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Who's going back to the office?

An empty office

Good morning! This Wednesday, small tech isn't playing by Big Tech's rules when it comes to vaccine mandates, China will pass a new data privacy law, and Palantir loves gooold.

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The Big Story

Big Tech wants vaccine mandates. What about small tech?

The return-to-office playbook for Big Tech is starting to look like this: Don't reopen before October, and require workers to get vaccinated before coming to work. (New research from Qualtrics shows that 75% of tech workers support vaccine mandates, and even CES will require attendees to get vaccinated to attend in January.) But that's not the case across the board.

Apple and Amazon remain the most notable holdouts when it comes to implementing a vaccine mandate, though Apple is reportedly now sending out two COVID-19 tests per week to employees opting to participate in its testing program.

  • Apple now expects workers in the testing program to get tested on Mondays and Thursdays, Bloomberg reported yesterday. It will also expand testing to three times a week in some offices, but the company still isn't requiring the tests.
  • Facebook, which is implementing a vaccine mandate at its offices, also offers COVID testing on site.
  • Amazon reportedly started winding down COVID testing for its warehouse workers last month. The company declined to comment to Protocol on what it now offers in terms of COVID testing to its corporate and frontline workers.

Some smaller tech companies remained open this summer without requiring employees to get vaccinated. Three we've spoken with — Starry, C3 AI and Cepton — are also embracing in-office work as the default, even as much of the industry adopts a hybrid approach.

  • Executives at Starry and Cepton both said that most of their employees had gotten vaccinated without a mandate and that there hadn't been any outbreaks connected to their offices.
  • Starry, a Boston-based internet service provider, has collected proof of vaccination from almost 90% of its in-office workers, handed out $25 bonuses and entered vaccinated employees into a raffle for 5,000 stock options.
  • Cepton, meanwhile, said that almost all of its 116 employees had gotten vaccinated without needing extra incentives.

Meanwhile, January 2022 is quickly becoming the new October 2021 when it comes to reopening offices.

  • Facebook announced Thursday that its employees can continue working remotely until January even as it continues reopening offices. Some locations in the U.S., Europe, the Middle East and Africa will remain closed for a while.
  • Facebook's HQ and other Bay Area offices all remain open at 10% capacity or lower, which "likely won't change for the foreseeable future," according to a spokesperson.
  • Amazon, DoorDash, Salesforce, SAP, ServiceNow and Twilio are also targeting January as a reopening date. Apple, Google, Microsoft and Uber are still looking at October.

And the White House is expected to announce today that most Americans should receive a booster shot eight months after receiving their second dose — right around the time companies like Facebook and Amazon plan to reopen. Will Big Tech look into a booster mandate? Stay tuned.

— Allison Levitsky (email | twitter)

A MESSAGE FROM CHAINALYSIS

Ransomware victims paid over $416 million worth of cryptocurrency to attackers in 2020, more than quadrupling 2019 totals. As of July 2021, we know that ransomware attackers have taken in at least $210 million worth of cryptocurrency from victims. Shouldn't we just ban crypto? The answer is no. Cryptocurrency is actually instrumental in fighting ransomware.

Learn More

People Are Talking

Social media platforms are trying to get a grip on the Taliban, but some of their actions can do more harm than good, says Ashley Jackson, an expert in the region:

  • "If the Taliban all of a sudden can't use WhatsApp, you're just isolating Afghans, making it harder for them to communicate in an already panicky situation."
  • But there's no one right way to do it; social media is in "uncharted territory," says Emerson Brooking, a resident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council's Digital Forensic Research Lab.
Senators Blumenthal and Markey want the FTC to investigate Tesla's self-driving features:
  • "Tesla and Mr. Musk's repeated overstatements of their vehicle's capabilities — despite clear and frequent warnings —demonstrate a deeply concerning disregard for the safety of those on the road and require real accountability. Their claims put Tesla drivers — and all of the travelling public — at risk of serious injury or death."

On Protocol | Workplace: You can't become a remote-first company overnight, GitLab's Darren Murph said, and that's OK:

  • "Internal advocacy will be increasingly important as companies scale, because things will be changing rapidly. Your meeting hygiene will change rapidly, your rigor around documentation will change rapidly, the amount of time zones that you support will change rapidly. And all the while people are joining at different stages of this."

On Protocol: Amazon banned some Chinese sellers' accounts, but Mabang CEO Zhang Jie isn't worried about it:

  • "As an individual seller, you should know how to utilize your back-end capabilities — your supply chain, warehouses, logistics and management — for more than one platform. You can always learn how to operate on a specific platform later."

Making Moves

Manik Gupta is joining Microsoft as corporate VP for Teams consumer, Skype and GroupMe. Gupta previously served as Uber's chief product officer, and, before that, worked at Google.

Minjae Ormes is headed to LinkedIn as its new VP of global brand and consumer marketing. She'll leave her role as Visible's CMO for the job.

Greg Monahan is joining Binance. He's the company's new global money laundering reporting officer, joining after a long career including a stint as the U.S. Treasury Criminal Investigator.

Harry Temkin left eBay for DriveWealth, where he'll be CIO. He previously served as eBay's VP of seller experience.

In Other News

  • China has some new rules for its internet companies. The country drafted a set of guidelines that includes banning operators from adjusting prices based on a user's shopping history and using data to control user traffic. China will also soon pass a new data privacy law that will require groups and individuals dealing with Chinese citizens' data to cut back data collection and obtain prior consent.
  • Didi's business took a backseat while China's probe dragged on. Employees said in the time they've spent trying to meet the demands of China's antitrust regulators, the company needed to scale down performance goals made at the beginning of the year.
  • Step aside, Walmart: Amazon is now the world's largest retail seller outside China. People spent over $600 billion on Amazon over a year, whereas Walmart shoppers dropped $566 billion over that period of time.
  • Twitter wants its users to help detect misinformation. The company is testing a tool that allows people to flag possibly misleading tweets by marking them as "misleading" after reporting the tweet.
  • Have some spare gold? Palantir spent over $50 million on gold bars, all in preparation for another "black swan event."

One More Thing

Scooting around the city

Brace yourselves, New Yorkers: Electric scooters have made their way to the Big Apple. Bird, Lime and VeoRide dropped off 1,000 electric scooters each in the East Bronx yesterday, and if things go well New York City may let the companies deposit a few thousand more.

So if you want those two-wheelers to stick around, be careful. The protected bike lanes in the East Bronx aren't super robust, so don't rely on them too much to safely get around. And even though the scooters can pick up speed fairly quickly, you aren't a car, so don't act like one while you scoot around and remember to obey the rules of the road.

A MESSAGE FROM CHAINALYSIS

The key to tackling ransomware is disrupting the ransomware supply chain — developers, affiliates, infrastructure services providers, launderers and cashout points — and the blockchain is the only data source that ties these actors together. So while it may seem counterintuitive at first, ransomware groups' use of cryptocurrency for ransom payments is actually beneficial to ransomware investigations.

Learn More

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Correction: This story was updated on Aug. 18, 2021, to reflect changes in Bloomberg's reporting about Palantir accepting gold as payment.

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