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Personal privacy vs. pandemic progress


Image: Facebook

Good morning! This Tuesday, more tech companies offer up data to fight coronavirus, Zoom gets in trouble at school, and hardware manufacturers switch their printers to face shields.

Also, if you haven't yet signed up for Index, Shakeel Hashim's daily report on tech and finance in these pandemic times, you're missing out.

(Was this email forwarded to you? Sign up here to get Source Code every day.)

People Are Talking

With everyone WFH, your kids may be your biggest cybersecurity risk, said McAfee's Steve Grobman:

  • "Sometimes the work PC is now the best computer in the house. There needs to be a lot of thought before you let your kid do their homework on your work PC and possibly go to a website during a break that can put your company at risk."

Speaking of risks, NASA says cyber threats are way up thanks to remote work:

  • "Cyber criminals have increased sending emails ... to trick victims into revealing sensitive information and gain access to NASA systems, networks, and data. Lures include requests for donations, updates on virus transmissions, safety measures, tax refunds, fake vaccines, and disinformation campaigns."

One investor called SoftBank "a blight on the ecosystem," but Masa Son told Forbes he's looking forward:

  • "In the beginning of the internet, I was criticized the same way. Even more so than now. Tactically, I've made regrets. But strategically, I am unchanged. Vision-wise? Unchanged."

The Big Story

Coronavirus is a big data problem. And it's your data.

One of the coronavirus images I'll always remember is that map of where some Florida spring breakers went when they left the beach. It's a crystal-clear illustration of how people — and viruses — spread.

It's also a perfect example of a messy compromise we're sorting through right now: How much are people willing to be watched in the name of fighting a pandemic?

  • Facebook just became the latest company to offer huge amounts of anonymized data — on locations, symptoms, and so on — for researchers to use to track and understand the virus.
  • Google's been collecting and offering similar data to help officials understand where people are still congregating.
  • And countries across the globe — including Singapore, South Korea, and Israel — are using tools to monitor citizens, with massively varying amounts of anonymity. The U.S. and others are also considering getting in on that game.

The tradeoff here is more obvious than ever. If governments were able to watch our every move, they could do more to understand and contain coronavirus. (Researchers told Protocol's Issie Lapowsky that the new trove of Facebook data is going to be hugely useful.) But persistent surveillance makes so many people uncomfortable, and once it's up and running the toothpaste may be out of the tube forever.

  • There's also the complicating fact that while much of this data is "anonymized," it's been shown repeatedly that anonymous data very rarely actually is.

One of the companies leading the yes-more-data charge is X-Mode, which Protocol's Charles Levinson wrote about. (X-Mode's data powered that spring breaker map.)

  • It's been buying, collating and sharing data from lots of users, many of whom never consented to it. It's offering big money for that data to companies like Scruff, the gay dating app that Charles wrote has spent months rebuffing X-Mode and others.
  • Many developers are saying yes, and more will do so going forward. It's the right thing to do, maybe?

There are no clear answers here, but I suspect as death tolls increase and quarantines persist, there's going to be an even bigger push to use whatever means necessary — mass surveillance included — to stop the virus. The tools and data are out there. The question is whether and how they get used.

What's your take on all this? Are you comfortable with companies using your data to stop coronavirus? Is your company participating? Reply to this email and tell me all your thoughts.

Security

Zoom gets kicked out of class

The New York Department of Education sent a memo on Friday asking teachers to switch from Zoom to Microsoft Teams "as soon as possible." DOE Chancellor Richard Carranza said that the "goal is to get more classrooms videoconferencing on a safe and secure platform." Which is a pretty sick Zoom subtweet.

  • A district in Nevada also suspended the use of Zoom, and Utah school officials are reassessing the tool too. Some elementary school teachers in Los Angeles have decided on their own to stop using the app.

Remember, Zoom's work with schools was intended as a kind gesture of coronavirus response: The company gave 60,000 U.S. schools free accounts without time limits. Only three weeks ago it seemed like an obviously good idea.

  • Zoom tried to make changes to its default settings to better suit educational use, but for some districts, the changes aren't enough.
  • As with many of Zoom's recent issues, things just seemed to move too fast. And it's not just Zoom: Teachers and districts have been bombarded by offers of free tools, and often said yes just to get their digital classrooms up and running. Few were properly prepared for this.

The last national edtech plan came from the U.S. Department of Education in 2017. While it recommended new teachers receive training on how to evaluate tools against basic privacy and security standards, Julie Evans, CEO of education nonprofit Project Tomorrow, told Protocol's Sofie Kodner that many teacher preparation programs have yet to take that guidance seriously.

