Tesla Drivers Are Getting Fed Up With Elon Musk’s Twitter Meltdowns


By Ian Sherr

The last straw for Heather was Elon Musk’s attacks on Anthony Fauci, one of the world’s most respected immunologists and the outgoing director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. For Logan, it was when Musk ordered employees to stop paying Twitter’s bills to vendors for services they’d already rendered.

For Tom, Musk’s corrosive and unstable leadership of Twitter since he bought the social media site at the end of October was just too much.

And when each of them called to cancel their Tesla car preorders or to terminate their car leases over the past few months, saying Musk’s toxic behavior was the reason, each heard pretty much the same thing from the Tesla salesperson on the other end of the line: “We’re hearing a lot of that.”

For the past two months, Musk, 51, has been managing Twitter as its new owner and CEO, after paying $44 billion to buy the company. Now it seems the toll of his chaotic leadership style, while also increasingly splitting his time, is wearing on his other companies. The world’s second-richest person is also CEO of electric car manufacturer Tesla and rocket maker SpaceX.

On Sunday, Musk initiated a poll asking users whether he should step down as CEO of Twitter. When voting closed 12 hours later, 57% of 17.5 million accounts tallied said he should go. Musk responded that he plans to resign as CEO “as soon as I find someone foolish enough to take the job!” He added, though, that he plans to stick around, overseeing the software and servers teams. As Twitter’s primary owner, he’ll also likely have an outsized say in how the company’s run.

If Musk’s tenure as CEO may be drawing to an end, it comes after his work over the past couple months was punctuated by his outspoken embrace of extremist right-wing reactionaries, his attacks on former staff from marginalized communities, his spreading of homophobic lies about an attack on the husband of Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and his haphazard pronouncements of new policies at one of the world’s most influential communications platforms.

Twitter is no longer a publicly traded company, but Tesla is. And investors there are not happy. 

Tesla’s shares have plummeted more than 44% since the deal was finalized Oct. 27, with Musk reportedly pulling engineers from projects at the carmaker to help keep Twitter running after he unceremoniously fired half of Twitter’s employees a week into his takeover. Some big name advertisers, who account for nearly 90% of Twitter’s sales, have bailed. Those who’ve spoken publicly say his corrosive behavior, in addition to poorly planned changes to the site that led to a proliferation of fake accounts, are too much. (Musk has separately blamed unnamed “activists” for pressuring companies to cut back spending.)

This week, analysts began warning investors of the toll it was all taking. On Monday, Oppenheimer was among the first major analyst firms to issue a downgrade for Tesla’s stock, CNBC reported, rating it at “perform” from “outperform” before. On Tuesday, Evercore ISI slashed its 12-month price target for Tesla stock by a third, cutting it to $200 from $300. Analysts at Daiwa Capital Markets reportedly marked their target even lower, at $177, citing a “higher risk profile from the Twitter distraction.” 

Tesla’s stock has sunk more than 19% just this week, even though Musk on Thursday said during a public interview that he hadn’t missed “a single important Tesla meeting” since taking over as Twitter CEO. Still, he promised to spend more time working at Tesla again, saying the car maker was “a far more complex beast” to manage.

At the same time, Tesla has made increasingly aggressive offers to convince would-be customers to jump in. Tesla offered at least one customer a nearly $4,000 credit by phone. In early December, the company added a note to its website offering $3,750 and 10,000 free Supercharging miles to people willing to take delivery of a new Model 3 sedan or Model Y crossover cars by the end of the year. On Wednesday, the company bumped that offer up to $7,500. 

Musk has sold nearly $40 billion worth of his Tesla shares to help fund Twitter, even as an estimated $1.2 billion interest payment comes due over the next year. The South African entrepreneur’s personal fortune has dropped by about half, to $140 billion, according to Bloomberg’s Billionaires Index, which tracks real-time net worth of the world’s richest people. 

And the man who loves to create memes and hashtags has become the subject of many, with detractors calling him out with #ElonTheSnowflake, #ElonIsDestroyingTwitter and #ElonMuskIsaGiantTurd. Last week, the Twittersphere dubbed him “Space Karen” for pulling the plug on a Twitter’s Spaces discussion after he failed to answer questions by some of the journalists who he’d banned temporarily from the site after they wrote stories about him he didn’t like.

“His personality is absolutely tanking the Tesla brand,” said Heather, a biotech executive who’s nearing the end of her lease for an extended-range Model S. “I’m looking forward to having an Elon-free existence.”  

