How Iran Tried to Undermine the 2020 US Presidential Election

Less than two weeks before the 2020 US presidential election, tens of thousands of emails purportedly from the far-right group Proud Boys threatened to “come after” Democrats if they didn’t vote for Trump. As officials warned at the time, the messages were part of a broader Iranian disinformation and influence campaign meant to sow division in the US and undermine confidence in the electoral process. Now, the US Department of Justice has unsealed an indictment that charges two Iranian nationals with carrying out those email blasts and more, providing new details on an audacious election interference scheme.

Seyyed Mohammad Hosein Musa Kazemi, 24, and Sajjad Kashian, 27, face charges of conspiracy, transmission of interstate threats, computer fraud, and voter intimidation. The two allegedly worked for the Iranian cybersecurity company Emennet Pasargad, which Justice Department officials say has contracted with the Iranian government. In addition to the indictment, the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control announced sanctions on Thursday against the company, four members of its leadership, and the two defendants.

“As alleged, Kazemi and Kashian were part of a coordinated conspiracy in which Iranian hackers sought to undermine faith and confidence in the US presidential elections,”  Damian Williams, US attorney for the Southern District of New York, said in a statement on Thursday. “As a result of the charges unsealed today, and the concurrent efforts of our US government partners, Kazemi and Kashian will forever look over their shoulders as we strive to bring them to justice.”

Officials said that they believe the defendants are currently in Iran. The State Department announced a reward of up to $10 million for information about Kazemi and Kashian.

Court documents say that, in addition to the threatening email campaign, the two men also attempted to compromise voter registration databases in 11 states and succeeded in one, where they were able to grab more than 100,000 voters’ private data because of a misconfiguration. Officials declined to identify the state, but The Wall Street Journal reported in October 2020 that it was Alaska.

The defendants are also accused of hacking an unnamed media company that offers content management services to a number of newspapers and other publications around the US. After detecting the activity, the FBI warned the company, which took action to block the unauthorized access. Officials say that the attackers attempted to connect to the media company’s network the day after the election but found themselves shut out. Iranian hackers are known for crafting and distributing legitimate-looking fake news articles or even seemingly hacking real news sites to post manufactured content. 

The indictment also accuses the defendants of carrying out other types of influence operations. Again masquerading as the Proud Boys, they allegedly sent Facebook messages and emails to Republican members of Congress, Trump campaign staffers, and journalists, claiming that the Democratic party planned to exploit security vulnerabilities in state voter registration sites, edit mail ballots, and register fake voters. They also allegedly created and distributed a fake hacking demonstration video on Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook that appeared to show attackers exploiting election infrastructure vulnerabilities to compromise state voter websites and other platforms and generate fraudulent absentee ballots.

Elizabeth Holmes Speaks for Herself

Who is actually to blame for the spectacular downfall of the blood-testing startup Theranos? Is it Elizabeth Holmes, the girl boss founder who faces 11 counts of wire fraud for allegedly misleading investors? Or is it the company’s employees who signed off on various reports suggesting the technology performed well? What about Theranos’ board members—like George Shultz, James Mattis, and Henry Kissinger—who got paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to advise the company? Or is it Ramesh Balwani, Holmes’ business partner and ex-boyfriend, who separately faces 11 counts of fraud?

Each of these theories has been explored in the past several days as Holmes took the stand, 11 weeks into a trial that has captivated Silicon Valley and beyond. It marks the first time she has told her story for herself since Theranos formally shut down in 2018, the same year she was charged with fraud.

Holmes began her testimony on Friday afternoon, which drove record numbers of people to appear outside of court on Monday and Tuesday morning. Spectators began lining up as early as 2 am this week, shivering as they waited for one of the limited seats in the San Jose Courthouse. The crowd was filled with reporters, concerned citizens, and one man who shouted “God bless you, girl boss!” as Holmes arrived on Tuesday. “The Valley hasn’t seen such a high-profile case of business fraud like this before,” says historian Margaret O’Mara, who compared the spectacle to early iPhone releases. Holmes benefitted from hype when her company was getting off the ground in the early 2000s. Now she’s found herself in a different kind of hype cycle.

