In other instances, prosecutors may not say exactly what they’re investigating when they ask for transaction records. In that case, it’s up to the financial institution to request more information or try to figure it out on its own.

Paying for abortion services with cash is one possible way to avoid detection, even if it isn’t possible for people ordering pills online. Many abortion funds pay on behalf of people who need financial help.

But cash and electronic transfers of money are not entirely foolproof.

“Even if you are paying with cash, the amount of residual information that can be used to reveal health status and pregnancy status is fairly significant,” said Ms. Stepanovich, referring to potential bread crumbs such as the use of a retailer’s loyalty program or location tracking on a mobile phone when making a cash purchase.

In some cases, users may inadvertently give up sensitive information themselves through apps that track and share their financial behavior.

“The purchase of a pregnancy test on an app where financial history is public is probably the biggest red flag,” Ms. Stepanovich said.

Other advocates mentioned the possibility of using prepaid cards in fixed amounts, like the kinds that people can buy off a rack in a drugstore. Cryptocurrency, they added, usually does leave enough of a trail that achieving anonymity is challenging.

One thing that every expert emphasized is the lack of certainty. But there is an emerging gut feeling that corporations will be in the spotlight at least as much as judges.

“Now, these payment companies are going to be front and center in the fight,” Ms. Caraballo said.

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How China Is Policing the Future

The more than 1.4 billion people living in China are constantly watched. They are recorded by police cameras that are everywhere, on street corners and subway ceilings, in hotel lobbies and apartment buildings. Their phones are tracked, their purchases are monitored, and their online chats are censored.

Now, even their future is under surveillance.

The latest generation of technology digs through the vast amounts of data collected on their daily activities to find patterns and aberrations, promising to predict crimes or protests before they happen. They target potential troublemakers in the eyes of the Chinese government — not only those with a criminal past but also vulnerable groups, including ethnic minorities, migrant workers and those with a history of mental illness.

They can warn the police if a victim of a fraud tries to travel to Beijing to petition the government for payment or a drug user makes too many calls to the same number. They can signal officers each time a person with a history of mental illness gets near a school.

automating systemic discrimination and political repression.

to quell ethnic unrest in the western region of Xinjiang and enforce some of the world’s most severe coronavirus lockdowns. The space for dissent, always limited, is rapidly disappearing.

“Big data should be used as an engine to power the innovative development of public security work and a new growth point for nurturing combat capabilities,” Mr. Xi said in 2019 at a national public security work meeting.

ChinaFile, an online magazine published by the Asia Society, which has systematically gathered years of records on government websites. Another set, describing software bought by the authorities in the port city of Tianjin to stop petitioners from going to neighboring Beijing, was provided by IPVM, a surveillance industry publication.

China’s Ministry of Public Security did not respond to requests for comment faxed to its headquarters in Beijing and six local departments across the country.

The new approach to surveillance is partly based on data-driven policing software from the United States and Europe, technology that rights groups say has encoded racism into decisions like which neighborhoods are most heavily policed and which prisoners get parole. China takes it to the extreme, tapping nationwide reservoirs of data that allow the police to operate with opacity and impunity.

Megvii, an artificial intelligence start-up, told Chinese state media that the surveillance system could give the police a search engine for crime, analyzing huge amounts of video footage to intuit patterns and warn the authorities about suspicious behavior. He explained that if cameras detected a person spending too much time at a train station, the system could flag a possible pickpocket.

Hikvision, that aims to predict protests. The system collects data on legions of Chinese petitioners, a general term in China that describes people who try to file complaints about local officials with higher authorities.

It then scores petitioners on the likelihood that they will travel to Beijing. In the future, the data will be used to train machine-learning models, according to a procurement document.

Local officials want to prevent such trips to avoid political embarrassment or exposure of wrongdoing. And the central government doesn’t want groups of disgruntled citizens gathering in the capital.

A Hikvision representative declined to comment on the system.

Under Mr. Xi, official efforts to control petitioners have grown increasingly invasive. Zekun Wang, a 32-year-old member of a group that for years sought redress over a real estate fraud, said the authorities in 2017 had intercepted fellow petitioners in Shanghai before they could even buy tickets to Beijing. He suspected that the authorities were watching their communications on the social media app WeChat.

The Hikvision system in Tianjin, which is run in cooperation with the police in nearby Beijing and Hebei Province, is more sophisticated.

The platform analyzes individuals’ likelihood to petition based on their social and family relationships, past trips and personal situations, according to the procurement document. It helps the police create a profile of each, with fields for officers to describe the temperament of the protester, including “paranoid,” “meticulous” and “short tempered.”

Many people who petition do so over government mishandling of a tragic accident or neglect in the case — all of which goes into the algorithm. “Increase a person’s early-warning risk level if they have low social status or went through a major tragedy,” reads the procurement document.