Heather and other Tesla owners have increasingly been telling family, friends and posting on social media that they no longer want to be associated with him. More than a dozen accounts have tweeted seeming cancellations for Tesla cars in response to the billionaire’s tweets, often to mocking responses from Musk defenders.

Three customers whose lease payments were finishing or were about to take delivery on a car spoke with CNET on the condition of anonymity because they worried that they might be harassed online and, potentially, in real life by the online mobs that endorse Musk and are now emboldened to say whatever they want on his platform. CNET gave them pseudonyms for this story and in one case changed the gender of a Tesla customer because they were so concerned about the possible backlash. They have good reason to be worried. 

Yoel Roth, Twitter’s former head of trust and safety, and his family were forced to flee their home for fear of their physical safety, the Washington Post reported, after Musk attacked him in a series of tweets. Musk misrepresented Roth’s academic writing about sexuality and children, which led to a flood of harassment and threats toward the Twitter executive, his family and professors who reviewed his earlier work. (Roth resigned from Twitter after Musk declared himself “chief twit,” making clear he’d be calling the shots rather than deferring to trust and safety teams focused on “principled development.”)

Ultimately, those online mobs, have added complexity to the swirl of emotions people have around Twitter, Musk and Tesla. For example, Logan, a Tesla Model 3 lessee from southern California who works in real estate services, was drawn to Tesla and its battery-powered cars because he didn’t want to support oil companies and also because he really liked the car. “It’s comfortable and it drives great.” 

But Musk’s behavior since taking over Twitter, including his short-lived defense of rapper Kanye West’s antisemitic comments disparaging Jews and praising Nazi leader Adolph Hitler, was too much.

“I don’t want to support a company or anyone who acts that way,” Logan said.

Tom, a former Tesla investor who owned a car and had put down a deposit with SpaceX’s Starlink satellite internet service, said he’s walking away from endeavors by Musk’s companies altogether.

Once impressed with Musk and his businesses, Tom now says of Musk that he’s “the worst troll in my feed.” 

“If he wants to be CEO of social media company, he should really focus on that and let this other company go,” Tom added. “If he stepped down from Tesla, I would definitely reconsider keeping the car.”

Betting Big on Bad Behavior to Score Political Points


By Ian Sherr

All it took was a 30-second video for Eric Greitens to become a trending topic on social media this summer.

The Missouri Republican Senate hopeful’s ad starts with him walking up to a home, shotgun in hand and pistol on his hip. He says the target “feeds on corruption and is marked by the stripes of cowardice.” After a team of men in military fatigues ram the door down, Greitens walks in saying he’s acting on behalf of former President Donald Trump’s political movement, hunting “RINOs” — a mocking abbreviation among conservatives, “Republicans In Name Only.”

The ad was quickly pulled down by Facebook and labeled as “abusive” by Twitter. That’s when Greitens’ real ad campaign began.

As condemnation swiftly came from across the political spectrum, Greitens reveled in his sudden virality. A former Navy Seal, Greitens’ political career was already filled with controversy, including accusations of sexual abuse and campaign finance violations that ultimately led him to resign his position as Missouri’s governor in 2018. Now, he was again the center of attention. “Thank you to @WashingtonPost for hosting our video on their website!” Greitens tweeted, alongside a link to a story from the paper. “Everybody can visit the link below to see our new ad!”

Within the first 24 hours, Greitens claimed, his video had already been watched at least 3.5 million times. And to the outrage, he doubled down, calling his critics either liberal or “RINO snowflakes,” while claiming his ad was meant to be humorous. The Missouri Fraternal Order of Police said in a statement at the time that the “deplorable” video “sends a dangerous message that it is somehow acceptable to kill those who have differing political beliefs.” Greitens didn’t respond to a request for comment.

The extreme ad marked the latest in a new class of political posts to social media designed to be censored, baking in outrage from all sides. The strategy bets on a phenomenon known as the Streisand Effect, where efforts to censor something brings far more attention than if it had been left alone in the first place. As a result, the ensuing drama helps the original post go that much further.

Though these types of ads aren’t widespread, they are growing in popularity, marking a sign of how militantly extremist rhetoric is becoming part of mainstream Republican politics. Along with it, condemnation has turned into a badge of honor among radicals, rather than a critical tool meant to restrain them. As their viral posts go ever further, they supercharge fundraising efforts in the process.

“They’re not stupid — they’re very good at grabbing attention,” said Mike Rothschild, a journalist whose book The Storm Is Upon Us dissects viral extremism among Trump supporters on social media. “It’s campaigning through trolling.”

