This Week in We Are Not Fooled by These So-Called 'Plants'

Nothing to see over here! Just an innocent saguaro! Yeah, right.
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This is totally a palm tree. (Photo: Corey Holms/Flickr)

This is totally a palm tree. (Photo: Corey Holms/Flickr)

It has come to our attention that people are really into disguising things as plants. In recent weeks, a few news items have had to do with technology masquerading as complex photosynthesizing organisms:

1. CACTI-CAMS IN ARIZONA

Paradise Valley, Arizona, attracted some attention recently because town officials installed license plate-reading cameras inside (somewhat) realistic-looking steel cacti. Fox 10 News, the first to report on the installations, said town officials initially didn't want to explain what the cacti were for. Later, Paradise Valley Town Manager Kevin Burke told Fox 10 that the town went for cacti-cams not because they didn't want townspeople to know about the cameras, but because they wanted the installations to be "aesthetically pleasing."

The Paradise Valley news adds a little whimsy to an important issue: the spread of license plate readers in the United States. The American Civil Liberties Union opposes the over-use of license plate-reading cameras, arguing that the technology infringes on the privacy of innocent motorists. Police store millions of license plate camera records that somebody could use to track what friends, churches, clinics, and political events people visit, the ACLU found in 2012. Just this past weekend, the Associated Press reported that the FBI itself worried about privacy when it first began buying license plate-reading cameras. The FBI also didn't develop policies for how to use the data fairly before buying cameras, the ACLU found, and the bureau still isn't open about what exactly it uses license plate-reading camera data for.

2. CELL PHONE-READY PALM TREES

California famously uses cell phone towers that look—kind of—like palm trees. We're not the only ones. The first palm tree cell tower appeared in Cape Town in 1996, while a pine tree cell tower was installed in Denver, Colorado, in 1992. Lately though, California has become most concerned not about the aesthetics of cell towers, but their durability. Last week, Los Angeles became the first American city to require that new, standalone cell towers be built to withstand an earthquake. The maintenance of cell service after disasters is important to health and safety, which are tied to a region's ability to rebound, economically, after a quake.

No word on whether earthquake-proof cell towers can also look like "plants."

3. A NOT SO CONVINCING HOUSEPLANT

Those cat litterboxes that are supposed to look like potted houseplants? You're not fooling anybody, OK?

This Week In explores ongoing revelations and research on trending news topics.

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