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10 things in tech you need to know today, June 24

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Starhopper, one of SpaceX’s prototypes of Mars rocket system called Starship, stands at the company’s south Texas launch site on April 6, 2019.
Dave Mosher/Business Insider

Good morning! This is the tech news you need to know this Monday.

  1. US Cyber Command on Thursday launched an operation against an Iranian spy group, despite President Donald Trump’s last-minute scrapping of a direct military strike, former intelligence officials said. The Iranian group is believed to have supported the limpet mine attacks against two tanker ships earlier last week, which resulted in the US increasing its military posture against the country.
  2. Ravelry, an online knitting community with over 8 million members, has banned support of President Donald Trump and his administration. It said that it would ban posts or content supporting Trump, but it would not delete project data, nor would it ban members who support Trump, as long as they don’t talk about it.
  3. The Chinese tech company Huawei filed a lawsuit against the US Department of Commerce on Friday, Bloomberg reported. The suit relates to telecommunications equipment confiscated by American officials.
  4. Velodyne Lidar, which sells technology for autonomous vehicles, has hired bankers for an IPO, according to people familiar with the process. The company, which makes a laser technology that helps self-driving cars detect the objects around them, is working with Bank of America Merrill Lynch, Citigroup, Royal Bank of Canada, and William Blair for a potential public float, the people said.
  5. The US is considering whether to mandate that all 5G telecommunications network equipment be designed and manufactured outside China, the Wall Street Journal reported. As part of an ongoing review, US officials are asking carriers if they could make and develop hardware outside China.
  6. Microsoft reportedly banned its employees from using Slack for security reasons and encourages them to to use the Microsoft Teams app instead. Microsoft also reportedly prohibits employees from using the grammar-checking app Grammarly and the Kapersky security software.
  7. A trio of executives from Uber and Lyft wrote an op-ed in the San Francisco Chronicle last week responding to years of pleas from their drivers for a fairer shake. A proposed California law could classify ride-hailing drivers as employees, instead of contractors, based on a three-part employment test.
  8. SpaceX CEO and founder Elon Musk tweeted Sunday that SpaceX is accelerating the development of Starship, a rocket that is designed to go to Mars. He also said that people can start reserving places to Mars after it returns from orbit around Earth.
  9. Amazon was granted a patent earlier this month for surveillance drones. The patent describes how the drones could be primarily used for delivery, but could be asked by customers to check up on their properties.
  10. A CEO who negotiated directly with Jeff Bezos has revealed how Amazon behaves as a strategic investor and buyer. Simon Calver was the chief executive of LoveFilm, the DVD rental service that became the basis of Amazon Prime Video after it was bought by Amazon.

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Tech News

Research refutes tech, mental health problems link

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Numerous articles have been published linking tech use among adolescents with increased rates of depression, suicide and other harms. In 2011, an article in the journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics coined the term Facebook Depression, designating “when preteens and teens spend a great deal of time on social media sites, such as Facebook

Larry Magid (Gary Reyes / Mercury News)

and then begin to exhibit classic symptoms of depression.” But a number of experts refuted that claim. At the time, I wrote “After examining the report’s related references, speaking with the report’s lead author and talking to the lead author of one of the research studies that the claim is based on, I’ve concluded that the diagnosis of Facebook depression is a nonexistent condition.”  Of course, people can become depressed when they encounter depressing content on Facebook, but that would be true in any venue.

Another highly cited article from the Atlantic, Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation, by Jean Twenge, was also the subject of much scrutiny, including my own analysis from 2018, where I quoted a number of experts, including prominent youth researcher Vicky Rideout who wrote in a London School of Economics blog,  “Twenge is right to be concerned about the mental health of adolescents. Depression and suicide among young people have increased notably. … But the suggestion that getting teens to put down their phones would have a meaningful effect on this mental health challenge is overly simplistic; indeed, it could serve as a dangerous distraction from the hard work that needs to happen in adolescent mental health.”

Despite these alarming articles, there are researchers who spend their time reporting actual facts, based on studies of social media and youth behavior. Last week, an article appeared in The Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry which reviewed an impressive number of studies on the relationship between teens use of mobile phones and social media and negative consequences, with the authors finding that “the focus “on negative effects has been based on weak correlational data.”

The research review, Adolescent mental health in the digital age: facts, fears, and future directions, “synthesized data from three sources: (a) narrative reviews and meta‐analyses conducted between 2014 and 2019, large‐scale preregistered cohort studies and intensive longitudinal and ecological momentary assessment studies” and found that “technology usage and mental health, show that associations between time online and internalizing symptoms are often (a) mixed between positive, negative, and null findings, (b) when present, are likely too small to translate into practically or clinically meaningful effects.”

The authors acknowledged that there have been increases in suicide (especially among girls) as well as anxiety and depression among youth in certain countries. “When plotted alongside increases in social media usage across this same time period, a powerful narrative has emerged that social media is driving changes in depressive symptoms and suicidal behaviors.”  Yet, when they study the data, they found that “technology usage and mental health, show that associations between time online and internalizing symptoms are often (a) mixed between positive, negative, and null findings, (b) when present, are likely too small to translate into practically or clinically meaningful effects.”

Restricting tech use might be ‘ill-advised’

One of the most important observations of the study is that “Policies restricting adolescents’ access to new technologies … may be ill advised if new technologies are being used as a valuable source of social support or are required in order to build digital and interpersonal (digitally mediated) skills for economies of the future.”  The authors also argue that “many of the same principles that guide healthy development and inform effective parenting will apply when supporting youth in their online activities and experiences. If this is true, then the good news for parents and policymakers is that existing evidence‐based interventions and strategies may look different but will still be effective in supporting youth in the digital age.”

Takeaways

It would be foolhardy to ignore potential risks associated with connected technology social media, but equally foolhardy to conclude that the growth in technology use is the reason for increased rates of suicide or mental health problems.  As any social scientist will tell you, a correlation isn’t the same as causation. I’m no expert when it comes to suicide, but a paper by Kirsten Weir published by the American Psychological Association points out that “Pinpointing the reasons that suicide rates rise or fall is challenging in part because the causes of suicide are complex.” The author goes on to say that “Risk factors include health factors (such as depression, substance use problems, serious mental illness and serious physical health conditions including pain), environmental factors (such as access to lethal means and stressful life events including divorce, unemployment, relationship problems or financial crisis).” She said that half of suicide deaths in the U.S. are “the result of firearms. And there’s evidence that when access to guns goes down, so do suicide deaths.”

Weir points out that countries which have been able to reduce suicides, “have made suicide prevention a mission, through efforts such as improving access to mental health treatment, investing in community interventions, coordinating suicide prevention across health care, social, education and employment services.” She does not recommend that people stop using their phones.

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