When the police in Zhouning, a rural county in Fujian Province, bought a new set of 439 cameras in 2018, they listed coordinates where each would go. Some hung above intersections and others near schools, according to a procurement document.

Nine were installed outside the homes of people with something in common: mental illness.

While some software tries to use data to uncover new threats, a more common type is based on the preconceived notions of the police. In over a hundred procurement documents reviewed by The Times, the surveillance targeted blacklists of “key persons.”

These people, according to some of the procurement documents, included those with mental illness, convicted criminals, fugitives, drug users, petitioners, suspected terrorists, political agitators and threats to social stability. Other systems targeted migrant workers, idle youths (teenagers without school or a job), ethnic minorities, foreigners and those infected with H.I.V.

The authorities decide who goes on the lists, and there is often no process to notify people when they do. Once individuals are in a database, they are rarely removed, said experts, who worried that the new technologies reinforce disparities within China, imposing surveillance on the least fortunate parts of its population.

In many cases the software goes further than simply targeting a population, allowing the authorities to set up digital tripwires that indicate a possible threat. In one Megvii presentation detailing a rival product by Yitu, the system’s interface allowed the police to devise their own early warnings.

With a simple fill-in-the-blank menu, the police can base alarms on specific parameters, including where a blacklisted person appears, when the person moves around, whether he or she meets with other blacklisted people and the frequency of certain activities. The police could set the system to send a warning each time two people with a history of drug use check into the same hotel or when four people with a history of protest enter the same park.

Yitu did not respond to emailed requests for comment.

In 2020 in the city of Nanning, the police bought software that could look for “more than three key people checking into the same or nearby hotels” and “a drug user calling a new out-of-town number frequently,” according to a bidding document. In Yangshuo, a tourist town famous for its otherworldly karst mountains, the authorities bought a system to alert them if a foreigner without a work permit spent too much time hanging around foreign-language schools or bars, an apparent effort to catch people overstaying their visas or working illegally.

In Shanghai, one party-run publication described how the authorities used software to identify those who exceeded normal water and electricity use. The system would send a “digital whistle” to the police when it found suspicious consumption patterns.

The tactic was likely designed to detect migrant workers, who often live together in close quarters to save money. In some places, the police consider them an elusive, and often impoverished, group who can bring crime into communities.

The automated alerts don’t result in the same level of police response. Often, the police give priority to warnings that point to political problems, like protests or other threats to social stability, said Suzanne E. Scoggins, a professor at Clark University who studies China’s policing.

At times, the police have stated outright the need to profile people. “Through the application of big data, we paint a picture of people and give them labels with different attributes,” Li Wei, a researcher at China’s national police university, said in a 2016 speech. “For those who receive one or more types of labels, we infer their identities and behavior, and then carry out targeted pre-emptive security measures.”

Mr. Zhang first started petitioning the government for compensation over the torture of his family during the Cultural Revolution. He has since petitioned over what he says is police targeting of his family.

As China has built out its techno-authoritarian tools, he has had to use spy movie tactics to circumvent surveillance that, he said, has become “high tech and Nazified.”

When he traveled to Beijing in January from his village in Shandong Province, he turned off his phone and paid for transportation in cash to minimize his digital footprint. He bought train tickets to the wrong destination to foil police tracking. He hired private drivers to get around checkpoints where his identification card would set off an alarm.

The system in Tianjin has a special feature for people like him who have “a certain awareness of anti-reconnaissance” and regularly change vehicles to evade detection, according to the police procurement document.

Whether or not he triggered the system, Mr. Zhang has noticed a change. Whenever he turns off his phone, he said, officers show up at his house to check that he hasn’t left on a new trip to Beijing.

Credit…Zhang Yuqiao

Even if police systems cannot accurately predict behavior, the authorities may consider them successful because of the threat, said Noam Yuchtman, an economics professor at the London School of Economics who has studied the impact of surveillance in China.

“In a context where there isn’t real political accountability,” having a surveillance system that frequently sends police officers “can work pretty well” at discouraging unrest, he said.

Once the metrics are set and the warnings are triggered, police officers have little flexibility, centralizing control. They are evaluated for their responsiveness to automated alarms and effectiveness at preventing protests, according to experts and public police reports.

The technology has encoded power imbalances. Some bidding documents refer to a “red list” of people whom the surveillance system must ignore.

One national procurement document said the function was for “people who need privacy protection or V.I.P. protection.” Another, from Guangdong Province, got more specific, stipulating that the red list was for government officials.

Mr. Zhang expressed frustration at the ways technology had cut off those in political power from regular people.

“The authorities do not seriously solve problems but do whatever it takes to silence the people who raise the problems,” he said. “This is a big step backward for society.”

Mr. Zhang said that he still believed in the power of technology to do good, but that in the wrong hands it could be a “scourge and a shackle.”

