Numlock News: September 22, 2020 • Smugglers, Sailors, Cops

By Walt Hickey

Best of 2020

Chinese war epic The Eight Hundred has surpassed Bad Boys for Life to take the mantle of top-grossing film of 2020, pulling in a total gross of $423.2 million. Produced for $85 million, it had a troubled post-production but has been in theaters for a month with cinemas operating at 75 percent seating capacity. Contrast that performance with that of Mulan, which cost $200 million to make, but is now projected to finish its Chinese run with $41 million. Anyway, don’t forget that name, not like the movie is supposed to be particularly good or anything but if the record holds, “What was the top grossing film of 2020?” is going to be a gnarly movie bar trivia question in like a decade, like The Artist winning Best Picture or the existence of Roberto Benigni.

Patrick Brzeski, The Hollywood Reporter


Broadband speeds in the United States are up from March, with the average home internet speed in the U.S. running at 94.6 megabits per second compared to 84.9 megabits per second at the onset of the pandemic. Many home networks have been buckling under the need to operate multiple ongoing video calls at a given time, though ISPs have managed to function despite the upticks in internet traffic caused by working and learning from home.

Angus Loten, The Wall Street Journal

Facial Recognition

The Los Angeles Police Department repeatedly denied it had records related to facial recognition technology and on multiple occasions denied using the technology, providing vague information about its use of tech that purports to identify and track faces. New figures from the Los Angeles Times demonstrate that was misleading: the LAPD does not have its own facial recognition platform, but the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department does maintain a regional database that was accessed by LAPD officers 29,817 times between November 6, 2009 and September 11, 2020, with over 300 LAPD personnel accessing the software.

Kevin Rector and Richard Winton, The Los Angeles Times

Spies Like Us

Punishing individual apps like TikTok and WeChat for oversights in security distracts from the fundamental issue that plenty of applications leak like sieves, even if they’re merely hawking your data to the highest bidder rather than a rival geopolitical power. Rather than targeting problematic apps, privacy and security experts would rather target problematic data sharing policies which are rampant. A 2018 study analyzing data flows in and out of a million apps in the Google Play Store found the median application sent user data to five tracking companies, and 17 percent of apps sent data to more than 10 trackers, with 90 percent of apps sending data to a U.S. company and 5 percent sending data to a China-based one.

Graham Webster, MIT Technology Review


Of the 1.6 million seafarers who work on ships transporting goods or fishing, nearly 20 percent are currently stranded at sea. Their contracts have ended — sometimes in breach of international maritime law — while countries will not let them disembark because of the pandemic, and conditions are deteriorating. The sailors, who are often from poorer countries, lack leverage over the global shipping conglomerates, operators, manning firms and complicated ownership structures that dominate the business of moving cargo. Despite some companies rerouting ships and chartering flights, there are still 300,000 seafarers overdue for relief, and that number rises every day.

K. Oanh Ha, Jack Wittels, Khine Lin Kyaw and Krystal Chia, Bloomberg


Arctic warming meant that the amount of ice covering the polar ocean in the summer of 2020 hit the second-lowest level seen in four decades, with satellites recording the sea ice minimum at 3.74 million square kilometers on September 15. According to the researchers at the National Snow and Ice Data Center, the only time it’s been lower across decades of observation was in 2012, when a late-season storm broke up lots of remaining ice and there were just 3.41 million square kilometers of ice on the pole. The dark water absorbs the sun’s radiation rather than reflecting it, as the ice is better at doing.

Cassandra Garrison and Natalie Thomas, Reuters


The year 2020 has been hard on lots of people, but spare a thought for [spins wheel] …illegal Indian gold smugglers. Huh, sure. Anyway, this year has apparently been just awful for people who illegally smuggle gold into India, with the illicit flow of gold projected to just 25 tons this year, down from 120 tons last year. Yes, the hardworking gold smuggler relies on international air travel to make their under-the-table and deeply illegal living, and as that conduit into the country — which is the second-biggest consumer of gold — has been grounded, the smugglers have been hard up to get the metal into the country, and reportedly have been forced to smuggle it overland through Nepal, Pakistan, Bangladesh and over sea from Sri Lanka, the poor fellows. Last year, 17 percent of India’s annual demand of gold was smuggled into the country, which is information I wish more High School Guidance Counselors were forthcoming about because I was unaware smuggler was a genuinely viable career path anymore.

Swansey Afonso, Bloomberg

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