChat removes dozens of LGBT accounts

Dozens of LGBT accounts have been deleted by the Chinese social media platform WeChat, sparking fears of a tightening control over gay content. The accounts, which had all their previous posts erased, are mostly run by university students known for advocating LGBT and gender equality, and providing support to students on campus.

China decriminalised homosexuality in 1997, but the LGBT community continues to face discrimination. Last year, Shanghai Pride week was abruptly cancelled after 11 years. And in 2018, Weibo (China’s Twitter) said all posts related to homosexuality would be taken down, although it backtracked after massive outrage.

4. Dating app uses audio, not appearance

A new startup called SwoonMe is taking a different approach to dating apps, encouraging users to connect based on someone’s personality rather than their appearance. Instead of swiping through photos, users’ profiles will consist of avatars (based on an uploaded selfie) and recorded voice clips.

When couples match, they’re encouraged to get to know each other using voice messages and icebreaker games, rather than texting. As they communicate, their avatar will slowly reveal their real photo. Avatar-based social discovery apps have been popular in Asia and Brazil, but have yet to be adopted in the UK and US.

5. Musk wants to build tunnel in flood hotspot

Fort Lauderdale in Florida has accepted a proposal from Elon Musk’s Boring Company to build a transportation tunnel that would bring people from downtown to the beach. “This could be a truly innovative way to reduce traffic congestion,” tweeted the city’s mayor. However, Musk’s tunnels haven’t really worked out so far.

He did complete one in Las Vegas, but rather than the promised fully autonomous vehicles gliding along at 150mph, the Vegas loop system comprises electric cars being driven by humans at 30mph. Other projects, such as a tunnel in Chicago, have been shelved. And Fort Lauderdale is in a Special Flood Hazard Area. Oh well.

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