“In the past if you left your home and took to the countryside, all roads led to Beijing,” he said. “Now, the entire country is a net.”

Isabelle Qian and Aaron Krolik contributed research and reporting. Production by Agnes Chang and Alexander Cardia.

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As Midterms Loom, Mark Zuckerberg Shifts Focus Away From Elections

Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s chief executive, made securing the 2020 U.S. election a top priority. He met regularly with an election team, which included more than 300 people from across his company, to prevent misinformation from spreading on the social network. He asked civil rights leaders for advice on upholding voter rights.

The core election team at Facebook, which was renamed Meta last year, has since been dispersed. Roughly 60 people are now focused primarily on elections, while others split their time on other projects. They meet with another executive, not Mr. Zuckerberg. And the chief executive has not talked recently with civil rights groups, even as some have asked him to pay more attention to the midterm elections in November.

Safeguarding elections is no longer Mr. Zuckerberg’s top concern, said four Meta employees with knowledge of the situation. Instead, he is focused on transforming his company into a provider of the immersive world of the metaverse, which he sees as the next frontier of growth, said the people, who were not authorized to speak publicly.

hearings on the Jan. 6 Capitol riot have underlined how precarious elections can be. And dozens of political candidates are running this November on the false premise that former President Donald J. Trump was robbed of the 2020 election, with social media platforms continuing to be a key way to reach American voters.

2000 Mules,” a film that falsely claims the 2020 election was stolen from Mr. Trump, was widely shared on Facebook and Instagram, garnering more than 430,000 interactions, according to an analysis by The New York Times. In posts about the film, commenters said they expected election fraud this year and warned against using mail-in voting and electronic voting machines.

$44 billion sale to Elon Musk, three employees with knowledge of the situation said. Mr. Musk has suggested that he wants fewer rules about what can and cannot be posted on the service.

barred Mr. Trump from its platforms after the riot at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, has worked over the years to limit political falsehoods on its sites. Tom Reynolds, a Meta spokesman, said the company had “taken a comprehensive approach to how elections play out on our platforms since before the U.S. 2020 elections and through the dozens of global elections since then.”

recently raised doubts about the country’s electoral process. Latvia, Bosnia and Slovenia are also holding elections in October.

“People in the U.S. are almost certainly getting the Rolls-Royce treatment when it comes to any integrity on any platform, especially for U.S. elections,” said Sahar Massachi, the executive director of the think tank Integrity Institute and a former Facebook employee. “And so however bad it is here, think about how much worse it is everywhere else.”

Facebook’s role in potentially distorting elections became evident after 2016, when Russian operatives used the site to spread inflammatory content and divide American voters in the U.S. presidential election. In 2018, Mr. Zuckerberg testified before Congress that election security was his top priority.

banning QAnon conspiracy theory posts and groups in October 2020.

Around the same time, Mr. Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, donated $400 million to local governments to fund poll workers, pay for rental fees for polling places, provide personal protective equipment and cover other administrative costs.

The week before the November 2020 election, Meta also froze all political advertising to limit the spread of falsehoods.

But while there were successes — the company kept foreign election interference off the platform — it struggled with how to handle Mr. Trump, who used his Facebook account to amplify false claims of voter fraud. After the Jan. 6 riot, Facebook barred Mr. Trump from posting. He is eligible for reinstatement in January.

Frances Haugen, a Facebook employee turned whistle-blower, filed complaints with the Securities and Exchange Commission accusing the company of removing election safety features too soon after the 2020 election. Facebook made growth and engagement its priorities over security, she said.

fully realized digital world that exists beyond the one in which we live. It was coined by Neal Stephenson in his 1992 novel “Snow Crash,” and the concept was further explored by Ernest Cline in his novel “Ready Player One.”

Mr. Zuckerberg no longer meets weekly with those focused on election security, said the four employees, though he receives their reports. Instead, they meet with Nick Clegg, Meta’s president of global affairs.

Several civil right groups said they had noticed Meta’s shift in priorities. Mr. Zuckerberg isn’t involved in discussions with them as he once was, nor are other top Meta executives, they said.

“I’m concerned,” said Derrick Johnson, president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, who talked with Mr. Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg, Meta’s chief operating officer, ahead of the 2020 election. “It appears to be out of sight, out of mind.” (Ms. Sandberg has announced that she will leave Meta this fall.)

wrote a letter to Mr. Zuckerberg and the chief executives of YouTube, Twitter, Snap and other platforms. They called for them to take down posts about the lie that Mr. Trump won the 2020 election and to slow the spread of election misinformation before the midterms.

Yosef Getachew, a director at the nonprofit public advocacy organization Common Cause, whose group studied 2020 election misinformation on social media, said the companies had not responded.

“The Big Lie is front and center in the midterms with so many candidates using it to pre-emptively declare that the 2022 election will be stolen,” he said, pointing to recent tweets from politicians in Michigan and Arizona who falsely said dead people cast votes for Democrats. “Now is not the time to stop enforcing against the Big Lie.”

