After seven years, millions of consoles sold, and a generation of users clamoring for an upgraded graphical experience, Sony and Microsoft are finally releasing the next version of their iconic Xbox and PlayStation consoles.
With both the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X (and Series S) going on sale this week, you might be wondering which one to pick. Here’s what sets each of them apart from the others.
Xbox Series S: The cheapest way to go next-gen
While the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X have 4K capability, the diminutive Xbox Series S is designed to bring next-gen gaming to your current, non-4K setup—consider it the entry-level console for this generation’s gaming needs.
The Xbox Series X is great if you only have a 1080p TV, but can also display games at a slightly higher 1440p resolution should you be using something like a game-friendly computer monitor. If you’re playing on a 4K TV, the Series S will “upscale” your content, letting you play games in what amounts to a simulation of real 4K resolution (some games, like Ori and the Will of the Wisp, will be displayed in native 4K)—but don’t expect it to look particularly extravagant.
Even if the Xbox Series S can’t do true 4K gaming, it does stream movies in native 4K, so you’ll still be able to watch high-def flicks. But be warned: the lack of a disc drive means you won’t be playing any Ultra HD Blu-Ray movies as you could with the Xbox Series X, nor will you be able to purchase physical games. That also means you may be hamstrung by its smaller 512GB internal storage, though that’s expandable with a proprietary 1TB storage option (like a camera memory card, but for your Xbox).
Get the Xbox Series S if: You don’t care about being on the cutting edge of gaming, and just want a console that’ll get you access to hundreds of games and 4K movies without breaking the bank; it’s also a great lower-cost option for parents shopping for their young kids.
The Xbox Series X: Going hard on the graphics
Where the Xbox Series S brings next-gen gaming to lower-resolution screens, the Xbox Series X is built for gamers who want to see every pixel pop on their 4K display and purchase games with little hassle, be they physical or digital versions.
The Xbox Series X plays games at their native 4K resolution, can run certain titles at 120 frames per second, and includes an Ultra HD Blu-Ray drive, which the cheaper Series S lacks. Its 1TB of storage (expandable like the Series S) lets you pack more games in your console, while the disc drive makes it easier to delete and re-install games at will.
Both the Xbox Series S and Series X work with Microsoft’s subscription service, Game Pass, which offers access to hundreds of Xbox games past and present for $9 per month, playable either on your console or your PC—think of it as Netflix for games. You can play select Xbox and Xbox 360 games using Game Pass, as well as current-day Xbox Series games like Destiny and Gears 5. For $15 per month, there’s Game Pass Ultimate, which nets you the same number of games, but also lets you play or stream them on your Android smartphone, among other perks.
To get more people in the Xbox ecosystem without requiring they drop hundreds of bucks up front, Microsoft has also created the Xbox All Access subscription, which bundles either an Xbox Series S or Series X console with Game Pass Ultimate for $24.99 (Series S) or $34.99 per month (Series X) for two years.
Get the Xbox Series X if: You want a powerful console that can fully take advantage of your 4K TV and home theater setup, and an Ultra HD Blu-Ray player for your growing library of physical media. Paired with a service like Game Pass Ultimate, the Xbox Series X is the console for older gamers with fond memories of their first Xbox.
PlayStation 5: The best exclusive games
Available in two versions, a $399 digital-only version and a $499 model with a built-in Ultra HD Blu-Ray drive, Sony’s PlayStation 5 carries on the legacy of the PlayStation 4 with a focus on exclusivity—a strategy that helped Sony sell twice as many consoles as rival Microsoft. The company is betting you’ll love titles like Spider-Man: Miles Morales, already available, and upcoming exclusives like the remastered Demon Souls and Rachet and Clank: Rift Apart, both set to hit the PS5 within the next year. All PS5 games are presented in 4K resolution, and load quickly thanks to the internal 1TB SSD (expandable with a Sony-approved SSD expansion card).
There’s also the new DualSense controller, which features a familiar layout for PlayStation owners while adding new features like pressure-sensitive triggers able to recreate the feeling of, for example, shooting an arrow or playing with a zipper. Titles like Astro’s Playroom and Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War take advantage of the haptic features, but it remains to be seen whether developers making games for multiple consoles will spend time and resources utilizing features available on just one.
While there aren’t many games available at launch, the PlayStation 5 is backwards-compatible with your PS4 library. There’s also Sony’s PlayStation Now game streaming service, letting you play hundreds of PS2, PS3, and PS4 games on your PlayStation 5 or PC for $10 per month.
Get the PlayStation 5 if: You’re already invested in Sony’s library of exclusive games on the PlayStation 4, and want to play games with a more advanced controller that immerses you in the action. Also, if you don’t mind displaying the console prominently, the PlayStation 5 might serve as an artistic talking point when you’re not playing with it.
Months after first teasing the news, Apple on Tuesday unveiled a trio of Mac desktop and laptop computers powered not by Intel processors, but by its homemade M1 chip, an ARM-based design that more closely resembles those typically found in smartphones and tablets, like the iPhone and iPad. The switch marks the second major change to the silicon powering Apple’s Mac lineup, the first occurring in 2005 when the company ditched PowerPC processors for Intel guts.
The first new Mac computers to use Apple’s M1 chip include new MacBook Air ($999) and MacBook Pro ($1,299) laptops, as well as a refreshed Mac Mini ($699), the company’s puck-sized standalone desktop offering. All three are currently available for pre-order; shipments begin next Friday.
Apple’s ARM-based M1 chip utilizes what’s called a “system-on-chip” design, incorporating what were once disparate elements on a computer’s motherboard into a single chip designed to handle multiple aspects of computing with improved efficiency and less power use. Because they’re generally less powerful but more energy-efficient than rival options, ARM chips have traditionally been used only in mobile devices. But recent improvements in both hardware and software have made ARM-based desktop and laptops possible, too—Microsoft, for instance, is using an ARM chip in its Surface Pro X.
In practical terms, Apple says the M1 should bring benefits like better battery life (for the MacBooks, anyway; Apple says the Air could get up to 15 hours of uptime on a single charge), more impressive graphics and new machine learning capabilities, similar to those found on the latest iPhones. Since they share the same DNA, so to speak, the new Macs will easily run iOS and iPadOS apps. To run Intel-specific apps on the new Macs, however, users will have to rely on Apple’s Rosetta 2 software; compatibility issues may yet arise as they did with Microsoft’s ARM-based Surface.
