🌏 ByteDance employees snooped on TikTok data

Plus: Texas has a not-so-secret winter storm weapon
The TikTok logo is displayed outside a TikTok office on December 20, 2022 in Culver City, California.
The TikTok logo is displayed outside a TikTok office on December 20, 2022 in Culver City, California.
Photo: Mario Tama (Getty Images)

Good morning, Quartz readers!

The Daily Brief is taking a few days off next week. The last two editions of 2022 will hit your inbox on Wednesday, Dec. 28 and Thursday, Dec. 29.

Here’s what you need to know

ByteDance said its employees breached TikTok user data. The Chinese owner of TikTok found in an investigation that two US journalists had their data inappropriately accessed.

Benjamin Netanyahu formed a new government. The coalition is being called the most right-wing government in Israel’s history.

Japan made a U-turn on its nuclear energy policy. No longer phasing out its reactors, Tokyo will use more atomic power amid a green energy push.

India will randomly test international visitors for covid. The country’s health minister said that 2% of arriving passengers will be screened at airports for the virus.

Sam Bankman-Fried was released on a $250 million bond. The founder of collapsed crypto platform FTX will be detained in his parents’ home as he awaits trial. Meanwhile, SBF’s close associates reached plea agreements with US authorities.

Nigeria raised its limit on cash withdrawals. The central bank, which imposed a cap to encourage digital transactions, adjusted the limit to 500,000 naira ($1,122) from 100,000 ($225) following public complaint.

What to watch for

This week showed just how much mortgage rates of over 6% have crippled new home construction in the US.

Homebuilders are the most sour they’ve been since mid-2012 as new housing projects in November dropped by 0.5%, while permits for new housing dropped by 11.2%. Builders have pivoted to wrapping up unfinished projects, with completions rising by 10.8%.

The US Census Bureau is dropping fresh data on new home sales today (Dec. 23) at 9 am US eastern time, and the numbers are not looking up. Economists polled by FactSet expect new home sales to have fallen from 632,000 in October to 600,000 in November.

The market for existing homes looks just as bleak as the market for new ones: Existing home sales declined for the 10th month in a row in November, dropping more than 7%.

Texas has a not-so-secret weapon against the winter storm

The cold forecasted to hit Texas today isn’t as severe as the frigid temperatures in February 2021 that caused hundreds of deaths, nearly $200 billion in property damage, and soaring electricity bills—but it will still be fresh in many residents’ minds.

This time around, the state has better chances to withstand the adverse weather conditions, thanks to wind power. Texas has one of the US’s highest rates of wind consumption. In the run-up to this weekend’s storm, wind power production has been strong, overtaking gas as the top power source on multiple days.

Image for article titled 🌏 ByteDance employees snooped on TikTok data
Graphic: Tim McDonnell

All that wind has also helped keep the state’s electricity prices lower than most other states in the US. California in particular has seen power prices jump briefly to record levels because the state has very little natural gas in storage and was caught off guard by low temperatures.

🎁 but make it consumer conscious

It’s fine—no one has to know you still have holiday shopping to do (if you’re even giving gifts this year).

The creep of consumer capitalism gets all the more difficult to contend with at holiday time. We don’t have all the answers, but Quartz’s Tiffany Ap has drawn up a list of 11 present ideas that will make sustainability the emphasis of your gifts to friends and family this season.

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Surprising discoveries

Jack from Titanic (1997) was unavoidably doomed. James Cameron ran a science experiment to confirm that only one person could fit on the wooden debris.

There’s been an immaculate shark conception. A female zebra shark at a Chicago aquarium birthed pups without mating.

Wooden fish can relieve stress. China’s Gen Z are downloading “Muyu” apps to get their meditation fix.

Steven Spielberg’s ET model phoned a new home. The mechanical alien sold at auction for $2.56 million.

Dinosaurs didn’t roar, they “cooed.” They may have used closed-mouth vocalizations like many modern birds.

Our best wishes for a productive day. Send any news, comments, results from the Titanic experiment because we don’t buy it, and ET to hi@qz.com. Reader support makes Quartz available to all—become a member. Today’s Daily Brief was brought to you by Nate DiCamillo, Tim McDonnell, Julia Malleck, and Morgan Haefner.