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Bitcoin Plummets Below $20,000 for First Time Since Late 2020

Square, another payments company, bought $50 million of Bitcoin and changed its name to Block, in part to signify its work with blockchain technology. Tesla bought $1.5 billion of it. The venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz raised $4.5 billion for a fourth cryptocurrency-focused fund, doubling its previous one.

Excitement hit a peak in April last year when Coinbase, a cryptocurrency exchange, went public at an $85 billion valuation, a coming-out party for the industry. Bitcoin topped $60,000 for the first time.

Last summer, El Salvador announced that it would become the first country to classify Bitcoin as legal tender, alongside the U.S. dollar. The country’s president updated his Twitter profile picture to include laser eyes, a calling card of Bitcoin believers. The value of El Salvador’s $105 million investment in Bitcoin has been slashed in half as the price has fallen.

Senators and mayors around the United States began touting cryptocurrency, as the industry spent heavily on lobbying. Mayor Eric Adams of New York, who was elected in November, said he would take his first three paychecks in Bitcoin. Senators Cynthia Lummis, Republican of Wyoming, and Kirsten Gillibrand, Democrat of New York, proposed legislation that would create a regulatory framework for the industry, giving more authority to the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, an agency that crypto companies have openly courted.

Through the frenzy, celebrities fueled the fear of missing out, flogging their NFTs on talk shows and talking up blockchain projects on social media. This year, the Super Bowl featured four ads for crypto companies, including Matt Damon warning viewers that “fortune favors the brave.”

That swaggering optimism faltered this spring as the stock market plummeted, inflation soared and layoffs hit the tech sector. Investors began losing confidence in their crypto investments, moving money to less risky assets. Several high-profile projects crashed amid withdrawals. TerraForm Labs, which created TerraUSD, a so-called stablecoin, and Celsius, an experimental crypto bank, both collapsed, wiping out billions in value and sending the broader market into a tailspin.

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How a Religious Sect Landed Google in a Lawsuit

OREGON HOUSE, Calif. — In a tiny town in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada, a religious organization called the Fellowship of Friends has established an elaborate, 1,200-acre compound full of art and ornate architecture.

More than 200 miles away from the Fellowship’s base in Oregon House, Calif., the religious sect, which believes a higher consciousness can be achieved by embracing fine arts and culture, has also gained a foothold inside a business unit at Google.

Even in Google’s freewheeling office culture, which encourages employees to speak their own minds and pursue their own projects, the Fellowship’s presence in the business unit was unusual. As many as 12 Fellowship members and close relatives worked for the Google Developer Studio, or GDS, which produces videos showcasing the company’s technologies, according to a lawsuit filed by Kevin Lloyd, a 34-year-old former Google video producer.

critically acclaimed winery; and collected art from across the world, including more than $11 million in Chinese antiques.

Revelations.” Mr. Burton described Apollo as the seed of a new civilization that would emerge after a global apocalypse.

sold its collection of Chinese antiques at auction. In 2015, after its chief winemaker left the organization, its winery ceased production. The Fellowship’s president, Greg Holman, declined to comment for this article.

The Google Developer Studio is run by Peter Lubbers, a longtime member of the Fellowship of Friends. A July 2019 Fellowship directory, obtained by The Times, lists him as a member. Former members confirm that he joined the Fellowship after moving to the United States from the Netherlands.

At Google, he is a director, a role that is usually a rung below vice president in Google management and usually receives annual compensation in the high six figures or low seven figures.

Previously, Mr. Lubbers worked for the staffing company Kelly Services. M. Catherine Jones, Mr. Lloyd’s lawyer, won a similar suit against Kelly Services in 2008 on behalf of Lynn Noyes, who claimed that the company had failed to promote her because she was not a member of the Fellowship. A California court awarded Ms. Noyes $6.5 million in damages.

Ms. Noyes said in an interview that Mr. Lubbers was among a large contingent of Fellowship members from the Netherlands who worked for the company in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

At Kelly Services, Mr. Lubbers worked as a software developer before a stint at Oracle, the Silicon Valley software giant, according to his LinkedIn profile, which was recently deleted. He joined Google in 2012, initially working on a team that promoted Google technology to outside software developers. In 2014, he helped create G.D.S., which produced videos promoting Google developer tools.

Kelly Services declined to comment on the lawsuit.

Under Mr. Lubbers, the group brought in several other members of the Fellowship, including a video producer named Gabe Pannell. A 2015 photo posted to the internet by Mr. Pannell’s father shows Mr. Lubbers and Mr. Pannell with Mr. Burton, who is known as “The Teacher” or “Our Beloved Teacher” within the Fellowship. A caption on the photo, which was also recently deleted, calls Mr. Pannell a “new student.”

