Coronavirus consumes tech: The latest from an industry in turmoil

The latest news on coronavirus' impact on the tech industry.

A closed bar in Los Angeles

California Gov. Gavin Newsom today called for all California bars to close and for all seniors to self-isolate.

Photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images

As the U.S. grapples with coronavirus spreading across the nation, the situation is changing fast. In this evolving crisis, the impacts for the tech industry and beyond are still emerging.

We're updating this story as coronavirus news happens, and as the industry continues to sort through its new reality.

Here's what you need to know.

California governor: Close bars and wineries

Gov. Gavin Newsom said in a news conference Sunday that wineries, clubs, breweries and pubs must close down immediately, and that restaurants should halve their occupancy.

"We need people to be able to order food and pick it up," he said, while stressing that restaurants should ensure "deep social distancing."

The governor also called for home isolation for residents ages 65 and older and for those with chronic conditions, as those groups are more vulnerable to COVID-19, of which there are 335 cases in the state.

Newsom did not call for all schools to be shut down, although he said the state would release detailed guidelines and updates about schools on Tuesday. Closures now affect 80 percent to 85 percent of California students, he said. The state is also working on guidance for child care providers that it plans to release soon.

Asked about how California will enforce the restrictions he announced, Newsom said, "We'll exercise broad authority" but declined to go into specifics.

"Individuals need to meet this moment," he said.

California's guidance came on the same day as the CDC recommended that for the next eight weeks, gatherings of 50 people or more be canceled or postponed nationwide.

Google, Verily and Trump's coronavirus website claims

Alphabet and Google CEO Sundar Pichai said in a Sunday blog post that the tech giant is working with the federal government on an informational COVID-19 website, two days after President Donald Trump announced that Google was working on such an effort in an apparent shock to the company.

Pichai's Sunday evening announcement followed a morning blog post by Verily, Alphabet's life sciences division, which said the South San Francisco company is working with California Gov. Gavin Newsom's office, along with local and federal authorities, on coronavirus testing and online tools. Pichai's blog post also followed the president's declaration during a Sunday news conference that Pichai called him to apologize. "I don't know where the press got their fake news, but they got it someplace," Trump said.

A Google spokesperson said Sunday night that the company would have no comment beyond what Pichai wrote in his blog post.

The informational website Google is developing will include COVID-19 education, prevention and resources such as links and tips, Pichai wrote. It is scheduled to roll out late Monday, he said.

Separately, Californians will be able to take an online COVID-19 screener survey through Verily's Project Baseline beginning Monday, the company said. Verily said it will begin testing the highest-risk individuals, who will be sent to mobile testing sites and can get their results within a few days. The first counties where the tests will be available are Santa Clara and San Mateo, Gov. Newsom said on Sunday.

A couple of hours after Trump's Friday announcement, Google tweeted out a statement saying Verily was in the early stages of developing a COVID-19 tool "to help triage individuals for testing," but the company said it would be rolling it out in the Bay Area first. On Sunday Verily confirmed that the Bay Area would host pilot programs and said its ultimate goal is to help local authorities expand testing access in California. Spokesperson Kathleen Parkes told Protocol, "We plan to test, iterate and collaborate closely with our partners to make testing more accessible and expedient in other areas but don't have any specific dates or locations to share on this."

Tightening restrictions in Silicon Valley

San Mateo County revised its ban on gatherings Saturday, with public health officer Scott Morrow prohibiting public and private gatherings of 50 people or more beginning Sunday and continuing through April 6. That's a change from the directive he issued Friday, which banned gatherings of 250 or more.

Gatherings of 50 people or fewer are also prohibited unless mitigation measures are in place. Those include making sure that people can practice social distancing — meaning they must be able to stand or sit six feet apart from one another — and having soap and water or hand sanitizer available.

According to the order, a gathering is any event that brings together 10 or more people at the same time in a room or confined indoor or outdoor space, including restaurants, bars, theaters, event centers and more. The order does not apply to homes, airports, transit centers, commercial spaces or hotels, stores, malls, places of worship or hospitals.

Violation of the order is considered a misdemeanor.

Here's how coronavirus hit tech on Saturday

U.S. extends travel ban to U.K. and Ireland

The new rules, which Vice President Mike Pence announced during a Saturday press conference, take effect at midnight Eastern Daylight Time on Monday. American citizens and legal permanent residents are permitted to return to the U.S. but will be routed through a limited number of airports for screening.