The Normalizing of Extreme Politics Is Playing Out on Twitter

(Robert Rodriguez/CNET)

By Ian Sherr

A couple of months after Pennsylvania’s Democratic Senate candidate John Fetterman had a stroke in May, his Republican opponent and former TV personality Mehmet Oz posted a link to his more than 3 million Twitter followers. “Hoping to make it to a *Fetterman for Senate* campaign event? Details are linked below!”

The website, paid for by Oz’s campaign, depicted Fetterman as an overweight, shirtless and “lazy” “basement bum” as he recovered. Fetterman returned to the campaign trail in mid-August and leads Oz, who’s been endorsed by Donald Trump, in the latest polls. 

The move instantly became the subject of national talk shows, cementing social media even further as America’s latest battleground ahead of the 2022 midterm elections. And that battle is turning bleak.

Many candidates are now following in the steps of Trump, whose frequent harassing, bullying and rule-breaking posts to Twitter turned the political world upside down during his 2016 bid for the White House and then his four years in office. As a result, political and social media researchers say, the midterm elections have seen Trump-like behavior become the norm rather than the outlier. Candidates and elected officials are more often taking to Twitter to spread lies and disinformation, to attack their perceived enemies, and to troll fellow politicians. 

Further, a majority of Republican nominees on the ballot for this November’s midterm elections have denied or questioned the outcome of the 2020 presidential election, according to a report from the Washington Post, posing a threat to America’s democratic principles.  

On some extremist-filled alternatives like Gab and Telegram, candidates are calling for civil war and advocating violence against the government while they echo Trump’s rhetoric that their political opponents are evil.

“Time to take the gloves off,” Florida Republican congressional candidate Laura Loomer wrote on the social networking apps Gab and Telegram in August after a scandal over Trump’s reported hiding of top-secret government documents at his Mar-a-Lago residence and golf club triggered a raid from the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Loomer, who’s described herself as “pro-white nationalism” and a “#ProudIslamaphobe,” continued to attack the FBI even after the Department of Justice said it found many of the US government’s most sensitive secrets at Trump’s complex, despite his staff’s declarations they’d already been returned

“If you’re a freedom loving American, you must remove the Words decorum and civility from your vocabulary,” Loomer wrote. “This is a WAR!” She was banned from Twitter in 2018 for violating the site’s rules against hateful conduct. 

Just south of her, Republican Luis Miguel, a candidate for the Florida House of Representatives, took it a step further. “Under my plan, all Floridians will be able to shoot FBI, IRS, ATF, and all other federal troops on sight,” Miguel tweeted. “Let freedom ring.”

These posts are extreme, and in Miguel’s case got him reportedly banned from Twitter. Both candidates lost their primary bids. They also didn’t respond to requests for comment. But experts say their approach to social media follows a pattern of dangerous internet-grown fanaticism invading the political world, particularly on Twitter.

People may turn to massive platforms such as Instagram, TikTok and YouTube to get the latest news on their favorite celebrities, talk about big sports games or participate in the hottest new trend. But Twitter in particular has solidified its foothold in American politics, turning into a crucial tool for lawmakers to communicate with both their constituents and the media organizations that follow them. And the results have dramatically reshaped the political process as well.

“In the last 10 years, we’ve seen an increase in the amount of resources devoted to social media,” said Bradford Fitch, head of the nonpartisan Congressional Management Foundation, which works with lawmakers’ offices to help improve how they operate. Congressional offices now typically have two people devoted to media, rather than one person a decade ago, he added. And more lawmakers are now posting to their accounts, rather than having aides do it for them. 

“On some level because it hits and accelerates the national psyche,” he said. “We are seeing over time, the incentives are for members of Congress to be outrageous.”

Tesla CEO Elon Musk, one of Twitter’s most-followed users who’s finalizing a $44 billion purchase of the company, has said he plans to remove the few guardrails Twitter has to discourage harassment and bad behavior. Such a move has been widely criticized by civil rights and anti-hate groups, including the Anti-Defamation League, who say Twitter needs more moderation, not less.

Of course, social media didn’t create hyper-partisan lawmakers. Congress has over the years been home to plenty of bullies, conspiracists and other unsavory types. In the 18th century, for example, two lawmakers got into a brawl on the floor of the House of Representatives over the country’s diplomatic approach to France. In the 19th century, one senator drew a pistol and pointed it at his rival in the Senate chamber during a debate over slavery. Though today’s antics are comparatively tame, there are still plenty of lawmakers who pushed conspiracy theories about everything from climate change to the racist lie Trump himself promoted that President Barack Obama wasn’t born in the US, thus disqualifying him from public office.

