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The gig worker revolt over COVID-19

Your five-minute guide to what's happening in tech this Monday, from Quibi's insistence that its plan still holds, to Breitling's embrace of the blockchain.

Good morning! This Monday, Instacart shoppers are striking, HQ Trivia is back, and Hans Zimmer is writing the sounds of your next car.

People Are Talking

Ro Khanna spoke to Protocol about the stimulus package, and said it overlooks how startups really work:

  • "Under the current bill, if you're a startup, and you are funded by a venture capital firm, then every startup that VC funds has to be added up when you look at whether you qualify for having under 500 employees. That is a ridiculous definition of a small business. Probably the people who wrote those regulations never stepped into Silicon Valley."
  • Also: Khanna is the guest for Protocol's next Virtual Meetup on Thursday, in conversation with Issie Lapowsky. Don't forget to register!

Quibi's launching into a different world than it expected, but Jeffrey Katzenberg said the plan hasn't changed:

  • "There's no question that there's a difference between having in between time traveling to work or standing in line at Starbucks or taking a break from a meeting, but that's not to say our lives have delivered us a whole different set of in-between moments. Whether you need a break from schooling the kids or entertaining them or need a break from sitting on your computer and working, those things haven't changed, we still need and have many in-between times."

The Big Story

Instacart shoppers are leaving the store

Instacart workers across the country plan to strike today, as they demand better protection and better pay to continue their jobs in increasingly dangerous times. A quick history:

  • It started last week, after Instacart announced it planned to hire another 300,000 shoppers. The Gig Workers Collective responded that Instacart should first take care of its existing shoppers before it created so many more of "the worst possible kind" of jobs.
  • The Gig Workers Collective listed four demands: safety equipment, hazard pay, more benefits for those impacted by coronavirus, and a longer time frame for those benefits.
  • Instacart then addressed some of those demands directly, but deflected on — or outright ignored — others.

That was where we left it Friday. But ahead of the strike, this weekend turned into a battle of Medium posts. On Sunday, Instacart tried again: It said it would begin providing hand sanitizer to shoppers, and start nudging customers to tip more.

  • "We absolutely respect the rights of shoppers to provide us feedback and voice their concerns," it said in a statement.

The Gig Workers Collective's immediate response? Not. Good. Enough.

  • "Where were these efforts back when Shoppers first began asking for it?" the Collective wrote in a Medium post later on Sunday. "It's abhorrent that it took this long for them to act, but on the bright side, it shows that a strike will work to change their behavior." It also said Instacart still hadn't addressed the issue of hazard pay.
  • One continued sticking point: Strike organizers want sick pay even for those who haven't tested positive for coronavirus, arguing that tests are hard to get and that even people who don't yet have the virus may need to be quarantined for other reasons.
  • So the strike is still on. As lead organizer Vanessa Bain told Protocol's Levi Sumagaysay, "A lot of shoppers have already stopped shopping because of the risks."

This is a battle of leverage. Instacart and others have jobs to offer when people desperately need them. But as those jobs become increasingly essential, the workers doing them have more power than ever.

Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders both expressed support for the strike. As did many others. And you can bet that delivery companies and workers everywhere are watching to see what happens.

In related news: Amazon employees at a Staten Island warehouse are also planning to strike today, after the company refused to close the facility when a coronavirus case was detected there.

Delivery

Providing medical supplies in Africa, one drone at a time

Drone deliveries seem like an obvious solution to some of our current issues. In the U.S., high FAA safety standards have mostly kept the vehicles out of the sky — UPS and Alphabet only recently got approval to fly drones out of the line of sight, and even then they're rolling out in limited areas.

In other countries, though, drones are already on the front lines in the response to the pandemic:

  • In Ghana, hospitals are shifting deliveries from trucks to Zipline's drones — which drop supplies by parachute — in order to reduce points of transmission. Justin Hamilton, the company's communications head, told Protocol's Sofie Kodner that Zipline is also adding over 100 additional medications to its inventory to meet new delivery needs.
  • As supplies have become scarce, health authorities are coordinating with Zipline to make sure masks, gloves, and other equipment "get to the people who need it the most when." Officials are planning to do the same with tests and vaccines, once they're available.
  • "We were built for this," Hamilton told Sofie. Zipline's fleet of more than 100 drones can fly at 60mph for up to 100 miles. They've been making hundreds of deliveries a day for years.

