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Coronavirus grabs Silicon Valley’s total attention

Good morning! This Friday, tech starts talking about coronavirus, the FCC slaps carriers on the wrist, and everyone's apparently gullible to phishing in Norway.

Also, we're having our first Source Code happy hour! Next Thursday, March 5, I'll be at a bar in downtown SF with a few other Protocol folks from about 5-8pm — and we'd love to meet you in person and buy you a round or five. Exact location to come, but mark your calendar! Hope to see you next week.

People are talking

13 senators reacted to a Protocol report by Matt Drange about the gun sale market on Facebook. The lawmakers want change:

  • "In light of troubling reporting, we request information on the steps Facebook is taking to combat gun sales facilitated through private Facebook groups."

Ro Khanna has a huge high-tech jobs plan that doesn't just replicate Silicon Valley:

  • "The idea of plopping Silicon Valley everywhere, which is kind of I think how it gets caricatured that everyone should be a coder, is not is not the vision of how do we prepare America for a 21st century economy."

Tech needs to do more than entertain us, Satya Nadella believes:

  • "Today, people do not have time to create something new. We are overdoing consumption. All of us have to have the time to create more things and technology should help us do that."

Facebook simply isn't capable of fact-checking political ads, Sheryl Sandberg said:

  • "If you look at political ads and fact-checking political ads, that's really not something anyone is capable of doing. And we don't think we can make ourselves the arbiter of the truth."

The big story

The day coronavirus seized Silicon Valley's thoughts

So far, I've tried not to write too much about coronavirus here, because I don't want to make light of a serious situation or bend over backwards to find a #techangle in a story that's actually about a pandemic.

But things changed yesterday: It felt like the day the whole tech industry decided to start talking about the virus, and what happens now. Maybe it was the news that the first community-spread case of coronavirus was so close to Silicon Valley. Maybe it was everyone listening to a deeply terrifying episode of The Daily. Whatever it was, coronavirus became the main conversation in tech.

  • Facebook canceled its F8 conference, which wasn't scheduled until May. Microsoft and others pulled out of GDC, which is in a few weeks. VC firms are moving or postponing their annual meetings. Could SXSW be next? Or Apple's WWDC?
  • Companies around the world are telling employees to stay home, or screening them as they come to the office.
  • Coinbase talked to Protocol's Lauren Hepler about its three-phase plan for dealing with the virus, which starts with working from home and ends in "potential relocation of essential personnel outside the danger area."

During an otherwise brutal week for the stock market, anything that qualified as "useful in a quarantine" bucked the trend. Zoom, Peloton, Netflix and Slack all suddenly seemed like smart bets. And companies are starting to feel some responsibility:

  • Zoom removed the time limit on its free conferencing in China. "I know many organizations are grappling with how to maintain business continuity and keep employees engaged amid the threat of the virus, and I'm compelled to help anyone who needs it," CEO Eric Yuan wrote on the company's blog.
  • Cisco also told Lauren it's working hard to keep its services up and running — and free to people in affected countries.
  • And Amazon has blocked more than 1 million products from sale for inaccurately claiming to cure or defend against the virus.

Of course, everyone also wonders when certain Silicon Valley types will start making plans to head to their bunkers in New Zealand.

If you're worried about coronavirus, BuzzFeed and The Washington Post both have good primers on what you can do to stay safe.

Is your company making plans for how to deal with coronavirus? I'd love to hear about them:


Carriers pony up for selling user data

All four of the largest U.S. carriers recently got a notice from the FCC filled with bad news. The FCC found all four had failed to keep their users' real-time location data safe, and plans to fine the companies a total of more than $200 million.

A quick recap of how we got here:

  • Motherboard reported in 2019 that the carriers were selling real-time location info to data brokers, who then sold it all over the place. The carriers said they'd stop. They didn't stop.
  • In January, Ajit Pai wrote a letter to Congress saying "the FCC's Enforcement Bureau has completed its extensive investigation and that it has concluded that one or more wireless carriers apparently violated federal law."

The FCC has a history of levying mostly toothless fines, and critics say these are no different.

  • "He only investigated after public pressure mounted," Ron Wyden said in a statement. "And now his response is a set of comically inadequate fines that won't stop phone companies from abusing Americans' privacy the next time they can make a quick buck."