Pence said the decision is based on the "unanimous recommendation" of health experts consulting the administration. Earlier this week, the administration banned travel from 26 other European countries, but exempted the U.K. That's despite the fact that the U.K. has had more confirmed cases of COVID-19 than some other nations included in the original ban.

Tech giants including Apple, Google, Facebook and Twitter all have European headquarters in Ireland. But those companies had already voluntarily suspended nonessential travel for employees prior to these travel bans being put in place.

Apple closes stores worldwide — except for Greater China

Tim Cook announced the decision in a company blog post on Friday, the same day Apple reopened its stores in China. Apple will continue to pay hourly workers, and is encouraging all employees outside of Greater China to work remotely, if possible.

In his post, Cook said the decision to close stores was driven by what the company learned while dealing with the outbreak in China. "One of those lessons is that the most effective way to minimize risk of the virus's transmission is to reduce density and maximize social distance," Cook wrote. The company's World Developers Conference will also take place virtually this year.

Apple's online store and support site will remain live. But the move will undoubtedly have an impact on the technology giant's sales. In China alone, the store shutdowns caused Apple's iPhone sales to be slashed in half during the month of February. Apple previously warned investors it would not meet its second quarter revenue forecast.

"There is no mistaking the challenge of this moment," Cook wrote. "We do not yet know with certainty when the greatest risk will be behind us."

Here's how coronavirus hit tech on Friday

No more gatherings in Silicon Valley

In the strongest call yet to residents, Santa Clara County Public health officer Sara Cody announced on Friday a new conditional ban on public gatherings of 35 people or more, including in conference rooms, theaters, restaurants, and bars. Gatherings between 35-100 people that cannot be postponed due to "essential societal functions" must meet five specific conditions in order to continue, including excluding anyone who is sick or at high-risk of becoming sick. Any gatherings of 100 or more will be legally prohibited. The ban will go into effect at 12 a.m. Saturday and last for at least three weeks.

According to the county public health website, a "gathering" does not include normal operations at airports or spaces where persons may be in transit. It also does not include office environments, classrooms, medical offices, hospitals, clinics, or retail spaces like pharmacies or grocery stores where large numbers of people may be present.

Trump says Google is making a coronavirus website to help

President Donald Trump on Friday said his administration has enlisted Google in a bid "to vastly increase and accelerate" coronavirus testing with help from large businesses.

Trump thanked Google for its work to "very quickly" build a website to help individuals and medical professionals determine whether a test is warranted, and to "facilitate testing" at nearby locations.

"Google has 1,700 engineers working on this right now. They've made tremendous progress," Trump said. "Our overriding goal is to stop the spread of the virus."

The announcement came as Trump declared a nationwide state of emergency that he said will help ensure that hundreds of thousands of additional tests are available by next week. It could also unlock some $50 billion in federal funding for state operations centers, drive-through testing and other measures.

In addition to Google, Trump said he is seeking input from the "biggest business people" and "greatest retailers." Administration officials name-checked Google, Roche, Walmart, CVS and large diagnostics providers like Quest.

Trump did not explicitly discuss the turbulent week on Wall Street, instead focusing his comments on work with businesses and his decisions to close U.S. borders to foreign travelers from China and Europe. "This will pass," he said.

The markets suddenly surged after his remarks, closing 9% up.

Bitcoin's big tumble

If you thought that cryptocurrency might be a safe haven in times of economic turmoil, think again. Bitcoin lost as much as 50% of its value over the past two days, falling to a low of $3,915.

With the markets being pummeled day after day, crypto investors may be facing some fairly stark choices. "Traders are pulling money out of Bitcoin to fund their margin calls on other asset classes," Ross Middleton, chief financial officer at crypto exchange DeversiFi, told Bloomberg.

The latest from tech companies

Here's a quick rundown of how some of the sector's big-hitters are responding to coronavirus.

