Archives 2022

How Beijing’s surveillance cameras crept into widespread use across UK schools, hospitals and government buildings

In the confines of his small cell, Ovalbek Turdakun was watched 24/7. At any attempt to speak to others he was instantly told to be quiet, while lights in the room were on round the clock, making it impossible to know what time of day it was.

Turdakun and his fellow detainees in the Xinjiang camp were not watched by guards, but by software. Cameras made by the Chinese company Hikvision monitored his every move, according to an account he gave to US surveillance website IPVM.

More than a million of the same company’s cameras are in Britain’s schools, hospitals and police departments. Tesco, Costa Coffee and McDonald’s have purchased Hikvision cameras. They are present in a string of Government buildings.

Britain’s population is caught on CCTV more than any nation outside of China, with 6m cameras in use – one for every 11 people. Hikvision is the biggest provider of them.

Surveillance Tech Didn’t Stop the Uvalde Massacre

The Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District, of which Robb is a member, followed this conventional wisdom and embraced modern security solutions at its schools. Indeed, the district had actually doubled its security budget over the past several years to invest in a variety of recommended precautions.

According to UCISD’s security page, the district employed a safety management system from security vendor Raptor Technologies, designed to monitor school visitors and screen for dangerous individuals. It also used a social media monitoring solution, Social Sentinel, that sifted through children’s online lives to scan for signs of violent or suicidal ideation. Students could download an anti-bullying app (the STOP!T app) to report abusive peers, and an online portal at ucisd.net allowed parents and community members to submit reports of troubling behavior to administrators for further investigation. As has been noted, UCISD also had its own police force, developed significant ties to the local police department, and had an emergency response plan. It even deployed “Threat Assessment Teams” that were scheduled to meet regularly to “identify, evaluate, classify and address threats or potential threats to school security.”

And yet, none of the new security measures seemed to matter much when a disturbed young man brought a legally purchased weapon to Robb and committed the deadliest school shooting in the state’s history. The perpetrator wasn’t a student and therefore couldn’t be monitored by its security systems.

Trolling through students’ online lives to look for signs of danger is now a routine procedure in many districts. In fact, legislators have discussed mandating such surveillance features for schools across the country. UCISD employed one such company, but Gov. Abbott said Wednesday that “there was no meaningful forewarning of this crime.” The shooter sent private messages threatening the attack via Facebook Messenger half an hour before it occurred, but they were private and therefore would have been invisible to outside observers.

Facial recognition is another technology that has been offered to schools as a basic safety mechanism. The number of schools that have adopted face recording solutions has risen precipitously in recent years (Clearview AI announced this week that it has its sights on cracking into the market). However, despite their growing popularity, there is little evidence that these security apparatuses actually do anything to stop school shootings. Even supporters of facial recognition admit that the systems probably won’t do much once a shooter’s on school property.

“Whether it’s facial recognition, monitoring software on school devices, cameras—all these types of surveillance have become extremely ubiquitous,” said Jason Kelley, digital strategist with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, in an interview with Gizmodo. “The companies that sell these tools are trying to do something positive—they’re trying to minimize tragedy,” he said. Yet not only can these products ultimately be ineffective, they can also end up having negative side-effects on the children they’re meant to protect, Kelley offered. The intrusiveness of the tools are such that students may grow up feeling as if they have to be surveilled to be safe—even if the surveillance isn’t actually keeping them safe.

Some studies suggest that what surveillance actually provides is punishment rather than protection. The cameras and software can turn schools into little panopticons, where student behavior is constantly analyzed and assessed, and where minor infractions can be spotted and disciplined.

Is Social Media Training Us to Please a Machine?

“We tend to think that the internet is a communications network we use to speak to one another — but in a sense, we’re not doing anything of the sort. Instead, we are the ones being spoken through.”

Teens on TikTok all talk in the exact same tone, identical singsong smugness. Millennials on Twitter use the same shrinking vocabulary. My guy! Having a normal one! Even when you actually meet them in the sunlit world, they’ll say valid or based, or say y’all despite being British….

Everything you say online is subject to an instant system of rewards. Every platform comes with metrics; you can precisely quantify how well-received your thoughts are by how many likes or shares or retweets they receive. For almost everyone, the game is difficult to resist: they end up trying to say the things that the machine will like. For all the panic over online censorship, this stuff is far more destructive. You have no free speech — not because someone might ban your account, but because there’s a vast incentive structure in place that constantly channels your speech in certain directions. And unlike overt censorship, it’s not a policy that could ever be changed, but a pure function of the connectivity of the internet itself. This might be why so much writing that comes out of the internet is so unbearably dull, cycling between outrage and mockery, begging for clicks, speaking the machine back into its own bowels….