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Confessions of an App Store chief (that got him fired)

Apple's former App Store head for Germany, Austria and Switzerland, Tom Sadowski, has written what's being billed as a German-language tell-all book about the company's app business.

Apple is … not amused. The company has reportedly asked the publisher to immediately cease publication and destroy all copies of the book.

Sadowski claims ignorance, writing in the book that all the facts are publicly available. Which is largely true, but Protocol's Janko Roettgers still found plenty of juicy bits in App Store Confidential:

  • A few years back, Sadowski was close to striking an extensive promotional iTunes deal with Bild, Germany's immensely popular yellow press daily. Apple HQ pulled the plug, because Bild often features pictures of naked women.
  • In late 2017, Sadowski helped Apple look into acquiring Blinkist. The talks didn't advance very far, though, in part because Blinkist was by then seen as too big for Apple to acquire.
  • In the early days of the App Store, developers used to make most of their money with paid apps. Nowadays, Sadowski says, subscriptions are both the biggest and the fastest-growing segment.
Apple told Janko it fired Sadowski for writing the book: "All workers should have the reasonable expectation that employment policies will be equally and fairly applied and all companies should have the reasonable expectation that their business practices will be kept confidential."

Making moves

YouTube named Matt Koval its first-ever "creator liaison,"as the company continues to try to figure out how to keep its creators happy and successful on the platform. Koval was once a YouTuber, and has worked for the company since 2012.

T-Mobile is laying off an unknown number of employees as the Sprint merger gets closer, according to Light Reading. The layoffs are reportedly in the Metro by T-Mobile prepaid part of the company.

Apple lost two important, longtime executives, Bloomberg reports: Nick Forlenza, a VP of manufacturing design, retired from the company; and Duco Pasmooij, an operations VP, is planning to leave the company soon.

In other news

  • The law firm Hogan Lovells has ideas about dealing with CCPA litigation, and Protocol's Issie Lapowsky joined a webinar it held Thursday to describe them. "The webinar covered a lot of ground," Issie said, "but I was especially interested in one of the key recommendations the firm gave companies: Be sure to include a carefully crafted arbitration agreement and/or class action waiver in your Terms of Service. CCPA includes language that aims to invalidate arbitration clauses, but these lawyers think that language would be preempted by federal law."
  • DoorDash filed to go public. Yet another company that's going to test whether the public markets will tolerate super-popular services that make no money whatsoever.
  • From Protocol: Nokia could soon find itself in the middle of a 5G power struggle. The flailing telecommunications provider is reportedly exploring its options for a sale or merger — who might be interested in buying it?
  • BuzzFeed got access to Clearview AI's remarkably long client list. Clearview is sharing or selling access to more than 2,200 clients, including the DOJ, Best Buy, ICE, Interpol, and many others — often without higher-ups at those organizations knowing what's happening.
  • LinkedIn is testing a Stories format, similar to Snapchat. Now you can get your fill of those "how I became so fantastic and successful" posts, delivered 10 seconds at a time. Next up: Story Resumes?
  • As data centers get busier, do they use loads more energy? It's long been assumed that the answer is yes, but a study found that even as cloud-computing use has soared, energy consumption only went up a small amount.
  • Steven Seagal agreed to pay $330,000 to settle a case about a coin offering. It's alleged that he advertised for a cryptocurrency ICO without disclosing he was getting paid for it. The settlement includes all the money Seagal made for the gig — I suspect he thought Bitcoiin2Gen would be worth more than about 2 hundredths of a cent by now.

One more thing

I hear the phishing is great in Norway

Protocol's Adam Janofsky heard a pretty crazy statistic at the RSA conference this week. Obviously, one of the easiest ways to get hacked is by clicking on a malicious attachment in a phishing email. But the threat can be dramatically different depending on where you live and what industry you work in, Google's security and anti-abuse research lead Elie Bursztein said Tuesday at the conference. Norwegian Gmail users, for example, receive a staggering 69 times more targeted malicious attachments than those in Russia and Indonesia — the least affected countries — and about 5 times more malicious attachments than U.S. users. Why Norway? No idea! "I don't have a good explanation for it at the moment," Bursztein said. Watch your backs, my Norweigan friends.


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Thoughts, questions, tips? Send them to me,, or our tips line, Enjoy your weekend, see you Monday.

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