As a young CEO, Holmes often portrayed herself as a wunderkind. She appeared on the covers of magazines and welcomed comparisons to Steve Jobs. But in court, Holmes—who is now 37, and no longer wears her once-trademark black turtlenecks—emphasized the parts of her job that she delegated to others.

When asked who was responsible for validating that the blood tests worked as promised, Holmes pointed to Adam Rosendorff, Theranos’ lab director. A botched partnership with Walgreens came down to Daniel Young, the “incredibly smart” employee who Holmes had put in charge. The decision not to disclose that Theranos sometimes used third-party devices was attributed to the company’s legal counsel, which Holmes said told her the information constituted a “trade secret.” Balwani, not Holmes, was in charge of the company’s financial projections. And the famous marketing suggesting Theranos used only “a single drop of blood”? Holmes testified that she did not personally sign off on every piece of marketing material that was created by Chiat Day, the expensive advertising firm she hired.

This type of diffusion of blame is extremely common in fraud cases, says David Sklansky, who teaches and writes about criminal law at Stanford. “It’s probably the most common kind of defense mounted in cases involving allegations of large-scale financial fraud,” he says. “Whether it works depends on how credible it seems to the jury.”

51 Best Cyber Monday Phone, Tablet, and Watch Deals (2021)

Fire HD 8 Kids Edition.

Photograph: Amazon

Target, Amazon, Best Buy

Those looking for the ideal children’s tablet should look no further than the Fire HD 8 Kids. It comes equipped with all the same features of a regular Fire tablet plus a two-year warranty, a protective case, and a free year of Amazon Kids+ which gives you access to Audible books, games, and more.

The Fire HD 10 Kids Pro is (quite literally) a better fit for older kids since its 10-inch display is larger than the Fire HD 8 Kids Edition. You’ll also have the ability to install apps from the Kids app—with access to parental controls—a free year of Amazon Kids+, and a less rugged (but still protective) case. 

Amazon, Best Buy, Samsung

The problem with Amazon’s Fire tablets above is that they do not have the Google Play Store, so you don’t have the rich app library as other Android tablets. If that’s what you’re looking for, go for the Galaxy Tab S7. It’s pricier, but you get a sharp 11-inch LCD display with a 120-Hz refresh rate, an S Pen stylus for drawing and taking notes, as well as support for Samsung’s DeX mode software (which provides a desktop-like experience when connected to a monitor or Bluetooth keyboard).

Amazon, Best Buy ($450)

This tablet is very similar to the Galaxy Tab S7, but it has a larger, 12.4-inch display. It has a premium feel and comes with the S Pen. The trade-off is that the performance is only midrange, there’s no fingerprint scanner, and the screen doesn’t hit the 120 Hz refresh rate of the standard S7.

Smartwatch Deals

Samsung Galaxy Watch4

Photograph: Samsung

Target, Amazon, Samsung

The Galaxy Watch4 (7/10, WIRED Recommends) is our favorite fitness tracker for Android owners for a few reasons. It’s not only the first smartwatch to run Wear OS 3 (Google’s newest operating system created in collaboration with Fitbit and Samsung), but its sensors track metrics like ECG, SpO2, sleep, and heart rate—all packed into in a sleek and comfortable wrist wearable. It’s worth noting, however, that it only works with Android phones, and the ECG function only works if you have a newer Samsung phone.

Amazon, Target, Best Buy

The Fitbit Charge 4 was our favorite all-around smartwatch when it came out. That’s the model that introduced features not normally seen on inexpensive wearables (like built-in GPS). The Charge 5 keeps those stand-out features and packs a few new ones, including a heart rate sensor, in a watch that’s about 10 percent thinner than its predecessor.

With a decent discount, the Apple Watch Series 6 is easy to recommend for iPhone owners. It is our favorite Apple Watch right now, with lots of complications, apps, and every feature you are likely to want in a smartwatch. You can even get optical wrist-based SpO2 measurements and ECGs. It’s also quick to charge and can track your sleep. 