  • Apple just reopened all of its stores in China, looking to spring back from a disastrous hit to its iPhone sales there.
  • But in a sign that disruptions are only just beginning in the U.S., Microsoft canceled its Build conference scheduled for Seattle May 19 to 21 — almost 10 weeks from now. It will do a virtual event instead.
  • HP CEO Enrique Lores says coronavirus so far is causing supply, not demand problems, and that the supply problems are at least not getting worse.
  • AT&T is suspending broadband usage caps for any customers who have them, and Comcast is cutting prices and boosting speeds for its low-income service.
  • Oracle says it's better positioned to withstand coronavirus disruptions than it was during the dot-com bust: more digital rather than in-person sales and services, long-term subscriptions rather than one-time licenses, and fewer small offices mean less travel. In the face of supply chain problems, Larry Ellison says Oracle can redirect parts from commodity servers to more profitable Exadata machines.
  • And Protocol's Issie Lapowsky reports that business is booming in telehealth, and not only in the ways you'd expect: "Even Roman, a telemedicine platform best known for treating men's health issues like erectile dysfunction and hair loss, is triaging patients in eight states and Washington, D.C., with its Coronavirus Telehealth Assessment."

Here's how coronavirus hit tech on Thursday

BART considering possibility of train shutdown in Bay Area

Coronavirus has forced the San Francisco Bay Area's backbone train system to consider the possibility it may need to reduce service or even shut down completely, which could further cripple the region, an agency spokesperson told Protocol. "It would be a last resort," BART's Jim Allison said.

The spread of COVID-19 has hit hard on public transit, with tech workers and others staying home and schools beginning to close as well. The latest BART figures, from Wednesday, showed a 35% decline in ridership. Allison said BART, which has already stepped up cleaning in stations and on trains, has a number of scenarios to consider if its hand is forced, including reducing but not halting service. "It would take an internal trigger of some kind" to force total closure, he said, such as "not enough front-line employees to fully run the system," or an external trigger, such as an order from the governor.

He said some details of the discussion at BART were security-sensitive, and that it was too soon to predict what would happen to employees in a shutdown. "We feel social distancing can be accomplished with full service, and we are an essential public service," Allison said. "There are people that cannot work from home, or get to where they need to go without BART operating. We will continue to do so as long as it's safe and we have adequate staffing."

Another dismal day of trading

The stocks of Microsoft, Facebook, Google, Microsoft and Oracle are all down at least 20% since the beginning of March after another crippling day of trading that cemented the bear market. Investors on Thursday drove the Dow to its biggest one-day drop since 1987, with the index closing down 10% at 21,200.62, while the S&P 500 fell 9.5%. A move by the Federal Reserve to offer at least $1.5 trillion in loans to banks paused the carnage, but only briefly.

Trump's travel ban

President Trump announced a 30-day ban on foreign visitors from most of Europe, which is intended to limit the spread of the coronavirus. "Smart action today will prevent the spread of the virus tomorrow," he said in a rare address from the Oval Office.

The news could put some tech companies in a tight spot, forcing employees who have been traveling to scramble to get home — or potentially even leaving them stranded. But it's worth noting that many of the largest tech companies had already imposed travel bans, so it's likely that this won't dramatically affect them.

A spokesperson from Facebook, which has already suspended nonessential domestic and international business travel, told Protocol: "We're taking precautions to ensure the safety of our employees and are monitoring the situation closely."

Not everyone thinks the U.S. policy is a good idea. The World Health Organization, which has now officially declared coronavirus a pandemic, believes that travel bans don't work: "Travel bans to affected areas or denial of entry to passengers coming from affected areas are usually not effective in preventing the importation of cases but may have a significant economic and social impact."

And the European Commission has said that it "disapproves of the fact that the U.S. decision to impose a travel ban was taken unilaterally and without consultation."

Here's how coronavirus hit tech on Wednesday

The markets crash hard. Again.

Stocks tumbled for the second time this week Wednesday. One index, the Dow Jones Industrial Average, fell by 5.9% — meaning that it has now declined more than 20% since its recent high on Feb. 12. That puts it into (the admittedly somewhat arbitrary) bear territory, as traders call it.

Tech was by no means the hardest hit — that prize goes to companies in the energy sector — but the S&P technology index shed 4.7% of its value today. Larger companies like Apple and Microsoft weathered the turbulence fairly well, down 3.5% and 4.5%, respectively, but shares in higher-risk companies such as Uber and Lyft fell more dramatically, by 9.4% and 11.8%, respectively.

The main takeaway from the crash: Traders still think fear-induced trading won't end soon. Tomorrow could be a rollercoaster.

