PICKS are stories from many sources, selected by our editors or recommended by our readers because they are important, surprising, troubling, enlightening, inspiring, or amusing. They appear on our site and in our daily newsletter. Please send suggested articles, videos, podcasts, etc. to picks@whowhatwhy.org.

FTC Orders Company to Quit Surveillance App Business (Maria)

The author writes, “The Federal Trade Commission has for the first time banned a company that makes so-called stalkerware — software used to surreptitiously track a cellphone user’s activities and location — from staying in the surveillance app business. Wednesday’s action applies to the marketer of SpyFone, Puerto Rico-based Support King LLC, and its CEO, Scott Zuckerman. Such commercial surveillance products secretly obtain unfettered access to a person’s smartphone, leading to serious harm, the FTC said.”

How North Carolina Became a Laboratory for the GOP’s Subversion of Democracy (Reader Steve)

From Salon: “North Carolina has become a laboratory to subvert democracy. Republicans captured both houses of the state legislature in 2010, then engineered gerrymandered maps that ensured  power for a decade. Then they went to work: Voter ID bills that surgically suppressed the Black vote, a brazen power grab over the state judiciary and election administration boards, an assault on academic freedom in the state university system, a 2016 lame-duck session that neutered the authority of incoming Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper. This version of political hardball provided the playbook for Republicans in other states across the country, including Wisconsin, Michigan, Texas and Arizona.”

Officers and Paramedics Are Charged in Elijah McClain’s 2019 Death in Colorado (DonkeyHotey)

The author writes, “Colorado’s attorney general said Wednesday that a grand jury indicted three officers and two paramedics in the death of Elijah McClain, a Black man who was put in a chokehold and injected with a powerful sedative two years ago in suburban Denver. The 23-year-old’s death gained widespread attention during last year’s protests against racial injustice and police brutality following the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. McClain’s pleading words that were captured on police body camera video — ‘I’m just different’ — have been posted on signs at protests and spoken by celebrities who have joined those calling for the prosecution of the officers who confronted McClain as he walked down the street in the city of Aurora after a 911 caller reported he looked suspicious.”

In Afghanistan, Islamic State Is Seeking to Exploit Divisions Within the Taliban (Dan)

The author writes, “The attack against Kabul’s airport reminded the world that the Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISKP) remains active in Afghanistan and has not signed any peace deals. The US retaliated with two controversial drone strikes. After these episodes, ISKP may appear to be the most serious challenge to the Taliban right now, but the Taliban’s internal rivalries make it, in many ways, its own worst enemy.” 

How Ransomware Runs the Underground Economy (Sean)

From CSO: “The unwanted attention attracted by ransomware attacks recently have caused several of the top cybercrime forums to ban ransomware discussions and transactions on their platforms earlier this year. While some hoped this might have a significant impact on the ability of ransomware groups to organize themselves, the bans only pushed their activity further underground, making it harder for security researchers and companies to monitor it. If anything, the attacks in the months that followed the forum bans then have been more potent and audacious than ever. The truth is that ransomware is the life blood of the cybercrime economy and it will take extraordinary measures to put an end to it.”

China Bans Kids From Playing Online Video Games During the Week (Russ)

The author writes, “China has barred online gamers under the age of 18 from playing on weekdays and limited their play to just three hours most weekends, marking a significant escalation of restrictions on the country’s massive gaming industry. … Minors will be allowed only an hour of play time between 8 pm and 9 pm on Friday, weekends and public holidays, according to a statement from Chinese media watchdog — the National Press and Publication Administration.”

Go on a Panoramic Video Tour of Mars With the Curiosity Rover (Mili)

The author writes, “Just because you can’t catch a shuttle to Mars quite yet doesn’t mean you can’t still tour the Red Planet. … NASA released a video showcasing a panoramic tour of the planet’s surface using images snapped by its Curiosity rover.”

Three Centuries Later, a Push to Exonerate One Last Witch (Dana)

The author writes, “Over the last three centuries, they’ve been exonerated. John Proctor. Ann Foster. Alice Parker. But even as the Salem Witch Trials became synonymous with cultural hysteria and paranoia, one woman has never been pardoned: Elizabeth Johnson Jr. A bill introduced in the Massachusetts Legislature earlier this year would finally clear her name, 328 years after she was convicted of practicing witchcraft. … Her plight is known only to the most assiduous of historians. But the original authors of the current resolution that would clear Johnson’s name are a group of 13- and 14-year-olds. Carrie LaPierre’s eighth-grade history classes at North Andover Middle School researched Johnson for a civic engagement project for the better part of a school year, after LaPierre caught wind of the case in 2019 and became hooked.”

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