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By the numbers: How COVID-19 changed tech this week

It was a good week for telemedicine and robots, a bad week for ride-hailing, and a good and bad week for Jeff Bezos.

A teacher at a computer

Only a quarter of Americans think conversations held over video-conferencing are as productive as in-person meetings, according to a recent Pew survey.

Photo: Olivier Douliery/AFP via Getty Images

They aren't all bad, just mostly bad. Here are 15 numbers that jumped out at us this week as the COVID-19 pandemic upended the technology industry.

27%

Don't mention it to the WFH enthusiasts, but that's the percentage of Americans who think the digital connections popular during the pandemic are as effective as in-person contact, per a Pew survey conducted in mid-March. The survey underscored the country's digital divide amid the outbreak, with 46% of college graduates reporting that they've used video calling or conferencing to attend a work meeting, compared to 11% of those who've never attended college.

$14 billion

That's the drop in Airbnb's internal valuation, to $26 billion, as the short-term rental company watches bookings plummet ahead of a planned IPO, according to the Financial Times.

86%, 75%

That's the reduction in visits in Manhattan and San Francisco, respectively, to shops, restaurants, theaters and other entertainment venues between January and late March. That's according to Google's new Community Mobility Reports that tap into location data — anonymously, the company says — in a bid to help policymakers. The reports can be customized by country, state and county.

33

This is the number of guests who could wait out coronavirus together as a group at Harbor, the two-month COVID-19 retreat villa envisioned by Callision CEO Jay Jideliov.

63%

That's the surge in requests for warehouse bots from Take Fetch Robotics since February, as COVID-19 accelerates the transition to automation.

$100 million

That's the amount in grants and ad buys pledged by Facebook to help battered media outlets, which have seen surging readership but plunging ad spending in recent weeks. Many news publishers nurture a tense relationship with Facebook, accusing it and Google of siphoning off digital ad revenue. New York Times media columnist Ben Smith, whose ex-employer BuzzFeed is cutting pay temporarily, handed out a harsh prescription: "The time is now to make a painful but necessary shift: Abandon most for-profit local newspapers, whose business model no longer works, and move as fast as possible to a national network of nimble new online newsrooms. That way, we can rescue the only thing worth saving about America's gutted, largely mismanaged local newspaper companies — the journalists."

50%+

This is the plunge in ride-hailing business for Uber and Lyft, compared to a year ago, according to The Information.

7%

That's how much Microsoft stock gained Monday, after it released what turned out to be a misleading statement about exploding demand for its services.

1, $100 million

That's the number of employees fired by Amazon after a strike at the company's Staten Island warehouse this week, and the amount Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos subsequently said he donated to Feeding America, a nationwide network of food banks and soup kitchens. The firing of strike organizer Chris Smalls — the company said he violated coronavirus safety precautions — attracted the attention of New York Attorney General Letitia James, who said she was considering legal options. Oh, and Vice reported that Bezos was present at a meeting during which executives discussed a PR strategy of focusing attention on Smalls, calling him "not smart or articulate."

621%

That's the increase in the use of telemedicine software in March, per Pendo.

700%, 294%

Those are the jumps in job listings for warehousing and in-store shopping, respectively, seen on ZipRecruiter, even as numerous tech companies do layoffs and furloughs, prompting concern about a broader shift to lower-paying opportunities.

0

This is how many times people actually should be touching payment screens while buying groceries at the store, say card providers who've stopped requiring signatures in recent years. The Wall Street Journal reports the problem is that some stores "actually do want signatures, viewing them as a way to improve security. And many stores just haven't updated their payment terminals."

Protocol | Workplace

In Silicon Valley, it’s February 2020 all over again

"We'll reopen when it's right, but right now the world is changing too much."

Tech companies are handling the delta variant in differing ways.

Photo: alvarez/Getty Images

It's still 2021, right? Because frankly, it's starting to feel like March 2020 all over again.

Google, Apple, Uber and Lyft have now all told employees they won't have to come back to the office before October as COVID-19 case counts continue to tick back up. Facebook, Google and Uber are now requiring workers to get vaccinated before coming to the office, and Twitter — also requiring vaccines — went so far as to shut down its reopened offices on Wednesday, and put future office reopenings on hold.

