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Millions of people flock to telegrams and signals as fears grow over big tech

Neeraj Agrawal, spokesperson for a cryptocurrency think tank, typically used the Signal crypto messaging app to chat with privacy-conscious colleagues and peers. He was therefore surprised on Monday when the application alerted him to two new users: mom and dad.

“Signal still had a subversive luster,” said Mr. Agrawal, 32. “Now my parents are on it.”

On Telegram, another encrypted messaging app, Gavin McInnes, founder of far-right group Proud Boys, had just announced his return. “Dude, I haven’t posted here in a while,” he wrote on Sunday. “I will post regularly.”

And on Twitter, Elon Musk, the billionaire entrepreneur, also weighed in last week with a two-word endorsement: “Use Signal.”

Over the past week, tens of millions of people have downloaded Signal and Telegram, making them the two most popular apps in the world. Signal allows messages to be sent with “end-to-end encryption,” which means that no one other than the sender and recipient can read its content. Telegram offers some encrypted messaging options, but is widely popular for its group chat rooms where people can discuss a variety of topics.

Their sudden surge in popularity was spurred by a series of events last week that stoked growing anxiety over some of the big tech companies and their communications apps, like WhatsApp, which is owned by Facebook. Tech companies including Facebook and Twitter deleted thousands of far-right accounts – including President Trump’s – after the Capitol storm was stormed. Amazon, Apple and Google have also discontinued support for Parler, a social network popular with Trump fans. In response, the Conservatives searched for new applications where they could communicate.

At the same time, privacy concerns have grown over WhatsApp, which last week reminded users in a pop-up notification that it shares some of their data with its parent company. The notification sparked a wave of anxiety, fueled by viral channel messages falsely claiming that Facebook could read WhatsApp messages.

The result has been a massive migration which, if it lasts, could weaken the power of Facebook and other big tech companies. Telegram said on Tuesday it had added more than 25 million users in the previous three days, bringing it to over 500 million users. Signal added nearly 1.3 million users on Monday alone, after averaging just 50,000 downloads a day last year, according to estimates from Apptopia, an app data company.

“We’ve had peak downloads before,” Pavel Durov, Telegram chief executive, said in a post on the app on Tuesday. “But this time it’s different.”

Carl Woog, a spokesperson for WhatsApp, said users’ privacy settings had not changed and the rumors about the data being shared were largely unfounded.

“What does not change is that private messages to friends and family, including group chats, will be protected with end-to-end encryption so that we cannot see them,” he said. -he declares.

The rise of Telegram and Signal could ignite the debate over encryption, which helps protect the privacy of people’s digital communications, but can cripple authorities in criminal investigations because conversations are hidden.

Any move to apps by far-right groups in particular has worried US officials, some of whom are trying to follow the planning of what could turn out to be violent rallies on or before the inauguration of President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr.

“The proliferation of crypto platforms, where law enforcement cannot even monitor rhetoric, allows groups with bad intentions to plan behind the curtain,” said Louis Grever, head of the Association of national criminal investigation agencies.

Telegram has been particularly popular with those on the far right as it mimics social media. So after Facebook and Twitter limited Mr. Trump to their services last week and other companies began withdrawing support for Parler, far-right groups on Parler and other fringe social networks posted. links to new Telegram channels and urged people to join them.

Within four hours of Talking Monday going offline, a group of Proud Boys on Telegram gained over 4,000 new subscribers.

“Don’t trust the Big Tech,” read a post on a Proud Boys group on Speak. “We will have to find safer spaces.”

On Signal, a Florida-based militia said Monday it was holding its city-by-city small-group talks limited to a few dozen people each, according to messages seen by The New York Times. They warned not to let in anyone they did not know personally, to prevent the police from spying on their conversations.

The flow of users from Dubai-based Telegram and Silicon Valley-based Signal goes well beyond the American far right. Mr Durov said that 94% of the 25 million new Telegram users are from Asia, Europe, Latin America, the Middle East and North Africa. Apptopia data showed that while the United States was the # 1 source for new Signal users, downloads of both apps have increased in India, Indonesia, Mexico, Brazil and elsewhere.

Fears over WhatsApp’s privacy policies have boosted the popularity of Telegram and Signal. While there hasn’t been a significant change in the way WhatsApp treats user data, people immediately interpreted the app’s privacy notice last week to mean that it was infiltrating all kinds of things. personal information – like personal chat logs and voice calls – and shared that data with businesses.

WhatsApp was quick to say people got it wrong and couldn’t see anything inside the encrypted conversations and calls. But it was too late.

“The whole world now seems to understand that Facebook doesn’t create apps for them, Facebook builds apps for their data,” said Moxie Marlinspike, Founder and CEO of Signal. “It took that little catalyst to push everyone past the change.”

