This will likely go down as the year in which technology, once envisioned as an empowering and equalizing force, finally went headlong down the path toward dystopia and oppression. Our story this summer about Google planning to return to China with censored search at first shocked Silicon Valley, but it was the dark nature of what followed — internal dissent squelched, executives dissembling, Chinese users to be closely tracked — that proved most surprising.

Other depressing developments seemed right out of an ominous sci-fi film like “Blade Runner,” whether it was reporting that revealed the National Security Agency’s prowess at voice recognition, Facebook’s plans to use artificial intelligence to predict users’ future behavior, or just how badly ultrawealthy Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos was exploiting underlings. As tech enters 2019, its brightest days seem to be well behind it.

Google Plans to Launch Censored Search Engine in China, Leaked Documents Reveal

INT01_google.china_.2-1532632324-1545410431

Illustration: Other Means

Search app that will “blacklist sensitive queries” could be launched in six to nine months, according to documents and people familiar with the plans.
By Ryan Gallagher

The Government Wants Airlines to Delay Your Flight So They Can Scan Your Face

Photo: Bill O’Leary/Getty Images

The feds are mad that, in a pilot program, airlines are keeping flights on time by letting passengers skip a facial recognition procedure at boarding.
By Sam Biddle

Forget About Siri and Alexa — When It Comes to Voice Identification, the “NSA Reigns Supreme”

Illustration: Brandon Blommaert

Classified documents from the Snowden archive reveal the NSA has been developing technology to automatically identify a speaker from the sound of their voice.
By Ava Kofman

 
 

Amazon Gets Tax Breaks While Its Employees Rely on Food Stamps

Photo: Elaine Thompson/AP

In Arizona, new data suggests that 1 in 3 of the company’s own employees depend on SNAP to put food on the table.
By H. Claire Brown

As Twitter Suspends Alex Jones, Should We Worry About Silicon Valley Regulating Speech?

Still: The Intercept

Sam Biddle, Glenn Greenwald, and Briahna Gray debate how the left should consider free speech issues in the context of powerful online platforms.
By Briahna Gray

Amazon’s Accent Recognition Technology Could Tell the Government Where You’re From

Intercept_Echo_v2-3.5MB-2-1542062294-1545410729

Illustration: Erik Blad

A new patent shows how Alexa could derive ethnic origin and emotion by analyzing speech. Experts think the government could come after the resulting data.
By Belle Lin

Leaked Files Show How the NSA Tracks Other Countries’ Hackers

Photo: Patrick Semansky/AP

The Shadow Brokers leak showed the NSA was tracking at least 45 nation-state hacking operations. Experts explain how the agency stepped up its monitoring.
By Kim Zetter

Facebook Uses Artificial Intelligence to Predict Your Future Actions for Advertisers, Says Confidential Document

Illustration: Erik Blad

Facebook can identify people “at risk” of jumping ship from one brand to a competitor. The technology raises ethical alarms among experts.
By Sam Biddle

Google’s “Smart City of Surveillance” Faces New Resistance in Toronto

Illustration: Soohee Cho

Local organizers in Toronto have united to push Google out of their government.
By Ava Kofman

One Little-Watched Race Has Huge Implications for Election Hacking and Voter Suppression in Georgia

AP_18311138498671-1542085883-e1542086014242-1545410964

Photo: David Goldman/AP

A December 4 runoff for secretary of state will help determine how Georgia handles decisions around securing voting machines and purging voter rolls.
By Kim Zetter

State Election Officials Didn’t Know About Russian Hacking Threat Until They Read It in the News, Emails Show

Photo: Sara D. Davis/Getty Images

The officials were unaware that Russia was trying to infiltrate their voting systems until months after the elections took place.
By Sam Biddle

Can #MeToo Change the Toxic Culture of Sexism and Harassment at Cybersecurity Conferences?

Illustration: Angie Wang

Gatherings like Def Con and RSA are notorious for sexist behavior and alienating women — problems that plague the tech industry as a whole.
By Ava Kofman

Here’s the Email Russian Hackers Used to Try to Break Into State Voting Systems

Photo: Ethan Miller/Getty Images

The simplicity of the email, which included a malicious election software manual, is part of the playbook of an advanced attacker, an expert said.
By Sam Biddle

You Can’t Handle the Truth About Facebook Ads, New Harvard Study Says

ZuckEyeCleaned-1525823448-1545411180

Illustration: Scott Gelber

When you tell people you’ve been tracking them across the internet, they freak out and avoid buying your product, research at the Harvard Business School found.
By Sam Biddle