Meanwhile, attention online isn’t a guarantee of success. Freshman North Carolina Rep. Madison Cawthorn quickly became a right-wing social media star when he was sworn in as one of the youngest lawmakers ever. Though he’d become a celebrity, controversy soon followed. He lost his seat to a lesser-known Republican primary opponent in May.

Social media has even changed how lawmakers communicate when they’re at home and at the US Capitol. Fitch’s research found that members are much more partisan on social media when they’re in DC, rather than the people-pleasing persona they take on at home. 

Republican strategists have said social media offers another telling benefit. Posting online allows politicians to circumvent traditional news organizations that often ask questions and hold them accountable for whether they’re spreading a lie or telling the truth.

The Next ‘iPhone Moment’ Will Arrive, Eventually. Hurry Up Already

(Robert Rodriguez/CNET)

By Ian Sherr

Before the iPhone launched on June 29, 2007, Tony Fadell was used to a regular working rhythm at Apple. People would send out emails at the beginning and end of the day, with “action items” based on conversations and other things that had recently happened. Sometimes, emails arrived between meetings too, but it wasn’t a lot of them.

That all started to change about five months before the iPhone’s launch. Suddenly, the frequency of emails increased. The several dozen employees using prototype iPhones around the company’s Cupertino, California, offices were sending many more emails throughout the day, including in the middle of meetings, ramping up communication across the company.

Now the principal at investment firm Future Shape, Fadell at the time was head of Apple’s iPod music player division and a key member of the team creating the first iPhone. He was already one of Apple’s top executives, the “father of the iPod,” having spent more than a decade making mobile devices.

But the iPhone seemed different, he said. Even though it wasn’t yet fully functioning as a phone, Apple employees were already finding it indispensable. They used it not just to communicate throughout the day, but also to Google things — to confirm a fact or jolt their memory midconversation.

“The center of gravity shifted,” he said. Suddenly, the work laptop wasn’t as important. Instead, the iPhone had become one of the most critical devices in their daily lives. 

“The behaviors changed.”

Fadell’s revelation was one of the first signs that the iPhone was going to be more than Apple’s take on a smartphone. Within a few years, the iPhone would be on its way to kick-starting a mobile renaissance, with attached cameras, always-on internet connections and downloadable apps transforming how people use technology today.

But the iPhone’s success wasn’t a sure thing when it launched 15 years ago, not even for Apple. Back then, the device barely had any of the core features many of us take for granted today, like video chat, wireless syncing or its superfast internet connection. The original gadget didn’t have an App Store either, and the multibillion-dollar companies that apps would one day spawn didn’t yet exist. Back then, the iPhone was an uncomplicated device that Apple pitched as a marriage among a widescreen iPod with touch controls, a mobile phone and an internet communicator.

It’s difficult to invent “the future” with a truly game-changing product, and it’s even harder to spot when that’s happening. Tech companies spend most of their time improving what already exists, often by making products more capable, easier to use and incrementally faster. But companies also invest in big bets like the future of television, global internet access or electric cars. (Consider Facebook, which is so determined to convince us about moving into the metaverse with its VR headsets that it changed its corporate name to Meta.)

Despite all that time and money, though, sometimes companies come along with a new idea that seems poised to change everything — only it doesn’t. And in the few instances when a product does begin to transform things, it rarely feels groundbreaking at the time. Instead, it usually seems overhyped and disconnected from reality.

Perhaps that’s why Jim Balsillie, then BlackBerry’s co-CEO, was so dismissive of the iPhone. BlackBerry’s other CEO, company co-founder Mike Lazaridis, was so intrigued by initial reports about the iPhone that he’d corralled Balsillie to watch a webcast replay of Apple’s launch presentation.

“These guys are really, really good,” Lazaridis said, according to the book, Losing the Signal. “This is different.” 

“It’s OK,” Balsillie responded. “We’ll be fine.”

Less than a decade later, BlackBerry conceded defeat.

Why Johnny Depp vs. Amber Heard Dominated the Internet

(Robert Rodriguez/CNET)

By Ian Sherr and Erin Carson

Marc Musso has a habit of writing a silly song about whatever he’s doing. Sometimes it’s about feeding his cat Malmo, other times it’s about playing board games.