Hamilton said Zipline is actively exploring ways to get involved with response to the outbreak in the U.S., too:

  • Zipline was already planning to deploy in North Carolina later this year.
  • And restrictions have been lifted on drones in emergency situations in the past. Zipline has worked with the Department of Defense on previous emergency relief efforts.
  • But it remains to be seen if that will happen again amid coronavirus.

A MESSAGE FROM SLACK

Learn more at slack.com

Games

HQ Trivia brings social-distancing trivia night back

If ever there were an app made for life in lockdown, it was HQ Trivia. And after going dark in mid-February, the game came back online last night.

  • The company tells me it has been acquired, though it declined to say by whom. A few months ago, HQ was reportedly close to a deal with the sports and entertainment media company Whistle, but that failed at the late minute. (In part because, by all accounts, HQ Trivia was a mess internally.)
  • This wasn't a one-off, HQ said. The team is still working out the exact schedule, but this is a full return of the game. It's also working to hire and rehire HQ's team.
  • HQ's founder and still-CEO Rus Yusupov also said that the return of the app means people who previously won money will be able to cash out "later this week." I think I won, like, $2.11 at one point, so this is big for me.

If Sunday's game is any indication, HQ might be able to recapture its magic. Its 113,000-player peak last night was nowhere near the app's all-time high of 2.38 million, but it's not bad for an app everybody thought was dead until about two hours before game time.

  • Before the game started, host Matt Richards shouted out the first responders fighting coronavirus, and said HQ is matching cash prizes and giving away money to fight the virus. HQ said charity is a core principle for this new iteration of the app.
  • Richards called this "HQ Chapter Two." The game's theme was "rebirths, returns, and comebacks," and 10,265 people won — meaning every winner got about a dime. I lost on the 9th question, and may never recover.

Did you play HQ last night? Or … are you the undisclosed acquirer? Tell me what you make of the HQ return: david@protocol.com.

Coming This Week

There are lots of free conferences and content to check out this week:

  • Adobe's Summit, which is now a virtual and on-demand (and free!) event, goes live Tuesday morning.
  • Atlassian is also having a free, virtual summit on remote work, running Wednesday and Thursday this week.
  • Okta's virtual Oktane conference also runs Wednesday and Thursday, with lots of content around the idea of identity and digital transformation.

On the earnings calendar: Xiaomi reports its financials tomorrow — which will be another interesting tell for how things are going in China.

In Other News

  • Today in coronavirus: Microsoft is tweaking its cloud policies after usage went up 775% in some areas. Venezuela's internet infrastructure is struggling to keep up with surging usage. Meteorologists are worried that, with fewer planes in the sky, weather forecasts could get worse. Tesla is cutting staff at its Nevada gigafactory by about 75%. One startup is adding notaries en masse to keep up with digital documents. Google booted InfoWars from the Play Store for its coronavirus content. Google's also ditching its April Fools' jokes this year. And rural Airbnbs are the hottest real estate on the internet.
  • From Protocol: How social apps are scrambling to build bots and tools to provide good, helpful information on COVID-19.
  • Remember that GoFundMe / Yelp campaign to set up fundraisers for small businesses? Turns out some of those small businesses are seriously unhappy about it.
  • The Saudi government is hacking global wireless networks to track its citizens around the U.S., according to a Guardian report. A whistleblower said: "There is no other explanation, no other technical reason to do this. Saudi Arabia is weaponizing mobile technologies."
  • Breitling is embracing blockchain. For the re-release of its Top Time watch, it's ditching the standard certificate of authenticity and instead using a private blockchain to track each watch from owner to owner.
  • From Protocol: You've seen those billboards on top of Ubers and Lyfts, right? They seem like a great deal: more money for drivers, better ad targeting, good news all around. But there's been a backlash — and some heated competition.
  • Don't miss this Wall Street Journal story about the U.S. government's use of mobile ad data to track people's movements in as many as 500 cities across the country. The plan is to use the data to improve the coronavirus response.
  • The Warren campaign open-sourced its tech tools. It built software for organizing volunteers, communicating with voters, and calculating delegates, and now hopes other Dem campaigns will use the ideas and code "to run stronger campaigns and help Democrats win."
  • OneWeb filed for bankruptcy. The SoftBank-backed space exploration company already launched 74 satellites, and planned for hundreds more. Now it's looking for a buyer.