Echoing claims made in the lawsuit, Erik Johanson, a senior video producer who has worked for the Google Developer Studio since 2015 through ASG, said the team’s leadership abused the hiring system that brought workers in as contractors.

“They were able to further their own aims very rapidly because they could hire people with far less scrutiny and a far less rigorous on-boarding process than if these people were brought on as full-time employees,” he said. “It meant that no one was looking very closely when all these people were brought on from the foothills of the Sierras.”

Mr. Lloyd said that after applying for his job he had interviewed with Mr. Pannell twice, and that he had reported directly to Mr. Pannell when he joined a 25-person Bay Area video production team inside GDS in 2017. He soon noticed that nearly half this team, including Mr. Lubbers and Mr. Pannell, came from Oregon House.

Google paid to have a state-of-the-art sound system installed in the Oregon House home of one Fellowship member who worked for the team as a sound designer, according to the suit. Mr. Lubbers disputed this claim in a phone interview, saying the equipment was old and would have been thrown out if the team had not sent it to the home.

The sound designer’s daughter also worked for the team as a set designer. Additional Fellowship members and their relatives were hired to staff Google events, including a photographer, a masseuse, Mr. Lubbers’s wife and his son, who worked as a DJ at company parties.

The company frequently served wine from Grant Marie, a winery in Oregon House run by a Fellowship member who previously managed the Fellowship’s winery, according to the suit and a person familiar with the matter, who declined to be identified for fear of reprisal.

“My personal religious beliefs are a deeply held private matter,” Mr. Lubbers said. “In all my years in tech, they have never played a role in hiring. I have always performed my role by bringing in the right talent for the situation — bringing in the right vendors for the jobs.”

He said ASG, not Google, hired contractors for the GDS team, adding that it was fine for him to “encourage people to apply for those roles.” And he said that in recent years, the team has grown to more than 250 people, including part-time employees.

Mr. Pannell said in a phone interview that the team brought in workers from “a circle of trusted friends and families with extremely qualified backgrounds,” including graduates of the University of California, Berkeley.

In 2017 and 2018, according to the suit, Mr. Pannell attended video shoots intoxicated and occasionally threw things at the presenter when he was unhappy with a performance. Mr. Pannell said that he did not remember the incidents and that they did not sound like something he would do. He also acknowledged that he’d had problems with alcohol and had sought help.

After seven months at Google, Mr. Pannell was made a full-time employee, according to the suit. He was later promoted to senior producer and then executive producer, according to his LinkedIn profile, which has also been deleted.

Mr. Lloyd brought much of this to the attention of a manager inside the team, he said. But he was repeatedly told not to pursue the matter because Mr. Lubbers was a powerful figure at Google and because Mr. Lloyd could lose his job, according to his lawsuit. He said he was fired in February 2021 and was not given a reason. Google, Mr. Lubbers and Mr. Pannell said he had been fired for performance issues.

Ms. Jones, Mr. Lloyd’s lawyer, argued that Google’s relationship with ASG allowed members of the Fellowship to join the company without being properly vetted. “This is one of the methods the Fellowship used in the Kelly case,” she said. “They can get through the door without the normal scrutiny.”

Mr. Lloyd is seeking damages for wrongful termination, retaliation, failure to prevent discrimination and the intentional infliction of emotion distress. But he said he worries that, by doing so much business with its members, Google fed money into the Fellowship of Friends.

“Once you become aware of this, you become responsible,” Mr. Lloyd said. “You can’t look away.”

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Crypto Firms Quake as Prices Fall

SAN FRANCISCO — No one wanted to miss out on the cryptocurrency mania.

Over the last two years, as the prices of Bitcoin and other virtual currencies surged, crypto start-ups proliferated. Companies that market digital coins to investors flooded the airwaves with TV commercials, newfangled lending operations offered sky-high interest rates on crypto deposits and exchanges like Coinbase that allow investors to trade digital assets went on hiring sprees.

A global industry worth hundreds of billions of dollars rose up practically overnight. Now it is crashing down.

After weeks of plummeting cryptocurrency prices, Coinbase said on Tuesday that it was cutting 18 percent of its employees, after layoffs at other crypto companies like Gemini, BlockFi and Crypto.com. High-profile start-ups like Terraform Labs have imploded, wiping away years of investments. On Sunday, an experimental crypto bank, Celsius, abruptly halted withdrawals.

dropped by about 65 percent since autumn, and analysts predict the sell-off will continue. Stock prices of crypto companies have cratered, retail traders are fleeing and industry executives are predicting a prolonged slump that could put more companies in jeopardy.

stocks crashing, interest rates soaring and inflation high, cryptocurrency prices are also collapsing, showing they have become tied to the overall market. And as people pull back from crypto investments, the outflow is exposing the unstable foundations of many of the industry’s most popular companies.