Apple Watch SE.

Photograph: Apple

Target, Amazon ($239)

The Apple Watch SE is our top pick as the best Apple Watch for most people. It’s a great choice if you don’t need the intricate features that come with the Series 7—like an electrocardiogram (ECG) sensor, always-on display, and blood oxygen monitor—and just want a basic, affordable Apple Watch to pair with your iPhone. In addition to standard health and fitness tracking, you’ll also get a Retina display, fall detection, and a speedy processor.

This watch just came out, so this is a rather small deal. The only notable upgrades in the Series 7 (8/10, WIRED Recommends) over its predecessor are a bigger display, faster charging, and the ability to track ebike rides. But even if it’s an incremental improvement, it’s still the best smartwatch for iPhone owners. Check our guide to Apple Watches if you’re unsure on which one to buy.

Skagen Men’s Hybrid HR Jorn.

Photograph: Skagen

The Hybrid HR Jorn is our favorite hybrid smartwatch. It’s a nice option for those who prefer the look of a traditional watch with a few smart features thrown in. On the display, you can see metrics like heart rate, step count, and weather via an E Ink screen. We don’t recommend it for tracking workouts since it’s not very accurate, but it’s still useful if you want to quickly glance at your progress throughout the day.

The Fossil Gen 6 is one of the few Wear OS watches that still gets our honorable mention nod. Google is in the middle of changing its wearable strategy, and the Fossil Gen 6 is one of the few of the current crop set to get updated in 2022. Until then it’s still got decent fitness tracking features, and a convenient feature that keeps the watch displaying the time even if the battery dies.

The health and lifestyle accessories company Withings is offering 25 percent off most of its products this Cyber Monday, and of all the brand’s wearable trackers, this is the one we’d recommend first. It’s a very simple smartwatch, with analog hands to tell the time and to track your steps. It also lacks a screen, so it looks like a regular old watch and not a technology watch. Paired with an app, it can count steps, log workouts, track sleep, and send vibration alerts for calls and texts. Paired with formal attire, it looks like a stately timepiece. The replaceable watch battery lasts well over a year. Get one for that “I don’t wear smartwatches” person.

Garmin Venu Sq.

Photograph: Garmin

Amazon, REI

We consider the Garmin Venu Sq (8/10 WIRED Recommends) the best fitness watch in our roundup of the Best Smartwatches—specifically for its ability to accurately track health and fitness metrics coupled with its affordable price. As for specific features, the Venu Sq offers an always-on LCD touchscreen, blood oxygen monitoring, energy level monitoring, and sleep tracking.

Amazon, Target (Sold Out) 

Garmin’s Instinct Solar (8/10, WIRED Recommends) is a rugged smartwatch that’s great for tracking a variety of health and fitness metrics, but especially extreme activities like hiking. It has excellent battery life that’s lasted days on a single charge in testing, but its solar feature also allows it to recharge using sunlight.


More WIRED Cyber Monday Coverage

Retailer Sale Pages and Coupons

Want to browse the Cyber Monday 2021 sales yourself? Here are a few places offering deals. Be sure to check out our many buying guides and gift guides for additional ideas.

  • Amazon Sale
  • Target Sale, Coupons
  • Walmart Sale, Coupons
  • Bed, Bath, and Beyond Sale, Coupons
  • Best Buy Sale, Coupons
  • QVC Sale, Coupons
  • Kohl’s, Coupons
  • Moosejaw Sale, Coupons
  • Adorama Sale, Coupons
  • B&H Sale
  • Moment Sale
  • Wayfair Sale
  • Newegg Sale

Online Gaming Is the New Therapist’s Office

And sometimes it’s within a game world’s digital boundaries that patients may feel more safety and freedom to work through intense emotions. Kim Wheeler Poitevien, a licensed clinical social worker in Pennsylvania who counsels children and teenagers, saw more young Black patients gravitate toward games like Fortnite in response to racial violence during the summer of 2020. Kids were “terrified of the police,” so the idea was, “I want to protect myself,” she says. “They’d have these backstories about how they’re good people but the police think they’re bad.”