The White House looks to Silicon Valley for help on coronavirus

At a private meeting on Wednesday, Trump administration officials asked tech companies to coordinate in an all-hands-on-deck response effort. White House staff urged Amazon, Google, Facebook, Twitter, IBM, Microsoft and others to leverage their tools to track the outbreak, halt the spread of misinformation, and keep people working, going to school, and connecting with doctors remotely, according to The Washington Post.

San Francisco bans gatherings of 1,000-plus, including Warriors games

San Francisco has become the latest city to restrict large gatherings, with Mayor London Breed tweeting the news Wednesday, citing a need to slow the spread of COVID-19. The ban on events of more than 1,000 people affects the next Warriors home game Thursday at the brand-new Chase Center, where no fans will be allowed.

Seattle looks to tighten controls on crowds

The Associated Press reports that Gov. Jay Inslee of Washington state is expected to announce a ban on gatherings and events of more than 250 people across large parts of the Seattle metro area. An anonymous source involved in making the decision told the news agency that King, Pierce and Snohomish counties, with a population of almost 4 million people, would be affected. The source told the AP that the ban would not apply to the operation of workplaces or schools.

Here's how coronavirus hit tech on Tuesday

Three TSA agents in the heart of Silicon Valley test positive

If it wasn't already clear that coronavirus was making itself felt in Silicon Valley, on Tuesday night the TSA announced that three agents at Mineta San Jose International airport had tested positive for COVID-19. The gateway to Silicon Valley, San Jose airport served 15.7 million passengers last year, according to the The Mercury News.

The TSA said other employees the three officers came into contact with were in quarantine at home. The infected officers are receiving medical care. The airport remains open.

White House calls a meeting with big tech to talk coronavirus

On Wednesday, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy will convene a meeting with representatives from the biggest tech companies to discuss ways to control the coronavirus outbreak, according to multiple reports Tuesday evening.

Led by Chief Technology Officer Michael Kratsios, the meeting is reportedly to figure out how Google, Facebook, Twitter, Amazon, Apple and Microsoft can support the fight for viral containment. Many of the companies who will be in attendance are taking direct measures with their own employees already and on their platforms to address the spread of misinformation and help get real data in front of their users.

Google tells all North American employees to stay home

In a sharp escalation in the effort to " flatten the curve," Google on Tuesday told all its employees across North America to work from home until April 10. The company had already advised employees in certain cities to do so, but now expands that recommendation to include all offices on the continent. Business Insider notes that a majority of Google's 100,000-plus employees work in North America.

Boston-area biotech Biogen at the center of the city's outbreak

When a group of leaders from the biotech Biogen met for a strategy meeting in a Marriott in Boston last month, they spread more than good ideas. Executives at the gathering were exposed to the novel coronavirus, and reportedly traveled widely before realizing it, infecting people in Florida and elsewhere. The company has required all employees to work from home since March 6.

The city of Boston on Tuesday said that 70 confirmed cases in the city trace back to the meeting. Experts are saying this demonstrates the risks of holding events under these circumstances.

Google pledges paid sick leave for all workers

Google announced on Tuesday that it is creating a fund to provide paid sick leave for any Google workers who currently do not have it and may need it because of the coronavirus.

Why would some not have that benefit? Well, all direct google employees do have paid sick leave, but the company also works with many people who are actually employed by third-party vendors. Last year, Google mandated that all those vendors provide their workers with benefits like paid sick leave, but the deadline to do so hasn't come yet, and so some workers are still without it.

That's where this fund comes in. "As we're in a transition period in the U.S. — and to cover any gaps elsewhere in the world — Google is establishing a COVID-19 fund that will enable all our temporary staff and vendors, globally, to take paid sick leave if they have potential symptoms of COVID-19, or can't come into work because they're quarantined," Adrienne Crowther, Google's director of workplace services wrote in a company announcement.

RSA attendee has been infected

The RSA conference almost didn't happen over concerns about coronavirus. Protocol was the first to break the news that sponsors of one of the largest cybersecurity conferences in the U.S. were pulling out in the weeks before it was held in San Francisco from Feb. 24 to 28. But the conference went ahead.

Now, an engineer who attended last month has been diagnosed with the coronavirus and is now in a medically induced coma. Bloomberg reports he has underlying medical issues that predispose him to pneumonia. He began experiencing symptoms after returning home from the conference, where 36,000 people were in attendance.