Other than the chip change, the new MacBooks and Mac Mini feature basically no major design tweaks. That’s a bit of a bummer, especially considering they have a number of limitations, like a 16GB RAM ceiling, an outdated 720p webcam, and no form of expandable storage to speak of, user-friendly or otherwise. The lack of a better webcam is especially unfortunate, given that the worsening COVID-19 pandemic means many of us will still be working or learning via video conferencing software for a while longer. While a longer-lasting MacBook sounds plenty appealing, it’s probably worth waiting for the reviews to come in before placing that pre-order.
There was plenty to love about Marvel and Insomniac’s 2018 Spider-Man video game, from the mechanics of swinging through a hyper-realistic Manhattan to the story’s emotional gut-punches. But many critics had one majorissue with the plot: Peter Parker’s fantasies about an alter-ego he dubbed “Spider-Cop,” a hard-boiled detective who had alltheproblematicmarkings of a Law & Order-style TV crime-fighter who refuses to play by the rules no matter the consequences.
The “Spider-Cop” storyline was cringe-worthy in 2018, five years after the Black Lives Matter movement began to coalesce. It has aged even worse in the past year, as fresh protests against police brutality have erupted across the world. This year’s follow-up game, Spider-Man: Miles Morales, whose hero is a Black-Puerto Rican teen, offered Insomniac an opportunity to address these criticisms. But while the game is a joy to play—with a wonderful cast of characters and a new set of thrilling Spidey powers—it also bends over backwards to avoid any nuanced conversation about criminal justice. In fact, the police have largely been removed from the game, skirting the issue entirely.
That’s a shame, because the game—a hotly-anticipated title that millions are likely to play—is uniquely positioned to respond to our current moment. Miles, who features in his own comics series and was the hero of 2018’s Oscar-winning film, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, is a native of New York City, where tensions between the police and communities of color have been escalating for years. Miles’ father also happened to be a cop killed during a terrorist attack in the 2018 game. At the beginning of this new game, Peter takes a well-earned vacation and leaves his protege, Miles, to protect New York on his own. The veteran Spidey’s only been gone a few hours when an evil corporation called Roxxon, run by an Elon Musk-type, threatens Miles’ diverse Harlem neighborhood.
Given his lived experience and his father’s job, Miles may have complicated feelings about law enforcement and criminal justice—feelings that could have evolved over the course of this game’s storyline in interesting, thought-provoking ways. Sadly, Insomniac balks at the chance to render the full complexity of Miles’ story.
Video games differ from movies, television and books because they quite literally put the player in the protagonist’s shoes. As a player, you’re not just identifying with a character, you’re inhabiting them—controlling their movements and their choices, at least as much as a given game allows. In theory, games have the opportunity to build a level of empathy between player and character that other forms of entertainment do not. Into the Spider-Verse touted that anyone could wear the mask; Spider-Man: Miles Morales offers that opportunity to anyone with a PlayStation. For video games to live up to this opportunity, it’s vital that they invite players to experience the lives of people who do not look like them or come from the same background. But game creators must also be willing to ask players to confront the uncomfortable and unpleasant aspects of characters’ lived experiences.
To its credit, Insomniac did realize that Miles can’t have the same relationship with the police as Parker, a white man. So instead of getting tips from cops, Miles’ friend designs an app that allows distressed New Yorkers to report crimes directly to Spider-Man. This facilitates more intimate interactions between Miles and the people he protects. Like Peter in the 2018 game, he doesn’t just drop-kick evil scientists—he also finds lost cats and fixes busted pipes at the neighborhood homeless shelter. Both Miles and Peter protect their communities through more quotidian tasks like volunteering their time and energy to feed and shelter those in need. These are fictional but compelling examples of how community service could foster a more trusting relationship between communities and crime-fighters than many current police tactics.
But why Miles would rather avoid the police—or why Harlem residents might turn to him rather than the cops—is never stated outright, and players might have different expectations for how the game ought to handle unspoken moments of tension. A Black player who has grown up approaching police with caution because of racism in our criminal justice system might immediately understand what’s going on, whereas a white player might need these more subtle plot points spelled out for them because they’ve have had a radically different experience with the police.
In another big departure from the Peter Parker game, the police never speak to Miles’ Spider-Man when they see him on the street. And in situations where you might expect to see police—running security at a political event, for instance—instead there’s Roxxon’s private security force. (Why Roxxon would employ thousands of soldiers in futuristic combat gear, and why the City of New York would allow this heavily armed privatized army to wander freely around Manhattan, is never explained.)
The game does hint at the unexplained tensions between Miles and the police. When he defeats a group of henchmen, for example, he will often insist on a quick getaway, because the cops “aren’t big Spider-Man fans.” This wasn’t true of Peter in the previous game, who often teamed up with the chief of police to fight crime and even helped her to set up a citywide surveillance system. Toward the end of Miles Morales, I started to stick around longer after webbing up a few dozen evil-doers for the police to arrest, just to see how the police would react to Miles when they arrived. But the cops rarely showed up, and the few times they did, it was impossible for Miles to interact with them. (By contrast, Peter often would shoot the breeze with the police in the 2018 game.)
The absence of cops leaves efforts to allude to Black Lives Matter feeling like empty gestures at best. Early in the game, Miles saves an entire crowd of people. But rather than greeting him as a hero, Roxxon’s masked security forces turn their guns on him, aiming to kill. Miles raises his hands in the air, signaling not to shoot. People in the crowd call out that Spider-Man is a good guy. Some pull out their phones to record a potential homicide. This cutscene is the game’s most blatant nod to the countless, tragic viral videos of real-world police shooting, and often killing, unarmed Black people. But replacing real, identifiable policemen and women with faceless corporate henchmen zaps the moment of most of its power; the player is never forced to consider the men behind the masks who decided to try to kill a kid.
Another side mission leads Miles to a Black Lives Matter mural. The moment is a powerful statement outside the game’s universe, but a puzzling one within it. It’s the first time the Black Lives Matter movement is mentioned. I couldn’t help but wish for a flashback scene in which Miles and his father discuss how they feel about racism in policing.
