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Travel the World in an App



In early 2020, Christine Dibble had recently retired from the federal government and was eager to travel more, but the coronavirus outbreak put those plans on hold.

Grounded at home in Washington Grove, Md., Dibble started to play around with a flight-tracking app, and it opened the skies for her.

Flightradar24 is one of several sites that compile public information about aircraft locations, flight paths, ownership records, altitude and more for display in an interactive map. People can see details about planes and where they’re heading almost anywhere in the world, including Antarctica.

Dibble, a former technology worker for the Environmental Protection Agency, had little knowledge about aviation, but the app satisfied her wanderlust and sparked curiosity about what was happening around her.

“The surprising thing about Flightradar to me is that it triggers my imagination,” Dibble told me. “What are people up there on that plane doing? Are they on vacation? On business?”

Peering at aircraft icons in the app, Dibble feels excited for tourists she imagines on the flight departing a nearby airport for Lisbon. She empathizes with parents when she sees the virtual image of an emergency helicopter on its way to a local children’s hospital.

“There are all these stories here,” she said.

Not long ago, the app showed that a small plane flying low near her home had taken off close to a Central Intelligence Agency training base. Dibble, her husband and daughter dreamed up scenarios of a Russian oligarch being whisked away in handcuffs.

Flight-tracking sites are another example of a technology that makes obscure information accessible and relevant for us mere mortals and helps connect us to others. It’s pretty amazing that we can Google whatever we’re curious about or video chat with friends far away. Following flights on the other side of the world is another marvel.

Flightradar24 started in the 2000s to market a Swedish ticket booking website, its director of communications, Ian Petchenik, told me. Harnessing a technology called Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast, the company’s founders and employees started installing ADS-B receivers on rooftops in Sweden to pick up radio signals of planes transmitting their locations to other aircraft and air traffic controllers.

The interactive map of air traffic proved more popular than the booking service. The flight-tracking service was born, said Petchenik.

Now there are about 34,000 Flightradar24 receivers that people around the world have agreed to put on their homes and commercial buildings and in other spots. Flightradar24 combines those signals with other information, including a database of aircraft owners and commercial airplane flight schedules, to assemble the data in a digital map.

You might be wondering: Is this a safety risk? Representatives for the Federal Aviation Administration told me that the agency limited the available data on aircraft associated with the Defense Department, Department of Homeland Security and the Justice Department. Air Force One does not appear in Flightradar24, for example. Owners of civilian planes can request limits on their travel data disclosures, too.

Petchenik believes it’s important for real-time information about activity in shared airspace to stay public.

Flightradar24 told me that usage of the tracking service spiked as the pandemic kept many would-be travelers like Dibble at home. And last week, some people couldn’t access Flightradar24 because so many users were following House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s circuitous flight path to Taiwan, taken to navigate around potential conflicts with Chinese military planes.

There are other flight-tracking sites including FlightAware and ADS-B Exchange. But Jerry Dyer and Gilly Prestwood, who run Big Jet TV, a YouTube aviation specialty channel, said that Flightradar24 is the app of choice for both casual looky-loos and aviation buffs.

Some people use the app to estimate arrival times of friends and family, and anxious fliers use it to feel safer about plane travel, they said. News organizations have used flight-tracking services to hunt for clues from corporate executives’ travels. Dyer, Prestwood and Mindaugas Kavaliauskas, a photographer who published a book of images related to travel, said aviation hobbyists use apps to track famous or rare planes, gawk at 3-D satellite images from cockpits and debate the merits of one type of jet versus another.

After On Tech asked readers about technologies that stoked their creativity, Dibble emailed us about her affection for Flightradar24. I didn’t get the appeal at first, but I downloaded the app and my mind started to fire, too.

Now I imagine fancy people or tourists on helicopter flights hugging the virtual Manhattan skyline. Last week, I clicked on the icon of an airplane the app showed was miles above my neighborhood and saw that it was headed to Paris. Sigh. Lucky them.

Dibble knows that an app is no substitute for traveling in real life. She’ll soon be one of those people on a flight bound to Lisbon that she’s been eyeing in Flightradar24. But she still looks at the app several times a day.

“It’s a sense of connection to the larger world,” she said.

  • Russian propaganda thrives in languages other than English: Governments and internet companies clamped down on Russian government propaganda after the country invaded Ukraine. But my colleagues Steven Lee Myers and Sheera Frenkel found that Russian state sources were still using social media in Spanish and Arabic to mislead people about the war, undermining the global campaign to isolate and punish Russia.

    Related: Online rumors, hate speech and false information are distorting the elections in Kenya, my colleague Abdi Latif Dahir reported.

  • Internet networks are a battleground in the war: My colleagues Adam Satariano and Scott Reinhard described how Russian authorities rerouted mobile and internet data in occupied cities in Ukraine through Russia’s censored networks. Ukrainian officials said the internet occupation is isolating people from their loved ones and blocking access to essential information.

  • Is “realness” just another form of performance? BeReal, an app that nudges people to snap a selfie and a photo using the rear-facing camera at an unpredictable time each day, has become popular among young people as an antidote to the pressures of social media perfection. In Wired, the social media researchers Brooke Erin Duffy and Ysabel Gerrard traced the history and psychology of false promises of “authenticity” peddled by corporations.

You must read Linda Qiu’s article about Hair-E and other beagles putting their noses to work for Customs and Border Protection. They sniff out prohibited foods or plants to prevent them from entering the United States.