An Apple employee in Ireland has the virus

An Apple employee has tested positive for the virus for the first time. The company announced that the male employee is in self-isolation in Cork, Ireland, where the company's global headquarters is located. The company did not mandate that all its employees in Cork stay home, but announced that some are being asked to stay home. "We are continuing to regularly deep clean all our offices and stores and will take all necessary precautions in accordance with guidance from health authorities," a company spokesperson told CNBC.

Apple employees at the company's California headquarters are staying home if their jobs permit. Amazon, Google and Microsoft have employees who have tested positive for COVID-19, as well.

Seattle's game plan for coronavirus

Seattle is quickly becoming the epicenter of COVID-19 cases in the U.S. — but the city has a plan. In an update to the Seattle City Council on Monday, Seattle King County Public Health Director Patty Hayes laid out where things stand: Currently the council asks for voluntary isolation of sick people and quarantines of their contacts.

The next step would include mandatory suspension of all public gatherings and closure of schools, workplaces and other public spaces — and there are "a lot of conversations" happening with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention about that, Hayes said.

Beyond that are the measures "you hear coming out of Italy right now," Hayes told the City Council. She hopes that won't be necessary.

"There's a mild level of panic across the city," one Seattle area tech worker who has been told to work from home told Protocol. "But most people are just trying to roll with the punches and learn how to work from home."

Amazon's (small) plan to help small Seattle businesses

The ecommerce company announced today that it's creating a $5 million Neighborhood Small Business Relief Fund, designed to award cash grants to small Seattle businesses that struggle to cope with the impact of coronavirus. The grants are intended to help local businesses "retain and pay their employees, stay current on rent, and cover other fixed costs related to their operations," Amazon said.

But, some context: That $5 million is 0.15% of the $3.3 billion of profit it made in the fourth quarter of 2019.

China gets back up to speed

Another little glimmer of hope comes from China, the origin of coronavirus. There, after the virus confined people to homes for weeks, operations are returning to normal: Bloomberg reports that Alibaba's parcel and meal delivery services, for instance, are now back up to pre-coronavirus outbreak staffing levels.

And President Xi Jinping made his first visit to Wuhan, the epicenter of the outbreak, since the virus took hold. Sure, he wore a mask, but his visit was nevertheless designed to be a show of confidence in how the nation's draconian measures for curbing the effects of the virus have worked. Whether that's the case or not remains to be seen.

But the Bay Area is still reeling

In San Francisco, restaurants say work-from-home orders, conference cancellations and general fears have created "an immediate recession" for them; they're asking for a city stimulus package. With more than 40 confirmed cases — 21 of them from "presumed community contact" — Santa Clara County banned all public gatherings of more than 1,000 people. And UC Berkeley, San Jose State and San Francisco State all joined Stanford in canceling most or all of their classes.

Working from home today?

Some WFH advice from Patrick Stokes, executive vice president for Platform Shared Services at Salesforce: "If you're suddenly finding yourself with an extra hour or two in the day because your company began a work-from-home policy, please consider spending that time with your kids/family instead of doing an extra hour or two of work. Idea: Eat breakfast with your kids." His boss seems to agree.

Here's how coronavirus hit tech on Monday

How tech employees are preparing to be stuck at home

People who went to Costco and stocked up weeks ago are finding themselves in a better position than co-workers who waited until the last minute to prep for work-from-home mandates. As Protocol's JP Mangalindan reports, some CEOs and other leaders have been stockpiling goods at home in preparation for potential quarantine orders, while others in tech have been more laissez faire.

"It's just prudent to have enough supplies," said Robert Nelsen, co-founder and managing director of Arch Venture Partners. "All the [epidemiologists and virologists] I know are really concerned, and if they had an elderly member in their household, or somebody at risk, they wouldn't be going out with their elderly mother to lunch in Mountain View. I mean, you'd have to be high."

Top of his list for supplies? Vodka.

Tech stocks tank

Investors sold off stocks in almost every sector on Monday, reported Protocol's Shakeel Hashim and Charles Levinson. The S&P 500 closed down more than 7%. Tech companies were not spared, with smaller and less profitable companies like Uber taking a bigger hit than industry behemoths like Apple. Tesla, whose CEO Elon Musk last week said, "The coronavirus panic is dumb," dropped 10.9%.