So it’s probably no surprise that as the 27-year-old Texan was watching a live feed of the defamation trial between actor Johnny Depp and actress Amber Heard, he found himself writing a song about the divorced couple.

Sung from the perspective of Heard’s lawyers, Musso’s song pokes fun at how often they raised objections to Depp’s comments while on the stand.

“I used to be respected. People took me at my word,” he starts singing with pop-music beats in the background. “Then I became a lawyer representing Amber Heard.”

Indeed, the weeks-long drama that was the trial between two Hollywood stars became one of the most popular topics on the internet. In between images of Russia’s war on Ukraine, US mass shootings and abortion-rights rallies, it was video snippets coming from a static, dark wood-paneled courtroom in Fairfax, Virginia, that went viral. 

On Wednesday, a jury found both Depp and Heard liable for defamation, with Heard taking the bigger hit. The jury awarded Depp $10 million in compensatory damages and $5 million in punitive damages, though the judge reduced the punitive damages to $350,000, which is the cap in Virginia. Heard was awarded $2 million in compensatory damages and no punitive damages.

The case began as a reaction to an opinion piece Heard published in 2018 in The Washington Post amid the #MeToo movement against sexual harassment, discrimination and assault. Her piece, which discussed domestic abuse she’d experienced, did not name Depp. But Depp sued her in 2019, alleging that Heard defamed him and that she had been the abuser. The next year, Heard countersued Depp.

Then they were in court, with a camera live feed streaming free to the internet from their proceedings in Virginia, and millions tuned in. Some people watched because it was entertaining. Others cheered on their preferred side. Before the trial’s conclusion this week, Saturday Night Live lampooned the case as a spectacle being put on “for fun.” In reaction, critics have said they’re disgusted by how callously audiences treated the case. 

But that didn’t stop people from sharing links, watching videos by the millions and tumbling further down the rabbit hole, remixing trial footage into their own brand of parody. 

That included Musso, who didn’t initially plan to post his 87-second tune to the internet, until his girlfriend convinced him to put it on YouTube and then on TikTok. Less than two weeks later, his song has racked up more than 15 million views.

Musso thought the trial “was ridiculous, and most people seem to agree,” he said. After all, to him it’s just one rich person suing another rich person while airing out their drama to the public.

The Great Resignation Is Changing Work in America, and It’s Here to Stay

(Robert Rodriguez/CNET)

By Ian Sherr and Erin Carson

Like so many other people, Josh Feldman found his work life changing when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Isolation at home with family became the norm, even while he continued working at the job he loved as the vice president of leadership and student experiences at Hillel International, a Jewish nonprofit organization. 

He adjusted for a while, just as millions of others did. But eventually, the change unexpectedly forced him to confront just how burned out he was. 

Despite his employer’s efforts to offer flexible working hours, Feldman was working constantly. He’d often wade into email as soon as he woke up and stayed there after his kids went to bed. He tried to make things better by integrating regular walks into his workday, but he still struggled with overwork. And as the pandemic stretched on and the return-to-the-office date receded further into the future, the 40-year-old father of three kids under age 10 started thinking about what might come next. 

“I had been working in an unsustainable way for a long time,” he said. “This stuff is not easy to change.”

Finally, in August, he chose a more radical shift. Feldman left his good, stable job to start a nonprofit of his own. And he wasn’t alone.

Americans have been quitting their jobs by the millions over the past year, jumping from one company to another in record numbers, often for better pay if they’re low-wage workers, or better benefits if they’re in white-collar jobs. They may be switching because their previous employer tried to drag them back into the office, while a competitor allowed them to continue working remotely. Or they simply wanted a change.

Whatever the reason, this great resignation, as some have called it, is quickly remaking what it means to work in America. For some, that means rethinking their careers. For others, it’s a spiritual awakening, with a renewed commitment to a healthier balance between work and home. Some people moved away from big cities while working remotely during the pandemic, and now they don’t want to move back. Others are finding plentiful opportunities for jobs they can perform anywhere, whereas before the only jobs they could find were near where they lived.

“People are reassessing their lives,” said Andy Challenger, senior vice president at outplacement firm Challenger Gray and Christmas. And it’s showing up in all kinds of ways. 

Recruiters, who typically struggle to get candidates to even hear an offer for a new job, are encountering little resistance. Meanwhile, seasoned office workers like Feldman are pushing change even further, taking the leap to start their own business.

Experts say all of this will likely continue far into 2022 and beyond.

Already, the numbers are staggering. Last April, the number of people who quit their job in a single month hit 3.8 million, an all-time record, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. In August, it hit 4.2 million. And then September, 4.3 million. In November, it hit a record again of 4.5 million.