The internet is not a communications system. Instead of delivering messages between people, it simulates the experience of being among people, in a way that books or shopping lists or even the telephone do not. And there are things that a simulation will always fail to capture. In the philosophy of Emmanuel Lévinas, your ethical responsibility to other people emerges out of their face, the experience of looking directly into the face of another living subject. “The face is what prohibits us from killing….” But Facebook is a world without faces. Only images of faces; selfies, avatars: dead things. Or the moving image in a FaceTime chat: a haunted puppet. There is always something in the way. You are not talking to a person: the machine is talking, through you, to itself.

As more and more of your social life takes place online, you’re training yourself to believe that other people are not really people, and you have no duty towards them whatsoever. These effects don’t vanish once you look away from the screen…. many of the big conflicts within institutions in the last few years seem to be rooted in the expectation that the world should work like the internet. If you don’t like a person, you should be able to block them: simply push a button, and have them disappear forever.

The article revisits a 2011 meta-analysis that found massive declines in young people’s capacity for empathy, which the authors directly associated with the spread of social media. But then Kriss argues that “We are becoming less and less capable of actual intersubjective communication; more unhappy; more alone. Every year, surveys find that people have fewer and fewer friends; among millennials, 22% say they have none at all.

“For the first time in history, we can simply do without each other entirely. The machine supplies an approximation of everything you need for a bare biological existence: strangers come to deliver your food; AI chatbots deliver cognitive-behavioral therapy; social media simulates people to love and people to hate; and hidden inside the microcircuitry, the demons swarm…”

So while recent books look for historical antecedents, “I still think that the internet is a serious break from what we had before,” Kriss argues. “And as nice as Wikipedia is, as nice as it is to be able to walk around foreign cities on Google Maps or read early modern grimoires without a library card, I still think the internet is a poison.”

TikTokers Are Accused of Starting Forest Fires For Views

Humaira Asghar, known as “Dolly” to her 11.5 million TikTok fans, faces charges for allegedly setting a forest fire while shooting a TikTok video in Pakistan’s capital city Islamabad. In the 11-second clip that has since been taken down, Asghar dramatically walks down a forested hill covered in flames in slow motion with a trending pop song that mentions “setting fire” playing in the background. The caption posted with the video shot in the Margalla Hills National Park reads, “fire erupts wherever I am.” Asghar is not the only Pakistani TikToker who has been accused of setting a forest fire for views. Officials say it is an emerging trend in a country that is suffering from a record-breaking heatwave.

“Young people desperate for followers are setting fire to our forests during this hot and dry season,” tweeted Islamabad Wildlife Management Board chairperson Rina S Khan Satti. “These psychotic young people have to be caught and put behind bars immediately.” Earlier this month, a man in Abbottabad city was arrested for intentionally starting a forest fire to use as a backdrop in his video. In another recently released video, two men are seen appearing to start a forest fire then running away from it while music plays in the background.

Neoliberalism Has Poisoned Our Minds, Study Finds

The dominance of neoliberalism is turning societies against income equality.

At least, that’s according to a study published Tuesday in Perspectives on Psychological Science. A team of researchers at New York University and the American University of Beirut performed an analysis of roughly 20 years of data on from more than 160 countries and found that the dominance of neoliberalism across social and economic institutions has ingrained a widespread acceptance of income inequality across our value systems in turn.

“Our institutions, policies, and laws not only structure our social life but also have a great influence on the kind of people and society we become,” Shahrzad Goudarzi, a Ph.D. candidate at NYU and lead author on the paper, said in a press release.

Goudarzi and her team set out to prove whether conservative British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s 1981 proclamation that economic and political systems can shape “the heart and soul” is indeed true. They defined neoliberalism as the “dominant socioeconomic approach” and the root of “privatization, abolition of the welfare state, and curtailment of redistributive programs,” which has dominated from the 1970s to present day. They measured the strength of a nation’s neoliberalism using the Economic Freedom Index, a metric crafted by the Fraser Institute—a Canadian libertarian think tank—which measures items like “size of government,” “regulation of business, credit, and labor,” and “freedom to trade internationally.”