At the same time, analysts pointed to some silver linings for big tech companies, not least that the whole epidemic news cycle distracts from the calls for regulation that had been growing increasingly loud.

Trading apps try to keep it together amid 'cataclysm'

Coronavirus stock sell-offs are stressing some fintech startups. For the third time in a week, popular stock-trading app Robinhood went down on Monday. Protocol surveyed a host of investment startups and found that while they're on high alert to handle the volatile market, they're also confident they can. Many noted an increase in signups, a good thing for their business but a potential stressor for their systems.

As Protocol's Mario Aguilar noted, the stakes are high for these trading apps to work. If they falter during a time of crisis, they could find themselves in hot water with customers, regulators or both.

Jeff Bezos lost $5.6 billion in a day

Given the turmoil, many people dreaded looking at their 401(k)s, as stocks took a plunge. For the world's richest people, the very bad market day resulted in billions of dollars in losses. As Forbes reported, Jeff Bezos lost $5.6 billion on Monday, on top of the more than $14 billion he lost last week.

The top 10 tech billionaires lost around $30 billion on Monday, as Recode reporter Teddy Schleifer noted on Twitter. Mark Zuckerberg was down $4.2 billion for the day; Bill Gates had lost $3.8 billion.

Stock crash batters everybody, even Netflix and Zoom

For a brief moment in time, it seemed like the only good thing to be in tech was a company that catered to people stuck in their homes. Slack, Netflix and Zoom stocks rose even as the rest of the market fell. But on Monday, the market's full-on panic took even those companies with it. Practically every tech company's share price was down between 2% and 6% on Monday, about on par with the broader market. A rare exception? Telehealth companies.

Work-from-home pivot continues, especially in Seattle

Amazon, Facebook, Google and Microsoft have asked their Seattle-based employees to work from home at least through the end of March, seeking to protect them in a region where at least 19 deaths had been confirmed as of Monday. Amazon confirmed that an employee had the virus, and Twitter said one employee "has been advised by their doctor that they likely have COVID-19, though still awaiting final testing." Twitter closed its Seattle offices for cleaning, and other companies followed suit.

Elsewhere, many companies seemed in mid-scramble as the week began, still figuring out exactly how serious their protective actions should be. Many have banned "nonessential" business travel and told employees to stop bringing outsiders to work, while an increasing number are allowing people to work from home regardless of geography.

Jack Dorsey said Twitter and Square are "strongly encouraging" all employees to work from home. Tim Cook told Apple employees in a memo to "please feel free to work remotely if your job allows," acknowledging that some people still had to come to work. Airbnb told its employees and workers on Monday to work from home for the next two weeks.

Speaking of Airbnb …

Airbnb has been thinking about coronavirus for a while, actually: As a global brand devoted to literally putting strangers in close contact, it's an important issue for the company. Hosts and guests are both able to cancel reservations free of charge (though only if they meet specific criteria), and Airbnb has been urging everyone to pay attention to local rules. Some travelers, though, most recently those no longer heading to SXSW, are still out of luck per the platform's rules.

On the other side of things, though, a few enterprising hosts have figured out that "coronavirus-free" is the hot new getaway amenity.

Santa Clara County has first coronavirus-related death

A woman in her 60s, who was the first-known community-transmitted case of coronavirus in Santa Clara County, died at El Camino Hospital in Mountain View on Monday morning. She had been hospitalized for several weeks, the county said.

"We are facing a historic public health challenge and know this is a very difficult time," Dr. Sara Cody, the county's health officer, said in a statement that reiterated the need for people to follow existing procedures.


Pressure on to protect vulnerable workers

An even more complicated question for tech companies has been what to do about contract workers, whether that means Uber and Lyft drivers or the staff who help maintain tech companies' sprawling campuses.

Over the last few days, a number of large companies pledged to keep paying their hourly workers — though exactly how much, and for how long, they didn't often say. Uber and Lyft said they'll compensate drivers who are under imposed quarantine for up to two weeks. But like so many coronavirus-related issues, this is uncharted territory, and not many companies had pandemic contingency plans.

Airbnb said it will pay hourly support staff, like maintenance and food service, their normal wages.

A group called Amazonians United New York City is circulating a petition demanding certain coronavirus protections, including paid sick leave. As Amazon has become an important shopping destination for people looking to protect themselves, the workers say they've been working harder and dealing with higher quotas. "At the same time," the group said, "many workers have been shocked to discover the company has been illegally denying them paid sick leave."