Gaming can help build emotional regulation skills, too. Poitevien grew up in a family of gamers and played Atari as a toddler. Today she frequently plays video games with her clients during sessions, but she doesn’t just let them win. “We are competitive, we go.” That can be an opportunity for children to practice “frustration tolerance,” she says, if, for example, they’re losing to her in a game of Mario Kart. And dealing with inevitable glitches, like when a game lags or kicks the player out, helps kids develop patience.

Online gaming has been a critical supplemental resource during the pandemic. “Every therapist I know is wildly overbooked right now,” Daramus tells me. When clients can’t get in to see her right away or want to practice coping techniques between sessions, she often prescribes mental health-focused games like Sea of Solitude, Night in the Woods, and Gris.

Concerns About Addiction

Some experts have voiced concerns about screen time and online gaming addiction, especially in children. Recently, China tightened its already stringent regulations limiting online gaming time for kids under 18. Though the World Health Organization recognizes gaming disorder as a condition, estimates of its prevalence vary. A 2020 review of 53 studies determined the worldwide prevalence of the disorder to be approximately 3 percent of gamers.

Larry Rosen, professor emeritus and former chair of the Psychology Department at California State University, Dominguez Hills and coauthor of The Distracted Mind: Ancient Brains in a High-Tech World, says gaming can promote behavior modification that can develop into an addiction. The more we play, the more feel-good chemicals we experience—primarily dopamine, serotonin, and other chemicals, says Rosen.

On the flip side, gaming can help us get rid of undesirable feelings, namely anxiety. The daily login streak—a concept popularized by (but by no means originated by) Snapchat—is a perfect example. “You keep the streak up because you’re anxious,” Rosen says. “You want to be responsible and fulfill your social obligations.” When we log in to keep the streak alive, that unpleasant feeling begins to dissipate.

Ultimately, online games are fantastically engaging because their success depends on gaining our attention. The longer we play, the more likely we are to buy something, and the more money gaming companies earn. “The bottom line is their goal is to keep you there,” says Rosen.

While remaining mindful of gaming’s possible pitfalls, therapists are careful to avoid stigmatizing the activity. Rather than telling a client to stop gaming, Poitevien finds a more effective approach is to talk about balance. She might ask, “How do you feel when you play video games until 4 o’clock in the morning? What are the natural consequences to that?”

Goldman agrees. He dislikes the word “addictive” to describe gaming but acknowledges the potential to veer into harmful habits. If we overuse gaming as a coping strategy, once we log off “we’re still left with the same problems we were avoiding,” he says. And those challenges likely “have become even bigger because we’ve spent more time gaming and less time maybe applying for that job, going to school.”

Beyond the Pandemic

As online gaming continues to grow, clinicians need tighter ethical guidelines around using it, Daramus tells me. The challenge is ensuring that “we don’t do therapy in the way that’s fun for us; we do therapy in the way that’s right for the client,” she says. If a patient wants to spend the entire session playing Animal Crossing, how does the clinician link that activity back to a specific treatment goal—for example, honing social skills or building distress tolerance?

Even when the pandemic eventually ends and in-person counseling can resume, clinicians see reasons to keep online gaming in their toolkits. If traditional talk therapy has failed, gaming can be a crucial last-ditch opportunity to help patients. Goldman regularly gets calls from parents of high school and college kids who hated therapy but still need to speak with someone. Families find him because of his non-judgmental approach and enthusiasm for gaming.

“Therapy can be intimidating and difficult,” says Goldman. Connecting with patients in the realm of gaming where they feel safe can make a big difference, even if it means offering to meet up on a World of Warcraft server. “Whatever it takes to get you in the door.”


More Great WIRED Stories

The FTC Sues Nvidia to Block Its Historic Deal With Arm

The Federal Trade Commission has sued to block Nvidia’s acquisition of Arm, the semiconductor design firm, saying that the blockbuster deal would unfairly stifle competition.

