March 31, 2020
Good morning! This Tuesday, what gig worker strikes will actually get done, what Microsoft will give you for $7 a month, and how car companies are becoming ventilator companies.
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people are talking
From Protocol: Tesla fought back against orders to stop production, but Fremont Police Chief Kimberly Petersen said that she wasn't having it:
- "You clarified that Tesla was winding down operations in the city of Fremont to the minimum basic operations because it is the 'right thing to do.' You further stated that Tesla is still committed to winding down operations by Monday morning March 23, 2020 … You agreed that social distancing requirements would be followed."
This is the new normal, warns Haystack founder Semil Shah. And all anyone can do is triage:
- "CEOs, investors, and LPs will have to make some brutal decisions, where to focus efforts, where to cut ties. There are no great answers. It won't be fair. But it's going to happen throughout April and May, and the only thing everyone can control is to conduct those conversations with grace and thoughtfulness given the unprecedented circumstances."
California Governor Gavin Newsom praised Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan for doing what the government couldn't:
- "You two stepped up and you're providing $25 million on top of that effort to help with things that the state's not prepared to help and that's stipends for childcare, transportation for … hotels where you may want to stay near the hospital and be in a hotel nearby."
Advertisers and marketers will overhaul their strategies in the coming months, said Hippo's VP of marketing Andrea Collins:
- "There's going to be a lot more play in SEO. There's going to be more touchpoints like customer service, email, because people will be more price sensitive and do more research. When we do come out of it, we're going to be totally different."
What gig worker strikes can — and can't — accomplish
As Instacart shoppers started striking yesterday, others followed suit. Workers at GE held a silent protest, calling on the company to stop making jet engines and start making ventilators. Amazon employees protested outside a Staten Island warehouse. Whole Foods employees are planning a "sick-out" starting today.
- What did yesterday's strikes feel like on the ground? Instacart said they had "absolutely no impact" on the company's operations, and that numbers of buyers and shoppers continue to climb. (Organizers said otherwise.)
- Amazon said only a handful of employees participated — then fired one of those who did, saying he was supposed to be in quarantine.
- Meanwhile, more politicians — Cory Booker, Elizabeth Warren and others — continued to express their support for workers.
Why is all this happening now? And what's likely to come of it? That's what Protocol's Sofie Kodner asked UC Hastings law professor and labor specialist Veena Dubal:
- Why are gig workers striking? "The sharing economy is built on a risk shift from the companies onto the workers. As a result, the workers don't have access to basic protections, and they don't have the kind of power that we imagine even a Walmart worker has. I can't imagine a starker power dynamic than the CEO of Uber, who has direct connections to everyone in Congress, and then a gig worker who can't even get a low-level bureaucrat at Uber to answer his or her basic questions."
- Do gig workers have more power to leverage right now? "All of a sudden, people who don't think about how they get things in their hands are being forced to think about the workers who are in the supply chain, and how those people are putting their lives at risk … For lawmakers who are thinking about: Is this gig work somehow innovative and different from other forms of service work and should we treat this gig work differently? I think it's been made very clear that we have basic employment law protection for a reason. I think it's going to change the political conversation in the long run."
- What's the catch? "The more things that employers provide, and the more direction they give to their workers, the more likely that they are to be considered employers under traditional employment law. I think if they were less afraid of having their business model undermined, they would be more ready to provide these minimal health and safety protections … You can still have flexible app dispatch work where workers are treated like employees and given basic protections."
Microsoft's everything bundle (meditation included)
I'm sort of obsessed with bundles, where you pay one price, receive one bill, but get access to lots of stuff. Which is good, because so is the tech industry! Apple's working on one; Google has … whatever Google One is; Disney already lets you buy three streaming services for one price.
And now Microsoft has its own everything-bundle, called Microsoft 365:
- Users pay $7 a month to get Office apps (duh), plus a bunch of additional features like Skype-to-phone minutes, a dedicated app for managing your family's online lives, and a Teams setup that Microsoft would love to be your go-to messaging app. (You almost wonder if Microsoft now regrets calling it Teams and not ... I don't know, Chat?)
The bundle also comes with limited-time access to a bunch of non-Microsoft apps, like Adobe's creative suite, Blinkist and Headspace. You sign into them with your Microsoft account, and you're off and running.
- Microsoft told me the idea is to partner with brands that help people make the most of their time.