The fervor was such that on Tuesday Moses Tsali, a rapper from Los Angeles, released a music video for his song, “Hit Me On Signal”. And Mr. Musk’s endorsement of Signal last week sent publicly traded shares of Signal Advance Inc., a small medical device maker, from a market value of around $ 50 million to over $ 3 million. billions of dollars. (The company has no connection with the messaging app.)

Some world leaders have also urged people to join them on the apps. On Sunday, the Twitter account of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador of Mexico spoke about his new group on Telegram. As of Wednesday, it numbered nearly 100,000 members.

Eli Sapir, chief executive of Apptopia, said that while people’s concerns about Facebook’s data collection are correct, WhatsApp actually uses more secure encryption than Telegram. “It’s like going from something high in sugar to corn syrup,” he said, adding that Signal was the safest of the three.

Meyi Alabi, 18, a student in Ibadan, Nigeria, said she was surprised this week when her mother invited her to join Signal. Her mother had downloaded the app at the request of a friend worried about WhatsApp.

“I was in shock because she had it before me,” she says. “We usually talk to our parents about new apps. Now, all of a sudden, we’re the ones informed.

Mr. Agrawal, the cryptocurrency worker, said his parents have long been active in several WhatsApp group chats with college friends and relatives in India. He said they told him they joined Signal to follow many of these threads moving there as some of the attendees were concerned about WhatsApp’s new policy.

He said he knew the dangers of WhatsApp politics were exaggerated, but a large part of the public does not understand how their data is handled.

“They hear these key things – data sharing, Facebook, privacy,” Mr. Agrawal said, “and that’s enough for them to say, I have to get rid of it.”

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As Trump battles loss, his supporters grow more threatening

With a key deadline exceeding Tuesday that nearly ends his legal challenges to the election, President Trump’s frantic campaign to reverse the results has reached an inflection point: The Electoral College’s certified voters lists are now protected by law, and state could name a different list that is favorable to Mr. Trump has essentially disappeared.

Despite his obvious loss, Mr. Trump has shown no intention of stopping his sustained assault on the US electoral process. But its baseless conspiracy theories of electoral fraud have turned into an exercise in delegitimizing election results, and rhetoric is accelerating among its most fervent allies. This sparked outrage from Trump loyalists and led to behavior that Democrats and even some Republicans say has become dangerous.

Supporters of the president outraged at his loss, some armed, gathered outside the home of the Michigan Secretary of State on Saturday night. Racist death threats filled the voicemail of Michigan State Representative Cynthia A. Johnson. Election officials in Georgia, most of them Republicans, say they have received threats of violence. The Arizona Republican Party on Twitter has twice called on supporters to agree to “die for something” or “give my life for this fight”.

“People on Twitter have posted pictures of my house,” said Ann Jacobs, chairman of the Wisconsin Election Commission, who alerted her neighbors and police to the constant threats. She said another message mentioned her children and said, “I heard you will have a crowd of patriots showing up at your doorstep.

Mr Trump himself has reached out to many Republican state officials, urging them to help him overthrow the election he clearly lost. He has subjected others to repeated public humiliation, lambasting governors for taking action they are not legally authorized to take to keep Mr. Trump in power.

But in the absence of a single significant victory in his dozens of lawsuits – and with a key loss pronounced Tuesday by the Supreme Court – the president’s crusade is now as much a battle against the electoral process itself, which he seeks to cast doubt on freedom and fairness. elections and undermine Joseph R. Biden Jr. before taking the oath.

“There is long-term damage when this type of behavior is normalized,” said Jeff Flake, a former Republican senator from Arizona. on Twitter. “This is not normal, and elected Republicans must speak out against it.”

Last week, a senior Republican election official in Georgia, Gabriel Sterling, pleaded with the president to stop attacking the voting process in the state, saying it had prompted threats against officials and poll workers.

Tuesday’s procedural deadline, known as the Safe Harbor, serves as a sort of guarantee that Congress must count the list of certified voters by the deadline, and acts as an accelerator to resolve any outstanding election disputes. . It also likely limits other court challenges to halt or halt the official certification of electoral votes Mr. Biden needs to claim the presidency.

The president, however, dismissed the date as trivial, saying on Tuesday that the real deadline is Jan.6 when Congress meets to approve the certification.

Many Republican leaders in critical rotating states stand behind the president’s false narrative, unwilling to contradict his claims. Along with the president, their position further convinces tens of millions of Americans that the electoral process is too corroded to legitimately hand over the presidency to anyone whose name is not Trump.

These supporters have started flooding the voicemail messages, cell phones and inboxes of dozens of elected officials across the country with messages of anger and threats, as well as countless officials who run local elections. The tenor appeared to become more menacing as Mr. Trump’s efforts seemed even more unlikely, some officials said.