“The FTC is suing to block the largest semiconductor chip merger in history to prevent a chip conglomerate from stifling the innovation pipeline for next-generation technologies,” Holly Vedova, director of the FTC’s competition bureau, said in a statement. “Tomorrow’s technologies depend on preserving today’s competitive, cutting-edge chip markets. This proposed deal would distort Arm’s incentives in chip markets and allow the combined firm to unfairly undermine Nvidia’s rivals.”

Nvidia first announced its intention to acquire Arm in September 2020. At the time, the deal was worth $40 billion, but since then, Arm’s stock price has soared, and the cost of the cash and stock transaction has risen to $75 billion. The FTC lawsuit threatens to scuttle the deal entirely.

“As we move into this next step in the FTC process, we will continue to work to demonstrate that this transaction will benefit the industry and promote competition,” an Nvidia spokesperson told Ars. “Nvidia is committed to preserving Arm’s open licensing model and ensuring that its IP is available to all interested licensees, current and future.”

The FTC isn’t the first government regulator to scrutinize the deal. In October, the European Union announced that it was investigating the acquisition, and last month UK officials said they were concerned that the merger would threaten both competition and national security. China’s regulators are also looking into the deal, Nvidia said.

Much of the angst surrounding the acquisition stems from the fact that, for most of its history, Arm has been a relatively neutral player in the semiconductor world, offering access to its intellectual property to nearly anyone willing to pay the licensing fee. In the complaint, the FTC called Arm the “Switzerland” of the semiconductor industry. Customers fear that an Nvidia-controlled Arm would place them at the mercy of a competitor, while regulators are concerned that the acquisition would threaten to topple a massive, thriving ecosystem that depends on the architecture.

Arm began as a niche semiconductor designer, offering low-power chips for embedded systems and for portable devices like the Apple Newton and Palm Pilot. Over the years, as the performance of ARM chips improved and the importance of energy efficiency grew, the semiconductors found their way into a wider range of devices.

Today, Arm’s designs and instruction sets are widely used, appearing in everything from mobile phones to servers, automotive airbag controllers, and supercomputers. Recently, ARM chips have started making inroads in the PC world, ramping up pressure on incumbents Intel and AMD. Apple’s M1 chips showed just how competitive the architecture could be with x86 designs, and others have begun to follow suit. Earlier this week, Qualcomm announced a new Snapdragon processor, the awkwardly named 8cx Gen 3, which would run an ARM-specific version of Windows.

Because the ARM architecture is low-power and available to so many different companies, the chips have taken over the industry. Last year, companies sold 25 billion ARM chips, a more than fourfold increase since 2010.

Nvidia has also become an increasingly powerful player in the semiconductor world. Its graphics cards became key tools in machine learning and other artificial intelligence applications, and soon the company started selling chips tailored to high-performance computing. Its mobile Tegra chips, which license Arm’s designs, powered a series of smartphones and Tesla infotainment systems in the mid-2010s, and today they run inside Nintendo’s Switch. 

‘Rumbleverse’ Adds a Melee Twist to the Battle Royale

Any new battle royale title needs a hook: After all, we all know the formula, and Halo Infinite‘s popularity suggests that people may be tired of it. With that in mind, here’s the hook of Iron Galaxy’s new title, Rumbleverse: wrestling, and no guns.

The game was conceived back in October 2017, explains Adam Boyes, co-CEO of Iron Galaxy. “We were brainstorming, talking about different types of competitive games and Royale games, and our co-CEO, Chelsey Glasgow, was like ‘We should do wrestling,'” he says. “And then the whole brainstorming session became what it would it feel like if you could chokeslam someone off of a 40-story building.”

Courtesy of Epic Games

The demonstration kicks off with a character creation screen. Iron Galaxy emphasizes that customization is critical in the game, with a huge suite of body types, faces, costumes, and accessories available for players to create their own monstrous or beautiful identity.

“Some of us have landed our characters, like my shirtless chef: I’ve been playing him for three years now–you almost become that persona,” he says. “And that’s what we’re really excited about. Because if you think about a lot of streamers, they have an in-game persona. And we’re excited to see what kind of characters they are going to build.”