They evaluated psychological attitudes toward inequality using results from the World Values Survey, taken roughly every four years, which asked respondents globally direct questions about their agreement with statements like, “We need larger income differences as incentives for individual effort,” and “incomes should be made more equal.”

Their analysis found a correlation between the embrace of neoliberalism and the prominence of what social psychology scholars call “equity-based reasoning,” or a preference for merit over a preference for equality: the line of thinking in which material outcomes, like payment, wealth, and social status, should be proportional to inputs, like productivity, effort, ability and time. In short, the dominance of neoliberalism has promoted the belief that the wealthy have earned their spot in society just as much as the poor have.

San Francisco Police Are Using Driverless Cars as Mobile Surveillance Cameras

For the last five years, driverless car companies have been testing their vehicles on public roads. These vehicles constantly roam neighborhoods while laden with a variety of sensors including video cameras capturing everything going on around them in order to operate safely and analyze instances where they don’t.

While the companies themselves, such as Alphabet’s Waymo and General Motors’ Cruise, tout the potential transportation benefits their services may one day offer, they don’t publicize another use case, one that is far less hypothetical: Mobile surveillance cameras for police departments.

The use of AVs as an investigative tool echoes how Ring, a doorbell and home security company owned by Amazon, became a key partner with law enforcement around the country by turning individual consumer products into a network of cameras with comprehensive coverage of American neighborhoods easily accessible to police. Police departments around the country use automatic license plate readers (ALPRs) to track the movements of vehicles. The EFF has sued the SFPD for accessing business improvement district live cameras to spy on protestors.

Virginia Police Routinely Use Secret GPS Pings To Track People’s Cell Phones

The nonprofit online news site Virginia Mercury investigated their state police departments’ “real-time location warrants,” which are “addressed to telephone companies, ordering them to regularly ping a customers’ phone for its GPS location and share the results with police.” Public records requests submitted to a sampling of 18 police departments around the state found officers used the technique to conduct more than 7,000 days worth of surveillance in 2020. Court records show the tracking efforts spanned cases ranging from high-profile murders to minor larcenies…. Seven departments responded that they did not have any relevant billing records, indicating they don’t use the technique. Only one of the departments surveyed, Alexandria, indicated it had an internal policy governing how their officers use cellphone tracking, but a copy of the document provided by the city was entirely redacted….

Drug investigations accounted for more than 60 percent of the search warrants taken out in the two jurisdictions. Larcenies were the second most frequent category. Major crimes like murders, rapes and abductions made up a fraction of the tracking requests, accounting for just under 25 of the nearly 400 warrants filed in the jurisdictions that year.
America’s Supreme Court “ruled that warrantless cellphone tracking is unconstitutional back in 2012,” the article points out — but in practice those warrants aren’t hard to get. “Officers simply have to attest in an affidavit that they have probable cause that the tracking data is ‘relevant to a crime that is being committed or has been committed’…. There’s been limited public discussion or awareness of the kinds of tracking warrants the judiciary is approving.” “I don’t think people know that their cell phones can be converted to tracking devices by police with no notice,” said Steve Benjamin, a criminal defense lawyer in Richmond who said he’s recently noticed an uptick in cases in which officers employed the technique. “And the reality of modern life is everyone has their phone on them during the day and on their nightstand at night. … It’s as if the police tagged them with a chip under their skin, and people have no idea how easily this is accomplished.”
The case for these phone-tracking warrants?

  • The executive director of the Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police tells the site that physical surveillance ofen requires too many resources — and that cellphone tracking is safer. “It may be considered an intrusive way of gathering data on someone, but it’s certainly less dangerous than physical tracking.”
  • A spokesperson for the Chesterfield County police department [responsible for 64% of the state’s tracking] argued that “We exist to preserve human life and protect the vulnerable, and we will use all lawful tools at our disposal to do so.” And they added that such “continued robust enforcement efforts” were a part of the reason that the county’s still-rising number of fatal drug overdoses had not risen more.

The site also obtained bills from four major US cellphone carriers, and reported how much they were charging police for providing their cellphone-tracking services:

  • “T-Mobile charged $30 per day, which comes to $900 per month of tracking.”
  • “AT&T charged a monthly service fee of $100 and an additional $25 per day the service is utilized, which comes to $850 per 30 days of tracking…”
  • “Verizon calls the service ‘periodic location updates,’ charging $5 per day on top of a monthly service fee of $100, which comes to $200 per 30 days of tracking.”
  • “Sprint offered the cheapest prices to report locations back to law enforcement, charging a flat fee of $100 per month.”