“They are getting angrier and getting emails all the time, all hours of the day and night,” said Jennifer O’Mara, a representative for the Democratic state in Pennsylvania. She said her staff had faced threats, as had her fellow Republicans. “Lots of calls say we won’t forget.”

Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson said she had just finished putting up Christmas decorations with her 4-year-old son when she heard dozens of Trump supporters screaming outside her house. Some chanted “Stop the Steal” and demanded an audit of Michigan election results, which showed Mr. Biden won by about 154,000 votes.

“Since the President first tweeted me and every time there is an additional attempt to spread false information, you see an increase in threats,” Ms. Benson said in an interview on Tuesday. “And now, apparently, they’re outside my house, in the dark of the night, in this very private and quiet residential area. We not only care about the safety of my family, but also of my neighbors.

“This difficult and confrontational time we find ourselves in, the only way out is for elected officials on both sides of the aisle to condemn what is happening.

Malcolm Kenyatta, a representative for the Democratic state of Pennsylvania, said he receives dozens of emails every day. “It’s a little more pronounced when you’re black and queer like me, that they go down the parrot rabbit hole all the meanness and vitriolic that we see all the time from the president,” he said. .

He said that a person created a fake email address under their own name and then sent him profane threats.

Darrin Camilleri, a representative for the Democratic State of Michigan, said he had received an email saying, “Be ready for your last meal,” and another saying, “We can’t wait to bring back some platoons. ‘execution.”

Mr Camilleri said his parents were also receiving calls of harassment and threats. “We have sent over 20 death threats to House sergeants for review,” he said.

The Safe Harbor deadline almost guarantees that Mr. Biden will receive the 270 electoral college votes he needs to win the presidency, and will likely end with 306, the same total Mr. Trump won in 2016 (two however defected). While Congress determines which states meet the Safe Harbor deadline, it has traditionally been considered met when a state certifies its votes.

As of Monday, all states except one – Hawaii – had certified their elections.

While the Safe Harbor deadline is technically about the relationship between states and Congress, it also largely protects states that have certified their election results from court challenges.

“It plays into the litigation because the courts are aware of this deadline and want to give this advantage to the states, so they are doing their best to try to comply,” said Richard L. Hasen, electoral law expert. at the University of California, Irvine.

But despite more than a century of precedent, the president’s allies continue to file baseless lawsuits seeking to overturn the election. On Tuesday, the Texas attorney general filed a bold Supreme Court lawsuit against four other states – Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Georgia – with more allegations of election irregularities and no evidence to back them up.

Texas has asked judges to put its case on an unusually fast track, but the court has acted with measured deliberation in considering similar claims and may defer consideration of whether to hear the lawsuit until that it cannot have any practical impact.

And Republican legal efforts suffered another loss Tuesday afternoon, when the Supreme Court rejected a request by Republicans in Pennsylvania to overturn the state’s election results.

There were no dissenting opinions.

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Grow a hydroponic garden

Emily Marsh, who lives in Sonoma County, Calif., Always thought the best thing about gardening was the feeling of dirt on her fingers. But last year, she and her fiance moved to a townhouse with an 8-by-12-foot concrete slab for a backyard. As closures in California lasted until May and Ms. Marsh, 30 and co-owner of a cleaning company, learned of the rise of the gardens, she felt the need to plant her own. But his only real option was a hydroponic setup.

“I was totally against it at first,” she said, adding that it just didn’t feel like real gardening. Reluctantly, Ms. Marsh bought a unit from Lettuce Grow, a company that sells ready-to-grow hydroponic kits. “Now it’s just my favorite thing,” she said.

As the first frost of fall hits plants across the country, you can practically hear the collective whine of American gardeners: no more fresh herbs, zucchini, or heirloom tomatoes until next summer.

Unless you bring your pandemic garden indoors.

Like urban chicken coops and backyard beekeeping, interest in hydroponics increased during the pandemic. For Aerogarden, another company selling hydroponic gardens, sales jumped 384% in the two weeks of March, a period that followed most state shutdowns. From April to June, sales increased 267% year over year.

“It has been a really great year for us,” said Paul Rabaut, Company Marketing Director. A representative from Lettuce Grow said it is on track to achieve 10x sales compared to last year.

Meanwhile, DIYers are building hydroponic gardens with PVC pipes and five gallon buckets. When the lockdowns began, Vicki Liston, 45, a professional voiceover actress in New Mexico, wanted to limit her trips to the grocery store and began construction on a pipe system. She was worried about keeping a pandemic garden alive in her very barren yard, but so far the project has been a surprising success, she said.

Compared to traditional open ground gardening, “hydroponics produces more food in less space with less water and less time,” said Dan Lubkeman, president of the Hydroponic Society of America.