Amazonians United is demanding five things: Notice about the measures Amazon is taking to protect its workers' safety; pay for all normally scheduled hours in the event of closures or limited operations; enough paid sick leave to "deal with the impact of the coronavirus"; time for workers to take hand-washing breaks, even if that keeps them from meeting quotas; and encouragement from Amazon for state and federal laws providing sick leave. The group is hoping to get at least 200 signatures on its Google Form petition, and then plans to take its fight public. Or at least, to Medium.

Cancellations spread in all directions, even to Stanford

One thing everybody seems to agree on: Large gatherings are a bad idea. Santa Clara County, home to so many tech companies, called for canceling everything from professional sports games to large team meetings. Stanford canceled in-person classes. Virtually every planned conference, event and get-together has been postponed or canceled — including this week's SXSW and SaaStr conferences.

Everybody's scrambling to figure out what a "virtual conference" looks like, many landing somewhere between an epic conference call and a Twitch-style livestream.

Favorite tech hangout South Park Café closes after coronavirus exposure

South Park Café, a local lunch spot that was popular with the tech crowd long before hashtags became a thing, closed Monday after an employee tested positive for coronavirus, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. Among the many tech-oriented companies located nearby: VC firms True Ventures, Accel, Redpoint Ventures, Greylock Partners and Thomvest Ventures; Scribd; R/GA, a digital agency; and Wired. The South Park neighborhood was also home to Instagram's first offices.

WhatsApp becomes official source of coronavirus information

WhatsApp launched a collaboration with Singapore's minister of health that allows people to get updates on coronavirus via text. (The country has also been dealing with virus-related misinformation on the platform, including about supposed deaths in Singapore that actually haven't happened.) The partnership started last month, and a WhatsApp spokesperson said hundreds of thousands of people in Singapore have so far signed up for the service.

Now, WhatsApp is in talks with health ministries in 15 other countries, and the spokesperson said the company expects to launch additional partnerships as early as this week. WhatsApp has even created stickers meant to reinforce good hygiene.

WhatsApp created stickers to help reinforce good hygiene.

More tech supply-chain woes, but also hope?

Globally, as companies grapple with supply chain slowdowns and resource shortages, any company with ties to China — which is to say, pretty much every company in tech — has felt the effects. Thousands of companies have had to shift suppliers, or deal with slowdowns, creating problems that could take months to play out.

The good news: China is showing some signs of recovery. One research firm said Monday that more than 60% of China's hardest-hit businesses have gone back to work, and new infections have slowed in the country. That could provide a roadmap — and a timeline — for other countries as well, though there's still uncertainty on all sides.

In the meantime, here are some useful resources

Johns Hopkins has a very good virus tracker, showing the numbers and locations of cases around the world.

Harvard Business Review has helpful ideas on how to run a virtual meeting and how to manage a team of remote employees. Working remotely for the first time? Wired has good tips on how to do so without losing your mind.

The World Health Organization has lots of tips for ways to protect yourself from the virus. And Apple said on Monday that it's OK to clean your phone with disinfectant wipes.

Want to know how long to wash your hands? Sing about it.

If you want to generate your own hand-washing lyric guide, check out

Protocol | Policy

5 things to know about FCC nominee Gigi Sohn

The veteran of some of the earliest tech policy fights is a longtime consumer champion and net-neutrality advocate.

Gigi Sohn, who President Joe Biden nominated to serve on the FCC, is a longtime net-neutrality advocate.

Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

President Joe Biden on Tuesday nominated Gigi Sohn to serve as a Federal Communications Commissioner, teeing up a Democratic majority at the agency that oversees broadband issues after months of delay.

Like Lina Khan, who Biden picked in June to head up the Federal Trade Commission, Sohn is a progressive favorite. And if confirmed, she'll take up a position in an agency trying to pull policy levers on net neutrality, privacy and broadband access even as Congress is stalled.

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Ben Brody

Ben Brody (@ BenBrodyDC) is a senior reporter at Protocol focusing on how Congress, courts and agencies affect the online world we live in. He formerly covered tech policy and lobbying (including antitrust, Section 230 and privacy) at Bloomberg News, where he previously reported on the influence industry, government ethics and the 2016 presidential election. Before that, Ben covered business news at CNNMoney and AdAge, and all manner of stories in and around New York. He still loves appearing on the New York news radio he grew up with.