If Miles Morales fails to make a big statement about law enforcement, it at least has something to say about marginalized communities. At one point in the game, Miles observes that Roxxon is trying to take advantage of Harlem because the city doesn’t care what happens to people who live there—he believes he’s the only one willing to protect his home, as do Harlem’s citizens, who call Miles “our Spider-Man.”
Meanwhile, Miles’ mother, Rio Morales, runs for political office on the promise to oust Roxxon, which has built an experimental power plant in Harlem, from the neighborhood. Her argument echoes Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez’s real-world protest against Amazon’s plans to build a headquarters in Queens. But while Ocasio-Cortez pointed to local and state leaders as the institutional forces incentivizing Amazon’s arrival, Insomniac’s game fails to explore what role the government played in Roxxon’s decision to set up shop in Harlem. Ultimately, the game suggests the threats to Harlem are fantastical—Morales just has to stop one maniacal wacko to save the neighborhood. But the story ignores the real threats to Miles’ community, like gentrification and institutional racism. (The game’s Harlem feels about two decades older than the real deal, where yoga studios and multi-million-dollar high-rises are supplanting long-standing Black businesses and cultural institutions.)
Yet Miles Morales is so thoughtfully and meticulously constructed in other ways. Miles’ family and friends reflect the actual diversity of New York City. He and his mother switch seamlessly between Spanish and English in conversation. He’s also fluent in ASL, and establishes a flirtation with a deaf street artist. These quietly revolutionary aspects of the game make Miles’ New York richer and more real than Peter’s version ever was.
There are smaller thrills, too. If you complete a particular mission, you earn a special feline sidekick whose flurry of fighting tactics made me giggle with glee. The game is set at Christmastime, and after a certain point, you can swing through the city wearing earmuffs, a scarf and a hat atop the Spidey suit to keep warm. And anyone who lives in New York will discover a renewed sense of joy exploring a city that has been in various states of lockdown since the coronavirus forced major shutdowns earlier this year. Toward the end of the game, I crawled my way to the top of the Empire State Building and found myself in tears gazing over the gorgeously rendered and shockingly accurate depictions of neighborhoods I haven’t been able to safely visit in months.
Still, I wish Miles Morales’ creators had spent as much time thinking about how to reckon with racism in policing as they did perfecting their virtual Manhattan. They built a realistic city and community. The next step should have been realistically depicting Miles’ specific point of view on the most urgent matters of the day. Miles’ specific backstory as the Black Puerto Rican son of a cop sorting through what it means to protect a community as a superhero—including when to help the police and when to fight them—connects to one of the most rich and promising topics being explored in recent superhero comics, movies and TV shows. Let’s hope the next entry in the Spider-Man video game series does that subject matter justice, too.
When the Nevada Department of Health and Human Services launched COVID Trace, one of the nation’s first COVID-19 contact-tracing smartphone apps, on Aug. 24, state health authorities “strongly recommended” all 3 million-plus Nevadans download and use the app. But two and a half months later, adoption remained well short of that ambitious goal—the app has been downloaded just under 70,000 times as of Nov. 9, representing just under 3% of the state’s adult population. A total of zero exposures were registered in the app throughout the month of September, during which the state reported more than 10,000 new cases. One of the first positive test results logged into the app was submitted in early October by Nevada’s pandemic response director, who himself had contracted the virus. Nevada is currently reporting roughly 1,200 new COVID-19 cases daily, and the app doesn’t seem to be making a difference.
While researchers have worked for months to develop COVID-19 vaccines and treatments, contact-tracing apps like COVID Trace have been touted as one of the technology world’s most promising contributions to the fight against the pandemic. But seven months into the U.S. outbreak, such apps have made slow progress across the country, hampered by sluggish and uncoordinated development, distrust of technology companies, and inadequate advertising budgets and messaging campaigns.
“People are trying whatever they can think of, and this is one of those things,” says Jeffrey Kahn, a professor of health policy and management at Johns Hopkins University. “Whether it’s worth the investment, it’s really hard to answer that until there’s more information.”
Most U.S. contact-tracing apps are built by state governments, but underpinned by a Bluetooth-based exposure notification protocol released in May by Google and Apple in a rare joint venture. Smartphones running apps using the Google-Apple technology can exchange randomly generated identification numbers with other nearby devices; the apps then alert users if someone they’ve been in contact with later inputs a positive COVID-19 test so they can take appropriate measures, like getting tested. The idea was to augment, not replace, traditional contact tracing—a manual process in which human investigators interview infected individuals, then contact others with whom they recently spent time. (While many states have been ramping up their contact-tracing programs, many of these efforts have been overwhelmed by the sheer amount of viral spread in recent weeks.)
But five months after the Google-Apple project launched, apps using their protocol are available to the general public in only 10 states and Washington, D.C. Even in states that have rolled out contact-tracing apps, adoption generally remains low. Why?
Part of the problem, according to public-health experts, has been a lack of coordination by the federal government, which could have, for example, created a national digital contact-tracing solution and encouraged states to opt in. Absent direction or incentives from Washington, many states have chosen not to launch contact-tracing apps at all. Even states that have launched contact-tracing apps were initially wary of investing their limited resources in an unproven solution. Officials in New York, for example, told TIME they were interested in Google and Apple’s initial pitch as the pandemic battered the Empire State this spring, but first wanted to shore up their traditional contact-tracing program. The state eventually launched an app in early October.
Contact-tracing apps have also been slowed by state health departments’ lack of tech expertise, according to public-health officials and technologists. “From the perspective of an app developer that sat in those contracting queues in places like New York and California, states were utterly unequipped to start making procurement decisions on contact-tracing apps,” says Teddy Gold, executive director of Zero, a non-profit formed this spring to make pandemic response software. “You’d get sent from the public health department to the governor’s office, to the [chief information officer], back to a mayor’s office, back to the chief information security officer’s office. It was this Kafkaesque thing where no one had ever done this. No one had ever developed a contact-tracing app before. States don’t develop apps.” Dr. Norm Oliver, Virginia’s state health commissioner, agrees. “Public-health departments around the country, their strong suit is not going to be app development,” Oliver says.