It all comes at a time of record low unemployment claims. In November, the Bureau of Labor Statistics counted the lowest number in more than half a century. And even still, there are nearly 11 million open jobs out there.

“We’re in this really big period of flux right now where the pandemic has given people some options and forced people to stop and rest,” said Rahaf Harfoush, author of Hustle and Float: Reclaim your Creativity and Thrive in a World Obsessed with Work. “What we’re starting to see right now is — what I’m hoping is — the redrawing of boundaries, where people are saying ‘I no longer want to sacrifice myself so completely for a job.'”

People are fighting back against gift card scammers. Here’s how


By Ian Sherr

Four years ago, Jim Browning decided he’d had enough. Like so many of us, he gets incessant calls from scammers, disrupting his day with efforts to trick him into giving them money. But instead of just being annoyed and ignoring his phone, Browning chose to fight back.

He began to study scammers’ tactics and learned that many of them rely on the same script and use most of the same remote control software tools. And he used his skills working on computers by day to program a virtual PC — think of it like a safe and secure copy of a machine running in an app on his real computer. Once a scammer connected with his virtual PC, thinking they’d found another victim, Browning would pretend to struggle with his internet connection as he quietly took remote control of the scammer’s computer.

“They think nothing’s gone wrong,” he says.

From there, he’d download their data, including lists of victims, notes and personal files. He’d also use that connection to the scammer’s computer to listen to their conversations through the phone app they use, sometimes following, and interrupting, a scammer in real time trying to cheat someone. So far, Browning estimates he’s disrupted more than 1,000 scams, spending up to 12 hours per week on the task. Before our chat, Browning was consoling a victim he’d just alerted of another scam he was tracking.

“I’ll never know for sure exactly what the impact of what I’m doing is, but I think it’s still worth doing,” he said. “Even if the police do nothing, which they mostly do, I’m doing something.”

He has his work cut for him. The world of online scams has exploded in recent years — in April, a Harris Poll survey of 2,000 Americans commissioned by the app Truecaller found one in three people said they’d fallen victim to a phone scam, and more than half of them said it happened on more than one occasion. The lost money equates to an estimated $29.8 billion last year, a staggering jump from the $19.7 billion Truecaller estimated for 2019. The scope of gift card fraud, where scammers trick people into buying gift cards and handing over the numbers, is especially difficult to pin down because many victims don’t report the crime. They’re often embarrassed, and unlike identity theft, where there are strong consumer protections in place, there’s almost no way to get their money back.

“They don’t really know who’s holding onto these gift cards,” said Mark Roberts, who helped co-found the startup Leverage in Southern California nearly two decades ago. Back then, the company encouraged people to register their gift cards through his service. In exchange, the site would help people track, manage and swap the cards with other users. The retailers he worked with were aware of gift card scams even back then, Roberts added, but it was small enough that “they mostly didn’t really care.”

Now the fraud has gotten so big that some people’s righteous anger has boiled over into action. Over the past couple of years, a growing cohort of scam baiters have found success using YouTube and other video sites to share their exploits. Attracting millions of subscribers, they lure unsuspecting scammers in, waste their time, take their files and disrupt their operations. Browning and other scam baiters have attracted so much attention that even though many scammers seem to know their names, they also know they’re scraping just the tip of the iceberg. But if they can disrupt even a fraction of the frauds out there, Browning says, anyone keeping a scammer distracted means protecting another victim.

“I consistently stop scams nearly every single day,” he says.

Browning began uploading videos to YouTube initially as an easy way to provide evidence to internet service providers and law enforcement. He’d highlight the scams using screen recording software to show how the scams work, with a methodical commentary in his low, strongly accented voice. He hoped his proof would spark internet disconnects and police raids. But over time, he attracted more than 3.5 million subscribers, with notable jumps since the pandemic.

Gift card scams are growing, and we’re all paying the price

Gift cards have become a popular way for scammers to launder money. (CNET)

By Ian Sherr

The scams start out innocently enough.

Maybe a phone call from someone who says he works for Amazon, claiming he noticed someone hacked into your account. Maybe someone who says she works for Microsoft, offering a refund for a computer security service you bought a few years ago that stopped working.

Lisa Hernandez was trying to reach Match.com, the dating site, to cancel her account when it happened to her. The 50-year-old single mother of four had signed up for the service but decided she didn’t want to stay with it.