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Protocol | Workplace

Adobe wants a more authentic NFT world

Adobe's Content Credentials feature will allow Creative Cloud subscribers to attach edit-tracking information to Photoshop files. The goal is to create a more trustworthy NFT market and digital landscape.

Adobe's Content Credentials will allow users to attach their identities to an image

Image: Adobe

Remember the viral, fake photo of Kurt Cobain and Biggie Smalls that duped and delighted the internet in 2017? Doctored images manipulate people and erode trust and we're not great at spotting them. The entire point of the emerging NFT art market is to create valuable and scarce digital files and when there isn't an easy way to check for an image's origin and edits, there's a problem. What if someone steals an NFT creator's image and pawns it off as their own? As a hub for all kinds of multimedia, Adobe feels a responsibility to combat misinformation and provide a safe space for NFT creators. That's why it's rolling out Content Credentials, a record that can be attached to a Photoshop file of a creator's identity and includes any edits they made.

Users can connect their social media addresses and crypto wallet addresses to images in Photoshop. This further proves the image creator's identity, but it's also helpful in determining the creators of NFTs. Adobe has partnered with NFT marketplaces KnownOrigin, OpenSea, Rarible and SuperRare in this effort. "Today there's not a way to know that the NFT you're buying was actually created by a true creator," said Adobe General Counsel Dana Rao. "We're allowing the creator to show their identity and attach it to the image."

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Lizzy Lawrence

Lizzy Lawrence ( @LizzyLaw_) is a reporter at Protocol, covering tools and productivity in the workplace. She's a recent graduate of the University of Michigan, where she studied sociology and international studies. She served as editor in chief of The Michigan Daily, her school's independent newspaper. She's based in D.C., and can be reached at

Protocol | China

Why another Chinese lesbian dating app just shut down

With neither political support nor a profitable business model, lesbian dating apps are finding it hard to survive in China.

Operating a dating app for LGBTQ+ communities in China is like walking a tightrope.

Photo: Nicolas Asfouri/AFP via Getty Images

When Lesdo, a Chinese dating app designed for lesbian women, announced it was closing down, it didn't come as a surprise to the LGBTQ+ community.

It's unclear what directly caused this decision. 2021 hasn't been kind to China's queer communities; WeChat has deactivated queer groups' public accounts and Beijing has pressured charity organizations not to work with queer activists.

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Zeyi Yang
Zeyi Yang is a reporter with Protocol | China. Previously, he worked as a reporting fellow for the digital magazine Rest of World, covering the intersection of technology and culture in China and neighboring countries. He has also contributed to the South China Morning Post, Nikkei Asia, Columbia Journalism Review, among other publications. In his spare time, Zeyi co-founded a Mandarin podcast that tells LGBTQ stories in China. He has been playing Pokemon for 14 years and has a weird favorite pick.

The Oura Ring was a sleep-tracking hit. Can the next one be even more?

Oura wants to be a media company, an activity tracker and even a way to know you're sick before you feel sick.

Over the last few years, the Oura Ring has become one of the most recognizable wearables this side of the Apple Watch.

Photo: Oura

Oura CEO Harpreet Rai swears he didn't know Kim Kardashian was a fan. He was as surprised as anyone when she started posting screenshots from the Oura app to her Instagram story, and got into a sleep battle with fellow Oura user Gwyneth Paltrow. Or when Jennifer Aniston revealed that Jimmy Kimmel got her hooked on Oura … and how her ring fell off in a salad. "I am addicted to it," Aniston said, "and it's ruining my life" by shaming her about her lack of sleep. "I think we're definitely seeing traction outside of tech," Rai said. "Which is cool."

Over the last couple of years, Oura's ring (imaginatively named the Oura Ring) has become one of the most recognizable wearables this side of the Apple Watch. The company started with a Kickstarter campaign in 2015, but really started to find traction with its second-generation model in 2018. It's not exactly a mainstream device — Oura said it has sold more than 500,000 rings, up from 150,000 in March 2020 but still not exactly Apple Watch levels — but it has reached some of the most successful, influential and probably sleep-deprived people in the industry. Jack Dorsey is a professed fan, as is Marc Benioff.

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David Pierce

David Pierce ( @pierce) is Protocol's editorial director. 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.

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