The game moves into the pregame lobby area, the Battle Barge, where combatants are testing out grapples and doing the worm. The barge transports players to their destination, Grapital City, eventually firing them into the clouds so they can skydive in. A large zone blocks off a specific section of the city, so you’ll fight in a different area of the island each time: Boyes estimates an average match is shorter than a typical battle royale game, at 12 to 15 minutes.

Courtesy of Epic Games

Why Computers Don’t Need to Match Human Intelligence

Speech and language are central to human intelligence, communication, and cognitive processes. Understanding natural language is often viewed as the greatest AI challenge—one that, if solved, could take machines much closer to human intelligence. 

In 2019, Microsoft and Alibaba announced that they had built enhancements to a Google technology that beat humans in a natural language processing (NLP) task called reading comprehension.  This news was somewhat obscure, but I considered this a major breakthrough because I remembered what had happened four years earlier.

In 2015, researchers from Microsoft and Google developed systems based on Geoff Hinton’s and Yann Lecun’s inventions that beat humans in image recognition.  I predicted at the time that computer vision applications would blossom, and my firm made investments in about a dozen companies building computer-vision applications or products. Today, these products are being deployed in retail, manufacturing, logistics, health care, and transportation. Those investments are now worth over $20 billion.

So in 2019, when I saw the same eclipse of human capabilities in NLP, I anticipated that NLP algorithms would give rise to incredibly accurate speech recognition and machine translation, that will one day power a “universal translator” as depicted in Star Trek.  NLP will also enable brand-new applications, such as a precise question-answering search engine (Larry Page’s grand vision for Google) and targeted content synthesis (making today’s targeted advertising child’s play).  These could be used in financial, health care, marketing, and consumer applications. Since then, we’ve been busy investing in NLP companies. I believe we may see a greater impact from NLP than computer vision.

What is the nature of this NLP breakthrough?  It’s a technology called self-supervised learning.  Prior NLP algorithms required gathering data and painstaking tuning for each domain (like Amazon Alexa, or a customer service chatbot for a bank), which is costly and error-prone. But self-supervised training works on essentially all the data in the world, creating a giant model that may have up to several trillion parameters.  

This giant model is trained without human supervision—an AI “self-trains” by figuring out the structure of the language all by itself. Then, when you have some data for a particular domain, you can fine-tune the giant model to that domain and use it for things like machine translation, question answering, and natural dialog. The fine-tuning will selectively take parts of the giant model, and it requires very little adjustment.  This is somewhat akin to how humans first learn a language and then, on that basis, learn specific knowledge or courses. 

Since the 2019 breakthrough, we have seen giant NLP models increase rapidly in size (about 10 times per year), with corresponding performance improvements.  We have also seen amazing demonstrations—such as GPT-3, which could write in anybody’s style (such as Dr. Seuss-style), or Google Lambda, which converses naturally in human speech, or a Chinese startup called Langboat that generates marketing collateral differently for each person.

Are we about to crack the natural language problem? Skeptics say these algorithms are merely memorizing the whole world’s data, and are recalling subsets in a clever way, but have no understanding and are not truly intelligent. Central to human intelligence are the abilities to reason, plan, and be creative. 

2021 Revealed the Depths of Global Vaccine Inequity

But some think Covax was never going to meet its lofty goal. According to Venkatapuram, in early 2021, Covax officials were putting out PR statements to hide what was really going on behind the scenes. “They were using their communications to essentially speak to rich country leaders and rich countries, and to try to get them to join and cooperate, while not giving us a really good indication of the kind of precarious situation that we were in,” he says. 

A spokesperson for Gavi, the nonprofit that oversees Covax, challenged this characterization, telling WIRED by email that “despite constant shifts in regulatory timelines, available doses, and other factors, Covax has always maintained regular communication with participating economies including with respect to changes in supply volumes, schedules and timelines.” (The organization typically does not release the names of spokespeople.) 

