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Sequoia’s stark coronavirus warning

Good morning! This Friday, a new bill could help protect kids online, Sequoia warns founders about the threat coronavirus poses to their businesses, and the high-tech tools your company might be using to work from home.

Thanks to all who came to our Source Code Happy Hour last night! Sorry I couldn't be there, but my colleagues loved meeting some of you. We'll do lots more of these — stay tuned.

People Are Talking

Elon Musk and Grimes are having a baby, and she says Musk is one of the good guys:

  • "If someone's just gonna take everything and just put it into R&D to make the world better, and just get up at the fucking crack of dawn every day and go to bed really late every night, doesn't take vacations and just actually puts every single ounce of his energy in everything he cares about and all his money into making the world better? Like, I can make an exception. I admire it a lot. I think it's great."

Jack Dorsey might not move to Africa after all:

  • "I had been working on my plans where I'd work decentralized, as my team and I do when we travel, but in light of COVID-19 and everything else going on I need to reevaluate. Either way we'll continue to pursue opportunities in Africa."

Misinformation is the weapon of the future, Sen. Mark Warner believes:

  • "I sometimes worry that maybe we're fighting the last century's wars when conflict in the 21st century is going to be a lot more around cyber misinformation and disinformation, where your dollar can go a long way."

The Big Story

A privacy law looking out for teenagers

Managing screen time, access to devices, kids' online personas — it's complicated and not getting any easier. (Did you see Britney Spears' son promising dirt on his mom's career in exchange for more Instagram followers? A thoroughly 2020 story.)

There's been legislation designed to protect children online, but by 13, kids are mostly treated like adults. But Sens. Ed Markey and Richard Blumenthal want to bring new protections to anyone under 16:

  • Their Kids Internet Design and Safety Act argues that the internet "is largely designed in nontransparent ways to ensure children interact with content that reflect the interests and goals of content creators, platforms and marketers."
  • The bill, first introduced nearly a year ago, wants kid-focused services to do away with autoplaying video, influencer marketing, or any dark pattern design that keeps them engaged.

If the KIDS Act passed, it would force every platform with children on it — YouTube, Snapchat, TikTok and so many others — to fundamentally change how they deal with young users.

Another group of senators (including Blumenthal) also announced on Thursday a bill that would take away platforms' protection under Section 230 if they weren't doing enough to self-moderate.

  • This one, the EARN IT Act, could also have big consequences for the fight over encryption and backdoors. Our friends at POLITICO explain why it's a complicated issue — and potentially a hotly contested bill.


Sequoia sounds the coronavirus alarm

"We suggest you question every assumption about your business." That's what Sequoia told its portfolio companies in a memo on Thursday, warning about the potential impact of coronavirus. It advised startups to reevaluate burn rates, sales forecasts, fundraising prospects — which may "soften significantly" — and even head counts. (It stopped short of calling for layoffs.)

Protocol's Biz Carson spoke to Sequoia partner Alfred Lin, who said the memo was "about being prepared, not being alarmist":

  • "I think we've been in a boom market, and most of the contingency plans have been to figure out what to do on the upside: If we raise more money, what would we do?"
  • "Here it's a reminder that you should have contingency plans for the upside and the downside and we wanted people to make sure they have the downside scenarios in place."

Hayley Leibson, founder of Modern Basket, which isn't backed by Sequoia, had some sensible advice: "Founders right now should focus on being a cockroach and not a unicorn."


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Does your home office need VR?

The next few weeks will see a huge number of employees working from home, maybe for the first time. Sure, Microsoft Teams, Slack and Zoom will be a big help.

But some companies are embracing AR and VR, Protocol's Janko Roettgers found:

  • Shopify CEO Tobias Lütkeis using VR to record the company's internal podcast. "Total wizardry and witchcraft," Lütke told Janko, while admitting that he still has to get used to the fact that his avatar doesn't have any legs.
  • AR collaboration startup Spatial has seen its usage double over the last month, according to CEO Anand Agarawala. "We were initially targeting Spatial at more traditional meetings of sub-25 people but … we are scaling up to support 100 to 1,000-plus person meetings," he told Janko.
  • Mozilla's VR collaboration environment Hubs has also seen usage double since mid-January. "People are looking for an immersive solution for their remote conferencing," said Mozilla's head of mixed reality platform strategy, Andre Vrignaud.

