Source Code: What matters in tech, in your inbox every morning

×
Protocol Source Code
What matters in tech, in your inbox every morning.

Twitter’s conspiracy theory crackdown

Twitter’s conspiracy theory crackdown

Good morning! This Thursday, Gusto tries to help small businesses get loans, Twitter tightens its coronavirus guidelines, and life gets even harder for Magic Leap.

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

People Are Talking

Former White House CIO Theresa Payton cautioned Americans to be careful about giving away their data to fight coronavirus:

  • "Remember the debate in 2015–16 over whether Apple should unlock the San Bernardino mass shooter's iPhone for the FBI? Today, Apple is already so deeply embedded with government efforts to find ways to track us that the debate of just a few years ago seems quaint. The public-private partnership to track each and every one of us is advancing rapidly while we are busy watching climbing death tolls and hiding under the covers."

Entrepreneurs should be hopeful but plan for the worst, said Cowboy Ventures' Aileen Lee:

  • "Most entrepreneurs are optimists, and we are, too! But it seems safer to have more conservative plans [and start expecting] that this is going to impact us for longer and be worse than we expected."

It's easy to organize people online, said Mobilize CEO Alfred Johnson, but hard to move them into the real world:

  • "One thing that was apparent from the beginning was that energy could manifest quickly on platforms like Facebook, but was very hard to maintain; it was hard to move people from the online space into the offline space. Platforms like Facebook are built to get you to engage on Facebook; they're not built to get you into the offline world, doing things for a particular organization."

The Big Story

A helping hand for small-business loans

From unemployment stimulus to small business loans, it's now very clear the U.S. government does not have efficient systems in place to distribute aid.

Gusto tried to help pick up the slack. Its engineering team moved quickly to help get its clients to the top of the first-come first-served list "as soon as there was a little bit of clarity on how exactly to calculate the payroll loan amounts" from the Treasury Department, CTO Edward Kim told Protocol's Sofie Kodner.

It took the company 12 hours to get a PPP loan calculator up on its payroll platform. That uses existing payroll information to pre-compute loan amounts in a handy, printable way.

  • "We've had around 60,000 employers download their report to take to their banks," Kim said. Gusto serves more than 2% of small businesses in the U.S.; and "if you add up the total amount of dollars that they were trying to apply for, it's about $2.8 billion," Kim added.

But getting the report wasn't the main roadblock for many of Gusto's clients. "A lot of larger banks, we noticed that they were prioritizing their clients not on a first-come first-serve basis, but based on their own internal calculation of which businesses are essentially more valuable to them."

  • It led Gusto to partner with other more modern, tech-enabled banks, like Cross River, to process their clients' PPP loan applications instead.
  • "A lot of it can be solved by technology if there's better APIs for example, between the SBA and payroll companies and banks," Kim said.

The first PPP funding ran out in just 14 days. Round two, which the House is expected to vote on today, could run out even more quickly.

  • "We're also doing our part to try to influence legislation," Kim said. The company has been using its data to glean early insights into termination rates, sick leave, and business closures. "We want to see a lot more funds."

In some ways Gusto has become an advisor to small businesses in these hard times, Kim said, more than just a tool. From its homepage to its Resource Hub, Gusto is all-in on coronavirus response.

  • And it's working: Despite high call volumes and longer than usual wait times, their Net Promoter Score is the highest it's ever been.

Moderation

Twitter and YouTube crack down on coronavirus content – again

The 5G-causes-coronavirus conspiracy theory, which we've covered here before (and which is, again, not true), continues to be an interesting test case for social media content moderation.

Yesterday, Twitter updated its COVID-19 guidance to address the subject:

  • "Unverified claims that incite people to action, could lead to the destruction or damage of critical infrastructure, or could lead to widespread panic, social unrest, or large-scale disorder" are now banned, the policy says.
  • But there's still no way to report a tweet and indicate that it's for pandemic-related reasons – the closest option seems to be "it's abusive or harmful."

Twitter said it already removed 2,230 tweets containing content that violates its other coronavirus guidelines, and has challenged more than 3.4 million accounts that it found were spamming or manipulating COVID-19 conversations.

  • As it broadens its policy, Twitter's likely to have a harder time enforcing it — and its decisions are likely to be more controversial.

But that's nothing compared to YouTube, which has already taken steps to shut down 5G-coronavirus content, deciding over the weekend to remove anything it deems "medically unsubstantiated." Oh boy is this going to be messy.