As vaccine shipments failed to materialize, ambassadors of vaccine-poor countries were desperately contacting Covax to find out when they could expect their share. Rahman says she and her colleagues questioned Covax heads: When were vaccines coming for, say, Senegal? And, she recalls, they would respond with something like: “There are many moving parts.” “I’ve started to despise this phrase of ‘there are many moving parts,’ because to me it means they don’t know what’s going on,” she says. 

Rahman feels that those overseeing Covax weren’t coordinating with the authorities in the very countries they were trying to send vaccines to. Indeed, due to failure to consult adequately, many poor countries were forced to throw out thousands of expired doses for lack of the infrastructure required to store and transport them. If they had properly communicated with local authorities on the ground in these countries, this could have been avoided, says Rahman. “It’s just sort of a colossal clusterfuck, of not being organized in terms of indigenous knowledge.”

But Gavi’s spokesperson told WIRED that Covax “has been very vocal about the need for greater transparency from donors and manufacturers on when doses will be made available as without this information recipient countries cannot effectively plan for a successful, large-scale roll out. It is the case that often doses in the past have been offered to COVAX with less than 10 weeks’ shelf life and that these have, under the principle of no doses left idle, have been offered to countries that have been deemed capable of absorbing them at short notice. When accepted by countries, these have subsequently been shipped.”

Covax’s goal for 2022, the spokesperson said, will be “to help all countries it serves meet their national vaccination targets.”  

Right now, the World Trade Organization enforces patents on trade-related intellectual property rights, or TRIPS—an international legal agreement between all the organization’s member nations that ensures a minimum standard of IP protection that a country must provide. In the case of Covid vaccines, it currently means that only those companies that hold a patent can make them. 

But a handful of countries, including India and South Africa, have been calling for the WTO to temporarily waive Covid-19-related IP rights. Lifting them would mean that poorer countries could freely copy the vaccine technology and access the technical how-to guide for making them. In order to suspend these rights, all member countries of the WTO would need to agree to it. Over a hundred countries have backed the proposal, but there’s a divide within the organization: Representatives from rich countries argue that ensuring patent protection is critical to keeping pharmaceutical companies innovating, and those from poorer countries argue that these patents ultimately prevent cheap access and cause unnecessary death. (Owing to concerns about the Omicron variant, the WTO indefinitely postponed its meeting to discuss the TRIPS waiver, meaning it’s far from a settled matter.) 

The Best Indie Games You May Have Missed in 2021

Sometimes it’s all about the journey. Over the past decade, indie developers introduced us to the voices (and hamsters) living inside their heads. In 2021, they demonstrated how complete bodies of work can hit new highs in innovation when everything clicks.

This year alone, Kena: Bridge Of Spirits traced the growth of a young Balinese heroine, Tarsier Studios delivered the perfect sequel in Little Nightmares II, Valheim blessed Norse mythology with the justice it so desperately needed, and Hazelight’s It Takes Two snagged Game of rhe Year—all thanks to a genre-breaking tale of co-op adventure (and that one elephant scene).

And to be completely honest, indie games are just getting started. The next year is looking like it will be a definitive showcase of the art styles and narratives that couldn’t quite make it out of the cycles of anxiety we sometimes find ourselves in, and their stories will pick up where others left off: providing comfort and inspiration. They continue to spur our imagination in sheer moments of uncertainty and while “art is still hard,” these are our favorite indies from the year that was.

Chikory: A Colorful Tale screenshot featuring cute cartoon drawings

Courtesy of Finji

Chicory: A Colorful Tale

Platforms: PS5, PS4, PC, Mac, Nintendo Switch

Adorned with a paintbrush and several chapters of Bob Ross goodness, Chicory: A Colorful Tale doesn’t bend the limits of creativity, it breaks them.

Greg Lobanov’s follow-up to the 2018 outlier Wandersong puts you in the shoes of a janitor whom you name after your favorite food—and who just so happens to stumble upon a magical brush before being tasked with bringing color back to a ruined black-and-white world. There are stamps, patterns, painting tools, and draw/erase functions to help add textures and shadows to each area (i.e. Gulp Swamp, Teatime Meadows), and every NPC, side quest, and boss fight adds perspective to the overarching themes at play.