At first, states using the Google-Apple protocol had to contract with developers on their own to build contact-tracing apps, an expensive and complicated process. In September, with only a handful of state apps online since the protocol’s May launch, the companies released Exposure Notifications Express, a basic, pre-built version that states can use instead of developing their own apps. Users in areas where the service is active can opt in after receiving a push notification, a feature likely to save marketing costs. A Google spokesperson says the company is seeing “momentum” in adoption among states thanks to collaboration with public health authorities and ongoing software improvements. Apple did not respond to TIME’s requests for comment.
Some officials say the technology companies have done the best they can considering the constantly changing pandemic situation and the inherent complexities of public-health administration. “Apple and Google as tech companies, I think they were trying to find where they could best fit in to help, using technology that they knew was available without saying that they’re the public health authority, which they’re not,” says Jeff Stover, an executive advisor at the Virginia Department of Health. But getting a contact-tracing app up and running is still not as simple as flipping a switch, and some technologists and health experts are frustrated over delays in getting these apps into wide use. “We’re 200,000 dead people late,” says Gold. “It’s like the plane has crash-landed and everyone has died and the captain scrambles out of the rubble and he’s like, ‘Okay guys, in an emergency landing there are lifejackets under your seats.’”
Of course, whether an app takes a week or six months to build doesn’t matter if people aren’t downloading and using the resulting software—a problem in most states that have launched contract tracing apps. Alabama’s contact-tracing app, for example, was downloaded only 125,000 times between its release in mid-August and late October, a figure equivalent to just over 3% of the state’s adult population. Wyoming, which launched a contact-tracing app around the same time, has seen fewer than 5,000 downloads as of late October, equivalent to just 1% of the state’s adults. Apps in North Carolina and Pennsylvania had been downloaded by an equivalent of only 3-4% of their adult populations by the end of October, just over a month after launching. In New Jersey and New York, which both launched apps on Oct. 1, an equivalent of around 4% of resident adults signed up for their apps in less than a month.
fg that contact-tracing apps are tracking their location or other personal information. “Concern about privacy is one of the things that’s suppressing adoption,” says Christian Sandvig, director of the Center for Ethics, Society, and Computing at the University of Michigan. That’s despite the fact that the Google-Apple protocol—which doesn’t track or share users’ locations or identities—represents the “gold standard” for privacy protection, Sandvig says. Some health experts have even argued that these apps were built with such an emphasis on privacy that they’re actually less useful in fighting the pandemic, in part because they don’t collect data like the locations where potential infections are taking place.
But many users may not see it that way, especially in an era when Americans’ trust in Big Tech is eroding and technology firms are catching flak from all sides of the political spectrum. In some instances, privacy concerns are even killing contact-tracing apps in the cradle—South Carolina, for instance, announced plans in May to deploy a Google-Apple powered contact-tracing app, only to shelve the plan the next month after lawmakers banned such software over privacy concerns.
In some states, sparse adoption may also be linked to a lack of advertising funding. In the two U.S. states with the highest adoption rates—Delaware (7.3% adoption) and Virginia (10.6% adoption)—officials have spent $0.11 and $0.18 per resident on advertising their apps, respectively. Officials in those states attribute their relative success to aggressive outreach efforts; in Virginia, that included a PSA featuring students from around the state as well as marketing materials in both English and Spanish. But in Wyoming and Nevada, where adoption sits at a paltry 1.1% and 2.9% of resident adults, respectively, advertising funds are scant. Wyoming isn’t spending any money at all to promote its app. The private-sector partners behind Nevada’s COVID Trace, who also paid to build the app in the first place, are spending a small amount on ads—around $0.03 per resident, plus ad inventory contributed by Google and a volunteer effort from Vegas-area performers—while the state is spending none of its own funds. The strategy has so far failed to bear fruit. “I feel like I’ve talked about COVID Trace every day since we launched it, and people will say ‘oh I didn’t know you did an app,’” says Julia Peek, Deputy Administrator of Nevada’s Community Health Services. “It’s like, ‘what are we doing wrong to promote this?’”
While it’s obvious that no U.S. state has achieved anything resembling a satisfactory adoption rate, it remains unclear how many people in a given population need to download and use contact-tracing apps to control viral spread. In May, researchers pegged that figure at 60%—far more than what U.S. states are seeing so far. But newer research from Oxford University and Google says that exposure notification apps could help reduce infections at any level of uptake. “There have been a lot of conversations in the past about [whether] you have to achieve minimum thresholds in terms of adoption levels,” says Larry Breen, chief commercial officer at Nearform, which developed a contact tracing app for Ireland as well as multiple U.S. states. “I’ve never accepted that as the right thing. As soon as you get the digital contact-tracing solution out into any cluster or group of people, it’s providing some level of protection.”
Even the highest adoption rates among U.S. states are far below those in countries like Ireland, where more than a third of the adult population downloaded the government’s contract-tracing app by early October, or Germany, which reached 27% adoption in September (though even both of those results fall well short of mass adoption). Breen says Irish officials and politicians have maintained a unified, consistent message promoting the app, which hasn’t been true in the U.S. “There’s a lot of confusion and different messaging coming out,” he says. Other countries, like Austria, have comparable adoption rates to Virginia.
All told, despite the relative success of states like Delaware and Virginia, agonizingly slow rollouts and uncertain public health benefits over the past few months have caused some experts to doubt the assumption that contact tracing apps can help bring the spiraling U.S. COVID-19 outbreak under control. “There’s an ultimate question here…which is, ‘Is this a great opportunity for software?,’” says Sandvig. “It may be that it is not.”
WhatsApp users in India will now be able to send money through the Facebook-owned messaging app after WhatsApp Pay was granted approval by the national regulator late Thursday.
The green light came just months after Facebook ploughed $5.7 billion dollars into a telecoms company owned by the country’s richest man.
WhatsApp has 400 million users in India, more than any other country in the world, but has struggled to convert those large numbers to increased profitability. Executives see WhatsApp Pay as a solution which, if successful, could be replicated worldwide.
“I’m excited to share today that WhatsApp has been approved to launch payments across India,” Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s CEO, said in a video. “So now you’re going to be able to easily send money to your friends and family through WhatsApp just as easily as sending a message, there’s no fee and it’s supported by more than 140 banks.”