  • "Teachers are still only vaguely aware of those types of considerations," Evans told Sofie. She noted that the already huge stress and anxiety of moving to remote learning is amplified by assumptions that teachers are already tech savvy.
  • Right now, many schools are just trying to make it to summer. But by the fall, Evans says, we'll see more school leaders making decisions about tools and teacher readiness from a privacy, safety and security perspective.

A MESSAGE FROM SLACK

Slack

Learn more at slack.com

Hardware

Got a 3D printer? Start making face shields

The hardware team at Snapchat, usually found working on either AR glasses or deeply adorable vending machines, is now making face shields. They're using 3D printers to make visor frames, LA Biz Journal reports, "and then laser-cutting clear shields out of polycarbonate sheets."

Why are these companies making face shields? Because they can!

  • Apple, Snap and others already have huge labs full of exactly the tools they need to build these shields. While, say, an iPhone case maker might be better-equipped to make face masks because both require fabric expertise, 3D printers and laser cutters tend to be readily available to anyone making hardware at scale.
  • 3D printer companies like Carbon, MakerBot and Formlabs are also pitching in, planning to make and ship thousands of shields a week.

From efforts like these to Tesla's building a ventilator out of car parts, it's been great to see hardware companies figure out how they can help and get the machines up and running fast.

By the way, anyone with a 3D printer can make shields: Prusa, a 3D-printer maker, open-sourced a design for a simple shield, and has been updating it with new test results, better material options, and even easier designs to print. So I guess what I'm saying is: What are you waiting for?

Making Moves

It was Arvind Krishna's first day as IBM CEO yesterday. He made a number of leadership changes at the company, with new heads for key divisions and a new Red Hat CEO, Paul Cormier.

Microsoft hired Rubén Caballero, a longtime VP of engineering at Apple, to work on its mixed-reality projects like Hololens. He actually left Apple in 2019, and worked at startup Keyssa on wireless tech until joining Microsoft. You can imagine Microsoft is eager to cut cords on its headsets.

Jason Mok is Andreesen Horowitz's newest operating partner. He'll lead the firm's corporate development team, which is a big and messy role in any time — but especially right now.

In Other News

  • Today in coronavirus: Shipt workers are striking, demanding the same hazard pay and protective equipment that Instacart shoppers want. Amazon workers staged another protest at the company's Staten Island warehouse. Amazon has a new section where healthcare workers can buy equipment. Bill Gates is spending billions on coronavirus vaccine development. Google Maps has been tweaked to make it easier to find takeout and delivery food. Finland canceled its largest tech event, which wasn't scheduled until November. Zoox laid off the safety drivers for its autonomous vehicles. And don't miss this NYT deep dive into Amazon's struggle to figure out how to handle its ever-larger role in these times.
  • Airbnb raised $1 billion in debt and equity from two investors, Silver Lake and Sixth Street Partners. In announcing the investment, Airbnb outlined its three immediate focuses: investing in hosts, promoting long-term stays, and getting Airbnb Experiences going even for people who aren't traveling.
  • With Zoom under so much scrutiny, competitors are trying to take advantage. Microsoft and Cisco have both criticized Zoom's approach to security — and Skype is out there reminding everyone that yes, in fact, Skype still exists.
  • Amazon shipments may be slower than ever right now, but as more businesses start offering delivery, there are plenty of new ways to get stuff sent to your door.
  • Foursquare and Factual are merging. Foursquare's David Shim will run the combined company, which now becomes a power player in all things location data; in fact, Shim called it "the Voltron of location." The company will be called Foursquare — given the options, totally the right call.
  • Startup employees are trying to unload corporate options en masse: EquityBee told Business Insider sales volume doubled in March. The only catch is that they may be stuck with huge tax bills they're not ready for.
  • Boeing is planning to re-launch its troubled Starliner, with no astronauts inside, to prove to NASA that it has solved some of the craft's safety issues. It's likely to happen this fall.
  • A team of Stanford researchers built a toilet that identifies users by fingerprints and analprints, and can analyze feces and urine for illnesses. Let's agree that this is very cool and potentially important, and also that I will never use the word analprint in this newsletter again. Deal?

One More Thing

A Live Aid for the streaming era

Every global crisis eventually gets its benefit concert. For coronavirus, it's the One World: Together At Home virtual benefit concert, coming April 18th. Put together by the WHO and Global Citizen, hosted by three late-night hosts and featuring everybody from John Legend to Alanis Morrisette to Lizzo to Paul McCartney, it's going to be gigantic. It's also going to be the most universally viewable event in history: The concert will air on a number of TV networks, plus *deep breath* Alibaba, Amazon Prime Video, Apple, Facebook, Instagram, LiveXLive, Tencent, Tencent Music Entertainment Group, Tidal, TuneIn, Twitch, Twitter, Yahoo, and YouTube. You literally won't be able to miss it.

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