Why the Past 10 Years of American Life Have Been Uniquely Stupid

Jonathan Haidt, a social psychologist at the New York University’s School of Business, argues in the Atlantic that social-media platforms “trained users to spend more time performing and less time connecting.” But that was just the beginning.

He now believes this ultimately fueled a viral dynamic leading to “the continual chipping-away of trust” in a democracy which “depends on widely internalized acceptance of the legitimacy of rules, norms, and institutions.”
The most recent Edelman Trust Barometer (an international measure of citizens’ trust in government, business, media, and nongovernmental organizations) showed stable and competent autocracies (China and the United Arab Emirates) at the top of the list, while contentious democracies such as the United States, the United Kingdom, Spain, and South Korea scored near the bottom (albeit above Russia)…. Mark Zuckerberg may not have wished for any of that. But by rewiring everything in a headlong rush for growth — with a naive conception of human psychology, little understanding of the intricacy of institutions, and no concern for external costs imposed on society — Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and a few other large platforms unwittingly dissolved the mortar of trust, belief in institutions, and shared stories that had held a large and diverse secular democracy together.

In the last 10 years, the article argues, the general public — at least in America — became “uniquely stupid.” And he’s not just speaking about the political right and left, but within both factions, “as well as within universities, companies, professional associations, museums, and even families.” The article quotes former CIA analyst Martin Gurri’s comment in 2019 that the digital revolution has highly fragmented the public into hostile shards that are “mostly people yelling at each other and living in bubbles of one sort or another.”

The article concludes that by now U.S. politics has entered a phase where truth “cannot achieve widespread adherence” and thus “nothing really means anything anymore–at least not in a way that is durable and on which people widely agree.” It even contemplates the idea of “highly believable” disinformation generated by AI, possibly by geopolitical adversaries, ultimately evolving into what the research manager at the Stanford Internet Observatory has described as “an Information World War in which state actors, terrorists, and ideological extremists leverage the social infrastructure underpinning everyday life to sow discord and erode shared reality.”

The Listeners: A History of Wiretapping in the United States

Brian Hochman (2022)

Wiretapping is nearly as old as electronic communications. Telegraph operators intercepted enemy messages during the Civil War. Law enforcement agencies were listening to private telephone calls as early as 1895. Communications firms have assisted government eavesdropping programs since the early twentieth century-and they have spied on their own customers too. Such breaches of privacy once provoked outrage, but today most Americans have resigned themselves to constant electronic monitoring. How did we get from there to here?

In The Listeners, Brian Hochman shows how the wiretap evolved from a specialised intelligence-gathering tool to a mundane fact of life. He explores the origins of wiretapping in military campaigns and criminal confidence games and tracks the use of telephone taps in the US government’s wars on alcohol, communism, terrorism, and crime. While high-profile eavesdropping scandals fuelled public debates about national security, crime control, and the rights and liberties of individuals, wiretapping became a routine surveillance tactic for private businesses and police agencies alike.

From wayward lovers to foreign spies, from private detectives to public officials, and from the silver screen to the Supreme Court, The Listeners traces the long and surprising history of wiretapping and electronic eavesdropping in the United States. Along the way, Brian Hochman considers how earlier generations of Americans confronted threats to privacy that now seem more urgent than ever.

Because of the Internet, ‘We Are All Cranks Now’

…from the characters of Dickens to Grandpa Simpson, recently it seems that the figure of the crank has dropped away from the public imagination. Now, this could be that the art of penning demented letters to metropolitan newspapers on a semi-regular basis may be dying out with the last generation of people to use lead toothpaste, but I don’t think that’s it. I think we’ve lost sight of them not because they went away, but because they became unremarkable. We are all cranks now.

Online has drastically lowered the barriers of entry into the Order of Crankhood. Time it was when if you really wanted to get publicly steamed about something you’d read, you’d first have to buy a newspaper, read that newspaper, get steamed, go to your writing desk, jot down your letter, put that letter in an envelope, find a stamp, and then walk to the post office. And even after doing all that, there was no guarantee that it would be published. Being a crank even 30 years ago took a kind of monastic dedication to the high art of being a weirdo, but nowadays, saying something deeply unwell about an article you don’t like to thousands of people is as trivial as ordering a coffee.a

And if the internet in general has lowered these barriers, social media has gone a step further. People who never set out to be cranks in the first place are actively incentivized to do so. This isn’t just because whenever you post you get a thrilling little tally of all the people who agree with you, it’s because of how these platforms are designed to maximize engagement. The ideal poster for social media companies is one who posts often, who posts stridently, and who responds to as much stuff as possible.