  • Susan Wojcicki told CNN that "people saying, 'Take vitamin C, take turmeric, we'll cure you,' those are the examples of things that would be a violation of our policy." Anything that goes against WHO guidelines, she said, will be removed.
  • If you thought previous YouTube guidelines were hard to enforce or controversial when they were invoked, then just wait and see what happens here.

A MESSAGE FROM EXCELLA

Excella

If you can't see how AI makes its decisions, how can you trust the results?

The answer lies in Explainable AI or XAI.

Explainable models provide transparency — so you can stay accountable to customers, build trust, and make decisions with confidence.

Learn more about Explainable AI (XAI)

VR

Things are tough at Magic Leap

"The recent changes to the economic environment have decreased availability of capital and the appetite for longer term investments," Magic Leap CEO Rony Abovitz wrote yesterday.

He was announcing two things: Magic Leap is laying off a number of employees — Bloomberg put the number at 1,000, almost half the company's staff — and pivoting to focus entirely on enterprise customers instead of building consumer gadgets.

Abovitz blamed coronavirus for the company's troubles, but Magic Leap's been in rough shape for a while, even after raising more than $2.6 billion.

  • It's been exploring a sale, hoping to get as much as $10 billion for the company.
  • Its first (and so far only) product, the Magic Leap One, was a flop. The company's been saying the Magic Leap 2 is coming next year, but that seems unlikely now.

Abovitz's note almost reads like a goodbye message, speaking of "what we have accomplished together" and frequently referring to Magic Leap's IP and assets. You could also read these layoffs as a way to make the company more palatable to potential buyers.

  • Bloomberg also reported, though, that Magic Leap is looking to take more (more!) outside investment, and may be partnering with a large health-care company. So who knows.

Number of the Day

84

That's how many times SpaceX has now launched the Falcon 9 rocket, after it took 60 new Starlink satellites into orbit yesterday. That's the most launches for a single rocket, passing United Launch Alliance's Atlas V. Yesterday was also the first time Falcon 9 landed successfully on SpaceX's drone ship, after missing twice before.

In Other News

  • Today in coronavirus: Restaurant bookings on OpenTable have been down 100% — as in, they're at zero — for a month. Nuro's delivery robots are taking medical supplies to health-care workers. China is letting Samsung staffers back into the country to expand chip production. Coronavirus deaths are forcing Instagram to come up with a way to memorialize accounts. Viral text messages claiming the U.S. military was about to issue a nationwide lockdown may have actually been spread by Chinese agents. And esports gambling is predicted to double this year, because what else is there to gamble on?
  • Expedia is reportedly negotiating a deal with Silver Lake and Apollo, the two private-equity firms that are all over the tech industry right now, to sell them a stake worth about $1 billion. It would also give them seats on the Expedia board.
  • The iPhone may have a big security hole. Researchers found a flaw in the device's Mail app that would let hackers install malicious software without users doing anything at all. Apple has apparently fixed the flaw, but hasn't yet released the update.
  • Loon has started performing network tests in Kenya for its internet balloons, with plans to launch its first service there "in the coming weeks."
  • Google Meet and Zoom both released big updates: Meet got more Zoom-ish features like a gallery view, and Zoom continued to fix some of its security issues. Meanwhile, Skype got into the virtual background game.
  • From Protocol: The NFL draft starts tonight, and it's likely to be the most ambitious virtual event you've ever seen. We dug into how it's all coming together.
  • Jeff Bezos is back in the saddle at Amazon, after having mostly handed off day-to-day management to his deputies. He is reportedly laser-focused on all things coronavirus, particularly thinking about testing.
  • Snap is already re-thinking its office space. Evan Spiegel said the company's not rushing people back to the office, but is tweaking floor plans and considering making temperature checks a regular part of the workday.

One More Thing

Everyone's Candy Crushing while they Zoom

Work and play are a lot alike right now. It's just bad screens and good screens, really. And they're all blurring together: A new survey of 1,000 American workers found that 80% of people have played a game of some kind during work hours. Mobile games are the most popular, with Candy Crush and Angry Birds leading the way, but a surprising number of people are firing up full-fledged PC games when they're supposed to be spreadsheeting. As for when it's happening, just 40% said they've played when they're "supposed to be working." Which means 60% of people are liars.

A MESSAGE FROM EXCELLA

Excella

If you can't see how AI makes its decisions, how can you trust the results?

The answer lies in Explainable AI or XAI.

Explainable models provide transparency — so you can stay accountable to customers, build trust, and make decisions with confidence.

Learn more about Explainable AI (XAI)

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

Recent Issues

Source Code: What matters in tech, in your inbox every morning

×