Chicory will captivate you with its dialog and relatable personalities, but it will also hit a few heartfelt notes with its comments on self-doubt, depression, and why there’s no shame in starting over.

Mechanical Head’s Cyber Shadow is a damn good time as it reunites 8-bit action side-scrollers with their long-lost love: a level of difficulty that’s fantastically brutal.

At its core, it’s a wonderful modernization of Ninja Gaiden and Wrath of the Black Manta—drawing you into NES-era 2D action, intrepid level design, pinpoint platforming, jazzed-up chiptune anthems (see “Smasher”, “Monkey Shrine”), and peak cyber ninja combat outfitted with shurikens, airstrikes, and a bullet deflect that parries incoming projectiles.

The cheap deaths and dozen or so boss showdowns will humble you, but the stellar fix of early ’90s nostalgia will keep you glued until the very end.

Death’s Door is a much more modern example of a perfectly executed idea (and by a long shot). It’s disarmingly imaginative, visually spellbinding, and fleshed out with a laundry list of stuff to do and see, but instead of rescripting the same old Zelda tropes, it sharpens its commentary on the inevitability of death with nods to Titan Souls and Hyper Light Drifter.

Its premise is pretty out there—you play a crow whose 9-to-5 agency specializes in reaping souls that are transitioning into the afterlife—but it reels you in with satisfyingly constructed levels, puzzles, enemy designs, and isometric action that always finds a way to sticker itself to David Fenn’s mesmerizing score.

How to Delete Your Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and TikTok

If you want to delete your account but don’t want to lose all your account information, download all your crucial data first. The information you can download includes everything from the photos and statuses you post, to the ads you’ve clicked and the IP addresses you’ve used. The list of what’s included is extensive, but you can view it in its entirety here. Also, due to the nature of this data, you’ll want to keep it in a safe place.

To download your account, go into Settings > Your Facebook Information > Download Your Information. When your download is ready, Facebook will send you an email with a link to download. For added security, this link will expire after a few days, so download it quickly.

Instagram

Even though it’s such a mobile-first service, Instagram doesn’t let you delete your account through the app. Instead, you’ll have to log into your Instagram account via the web in order to delete it.

Navigating through Instagram’s settings will only give you the option to temporarily disable your account. Disabling your account will hide your profile, photos, likes, and comments from the platform. Find the disable option by clicking the person icon in the top right corner and selecting Settings. At the bottom of the page, you’ll see the option to temporarily disable your account.

To get rid of it for good, enter this URL into your browser’s address bar: https://instagram.com/accounts/remove/request/permanent. Once you’re on that page, enter your password and click Permanently Delete My Account.

In the past, Instagram users have reported that they are prompted to enter their phone number when deleting their account. Luckily, it seems like this is no longer necessary.

TikTok

Thrown off by TikTok trying to connect you with IRL friends? Not vibing with the Stardew Valley cooks or everyone on WitchTok? Worried about your privacy and not convinced by the platform’s transparency report? It might be time to hang up your TikTok account. Doing so is actually very easy.

Just open the app, click on the Profile section on the bottom right. From there, click the three lines at the top right, then Manage account, followed by Delete account. A few onscreen messages will allow you to download your TikTok data and confirm your choice. Even though your account is now deactivated, your data is not deleted for 30 days.

Twitter

It takes a lot of time and effort to maintain a well-curated Twitter account, but deleting your account doesn’t require as much work. Users who want to erase old tweets en masse, but not go as far as deleting their account, can use third-party apps like TweetDelete.

Before you delete your Twitter account, you may want to download your archive. This will include all your tweets in a chronological order, which is great if you want to relive your first tweet, or see all those unanswered tweets you sent to celebrities. To download your archive, click your profile icon, go to Settings and privacy, then click on Your account, followed by Download an archive of your data. From there, you can input your password to download all of your data.