So, to be on Twitter or Facebook is to sit in a room while someone holds up random pieces of stimulus and demands your appraisal of each. What do we reckon of this? Okay, how about this? And this? What’s your view here? Were you to design a machine to turn otherwise normal, healthy people into cranks — a kind of crankification engine, if you like — you would probably arrive at something like these platforms.

The White House is briefing TikTok stars about the war in Ukraine

This week, the administration began working with Gen Z For Change, a nonprofit advocacy group, to help identify top content creators on the platform to orchestrate a briefing aimed at answering questions about the conflict and the United States’ role in it.

The briefing was led by Matt Miller, a special adviser for communications at the White House National Security Council, and Psaki. The Washington Post obtained a recording of the call, and in it, Biden officials stressed the power these creators had in communicating with their followers. “We recognize this is a critically important avenue in the way the American public is finding out about the latest,” said the White House director of digital strategy, Rob Flaherty, “so we wanted to make sure you had the latest information from an authoritative source.”

Some Amazon Ring Customers Demand Drivers Dance, Then Post Videos Online

Some Amazon customers are now explicitly asking the company’s drivers to deliver a performance along with the package. They are posting signs to their front doors or tapping unusual delivery instructions into the Amazon app in the hopes of capturing a spectacle on their surveillance feeds…. [T]hese customers proceed to shamelessly post the evidence to social media. Sometimes the videos are spun into an online sleuthing opportunity, as the TikToker asks viewers to hunt for the dancing driver’s identity. And they represent just a slice of the “Amazon driver approaches the door” genre of internet video… But whether the video is pitched as heartwarming or sadistic, the customer is enlisting the driver into a nonconsensual pageant that doubles as a performance review. As Jackson reported, Amazon drivers who fail to fulfill customer requests risk demerits.

Amazon encourages customers to publicize their Ring videos on its safety-minded social network, Neighbors, and makes it easy to share them more widely, too. One of Ring’s marketing lines is “A lot happens at your front door,” and this is meant as both a warning and an invitation — though it suggests it is too dangerous to venture outside, it also implies that a whole world of entertainment is to be found through eyeing your surveillance feed. The official Ring YouTube channel is filled with user-generated videos that help inject its growing spy network with warmth and surprise, as the cameras catch spontaneous footage of good Samaritans, grazing cows and, of course, the company’s drivers caught in kooky scenarios, like in this entry from December: “Even a Giant Bear Will Not Stop This Amazon Driver From Making His Delivery.”

Amazon obsessively surveils its workers through dashcams, smartphone monitors and machine-generated report cards, and these videos implicate the customer in that exercise, making the violation of driver privacy into a kind of internet-wide contest. The caption for Amazon’s bear video focuses on the heroic actions of a Ring user named Josh, who supposedly aided the delivery driver’s safety by “watching his exit the whole time” on the security camera…. Its routes are often serviced by precarious gig workers, its quotas are too punishing to allow for socializing, and all potential human interactions have been replaced by one-way surveillance. In many of these TikTok videos, Amazon workers literally run in and out of the frame. If delivery drivers were once lightly teased or frequently ogled, now they are simply dehumanized, plugged into machine-run networks and expected to move product with robotic efficiency. The compulsory dance trend on TikTok suggests that customers, too, have come to see drivers as programmable….

On an even more depressing corner of Amazon TikTok, customers post videos not to backwardly celebrate drivers but just to shame them for delivering the package with less than the customer’s expected level of service.

Silenced AirTags With Disabled Speakers Are Popping Up for Sale Online

The AirTag, a small, easy-to-carry device about the size of a quarter, relies on Apple’s Find My network which leverages millions of Apple devices to discreetly keep tabs on the location of the trackers and report that information back to each tag’s registered user. The general idea behind the AirTag was that users could attach one to their keys, their backpack, or to other valuable items, and be able to quickly locate them if lost. To prevent their misuse, such as using an AirTag to track someone without their knowledge, iOS users would be eventually notified if a tracker registered to someone else was nearby, while Android users would have to rely on an audible beep that would start chirping three days after an AirTag was separated from its owner.