She searched on Google for a customer service number to call. What she found instead was a fake website, built to look legitimate but with a phone number that connected her to a scammer posing as Match customer service. Kevin, the man on the other end of the line, said he could help. First, though, he told her she needed to install a program called TeamViewer, which allowed him remote control of her computer.

He then directed Hernandez to log into her bank’s website. “We’re going to directly refund you your money,” he promised and asked her to fill out a computer-generated form for her refund of $93. Instead, Kevin set his scam in motion by manipulating the code on her computer to make it look like he had deposited $9,000 into her bank account instead, effectively doubling her savings.

The only way to fix the mistake, he told her, was to buy gift cards with the extra money she’d received and give him the numbers. Then he could put the money back into Match’s bank accounts and all would be settled. “I need you to go to the store to get Target cards,” she remembers him saying. Otherwise, he’d lose his job. She did as he asked, giving him nearly $9,000 worth of gift cards.

Moments just like this happen to tens of millions of Americans every year. While it’s easy to assume most victims are elderly, surveys suggest it’s much broader. Victims are old and young, rich and poor. Some people get scammed multiple times. Some victims have family members who fight fraud for a living. It’s struck my family. Likely, it’s happened to yours, too.

When you think of computer crimes, identity theft usually comes first to mind. That’s because it cost Americans a staggering $56 billion last year, according to Javelin Strategy and Research. But it tends to feel more like an inconvenience than theft, because you usually get your money back thanks to a nearly half-century-old law designed to protect consumers from any “unauthorized” credit charges. The fees we pay help cover the losses to that fraud. But it’s different with gift cards — they have no such legal protections. When a victim shares the card number with a scammer, they’ve effectively authorized its use. Even identity fraud insurance, which would cover ID theft in the case of a data breach, often doesn’t apply when you’ve given the information willingly.

“If someone coerces you, then you’re out of luck,” said Kathy Stokes, director of fraud prevention programs at AARP.

It’s impossible to fathom how much money these scammers have taken. Many victims don’t report the crime to authorities, often because they’re embarrassed and quickly learn the hard truth that they’re unlikely to get their money back. So when the Federal Trade Commission counted more than $245 million in money lost to gift card scams since 2018, most experts said the actual number is likely many multiples worse than that.

“This is only the tip of the iceberg,” said John Breyault, vice president for public policy, telecommunications and fraud at the National Consumers League.

The anecdotal data suggests he’s right. The FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center, for example, said it receives more than 2,000 complaints each day about all sorts of internet scams, from fraudulent business impersonation to fake romances to gift card scams. All told, the FBI tallied $4.2 billion in fraud losses reported by victims last year.

Some stores put up signs next to gift card racks and checkout counters warning about fraud. Others say they’re training employees to spot potential victims. But they aren’t doing much else. “The business incentive in the gift card space is for these cards to be used with as little friction as possible,” Breyault said. “They don’t want to get into the way of someone buying a gift card and buying a Coke on the way out.”

How the search for the next Steve Jobs is ruining Silicon Valley

Apple CEO Steve Jobs was one of the most influential people in the tech world. (James Martin/CNET)

By Ian Sherr

Few people figure in the story of Silicon Valley as prominently as Steve Jobs. After co-founding Apple in 1976, Jobs was famously fired from the company in 1985. In a twist worthy of Shakespeare, he returned a little over a decade later to save Apple from near-bankruptcy, setting it on the path to become one of the world’s most highly valued companies. His is one of the great American success stories.

Jobs still looms large over the tech world, even now, a decade after he died on Oct. 5, 2011, at the age of 56 from pancreatic cancer. His ability to tie emotional stories to his company’s products, which he would reveal during splashy product launches that typically ended with “one more thing,” is widely emulated by executives at companies big and small. As are his top-down leadership style and obsession with secrecy. Some have even adopted their takes on his trademark uniform: black mock turtleneck, jeans and New Balance sneakers.

None of these traits is unusual for an entrepreneur, harking back to the one who built a company that created some of the world’s most influential tech products, including the iPod, iPhone and iPad. Disruptive innovators are often driven to do something different and to test conventional wisdom. And Jobs certainly did that.

“They’re working on things that aren’t just another continuous step,” said David Hsu, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School who focuses on entrepreneurial innovation and management. “When it comes to innovation in Silicon Valley, it’s this kind of ‘We’ll follow something off the beaten path.'”

The less-trodden path can sometimes lead to failure, as it did for Jobs in 1985, but it’s one that other Silicon Valley execs have vowed to follow.