One More Thing

Writing the song of the electric car

We know what a regular car sounds like. Vroom vroom and whatnot. But with electric cars, we get to choose! Should the car play Mozart as it accelerates? Chime "La Cucaracha" every time you hit the horn? Presumably, Hans Zimmer can do a bit better. BMW hired the composer to create "sound worlds" — the sounds that a car should make when doors open, as it starts, and as it moves — for its Concept i4. Wired got inside Zimmer's process a bit, which sounds ... far from finished. But at least one answer seems obvious to me: The car should make the "Inception" BRAAAAAGH (which Zimmer wrote!) every time you hit the horn. Nobody'll get in your way after that.

JOIN US THURSDAY

This Thursday at noon PT/3 p.m. ET senior reporter Issie Lapowsky interviews California Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA) about what Washington and Silicon Valley are doing to address the COVID-19 outbreak.

Sign up to join us here.

Thoughts, questions, tips? Send them to me, david@protocol.com, or our tips line, tips@protocol.com. Enjoy your day, see you tomorrow.

Protocol | China

China’s era of Big Tech Overwork has ended

Tech companies fear public outcry as much as they do regulatory crackdowns.

Chinese tech workers are fed up. Companies fear political and publish backlashes.

Photo: Susan Fisher Plotner/Getty Images

Two years after Chinese tech workers started a decentralized online protest against grueling overtime work culture, and one year after the plight of delivery workers came under the national spotlight, a chorus of Chinese tech giants have finally made high-profile moves to end the grueling work schedules that many believe have fueled the country's spectacular tech boom — and that many others have criticized as exploitative and cruel.

Over the past two months, at least four Chinese tech giants have announced plans to cancel mandatory overtime; some of the changes are companywide, and others are specific to business units. ByteDance, Kuaishou and Meituan's group-buying platform announced the end of a policy called "Big/Small Week," where a six-day workweek is followed by a more moderate schedule. In early June, a game studio owned by Tencent rolled out a policy that mandated employees punch out at 6 p.m. every Wednesday and take the weekends off.

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Power

Brownsville, we have a problem

The money and will of Elon Musk are reshaping a tiny Texas city. Its residents are divided on his vision for SpaceX, but their opinion may not matter at all.

When Musk chose Cameron County, he changed its future irrevocably.

Photo: Verónica G. Cárdenas for Protocol

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Far above the sea on a foggy March day, the camera feed on the Starship jerked and then froze on an image of orange flames shooting into the gray. From the ground below, onlookers strained to see through the opaque sky. After a moment of quiet, jagged edges of steel started to rain from the clouds, battering the ground near the oceanside launch pad, ripping through the dunes, sinking deep into the sand and flats.

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People

Facebook’s push to protect young users is a peek at the future of social

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Now, Facebook and others are going private. They're trying to rebuild around small groups and messaging. They're also trying to figure out how to build platforms that work for everyone, that don't try to apply the same set of rules to billions of people around the world, that bring everyone together but on each user's terms. It's tricky.

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David Pierce ( @pierce) is Protocol's editor at large. Prior to joining Protocol, he was a columnist at The Wall Street Journal, a senior writer with Wired, and deputy editor at The Verge. He owns all the phones.

Power

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Cap tables are fundamental to startups. So 10 law firms and startup software vendors are teaming up to standardize what they tell you about investors' stakes.

Cap tables describe the ownership of shares in a startup, but they aren't standardized.

Illustration: Protocol

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Biz Carson ( @bizcarson) is a San Francisco-based reporter at Protocol, covering Silicon Valley with a focus on startups and venture capital. Previously, she reported for Forbes and was co-editor of Forbes Next Billion-Dollar Startups list. Before that, she worked for Business Insider, Gigaom, and Wired and started her career as a newspaper designer for Gannett.

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