Even with the new approval, WhatsApp faces barriers to the Indian mobile payments market. Under the regulatory approval, WhatsApp’s service will be limited to a maximum of 20 million Indians, around 5% of WhatsApp’s user base in India. That’s an increase from the 1 million users that regulators had approved could access a beta version of the service since 2018.
The National Payments Corporation of India (NPCI), the regulator, suggested in a press release that further expansions of that limit would be forthcoming. “WhatsApp can expand its … user base in a graded manner starting with a maximum registered user base of twenty (20) million,” it said.
WhatsApp Pay received a setback in 2018, when the NPCI withheld full regulatory approval, instead ruling that WhatsApp would have to store its user information inside the country, and restricting its service to 1 million users.
The ruling came amid lobbying by Indian company Paytm, a competitor to WhatsApp Pay, that data localization was in the national interest, according to Reuters.
But events have moved in Facebook’s favor in 2020. In April, Facebook spent $5.7 billion to buy a 10% stake in Reliance Jio, a telecoms company owned by Mukesh Ambani, India’s richest man, who as recently as early 2019 had been lobbying Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to resist what he called “data colonization” by foreign companies.
A month after that deal was announced, Zuckerberg spoke at a Facebook shareholder meeting about plans to integrate WhatsApp Pay with Jio, which has a network of mom-and-pop stores across India. “With so many people in India engaging through WhatsApp, we just think this is going to be a huge opportunity for us to provide a better commerce experience for people, to help small businesses and the economy there, and to build a really big business ourselves over time,” Zuckerberg said. “We’re partnering with [Jio] to do some product integrations … that I think are going to be very exciting.”
Government on speed dial
Since then, links have emerged between Facebook’s leadership team in India and Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). In late October, Facebook’s India and South Asia policy chief, Ankhi Das, stepped down from the company following a controversy in which she had been accused of intervening to stop politicians from the BJP being punished for violations of Facebook’s hate speech rules.
Das, a longtime employee of the company who had spent years cultivating a reputation of being able to secure wins for Facebook through her close ties with India’s ruling elite, had nevertheless struggled with successfully lobbying the regulator for approval.
Her departure may offer a clue to the regulatory approval’s timing. Das has been replaced (ostensibly until a full-time replacement can be found) by Shivnath Thukral. Since March, Thukral has been WhatsApp’s policy chief in India, whose key responsibility is securing regulatory approval for WhatsApp Pay. Now, he is in charge of both Facebook and WhatsApp policy in India.
Facebook and WhatsApp spokespeople did not immediately respond to a request for comment about whether the personnel changes have anything to do with the timing of the announcement.
Thukral has had closer links to the BJP than Das. He worked on behalf of the party in 2014 elections, in close coordination with its senior leadership, when the party was in opposition. In August, a TIME investigation found he had walked out of a meeting where a hate speech post by a BJP state lawmaker was flagged by an activist. The post remained online for a year despite Facebook flagging it internally as hate speech, until TIME asked about it.
Just over a week after Das left the company and Thukral assumed her role at the helm of Facebook’s India policy team, the regulatory approval for WhatsApp Pay was announced.
As a new generation of video game consoles arrives, many have wondered whether the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X will actually feel “next gen”—that is to say, markedly better. New console generations used to mark major leaps in performance, fidelity and ways of playing (think of the graphical leap from the NES to the Super Nintendo, or the jump to 3-D games with the original PlayStation). But more recently, there’s been less distance between one generation of consoles and the next. And today, high-powered gaming PCs already surpass the PS5 and Microsoft’s Xbox Series X in the specs department, delivering higher frame rates and better visuals.
All this was on my mind when I first fired up the PlayStation 5. In truth, all I really wanted was faster loading times and that sweet, sweet 4K output. And then I picked up Sony’s new DualSense controller.
Sony has largely marketed the PlayStation 5 on its native 4K resolution, faster performance (thanks in part to an integrated solid state drive) and the inclusion of “3D Audio.” And these are all certainly nice features. But the controller, with its new haptic vibrations and adaptive triggers, is downright incredible.
The company promised that the DualSense’s haptic feedback would provide “a variety of powerful sensations,” but those of us steeped in video game marketing are skeptical people. Turns out, Sony vastly undersold it—this is not the disappointing “HD Rumble” Nintendo included in the Switch’s Joy-Cons. The haptics included in the DualSense provide a tangible sense of connection that I’ve frankly never experienced with a video game. When swinging in Spider-Man: Miles Morales, for instance, you’ll feel little vibrations of web stretching out from our hero’s arms. When Miles is on the subway, you’ll feel the tracks underneath. When he turns on a TV, you’ll feel the click of the button.
While Miles is impressive enough, the haptics in Astro’s Playroom, the PlayStation 5’s free pack-in demonstration game, really blew my mind. There’s an unexpected distinction between Astro walking across metal versus a sandy beach, for instance. When you pick up a gun, every shot feels different. And when it starts raining on Astro, the haptics across the DualSense controller provide an amazing simulation of getting stuck in a downpour.
The DualSense’s Adaptive Triggers were less surprising; you’d expect some tension while drawing a bow or pulling a trigger. But seeing how some launch games have used the technology makes me even more excited for whatever’s next. Sure, there’s bow tension in Astro’s Playroom, but there are also fragile climbing moments that require delicate trigger-handling, while controlling a rocket ship offers a new sensation altogether. In Miles Morales, web slinging includes a slight bit of satisfying tension. And though fairly simple, I’ve loved the feeling of the triggers when taking a picture in Bugsnax.
The DualSense also boasts an updated controller speaker, a more sensitive touchpad and advanced motion controls, though none of these feel like major upgrades—if anything, it’s the combination of the triggers, the haptics and the speaker that truly heighten the whole experience.
Of course, the DualSense could turn out to be a gimmick. While the controller feels incredible, game developers might not take full advantage of the best features here. Many teams crunching to get a game out on time for multiple consoles and PC might not allocate the resources to fully utilize the PS5’s adaptive triggers and haptic feedback. Think of the DualShock 4’s touchpad, a feature I thought was pretty cool upon the PlayStation 4’s launch—but few developers, even Sony’s own, made much use of it. Devs won’t forget about vibration and triggers, but my fear is that few will explore all the possibilities.
