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How big tech vowed to battle coronavirus
Good morning! This Thursday, a new plan for U.S. cyber policy, the White House asks for tech's help on coronavirus, and Magic Leap is looking for a buyer.
Today In Coronavirus
We're doing this section first today. Lots going on: The WHO officially declared coronavirus a pandemic. President Trump suspended some travel from Europe to the U.S. for the next 30 days — though (as clarified later) U.S. citizens and cargo are exempted. The WHO and the WEF launched a coronavirus task force including more than 200 business leaders. Washington state and San Francisco both banned large gatherings. Tech couples are still figuring out how to work together, from home. Amazon is offering up to two weeks of paid sick leave, and a relief fund for delivery drivers. (It's also restricting sales of face masks and hand sanitizer, but selling a lot of coronavirus books — some of them problematic.) YouTube un-banned ads on coronavirus videos. Apple closed all its stores in Italy. Facebook is giving employees free Portals to make working from home easier. Hong Kong is using robots to clean subways. Shopify gave employees $1,000 to kit out their home offices. Uber told employees (not its drivers) in several countries to work from home through April 6. And Twitter mandated all its employees do so indefinitely.
Stay safe out there, everybody.
People Are Talking
The European Commission has a plan to make right-to-repair official:
- "Many products break down too easily, cannot be reused, repaired or recycled, or are made for single use only. There is a huge potential to be exploited both for businesses and consumers."
- "There is an unsettling trend lately to interview ex-employees of female-founded companies and report their claims either at face value or without any context."
The internet doesn't work for women, Tim Berners-Lee said in his annual letter:
- "I am seriously concerned that online harms facing women and girls — especially those of color, from LGBTQ+ communities and other marginalized groups — threaten that progress."
The Big Story
The government calls on big tech for coronavirus help
A bunch of tech bigwigs and U.S. federal agencies convened on Wednesday for a brainstorm, led by U.S. CTO Michael Kratsios. The subject? What else: coronavirus, and how to stop it.
- The theme of the meeting was collaboration across tech and government: halting the spread of misinformation, disseminating official communications, and enabling people to work, go to school, and connect with doctors remotely.
- "Cutting-edge technology companies and major online platforms will play a critical role in this all-hands-on-deck effort," Kratsios said in a statement after the meeting.
The White House "pushed the companies to coordinate their efforts to remove harmful content, which could help the firms identify and pull down misinformation more quickly," our friends at POLITICO report. On the flip side, it also asked them to help disseminate important and helpful information.
- Twitter hopes to push verified health-related accounts to the top of users' timelines, for instance.
- YouTube is focused on removing fake news from the platform, Susan Wojcicki said. "We're also raising up authoritative sources in search and recommendations and showing information panels on relevant videos."
Machine-learning was also a big topic. White House officials asked the companies to use their algorithms to glean insights from a forthcoming database of coronavirus-related research.
Not discussed: sharing data to track the virus. At least that's according to a spokesperson from the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy who spoke to Protocol's Sofie Kodner.
- But the spokesperson added that "companies were highly interested in ways to contribute and be part of overall COVID-19 response efforts."
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A new plan for US cyber strategy
The U.S. Cyberspace Solarium Commission sounds like a made-up organization that Ethan Hunt would have to infiltrate to save the world. But it's actually a bipartisan group formed last summer "charged with evaluating divergent approaches to defending the United States in cyberspace and driving consensus toward a comprehensive strategy."
On Wednesday, the Commission dropped its opus, a 182-page document that starts with a warning: "The reality is that we are dangerously insecure in cyber." In all, the report makes more than 75 recommendations for American cyber policy.
- The report calls for lots of legislation: to improve tech recruitment, digital literacy, and even to make tech companies legally liable for known and unpatched security vulnerabilities.
- The government needs to work with the private sector, the report says. With most critical cyber infrastructure — data centers, undersea cables and the like — owned by private companies, "we need C-suite executives to take cyber seriously since they are on the front lines."
- And, of course, it makes clear that election security must be ensured. How? Through "the widest use of voter-verifiable, auditable, and paper-based voting systems."
The biggest thing missing was a firm recommendation about encryption. While the EARN IT Act, which may threaten encryption, was being debated Wednesday, this report provided little ammo for either side of the debate.