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ElonJet is (sort of) back on Twitter



The college student who ran the now-banned @ElonJet Twitter account that used public information to track Elon Musk’s private jet has resumed his activities on Twitter under a new username. As noted by Insider, Jack Sweeney, 20, has created a new account called @ElonJetNextDay — which now tracks Musk’s private jet with a 24-hour delay to circumvent Twitter policy restrictions.

Sweeney’s original ElonJet account was suspended from the platform last week following accusations from Musk that it violated Twitter rules by revealing his live location. Twitter updated its policy to forbid publishing a person’s real-time location on the same day it suspended ElonJet. Sweeney said in an interview with Insider that he will be “posting manually” for now while he works on the framework to fully automate the account.

Musk tweeted on December 15th that “Posting locations someone traveled to on a slightly delayed basis isn’t a safety problem, so is ok.” Twitter also explicitly states that “sharing publicly available location information after a reasonable time has elapsed, so that the individual is no longer at risk for physical harm” is not a violation of platform rules. Elsewhere in the policy, it notes that its definition of “live” location data means someone’s real-time or same-day whereabouts.

Most commercial and private aircraft are equipped with Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast technology (ADS-B) that transmits a unique code (tied to the airplane’s tail number) containing information such as altitude and GPS location. This information is publicly available and aircraft flying in the USA and Europe are required to broadcast it in order to prevent midair collisions.

In a statement back in November, Musk said he would not ban the original ElonJet account as part of his “commitment to free speech” despite claiming it was a “direct personal safety risk.” The automated ElonJet account posted publicly available information regarding the location of Musk’s 2015 Gulfstream G650ER, and had amassed over 540,000 followers before it was permanently banned on December 14th. Musk previously offered Sweeney $5,000 to have the account taken down.

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She Worked for Twitter. Then She Tweeted at Elon Musk.



Early in November, Twitter’s roughly 7,500 employees received a terse email from a generic address: “In an effort to place Twitter on a healthy path, we will go through the difficult process of reducing our global work force.” The note was signed “Twitter.” On Nov. 3, some people at the company received emails indicating they would be laid off the next day.

That night, Ms. Solomon, her husband and a few colleagues headed to Dots Cafe Portland, a lounge on Clinton Street. Phones were on the table, face up, she said. As the work friends talked, they tapped away at their phones, taking part in chats on the Signal app with colleagues in London, Seattle and San Francisco. Messages like “I got hit” were flying across screens, Ms. Solomon recalled. “You were seeing your co-workers drop like flies,” she said.

By the next afternoon her team of about 10 engineers was reduced to four. Ms. Solomon and her husband had survived the round of layoffs. The next week, she recalled, she awaited further direction from Mr. Musk or the new executive team. Nothing came, she said, except for an email alerting employees that remote work would no longer be permitted, with few exceptions.

Many employees learned of Mr. Musk’s priorities by watching his Twitter feed, where he posted frequently about company business to his more than 100 million followers. On Nov. 5, he complained about the platform’s search function: “Search within Twitter reminds me of Infoseek in ’98! That will also get a lot better pronto,” he wrote. That same day, he tweeted: “Twitter will soon add ability to attach long-form text to tweets, ending absurdity of notepad screenshots.”

That was more than Ms. Solomon and many of her colleagues had heard internally. “Radio silence,” she said. She began to vent her frustration on Twitter.

One of her first tweets in this vein came on Nov. 6, shortly after Mr. Musk announced a new rule for Twitter users in a tweet: “Any name change at all will cause temporary loss of verified checkmark,” he wrote. He had posted that message after many people on Twitter had changed their names to variations on Mr. Musk’s name, most of them mocking.

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The new iOS 16.2 Home app architecture upgrade has disappeared



Apple has removed the option to upgrade to the new HomeKit architecture on devices running iOS 16.2. The change follows multiple reports of issues and problems with the Home app after the upgrade was installed.

Apple spokesperson Emily Ewing confirmed the change in a statement provided to The Verge:

“We are aware of an issue that may impact the ability for users to share the Home within the Home app. A fix will be available soon. In the meantime, we’ve temporarily removed the option to upgrade to the new Home architecture. Users who have already upgraded will not be impacted.“

The new Home app architecture was one of the key features of iOS 16.2, with Apple claiming that the upgrade would be “more reliable and efficient.” MacRumors first discovered this week that the Home app in iOS 16.2 no longer offers the option to upgrade to the new architecture within the Home app settings. Several reporters at The Verge have also confirmed that the upgrade option is unavailable on their devices.

The new architecture was first introduced in the iOS 16.2 beta back in October as an optional upgrade before the iOS 16.2 public release on December 13th. Both the beta and public release required Apple devices logged into iCloud to be running the latest versions of iOS, macOS, and tvOS. The upgrade does not happen automatically when iOS 16.2 is installed on a phone, instead requiring a manual process through the Home app.

The update has caused issues with missing devices and adding multiple users for some

Reddit users who downloaded the optional upgrade prior to its removal have reported issues such as the app booting other members from a Home account and being unable to re-add them. Users on the MacRumors forum have reported being unable to invite users to share the Home, HomeKit‌ devices being stuck displaying an “updating” status, and some accessories vanishing from the Home app entirely. Users who have already upgraded are unable to revert to the previous version of the app.

Update, December 23rd, 2022, 2:15PM ET: Added confirmation and statement from Apple spokesperson. Added links to Apple’s updated support pages.

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