Of course, the PlayStation 5 is more than its controller. The SSD integration speeds up load times, the 3D Audio sounds great on Sony’s Pulse 3D Headset and, with the help of my outstanding 55’ OLED TV, the visuals are incredible. But if the iterative advancements of sharper resolution, more immersive sound and quicker load times don’t seem like a big, next-generation leap, then maybe you’ll be as delighted as I am about the new controller.
Formerly a medical assistant at a surgical department in Washington state, Sayles was laid off at the beginning of April, when the pandemic hit. Confined to his home by stay-at-home orders, he began spending more time on the social network Reddit, and came across /r/collapse, a part of the site where users discuss what many see as the inevitable collapse of globalized society.
Sayles says /r/collapse has become part of his morning routine. “I just go to that subreddit and I compare what the world was like last week with this week,” he says. “And every week there is something worse. It’s depressing, but collapse is inevitable. It might be tomorrow, it might be in 10 years. But our ecosystem is shot and there’s only so much time left.”
That sums up the worldview of the subreddit, which has more than tripled in size in the last two years, and now has more than 239,000 subscribers. (Like Reddit as a whole, which has roughly twice as many male users as female ones, the majority of them appear to be male.) Its content—a mixture of news headlines, memes and rants—is clearly addictive, at least for some people. It’s laced with hints of existential truths: that progress is a myth, that capitalism is already in decline, and that environmental catastrophe may come much sooner than most people expect. Naturally, this content has the capacity to be highly depressing. A suicide hotline is displayed in a prominent position on the front page, alongside a disclaimer. “Overindulging in this sub[reddit] may be detrimental to your mental health,” it says. “Anxiety and depression are common reactions when studying collapse.”
Before he lost his job, Sayles was a supporter of President Trump who bought into the President’s “Make America Great Again” message. But spending time on /r/collapse, combined with watching the Trump Administration’s handling of the pandemic, has led him to change his allegiance. When wildfires ravaged the West Coast of the U.S. over the summer, the smoke was so thick he had to stay indoors for a week and a half. Homeless people the same age as him—late twenties—are now sleeping in the park near his house. The price of bacon at his local store has doubled. He has already voted by mail, and not for Trump.
For Sayles, the subreddit’s disclaimer about depression rings true. “I agree it is bad for people’s mental health,” he says. “But I also think people need to wake up to the world around them. These dangers are real. It’s impossible to deny these things any more.”
If Sayles’ story sounds familiar, that’s because for many of us, it is. As the pandemic confined billions of people to their homes in 2020, the word “doomscrolling” entered the lexicon, referring to the temptation to compulsively scroll through social media platforms filled with apocalyptic news—and the difficulty stopping despite feelings of dread and anxiety. There’s no shortage of reasons for heightened anxieties this year, from the COVID-19 pandemic to the U.S. Presidential election to the racial injustice protests. But social media platforms also play a crucial role, given that they are designed to keep you scrolling and engaged for as long as possible. “As a species we are inherently hardwired to respond first to threatening information,” says Patrick Kennedy-Williams, a psychologist who treats patients for climate-related anxieties. Those evolutionary traits mean that the most anxiety-inducing content is often the most profitable for social platforms like Reddit, Facebook and Twitter. “Behind the screen are impassive algorithms designed to ensure that the most outrageous information gets to our attention first,” writes the academic Julia Bell in her new book Radical Attention. “Because when we are enraged, we are engaged, and the longer we are engaged the more money the platform can make from us.”
Over the last decade, social networks have upended the way we live our lives. In bypassing traditional gatekeepers, these platforms have given ordinary people new opportunities to raise their voices, from the Arab Spring uprisings in the early 2010s to the climate activism of Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg at the end of the decade.
But psychologists who study the emerging field of social media addiction also point to a darker side. When you’re constantly presented with evidence of systemic threats, it can foster a negativity bias that can leave you feeling anxious or depressed—and reduce your sense of individual agency. “There’s something inherently disenfranchising about someone’s ability to act on something if they’re exposed to it via social media, because it’s inherently global,” says Kennedy-Williams. “There are not necessarily ways that they can interact with the issue.” This sense of paralysis is at the core of doomscrolling. And it raises an important question: what’s the use of raising awareness, if the medium you’re using to do so inspires lethargy instead of action?
Both users and moderators of /r/collapse have spent a lot of time thinking about that question. Some already practice the solution that Kennedy-Williams often suggests to his clients: log off and engage with efforts to fix the problem at a local level. But for many, it’s not that simple. “The subreddit has definitely ratcheted up my anxiety at times,” says Waleed_Compound, a regular user of the subreddit who lives in Santa Rosa, California, who, like many users TIME spoke with, asked to be referred to only by his username. He says he finds it easy to walk away from his screen, and has found solace in spending more time with his family and helping the homeless.
But the growing frequency of bad wildfires where he lives makes coming to terms with climate collapse unavoidable. In 2018, the Camp Fire killed at least 85 people in and around the town of Paradise in Northern California and gave off so much smoke that Waleed_Compound, who lives 100 miles away, had to stay indoors for two weeks. Days before he spoke to TIME, embers from a wildfire northeast of Santa Rosa set a business near his home partially ablaze. “All this collapse stuff, and thinking about what could happen in the future, doesn’t really get me too down, except for some anxiety here and there,” he says. “It’s the real-world stuff that really gets to me. Doomscrolling is a thing, for sure. But it’s nothing compared to what I’ve actually seen.”
Over the last two years, as the subreddit has tripled in size, moderators have noticed its content changing, too. With a bigger audience comes a greater opportunity to spread the word. But where the subreddit used to be mainly used as a forum for discussion of data and hard news, the most popular threads today are memes, alarmist headlines and polemics. Those are more appealing for a large audience–who accordingly “upvote” the posts to the top of the subreddit.
But the risk is that this content becomes so appealing as to provoke the paralysis of doomscrolling. “Any online forum that reaches a certain scale encounters barriers of quality and difficulty of moderation, because the nature of online discussion is such that the lowest effort content wants to float to the top,” says Mike Rezl, one of the subreddit’s moderators, whose username is LetsTalkUFOs. This doesn’t necessarily mean content that takes low effort to produce, he says. A funny meme can take a long time to craft, but take just seconds to consume. In other words, as the subreddit has got bigger, it has become easier to doomscroll, potentially making the subreddit more depressing while reducing its most active users’ capacity to act.
