Edition 4 – Beirut explosion, TikTok spying, Amazon malls
by Kartik Chaturvedi • August 18, 2020
As we await a more complete story of what caused the explosion in Beirut, we can begin to piece together the explosion itself using video and satellite images. The blast was caused by ammonium nitrate, based on the red plume of smoke that rose from Beirut port. By analyzing the cloud of white vapor that spread out from the epicenter, we can deduce that it, fortunately, was not a shock wave but rather a pressure wave. Because pressure waves are slower than the speed of sound and less concentrated than shock waves, we can fortunately expect fewer fatalities. If it had been a shock wave, most bystanders would have died on the spot from lung trauma. We can even approximate the charge size by the size of the crater left behind from the explosion. An almost-perfectly round depression, 140 meters in diameter, needs between 1.7 million and 5.4 million kilograms to be created.
In the week’s most unsurprising news, the data collection platform disguised as a social network was found to have been collecting unique identifiers called MAC addresses from millions of Android devices, with no way for users to opt out. Security experts say this collection of mobile device identifiers was hidden behind “an unusual layer of encryption” and was not disclosed to TikTok users. MAC addresses are unique to each Internet-connected device in the world and help networks connect devices without causing interference. MAC addresses are most commonly used for advertising purposes, but even that (ab)use of individually identifiable information has been under scrutiny for a long time. TikTok’s repeated violations of basic user privacy are not helping it, as countries around the world move to ban the platform.
Malls are on the decline, as customers move to shopping online. Most department stores have missed the e-commerce trend entirely, and some like JCPenny and Sears have filed for bankruptcy. All of these vacant stores can be repurposed into schools or office space, but in the current global situation, school districts and employers are not looking to expand their physical facilities. Instead, warehouse has emerged as a potential purpose for these abandoned buildings, and Amazon is in talks with Simon Property Group (the largest mall owner in the U.S.) to lease department store space for storage of Amazon goods. This can prove beneficial for Amazon as their warehouses are typically located outside cities, near ports or airports, and far from the customers that they serve. At the same time, Simon probably sees a great opportunity to keep their oldest malls running a bit longer.
Ironically, the very reason many of these malls are vacant in the first place is in part due to Amazon…
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