OpenSea, the largest marketplace for the unique digital images known as nonfungible tokens, reached a staggering $13 billion valuation. And Wall Street banks such as JPMorgan Chase, which previously shunned crypto assets, and Fortune 500 companies like PayPal rolled out crypto offerings.

confidence evaporated in the early 2000s, many of the dot-coms went bust, leaving just the biggest — such as eBay, Amazon and Yahoo — standing.

This time, investors predict there will be more survivors. “You certainly have some overhyped companies that don’t have the fundamentals,” said Mike Jones, an investor at the venture firm Science Inc. “But you also have some really strong companies that are trading way below where they should.”

There have been warning signs that some crypto companies were not sustainable. Skeptics have pointed out that many of the most popular firms offered products underpinned by risky financial engineering.

Terraform Labs, for example, offered TerraUSD, a so-called stablecoin with a fixed value linked to the U.S. dollar. The coin was hyped by its founder, Do Kwon, who raised more than $200 million from major investment firms such as Lightspeed Venture Partners and Galaxy Digital, even as critics warned that the project was unstable.

The coin’s price was algorithmically linked to a sister cryptocurrency, Luna. When the price of Luna plummeted in May, TerraUSD fell in tandem — a “death spiral” that destabilized the broader market and plunged some investors into financial ruin.

drew scrutiny from several state regulators. In the end, a drop in crypto prices appeared to put the company under more pressure than it could withstand.

With the price of Bitcoin tumbling, Celsius announced on Sunday that it was freezing withdrawals “due to extreme market conditions.” The company did not respond to a request for comment.

The market instability has also triggered a crisis at Coinbase, the largest U.S. crypto exchange. Between the end of 2021 and late March, Coinbase lost 2.2 million active customers, or 19 percent of its total, as crypto prices dropped. The company’s net revenue in the first three months of the year shrank 27 percent from a year earlier, to $1.2 billion. Its stock price has plunged 84 percent since it went public last year.

This month, Coinbase said it would rescind job offers and extend a hiring freeze to battle the economic downturn. On Tuesday, it said it would cut about 1,100 workers.

Brian Armstrong, Coinbase’s chief executive, informed employees of the layoffs in a note on Tuesday morning, saying the company “grew too quickly” as crypto products became popular.

“It is now clear to me that we over-hired,” he wrote. A Coinbase spokesman declined to comment.

“It had been growth at all costs over the last several years,” said Ryan Coyne, who covers crypto companies and financial technology at the Mizuho Group. “It’s now turned to profitable growth.”

memo to staff, the Winklevoss twins said the industry had entered a “crypto winter.”

commercial starring the actor Matt Damon, who declared that “fortune favors the brave” as he encouraged investors to put their money in the crypto market. Last week, Crypto.com’s chief executive announced that he was laying off 5 percent of the staff, or 260 people. On Monday, BlockFi, a crypto lending operation, said it was reducing its staff by roughly 20 percent.

Gemini and BlockFi declined to comment. A Crypto.com spokesman said the company remains focused on “investing resources into product and engineering capabilities to develop world-class products.”

Cryptocurrencies have long been volatile and prone to boom-and-bust cycles. In 2013, a Chinese ban on Bitcoin sent its price tumbling. In 2017, a proliferation of companies creating and selling their own tokens led to a run-up in crypto prices, which crashed after regulators cracked down on so-called initial coin offerings.

These bubbles are built into the ecosystem, crypto enthusiasts said. They attract talented people to the industry, who go on to build valuable projects. Many of the most vocal cheerleaders encourage investors to “buy the dip,” or invest more when prices are low.

“We have been in these downward spirals before and recovered,” Mr. Jones, the Science Inc. investor, said. “We all believe in the fundamentals.”

Some of the companies have also remained defiant. During Game 5 of the N.B.A. finals on Monday night, Coinbase aired a commercial that alluded to past boom-and-bust cycles.

“Crypto is dead,” it declared. “Long live crypto.”

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Google Sidelines Engineer Who Claims Its A.I. Is Sentient

SAN FRANCISCO — Google placed an engineer on paid leave recently after dismissing his claim that its artificial intelligence is sentient, surfacing yet another fracas about the company’s most advanced technology.

Blake Lemoine, a senior software engineer in Google’s Responsible A.I. organization, said in an interview that he was put on leave Monday. The company’s human resources department said he had violated Google’s confidentiality policy. The day before his suspension, Mr. Lemoine said, he handed over documents to a U.S. senator’s office, claiming they provided evidence that Google and its technology engaged in religious discrimination.