- Adobe said the integration could help it reach a broader audience, especially Microsoft users who don't know Adobe's apps yet.
This is a stake-in-the-ground moment for Microsoft. The company is saying it cares about regular people again, after shifting its focus so aggressively to enterprise users in recent years. All 38 million current Office 365 Personal and Home subscribers will become Microsoft 365 subscribers next month. Which means a lot of people are going to be Headspace-ing pretty soon.
- The big question now, though: Does the halo effect of Headspace and the rest really make that $7 subscription feel sticky enough that users feel like it's something they can't cancel?
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The government's $200 million telehealth project
The FCC got $200 million from the CARES Act to use for telehealth programs, and Ajit Pai has a plan for how to use it.
- The COVID-19 Telehealth Program, as it's creatively named, would allow health care providers to apply for funding for everything from in-home care devices through telehealth software to internet infrastructure for disconnected patients.
- The FCC would take applications on a rolling basis, with a preference toward areas hit hardest by coronavirus, senior FCC officials said on a call with reporters. The commission seems to want to get its millions out as fast as possible.
- Part of the goal, the officials said, is to have telehealth help reduce the number of people who need to go into hospitals where equipment, people, and resources are scarce.
Pai also presented a second, longer-term plan called the Connected Care Pilot Program, which would provide another $100 million for similar projects — though it wouldn't cover the cost of in-home devices, and would focus on low-income and veteran projects.
Obviously, telehealth is up in a huge way right now — Amwell, for one, reported more than double the normal usage of its app in recent weeks. But while until now the tech has never worked for everyone, for many it's no longer an optional service. The question is, how quickly can it become integrated into everyone's medical experience?
LinkedIn is pausing all hiring "until we have a clearer picture of the macro environment and our plan moving forward."
Thumbtack laid off 250 employees. "Because Thumbtack's earnings are tied directly to the prospects of American small businesses, our company revenue has declined dramatically in recent weeks," CEO Marco Zappacosta wrote.
Kabbage furloughed many of its employees and shut down its Bangalore office. Executives are taking a pay cut as well. It, too, was hugely affected by a downturn for small business.
RigUp, the marketplace for oil and energy workers, laid off a quarter of its employees, estimated to be about 120 people. The company's co-founders said they'll take minimum wage payment instead of a salary going forward.
Amazon hired David Carbon to run Prime Air, its drone delivery business. Carbon previously worked at Boeing, but left last summer after reports of production issues at a factory he ran.
Garrett Camp is changing seats at Uber, moving from board director to board observer — though he says he'll stay involved in product.
in other news
- Today in coronavirus: Comcast said peak network traffic is up 32%, but "still within the capacity of our network." An employee at Tesla's Nevada gigafactory tested positive for the virus. Lots of cities are shutting down public transit, which is especially hard on the essential workers who rely on it. Facebook pledged $100 million to help news outlets survive the downturn in ad spending. The German government is working on an app to help track cases of the virus, modeled on one Singapore made. Airbnb set aside $250 million to reimburse hosts for missed stays. And OpenTable will now let you reserve a time to grocery shop.
- From Protocol: "Layoff tech" is booming. Tools like employer spreadsheets and anonymous message boards are in huge demand as layoffs continue.
- Don't miss this story from The Information on how Apple is learning to work from home. It's testing new tools, putting in place new security measures, and still getting the hang of video chat. Aren't we all.
- The great WeWork divestment continues: The company sold Meetup to a group of investors led by AlleyCorp. Fortune reports the sale price was "a fraction" of what WeWork originally paid.
- Virgin Orbit has a ventilator ready for mass production. It built the simple device with help from medical researchers, is hoping to have FDA approval soon, and could be making thousands of them per week before long. Ford also said it's planning to build 50,000 ventilators in the next 100 days.
- Did you see those rumors about Houseparty hacking its users? The company thinks it was part of a "paid commercial smear campaign," and is offering $1 million to anyone who knows who is responsible.
one more thing
Like, sad, mad … coronavirus
How are you supposed to express your feelings without a Facebook reaction emoji? Literally no idea. Luckily, there's a new one coming: a coronavirus-themed reaction, with the loopy heart that's become Facebook's default symbol for the virus. Jane Manchun Wong, who often finds unreleased features in apps (and is a very good Twitter follow) found it first. I can't say I've ever read something on Facebook, thought about it long and hard, and decided my reaction was "coronavirus." Though maybe that's just because I never had the option.
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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.
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