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Allison Levitsky
Allison Levitsky is a reporter at Protocol covering workplace issues in tech. She previously covered big tech companies and the tech workforce for the Silicon Valley Business Journal. Allison grew up in the Bay Area and graduated from UC Berkeley.

After a year and a half of living and working through a pandemic, it's no surprise that employees are sending out stress signals at record rates. According to a 2021 study by Indeed, 52% of employees today say they feel burnt out. Over half of employees report working longer hours, and a quarter say they're unable to unplug from work.

The continued swell of reported burnout is a concerning trend for employers everywhere. Not only does it harm mental health and well-being, but it can also impact absenteeism, employee retention and — between the drain on morale and high turnover — your company culture.

Crisis management is one thing, but how do you permanently lower the temperature so your teams can recover sustainably? Companies around the world are now taking larger steps to curb burnout, with industry leaders like LinkedIn, Hootsuite and Bumble shutting down their offices for a full week to allow all employees extra time off. The CEO of Okta, worried about burnout, asked all employees to email him their vacation plans in 2021.

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Stella Garber
Stella Garber is Trello's Head of Marketing. Stella has led Marketing at Trello for the last seven years from early stage startup all the way through its acquisition by Atlassian in 2017 and beyond. Stella was an early champion of remote work, having led remote teams for the last decade plus.
Protocol | China

Livestreaming ecommerce next battleground for China’s nationalists

Vendors for Nike and even Chinese brands were harassed for not donating enough to Henan.

Nationalists were trolling in the comment sections of livestream sessions selling products by Li-Ning, Adidas and other brands.

Collage: Weibo, Bilibili

The No. 1 rule of sales: Don't praise your competitor's product. Rule No. 2: When you are put to a loyalty test by nationalist trolls, forget the first rule.

While China continues to respond to the catastrophic flooding that has killed 99 and displaced 1.4 million people in the central province of Henan, a large group of trolls was busy doing something else: harassing ordinary sportswear sellers on China's livestream ecommerce platforms. Why? Because they determined that the brands being sold had donated too little, or too late, to the people impacted by floods.

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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.
Power

The video game industry is bracing for its Netflix and Spotify moment

Subscription gaming promises to upend gaming. The jury's out on whether that's a good thing.

It's not clear what might fall through the cracks if most of the biggest game studios transition away from selling individual games and instead embrace a mix of free-to-play and subscription bundling.

Image: Christopher T. Fong/Protocol

Subscription services are coming for the game industry, and the shift could shake up the largest and most lucrative entertainment sector in the world. These services started as small, closed offerings typically available on only a handful of hardware platforms. Now, they're expanding to mobile phones and smart TVs, and promising to radically change the economics of how games are funded, developed and distributed.

Of the biggest companies in gaming today, Amazon, Apple, Electronic Arts, Google, Microsoft, Nintendo, Nvidia, Sony and Ubisoft all operate some form of game subscription. Far and away the most ambitious of them is Microsoft's Xbox Game Pass, featuring more than 100 games for $9.99 a month and including even brand-new titles the day they release. As of January, Game Pass had more than 18 million subscribers, and Microsoft's aggressive investment in a subscription future has become a catalyst for an industrywide reckoning on the likelihood and viability of such a model becoming standard.

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Nick Statt
Nick Statt is Protocol's video game reporter. Prior to joining Protocol, he was news editor at The Verge covering the gaming industry, mobile apps and antitrust out of San Francisco, in addition to managing coverage of Silicon Valley tech giants and startups. He now resides in Rochester, New York, home of the garbage plate and, completely coincidentally, the World Video Game Hall of Fame. He can be reached at nstatt@protocol.com.
Protocol | Policy

Lina Khan wants to hear from you

The new FTC chair is trying to get herself, and the sometimes timid tech-regulating agency she oversees, up to speed while she still can.

Lina Khan is trying to push the FTC to corral tech companies

Photo: Graeme Jennings/AFP via Getty Images

"When you're in D.C., it's very easy to lose connection with the very real issues that people are facing," said Lina Khan, the FTC's new chair.

Khan made her debut as chair before the press on Wednesday, showing up to a media event carrying an old maroon book from the agency's library and calling herself a "huge nerd" on FTC history. She launched into explaining how much she enjoys the open commission meetings she's pioneered since taking over in June. That's especially true of the marathon public comment sessions that have wrapped up each of the two meetings so far.

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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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