In other words, if you are doing everything right. Hydroponics is all about optimizing growing conditions – you need to have the perfect amount of light and nutrition available at all times. Nail it down and plants can grow up to five times faster than they would in outdoor soil, Mr Rabaut said.

Ms Marsh, who now has indoor and outdoor gardens, can vouch for Mr Rabaut’s claim. She is constantly amazed at the vigor of her plants. “We have planted three tomato plants and so far we have obtained 350 tomatoes,” she said. “It’s crazy,” she said.

There is, however, a downside. The soil is forgiving enough – be overzealous with your fertilizer, and your cucumbers can suffer, but the soil can cushion a good deal of the damage. Water is much less forgiving, and the internet doesn’t always have good advice, Lubkeman said. He recommends connecting with your nearest hydroponics store where employees are likely to be experienced growers, or purchasing a book on the subject.

This is one of the reasons that many new hydroponics gardeners choose to buy a plug-and-play kit: These kits tell you exactly what to add and when. If you are feeling cunning and a bit adventurous, you can easily build one yourself.

Here’s how to harvest a lot of produce without getting your hands dirty.

Whether you’re building it yourself or buying a kit, a hydroponic garden needs the following:

  • Seeds or plants. If you’re doing this indoors, look for varieties that thrive in containers. This will ensure that none of your plants will grow so large that they will take over your entire hydroponic setup.

  • A reservoir for the nutrient solution, which is made up of all of the macronutrients (think nitrogen and phosphorus) and micronutrients (like iron and calcium) that plants need.

  • A way”. Since you are not using soil, you will need something to hold the roots of the plant in place. Many mediums also help keep roots moist between waterings. Mr. Lubkeman recommends a material called rock wool for beginners.

As with most hobbies, you can spend a little or a lot. Originally, Ms. Marsh wanted to go the cheapest route. Setting up a mid-size DIY system with a few buckets and an aquarium pump can set you back under $ 150. But Ms. Marsh was concerned that everything was working fine. Lettuce Grow’s container is made from recycled plastic, and for Ms. Marsh, that tipped the scales toward buying a pre-made kit, even though units start at $ 348 – no lights included.

Aerogarden’s smaller units, which include grow lights, start at $ 99, with larger models going up to $ 600. Ultimately, the decision to buy a kit or build your own depends on whether you like to DIY, or prefer not to spend a Saturday gluing PVC pipes and plastic tubing together.

Once your setup is set up, you may see seeds germinate within three days, although some plants take longer. In two weeks, your seedlings should start to look like real plants. It was then that Ms. Liston realized that her hydroponics experience was not going quite well. A few weeks later, his plants died.

It turned out that her tap water was too alkaline. A pH buffer solution solved the problem. (A water test between 6.5 and 7.0 on the pH scale is considered ideal.) A setup like AeroGarden will tell you when you need to add fertilizer or adjust the pH of your water. If you’ve built your own farm, you’ll need to remember to add nutrients and check the pH of your water (using test strips) every week.

“It’s been fantastic,” Ms. Liston said, adding that once she got her light, pH, and nutrient levels up, “it exploded.

If certain plant nutrients are good, more seems to be better, right? That’s not the case at all, Ms Liston said. So far, she has managed not to overfeed her plants, but too much plant food can lead to dead or severely damaged plants. How often and how much food you will need will depend on the type of nutrient solution you are using. Read the directions on the bottle.

You may be able to grow lettuce, kale, or herbs in a sunny window, but as the days get shorter, investing in a full spectrum and growing light is worth it. These lights provide the same range of light as the sun, and you’ll see much faster growth, Lubkeman said. In Ms Liston’s case, adding a light and moving her plants next to her sunniest window resulted in a noticeable change in their productivity.

Ms. Liston’s favorite thing about growing indoors is that it’s bug-free. While that does mean you won’t need to pluck the slugs from your lettuce, you will need to take over from the bees and do your own pollination. For plants like peppers, tomatoes and cucumbers, Mr Rabaut said some customers report getting decent pollination rates just by gently shaking the plants every day or two. However, you will get even better results if you are willing to take on the role of the bee – using a cotton swab or small brush to sweep the pollen from flower to flower.

It’s in your house, after all. While there is no mess involved, these setups can get a bit awesome. Ms. Liston performs a complete wiping of the PVC plant substrates every two weeks. If you are purchasing a pre-made kit, follow the manufacturer’s instructions for cleaning.

Mrs. Marsh tries to cut greens and herbs at least twice a week. Many items – like basil – need to be kept trimmed, otherwise they will go to seeds and stop producing. While hydroponic gardens are much less labor-intensive than their outdoor counterparts (no weeding!), You can’t completely neglect your plants and expect them to thrive, Lubkeman said.