His legacy is burned into the backs of the minds of people who feel that success comes first, regardless of niceties or wrongdoing. Sometimes, employees or mentors might think they’ve found the next Jobs-like figure to become a titan of industry, creating the next Apple. In their search, though, poor decisions, bad behavior and fraud have festered, sometimes overlooked. Brilliant and charismatic, if flawed, founders have led companies to meteoric rises, and equally shocking flameouts once they came under scrutiny. Like Hollywood celebrities, a superstar CEO can rise quickly only to fall spectacularly when egregious missteps draw attention. And they could be ruining it for everyone else.

“I keep thinking, is there a way where instead of a brilliant jerk, you can have a brilliant humble game-changer in society?” Hsu said. “We need to hold up and recognize there are many pathways to success and many different ways to contribute.”

Why your iPhone may never be Made in the USA

(Robert Rodriguez/CNET)

By Ian Sherr

The 15-minute video begins with upbeat music and a title slide that reads “We Are Manufacturing.” It cuts to a shot of the clear blue sky, with three flags ruffling in the breeze. There’s the Stars and Stripes, California’s Bear Flag and a multicolored Apple logo.

The camera pans toward a high-tech-looking building and a narrator tells us we’re in Fremont, California, about an hour’s drive from the heart of Silicon Valley.

“People and machines work together to build the highest-quality personal computers in the industry,” the narrator says. The screen cycles through images of microchips and boards moving through an assembly line while workers test and inspect them.

“This facility combines state-of-the-art equipment with a skilled workforce to achieve manufacturing excellence.”

Eventually, the parts end up inside a Macintosh computer, which is packed, boxed up and put on a truck headed to a store to be sold. 

This isn’t some totem from an alternative universe where Apple builds the technology we depend on in the US. It’s a marketing video that dates back more than three decades — from the halcyon days when Apple co-founder Steve Jobs was obsessed with showing his company was savvy enough to manufacture its technology in the US, just as well as the powerhouse Japanese consumer electronics giants of the time. 

Spoiler: Apple couldn’t. The factory was shuttered in 1992, and the company shifted those jobs to Asia.

Today, millions more American manufacturing jobs have shifted overseas, and many companies almost entirely rely on factories that are a boat, plane or long-haul drive away from their customers. But now that may be starting to change.

The COVID-19 pandemic exposed how fragile this whole system is. Many factories in China were forced to shut down as the virus began its spread. But that wasn’t all. Even as Chinese factories began to slowly restart manufacturing, companies faced disruptions in shipping, trucking, air travel. And soon enough, shelves in stores around the country started to go empty.

Manufacturing experts and advocates say the last year highlighted how, even in a pinch, American factories haven’t been able to fill the gap. It’s also partly why in January, President Joe Biden signed an executive order bolstering “Buy American” rules, encouraging the federal government to spend its multitrillion-dollar budget purchasing goods with up to 75% of parts made in the US. Boosting demand for American products, he hopes, will get companies to start reinvesting in manufacturing back home to fill that demand.

Biden isn’t alone in trying to solve this problem. Jobs’ successor, CEO Tim Cook, pledged in April that Apple will spend $430 billion on US investments that’ll add 20,000 jobs in the United States over the next five years to work on 5G wireless, artificial intelligence and silicon chips.

But there’s a limit to how far this can go. Even with that multibillion-dollar investment, it’s unlikely Apple and Cook will make US manufacturing the next big thing for key Apple products. The iPhone, Apple’s top moneymaker, will most likely continue to be assembled at factories in China for many years to come. To make that change, the US would need to spend years investing in new manufacturing technologies while offsetting lower wages and other costs from overseas, experts and advocates say. The United States would also need to rebuild its apprenticeship and education systems to improve the pipeline of American workers for manufacturing jobs, and convince people it’s a worthwhile career field to join. 

The global supply chain of parts for the products Americans love — mobile phones, cars, computers, refrigerators, silverware, patio furniture — would need to expand back to American shores too.

But perhaps the biggest hurdle to American manufacturing is you and me, our friends and families. We vote with our wallets. And even though “Buy American” polls well, we all seem to keep buying stuff no matter where it comes from.

“Am I willing to do the legwork to find what’s made in the US or find what was made locally and purchase that to give my signal to the system?” says Krystyn Van Vliet, a professor, research vice president and associate provost at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who looks for ways to bring products designed from MIT’s research out into the real world.

She adds, “Consumers signal to manufacturers what consumers want, so we have a responsibility if we want this to change.”