The product was ripe for abuse — a concern we emphasized in our initial review of the AirTags — and a couple of months after their debut Apple addressed those concerns with promised updates that would see Android users getting similar notifications as iOS users when an AirTag was nearby through a new Tracker Detect app that allowed Android users to more easily spot the devices. And the timeframe for when the trackers would start beeping after being away from its registered owner was shortened to a “random time inside a window that lasts between 8 and 24 hours,” according to a CNET report.

Samsung held an event in the metaverse and it didn’t quite go to plan

The South Korean tech giant hosted the event Wednesday on Decentraland, a cryptocurrency-focused virtual world that users can create, explore and trade in. Decentraland, one of many metaverse efforts, is accessed via a desktop browser. Users create an avatar which they can then navigate around the blockchain-powered virtual world using a mouse and keyboard — something that isn’t exactly intuitive for non-gamers. The event specifically took place in Samsung 837X, a virtual building that Samsung has built on Decentraland that’s designed to be a replica of its flagship New York experience center. Samsung 837X is there all the time but there just happened to be an event inside the building’s “Connectivity Theatre” on Wednesday. But CNBC, and many others, struggled to find the 837X building and when we did many of us were unable to gain access to it.

When an avatar is first created on Decentraland, it lands in a sort of atrium where clouds appear to be gliding across the floor. There’s a round pool in the middle that has a worrying vortex in the center. Our avatar was soon surrounded by around 20 others. A chat box in the bottom left-hand corner of the screen was full of messages like “help” and “I hate this game.” One user named claireinnit#87fa, boldly claimed “we’re in the —-in future.” On the opposite side of the intimidating pool, three large boards read “classics, events and crowd.” An ad for Samsung 837X hang on the “crowd” board. Once clicked (easier said than done), you’re then given the option to “jump in.” After jumping in, you’re transported to Samsung’s little world on Decentraland and you can see the 837X building. There’s a pizza store next door, but not much else.

CNBC immediately noticed a large line of people at the main entrance to the 837X building. People were struggling to get in. Some users were getting their avatars to jump on other people’s heads as they clambered to the front of the queue but it didn’t help. The doors wouldn’t open and the chatbox was again full of pleas for help. A rumor circulated that a YouTuber had managed to find a way in, while a CNET journalist wrote on Twitter that they had managed to gain access by switching to the “ATHENA” server. It wasn’t immediately obvious how to do this. “Many people were unable to actually enter Samsung 837X before the event started,” wrote CNET’s Russell Holly. […] After around 30 minutes of trying to access Samsung’s building in the metaverse, CNBC gave up and went back to the real world.

The Internet Gave Rise to ‘Cancel Culture OCD’

Today, the phrase “cancel culture” triggers a wide range of responses: concern, frustration, a bit of eye-rolling. There are endless debates about what it is (accountability or censorship?), what’s driving it (context collapse, perhaps, or a new “woke” religion), and whether it even exists. Few public figures have been successfully canceled; even fewer have stayed canceled. Yet online life remains suffused with a distinct air of paranoia and an often-pacifying doubt—and perhaps focusing on the “cancel” part of cancel culture distracts from its rippling effects in our daily lives. The old saying goes, “If you’ve done nothing wrong, you have nothing to fear.” But the experiences of people with cancellation OCD reveal another truth: Scrutinize yourself too closely and you can always find something wrong.

10 year old boy lives life as a YouTube advertising sensation

There’s no one way to describe what Kaji, who is now 10 years old, has done across his multiple YouTube channels, cable television shows and live appearances: In one video, he is giving you a tour of the Legoland Hotel; in another, he splashes around in his pool to introduce a science video about tsunamis. But for years, what he has mostly done is play with toys: Thomas the Tank Engine, “Paw Patrol” figures, McDonald’s play kitchens. A new toy and a new video for almost every day of the week, adding up to an avalanche of content that can overwhelm your child’s brain, click after click. Kaji has been playing with toys on camera since Barack Obama was in the White House.

Here are a few of the companies that are now paying him handsomely for his services: Amazon, Walmart, Nickelodeon, Skechers. Ryan also has 10 separate YouTube channels, which together make up “Ryan’s World” [31.2M subscribers], a content behemoth whose branded merchandise took in more than $250 million last year. Even conservative estimates suggest that the Kaji family take exceeds $25 million annually.