One obvious challenge: AR and VR headsets still aren't that popular. But if your company does have a closet full of VR gear, one bit of advice: Read up on proper cleaning procedures before lending devices out to employees. Otherwise, AR and VR may send them to the ER.


A game about viruses gets a real-world analog

"Can you infect the world?" Apparently, a lot of people want to try. In Plague Inc., players develop and evolve an illness with the goal of killing all of humanity. They can go so far as to name their virus "coronavirus," and have it originate in China.

And they're doing that in droves. Plague Inc. became the top paid app in the iOS App Store this week, eight years after its first release.

  • This is a recurring theme for Ndemic Creations, the studio that makes Plague Inc. The company said that over the years, it's always had spikes in use when there have been disease outbreaks.
  • The game's been removed from Steam and the App Store in China, though it's hard to say whether coronavirus-related information is to blame.

YouTubers are now using the game to try to predict what will happen with the virus, even as Ndemic has repeatedly said it's not a scientific simulation.

  • In 2013, the CDC said it saw the game as "a tool to teach the public about outbreaks and disease transmission."
  • But when there's so much misinformation out there, some people worry about data from a game like this one being taken too seriously.

Making Moves

Paul Kotas, head of advertising at Amazon, has been promotedto work directly for Jeff Bezos. He's one of a handful of new additions to Bezos' closest cohort, and a signal for how important Amazon's ad business has become.

TikTok hired Roland Cloutier as its chief information security officer. Cloutier was previously chief security officer at ADP, and will have his work cut out — both in dealing with the fast-growing userbase on the platform, and the politics around TikTok's relationship to the Chinese government.

GitHub hired Nicole Forsgren as its new VP of research and strategy. She'd been at Google Cloud since it acquired her company, DevOps Research and Assessment, in 2018. She told Business Insider she'll be researching developer productivity, open-source communities and more.

In Other News

  • Today in coronavirus: San Francisco has its first two confirmed cases. Two Microsoft employees were diagnosed with the virus. A Slack employee was in an infected area. Facebook told employees to work from home. So did Lyft. And Dropbox. Microsoft said it would keep paying hourly workers through campus closures. Santa Clara County recommended mass gatherings in the area be canceled. SAP canceled all its in-person events and said bookings on Concur have been down 20%. 500 Startups made its demo day online-only. Foxconn blamed coronavirus for its worst month in seven years. Apple may be rejecting most coronavirus-related apps. LinkedIn is conducting all its job interviews virtually. Virus-related email scams are suddenly everywhere. And, somehow, SXSW is still happening.
  • From Protocol: A crucial figure in Facebook's coronavirus strategy is its head of health (and longtime Zuckerberg friend) Kang-Xing Jin. He has no medical background or expertise but is driving much of the company's work in this space.
  • The Trump campaign ran ads on Facebook mentioning an "Official 2020 Congressional District Census," which directed them to a Trump fundraising page. Facebook told Popular Information the ads didn't violate the platform's rules against misleading census information — then changed its mind and removed the ads after blowback.
  • Clearview AI had a whole separate life as a spying app. Before it was in the public eye as a law-enforcement tool, it was an app given to potential investors. They used it on dates and at parties — and, in Ashton Kutcher's case, maybe even bragged about it while eating hot wings.
  • Body cameras with live facial-recognition tech could be headed to the U.S. Companies have until now stopped short of supplying this kind of gear to U.S. law enforcement, but one called Wolfcom is diving in.
  • Nokia is working with Intel on 5G. The partnership is designed to get Nokia's 5G chips up and running more quickly. Nokia's 5G ideas are big and ambitious, but so far have been hard to pull off.
  • Grindr is being sold for $608 million by its current owner Beijing Kunlun Tech. In 2016, the Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S. ordered Kunlun to sell the app over privacy concerns.

One More Thing

More folding phones you'll probably never buy

A few years ago, it seemed like we'd all decided that slabby glassy rectangles were The Right Way to do smartphones. Now? The weirder the better! And TCL, which is trying to wedge itself into the phone business just like it did with TVs, has the weirdest ideas of all. It debuted a couple of new prototypes on Thursday: a three-pane screen that reminds me a bit of Westworld, and a cool sliding one that seems to stretch from phone to tablet. Like every other folding/stretching /mighty-morphing phone out there, you'd never want to buy one. But every one of these makes it a bit more likely that someone, someday, is going to make a phone that's both really great and not just a slabby glassy rectangle.


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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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