Google said that its systems imitated conversational exchanges and could riff on different topics, but did not have consciousness. “Our team — including ethicists and technologists — has reviewed Blake’s concerns per our A.I. Principles and have informed him that the evidence does not support his claims,” Brian Gabriel, a Google spokesman, said in a statement. “Some in the broader A.I. community are considering the long-term possibility of sentient or general A.I., but it doesn’t make sense to do so by anthropomorphizing today’s conversational models, which are not sentient.” The Washington Post first reported Mr. Lemoine’s suspension.

fired a researcher who had sought to publicly disagree with two of his colleagues’ published work. And the dismissals of two A.I. ethics researchers, Timnit Gebru and Margaret Mitchell, after they criticized Google language models, have continued to cast a shadow on the group.

neural network, which is a mathematical system that learns skills by analyzing large amounts of data. By pinpointing patterns in thousands of cat photos, for example, it can learn to recognize a cat.

Over the past several years, Google and other leading companies have designed neural networks that learned from enormous amounts of prose, including unpublished books and Wikipedia articles by the thousands. These “large language models” can be applied to many tasks. They can summarize articles, answer questions, generate tweets and even write blog posts.

But they are extremely flawed. Sometimes they generate perfect prose. Sometimes they generate nonsense. The systems are very good at recreating patterns they have seen in the past, but they cannot reason like a human.

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Apple Sees Virtual-Reality Headset as Its Next Big Thing

Apple’s development of virtual-reality content and software tools is central to creating experiences that give its future headset purpose. Its last major new product, the Apple Watch, was launched with about 3,000 apps but struggled to take off because tech reviewers said few of those apps were useful. Similar shortcomings have dogged Meta’s Quest virtual-reality headset, which surpassed 10 million sales last year, because many view it as a gaming device.

From its original Macintosh to its iPad, Apple has pursued products that attract a broad swath of potential customers and have an array of uses. It sold an estimated 240 million iPhones last year, accounting for about half of its $366 billion in total sales. To make the headset worthwhile, analysts said, it will need to have utilities that transcend the niche world of video games.

Tim Cook, Apple’s chief executive, has been talking about the potential of augmented reality for years. In 2016, he told investors that the company was investing heavily in it and considered it a “great commercial opportunity.” Around that time, many employees on Apple’s campus were reading “Ready Player One,” a futuristic novel about virtual reality, and talking about the possibilities of creating Apple’s own mixed-reality world.

Apple hired an engineer from Dolby Technologies, Mike Rockwell, and tasked him with leading the effort. His early efforts to create an augmented-reality product were hobbled by weak computing power, two people familiar with the project said. Continuing challenges with its battery power have forced Apple to postpone its release until next year, those people said.

The augmented-reality initiative has been divisive inside Apple. At least two members of its industrial design team said they had left the company, in part, because they had some concerns about developing a product that might change the way people interact with one another. Such sensitivities have increased inside the company amid rising public concern about children’s screen time.

With Mr. Rockwell at the helm, the product would be one of the first to come out of Apple led by its engineering team rather than its co-founder Steve Jobs, who died in 2011, and its former design chief, Jony Ive, who left the company in 2019. The Apple Watch project was led by Mr. Ive and his designers, who defined how it looked, operated and was marketed.

Mr. Favreau’s programming shows how Apple is trying to differentiate its product from Meta’s. It also illustrates how the company is tapping into the relationships it has cultivated in Hollywood since starting Apple TV+ in 2019.

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Sheryl Sandberg Steps Down From Facebook’s Parent Company, Meta

Ms. Sandberg flirted with leaving Facebook. In 2016, she told colleagues that if Hillary Clinton, the Democratic presidential nominee, won the White House she would most likely assume a job in Washington, three people who spoke to her about the move at the time said. In 2018, after revelations about Cambridge Analytica and Russia’s interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, she again told colleagues that she was considering leaving but did not want to do so when the company was in crisis.

Last year, Mr. Zuckerberg said his company was making a new bet and was going all in on the metaverse, which he called “the successor to the mobile internet.” In his announcement, Ms. Sandberg made only a cameo, while other executives were more prominently featured.

As Mr. Zuckerberg overhauled the company to focus on the metaverse, some of Ms. Sandberg’s responsibilities were spread among other executives. Nick Clegg, the president of global affairs and a former British deputy prime minister, became the company’s chief spokesman, a role that Ms. Sandberg had once taken. In February, Mr. Clegg was promoted to president of global affairs for Meta.

Ms. Sandberg’s profile dimmed. She concentrated on building the ads business and growing the number of small businesses on Facebook.

She was also focused on personal matters. Dave Goldberg, her husband, had died unexpectedly in 2015. (Ms. Sandberg’s second book, “Option B,” was about dealing with grief.) She later met Mr. Bernthal, and he and his three children moved to her Silicon Valley home from Southern California during the pandemic. Ms. Sandberg, who had two children with Mr. Goldberg, was focused on integrating the families and planning for her summer wedding, a person close to her said.