“I think to a certain extent, the subreddit has almost lost the battle already,” says one of the longest-serving moderators of /r/collapse, who goes by the username Babbles. “Reddit, and the way people engage with it, is not really conducive to productive conversation. And this is true for social media in general.”
Babbles says that a few years ago, when the subreddit was smaller, there was a running joke about how new users tend to go through the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. It’s not a linear process, or an enjoyable one. Babbles jokes that many users, including himself, still seem to be cycling through the final three stages.
But as the subreddit grows, the regulars of /r/collapse are being forced to grapple with a heavy question: what does it mean to introduce such emotionally impactful ideas to a large number of people in an environment as impersonal as Reddit? “It’s helpful to have this information available to those who seek it out,” says James, a regular user from Australia who asked to be referred to by his middle name to protect his online identity. “But is Reddit the best platform for that? Absolutely not. You can read something that completely shatters your worldview and there’s nothing to bring you back.”
Meanwhile, the moderators feel an acute sense of responsibility. In 2017, some users set up a dedicated sister subreddit for helping people deal with collapse-related anxieties, to which moderators often direct commenters who seem suicidal or self-destructive. Still, the issue weighs on them. “We have to assume that there are countless people who still fall through the cracks, who we don’t see, who slip into deep depression, who do not return, because they were not able to overcome the weight of this information,” says Rezl.
Just as coming to terms with the loss of a loved one is a painful but eventually necessary experience, so—many of the longest-tenured users of /r/collapse believe—it is necessary for large numbers of people to come to terms with the idea that they may experience civilizational collapse in their lifetimes. But in some ways, doomscrolling is a barrier to achieving this goal: users might find it easier to come to terms with these ideas if they were not paralyzed by algorithms constantly serving up more doom. And the more people who find the subreddit, the worse the risk of doomscrolling becomes. “The subreddit is going to continue growing as systemic disruptions occur,” says Rezl, the moderator. “So we have to figure out a way, at any scale, to address that. But there’s no ultimate solution. You can’t have a million people in a room all talking at once.”
The collapse subculture uses a term for what comes after grief: resiliency. This is the idea that even if collapse is inevitable, there are ways–both on an individual and a societal level–to build preparedness, both mentally and physically, for what is to come.
“We attach ourselves to this material, study it, then we freak out about it and try to tell all our friends about it, and our friends don’t want to hear about it because it’s depressing,” says Babbles. “But then you kind of move on from that, and things open up for you. A lot of people look at making substantial changes in their life: how they live, how they measure their own resiliency in the face of what might be coming, and to a certain extent, even how they expect to cope spiritually and existentially with this newfound knowledge.”
For many of the subreddit’s most active users, this has meant spending time on Discord, a chatroom service similar to Slack, where it’s easier to forge interpersonal connections and where alarmist content doesn’t dominate the conversation as often. The official collapse Discord server has around 880 users, many of whom are also active members of the subreddit. “I’ve gravitated toward the Discord side of things because it’s a lot more reasonable,” says James, the user from Australia. “The issue that I have with Reddit is the fact it’s based on a point system, and the fact you can see your score. It’s a big driver to generate content that will get upvotes, and that doesn’t necessarily lead to content that’s actually of any real use.”
It has also led many users to make changes to their lives. James, who began reading the subreddit regularly after devastating bushfires ripped across Australia in 2019, recently moved out of Melbourne and began experimenting with self-sufficiency. He says that rather than making him more depressed, engaging with a community of like minded individuals via Discord has been a validating experience. Waleed_Compound, the user from Santa Rosa, says the same about helping homeless people in his community.
But at the same time as finding ways of safeguarding their mental health, many users have also resorted to preparing to save themselves and their loved ones from the worst. Waleed_Compound has stockpiled supplies of beans and rice, as well as guns and ammunition. Sayles, the former Trump supporter, has been increasing his supplies of food as the election approaches.
This behavior is known as prepping—short for “preparing.” Posts about prepping are discouraged on /r/collapse, and moderators redirect users with practical questions to the /r/preppers subreddit, which has 203,000 subscribers. But there is a significant overlap between the two groups, who share similar approaches to dealing with what they see as inevitable disaster in their own lifetimes. Bradley Garrett, an ethnographer studying the subculture, visited dozens of communities of preppers when he was researching his new book Bunker: Building for the End Times. While these communities tend to have a reputation as crazy people in the media, Garrett says he ended up convinced by many of their arguments. “If you accept the inevitability of the climate crisis, there are only two responses,” he says. “You either succumb to the despair, or you work to face it somehow. And if you don’t believe that you have the ability or the capacity to change our trajectory, then the only option you have is to build up your resiliency, and be able to adapt to those changes as they take place.”
From spending time with preppers, Garrett came away with a similar attitude to doomscrolling as many of the most regular users of /r/collapse. “I do think that there’s some merit in unplugging, even if it just gives you more time to forge local connections and build up local resiliency, because there will inevitably come a time when we’re going to have to depend on each other,” he says. “That’s so much more important than knowing that there’s a disaster on the other side of the world taking place.”
But for Bell, the author of Radical Attention, unplugging from social media only to focus on your own survival is an extension of the core problem of how platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Reddit are designed: that doomscrolling isolates us, making the kind of collective action that is necessary to prevent climate catastrophe even less likely to happen. “It takes a certain amount of courage to say no, I’m going to do something about this,” she says. “We’ve forgotten what that means, because we’re being encouraged to just passively consume all this stuff.”
Several federal agencies on Wednesday warned hospitals and cyber-researchers about “credible” information “of an increased and imminent cybercrime threat to U.S. hospitals and health-care providers.”
The FBI, the Department of Health and Human Services and the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, part of the Department of Homeland Security and known as CISA, said hackers were targeting the sector, “often leading to ransomware attacks, data theft and the disruption of health-care services,” according to an advisory.
The advisory warned that hackers might use Ryuk ransomware “for financial gain.”
The warning comes as COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations surge across the country. The cybersecurity company FireEye Inc. said multiple U.S hospitals had been hit by a “coordinated” ransomware attack, with at least three publicly confirming being struck this week.
Ransomware is a type of computer virus that locks up computers until a ransom is paid for a decryption key.
