6 min read

#67 – The Comeback

This newsletter feels more important than ever.

Hi!

You might not even remember, but you used to get an email newsletter called Last Week Online. Every Sunday, I sent a summary of the most important things to know if you wanted to stay updated on the Internet. And many of you seemed to enjoy it.

Now, after some pausing and thinking and new business ventures, I will start sending Sunday newsletters again. Starting ... Today.

There will be a lot of similarities with previous Last Week Online letters, but the scope will be slightly broader. I will still try to find you the most relevant things to know about, but I will focus more on change and uncertainty in general. A lot will for sure still connect to the Internet, but I will also mix in at least some geopolitics and climate.

I hope you'll like it.

Anna

PS The reading experience will be even nicer if you click the "View Online" link below the header and read it in a browser.


China is running police stations abroad to surveil citizens and persuade them to return

GEOPOLITICS / SURVEILLANCE / CHINA

A Shanghai skyline.

On the surface, the Chinese middle class lives similarly to middle-class citizens in western liberal democracies – they work, have food on the table, and sometimes get the opportunity to travel abroad. But no matter who you are or where you live, Chinese citizens are always being watched and disciplined.

New evidence shows how the Chinese government are running "Overseas Police Service Stations". Yes, you read it right – there are allegedly "Chinese Police Stations" in cities like London, Florence, Rotterdam, Stockholm, Valencia, and Dar es Salaam ... the list is long.

The Chinese government views citizens living abroad as a growing threat, particularly concerning online and telecom fraud. As a plan to deal with this threat, the Chinese government claim 230,000 suspects were successfully "persuaded to return" to China from April 2021 to July 2022. However, this persuasion includes methods like hostile action against the suspect's family to increase pressure on individuals to return.

There is no need for the Chinese government to have evidence of a crime to take action against a specific individual or to persuade them to return. For example, China has disclosed nine countries where citizens are not even allowed to stay without "good reason", among them Thailand, the Philippines and Turkey.

Fortunately, you can't establish a parallel policing mechanism in a country just because you have citizens living there. These operations violate official bilateral police and judicial cooperation between nations and the international rule of law. They might also violate the territorial integrity of the countries involved. However, other countries seem hesitant to take direct legal action against China, primarily demanding they shut down the overseas police service stations.

Overseas police stations are a concrete example of life under authoritarian rule. Surveillance is increased steadily in small steps you might miss until you look back and see them compiled. And, if you don't like how things are or where they are heading, you cannot say or do anything without risking your life. After a certain point, you cannot get out without overthrowing the government. China has reached that point.

The global climate movement is holding its breath as Brazil heads to the polls

CLIMATE / BRAZIL / POLITICS

Chapada dos Guimarães, Brazil

Today, Brazilian voters are selecting a president. The race stands between the current right-wing president Jair Bolsonaro - a climate change denier sometimes referred to as Trump of the Tropics - and former president social democrat 'Lula' da Silva. The two candidates diverge significantly on many issues, the climate being one of them.

Since taking office on New Year's Day 2019, Bolsonaro has prioritised economic development in the relatively poor Amazon region, allowing deforestation to increase rapidly. He has also planned new hydropower dams that could further damage the rainforest ecosystem. In addition, he has extended the life of coal plants and subsidies for the coal industry and is planning new infrastructure for drilling and exporting oil and natural gas. On the other hand, Lula plans to stop deforestation if he wins the election.

Brazilian climate policies are a global matter. While large parts of the Amazon reside within Brazil's borders, the rainforest is not a purely domestic issue – playing an essential role in regulating the world's oxygen and carbon cycles. And the outcome of the Brazilian presidential election will heavily impact the climate change trajectory worldwide.

The Brazilian election is an excellent example of how climate change will challenge the global world order – with a single nation making decisions that threaten all of us. For example, Brazil's continued deforestation might wipe the whole country of Vanuatu entirely off the map due to rising sea levels. Should that be allowed? Today, five countries have the right to veto actions in the United Nations security council. Soon we need to give small countries the right to veto climate change inaction.

Inventing people with a click shines a light on what makes us human

TECHNOLOGY / AI / IDENTITY

A selection of humans generated by AI.

I ran into the service Generated Photos the other day. They are using so-called GAN networks, an AI technology, to create images of people that don't exist. While GANs are often still possible to identify, this new technology shines a light on a more philosophical question – does it matter if the person you see exists?

We are already at a place where people use these images on dating apps (!), and even the worst employers can show smiling fake workers on their websites. Research recently showed how companies use GANs to create fake Linkedin to generate leads. And soon, model agencies will either lose a lot of work or lead the creation of a new market, "inventing" people with the perfect characteristics. So, if you're a model, it's time to think about that career switch.

How do you feel about this? Does it matter if the people you see around are real? – If you open this email in a browser, you can share your thoughts as a comment.


Double-check the headlines

Just making sure you didn't miss any major world events this week.


One long

The Verge / Elon Musk

Welcome to hell, Elon

This text is - by far - the most accurate and fiery commentary I've seen about what Elon Musk has gotten himself into when buying Twitter.


Five short

1. Read

We are Bellingcat by Eliot Higgins – 5 out of 5

2. Listen

The double podcast episode when Brené Brown interviews Anand Giridharadas, author of The Persuaders: At the Front Lines of the Fight for Hearts, Minds, and Democracy. They talk about what we are doing wrong today and what we need to do to get more people to join the movement for a better world. Links to: Part 1 and Part 2.

3. Remember

We are approaching the US midterm election on November 8th. This means there is even more sh*t going on online – whether you live in the US or not. Think twice and check sources before you share anything. Unfortunately, some bad news are real – for example, there have been severe attempts to intimidate early voters.

4. Change

Buying your next garment second-hand. Either in a second-hand shop or online at a service like Etsy, eBay or Sellpy (my personal favourite).

5. Try

The northern hemisphere is entering the dark months. Pick a church, mosque, synagogue, or temple of your choice and join one of their recurring religious ceremonies. If you have a friend who does this regularly, join them. Participate with an open mind – and reflect on how it was.