Meta’s transition to the metaverse has not been easy. The company has spent heavily on metaverse products while its advertising business has stumbled, partly because privacy changes made by Apple have hurt targeted advertising. In February, Meta’s market value plunged more than $230 billion, its biggest one-day wipeout, after it reported financial results that showed it was struggling to make the leap to the metaverse.

In the interview, Ms. Sandberg said Meta faced near-term challenges but would weather the storm, as it had during past challenges. “When we went public, we had no mobile ads,” Ms. Sandberg said, citing the company’s rapid transition from desktop computers to smartphones last decade. “We have done this before.”

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How Some States Are Combating Election Misinformation Ahead of Midterms

Ahead of the 2020 elections, Connecticut confronted a bevy of falsehoods about voting that swirled around online. One, widely viewed on Facebook, wrongly said absentee ballots had been sent to dead people. On Twitter, users spread a false post that a tractor-trailer carrying ballots had crashed on Interstate 95, sending thousands of voter slips into the air and across the highway.

Concerned about a similar deluge of unfounded rumors and lies around this year’s midterm elections, the state plans to spend nearly $2 million on marketing to share factual information about voting, and to create its first-ever position for an expert in combating misinformation. With a salary of $150,000, the person is expected to comb fringe sites like 4chan, far-right social networks like Gettr and Rumble, and mainstream social media sites to root out early misinformation narratives about voting before they go viral, and then urge the companies to remove or flag the posts that contain false information.

“We have to have situational awareness by looking into all the incoming threats to the integrity of elections,” said Scott Bates, Connecticut’s deputy secretary of the state. “Misinformation can erode people’s confidence in elections, and we view that as a critical threat to the democratic process.”

Connecticut joins a handful of states preparing to fight an onslaught of rumors and lies about this year’s elections.

ABC/Ipsos poll from January, only 20 percent of respondents said they were “very confident” in the integrity of the election system and 39 percent said they felt “somewhat confident.” Numerous Republican candidates have embraced former President Donald J. Trump’s falsehoods about the 2020 election, campaigning — often successfully — on the untrue claim that it was stolen from him.

Some conservatives and civil rights groups are almost certain to complain that the efforts to limit misinformation could restrict free speech. Florida, led by Republicans, has enacted legislation limiting the kind of social media moderation that sites like Facebook, YouTube and Twitter can do, with supporters saying the sites constrict conservative voices. (A U.S. appeals court recently blocked most aspects of the law.) On the federal level, the Department of Homeland Security recently paused the work of an advisory board on disinformation after a barrage of criticism from conservative lawmakers and free speech advocates that the group could suppress speech.

“State and local governments are well situated to reduce harms from dis- and misinformation by providing timely, accurate and trustworthy information,” said Rachel Goodman, a lawyer at Protect Democracy, a nonpartisan advocacy group. “But in order to maintain that trust, they must make clear that they are not engaging in any kind of censorship or surveillance that would raise constitutional concerns.”

Connecticut and Colorado officials said that the problem of misinformation had only worsened since 2020 and that without a more concerted push to counteract it, even more voters could lose faith in the integrity of elections. They also said they feared for the safety of some election workers.

“We are seeing a threat atmosphere unlike anything this country has seen before,” said Jena Griswold, the secretary of state of Colorado. Ms. Griswold, a Democrat who is up for re-election this fall, has received threats for upholding 2020 election results and refuting Mr. Trump’s false claims of fraudulent voting in the state.

Other secretaries of state, who head the office typically charged with overseeing elections, have received similar pushback. In Georgia, Brad Raffensperger, a Republican who certified President Biden’s win in the state, has faced fierce criticism laced with false claims about the 2020 election.

In his primary race this year, Mr. Raffensperger batted down misinformation that there were 66,000 underage voters, 2,400 unregistered voters and more than 10,350 dead people who cast ballots in the presidential election. None of the claims are true. He won his primary last week.

Colorado is redeploying a misinformation team that the state created for the 2020 election. The team is composed of three election security experts who monitor the internet for misinformation and then report it to federal law enforcement.

Ms. Griswold will oversee the team, called the Rapid Response Election Security Cyber Unit. It looks only for election-related misinformation on issues like absentee voting, polling locations and eligibility, she said.

“Facts still exist, and lies are being used to chip away at our fundamental freedoms,” Ms. Griswold said.

Connecticut officials said the state’s goal was to patrol the internet for election falsehoods. On May 7, the Connecticut Legislature approved $2 million for internet, TV, mail and radio education campaigns on the election process, and to hire an election information security officer.

Officials said they would prefer candidates fluent in both English and Spanish, to address the spread of misinformation in both languages. The officer would track down viral misinformation posts on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube, and look for emerging narratives and memes, especially on fringe social media platforms and the dark web.

“We know we can’t boil the ocean, but we have to figure out where the threat is coming from, and before it metastasizes,” Mr. Bates said.

Neil Vigdor contributed reporting.

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