The attack was carried out by a financially motivated cybercrime group dubbed UNC1878 by computer security researchers, according to Charles Carmakal, FireEye’s strategic services chief technology officer. At least three hospitals were severely affected by ransomware on Tuesday, he said, and multiple hospitals have been hit over the past several weeks. UNC1878 intends to target and deploy ransomware to hundreds of other hospitals, Carmakal said.
“We are experiencing the most significant cybersecurity threat we’ve ever seen in the United States,” he said. “UNC1878, an Eastern European financially motivated threat actor, is deliberately targeting and disrupting U.S. hospitals, forcing them to divert patients to other health-care providers.”
Multiple hospitals have already been significantly affected by Ryuk ransomware and their networks have been taken offline, Carmakal added. “UNC1878 is one of most brazen, heartless, and disruptive threat actors I’ve observed over my career.”
Attackers using Trickbot malware, which is also cited in the federal advisory, claimed Monday in private communications channel to have attacked more than 400 hospitals in the U.S., said Alex Holden, the founder of the cyber investigations firm Hold Security. By Tuesday, the Trickbot attack group — which frequently works with ransomware operators Ryuk — claimed to have ransomed about 30 medical facilities around the country, Holden said.
Noncriminals running these malware and ransomware operations are known to embellish their achievements, he said.
The ransomware that has targeted hospitals, retirement communities and medical centers this year has typically started with emails that purport to be corporate communications and sometimes contain the name of the victim or their company in the text or its subject line, according to a FireEye report released Wednesday. However, the emails can contain malicious Google Docs, typically in the form of a PDF file, that contains a link to malware. The use of multiple links, as well as PDF files, can help trick email filters designed to spot simpler phishing tactics.
Facebook’s top policy official in India, Ankhi Das, stepped down from the company on Tuesday following reports this summer by TIME and the Wall Street Journal that detailed links between senior Facebook staff and India’s ruling party.
A Facebook spokesperson told TIME that Das’s departure “has nothing to do with the parliamentary inquiry or the media reports.”
“Ankhi has decided to step down from her role in Facebook to pursue her interest in public service,” said Ajit Mohan, managing director of Facebook India, in a statement.
Das, one of the most senior Facebook staff members in India, was one of several people involved in internal conversations about whether posts by politicians violated Facebook’s rules, including on hate speech, and how to act. But Das had also shared an anti-Muslim post on her personal Facebook account, according to a Journal report in August, and had celebrated the 2014 victory of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in national elections. (“These posts are taken out of context and don’t represent the full scope of Facebook’s efforts to support the use of our platform by parties across the political spectrum,” Facebook said at the time.)
TIME understands that Shivnath Thukral, WhatsApp’s public policy director, has been asked to take over Das’s duties on an interim basis until a replacement can be found.
In August, TIME reported that Thukral, one of Das’s key lieutenants at the time, had walked out of a meeting in 2019 when an activist had raised concerns about a post by a BJP state lawmaker who suggested Muslims were rapists. The post remained online for more than a year after the meeting, until TIME contacted Facebook to ask about it. (Facebook told TIME the post had been flagged as hate speech internally at the time, but did not explain why they had failed to remove it.)
Thukral also worked on behalf of the BJP during the party’s 2014 election campaign.
The TIME and Journal reports led to Das being summoned to give evidence to an Indian parliamentary committee. Instead, Mohan attended and gave evidence on Facebook’s behalf in the closed-door session.
TIME also revealed that Facebook has commissioned a human rights impact assessment to consider the impact of Facebook on human rights in India. Facebook did not immediately respond to TIME’s questions about whether Das’s departure would change the scope of that assessment in any way.
“I have decided to step down from Facebook after long service to its mission of connecting people and building communities to pursue my personal interest in public service,” Das said in a statement.
“When I joined Facebook in 2011, internet growth in the country was woefully low and I often wondered how social and economic asymmetries will be addressed. We were a small unlisted startup back then guided only by our mission and purpose to connect people in India. After nine long years, I feel that mission has largely been met. There is an enormous amount I have learnt from incredibly smart and talented people in the company, particularly from people on the policy team. This is a special company and a special group of people. Thank you, Mark for creating something beautiful for the world. I hope I have served you and the company well. I know we will be in touch on Facebook.”
Dia Kayyali, an activist who coordinated an open letter from more than 40 NGOs in September calling on Facebook to fire Das, told TIME: “Ankhi Das leaving Facebook should be recognized as what it is– the result of sustained organizing by human rights defenders and civil society. This is a win for everyone who has been affected by Facebook’s refusal to moderate content that directly leads to offline violence.”
While hosting a specially curated edition of TIME100 Talks, Harry and Meghan spoke with Edward Felsenthal, Editor-in-Chief and CEO of TIME, about the state of our shared digital experience and why it’s important to create online communities that are more compassionate, safe, and trustworthy—a building block of the Sussexes’ nonprofit Archewell.
“What our job is, especially throughout these conversations, is to get people to listen to the experts and for them to explain how what’s happening in the online world is affecting the world,” Harry said. “It is not restricted to certain platforms or certain social media conversations. This is a global crisis: a global crisis of hate, a global crisis of misinformation and a global health crisis.”
During a time when the boundaries between many people’s physical and online lives have never been more blurred, the Duchess of Sussex says that the couple has begun connecting the dots between many of the causes that they’re passionate about—like women’s empowerment, mental health and the environment—and online spaces.
“Both of us realized that we can continue to champion these things that we’re passionate about. We can continue to do this work to try to affect change and help the people who need it most or the communities or environments that need it most, but it’s almost like you’re taking two steps forward and five steps backward if you can’t get to the root cause of the problem,” she said. “Which at this point right now we see in a large way as a lot of what’s happening in the tech space.”
Noting that they convened leaders in the tech world that they think can help make people more aware of these problems—including Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian, Center For Humane Technology co-founder Tristan Harris and UCLA Center for Critical Internet Inquiry co-director Safiya U. Noble—for Tuesday’s TIME100 Talks, the Duke and Duchess addressed why it’s imperative to make online communities healthier for everyone.
“This isn’t just a tech problem. This isn’t solely a mental health or emotional wellbeing problem,” Meghan said. “This is a human problem. And what’s happening to all of us online is affecting us deeply offline.”
You can watch the full TIME100 Talks special episode here.