I recommend reading at least the first few pages of the report, which lay out the cyber stakes in a clear way. (Skip the weird sci-fi short story at the beginning and jump down to the Chairmen's letter on Page 5.) As ever, it's hard to know what will come of the report, but it could lead to a serious reshaping and expansion of the U.S. cybersecurity industry.
Your surprising remote-work tips
Yesterday, we asked for your best non-obvious work-from-home tips. And you delivered! Thanks to everyone who sent ideas in. Here are a few of my favorites (edited for space):
- "Emojis are your friend. A smiling face, for example, can go a long way toward helping set the tone in your written communication. At Plex we've created tons of custom emojis that relate to our specific company culture. The use of these not only helps to convey a thought, but also unifies us as an organization." — Keith Valory, CEO of Plex
- Relatedly: "Be extra over-share-y about the work you are doing each day," marketing agency Drift told its employees.
- "The key is proactively filling the space that once held your commute. Aim for using this time to make yourself healthier. Exercising, resting, bonding with family, cooking, reading, studying, etc. — all great options. If you aren't careful, that time can be squandered and the lines between sleeping and working are blurred." — Darren Murph, head of remote at GitLab
- "Leaders should create opportunities for non-work social interaction. At the start of meetings leaders may have employees share something non-work related (e.g., how are they passing the time at home). They may also arrange virtual coffee breaks — where employees come together online to chat about non-work related items." — Brad Bell, professor of HR studies at Cornell
- "Even if you're on your own home network, you're still using your work computer. People must be mindful of that, especially as they fight their urges to slack off." — Vito Gallo, SHIFT communications
Keep your tips coming — the more surprising, the better. Send them to email@example.com.
Keith Donovan, a head of development at Microsoft, has left the company for Netflix. He was one of the leaders of Microsoft's headquarters renovation, and will be the global head of design and construction in his new gig.
Microsoft appointed its first chief scientist: Eric Horvitz. The company has also unified all its research divisions under Peter Lee, who was most recently corporate VP for Microsoft Healthcare but will now lead Microsoft Research.
Former Nintendo President and COO Reggie Fils-Aimé joined the board at GameStop. He's one of three new additions, actually, along with Bill Simon, the former Walmart U.S. president and CEO, and JK Symancyk, the CEO of PetSmart. Their job: to help turn GameStop around.
Twitter hired two new execs for its public policy team. Monique Meche is the company's new VP of global public policy and philanthropy, and Jessica Herrera-Flanigan is VP of the Americas.
In Other News
- From Protocol: Trump administration requirements regarding H-1B visas were struck down by a district court judge in Washington. The rules forced applicants to say exactly what they'd be working on for the next three years (not easy!), which led to a spike in visa denials.
- What exactly happened when Google turned into Alphabet? Don't miss this story from The Information about how the supposedly productive re-org turned into basically a real life "Game of Thrones."
- Step inside Daniel Tomtobian's remarkably sketchy, remarkably lucrative online ad network, run largely through unsuspecting Chrome extensions, in this great BuzzFeed story.
- Magic Leap is looking for a buyer. Requirements: must have many billions of dollars, and a willingness to watch that same whale-video ad a thousand times a day.
- Amazon bought the rights to stream 24 National Women's Soccer League matches on Twitch, as the company keeps pushing into live sports. Amazon's last few years have been, frankly, precisely what you'd do if you wanted to build a sports media juggernaut.
- BuzzFeed got a list of some of Clearview AI's users. This club has everything: bigshot investors, high-level politicians, Palmer Luckey, a Saudi Wealth Fund, and many more.
- More on the domain-name wars: A case in front of the Supreme Court this month will decide whether a company can trademark a common word just by putting ".com" at the end of it. If it can, it could change the way domains work — and who's allowed to have them.
One More Thing
Bezos, we have liftoff
I don't know about you, but the idea of getting off this planet seems pretty good at the moment. So the timing's good for Blue Origin, the Bezos-funded space company, to show off its new mission control at the New Glenn rocket factory in Florida. Is it a lot of big screens, blue lights, and comfy chairs? Does it look a little like a set from Westworld? Yes, and yes. Most of all, will it look cool in photos 50 years from now, the way all those Apollo 11 mission control photos look cool? Needs some more loose leaf paper, but yeah, it's on the right track.
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